Fell Running

August 5, 2016

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In a quest to add more variety to my running, build up a bit of strength and most importantly to stop beating myself up about pace, times and speed I’ve taken to Fell Running this year. This has happily coincided with my running club initiating a first off-road championship to run along side the regular one. It consists of 7 races varying in distance and difficulty with us posting our 4 best results. I started surprisingly well with the easy stuff but it has become clear that in this first season a number of us are being ‘groomed’ into the ways of fell running. First was a trail race which finished with a nasty climb up to a beacon and the 2nd was a short dash up Rivington Pike and back with most of the running on tarmac. I started with 2 wins and the ever improving Rob just behind me in both of them.

3rd race was manic: Mount Famine on the edge of the Peak district. Not particularly long but all steep either up or down. No flat stuff and the downs were so aggressive little old novice me couldn’t relax, enjoy  or benefit from them in any way.

Eddie’s revenge a few weeks ago was more like my kind of Fell Race. Local, midweek, not too long, several climbs but no one of them too long and the terrain was fairly firm and true. Rob had taken first place in the 3rd and 4th races so last week at Lee Mill, Bacup we were level on points and with the 2 remaining races being longer and playing to Ultra-runner Rob’s advantage I really needed to win to have a hope of securing our club’s first off-road championship title.

So this was the 5th off-road race of the season and I think it’s the one I have enjoyed the most. The course was varied and had all the components I have come to expect in a Lancashire fell race: Gradients both up and down to contend with, one section of up requiring the use of hands and a section of down just too steep to be enjoyable. There was a flat bit too, although it had mild undulations and “bog holes” which provided a kind of runner’s Russian Roulette: once every few minutes I’d hit soft ground and a leg would sink down with stinking liquid rising above my knee.

I was still just inside the top ten as a sequence of 3 bog incidents sapped my strength and knocked my confidence whilst a group of runners behind me seemed to avoid all the worst stuff at my expense. I let a couple past and tried to keep with them, trying to follow in their footsteps but their pace was increasing and I couldn’t match it.

I had lead the PAC runners for the first couple of kilometres but stopping to tie a shoe lace had allowed Rob to pass me (though denying him the pleasure of passing me properly) and the 15 second gap I gifted him evolved into a 3 minute margin by the end of the race.

Then there was the steepest section of decent which was as hazardous for its uneven terrain as it was for its gradient. I was over generous in moving off the recognisable path onto more uneven group in order to let a couple of runners past and this soon turned into 5 or 6 runners. My heart and lungs were okay but inexperienced legs were a little wobbly and I didn’t want to tumble.

As we approached the end we went through a quarry, a point at which I should have been accelerating into the last kilometre but again the uneven ground caused me to back off. There wasn’t anything to play for as Rob was well ahead and I couldn’t see the next PAC runner behind me.

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I was delighted to finish without incident other than a scuffed shin from one of my bog hole incidents. I paddled in the Irwell to clean myself up and then tucked in to a chip butty. A pint would have just rounded things off but I was driving and unlike most of the other races this one didn’t start and finish outside one.

I was happy to concede the off-road title to Rob who finished a fabulous 7th from 91 runners whilst I was 21st. I have left it too late to enter the remaining races at Pendle and North Wales but will be happy to find more local midweek fell runs and reckie some races to suggest for our PAC 2017 diary.

Looking back at Germany

August 5, 2016

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The dust has settled a little on the Retro-Running World Championships but local media interest is starting to pick up (check out this week’s Prestwich and Whitefield Guide everybody!) and I’m still being sent fabulous photos of myself at the event such as the one above. Most of the people of Prestwich have seen my medal now as it’s often carried around in my back pocket, but looking to the future I want to (shamelessly) use my success to re-launch the UK Championship and ideally in Heaton Park as that would be particularly handy for me!

Although the World Championships in Germany were slick, well organised and competitive it was immense fun and this was probably due in some part to the mind-set of the athletes. We had all worked hard in preparation but ultimately you must have a sense of humour to entertain running backwards. I met some fantastic and inspiring people, I can’t list them all but here are a few from around the world:

Dwayne had traveled furthest; from Australia thanks to some crowdfunding by companies families and individuals. As a double amputee his main drive to was inspire other amputees to try new experiences and ‘Just do it’. Dwayne’s sport is Basketball rather than track running but he was keen to set some world records for others to break. He is probably the first person ever to run on blades turned the other way round. This must have been a bit scary for him as he was left very vulnerable as he tired in the 200m. I think they would have enhanced his 100m time but after making his way around the curve of the 200m without any problem he found himself tiring and would have liked to have rested on his heels for balance and some stability. The blades didn’t have any heel support so there was a big wobble, Dwayne caught himself, and then bravely battled on the end of the straight in determined though rather precarious manner.

Dwayne

For the 100m later on the same day he went back to his regular prosthetics and trainers and finished that without any problem. The guy was great fun as well as an inspiration and I wish him and his family well in every future adventures he takes them on!

A quick shout out to Israeli Triathlete Lako who took 4th in the Half marathon as well as 5th in a very competitive 10k. I could have cried for the guy putting in all that effort without claiming a gong as he finished the 21.1km behind 3 excellent German runners. I hope he goes again in 2 year’s time.

I was inspired to be as professional a possible during and after my relay races by Aaron a middle distance ace only recently converted to Retro-running. He looks set to push the world records if he maintains his rate of improvement. His Mum sang the star spangled Banner for him as he collected a number of gold medals in front of his family who had come over from Kansas. Also from the other side of the Atlantic came Canadian Ultra-runner Kat who grabbed golds between 800m and Half Marathon distance and finished every event with a smile on her face. I particularly remember her whipping up the crowd in the grandstand every time she passed by in the 10,000m.

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In the men’s 10,000m, Thomas Dold (above), the star of our Retro-running world, also smiled all the way through breaking his own world record bringing it down to an astonishing 38 min 50 seconds. I haven’t even run that forwards (and I’m a World Champion if you hadn’t forgotten!) I chatted to Thomas the following day and he’s going to Rio to help coach the German ladies Marathon team.

My relay team of Polish Champion Artur, Austrian Ultra runner Daniel, and our experienced anchor relay man Garret. What we lacked in experience and sprinting ability we made up for in enthusiasm. We didn’t drop the baton and didn’t finish last in either race. It just goes to show what can happen when Europe works together and made me feel like I’d done something towards counter-balancing my country’s recent vote to break away from the continent!

Team

Garret inspired me on this 5 year journey of fun and fitness which I’m sure has helped me stay injury free and enabled me to improve as a forward runner too. Below is a photo from a few years ago in Heaton Park when the proud Irishman beat us all over the mile distance. I hope he can return to Heaton Park next year to inspire more locals and in return I’ll form a GB squad to take Dublin by storm when he hosts the 2018 World Championships.

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Finally Mark who represented the rest of the GB team as well as managing the European relay team. The bloke is absolute star, full of fitness and fun and living down in London he could help raise the profile of Retro-running around the capital. There was loose talk about holding a track based event before Dublin 2018 (GB trials?!) I’m delighted to hear that his Achilles is strong again and he ran backwards recently.

Mark

So that’s the end of my epilogue. I will serious consider resurrecting the UK Backwards Running Championships in my local park next spring and I will still be doing a mile or 2 backwards on a Sunday morning just to keep my self in Retro-shape though I definitely won’t be doing another Half Marathon distance (until Dublin obviously).

Fueling a champion

July 24, 2016

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I know how important fueling is for an athlete and over the last 10 years with C2C bike rides and day trip rides to the seaside and back as well as with longer distance runs I’ve discovered what works for me nutritionally and I’ve so never ‘bonked’ or ‘hit the wall’. I’ve hydrated, gone on caffeine fasts, taken electrolytes, carb loaded and even limited my alcohol intake (I know – serious stuff!). Whatever else has happened in races and events I’ve never felt that fueling was a reason for falling short.

In Germany, without the luxury of my familiar energy drinks and supplements I had to make do with what I could find. I’d taken some pre-measured bagged up ‘deals’ of my protein powder to take to help my recovery but aside from that I only had a Beet It flapjack bar. I’d forgotten to take any energy gels with me. When running for over an hour I like to take a couple, preferably the ones with caffeine, but I didn’t know where to find them around Essen and shopping opportunities were limited to checking the 2 local chemist shops neither of which stocked them. I bought some Haribo owls instead. Owls just because my kids like owls.

I searched the local Rewe and Aldi supermarkets for microwave-able pots of porridge but I suppose it’s a very Scottish/British thing. I couldn’t even find much in the way of breakfast bars and bought some seed/oat honey bars but only had a couple of them for breakfast. A sausage and egg McMuffin was to be my alternative hot breakfast but as the McDonald’s by our apartment didn’t open until 9am on Sundays that wasn’t an option either. I had water (though probably not enough) and an energy drink (but only 1) and some beetroot juice. Ah yes, beetroot!

I’d been recommended beetroot by a colleague whilst I was preparing for the Great North Run last year. It’s known as nature’s EPO and its iron and nitrate content help with endurance and indeed had seemed to assist me in Newcastle when only the screaming of my thigh muscles in the last couple of miles stopped me from going any quicker. I’d bought 3 cartons of beetroot juice and a pack of fresh beetroot from Rewe in addition to the Beet It bar I’d taken out there. I’d already drunk 2 cartons on Saturday as well as 2 of the 5 beetroot bulbs on a lunchtime ham sandwich. There are consequences to eating a lot of beetroot so yes my wee was quite pink. So on Sunday morning I probably wasn’t fully hydrated, certainly didn’t have enough carbs stored up but boy oh boy was I full of beetroot in its many forms!

The race was being held in a former colliery called Zollverein which is now a world heritage site. It was about 5 km from our apartment and I’d already bought us all tram tickets when I realised that the tram’s Sunday service would not get me to the starting line in time. I set off jogging with a rucksack full of my belongings on my back. Once at the entrance to the colliery there was still a fair distance to cover and no helpful sign posts. I arrived at the start 2 minutes before 9:30 and was very relieved to find that the starting time had been put back by 30 minutes. This gave the rest of my family time to catch up, I could also calm myself a little and also stop sweating after my exertions just to get to the start line.

The course was a 1 kilometre stretch of path that we would go up and down 11 times. It had a number of right angle turns along it which broke the monotony but in return offered some technical challenges. In one direction we ran on tarmac but in the other we were on an adjacent fine cinder trail. We all walked the length of the course with the organisers so they could highlight pinch points, changes in surface and other minor obstacles to avoid. All hazards were well marshaled and didn’t cause me any problems.

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There were 20 of us running and looking around the field I tried to work out who the M1 males were. Silver Paolo who finished ahead of me in the 3000m was there and hadn’t raced on Saturday. He would be a threat as would a strong looking German with calf socks who had only turned up for this event. Another German, Arno, who I had raced against in the 5000m was there too but I forgot that he was actually over 55 (he didn’t look over 50) so not actually in my class but as I say I didn’t realise this.

We started with a partial lap to make up the extra 1.1km on a metric 21.1km half marathon course and by the end of that I was settled around 8 or 9th. One advantage about racing in reverse is that you can see your opponent behind and defend a position. I didn’t want to look over my shoulder too often so only looked at the competitors in the more advanced positions when we approached the coned turns at either end of the 1km track. Later on I timed some of the splits between myself and neighbouring runners to work out if I was gaining at all. After a couple of lengths we had settled and I thought I was 3rd vet behind Paolo and Arno. It stayed this way for a long time. A long, long time indeed; at quarter distance I was noticing the difference between my split times running on cinder and on tarmac. I was having to push more on the tarmac to keep on track for 2 hour pace and as it turned out I was pushing too hard. So was everyone else though because I wasn’t gaining or losing position. Half way and I might still have been on track but was feeling pretty ropey knowing that there were tougher times to come. The kids were now handing me the Haribo owls on demand but they were large, too chewy and required water to wash them down. I was taking on water whenever I could and throwing lots of it over me too in order to try to cool down. The sun wasn’t shining but it was humid.

Into the 3rd quarter and I seemed to be gaining on Paolo who was still one place ahead of me. I noticed he dropped back to a brief walk a couple of times and this fired me up. Despite a lack of energy reserves the adrenaline was carrying me through.

Once past Paolo and into the last quarter of the race a few of the Italian supporters shouted ‘Primo’ at me. I disputed this and replied ‘Arno Primo’ but they knew he was older and I didn’t. I passed Arno anyway and whilst running on empty for the last couple of lengths I was lifted by knowing that barring a disaster I was on for gold. I took on full sugar coke at the water/fueling station which in hindsight I should have taken from the halfway point onward instead of large chewy owls.

My pace was dropping but thankfully so was everyone else’s. I crossed the finish line marginally under 2 hours and 10 minutes and felt a wave of fatigue hit me. I stumbled about a bit and Catriona quickly guided me to a chair. I looked grey and was fairly unresponsive to people’s congratulations. I downed cup upon cup of sugary Coke and apple juice then after about 10 minutes I felt I could stand, talk and even smile a bit.

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I cheered home a few of the following runners and then found the cafe toilets to strip wash and change ready for the presentation. I drank the sweetest most beautiful half litre of Dunkelweizen and strutted back to the fueling station where the presentations were to be made.

There had been a very heavy downpour which unfortunately caught last lady Emmanuelle who was alone on the track, but now the clouds broke and I felt the warmth of the sunshine on my cheeks as I stood on a wobbly bench holding the Union Flag aloft behind my head. A bemused Italian and German sat by my feet as I belted out God Save the Queen for all that I was worth. I closed my eyes to stop the tears from gathering and causing my voice to falter (you know how I like to sing when given the chance). Much as I admire and respect Daley Thompson how on earth could he have just whistled along to the national anthem when he won gold in LA?

So there you go, I became a Veteran World Champion last weekend and I’ve been basking in the glory ever since and carrying my gold medal around with me wherever I go showing it to anyone who shows the slightest interest. I’ll leave the blogging at that for now although there is an epilogue brewing…..

Going one better

July 24, 2016

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Saturday morning started with an early leg loosener running around the city. I’ve described Essen to people as being the German equivalent of Sheffield (but without the hills) as it’s about the 6th largest city in Germany with a good size university, trams running through the centre and is a city steeped in mining and steel making history. It has regenerated and redefined itself over recent years being the European Capital of Culture in 2010 and the massive Zollerein steel works is now a UNESCO world heritage site and was to be the venue for the half marathon race. More of that later ……

A quick McBreakfast and I was ready to return to the stadium for a second day of races. There was a chance that I might be involved in heats for the relays with both the finals happening in the evening either side of my 5k race. Before that I actually had to find a team. There were rules about the formation of relay teams, the first being that if there were enough people from one nation to form a relay team then you had to run with your fellow countrymen. Failing that you had to join with other runners in a similar situation to yourself but from the same continent. Garret, knowing that Ireland and Great Britain would be in this situation had messaged me a couple of weeks earlier asking if I would relay with him in Essen. This was very flattering as neither 100m or 400m would be events I would shine in and on the Saturday Garret sourced a couple of other European men to join us:

Artur was Polish national retro-running champion and a bit of a character. He and his girlfriend had hitch-hiked 1000km from Poland to the event. He had a platted beard too. The guy was tall with a powerful frame and had taken bronze behind Garret in the 1500m. Daniel was a tall and lean Austrian ultra-runner who had raced over 100km forwards a few weeks earlier. His backwards experience was limited but he was happy to join us racing distances well outside his comfort zone.

Mark the injured GB sprinter took on the mantel of team manager. This was actually quite necessary as there was a lot going on in the stadium and he focused on organising us and getting us to the line whilst we could relax a little and hopefully perform to our best. We tried a few passing drills in readiness for the 4x100m relay and it seems that passing the baton when running backwards might be tricky but on balance is no more awkward than doing it forwards and particularly so for 4 novices. The onus was on the recipient to ensure the transaction ran smoothly as they could clearly see the baton.

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There were no prima-donna disputes over the running order. We would have liked to run our strongest sprinters 1st and 4th to keep us in the race for the first half minute and to also give us hope of improving on the last leg but Artur struggled with corners and so we gave him the straight 2nd leg. I would be leading us off instead. *Gulp*

I danced around a bit to warm up and tried to take some physical cues from Aaron the US collegiate middle distance ace who was representing the combined Americas just inside me. I wasn’t going to use the starting blocks, there was already too much to think about and potential hazards regarding me running backwards around a bend and carrying a baton for the first time in my life.

I readied my self and, to misquote Linford Christie, started on the N of the Bang. There is footage available of the whole race and I can see that within about 10 seconds the 3 runners inside me had flown past as I affected what I would describe as a frantic reverse shuffle. I handed over to Artur with just 1 runner behind me, he improved us by one place which I think Daniel conceded on his leg. Garret brought the baton home with some style stretching out his legs but with just the 3rd German team training us. The result was a clear victory for Germany followed by the combined Americas and Italy 3rd.

The important thing for me was that I’d survived the experience without injuring myself or causing any international incident!  The 5k field was beginning to assemble and I recognised some familiar faces from Friday’s 3k race. In the M1 class Paolo the 3k winner was there but silver placed Paolo II wasn’t starting. Could I improve on Bronze? I’d asked Garret whether I should focus on the 5k or the Half Marathon and his approach was to give it all for the 5k because I could end up injured and not start the half marathon. With this in mind I ran the 5k pretty much as I would do a forward 5k ie going off hard, settling in the 2nd third of the race leaving myself to hang on at the end.

Around the first corner and over the finish line for the first time I had thrown myself into 2nd position overall with just Aaron (US collegiate middle distance champion Aaron) ahead of me. Aaron has run 4:04 for a forward mile, I might have a bit more experience of Retro-running than him but I needed to stop chasing him before my body exploded. At the end of the 2nd lap I respectfully moved out and let Paolo pass me together with another German runner. I now focused on a Mexican runner, Diego, who I wanted to keep behind me for as long as possible. I think I held him off for about 3 laps before conceding that place and again another German runner close to him came past at the same time. The field was spreading out and most of the runners had been lapped by Aaron some of them multiple times. I also started to lap backmarkers and among the jumble of runners I could see that I was the 2nd M1 runner and so with nobody within 20 seconds ahead or behind me in the last 3rd of the race I could ease off for the last couple of laps leaving something in the tank for the following day’s half marathon. I also had the 4x400m to think about too!

So Silver was claimed and I got to listen to the Italian national anthem being sung through a megaphone, many flags were waved and the Azzurri were jubilant. Could I possibly top that? Read on dear reader!

Manager Mark re-shuffled his European deck to give us more of a fighting chance in the 4x400m, Artur was to lead off and keep us in the mix for as long as possible. I was 2nd leg to received the baton and running the corner in 5th lane before breaking to the inside. This is one of the exciting bits of a 4x400m where you see for the first time where the athletes all stand. I can’t quite remember where we stood though. Not last, but I can’t remember if there was more than one runner behind me. I remember that lap being tough though. It felt like I was running through treacle. I gratefully passed the baton to Daniel and stood slumped on the track watching the 2nd half of the race unfold. The combined Americas: Cuba, Dominican Republic, Mexico and USA set a new world record, Germany and Italy came behind them and the “EU All-stars” weren’t last hurrah!

Time for a large protein shake, a wurst and a one (just one) gorgeous German beer before bedtime. It’s all about fueling isn’t it, you’ll get nowhere without fueling properly…

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My journey to the podium

July 23, 2016

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I’m not sure if last weekend really happened, maybe it was just a dream. After 5 years of running backwards and a few months of training with increasing intensity I attended my first World Retro-Running Championships and claimed 3 medals, one of each.

My journey had started in Heaton Park back in 2011, slightly hung-over and curious as why anyone would attempt to run backwards. That day I met Garret who came over from Dublin to take the UK Championship title despite throwing down a €1,000 gauntlet to anyone who could beat him. I wouldn’t say I was hooked after this first race but having finished well up the field I was eager to train a little, to improve and claim the veteran’s title leaving the overall crown to the very impressive Garret. After taking and retaining the UK veteran’s title in the next 2 years that the UK event was held, there was nowhere left to go other than into international competition against a world class field!

I traveled over to Germany on the Thursday with the rest of the family joining me early Saturday afternoon. I’d committed to a 3k race on Friday morning and a 5k race on the Saturday evening. The half marathon on Sunday was open to anyone who fancied it on the day. I’d run backwards every weekend for 3 months but hadn’t covered the same mileage as I’d done last year. I’m sure I could complete the half but probably not as quickly as I’d run last August in Heaton Park; my best training run had been 10k in under an hour and that hadn’t left me too uncomfortable. There was the possibility of running relays too though there weren’t enough GB athletes to form a team and I didn’t actually know 3 other people who would be there either!

I arrived in Essen late in the afternoon and found the Stadium Am Hallo, 5 miles into the city’s surburbs about a minute before the opening ceremony was due to start at 7pm. The only person I knew there was Garret but that soon changed. I first met Mark who was the only other GB athlete in attendance and I found out he had a claim on the 400m world record that he might have set back in 1987 before Retro-running records were published. I was pleased to hear he was a sprinter hoping to run 100, 200 and 400m and thus avoiding me head to head. We were both competing in the M1 – Masters1 class 40 – 55 years there were also Junior and M2 classifications as well as the open classification.

I enjoyed a couple of practice laps forwards and backwards before parading with the other athletes and proudly carrying the Union flag. There were well over 100 athletes there representing about 25 different countries. Home advantage meant that the German squad was the biggest but there was also a large number from Italy who had hosted the last World Championships in 2014.

Friday morning I returned and was ready to race. My plan was to use the 3k to get acclimatized to competing on the track and then major in the 5k the following evening with the family present to cheer me on. I was pretty sure I’d be able to do the half marathon as well, but not yet knowing the calibre of the opposition finishing it would be the primary objective.

There were 20 men across all the classifications ready to do battle in the 3k. We lined up across the track to start and without feeling too nervous I confidently took a position in the first 10 as we ran the first corner. I passed a couple on the finishing straight and then settled myself for 7 more laps. As the race unfolded I was aware that I was 6th overall but couldn’t be sure of the classification of the men ahead of me.  There was nobody to go head to head with so I focused on feeling comfortable, running within myself and most importantly not getting lapped by the overall leader. This I managed and came home in 14:26 as 3rd M1 runner. I was going to get a chance to stand on a podium for the first time in my life!

Elsewhere in the GB camp things weren’t going so well. There were heats for the 100m and although Mark had finished 3rd in his and qualified for the M1 final his achilies had twinged about 10m from the line. He wasn’t sure whether he could run again. He massaged the base of his calf, applied cream and eventually sourced some calisthenic tape together with a nurse who could apply it but this was all damage limitation. Sprinting is hazardous. The achilies are stretched more than in conventional running and it is more awkward to warm up pre-race. Falling is another hazard too. When tiring towards the end of a sprint and pushing hard for the line it is easy to trip. A few runners went to ground and some wore rugby head guards which seemed a sensible precaution to take. Mark’s forward movement improved but backwards was still quite uncomfortable. He was wondering whether to give up his place to the next quickest qualifier but we egged him on to carry on through with the final knowing that he wouldn’t be able to compete again that weekend. Although I had lost a relay team mate I had gained a relay team manager as Mark rose to the challenge of bringing Europe to run together in harmony. More of that tomorrow…..

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I popped back to the apartment at lunchtime enjoyed a couple of celebratory Dunkelweizen before returning to the stadium to enjoy the evening’s events. The high point was witnessing the astounding Thomas Dold taking 30 seconds off his 10,000m world record to bring it down to 38:50. When my time came, I took to the podium with the 2 Italians who finished ahead of me. I’ll never tire of hearing their anthem played (especially when they all sing along with such gusto) though it would be nice to hear God Save The Queen played. Maybe one day….

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Happy and glorious….

July 18, 2016

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As it’s my 18th wedding anniversary today I’ll make this entry brief and choose my words carefully:

There aren’t many moments in my life that I expect will surpass standing upon a bench in a former German colliery and belting out God Save the Queen with all the power I could muster, eyes closed to stop them welling up (and potentially affecting the powerful vocal performance) with my wife and children proudly watching on.

I brought home Gold in the “Masters 1” (V40 ) class of the 6th World Retro-running Half Marathon. The tale of my epic triumph will be saved for another entry (most probably to be serialised) as will stories of meeting some colourful and inspiring characters from around the globe. I also collected a Bronze in the 3k on Friday and Silver in the 5k on the following day meaning the excitement and joy crescendo’d through 3 days of thrilling competition in Essen.

My voice was almost cracking as I sang and on the emotional Richter scale it was almost, but only almost up there with turning to see my bride to be and holding my children for the first time.  A memorable day indeed!

Representing

July 10, 2016

Representing

Next weekend the 6th World Retro-running Championships is taking place in Germany and I’m going to be there proudly representing Great Britain as well as a couple of other fine institutions. The last Championship was held in Italy 2 years ago and this year’s gathering looks to be larger with more than 200 athletes representing over 30 countries and “6 continents” (I thought there were only 5?).

At a British national level there isn’t much going on. The last UK championships were 3 years ago when I retained the UK Veteran title and although I’m in touch with a few of the people I raced against back in  2013 only the overall winner, Irishman Garret, will be in Germany.

I’ve entered the 3k and 5k events and might have a go at the half marathon although the furthest I’ve run this year is 14km (about 2/3rds distance) so it would be a bit of a trip into the unknown. The 3k is on Friday morning when I will experience competitive track retro-running for the first time and after learning from that I hope to be in a better position to compete in the 5km on Saturday evening. My best time over this distance is 25:15 which I ran last year – I don’t think I’m any faster than that at the moment. A world class time is under 20 minutes so I doubt I will be troubling the podium. The half marathon is early on the Sunday morning so I’ll have to see what I’ve got left to give. My sub 2 hours time from last year might have put me in the top few (although the world record is around 95 minutes) but I think I would currently be about 10 minutes slower than last year.

I don’t expect to trouble any of the leaders and suspect I’m going to be a bit more Eddie the Eagle than Mo Farah. My wife recently bought me a GB vest for my birthday and I’ll be proud to wear it in anger. I put it on this morning for the first time to run 10k and spoke to a few of the dog walkers in Heaton Park who have seen me train over the last few months. When explaining myself to them I’ve felt that the claim that I’m training for a world championship has given a modicum of legitimacy to the apparent lunacy of what I’m doing every Sunday morning!

So bring it on and let’s see how I measure up to the rest of the world!

 

 

My running year – 2015

January 1, 2016

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2015 was my best year of running yet. At 44 I’m faster than I’ve ever been and over the last 12 months I’ve enjoyed a wide variety of events and improved on all fronts. Joining the local athletics club has taken me to a new level and enabled me to smash personal bests through the wonderful distraction of racing against better runners. Even when these quicker runners eventually cruise past me towards the end of a race my efforts to keep them behind me have brought out performances I couldn’t have imagined were possible.

My year started with Radcliffe AC’s Terry Nortley 10 mile trail race in February and that gave me a focus through the depths of winter. I finished 3rd in the club in my first race wearing a Prestwich AC vest. I’ve booked in to run it again and should improve on last year, especially if it doesn’t snow this time. Through the spring and summer I raced a few more times than I had intended but nothing that disrupted my backwards running which was becoming a priority. I set a fastest 10k time on a trail route in Wigan and this is probably the only distance I’d like to put a lot of effort into improving in 2016 because on tarmac I think I could be at least a couple of minutes quicker.

My biggest challenge was my backwards half marathon. This was supposed to be completed at the Great North Run but the organisers weren’t happy with me doing that so, as a safer alternative, I ran the same distance in Heaton Park on a wet Bank Holiday Monday. I had trained for 4 months to build up to that distance and it had distracted me from forward matters so much so that the forward half marathon at the Great North Run was far more painful than it should have been and my legs ached for 4 days afterwards.

Completing the Great North Run as part of #TeamSage was wonderful. There were over 200 of us trying to beat our CEO and claim £2 for every minute we were faster than him. I caused him to hand over an extra £48 and if I’d run it backwards I wouldn’t have beaten him (that was the original challenge I’d set myself). Sage couldn’t have done more to prepare us all. Many were attempting their first big run and we shared tips and training programmes with each other, paced one another and all our families cheered on anybody wearing the company’s green vests. We had free access to our local Nuffield gyms in the weeks leading up to the race and I tried pilates for the first time to ensure I kept my sciatic pains at bay. Post race there was a pub and kids play zone booked out to help us all relax, refuel, share stories with one another and get a sports massage. Together we raised over £50,000 for Cancer Research UK.

As the Prestwich AC running year drew to a close I found myself competing to take second place. Jake had secured the men’s title with 3 races to go but I needed to finish in the first few at the Lancaster half marathon to post a 7th result and take second place in the championship. The training for the GNR and the extra endurance I had developed for the backwards half gave me a solid platform to build upon and I was determined to significantly improve my PB. I don’t think I have ever been more focused in my training. 2 weeks before Lancaster my body announced that I had reached its limit as a hamstring niggle cut short a tempo training run. 3 days later there was no pain but I didn’t dare push hard until the race itself. I set off quickly, definitely too quickly for the first km but I then settled into a good pace I wanted to hold for 15km (and then just hang on from that point to the end). Between 6 and 7kms the hamstring flared up again. I backed off a little and although the pain stayed it didn’t get any worse and as the next few kms passed by I gained confidence that I would be able to finish, although I didn’t want to concede too many places against fellow Prestwich runners. Only Dan passed me so I took 2nd place which was more than enough to claim runner-up in PAC men’s championship.

Pride of place on my mantelpiece goes to a teapot I am sharing with Alison as we were first lady and gent in the first Dave Bradshaw memorial 5k. This was a brilliant race in woodland around the Outwood Trail. Dave was noted for taking his fellow runners on interesting diversions during club training runs as well as enjoying a good cup of tea (hence the trophy). The course had a couple of crazy inclines which seemed to suit my running style and enabled me to cut through the field. I never met Dave as he passed away a few weeks before I joined the club, it would seem that his spirit of fun and fellowship is very strong among the runners of Prestwich AC and certainly for me when I’m having fun, I don’t notice how hard I’m working and the temporary pains of exertion can be ignored.

2015 was ace and 2016 is going to be mega particularly as I venture onto the international stage this summer. Watch this space…..

 

2015 running highlights:

Radcliffe AC Terry Nortley (10 mile trail) 1:11:17  24/185 and 3rd PAC

Roddlesworth Roller (9k trail) 39:06  20/177 and 2nd PAC

PAC championship Heaton Parkrun 18:09 PB 6/554 and 2nd PAC

Heaton Parkrun 1st home 18:06 PB 1/474

Wigan 10k trail 39:54 PB  10/235 and 2nd PAC

Strava art in Heaton Park (6.25k backwards) Seahorse!

Backwards half marathon for CRUK 1:57:50

Bryan Lawton reservoir race (4.6k trail) 17:49  7/110 and 1st PAC

Great North Run with #TeamSage (13.1 miles) 1:28:48 PB 660/40907

PAC championship”freedom” Parkrun 17:53 PB 5/543 and 1st PAC

Lancaster half marathon 1:26:35 PB 32/616 and 2nd PAC

My Backwards Half Marathon

September 1, 2015

finish

So after about 4 months of preparation the big run arrived and it all went very much to plan. Although I’ll vouch for the fact that 5 pints of quality lager can provide good fuel for an early morning run, I took a more conventional approach having just a couple of glasses of red wine the night before with tonnes of pasta and Catriona’s fabulous meatloaf. I woke early enough to grab a bit of breakfast before we headed out to the park to start running at 7:30.

I tend to be in the park an hour earlier than that to catch it at its quietest but as it was raining lightly there probably wouldn’t have been more than the hardcore of regular dog-walkers around. I had my usual pre-race strong sweet coffee to kickstart me and the first of the 12 laps was far quicker than it needed to be. Just over 9 minutes when each lap needed to average 10 minutes. The first time I had ever run backwards I’d completed this UK Champioinship circuit in just under 10 minutes now I needed to keep that pace for about 2 hours.

My pit crew had set up a pop up tent by the boating lake. As well as keeping time and barking out my splits they were serving up breakfast juice and croissants to any early morning supporters who came along. The 2nd lap I eased off a little and ran it in 9:40 but my plan was to go harder for the first half of the run and then hang on. First 3 laps were completed in just over 28 minutes and I was feeling strong. New trainers and my favourite socks were keeping my feet happy, a mixture of music to help my pace filling my ears. Feeling by the Las which was the perfect tempo, just a shame it was only 2 minutes long and a bit of the Bee Gees’ Jive Talking and Tom Jones’ Delilah helped me along too.

During the 2nd quarter of the run I had to remember to push hard down the gentle down hill sections to stop my pace from dropping too much. I arrived at the halfway point in just over 57 minutes so I was pretty sure I was on track to beat 2 hours. My longest training run had been 11.5 miles so the last couple of laps would take me beyond what I’d done before but at that stage I didn’t feel like I was going to break down.

Through laps 7 8 and 9 things got tougher, particularly on the hill so I allowed myself to slow on the climb and concentrate on running with the beat of whatever was playing as long as I still pushed hard along the downhill sections. Supporters started to arrive just as I was starting to wilt. Simon and Angela organise a Run England group and they usually meet on a Monday evening in the park. This being a Bank Holiday they’d arranged to meet in the morning instead. Simon and his Springer Spaniel Jinx ran a lap with me. I chatted to Simon about my progress and had to watch for Jinx around my heels but this distraction was very welcome and lifted me. The next lap I was supported by Team Allerton. Alison has run with Prestwch AC for a few years and is one of the leading ladies. Our daughters used to dance together and it was through this I first became aware of Prestwich AC. Daniel and Grace ran with me whilst Ruth and the youngest Ben scooted. The scooters struggled on the hill and Mum had to help Ben but again the support was a welcome with Grace and Ben spotting dog walkers and other obstacles for me to avoid.

I ran lap 10 on my own and suddenly realised how weary I was feeling, my feet were dragging and each climb of the hill was getting significantly tougher. As expected my pace had dropped but the early quick laps meant that I was still sure to finish in under 2 hours. Alison joined me for the last 2 laps and really gave me a lift. The full Run England posse of 20 or so runners cheered me at the top of the hill, there were more supporters gathering at our tent at the finish line and I even spotted a St John Ambulance volunteer near the lake (I don’t know why) which made my event feel even more like an event.

I finished the run in 1:57:50 according to Maria, my official timekeeper. Once stopped I felt quite unstable and had to sit down before I fell. A foil blanket was ready for me which had come from a first aid kit we had with us. A first this seemed a bit over the top but it was actually very welcome and probably necessary.

Thank you to everyone who has sponsored me and helped me reach my target for Cancer Research UK. The support I received on the day was fabulous and definitely made a difference so thank you to all those who cheered, ran or scooted with me. Finally a big thank you to Catriona, Maria and Alex for happily setting up a tent in a wet park at a ridiculous time on a Bank holiday Monday morning.

Graham’s tumour

August 30, 2015

graham

I’ve raised money for Cancer Research UK a few times and at Sage it has been the company’s annual charity of choice for the past few years. This year I’ve been mindful of my best friend Graham who has recently had a brain tumour removed.

The tumour was found at the end of last year and although it was slow growing and had been there for many years it was large and had to be removed as a matter of urgency. The surgery sounded as incredible and amazing as it was frightening. Receiving treatment through the NHS at Salford Royal he was operated on by one of the best surgeons in the country and with about 80% of the tumour removed everyone was pleased with that initial outcome.

Graham was then referred to The Christie for 6 weeks of radiotherapy. I hadn’t known anyone close go through radio therapy and whilst he took a stoic ‘it is what it is’ attitude I’m not sure I could have faced the debilitating treatment with the same positivity. After completing the radio therapy it took another couple of months for him to be start to feel stronger again but the treatment had successfully reduced the tumour and so there’s no need for chemotherapy at the moment which is great news.

There are about 100 different types of brain tumour and in among the work being carried out by Cancer Research UK a technique is being pioneered that makes tumour cells ‘glow’ during surgery. This will help doctors remove as much tumour as possible, leaving healthy brain tissue untouched.

Cancer Research UK is the world’s leading charity dedicated to beating cancer through research. They have saved millions of lives by discovering new ways to prevent, diagnose and treat cancer, and survival has doubled over the past 40 years.

If you’d like to support their work through sponsoring me please visit my just giving page.


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