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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)

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