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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.


  1. Absolutely loving this Steve :) Keep them coming...

  2. Thanks Tom! I have a feeling you might be getting a mention when it gets to 2011!!

  3. Did you ever read about the controversy surrounding the 2008 Blackpool Marathon? I think the course was short or something...

  4. I'll be coming to that in the next instalment ;)