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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)


  1. That Barnsley Runner sounds a fine feller, shining the light into short course measurements which cheat runners. I'd like to meet him one day and shake him warmly by the hand...

  2. I've heard a rumour that he's doing the Brass Monkey on Sunday.....I hope they've got a full 13 miles 182.5 yards!