Serendipitous Sunday…Twice!

Two hugely serendipitous things occurred today. The second is by far the most important, but without the first it would probably not have had the same impact. Allow me to explain…

Serendipitous Sunday #1

This morning I had 13 miles on the plan to run. After the excitement of running long distances in new locations over the last few weeks, the thought of doing a half marathon from my door on the overly familiar streets of Cheltenham really wasn’t stoking the fires of motivation. After all the miles I’ve put my legs through recently and running a new parkrun PB yesterday everything ached; I’d already turned down the offer of running with company because I knew I didn’t have their pace in me and I really wasn’t in a chatty mode. In fact I was sat on the end of my bed in all my kit making excuses and justifying why skipping a shorter run wasn’t the end of my marathon training.

As I sat staring at my phone following the exploits of friends running marathons in Manchester and Krakow and feeling ever more unlike going out myself the Instagram logo appeared in the corner of my screen. I clicked it to discover that @Michelleoshea17, who I had never interacted with before, had liked a photo that I posted last Sunday of my training calendar. I went for a look, and was stunned by the words accompanying the pic, by my words. The photo below might explain why…

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So it was that I found the motivation to get out the door and go running. Once I was out there I was faced with the age old problem of where to go…I’ve covered every inch of this town ten times over, I’m sure of it! Everything hurt as I started, and I kind of liked the pain; it was almost a badge of honour for the effort I’ve been putting in recently. Reveling in the discomfort I decided to seek it further so I set my sights on the top of Leckhampton Hill, and by top I mean 5 miles from home over the back of the hill at the Air Balloon pub, all by road. I didn’t stop for a drink, instead I turned and headed back down before diverting out on to the hill for some trails action and home down the hill the fun way. It was a great run for so many reasons, even if the pace and fluidity weren’t among them!

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Serendipitous Sunday #2…the important one

So I went running, as I have tended to do recently I listened to a podcast while I did. I’ve been listening to Scroobius Pip’s Distraction Pieces podcast on my long runs, he has a series of fascinating interviews with some incredibly interesting people, all lasting 60-90 minutes. Today I started by listening to his interview with Eddy Temple Morris, not someone I knew much about.

The conversation very quickly turned to mental health and in particular suicide. It’s long fascinated me that suicide is the biggest killer of men aged 25-45 in the UK, my contemporaries. It kills more than cancer, heart disease, traffic accidents…in 2012 it accounted for the deaths of 4,590 men, which equals 77% of the suicides that year. (the podcasts aren’t all this heavy but they don’t shy away from tricky subjects)

Let me just put your minds at rest and assure you this isn’t a cry for help and I have no plans to add to those statistics, but I can relate to all the reasons why that figure is so high. There’s another post in this and I hope you’ll forgive me, dear reader, for digressing from the running chat sometime and sharing my thoughts, but the important point about today is the podcast talked about a charity, C.A.L.M.

C.A.L.M. (or the Campaign Against Living Miserably) is a small charity with the big job of changing the pattern of young male suicide. I’ve been aware of this organisation for a while but hearing it discussed today confirmed my suspicions that I should be helping.

So, I will be looking over the next few days at how I can best be of assistance, which I’m guessing will primarily be through fundraising and promotion, and talking honestly about what it is like to be a man who sometimes has dark thoughts. I hope you will all support me and this amazing charity…watch this space for how you can, and in the meantime watch the quick video below to see why. Thanks.

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Microadventure: Belas Knap

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It’s all Alistair Humphrey’s fault. He’s popularised the idea that sleeping outdoors with a minimum of kit is somehow both acceptable and even good for the soul…and the worst part he is right!

So it was that on Saturday I found myself sat in the Rising Sun just outside Cheltenham enjoying a slap up feed and looking forward to a 3 mile walk racing the sunset to an alfresco bedroom shared with my friend Karl.

 

Dinner devoured it was on with the packs and away up the hill. The walk in took a bit of a detour as Karl and I share a similarly loose approach to navigation. “Over that way somewhere” was the order of the day as we crossed Cleeve Common with the sunlight fading behind us. We picked up the Cotswold Way, eyeing up some derelict farm buildings which could make a suitable bolt hole if the weather forecast had gone horribly wrong.

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Not happy about the potential for ghosts!

 

 

Turning off the national trail and a short way across a field we reached our accommodation for the evening, Belas Knap burial mound. Karl was a little surprised to learn we’d be sleeping on a burial site where dead people used to rest…cue some lighthearted banter about ghosts and spooky visitors in the night!

 

Home sweet home.

Home sweet home.

As is customary we had carried a couple of ciders with us and set about them while watching the last of the sun disappear over the horizon. The cloud cover was pretty much complete which meant no chance of stargazing or benefiting from the evening’s full moon, so we started to set up bivvy bags and prepare to settle down. Just as we were thinking about climbing in to our bags though, wafting across the valley on the breeze, came the unmistakable sound of a wedding singer! Nearby Sudeley Castle was hosting some lucky couple’s nuptials and we’d obviously been invited to join in the celebrations. Serenaded by such classics as Uptown Funk and Robbie’s Angels we chatted a while longer, before finally getting our heads down.

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The night was typical of a microadventure. Patches of sleep interspersed with confined maneuvers to try and get comfy. I was beautifully warm in my Vango sleeping bag and army issue bivvy, but I could really do with a better kip mat and I hadn’t taken enough spare clothes to stuff a suitably robust pillow. I was also woken by a bitter wind at about 2am which was blowing straight in to my face (and open mouth, my teeth were cold!) but a bit of wriggling and rejigging of the hood of my bag and I was cosy once more. It turns out Karl and I exchanged the role of snorer while the other tried to block out the unwelcome audible intrusion, but I could have sworn it was just him scaring off the wildlife (and ghosts) with his nocturnal noises.

An important rule of microadventure...leave no trace.

An important rule of microadventure…leave no trace.

We were woken at 6.40am by a family out for a sunrise stroll to admire the long barrow. Heaven knows what they thought when they found two lumps snoozing away on top of the ancient monument but we exchanged pleasantries and were grateful they’d turned up as we had places to be and had planned to be up and away long before then. We packed up our belongings, making sure to leave no trace of our stay and headed back across the hill, by a much more direct route, to the waiting car and home.

Homeward bound

Homeward bound

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The Run Around

Last time I was at this stage of a marathon training cycle I posted about how it paid to get creative with your long runs. For 5 years now I’ve been walking out of my front door and turning either left or right…and although every junction I came to I had a choice over the years I have followed every possibility, run every road and covered every inch of tarmac in this town. So again, when it comes to posting runs of 18 miles or more, it was important to think outside the box and find a way of spending 3 hours on my feet without going mad.

And so, prompted by a ridiculous marathon I had heard of, I decided to do the most mind numbingly boring 18 miles I could imagine…around the athletics track.

Not an appealing sight and not an appealing day.

Not an appealing sight and not an appealing day.

Now there were actually a number of good reasons to choose this…no seriously, there were! Try these on for size to begin with…

  • 18 miles of perfect surface; no puddles, tree roots, curbs…and it’s even a little bit bouncy to give you an extra boost
  • 18 miles of uninterrupted running; there would be no traffic lights, no loose dogs running in front of me, no cars pulling out of drives for me to run in to the side of…in fact my only deviation from running would be when I turned around and ran the other way around the track (which I figured was important so I didn’t end up with one leg shorter than the other!)
  • 18 miles without a single hill, in fact nothing to slow me down or speed me up. Just me determining my pace and no excuses for slowing
  • 18 miles without having to carry anything, I would only ever be 400 metres away from my water, energy gels, jacket etc and could pick them up and drop them anywhere I wanted. (I should point out at this point that due to fortuitous circumstance I had the track all to myself, the only other people there were the local rugby league team who were very supportive!)
  • 18 miles that finished at a vending machine, toilet, shower and bar, and only a mile from my front door.
  • 18 miles of monotony that would give me strong mental game for marathon day. If I can keep focused for three hours under these conditions then a race day 26 wouldn’t hold any fears.

And so it was that this morning I found myself on the start line at Prince of Wales Stadium with 3 hours of running ahead of me…

Aaaand, they're off!

Aaaand, they’re off!

I’d done some quick maths and worked out it was 4 laps per mile, which would be a sensible time to turn around. This worked perfectly for the first few miles but I was soon losing count of what I’d done. Not to worry though because my trusty Garmin kept me informed of how I was going, and steady 10 minute miles were falling away at my feet. A parkrun friend, Si Jarvis, popped down to do a mile with me which was much appreciated. We chatted about the running challenges we had coming up which reminded me why I was there in the first place so as he turned away I had extra resolve to see out the wind and rain and get the job done. The first six miles went by in almost exactly an hour.

When it got to the middle six miles I was starting to flag. The physical side was fine but I found I needed something more to stimulate me mentally. (I was listening to the Scroobius Pip Distraction Pieces Podcasts, which are brilliant, but I was zoning out on the track and would suddenly realise I’d run an extra lap or gone straight past the water I needed so I needed to start engaging my mind!) As I had all the track to myself I decided to use it, and from that point I began doing sets of 6 laps working from the outside of the track through the lanes and finishing with the 6th lap in the inside lane where the water etc was lying. The knock on effect of this was of course that laps in the outer lanes are slightly longer and so I was also reducing the number of laps I had to do. Bonus!

As I entered the last 6 miles this plan worked really well. It was surprising how much ground I could cover in a set of laps and I breezed past a half marathon and on towards my longest run since 2013. I was actually getting faster as I edged past 16 miles, through the 17 that my plan dictated and on towards the 18 miles I’d set myself as a target. That last mile was my quickest of the day and while I’m sure my finishing sprint from 200 metres out won’t worry any of the track regulars it felt great to have something left to give, another gear to shift in to, somewhere else to explore mentally and fight for every second at the end of a long, soggy, boring track day! I crossed the line for the 68th time and stopped the watch to the cheers of the rugby club. 18 miles, not just done but done well.

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I would definitely recommend getting some track in your training plan, whether it’s for a quick speed session or an uninterrupted long run. I won’t be making a habit of it, but next marathon I’ll definitely be back for another go.

 

(Thanks to University of Gloucestershire All Golds for allowing me access to the track on opening day of their new season. The boys went on to smash South Wales Scorpions 36-6 so it worked out well for everyone!)

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Silverstone Take Two

As part of the day job I’m responsible for the PR of an animal charity and have to remind the staff daily to take photos of what they’re doing and share their stories with me. As I am always telling them “if we don’t shout about it, it didn’t happen”. I realised today when I said it to a colleague that I’d done loads of great things in the last few months but had failed to follow my own advice and shout about it. So over the next few weeks I’ll be recapping lots of great runs starting with the recent Silverstone Half Marathon.

295_c57y2nwoekI ran Silverstone back in 2013, it was my first half marathon under 2 hours so the course holds good memories for me. After the disappointment of the Torremolinos Half (which I’m yet to write about!) I was eager to squeeze another half marathon in to my marathon training. A running friend who used to work at Silverstone sealed the deal and so I once again found myself pacing up and down the starting grid of the home of the British Grand Prix.

The glamour of a disabled toilet for changing in!

The glamour of a disabled toilet for changing in!

It was bitterly cold so I was grateful for Greg’s old contacts who welcomed us in to the warm confines of the British Racing Driver’s Club and then the Pit Stop Cafe during the long wait prior to the race. (entry to the car parks is restricted from 10:30am but the race doesn’t go off until noon, as the route takes in some of the access roads.) I was also grateful for the glamorous changing facilities we were able to use!

After a decent warm up (yep, I take that stuff seriously now!) and cheering off the wheelchair athletes (David Weir absolutely smashed the competition, he’ll be exciting to watch in London in a few weeks) it was our turn and with celebratory shouts and the beeping of a thousand GPS watches being started we shuffled over the line.

The course is wide and mostly flat, in perfect conditions I imagine it could be very fast. Unfortunately perfect conditions are rare because it is so open and exposed there’s almost always a wind to contend with! It’s also very difficult to keep the race down to 13.1 miles as the official measure is done on the apex of every corner, the traditional racing line, but with 7,000 runners in the way getting across the tarmac to take the shortest route is impossible. There’s not much to look at while you’re running, although for an F1 fan I’m sure there would be more interest. Me, I was there for one thing only and it wasn’t the views!

I’d set my watch to pace me to a PB. I’d run a quick 12.9 miles in early February, and with the marathon training miles going up and up over the next 10 weeks this was my last chance to go fast. As the miles ticked by I was keeping pace well (all miles but the last were within 10 seconds of each other…I doubt I’ll ever run so consistently again!) and remembered when to put away a gel and not to guzzle every bottle of water that was shoved my way. The running felt good and I felt strong, as I eased in to mile 10 I knew I was on track for a big PB and did the last quarter of the race with a big smile on my face. I’d forgotten the last mile was a long uphill drag and inevitably it was straight in to a headwind, but even with that final obstacle I still got home in an official 1:49:05, a new PB and first half under 1:50. (According to the Garmin I actually covered 13.1 miles in 1:48:04 but there was an extra minute of running to get to the finish line)

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Decent medal, but it really is time adidas shelled out for a tech t-shirt we might actually wear.

 

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Ran it with this guy, who had access to all the warm places and even a free feed after the race!

 

That’s it for racing now, time to start the long runs and as with previous marathons I’ll be trying to get a bit creative with it. There’s no joy in pounding the same old streets for 20 miles on a Sunday morning so watch this space!

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Pacing a parkrun…My New Favourite Thing

On Saturday I ran my slowest parkrun of the year…and I LOVED IT!

With the Silverstone Half Marathon on Sunday I wanted to save my legs but I hate to miss a parkrun so I figured I’d just take it easy over the 3.1 miles of Pittville Park. As we all know though, that is much easier said than done! Once the assembled masses are launched from the start line like confetti from a cannon it’s all too easy to get swept up in the excitement and find yourself pulling far to hard. I’ve done it several times before, twice running completely unintentional PBs the day before big races!

So to counter the natural urge to run fast I offered myself up as a pacer for the first time. I asked around to see if anyone had a target they wanted, but with no takers I opted for the 29 minute pacers vest (all that was left between 26-30) and set up my watch to guide me home. (My trusty old Garmin Forerunner 305 may be the size of a desktop PC but it does have some pretty useful features, including a decent training mode that allows you to set the distance and time and then let’s you know how close you are too it. I use it when I want to beat a time, but it was a new experience trying to keep bang on the pace it set!)

The new pacing bibs at Cheltenham parkrun are just lovely!

The new pacing bibs at Cheltenham parkrun are just lovely!

The run began with the usual mad dash as 364 keen parkrunners all vied for their place on the path, but soon everyone had found their rhythm and it was all about me and the watch. I got ever so slightly ahead of myself but figured that was a good place to stay if I wanted to be certain of getting people home under 29 minutes. As we came to the end of the first lap I was aware of being followed, which I suppose is a good thing for a pacer! I asked behind if anyone was using me for a time and discovered that George (a junior) and Amanda were both aiming to stick with me for new PBs…all of a sudden the pressure was on!

So for the next two laps I was alternating between studying my watch to make sure I wasn’t getting too fast and checking over my shoulder that my shadows were still with me. As we entered the final kilometre I briefed George on when to leave me and kick for home, he was on course to smash his old time. Amanda had faded slightly but again she was primed to take a big chunk off her previous best. I did creep a little ahead of target towards the end, but by that point I hoped I’d done enough. George went off like a rocket in the last 200 metres to finish in 28:21 (a PB by over 2.5 minutes!) and as I crossed the line at 28:34 I looked nervously over my shoulder for Amanda. She came home in a fabulous 28:59 (maybe she should have been the pacer!!) for another new PB by 23 seconds!

I love parkrun, but I especially love how it can keep throwing up new experiences and new joys. I think pacing may just be my new favourite thing and I’ll definitely be helping myself to a brightly coloured bib again soon.

Well done guys!!!

WELL DONE GUYS!!!

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