Archive for the ‘Backward Running’ Category

The Enfield

February 10, 2020

Retro run Logo Red white and Blue

Let me tell you all about the Enfield.

We Brits love a bit of heradry, it’s one of those things we do best; like pointless pagentry, gravy, snooker and forming orderly queues. I’m looking forward to more heraldry in our brave new world when we’ve taken back control and all that business. Bring it on.

The Enfield is a glorious cut and shut of a beast: It has the “head of a fox, forelegs like an eagle‘s talons, the chest of a greyhound, the body of a lion,[citation needed] and the hindquarters and tail of a wolf” (Thanks Wiki) Even if you took away the disputed lion bit and had one less animal involved I still wouldn’t chance riding upon one above 20mph for fear of it falling apart.

However Enfield in North London does proudly have its own beast. We’ll overlook its first appearance on the crest of the Ó Cellaigh clan of Ireland as that other southern bit of Ireland used to be ours anyway.

So Enfield, North London is home to Lee Valley stadium where the United Kingdom’s National Federation of British Backward Runners (Me, Mark and couple of others) are hosting the 8th World Retro Running Championship this July.

Mark, an employee of Enfield council, got his hands on an image of the local critter, had it flipped around in reverse and turned into the marvelous graphic above. For over 6 months it was all that we at the UKNFoBBR had to show for this summer’s event. This weekend we finally put our website live and thanks to the magic of Google Translate I’ve already taken enquiries from a number of overseas competitors.

Now we need to stimulate a bit more interest back home and show the rest of the world what we Brits are really made of. Or something like that. Come on folks, your country needs you!

For more info please visit: https://www.retrorunning2020.com

 

 

 

Guiding Shantelle

October 16, 2019

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Last Sunday I helped guide Shantelle backwards around the Manchester Half in among 15,000 other runners. I thought guiding Danny was hard work but this was another level! I’ve run a couple of big 10k runs backwards within a field of thousands without any incident and on the first run I’d called upon the assistance of my wife before tearing off and leaving her at the start line finishing 10 minutes ahead. On that occasion the pair of us had made our way to the very front of a wave and I even managed of catch the attention of Denise Lewis and grabbed an interview with her. With clear space immediately behind me I was able to relax to a degree and safely run unguided, only having issues when catching walkers from an earlier wave towards the end of the race. For the second 10k race I had Mike to guide me and he was particularly needed around the Ethiad Stadium complex where there were speed humps and bollards to navigate through.

The start of the Manchester half seemed a bit chaotic and because of that we battled with runners of different paces throughout the 13 miles. We were assigned to pen D but on Chester Road I couldn’t see any obvious flags telling us all where we should be prior to the start. Looking around we mingled with people badged up from B through to F. The estimated finish time for Ds was between 1:50 and 2:15. We thought we were roughly in the correct area and as with Danny I try to take up a more advanced position than expected time. We were hoping for 2 hours 10 mins and Shantelle’s long treadmill runs had been trouble free at that pace. Her outdoor runs had been quicker still but not covering longer distances than on the treadmill. We had enjoyed some interval training at Longford park with the support of Trafford AC using their track early in the morning when nobody else was around. The final track workout was a challenging 6 x 800m interval session with less than a minute recovery between reps. Shantelle had consistently improved through these sessions.

There were 2 of us guiding and we were to act as Shantelle’s witnesses to Guinness’ satisfaction. Simon was also recording the entire run on a Go pro camera strapped to his chest, which was another Guinness requirement. The pair of us hadn’t met before but we very naturally struck up a relationship as her support team not overloading Shantelle with instructions and sharing out the sighting, feeding, time keeping and encouragement duties through the race. I took up a slightly advanced position like a motorcycle outrider ahead and to her right, whilst Simon was behind filming and also checking for obstacles to the left. If I ran too far ahead of Shantelle there was a risk of people cutting through between us, particularly in the first 4 or 5 miles where some much quicker runners were making their way through the field. I’m sure we passed more people than overtook us as the race pace settled. We did start a little ahead of the official 2 hour pacers but in my mind that was fine. As with guiding Danny, I know it’s safer to have people over take us than for us to make our way past more slower runners. Poor Shantelle was never able to settle into a rhythm for the majority of the race. Only by the 10th mile did the pace settle and by that stage her toes and feet were aching bad. Mentally she was a bit frazzled as we all were. I adopted a “to me” or “to Simon” system rather than the complexities of translating left/right instructions. I was starting to sound like a Chuckle Brother! Sometimes the instructions got a bit too frantic and panicked and Shantelle pointed out that she needed calm support and not someone who was going to add to her stresses.

We did it though. The support from the side of the road and from fellow runners was amazing. The Go Pro battery ran down on the camera so the last 4 miles were recorded on my phone which on most of the official photos makes me look like some super vain idiot documenting my every step!

Despite the extra challenge of the congestion Shantelle broke the existing Guinness world record time by 3 minutes and 42 seconds with a chip time of 2:16:03. She had already claimed that record once before a couple of years ago at the Wilmslow half with 2:27 but the previous North American holder had improved her best and taken the record back at the start of 2019. We know there have been significantly faster ladies times recorded over the years but they haven’t been through the Guinness ratification process. Shantelle still has to submit our phone and Go Pro evidence to support her claim and hope that they are happy with it all.

We wore some great kit supplied to us by Holt Custom Clothing with a logo promoting next year’s 8th International Retrorunning Championships at Lee Valley (more on that soon).  Shantelle’s golden vest also promoted Young Minds a mental health charity for which she was raising money to support their work.

With the media attention that the world record run has attracted together with raising awareness with competitors on the course, we’re hoping that we might ignite some interest in retro running in our own country and attract runners in this country to compete with the rest of the world at the championship in North London next summer.

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A chip off the old block

March 3, 2019

I try not to be a pushy parent and over the years have gently persuaded my children to join me in athletic challenges. To their credit they never dismiss these suggestions out of hand but can usually find something better to do rather than carry on along the path I have in mind for them. My main reason for joining Prestwich AC was to encourage my daughter to run with the juniors but on finding there was a significant waiting list this had to be parked and then her Friday evening Scouts clashed with it anyway. She was keen to parkrun, motivated by the 10 run white shirt reward for juniors but as soon as that target was hit she lost interest which was a shame as she seemed naturally designed for distance running and really drove herself on to some impressive PBs without any pushing from me. The parkruns interfered with her energy levels for Saturday lunchtime dance classes and obviously those were more important.

Alex has completed a handful of Parkruns running with his mum and although those 5k runs were hard to hold his concentration through, we found that the Rocky soundtrack helped keep his focus. Whilst he was was still at nursery he had gone out running with me a few times, in fact it was held back as a bit of a reward on the condition that he didn’t bite anyone at nursery.  A few years later when he was progressing with his swimming we cycled back from Broughton baths and then transitioned in St. Mary’s park to run the last 2km home. He seemed to enjoy it but sadly it was never repeated.

Saturday mornings are usually taken up with football so parkrun is no longer an option. As he’s moved up to 9 a side and the pitches have become larger, fitness is starting to become more of a factor. Once the clocks change I’ll do some evening running to develop his fitness and stamina and build his confidence too.

Neither had tried any backwards running. until yesterday….

Maria’s lunchtime dance class was cancelled and Alex’s Prestwich Tigers had plenty of substitutes so we went out for the day. The weather forecast wasn’t too hopeful so we opted for the shops and a museum at Liverpool. Heading west out of Manchester we passed by Cadishead where Shantelle organises a monthly Retro-Mile run at Cadishead Rhinos rugby club. I’ve been to previous events there at the end of last year and at the start of February where we ran 3 laps of the rugby pitch in the snow. There are people (other than me) returning month on month and the spirit of inclusiveness and emphasis on participation over competitiveness is helping to develop a friendly and encouraging environment.

The kids knew we were stopping at Cadishead with the promise of bacon butties in the clubhouse, and I suggested to them (just once) before leaving the house that they might like to join in the run. There was no answer from either of them but I didn’t press the matter. I packed a change of footwear and socks for them both so on arrival I asked again, this time expecting an answer, and dropping casually into the conversation that Alex’s football boots and Maria’s trainers happened to be in the car. “Go on, I’ll do it” said Alex. That’s my boy!

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He took it at a steady pace but from the halfway point was dropping to a backwards walk from time to time (as were others in front and behind him). After I finished I joined him for his last lap and encouraged him to not look over his shoulder quite so much. There were no obstacles and the undulations of the perimeter of the rugby pitch were easier to deal with if you weren’t twisted and slightly off balance. He picked up speed along the final straight and looked quite comfortable at the finish. Will he ever do it again? I hope so; with only two GB representatives at the last couple of World Championships he’d be very welcome as we try to form our own relay quartet for the first time.

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Profile of a very regular irregular runner

January 10, 2019

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A couple of years ago I made about page 8 in the Prestwich and Whitefield Guide for claiming my veteran gold medal in Germany and although this local acknowledgement was very welcome the adjective “Irregular” stung a little. It made me sound like I needed some gait analysis. Unconventional was fine, maverick or even odd-ball would’ve been acceptable but I’m not irregular.

Today I ran for the 100th consecutive day which I would argue makes me more regular than most. Having logged and analysed this data I can give you a profile of a not very typical runner.

I’ve enjoyed this running streak so far, learning from previous streaks the daily mileage has been lower this time so I’ve no aches and retro running on a treadmill at a couple of local gyms has given me a quick but challenging indoor alternative as well as also encouraging me to pump a bit of iron.  These treadmill runs have been 20 minutes long, obviously tougher than a conventional 20 minutes of running forwards but controlling the speed has enabled me to commit different levels of effort depending on the time of day and how I feel. So to the data:

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The streak started with an 800m blast on the track back in October when I took 2nd place in the Prestwich AC track night. The longest run was 25km occurring between Christmas and new year when I realised that with a bit of effort I was on for a total of 2000km for the calendar year. There was only one other run over 20km and a further single run over 15km. It’s been mostly short stuff over the last 3 months as I’ve first focused on my parkrun best and then on backwards running with a bit of cross country training and racing.

Although the vast majority of those runs have been solo, 8% were with a partner and a quarter of them were as a group either training with them or racing against them

Where things become a bit more unconventional is that 21 % of my runs have been backwards but at a total of 64 km that’s under 10% of the 652 km I’ve covered in total.

I hope to double this number of consecutive days run and pass my existing record of 159. Whilst we’re short of daylight I’ll continue in the gym but a return to the 14 mile Mickleden Straddle will cause me to length my weekend runs and I’ll let that carry on through the spring. Some of the runs have been useful: shopping trips, posting Christmas cards or wheeling a punctured bicycle back home. Running every day isn’t a bind as long as there is either variety, a bit of company or a purpose to my run.

 

My 2018 running year

January 6, 2019

This is the 4th time I’ve summarised my running for the year and with my advancing years and deteriorating memory it’s handy to have a quick reference point to what happened when. Everything’s captured in Stava obviously; if it’s not on Strava it didn’t happen, but I also enjoy re-reading how the year came together and what my priorities were at that point in life.

Every year claims to be better than the rest and I don’t feel I’ve ever overstated the joy and satisfaction that running has brought me. I now understand how important running is to me (as I appreciate it is to a number of my close running friends) it shouldn’t define me or mean ‘everything to me’ and this coming year I seek better balance against other parts of life, hopefully less pavement pounding, less tempo runs and less competition but watch out when I do turn up for a race wearing colours!

Last year there were 4 goals and I achieved 3 of them. The failing to take the 4th one was probably the most glorious achievement; it seems 2nd places can be enjoyable too.

Goal 1 was completing the Yorkshire 3 Peaks fell run. I’ve blogged about this elsewhere but it shaped the first 4 months of my running year. I treasure the Sunday morning runs around the Lancashire moors with Fartlek Pete through the spring. We possibly enjoyed them too much, one of us perhaps running a little hungover on more than one occasion. With hindsight to run as hard as I did in the race I should have trained with more intensity either upping these Sunday runs from 2 to 3 hours or pushing harder through the 2 hours of off-road running. No matter, I survived and finished the race though full of cramp and blubbing a bit.

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Not training hard enough with Pete on a Sunday morning

The piece of preparation I’m most proud of is the Sunday that Pete and I took on the Beast from the East in a recce run around 2 of those 3 peaks. Ably guided and recorded on his Go-pro by experienced ultra and fell running ace Rob, we set off from Ribbleshead viaduct to climb Wernside and then Ingleborough. If anybody else had suggested turning around at any point I would have given the casting vote but they didn’t and we battled on in a stiff 40-50 mph wind.

Goal 2 was completing the Tour of Tameside, again this is blogged about elsewhere and it’s an event I would repeat in the future but found it to be quite a commitment at a busy time of year. The atmosphere and camaraderie were brilliant and I felt part of something with heritage and soul as well as a strong predominantly local field up front.

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Hell on the fell? Doesn’t look like it to me!

Goal 3 was retaining my Veteran World Retro-running title and being the most prestigious goal it had to be juggled with goals 1 and 2. Training officially started in February with a Retro-parkrun at Aldenham where I also met up with the rest of the GB retro-running squad (that’s you Mark). From that point on I ran backwards once a week with some monthly interim goals to bring me back to my best and then push beyond it in the 4 weeks of preparation. As the Tour of Tameside fell within a month of the World Championships in Italy I took the sensible decision to combine competing in the tour with a weekly retro run and raced the final day’s event The Ron Hill 7 mile Road race backwards.

After a busy start I found I couldn’t safely go as fast as I would have liked but really enjoyed chatting to people on the way round even though my overall position in the tour slipped back from 35th to 64th. No regrets though, I got to meet and chat to Dr Ron and despite the slower time managed to drive home and back out to Rochdale for my parent’s 50th wedding anniversary lunch at Nutters. It was certainly a nutty day. I used a couple of Prestwich AC track nights to run a hard 5km backwards on my own just prior to the main club session starting. This was a contrast to the first time I ran backwards on Bury AC’s track many years ago when myself and a retro competitor were caught climbing the fence early on a Sunday morning – I lost the race that time but as you know 400m isn’t my best distance!

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The heat of the 2018 summer was building and my 2nd retro 5k season’s best (and PB) run on the track was not much better than my first a month earlier. My hot feet were struggling with blisters that were not getting worse but not repairing quickly enough. I had chosen to focus on 5k rather than half marathon in training because I was busy doing other things (Goals 2 and 4) and was also being a bit lazy opting not to tackle those long hard training runs (imagine the effort of the latter stages of marathon training but coupled with not being able to see where you are going!) Longest retro training run was just 14k so well short of 21.1k but I was quicker than ever at 5k, fitter than 2 years ago and pretty sure I’d survive the half at a sensible pace if my feet held together through the hot weekend in Bologna.

As you probably all know I lost my vet half marathon title and by a margin of about 6 minutes so maybe I got a bit lucky to claim it in the first place 2 years earlier. I’ve grown fond of the title Former Veteran World Champion as it sounds more plausible and there is no pressure to race that distance again at the next World Championships in 2020 (hopefully in France?)  My haul of 3 silvers and a bronze was weightier than that 2 years ago in Germany and one of those silvers was for a team relay – Veteran 4 x 400m. That was a special one sharing the podium with GB team mate Mark, Garret the Irishman who introduced me to Retro-running in Heaton Park 7 years ago and Jean Pierre a French guy crazy enough to run a marathon backwards in the scorching Italian heat when I settled for half that distance.

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Vet quartet that took silver in 4 x 400m in Bologna

Goal 4 was to claim the V40 title in the Prestwich AC off road championship. It was the first year this title existed and as our club membership is seemingly increasing exponentially so there has been a need to bring in more age categories. As usual, I was going to struggle to submit 7 results across the season but this year with goals 1, 2 and 3 to juggle (oh and a family too!) it was understandable. An interesting addition to the our championship was a competition for the best parkrun age grade result through the season. This fired me up in the autumn and supported by the RunClubMcr training group I did the work necessary to improve my 18 month old 5k PB and not only take my age grading best above 80% for the first time but improve it to over 82%.

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A 10k PB for Danny at Manchester Frontrunner’s Piece of Cake

The year wasn’t just about these goals though, and I think variety has made this the most enjoyable year yet. I guided Danny early in the year and the photo of us breaking his 10k PB above is possibly my favourite of the year. There was a blink and you’d miss it appearance for the pair of us on prime time TV in January. Despite 30 minutes of recorded running footage (Strava will back me here) and Danny being interviewed stood by Heaton Park hall, our bit within a One Show feature on fitness coach Ben Andrew’s work got cut out.  There was no explanation as to who we were and what we were doing but hey we made it onto prime time BBC 1 !

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Blink and you’d miss us on prime time BBC1

Parkrun is blogged about elsewhere but again a big feature of the year has been pacing at Heaton Park where I admit I got a little obsessed with hitting 20:00 exactly. I’m over that now. I started a running streak in September to help me deal with the depths of winter. It’s worked so far and I hope to carry on beyond my previous best of 159 days though it will end and not carry on for 50+ years like Ron Hill’s.

With Prestwich AC becoming UKA affiliated we were able to enter a team in the South East Lancashire cross country championship. We are halfway through the 4 race series and have finished 2nd men’s team in the first 2 meets and I also helped claim the V40 first place in the Tandle Hills race. It’s something completely different, a new challenge and certainly takes me away from local pavements to spend even more time in the park I love.

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The first moment of my first ever cross country race as an adult

For even more variety the family ran together in a 5k glow run in Heaton Park and a few weeks later I volunteered to lead/guide runners on a 5k sense run to raise money for guide dogs. The lad below paced his race superbly coming past adults in the final km and was delighted to be first home with me pushing him all the way through the last 200m.

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Some usual fixtures are appearing on my calendar, pacing at Heaton parkrun with PAC, parkrun Santa dash (this year with a sack), the Terry Nortley relay where I enjoyed being part of a competitive mixed vet team and I was particularly pleased we repeated the Half Marathon run for Bury Hospice in memory of Shouna Howe I hope we can keep that run annual too.

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Thank you to the fabulous support and understanding of Catriona, Maria and Alex. Whilst 2019 looks like it might be bigger, I’m going to be a bit more selective when it comes to racing and make sure I enjoy the training in between.

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2018 Results

Mickleden Straddle (3 Peaks qualifier) – 70/194

Terry Nortley 10 mile trail – 21/240

Stan Bradshaw Pendle Round – 62/156

Radcliffe AC 10k trail race – 19/303

64th Yorkshire 3  Peaks Fell Run – 422/701

It’s a Piece of Cake 10k guiding Danny – Joint 57th/306

Tour of Tameside:

  • Day 1: 10k trail run – 55/534
  • Day 2: Hell on the fell –  28/438
  • Day 3: Hero half marathon – 42/539
  • Day 4: Dr Ron’s 7 mile road race (retro) – 467/645

 

We love Manchester 10k Retro PB – 474/1618

7th IRR Retrorunning World Championships – Bologna – All results for Masters 1 class:

  •  1500m – Bronze – 6:35
  •  5 km – Silver – 23:43
  •  4 x 400m – Silver – 6:33
  •  Half Marathon – Silver – 2:06:46

 

Stan Curran Birthday 5k – 10/96

Hatter’s half trail run –22/333

Worsley Woods 5k parkrun – first home and first 80% age grading – 17:56

Heaton parkrun – Season’s best and PB and 82% age grading – 17:33

South East Lancashire Cross Country:

  • Heaton Park – 2nd team and 2nd V40 team – 33/199
  • Tandle Hills – 2nd team and 1st V40 team – 31/139

 

Inaugural Retro Mile – 1/27

I’m running backwards for Christmas

November 21, 2018

Dog walkers of a certain age have made reference to the Goons song “I’m walking backwards for Christmas” on a number of occasions when they have met me training in Heaton Park. I hadn’t ever listened to the song until this morning. I was aware of the Goons but they were recording their radio show way before my time and as a child of the 70s I was more aware of Milligan, Sellers, Secombe and Bentine as individual entertainers and of those four I most fondly remember Michael Bentine’s Potty Time.

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Christmas is approaching and as the days shorten I’ve started another running streak to help me through the depths of winter. I’ll tick off day 50’s run this morning when I pop out to buy some milk later. As I think I’ve mentioned before I feel like I suffer from Seasonally Affected Disorder to some degree though it could just be bad weather or darkness stopping me exercising as regularly. So having learned from previous years the current streak has quite a bit of short lunchtime running to keep me ticking over in sunlight. I have also joined the Salford council gyms to give me access to a swimming pool half way along my cycle commute as well as access to weights and treadmills because a Triathlon is planned for 2019 (more of that some other time).

Where is this all going? Well I have been retro treadmill running for a few weeks to add some variety to my daily runs and to give me a rainy day lunchtime alternative to a trot around Salford Quays. I’ve limited these backwards runs to 20 minutes although I’ve been increasing the speed gradually. Running backwards you can’t easily adjust the controls so you have to commit to a pace, this sounds dangerous although I’ve pointed out to people that if anything untoward should happen (it won’t) I would be thrown off the back of the machine facing forward. I’m not a natural treadmill runner but have embraced retro treadmill running and felt absolutely relaxed whilst doing it without the fear of stumbling down kerbs, hitting bollards, treading on litter or dealing with curious/playful dogs.

So imagine my delight yesterday when I found out about a Retro running race taking place in Salford on 30th December. This suddenly gives a new purpose to my winter retro treadmill activities and a more legitimate reason for doing what I’m doing as I’ve already struck up conversations with curious gym bunnies in the Ordsall and Broughton studios. I’m a bit excited about this race as there hasn’t been a UK Retro-running event for over 5 years and this event could bridge the gap to establishing a UK Championship which is something that me and the rest of the GB squad (that’s you Mark!) have talked about before.

The race director, Shantelle, ran the Wilmslow Half marathon backwards last year (whilst I was guiding Danny) and her efforts were recorded and ratified as a Guinness World Record. We’ve met a couple of times since then and although she has been busy with plenty of other adventures she’s determined to encourage backwards running and this event sounds like a great intro. Rather than a race on paths as used to happen in Heaton Park, Shantelle’s Retro Mile event is held on a rugby pitch which will be more challenging but provide a safer landing should any of you novices stumble.

Over the years I’ve only run backwards with a handful of my running buddies despite offering numerous chances to try it. I think my retro activities have been viewed with some suspicion, however, with a small core of people interested in the December event I’ll try again with warm up retro jogs around a football pitch on the way to Saturday morning parkrun and lets see if I can run with more than 2 other people this time. There’s no special technique just a bit of confidence and practice to condition your body and I also appreciate that running backwards alone, with all the attention it attracts, (mostly from dogs) is not for everybody.

7th World Retro running Championships

July 23, 2018

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A week has passed since the World Championships in Bologna, and despite me being unable to retain my veteran world title I’m satisfied that I couldn’t have run much quicker and I’m delighted with the 3 silver medals and the bronze I brought back.

The half marathon race was held 5 miles from the centre of the beautiful medieval city of Bologna where we ran 15 laps of a scenic park. There was less climbing than on the Heaton Park route I’d trained on but more twists and turns with a short section of grass. It was a scorching hot weekend with the temperature rising into the 30s so to mitigate against the heat the race had been scheduled to start a 7am.

My training had gone well, I’d stayed injury free but in the last couple of months my weekly long run had not progressed beyond 13km as I decided to focus on my 5km speed instead. I was still confident I’d finish and with fueling myself better than I did in Germany I was hopeful for a quicker time but knew the heat would affect my speed.

Ideally I’d look to match the sub 2 hour time as I’d run on a cool wet Bank Holiday Monday in Heaton Park 3 years ago and I was tracking to this pace with the first third of the race completed but Michael, the leading veteran, was already over a minutes ahead of me and with a larger gap behind me I thought the prudent thing to do would be to back off and ensure I finished. Catriona was very responsive to all my needs in what felt like a pit area just before the finish line. She faithfully supplied gels, salt supplements, jelly babies and flat full sugar Coke on demand. In the end I ran 2:06:45 which was over 3 minutes faster than in Germany. Michael Binder finished in just under 2 hours and 15 minutes behind the outright winner and German compatriot Markus Jurgens.

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The previous day I’d won 3 other medals. I claimed silver in the 5km behind Paolo Tarabella and in the 1500m I took bronze behind Paolo and vet champion Garret, the Irishman who inspired me to retro-run 7 years ago in Heaton Park. He had recently turned 40 and so I expected him to finish ahead of me, although the silver lining was that he’d be a fast team mate for a vets relay team.

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As happened 2 years ago in Germany there were only two of us representing Great Britain. Mark stayed injury free this time and avoided the hazards of the 100m. Sadly the Masters 2 category for over 55s was more competitive than the over 40s so he’d finished 4th a couple of times and just missed out on a medal. We were hoping to combine with Garret and another Irish vet to form a pretty competitive GB and Ireland team but the other Irishman had sent late apologies that he couldn’t make it out to Italy. So late on the Saturday afternoon we were hunting around for another veteran European to enable us to form a quartet, Frenchman Jean-Pierre came to our rescue. He had taken a number of medals already and was still warm from the 1500m before we started.

There were 5 relay teams running and 3 of those were Italian. Their quickest quartet had raced against us individually so we knew what to expect. We front loaded our team with Garret leading out. Definitely the strongest individual, he would establish a lead and sure enough when I took the baton we had a 70-80m gap. I managed to defend this even though I was racing against my Nemesis Paolo and handed on to Jean Pierre with most of that lead maintained. The Italian’s were better balanced and reduced the gap to a few metres before Mark took the baton for the anchor leg. He conceded the lead but nursed his Achilles round the last 400m to comfortably take silver for us.

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Elsewhere at the meeting there was an amazing 400m final where US sprint specialist Dan Yoder overtook his twin brother and middle distance champion in the finishing straight. Both had run quicker than the previous world record time with Dan reducing it to 1:08:55. A German men’s quartet improved the 4 x 400m time and Thomas Dold set a 11:00:56 world record for 3000m.

Francesco did an amazing job of organising the championships and with the assistance of Alberto executed a busy programme of events across the whole weekend and introduced the a full marathon distance race for the first time. The number of competitors were lower than in Germany due to the venue only being confirmed at the start of this year, nevertheless it still attracted runners from Japan, Brazil, Costa Rica, the Dominican Republic and Cuba.

It was lovely to meet up with many of the people I’d raced against 2 years ago. The Germans and Italians still dominate the sport, it’s hoped that we will meet again at Marseille in 2020 and domestically myself and Mark are hoping to re-instigate the UK championship run. If that’s a success maybe we could bid for the 2022 World Championships?

 

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.

garret

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

5000m

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.

Team

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…

silver