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Sunday, 22 January 2012

2011 - Boiling in Budapest, Speedy at Sale and Puppy Problems for PSH

 The previous two years had seen 65 and 57 races respectively. 2011 was the year to really enjoy getting stuck into anything and everything and, as a result, the tally by the end of the year was 70 races:

1 x Marathon
1 x 20 Miles
5 x Half Marathon
4 x 10 Miles
2 x 10K
3 x 5K
2 x 1 Mile
2 x Cross Country
4 x Spencer Arm Dash
46 x parkruns
..........+ 0 Injuries

My rough plan for 2011, and I never have anything more than a rough outline of what I'm going to be doing, was to get stuck into marathon training up to the end of April, then spend the next four months working specifically on the 5K/10K speed and then returning to longer distance stuff from September onwards with some longer distance races but no marathons at that end of the year.

There were a lot of stories in a very enjoyable 2011, amongst them were:


Pymmes parkrun

Pymmes is a lovely little parkrun in Tottenham. The 16th April was the second running of the event and although it is enthusiastically organised by the Spurs academy players the turnout is usually low, on this occassion it was 14. For the day before a marathon this was perfect, a relaxed run around a new venue.

But that little plan would require a fair amount of self control, an attribute I was sorely lacking that day. I set off with Becky, who was looking to run about 22 minutes, and as we covered the first half mile there was just one runner in front. We had been talking to him before the start and he was expecting to run just under 19 minutes.

That was a terrible temptation to put in front of me when I was supposed to be being sensible. I dont remember making any sort of decision to chase but my legs did and off they went after the leader. After the second lap of three I went past him and tried to just keep a sufficient gap without killing the legs too much. So 1st in 18:41. Would I pay the price?

London Marathon

So to 17th April and VLM day. A nice quiet bus ride to the start, thats what happens if you get a bus to Lewisham instead of using the popular routes, and a stroll up to the GFA start area. Nicely settled with the Sunday paper and a plentiful supply of free flowing coffee it was now just a matter of waking up slowly and relaxing before the start. It was quite cool at this time which was about 7:30 am.

Fast forward a couple of hours and its start time. Or at least it was start time for some runners. The blue start was off and away but we were still standing there watching a blank clock. Around 40 secs later someone shouted 'Go' and that was how our 2011 VLM got started.

40 secs might not sound much in the great scheme of things but I was determined to start very steadily. Of course I didnt realise at the time that the slower I ran the first 3 miles the further back through a wall of slower moving runners I was going to get shuffled when the meeting point came. And, boy, what a wall of runners it was. Other runners got away with reasonably clear runs off the same start but they must have covered that first 3 miles fairly swiftly to clear the masses from the blue start.

There then followed 10 miles of being tripped, pushed, slipping on unavoidable piles of water bottles (you dont normally experience that off the GFA start). Due to the close proximity of so many bodies and very hot sunshine adding to the unplesantness of the situation I simply didnt want to be there. As 10 miles passed in 1:09:xx I was thoroughly fed up and by 17 miles just wanted to get on the DLR and get to the pub.

But I looked at the crowds surrounding the DLR stations and decided it was easier just to carry on around the course. The fact that Nell McAndrew decided to run a few metres in front of me didnt influence my decision at all! Nope, not one little bit ;)

It was actually quite pleasant running the last 9 miles with no pressure but mainly because the runners had now thinned out. Boy, that first pint at The Red Lion on Whitehall tasted good.

So did I pay the price for the Pymmes parkrun on the Saturday? Its hard to say really because the same problems would have been encountered in those early miles so we'll leave that one as the jury being out.


Hampstead parkrun

14th May saw a long awaited visit to Hampstead Heath for their inaugural parkrun. It took a lot of effort and peruasive powers of the highest order to get this one off the ground and, as such, there was a need for this first event to go as smoothly as possible.

During the early milling about, a very nice chap came over to exchange pleasantries. He was asking about whether I'd done any other parkruns and whether I was local etc etc As he spoke I was thinking that this chap looked familiar but he didnt seem to have enough facial hair to be the person I suspected. At a point when he was distracted I looked to my right and mouthed the words 'Is that........?' and immediately got a nod in response. Without a moment of hesitation, I then turned back and said "Look, I'm going to have to go and get warmed up but let me just say what a great pleasure it is to meet a genuine former world record holder".I could swear he blushed! :p

As you can see from the pic below he was rather more recognisable from the rear than the front:
I cant help thinking that he would have improved this pic standing next to myself and Becky if he had had the foresight to have the numbers '118' printed on his back!

Was this the most famous parkrun starter to date?

Shortly after this photo was taken the whole parkrun movement was almost brought into disrepute. As we walked towards the start I bent down to attempt to stroke a cute little labrador puppy. Before my hand made contact with it's head the poor little puppy had been lassooed and tossed 360 degrees in the air. As the bemused puppy regained it's composure I followed the line of the rope to find the red handed culprit still holding the other end.....a certain Paul Sinton-Hewitt. I dont think the esteemed observers from the City Of London authority had expected the founder of the parkrun movement to come along to their first event and start trying to murder the locals' puppies. Luckily the puppy didnt sue!

Wanstead parkrun

The very next week, 21st May, saw the inaugural Wanstead parkrun. I always try to run a lap of the course beforehand, especially at new events, just to get a feel for what lays ahead. After running around this one I couldnt really see any problems, it was well signed and consisted of a pretty simple 2 lap course. What could possibly go wrong, eh?

I set off outside the top 10, working up to 5th after two thirds of the first lap. The first four were in single file behind the lead bike. I watched in puzzlement as the bike went straight on instead of turning right, followed in turn by the four leaders. They had definitely gone the wrong way, so what was I to do? I had about 10 seconds to make a decision. I decided that going the correct way, which could well have led to a win, would have been a bit awkward as it would never feel like a real win anyway. On the other hand, if everyone followed the same course, even if it was wrong, it would still be a fair finishing I followed.

As it turned out, the Wanstead team did some brilliantly quick thinking and cut a big chunk off the second lap to bring it back somewhere close to 5K. It is these little hiccups which make events memorable though which is why event teams should never get too worked up about the odd thing going wrong, it adds to the experience. :)


Battersea Sri Chimnoy 10K

By June it felt like the 37:30 10K comeback pb was getting a bit long in the tooth so on 11th June I turned up at the Sri Chimnoy 10K in Battersea Park. These are unusual events in that they start at 8am on a Saturday morning. And you thought parkruns started early!

The main aim here was to clock the first sub 6:00/mile 10K (37:18) or, even better, a 36:xx clocking. The course is a flat 3 lapper, the weather was cool and calm and the field wasnt overly big at just over 200. So what more could you want?

After the first lap I was averaging 5:58 pace, which would bring it home in about 37:08, the second lap saw a bit of time lost due to tailenders where you have to squeeze through by the side of a barrier. By the end of the second lap the average pace had crept up slightly to 5:59 indicating 37:14. But I really wanted a sub 37!

Luckily the field was now thinning out and there was a clear run on the final lap. It felt like the legs were there to deliver it but it was still going to be a close call. On the long run in after the last bend I asked the legs for everything they had but that damned finishing line wasnt getting any closer. 'Keep digging, keep digging, you never know' were my thoughts as time seemed to go into slow motion. Over the line and......36:58 for 11th!!
Phew, mission accomplished.


Pennington parkrun

On 2nd July a trip to Pennington Flash parkrun near Leigh in Gtr Manchester was a rather eventful morning.

Unusually I found myself in the lead very early on and built a decent lead by the time we were getting to the end of the first lap. I then followed the path through a fence which seemed to be the natural route to take and a little parkrun arrow seemed to confirm this. I kicked on the downhill only to hear a voice shouting something. The chap in 2nd had taken a different path and there was a fence between us.

What could I do? Through the fence it had to be. I squeezed between the bars and fell out on to the other side and ended up on all fours in the undergrowth. When you go from leading a parkrun to groping about on all fours in grass and bracken within seconds you are left with an overwhelming feeling of. How the **** did that happen?

I was not overly happy with the lengthy strategic delay before I was called back so saw something of a red mist before my eyes as I got back to my feet. I was determined to get that lead back....and I did BUT I paid dearly for that rush of blood and was left treading water badly for the last half lap and ended up with 2nd place.

The moral of that one is to stay calm matter how strong the provocation.


August was the month that I had expected to be the culmination of the Summer training aimed at the shorter distances. The 13 weeks to the end of July had only averaged 45 miles per week but I had mirrored the training I did during the Summer months 23 years earlier. It worked then so I couldnt see any reason why it wouldnt work now.

It wasnt overly compliacted in that the basic core was to get a weekly 10 mile progressive track session completed, typically between 62-64 minutes. Bearing in mind that my 10 mile comeback pb was still standing at 1:01:19 at this stage, this session was no walk in the park. On top of this I would also do a 3 x 1 mile session which started at 5:4x at the start of the summer and progressed to 5:2x by the end.

I used to be able to do this session at 5:0x so knew that the race times I could expect would be 20-25 secs/mile off my all time pbs. That was great progress so I just had to go and deliver the races now.

There had just been one solitary sub 18 5K clocking a year earlier but End July/August delivered 6 x 17:xx times in very quick succession:

30th July Leeds parkrun 17:33
11th August Sale Sizzler 5K 17:34 
13th August Leeds parkrun 17:59
16th August York Millenium Bridge 5K 17:48
20th August Leeds parkrun 17:49
27th August Leeds parkrun 17:58

I was particularly chuffed to see that the faster end of these times converted to age graded times of 15:xx. A large pinch of salt can be applied to that sort of comparison but it was still nice to see :)

When you get into a purple patch like this you obviously milk it for all it is worth but it is also the time to be getting ready for some downtime to let everything re-strengthen. Rest before you have no choice in the matter is the watch word..

In amongst the 5K times there was also the Hyde Park Summer Mile in Leeds on 24th August. This was an excellent event organised by Hyde Park Harriers. On the face of it the course looks a bit too technical and hilly to run a decent mile time but it actually turned out to be a really good test of fitness.

 I was genuinely concerned that I'd been put in the fastest wave of 5, I am certainly no mile runner and whats more I'm old for this sort of thing. There was all the potential for some cringeworthy embarrassement coming out of this. I think there were about 15 runners in our wave and they all looked a bit too much like they meant business. This was reinforced as we set off and I was in 12th during the first half, I was working plenty hard enough and wondered how bad it was going to get.

The saving grace for me was when the hill started and I was then able to start picking people off. Up to 6th by the top of the hill and I was now feeling like I was putting up a decent show which should at least earn respectability. At this point it felt like more gears were available so I had a good old blast over the last 400m and gained another place for 5th in 5:19.

The significant fact coming out of this result was that of the four runners that finished in front of me the oldest was 16 years my junior!
That was rather satisfying :)

Wythenshaw parkrun

The inaugural Wythenhaw parkrun on 6th August was a rather soggy affair due to a heavy downpour starting just before the off. Since it is an all grass course you could do without the rain really.

The run went well setting off in 10th with John Broom (the one of Barnsley Runner online conflict fame :p) in 9th. It seemed a decent strategy to just sit on his shoulder for this one, and that is what I did. After half a lap we were in 1st and 2nd and that is the way it stayed to the end. Now why did I alert him to the fact that this event was taking place? Hmmm.

Anyway, while having post run coffees it came to my attention that it was the Sale 10 race the next morning from the same venue. I ran this race in 1:04:39 in 2009 about 6 months after the end of my walking program and thought it would be nice to have another go at it. There was a bit of a question mark about what a hard 5K on mud had just taken out of the legs but nothing ventured.............

Sale 10

So the next morning, Sunday 7th August, saw a return visit to Sale. My 10 mile comeback pb was now 1:01:19 from Thirsk 10 five months earlier. Could I possibly be in shape to have a go at a sub 60 for the first time in 18 years? I didnt really think so based on how the legs were feeling but I knew there was some good training in the bank, so maybe an outside chance?

After getting entered the chances were somewhat improved when John Broom stated that he was looking for a strong tempo run rather than an all out race and that he was happy to do a 60 minute pacing job. He has form on this front, having paced a teammate through that barrier at Thirsk, so this was good news. It didnt change the fact that the legs didnt feel up to it but you cant have everything.

Off we went and the first 3 miles were expectedly off the pace, we were averaging 6:08/mile which was fine. At 4 miles I remember saying to John that I didnt think it was on but that I wasnt ready to give up on it yet. Experience shows that legs can come back to you when you least expect it, if only you can hold it together through the tough patches.

By 5 miles the whole picture had changed. Going through halfway in 30:14 (6:03/mile) brought the 60 minute target right back into play. I felt like I was on the edge and wouldnt be able to lift the pace but if I could sustain something around this pace for 4 miles maybe I would be able to dig deep for the extra bit of time in the last mile?

By 7 miles John's job was done and he eased away to go and get full value out it as a training run. It was now time to get my head down. To have 60 minutes still as a possibility at the 7 mile stage meant that this deserved a full out effort. The next two miles hurt as I pushed just a little bit beyond the limit. Approaching 9 miles I was starting to think that the push was too much as I didnt think I could hold on to the current pace, let alone increase it.

9 miles was passed in 54:14. Oh gawd. How much pain could I endure? I couldnt come this far and not give it everything but, then again, could I run better than a 5:46 last mile when everything was crying to stop?

Sod it, what's less than 6 minutes of pain in the great scheme of things? Man up and get on with it!

Luckily, I had someone to chase in Keith Williams. At that time he was the No.1 V60 in the UK over 10K and about to become the same over 10 miles. I knew exactly what standard he was because I'd been battling with him around the Spencers Arms Dash in Barnsley all Summer. The fact that I was closing on him meant that I must be moving at a decent speed because he is one of the best pacers/finishers around.

I also had the knowledge that the last 400m was on the track and I would surely be able to dig out an 85sec 400m if that was what was needed at the end?

"Just keep hurting, keep hurting and get yourself to the track" were my thoughts.

As the first foot hit the track the clock was showing 58:26. Okay, 94 seconds. Thats doable, surely? "Dont get this close and mess it up" was my next thought. so every gear that existed was called upon. Rounding the last bend with 100m to go the clock was showing 59:34. Even on tired legs I wasnt going to take 26 secs for 100m so I now relaxed, enjoyed the run in and nearly bowled Keith Williams over as I went over the line in 59:52! :) A last mile of 5:38!

That last 5 miles in 29:38 was another milestone on the comeback trail in terms of the level of hurt employed.

I was one happy bunny after that one.


Budapest Half Marathon

On a whim I decided to have a go at the Budapest Half Marathon on 3rd September. I thought it was time to have another go at a half marathon, preferably on a flattish course and ideally in decent non-windy weather conditions. Well, Budapest seemed to promise all these things and a trip behind the former Iron Curtain has got to make for an interesting trip, right? It certainly looked like there was plenty to see when the Brownlee brothers were flying around the city in one of the ITU races a few weeks before.

Sounds good in theory. But in the few days before 3rd September the weather forecasts had the temperature for the day getting hotter and hotter. On the morning of the event we were greeted with the following notice:

...and that was only the pre-start temperature, it rose to 35-36c during the race!

However, the temperature was only half the problem. Remember back to the Frimley parkrun when I forgot to take any shoes with me? Well in Budapest it was the turn of the shorts. Waking up on the morning of a race in Hungary, a country where very few people speak English, needing to find a pair of shorts when nothing is open and time is short is a bit of a predicament to say the least. I couldnt think of any back up plan, I had to buy some shorts from somewhere.

Since my hotel was the nearest hotel to the start area in Varoslget I wandered off down there to see if there were any traders already set up. Nope there wasnt and , more worryingly, it didnt look like there was going to be either. Now I'm in a pickle. Short of mugging some poor unsuspecting jogger running through the park I was stuck.

I went and had a fruitless look around the city and then returned to the start area about 45 mins before the start. Still not a trader to be seen. I must have approached at least 10 people, none of whom spoke English, until, when I was just about to give up, I came across a marshall who spoke perfect English and guess what?...........he only owned a sports shop! I've got to admit that he saw me coming and charged me the best part of an Hungarian's weekly wage.....but I had shorts :)

The race itself was a fantastic experience, you couldnt hope for a better setting and each drinks station was like running through an audition for Miss World ;) In terms of the performance, you could only do what you could do. Showers every 4-500m were all taken advantage of but you could feel the blood thickening as you pushed along. At the time I was getting close to being in 1:20-1:21 shape but 1:26:38 seemed like a thoroughly decent outcome in those conditions. It isnt particularly quick but still delivered 125th place in a field of 7,000. I'm certainly glad I wasnt out there much longer than that.

This is a must do again event...I'll try and remember to take some shorts next time.


King Lynn parkrun 

I really enjoyed my visit to Kings Lynn  on 8th October as a warm up event for the Great Eastern Run the next day. After driving down on the morning and arriving at about 8:40 I could well have been very stiff but the legs performed well. Leading from the off I was chased hard all the way by Marie French, who had already done a swimming session and a bike ride that morning. My legs would have turned to jelly if I'd done the same.

After 3 laps of a lovely course I held on to win in 18:03 to Marie's 18:09.

The post run coffees and later hospitality shown by my friend, Darren Naughton and his family, made this one of the best parkrun experiences to date.

Gt Eastern Run 

The next day on 9th October was a horribly windy day and I messed this one up quite badly. Despite a usual cautious start I started upping the tempo a bit too early, going through 5 miles in 30:50. This would be reasonable enough but the conditions needed more to be saved in the tank for the later stages. I paid the price and ended up with 1:23:11. Besides meeting up with Darren Naughton again, another friend, Kelly Dodds had a cracking run here smashing her pb and almost cracking the 1:30 barrier into the bargain.

Bridlington Half Marathon  

With memories of pacing errors at GER the week before still fresh, the Bridlington Half Marathon on 16th October offered an opportunity to make amends.

I  kept the effort level lower for longer in to this one and, as a result, the enjoyment was tenfold of that a week earlier. The overall time of 1:24:36 was slower but this was a tougher course and nearly as windy. Importantly though, it had given me some feedback of how I could be strong in half marathons again, a distance that I used to think of as my territory.

So I enjoyed this race mostly for what it promised for the future.

Hanley parkrun 

Hanley parkrun at Stoke-on-Trent  was the venue on 22nd October. This is a tough course, being three laps consisting of uphill for the first part and downhill for the second part but, more significantly, it starts at the lowest part of the park and finishes half way up not really a course for fast times. A nice course nonetheless.

It was a smallish run, being only the 5th running of the event, with about 30 runners. Two runners went off very rapidly scaring the living daylights out of the numerous Canadian Geese. It wasnt a case of not wanting to go with them, I simply couldnt. But by the start of the second lap I was in 2nd place and the leader was coming back so I was then looking forward to the upcoming hills as maybe doing me a favour rather than being a hindrance. I could monitor how he was performing up the hill and then decide whether it was likely that he would come back or whether a chase was needed.

Fortunately the former was the case and I built a 10 second lead by the end for 1st in 18:33. With the variety of courses you come across while doing a lot of parkruns it is always nice when you get the pacing right on one :)


Durham parkrun

12th November saw a trip to Durham along with Ben and Nicola Forwood and Brenda Gannon.

The reason this particular parkrun stood out was that it was the first time that I had ever attempted to do any running of any sort whatsoever with 100 miles in the legs in the last 7 days. The 100 miles had been completed at 9pm the previous evening and when I woke up on Saturday morning I could hardly walk. My early morning 2 miler was immediately abandoned. In fact, if arrangements hadnt been made to meet up with others I would almot certainly have just binned the idea of a parkrun that morning.

But off we went and arrived at Durham in good time. A gingerly attempt at a warm up sort of worked as my legs warmed to the idea of a gentle effort on grass but they were not at all happy on anything firmer.

As we got underway on the track, the track surface seemed a lot more pleasant to run on. This then led on to soft grass for the first half before hitting a riverside path for the second half. This was probably just about the perfect course combination for the state of my legs. An eventual 6th place in 18:29 (5:57/mile) was nothing short of unbelievable when considering how things felt pre race.

A good post run banter with event directors, Alister and Jacquie Robson, made this a really enjoyable trip in the end in a very scenic setting.

Leamington parkrun

A bit of a surreal day occurred on 19th November. On the way down the M1 to Leamington, at about 7:30am, I was confronted with the sight of a man walking across the front of my car, no more than 10 metres in front of the bonnet, while in the middle lane travelling at about 60 mph.

Without going into lots of detail, I didnt hit him but unfortunately he was hit and died later.

I didnt actually see the gruesome bit so had more of a feeling of puzzlement than anything else as I got stuck into the parkrun. I knew this wasnt going to be a flat course, nor was any of it on tarmac so I needed to go steadily and just keep a watching brief until I had a feel for how it was going to pan out.

Coming up to the mile point, I found myself in 2nd but we were fair shifting at about 5:40 for that first mile. I was feeling great though and I'm sure it was no coincidence that this was 7 days after the 100 mile week. I accelerated past the leader with what seemed like plenty to spare but was then almost brought right back down to earth as we were immediately directed up a stinker of a hill that I just hadnt expected. But again the legs responded well and tackled it with a smile. Over the top and it was plain sailing to the finish for 1st in 18:06 (5:49/mile). It was one of those days where I just wanted to keep pushing even though there was no need, I just loved the free flowing feeling.

Gorleston parkrun

I was still trying to find a flat half marathon that would coincide with decent weather conditions so signed up for  the Norwich Half Marathon on 27th November. In the spirit of parkrun tourism the plan was to take in the nearby Gorleston Cliffs parkrun on the Saturday, 26th November beforehand.

At least that was the plan! To get to Gorleston in comfortable time for a 9am start needed a 4:30am set off from Leeds. A nice relaxing 197 mile drive I thought on very quiet roads. All was going well for the first 100 miles but then my engine management system decided to go into self preservation mode. For all I knew the engine was about to blow but what was actually happening was that the revs were being severely limited. It meant that I could drive but every time I came to a roundabout it took about a mile to slowly build back up to a maximum of 40mph. Progress was painful.

At 8:30 I was still 20 miles from Gorleston and was going to struggle to average the 40mph needed to get there in time. Even then I would have to find the location straight away and be able to park right next to the start. It was a lost cause so I thought that at least if I could get there for about 9:20 I could have a run round and tick off another venue.

I got to the cliff top road and noticed the clock was till starting with an 8, only just mind, it was 8:59! After parking up, stripping off and running to the start it was....9:02. But they hadnt yet started. I just had time to say hello to my fellow Leeds parkrunning friend, Nicola Forwood and I heard the word 'Go'.

Jeez, a 4hr 30min drive and straight onto a start line and off with no warming up, if ever a situation called for
a steady start this was it. For some reason though the legs were up for it without any complaints, running a competitive time of 18:10 for 2nd place in a field of 111. Not your classic warm up routine but the body never ceases to amaze!

Norwich Half Marathon

On to the next day and the Norwich Half Marathon. Looking for that elusive 2011 half marathon in decent weather conditions I was once again thwarted as gale force winds made an unwelcome appearance.

Despite getting nowhere near 1:20 I felt as though I had had a cracking run to come home in 1:23:21 (6:21/mile) for 48th place in a field of 2000. It was only 1:45 off taking the V45 title which shows how everyone was slowed down. At times it was almost difficult to move in a forward direction such was the strength of the wind but I'm always happy enough when positions have been gained in the second half.


Unlike last year when not much happened in December due to weather conditions, this year December was action packed with the second half seeing two tours. These were the Easy Peasy 10 Yorkshire parkrun Challenge, consisted of running all 10 Yorkshire parkruns spread over 275 miles in a single day, and the New Year North East and Scotland parkrun tour.

These events are worthy of posts in their own rights so this particular yearly round up is going to end at the eleven and a half month stage.

A lively 2011 consisted of 2,975 training miles (compared to 2009/2010 at 2,555/2,558) and 70 races. 4 parkrun wins took the total since that surprising win at Heaton Park to 13 wins at 13 different venues :)

Comeback PBs were now (2009 figures in brackets):

5K 17:33 (17:53)
10K 36:58 (37:30)
10 Miles 59:52 (1:03:02)
Half Marathon 1:22:57 (1:22:57)
20 Miles 2:21:04 (2:21:04)
Marathon 3:04:27 (3:04:27)

Sunday, 15 January 2012

2010 - 31 different parkruns in one year

After giving the robustness a good testing in 2009 with 65 races, things were a little easier in 2010 with only 57 completed. However, there were three marathons this year as opposed to one so I'll let myself off on that score. The overall year consisted of:

3 x Marathon
1 x 20 Miles
1 x Half Marathon
1 x 10 Mile
2 x 10K
4 x Spencer Arms Dash
45 x parkruns
....+ 0 Injuries

Of all the people I knew in my previous running life and now it is clear to me that the best injury proofing method available to man is to race lots. That is not to say that every event is run as an eyeballs out affair but regular 95%+ efforts ensure that there are no massive increases in stresses when everything clicks and a 100% effort is called for.

A 95, 96, 97% effort in a race of some sort is a relatively comfortable affair and yet the same effort in training can take an enormous amount of willpower. In days gone by races were relatively inexpensive but they certainly arent now which limits how many paid races people can do. However, I have yet to find a parkrun which is expensive to enter!

The year started with a bit of a puzzle. Becky and myself went down to Banstead Woods (why does that sound like there must be a Teddy Bear's picnic involved?) for a parkrun on New Year's Day. Arriving at about 8:30 we got to the start and couldnt find anybody. A bit strange but it was NY day after all so maybe it was going to be a bit more informal with few marshalls or something?

After jogging around the course and arriving back at the start area at about 8:55 there was still no evidence of a parkrun, just 2 more confused runners. 9am came and went so we jokingly thought about just racing between the 4 of us and then submitting the results. Should be a reasonable chance of a podium position, right?

Anyway, since we were there we ran the 5K and made our way back to the car park at about 9:40. Hold on, why are all these runners walking towards us? We were enlightened once one of these runners advised us that it was a 10am start to allow some enthuiastic runners to do both Bushy and Banstead on the same day.

Multiple parkruns in the same day? What a strange will never catch on!

4th place in the actual event made up a morning of pretty decent mileage in the end.

The start of February saw the Dewsbury 10k, the race that in 2009 had been my milestone of feeling a 'bit like a runner' again when clocking 40:34. That time had been subsequently lowered to 38:53 later in the year but this race represented what felt like a real jump forward, finishing in 37:30 (6:01/mile). That was tantalisingly close to ducking below a 6:00/mile 10K.

To be honest I was still feeling like a bit of a fraud up to this point. Sure enough, I had been getting stuck into races and giving them a good bash but there was a limit as to how much I was prepared to hurt for a few seconds when I knew that, in all probability, more weight loss would make those times seem comfortable in a few weeks time.

However, Dewsbury was different. It was like the old days when it didnt matter how deep I had already dug there was always a deeper level to go to. I remember during my 10 mile pb in 1986 simply repeating a question to myself. That question was 'are you dead yet?' If the answer that came back was 'No' then the next response was 'well push harder then!'. So I did! :)

At my best I really wouldnt have wanted to be someone in a head to head race against myself when I was in that sort of mood, it probably happened 4-5 times per year but felt awesome when it all came together. And Dewsbury gave an ever so slight taste of that feeling again.

So Dewsbury had been a milestone race two years running

Later in the month I took part in the Great North West Half Marathon in Blackpool.

I felt really fit going into this but the event was in doubt right up to the last minute due to overnight snow and ice. It did get the go ahead after some last minute gritting work and it all went well. It was particularly pleasing to be able to push hard in the last few miles to record 1:22:57 (6:19/mile), compared to the previous comeback pb of 1:25:50. However, this race only spent a few days on my Po10 listing before it was removed. It wasnt the last time this was going to happen to me this year. This race was part of the build up to the Blackpool Marathon (more of which later) but that race also got subsequently removed due to the wrangle between the different bodies about course certifications.


In March we spent a week in Devon with Becky's family.

Of course if you're going to have a trip anywhere you take in a parkrun on the way, dont you? A convenient stop off was Frimley Lodge parkrun. Dont take this the wrong way, Frimley, but this really is one parkrun that I wished I'd never done.

And the reason? My own stupidity!!

I have no idea how you can go to a running event without any form of running shoes/trainers .... but I did on this day. Were there any options? I couldnt think of any but then Becky mentioned that she had a spare pair packed away for Devon. Dont be daft I thought, they're far too small.

Fast forward 5 minutes and the idea now seemed to be worth exploring. Four sizes too small and rather pinkish, hmmm I wonder. Okay, so you know what happened next. After much loosening of laces and ooohing and aaahing said shoes were on my feet and, to be honest, felt okayish.

The run actually went okay with a pretty competitive effort in 5th place. However, after processing the barcodes I started having a chat with Darren Wood (this was just after he had been the first person to receive a 250 award) and it was during this chat that I suddenly felt immense pain in my feet. Absolute agony ensued as I couldnt get the shoes off quick enough. The trouble was I couldnt, the shoes had been tight enough to start with but now my feet had swollen and seemed to be impossible to get out. My eyes were watering, my teeth were clenched and it took what seemed like an eternity to finally get them off.

Once off the pain didnt stop, in fact it may well have got worse as the throbbing became unbearable for the next few minutes and the toe nails were already starting to look like a lost cause. They dropped off in due course and I was much less forgetful in the future. (Now for some reason I think there may be some disagreement with that last statement but at least I didnt forget shoes again :))

Greenwich parkrun
On the way back from Devon came a visit to the 4th event at Greenwich. A lot of the course is on grass and it was rather soggy on this day but I thought it was worth mentioning because I WON! :) Shameless I know but after the pain of the previous week and the ongoing throbbing in the feet during the week this felt like quite some achievement!

April saw my second attempt at a marathon since the start of the comeback with the 2010 Blackpool Marathon. I really wanted to significantly improve on last year's 3:24 and at least bag a VLM GFA place with a sub 3:15.

Now in the build up to this event a certain online forum had become a bit lively to say the least with some rather heated exchanges between the organisers and and someone posting under the online persona of Barnsley Runner. I had no idea what had gone before but there was clearly some history driving the confrontation. It turns out that it centred around allegations of a significantly short course a couple of years earlier which had subsequently been shown to be true.

So there were valid reasons for a ding dong. However, I and others were preparing for an imminent race and we wanted to chat about things relevant to this particular race not be swamped by old arguments. So, at some point, I waded into the fray.

Up to this point I had found that pretty much every time you dared disagree with someone on an online forum you would instantly become 'an idiot', 'stupid', 'you didnt have a clue' or, my favourite, 'an imbecile'. To be honest, I thought the world had gone bonkers. Why couldnt people have a debate any more? Why did you get personal attacks just for disagreeing with someone and see no attempt to follow any sort of logical argument?

Anyway, this was what marked this exchange as different. No matter how much I disagreed with this Barnsley Runner chap he just kept coming back with logical arguments and I found myself saying 'thats a fair point' a little too often for my own comfort.

So I gave up on the marathon build up talk and just stoked the was far more fun having a decent sparring partner to have a go at and I'm sure provided hours of amusement for onlookers for a few weeks. I wonder what happened to that chap? Probably mellowed with old age or something.

On to the race itself on 11th April and I was trying to improve on the previous year which had splits of 1:37, 1:47. At that time it was only about 12 weeks after finishing the walking program so I should see some decent improvement a year later. And I did....but not as much as I could have expected. The splits this time were now 1:29 and 1:39 so still a 10 minute positive split but 16 minutes quicker overall with 3:08:57 for 32nd place.

Although this was obviously a comeback pb it really didnt represent anything other than a step in the right direction. It takes a lot more than 18 months to get a totally untrained overweight body into the shape needed to run a marathon as a proper race. As usual patience is one of the biggest requirements. At least it sorted out guaranteed entries for VLM for 2011 and 2012


8th May saw a trip over to try out the 6th event at Hull parkrun. It was a cold day and a lower than usual turnout with 32 (remember the lesson I learnt at Sth Manchester ;)).

This is a very fast course and at that time the event was usually won by either Phill Taylor or Rob Snaith, who went on to win the Mablethorpe marathon.

But on this day they werent there. Up to this point I had run an 18:14 at Leeds which gave me about a 5% confidence of a 17:xx time being possible. I really gave it a good hard go this day but failed with an 18:15 (5:52/mile). However, failure was only in terms of the time because I got a surprising win. Up until then I thought they only let 'proper' runners win at Hull but somehow I sneaked in on a cold day and grabbed what was probably the only ever opportunity I'd get of winning this one. Its nice to be on the winner's list though because once you're there, you're there forever! :)

June was an interesting parkrun month.

On 5th June I had pencilled in Kingston parkrun (thats the -On-Thames version rather than the -On-Hull one). It was very hot in the week leading up to this and on the Friday night I started developing some kind of heat rash down my right leg and right arm. I'd never seen anything like it before and it was pretty horrible to look at.

On the Saturday morning I was really not sure whether I should even go outside never mind go to a parkrun. I decided that I'd at least drive to Kingston because there was always a chance that the rash might subside during the drive. I dont know whether it did or it didnt but I managed to convince myself that it had. I got out of the car and took the lower path to do some warming up. The lower path meant that I didnt have to bump into the mingling runners. Anybody would have thought I was the Elephant Man or something the way I was avoiding everyone.

When it came to start time I just loitered at the back  about 10 metres away with my left side to the crowd, there were only 32 runners so quite a small affair. Once it started though I figured that people were then too busy and they wouldnt be looking at my unsightly rash so I just got on with it.

31 overtaking manouvers later and I had forgotten all about the rash as I collected my '0001' barcode with a beam on my face. A few seconds later I suddenly remembered and looked down my right side.....nothing. There was no evidence that any rash had even existed. It was a miracle....and it never returned again.

The moral of the story is that if you get an unsightly heat rash forget a visit to the GP, just get down to your local parkrun and have a good hard run :)

On to the following week, 12th June, and it was over to Richmond parkrun.

Anyone who has recently seen the Fenton/Benton Youtube video will know how fast those stags at Richmond can move once they get going. Suffice to say that about a third of the way into this parkrun one of the stags started charging......and it was on a collision course with where I was about to be in 5 seconds time.

Easing off may have been the sensible option but at the time I was in 5th place and in 6th place, right on my shoulder, was Bill Neely, the ITN news reporter/presenter. Even in the miniscule amount of time that this was happening I had a very surreal thought wondering how many other people on the planet had been in the position of being chased by a TV personality into a life threatening situation? Ah well, another one I wouldnt be able to forget I suppose! Luckily the acceleration of the stag was better than mine and he crossed in front with a few metres to spare. 5th place was the final outcome.


August was parkrun purple patch :) The month consisted of:

7th Grovelands 1st
14th Oldham 1st
21st Crystal Palace 1st
28th Leeds 18:06 New comeback PB

All the wins were on tough hilly courses so I was feeling more strong rather than fast at this stage. In each race I started around 10th place and didnt speed up, it was just a case of outstaying the others really.  I had now started training for the Amsterdam Marathon in October so I saw this as a very promising background to take into that training.


On 4th Sept I found Mr parkrun under a tree at the Old Deer Park. At least on this occassion he had dry feet though unlike at that Heaton Park meeting. It was also a pleasure to have a good old chat with Crispy (of Crispy's Corner fame on the parkrun newsletter) over coffee.

After the events of August I did actually turn up to parkruns, well the smaller ones at least, with at least a thought of winning being a possibility. There were 31 runners for this one, which was the third event at the venue. This is by no means a fast course being completely on grass but I was feeling good at the time so well up for a good hard run.

As we were called into the start nobody seemed interested in getting near the front so I was pretty much stood there on my own. As we listened to the race briefing  I sensed that someone had now joined me so I looked to my was only Richard Ward! What was I saying about entertaining ideas about winning?

At least at the end of this I had something in common with Mo Farah, ie being second to Richard Ward in a table!

18th Sept saw my first, sub 18:00 clocking, something that I had been striving for most of the year with a 17:53 (5:45/mile) at the really beautiful venue that is Milton Park in Cambridge.Now that did leave a broad beam!

On 2nd October it was just two weeks before the Amsterdam Marathon so I was definitely feeling pretty speedy and up for a race when visiting Milton Keynes parkrun. This is another venue that is far prettier than the name of the town would suggest. Well worth a visit.

It was basically the modus operandi to hold back in the early stages of a parkrun, assess the situation and then start moving through from there. After about 500m I was in 12th and ready to start moving through. However, this field had a very unusual formation to it, positions 2-11 were all in a group just in front of me and the leader was on his own about 20-30 metres ahead.

So it took no more than 10 seconds to go from 12th to 2nd, you dont do that very often! There was now the matter of the leader, do I chase him or dont I? Am I a man or a mouse? Off I go. What I want to do is peg the gap, I can then take my time to close it slowly thereafter. So I up the effort level. Nope that didnt work, the gap has got bigger. Okay, a bit more effort. Hmmm, the gap got bigger at an even faster rate this time. My mind is till saying man or mouse? So even more effort, jeez I'm on the edge now....he has to start coming back now or I'll have to give up. I looked up this time and couldnt even see him. Thats that then.

I had put so much effort into the chase that I was wobbly legged for the last two miles. That was some ordeal and I couldnt hold onto 2nd so finished in 3rd eventually.

Then I went over to congratulate the winner, as you do, and a wry smile broke out across my face when I realised that I'd only been trying to chase down the former World Triathlon Champion, Tim Don. As I am now saying on a regular basis....thats another one I wont forget :)

The Pope

The following week was spent up in Glasgow, this was the penultimate week before Amsterdam. On the Thursday of this week I was running a 12 mile session in loops on either side of the Clyde. On the third lap I had to stop for 10 minutes while The Pope decided to cross right across the middle of my loop on his way from Edinburgh to Bellahouston Park. No problem I was grateful of the rest.

On the Friday it was back down to London on the train. I wanted to get a 10 mile run done around Battersea Park on Friday evening before having a crack at Wimbledon parkrun on the Saturday.

 So off I went to do 3 laps of Battersea. As I was doing the section on the side of the Thames I noticed that the congestion on The Embankment on the other side of the river was far worse than normal for this time, in fact nothing was moving. Continuing around the loop to the other side of the park and I was stopped by the park police and told to wait. I had no idea why but it soon became evident when The Pope swept past. Didnt I see this chap yesterday 500 miles away? They had brought him through the park because of the congestion.

I finished the run and then later in the evening checked the parkrun website for Wimbledon. Would you Adam and Eve it, tomorrow's event had been cancelled.......due to The Pope! He was staying in the Catholic hideaway in Wimbledon right next to the Common.

Now, in London it is no big deal if you cant go to one particular venue but this chap had now affected three of my runs in a row, spread over three days and 500 miles.....he was starting to become a pest.

Although he spent the whole of Saturday dreaming up a dastardly cunning plan to sabotage my Sunday run, I thwarted having a rest day :p

Again I wanted this marathon attempt to show some more improvement. The training had gone really well with a solid block of 80 mile weeks and plenty lengthy MP effort type runs.

Sub 3 is obviously a significant benchmark and I felt that once I had got that out of the way I'd really be able to set my stall out properly for future marathons. I had run several before but they were so long ago that my muscle memory had turned into mucle alzheimers.

There was no need to clock a time for VLM qualification as that was already sorted so I could just run it on its merits.

The two previous marathon first halves had been 1:37 and Amsterdam the first half again passed in 1:29 but I was significantly more comfortable than previously.

I was feeling comfortable enough to potentially run a negative split but, alas, that wasnt to be. The previous second halves had been 1:47 and 1:39, Amsterdam was 1:35. So some improvement to land a 3:04:27.

I'm inclined to skip over the marathons without too much detail at the moment because they feel to be several stages of development behind the other distances. If I could get into the 2:5x region and then sub 2:50 then I'd start to feel as though I was starting get in line with what I should have in the legs....but I'm prepared to wait. After all, each marathon has been an improvement on the previous one so getting faster while you get older is always a positive in my book.

On the plane on the way back from Amsterdam I randomly found myself sitting next to the British Record Holder, or was it World Record Holder?, for number of marathons run. It was a lot of marathons anyway, in the region of 1,000 if I remember correctly.

Now during this chat he happened to mention that he was taking part in a track marathon at Milton Keynes 3 weeks later. Why, oh why, did this sound like a tempting way to have another crack at a sub 3?

I had done some very long sessions, up to 18 miles, on the track in preparation for Amsterdam so the prospect of going round in circles endlessly didnt cause me any great concerns. 105 drink stations seemed a little excessive but I was assured that you didnt have to use them all :p

So on a cold Saturday morning I found myself lined up with about 50 people on the track at MK. They all seemed to know each other and talked as if they did this every week, a bit like us with parkruns. But more bonkers!

If you think lapping in a parkrun can be problematic you should have a go at one of these, you can have people on 5 or 6 different laps all shoulder to shoulder trying to overtake each other. It can add a lot of distance to the overall event.

I actually enjoyed it early on, settling into 2nd place. The guy in front was the world record holder for '10 marathons in 10 days' so I was happy to let him disappear, except in track marathons they dont disappear.....they just keep lapping you just to rub your nose in it.

The first 10k was fine taking around 41 minutes, 10 miles was around 1:08:30 but from 11 miles onwards the lap times just look like a very slow inevitable car crash. Becky was noting down every lap time, it was a requirement that you provided a lap counter, so I have the painful evidence to remind me. Comfortable 1:40-1:42 laps in the first 10 miles got slower lap by lap, roughly slowing by 1 second each lap. By 16 miles it was 2:00/lap, by 17 miles it was 2:05/lap, by 18 miles it was 2:10/lap........consistent and inevitable.

By 18.5 miles I stepped off the track and became the only DNF of the event.

The moral of this one.....dont talk to strange men on planes!


Nothing much happened in December due to a lot of bad weather, 3 or 4 parkruns in slow times due to bad underfoot conditions was about it.

So an eventful 2010 consisted of 2,558 training miles (remarkably similar to 2009 at 2,555) and 57 races. Oh, and 7 parkrun wins :)

Comeback PBs were now (2009 figures in brackets):

5K 17:53 (18:37)
10K 37:30 (38:53)
10 Miles 1:03:02 (1:03:02)
Half Marathon 1:22:57 (1:25:50)
20 Miles 2:21:04 (2:21:51)
Marathon 3:04:27 (3:24:17)

Thursday, 12 January 2012

The Next Year - 2009

So 2008 finished with a 21:09 10th place at Leeds parkrun. Was it now time to ditch the walking and just get stuck into running training? Not just yet.

If there is one thing that is hard wired into my brain it is not to change anything suddenly. but to do it gradually over time. At the beginning of January the total workload was still 50 miles and would be kept there throughout January but the mix between running and walking would change.

At the start of the month the mix was 12-15 miles running/ 35-38 miles walking but by the end of January that had flipped around to 35/15 the other way. That change seemed gradual enough and, importantly, I was starting to feel robust again, a very nice feeling considering that four months earlier it felt like every limb was about to fall off after running half a mile.

Racing Lots

Some people like to race sparingly, preferring to keep race days as special occassions. They feel that racing too much would water down their adrenalin levels and, as a result, their subsequent performances.

I take the opposite view that the more you do something and the more comfortable you get in that environment the more you learn about how the body performs under different levels of stress and where exactly the limits are. If you havent raced for 3 months or more it is far more like guesswork to know how hard you can push in any given race situation.

With that thinking in mind, and embracing the newly rediscovered robustness, 2009 saw quite a bit of racing. Including parkruns there were 57 races in the calendar year, I actually think it was a few more than that but there are 57 listed on Power Of  Ten. The 57 were:

1 x Marathon
1 x 20 Miles
4 x Half Marathons
5 x 10 Miles
6 x 10K
1 x Spencer Arms Dash
39 x parkruns
.........+ 0 Injuries

I list these just to illustrate how substantial the benefits were of getting all the connective tissues stengthened up through the weeks of walking. I couldnt have got to the same level of workload by just running from the outset. Walking was used throughout the year on what would otherwise be rest days.

The year's highlights went something like this:


With the 21:09 5K in the bag the week before, the 4th January saw an audacious attempt at jumping up to 10K.

It was a local race, the Pennine 10K at Brighouse. I had only just managed to run this distance in training, so there was no intention to push too hard. In fact, I may well have been biting off more than I could chew but I was still on a high from the top 10 in the Leeds parkrun so was in a bit of a bullish mood.

The race is very hilly but I got around and recorded 43:21. I was delighted with this on two fronts, firstly that it was at a pace that couldnt be maintained for 5K 3 weeks earlier but also because it had a very pleasing numerical symmetry with that first 5K of 23:21!

The week after, on 10th January, saw the Leeds parkrun time come down to 20:05 (6:28/mile), a whole minute quicker than the end of December time.

I was under no illusion that these big chunks of time improvement were going to continue for much longer. It would get to the point where hard work was required to eke out an extra second or two but that was down the line....for now, this was fun. The weight was still around 11.5 - 12 stone so there was still some more improvement to come on that front.

Running was now up to about 35 miles/week.


The month kicked off with a second attempt at 10K, this time even more local at the Dewsbury 10K. I was still relatively heavy but after finishing this race in 40:34 it felt like I could just about get away with calling myself a runner again without too many people falling about in hysterics. They certainly would have done three month earlier so this was quite a milestone.

This month also saw the first foray to an alternative parkrun venue. My then partner, Becky Hall, lived in central London so the most convenient venue was Wimbledon Common. The morning of 7th February was way below zero and there was thick glassy ice all over the place. We still decided to go and have a look at the venue for future reference but were 100% sure that we wouldnt be getting a run.

How wrong we were and this simply served to make me a bigger fan of the parkrun concept, in essence it is just a few mates meeting up to go for a morning run in a park. Why would a bit of ice stop you? The agreement at the start was that we'd just go for a gentle run round and not race. Everyone concurred.....and then seemed to instantly forget as soon as someone said 'Go'! 74 people turned up that morning, which was quite a turnout in those conditions. The result was 10th place in 20:27.

By the end of the month the Leeds parkrun time had now fallen to sub 20, with clockings of 19:37 and 19:34. Very nice.

Looking back now I have no idea why I thought it might also be a good idea to get a half marathon done this early on but on 22nd February a trip to the Sussex Beacon Half Marathon at Brighton resulted in a time of 1:33:22. It wasnt pretty and involved the legs giving up the ghost at about 8 miles and pure grit and determination being employed to get to the end. No enjoyment in that one at all, but it was the first time I had completed a half marathon in years so there were still positives to be taken from it.

Weekly mileages during February were : 65, 81, 68 and 93. I'm finding it hard to believe those mileages but at the time it seemed perfectly reasonable.


A very quick summary of March:

Wimbledon Common parkrun time further improved to 19:21 (6:14/mile).

On 15th March the first 20 miler was attempted, completing the Trimpell 20 at Lancaster in 2:21:51(7:06/mile).

On 29th March, the first sub 40 10K was achieved with 39:17 (6:19/mile) in the Bradford 10K

Weekly mileages: 70, 66, 73, 44


Just to keep testing the robustness, April saw the first attempt at a marathon since 1993, a mere 16 years earlier!

The selected event was the Blackpool Marathon over on the Fylde coast, billed as fast and flat.

I certainly didnt have enough mileage in the legs to be able to run strongly over a marathon but I thought there might be an outside chance of sneaking a VLM Good For Age time which required a 3:15.

A first half in 1:37 might look on target but it was the stamina that was going to be the problem and, sure enough, a significant tailing off took place to finish with a final time of 3:24:17.

As with the half marathon at Brighton, I was finding it difficult to be disappointed no matter how hard a race had been or how poor the result might look.....I was still relishing just getting stuck in and enjoying being part of it all.

Weekly mileages: 36, 22, 32, 42


Parkrun times of 19:19 and 19:30 at Leeds, 19:17 and 19:31 at Wimbledon

Rothwell 10K 39:10

Weekly mileages: 63, 53, 49, 65


On 20th June a new parkrun event started in Manchester at Heaton Park.

It seemed like a good opportunity to try out a third different venue so off we trundled across the Pennines. I was becoming a big fan of parkrun by this time and just loved the combination of low key and yet pretty competitive if that is what you wanted. We all know that there is a Parliamentary Statute laid down that forbids rain to fall on a designated parkrun course between 09:00 and 09:45 on any Saturday morning but on this particular morning the law was broken and an almighty monsoon hit Manchester.

A brief reccie of the course suggested there was a big hill to run up somewhere in the mid part of the run so I reckoned it was best to be a bit cautious tackling this. Anyway, onto the pre-race briefing for the 32 assembled runners (there should have been 33 but Becky had given up in the face of Northern wetness and retreated to the car) and a chap with very wet feet standing in a puddle wearing only open sandals went through the required H&S and course briefings. Our wet footed briefer was actually Mr parkrun himself, Paul Sinton-Hewitt.

Once under way there was a fair group of enthusiastic runners off and away up front. Heaton Park is such that you quickly lose sight of the leaders on certain parts of the course so I didnt know exactly what position I was in or what was going on up front. But that didnt really matter, I knew there was a sizeable hill coming up and I didnt want to be floored by it. After about a mile I had consolidated whatever position I was in and was wondering whether I could close on the runner in front. I kept working at it and he did seem to be coming back a little. Then when we hit the hill he came back pretty quickly and I was able to go past him before we reached the top.

Naturally the next guy then becomes the target. He was around 30 metres ahead but looking comfortable, in fact he was closing on the runner in front of him. The gap seemed to be stable for quite a while but then shortened noticably fairly quickly. I now had the prospect of taking two more positions in one go. I didnt feel great but I reckoned that if the gap had closed then they couldnt be feeling that good either. Past I went and I now had a rough idea that I may be 4th, or even 3rd, but I wasnt sure.

As we went round the next corner I caught sight of the runner in front. We were now at about 3.5k and he was a good 50 metres in front. It was a case of can I?, cant I? but on the basis that I didnt think anyone was going to come from behind I figured it was worth giving it a really good bash and if I blew up then so be it.

Slowly but surely the gap reduced. When it was down to about 5 metres we approached a narrow path going into the final section around the lake. On the same basis as before I thought that since a significant gap had closed then he couldnt be feeling too perky. I decided to take the mental destruction approach here and put in a burst that was way faster than I could maintain but as long as I could break him I could ease off a little while later. That manouver worked to perfection and there was probably only about 500m left. I couldnt see another runner in front so I was going to have to settle for whatever position I was in.

I was then a bit concerned because there was a young man on a bike who seemed to be occupying the only reasonably dry line on the path around the lake and he seemed to be intent on riding slowly not too far in front of me. If he got in the way too much the chap from behind might sniff a chance of coming back past.

At this point the bike rider said something to me although I couldnt make it out so I replied with an annoyed 'what?' What he was actually saying was 'Just one more corner, I reckon you've got it'. You would have been able to hear the clang as the penny dropped...the bike rider was the lead bike and I was leading. Bloody hell, how did that happen?

Just one corner more and there was the finishing line and it suddenly sunk in that this was a bit of a historic moment....the first ever official crossing of the finishing line at Heaton parkrun. There have since been 20,000+ but that was the first.

I then looked down at the watch and noticed the time of......16:37!

Trust me, not for one moment did I think that was correct but I didnt really want to criticise anyone's course measurement either. As I proudly walked across to the table clutching my little tab with the number '1' on I heard the bike rider saying that he thought he may have taken a wrong turn. After a bit of negotiation we all reckoned that adding about 2 minutes was fair. Subsequent measurement suggested it should be between 1:50-1:55 so we were pretty close with the estimation.

But I was now a parkrun Winner. Boy that felt good.

Freckleton Half Marathon

The very next day after the Heaton parkrun win it was over to Freckleton, halfway between Preston and Blackpool, for the oldest half marathon in the UK.

Again, there was a historic twist to this event. It was being billed as the last ever half marathon to be run by Dr Ron Hill. The significance of this was that the first ever running of this event 43 years earlier was won by Ron Hill and he was to this day still the course record holder with 1:04:45.

Somehow I had now managed to become Superman on the back of a single parkrun win. Oh, how the mind can get carried away! This was a pretty big event but as the gun went I was up there with the leaders, we went around a grassy circuit and then out onto the roads. As we went through the first mile the lead clock was showing 5:21. This was nuts, what was I doing? I knew this was going to end horribly but did I care? Not one bit, I was loving it. It was like being alive again after being in a coma.

I set myself the challenge now of seeing how deep into the race I could keep sight of the lead car for. Just short of 5 miles was the answer. It is probably best just to fast forward to the gruesome bit now. At around 9 miles my Superman legs had turned into agonising lumps of useless blubber and, although the entire course was flat, I may as well have been climbing Everest....I was getting nowhere.

I did eventually get to the finish in 1:27:46 in 40th position but I had to suffer for it. Did I regret the silly start? Nope!


25th July saw a trip to another parkrun venue, this time the 2nd event at Roundshaw Downs in Croydon. This was the first of several times that I would find myself standing next to Richard Ward on a parkrun start line. The difference between this occassion and the subsequent ones is that I didnt have a clue who he was and didnt see any problem in trying to beat him. I soon learnt!

If that sounds a bit defeatist, maybe this table will explain why.

1500 U20 Men 2001 to 4:13:00

1. 3:44.96 Richard Ward
2. 3:46.1   Mohammed Farah
14 3:51.48   Scott Overall
15 3:52.15   AndrewBaddeley

Finishing 4th that day as Mr Ward disppeared over the hills and far away was a pleasing enough result.


21st November 2009 was the scheduled date for the Brampton to Carlisle 10, a 10 mile road race between Brampton and Carlisle funnily enough. Well, that is to say that it is normally run over 10 miles but you may be able to cast your minds back to that period, the 19th and 20th November had seen the worst flooding ever to be seen in that part of Cumbria. Literally across the road from the race finish/HQ there was a cricket field of which the only visible part was the very top of the pavilion roof.

We were bussed over to Brampton for the start, driving along the A689 which formed the main part of the course. To either side of the main road nearly everywhere was in deep flood waters. I had only run this course once before back in 1986 (still my pb run of 55:37 :)) but I was pretty sure the course went off into some of these areas that were flooded.

And sure enough that was the case. At the delayed race briefing we were advised that sections of the course were simply impassable so we would just have to miss them out. We then had the unusual scenario of starting a road race without knowing how far we were going to be running, we were only going to find out when the course was remeasured the following week.

It was bitterly cold, it was raining and it was thoroughly miserable and, somehow, the nice friendly flat course that I remembered from 1986 had now developed an endless series of uphill sections. How the memory can play tricks, eh? By the time the finishing line was crossed in 57:15 I had had enough but still got a buzz out of crossing the finishing line of the Brampton to Carlisle once more in a time beginning with a '5'. It was a short course, sure enough, but it still felt good.

It turned out to be 9.3 miles when remeasured and was definitely another one that would live long in the memory.


December 19th was the day of the coldest parkrun I have experienced to this day, -10c. It was only the 6th running of the South Manchester event but they had already had an attendance in excess of 100. However, on this day the turnout was....16! This landed me my 2nd parkrun win and taught me a valuable lesson.

That lesson was that if you want to win a parkrun from time to time make sure you go when most rational people think it more sensible to stay indoors. Its far easier than getting faster :p

This was also the month when the idea of doing a bit more parkrun tourism took hold with 5 completely new venues visited this month. Besides Sth Manchester the new venues were

Black Park

I dont think there was a particular targetting of venues beginning with 'B' but it certainly looked that way.

2009 started with a 21:09 5K clocked up. By the end of the year the comeback pbs had become:

5K 18:37
10K 38:53
10 Miles 63:02
HM 1:25:50
20 Miles 2:21:51
Marathon 3:24:17

A fun year consisting of 2,555 training miles and 57 races.

Tuesday, 10 January 2012


If I'm going to blog about ongoing running adventures I suppose it needs some sort of context so lets jump back to just over three years ago to about August 2008.

At that time I hadnt done any consistent running training for around 12-13 years and weighed in at something between 14.5 - 16 stone (I know it was somewhere in that range but cant be any more accurate) compared to a previous racing weight of 9.5 stone. Thats a fair old difference to carry around on the same pair of legs.

Previous attempts to get running again had been a bit half hearted with a typical effort being no more than about half a mile in 6-7 minutes. Even this was leading to aches galore for days afterwards. It was relatively easy to conclude that my body, especially my legs, were knackered beyond repair.

Thats all well and good but my brain still thought it could run 10 miles in 55 minutes and didnt really want to believe otherwise.

The Plan

So in August 2008 came a moment when I decided that it was time to do something about it. Previous attempts had convinced me that trying to run with 5+ stone of excess weight was simply pointless and was just asking for injury. So I needed an alternative plan. That plan had to consist of weight loss THEN running rather than running to achieve weight loss. I could think of no better way of achieving this than walking, lots of walking over several weeks and months....this wasnt going to happen overnight so I may as well set my stall out properly.

Before I had taken even one step I resolved to build up to walking 50 miles per week and, once at that level, to maintain it for 12 weeks. I knew full well that running 50 miles per week was reasonably time consuming so walking 50 miles was quite some committment . On the plus side, I also knew that mentally this would probably be the toughest training I was ever going to do and as such would set me up well for getting back into proper training when I was able to run again later.

Roughly speaking I was expecting to take 8 weeks to build up to 50 miles per week plus the 12 weeks at 50 miles thereafter and at the end of the 20 weeks I thought it might be reasonable to have got rid of 3 stones of the excess weight. I was therefore committed to 5 months of pretty much all walking taking it through to about January 2009.

The First Steps

It took a huge effort to get round the first walking session, a route of 6 miles which took 1 hour 50 minutes. My feet were burning, I was in agony and I couldnt stand......for a whole day! So was this a depressing state of affairs? Absolutely not. What I now had was a starting point, something to build from and that is all that I needed. The stiffness would get worse over the next 2 days, I was prepared for that, so just ambled 2 miles for the next two days. Patience and stickability were the required ingredients now and you wouldnt believe how motivated I was to see this through.

Progress was slow for the first month but into the second month the weight seemed to be dropping quicker than I had expected, 50 mile walking weeks seemed to be leading to 4lbs of weight loss so the week to week differences were very noticable. It wasnt long into the second month before I started to get ideas of having a little run just because I was feeling fitter, lighter and ready to get on with it.

I was still critically aware not to do too much too soon on an infrastructure which was rather creaky to say the least but nonetheless I managed to run 2 miles and then 3 miles, something which I hadnt done for a few you can probably imagine how my motivation was now growing more quickly than Simon Cowell's bank balance.

I'm not sure why but at this stage I started searching around to see if there were any low key 5 mile or 10K races that I maight be able to aim for a few weeks down the line. It still seemed like a step too far but there was no harm in looking, right?

Google Delivers The Goods

Google seemed to insist on pointing me towards something called 'parkrun'. I'd never heard of it but since Google insisted I thought I may as well have a look. Well what do you know, they ran 5k time trials every week! Even better there was one just down the road in Leeds. And even better than that....they were FREE! Really? There had to be a catch, surely!

Well after much searching I couldnt find the catch and I figured that I might go and have a go because if it really was a step too far and was getting embarrassing I could always skulk off and nobody would even know that I'd been there.

So, on 22nd November 2008 I made my way to Hyde Park in Leeds not really knowing what to expect. This was only 11 weeks after I had started a 20 week walking program so this definitely represented being ahead of schedule no matter what happened.

What a great concept this was, just turn up and run with results recorded on their webite the same day. Leeds is a 3 lap course of an undulating park. Before I had even got around the first lap my lungs were burning, I was panting like an old steam engine and my legs were screaming to stop. But I couldnt stop, pride wouldnt let me. After another 2 laps of extreme discomfort I crossed the line in 45th position with a time of 23:21 .

That time stunned me. Up until that point I had run one solitary mile at sub 8:00/min pace and that was 7:57 around a triangle near where I live. This later turned out to be 0.94 miles so even that wasnt really sub 8:00. Therefore it wasnt any surprise that a 5K run at 7:30/mile had been quite an ordeal!

Guess where I ended up 7 days later at 9am? On 29th November 2008 I had another crack and came away with 22:47 or 7:19/mile (50th position). Weight was still dropping significantly week to week but all the same I was chuffed with this result.

On 6th December 2008 I was there again. Dont jump to the conclusion that this was getting easy but I was kind of enjoying and it was getting slightly easier. The pain and discomfort involved was completely different to that which you experience when pushing yourself to the limit in a race when already fit, this was far worse.
The result for the third run was 22:08 or 7:09/mile (25th). This was becoming an excellent way to measure progress.

I really couldnt face putting myself through it again the next week but was back up for the challenge 2 weeks later, clocking 21:44 (15th)on 20th December 2008. For the final parkrun of 2008 on 27th December the weather wasnt too good resulting in a lower than usual turnout. Nonetheless, when I found myself moving through from an initial 18th position just after the start to 10th after 2 miles I had to pinch myself. Just four weeks earlier I had been delighted to finish in 50th in 23:21 and here I was in 10th place. The resulting energy boost gained me another place for a final 21:09 (9th) at 6:49/mile.

And that was 2008, just 15 weeks after starting a 20 week walking program at 5+ stone overweight, not only was running now a possibility again but a top 10 position in a 5K at sub 7:00/mile was already under the belt. This felt like remarkable progress to me and left me beaming from ear to ear. To actually run at a reasonable speed again was one thing but to feel the competitive juices flowing again was going to become very addictive.............