My participation in official events has dropped off dramatically in recent years, here’s the full list to date:

2014 Events

2013 Events

2012 Events

2010 Events

2009 Events

2008 Events

2007 Events

2006 Events

Alternative Wisdom for the Great North Run – 9 Insider Tips

As I prepare to head up north for my fourth running of the Bupa Great North Run, I feel it is time to assemble a top tips post, illustrated with snippets from earlier race reports.

Treat the Great North Run as 4 individual stages – XLMan from the runnersworld forum let me re-post his race strategy back in 2007. I’m still using it to visualise the race 5 years later.

Run 1 – 5 miles (8 km). (DON’T think about anything further) Huge crowds, great atmosphere, bands. Take it steady, not too fast, you’ve run five miles or further loads of times. Enjoy the spectacle, and remember you are part of it. Those inspirational pictures of thousands running across the Tyne Bridge? You’re in them this year. Yes, you’re in the Great North Run, the world’s biggest half marathon. Enjoy!

Run 2 – 3 miles (5 km). Forget the 5 behind you, they’re done. Think only of the next three. Three miles? Piece of cake, you’ve done 9, 10, 11 .. much more in training. These three are all downhill, wheeeeeee !! Great news for those of you after PBs for the event, or even if it’s your first time and you have a target. Go for it here, within reason. Unfortunately, the road narrows, so you may notice it feeling a little more congested. Be careful.

Run 3 – 3 miles (5 km). SLOW DOWN. This is where you need your mental toughness and/or your MP3 player. It’s a bit of a slog up the John Reid Road etc and there’s not much to enjoy, but hey, if it was easy, the medal wouldn’t be as important to you would it? If you’re a run/walk person this is where you may want to be taking extra walks, and psych yourself up, but don’t start thinking about the finish yet. Just get to 11 miles

Run 4 – 2.1 miles (3 km) That’s nowt! Of course you’re tired but you’re nearly there. Now, start to tell yourself that you’ve done it (almost) the goody bag is waiting for you, go and get it. The last mile and a bit up the sea front is fantastic. Huge crowds yelling at you, the end is nigh. Let your spirits fly, even if you’re knackered. You can stop soon. If you’re after a time, push, you know you are fit, you have prepared well, and as knackered as you will feel when you cross the line, the elation will speed your recovery. Well done, you’ve finished the GREAT NORTH RUN 2012

Go Low for Ritual Chanting – just past the start line the road divides and you get to choose whether to go under or over the bridge. The low road offers the full echoing experience of thousands of runners shouting oggy oggy oggy. It also carries the risk of a non too refreshing shower.

Take the high road for a shower free experience – at least a hundred men with bladder issues choose to take the high road and then proceed to shower the oggy oggy oggy runners beneath them.

I also came close to having an unwelcome shower from the guys caught short and relieving themselves on the overpass above me. GNR N0 1

Never underestimate the old and frail – This is one for Gladys who looked delightfully doddery at the start of the 2010 GNR but who had a second wind and was caught on camera at the finish line – a good 4 minutes ahead of me.

It’s all in the pacing – every seasoned racer seeks the holy grail of the negative split where you complete the second half of the race faster than the first. That only happens if you take the first half slower than the last and therefore requires you to proceed with caution and not get caught up in the excitement of the day. Breaking your 5k pb during a half marathon does not usually bode well for the finish line.

Remember to smile at mile 10 – For 2012 Bupa have installed a mile of smiles section at the toughest part of the run and you don’t want to be immortalised with a sweaty grimace.#happiestrun

Ride the emotional rollercoaster – it’s hard to run while gasping for air and choking on painful emotions

At 10 miles I was broken emotionally, I was on a rollercoaster of weeping triggers. The first was a picture of young man on the back of t-shirt, a dad, dead of prostate cancer already. So many people run with powerful messages it’s too hard not to choke up. The second was the red arrows swooping over the Jarrow Rd and third, that actually did see me sobbing was the sight of the sea on the slope down to South Shields. There is still more than a mile to go but it’s the best indication, short of the finish line, that marks the end of the pain. GNR No 3

Embrace the motivation from the crowd

She was barely more than four years old and I’d only gone about a kilometre before she yelled out from the sidelines, “Keep running fat girl!” GNR No 3

Run with faster friends – That way they can deal with the carnage at the baggage vans and deliver your assembled kit to the finish line.

We found him eventually in an emotional heap after spending about 45 mins battling in the baggage bus for our clobber. Shoes and bags and shirts had been strewn all over and it sounded a bit like a blood fest. Luckily I got to avoid all that – that’s the benefit of running with fast friends, thay get to collect the bags while all you have to do is struggle over the finish and stumble into the nearest fish and chip restaurant. GNR No 2

If you find any of my tips useful, perhaps you would consider showing appreciation by donating to my Virginmoney charity site – raising money for the Samaritans

A Return to Richmond parkrun

It’s always easier to pose questions than offer solutions.

Despite my last post pondering the training options that might see me recover PB potential in the remaining 3 weeks before GNR, I’ve somehow managed to spend the entire week on my backside – not a single run has been taken.

In search of last minute inspiration I’ve taken to listening to unplayed episodes of the Marathon Talk podcast and yesterday found myself totally inspired by the ancient episode 21 – parkrun edition. A quick check of the parkrun website revealed that it had been more than 4.5 years since my last parkrun. It felt confessional and I needed to make amends.

This morning I headed out to the now distant but familiar haunt of Richmond Park and reacquainted myself with the marvel of parkrun. There have been a few changes over the years but at its essence it remains a joyful institution for runners – free, Saturday morning, timed runs, manned by volunteers across the length and breadth of the land.

Richmond parkrun has grown in popularity and the swollen ranks offer a bit of protection for the back of the pack runner. I normally feel abandoned within minutes of the start of a race but after overtaking a few small running children I found myself part of a long yet continuous line of huffing runners and a few straining dogs.

I was trying to make the most of the first half’s descent so marked a runner who seemed to have a consistent but stretching pace ahead of me. I tucked in behind her until it felt a bit rude and then pulled alongside her for a failed overtaking manoeuvre. We ended up chatting for a couple of k before the hill got bad and the puffing a little too loud for pleasantries. I pulled away at the crest and much to my joy managed to wind in a few other runners on my way towards the finish.

I was way off PB standard but felt my competitive instinct was left satiated by the end.

The parkrun barcode from ICEtags managed an appearance at long last and I can confirm it worked like a dream.

If you’re only going to run once a week I’m afraid to say that a 5k parkrun does not cut the half marathon training mustard. After a little rest to fully evaporate I reassembled my trammel for an additional 10k jog around the park, trying my hardest to maintain a 3 hr half marathon target pace.

I’m pretty tired now but you can’t beat that parkrun, Saturday afternoon, smugness. Must be time for a Stella soon.

Thames Meander Half Marathon

I’ve discovered the relative anonymity of mixed distance races and intend to exploit them.

20120827-133230.jpgThe fear of entering official races as a routine, back of the pack runner, is that you stagger towards the finish line to find all the volunteers packing up and waiting impatiently for you to pick up the last remaining medal so they can go home. If you enter a half with a full marathon tagged on, you can be fairly certain that although you may be the last placed in your race, you won’t be holding up the entire show.

That’s why I chose the Great North Trail Run and why I then sought out the Thames Meander.

The Thames Meander was a fairly low key event organised by a couple who set up events under the banner of Hermes Running. It started and finished at a posh school in the Kingston environs and took in the sights of Richmond Park and the Thames.

Towing the line with a load of uber fit marathon runners carries with it it’s own level of anxiety though and as ever with races, I shot out of the gates with an adrenaline fueled pace more suited to escaping a charging bull rather than dragging one around a 13 mile loop.

Within the first few hundred yards I’d overtaken 3 runners. This is not supposed to happen and should have been an alarm call. Instead I continued increasing my speed, terrified of the chasing pack. It was like a continuous Zombies, Run! interval.

At 5k my watch beeped to inform me that I’d recorded my best 5k time in about 3 years. Again, not great in a 13 mile event.

At 8k I followed a duff lead and went about 200 yards off track before realising and turning to face the chasing 3 – now 200 yards ahead.

I focused on reeling them back in and in the process managed to achieve my best 10k time in about 4 years.

Alarm bells and klaxons now sounded in a deafening manner and at the half way turnaround point my legs obviously cottoned on to the situation and stopped performing.

Almost immediately I was overtaken and then the brain kicked in with it’s negative speak. I had to drag my body and a nagging, whining, excuse of a brain around for another 90 minutes.

At the half way point I was on track for a finish time close to 2:40, 20 mins faster than my target. Over the last 10k I lost more than 30 mins, a staggering 3 minutes per km!

With only 3 weeks to go to The Bupa Great North Run, this half marathon has proved to be a great training session. Alerting me to the dangers of overly eager starts and inadequate fitness levels. My GNR target has always been to break 3hrs so now I need to work out what the best approach is to refine my performance over the last 3 weeks of training.

Of course I have more questions than answers.

  • How long will I be able to maintain my pace for if I set off slower?
  • Is it possible to increase endurance within 3 weeks of an event?
  • How much faster can I go in those last painful miles, with the whole of South Shields out in support?

The Thames Meander Half was a lovely route, well supported and attracted its fair share of supportive runners who were happy to offer a nod of encouragement on the loop back.

20120828-200941.jpgThe finishers medal was a thing of wonder and although I usually only run for t-shirts I was prepared to swap that reward for a rather substantial plate of spaghetti bolognaise laid on in the school canteen. An excellent addition to any run!

At only £18 I think Hermes Running laid on an excellent event including aid stations, medal, food, and hot showers.

I read a few complaints in the marathon runners forum that suggested some of the aid stations on their extended section had run out of water, which is a fairly terrible state to find yourself in over that distance but I understand that the organisers are heeding the lessons and next years event will be improved.

GNR Anxiety

The Great North Run race pack arrived yesterday.

A high level of anxiety followed its opening. Enclosed was a Team Bupa technical t-shirt which was so tight it finished a good few inches above my belly button. It might have super wicking properties but I don’t think the good folk of South Shields deserve the full exposure of my midriff.

I was spurred into action by the reminder that it’s only 6 weeks til the big day.

I’ve been following an unorthodox approach of weekly 10 mile runs interspersed with about 4 high intensity but short (20 min) spurts on the treadmill.

I always come away from half marathon events determined to maintain my physical peak by rattling out weekly 10-milers. I reckon that if I can manage that, I ought to be able step up to 13.1 on adrenaline alone.

The trouble is, the weekly 10’s often turn into 8’s and then holidays happen and 6 weeks before race day I discover I’m no longer a perfectly honed running machine.

I discovered that today while the full cycling family entourage were called upon to push me around the 8 mile circuit of Richmond Park. It was hot, I moaned a lot and I crossed my imaginary finish line in an irritable, damp and salty heap. And, I was still 2 miles too short.

Richmond Park deer

When I got back home I headed for the treadmill to rattle off the last two. Inspired by the Australian version of The Biggest Loser, I set myself up for a 2 mile hill climb at maximum incline (12). I let myself down by gradually dropping the distance target until I decided that a 1km hill sprint had a lovely ring about it. I was less irritable but equally damp and heap-like at the end.

Perhaps I’m not too late to take some training advice from the Bupa Running team.

The Great Trail Challenge and the Bloody Great Hill

20120618-215349.jpgI thought the Lake District might have breached its banks as we aqua-planed much of our way up the M6.

We were heading towards Keswick for the inaugural running of The Great Trail Challenge. This is the Great Run team’s foray into the world of off road trail events and combined the trio of 10k, half-marathon and full marathon events. I was entered in the half.

The constant rain was giving me the sartorial jitters. I just couldn’t decide on which shoes to wear. I’d dabbled with the Newton Terra Momentus but hadn’t had enough time to acclimatise myself to the weirdness and the Inov-8 roclite’s, which on the face of it should have been ideally suited to the terrain, just felt a bit too brutal for 13 miles. In the end I’d packed the bright pink Nike Free’s as it appeared the perfect opportunity to obfuscate the gleaming hideousness with a layer of Cumbrian grime.

New Shoes

When we woke the next day to continued monsoon conditions, I gave up on pink and took a detour to the Kendal based running specialists, Pete Bland, where I was kitted out with a rather comfortable pair of Brooks trail shoes.

We all know it’s foolish to try new shoes on race day but I’d have looked fairly foolish laying flat on my back in the middle of a quagmire. Fortunately Lynn was placed at mid-way point (also the start and finish point) with spare shoes on hand just in case I’d hobbled myself.

The start of this race filled me with more dread than usual and I usually have plenty. The route started with 1.5 laps of the spectator park to give them an opportunity to size up the field. This takes me back to school sports days and public humiliation and I was almost sick on the spot. As it was the crowd were perfectly lovely and supported the trailing runner from start to finish.

The Great Trail Challenge

The race started with a flat section along a disused railway, it was my favourite bit but it was short and then the climb started.

I briefly joined the 10k runners at about 6k. It was a welcome merger as I’d been running solo since we left the spectators enclosure, I didn’t see another half marathon runner in the entire event apart from one chap who’d bailed and had to retrace his steps back home. I walked for a short period with the 10k’ers who also seemed to be suffering with the first serious incline. Our paths quickly diverged and I started running again a little nervous about the peak yet to come.

Looking up into the skyline I could see two trails of coloured ants, inching their way along tracks up to the clouds…….. they didn’t appear to be running ants.

The route for the half marathon consisted of one long loop at 12k followed by the short 10k loop. The marathon runners had to do two long followed by two short loops. It wasn’t long before I found myself lapped by the marathon runners. The leading two runners came through at a hell of a pace and seemed generally oblivious to the terrain. I really enjoyed the experience of being in there amongst these fabulous runners. I might have been crawling along but at times I was shoulder to shoulder with seriously talented runners. I loved watching them bound over the shale and descend like true fell runners. I on the other hand, descended like an overweight, half crippled old crone with relapsing plantar fasciitis.

The Great Trail Challenge

Given the beauty of this course and the company I shared for much of it, I felt like I could have been an ultra runner on the UTMB or some similar epic race rather than the back of the pack slow poke. Almost every marathon runner who passed me had the generosity to encourage me onwards and upwards and it spurred me on no end.

The first loop had us ascending Latrigg, one of the many bumps in the Keswick vicinity. It was a killer. I alternated between a hands on hips or hands on thigh stance, trying to power my legs up the hill. I couldn’t run, I could barely walk but then very few of the participants seemed to run up the worst bits either.

When I made it back to the spectator enclosure most of the other half-marathon runners were finishing so it was rather tough to join the channel for yet another loop but at that point I did still have some energy and I thought I could conquer the short loop.

Half an hour later I found myself tackling another ascent that felt as bad as the first. I was staggering and swaying and looking longingly for the nearest bus stop. I was close to tears and trudged onwards only in the hope of finding a quiet spot on level ground where I could sneak off and have a very big weep.

The cadets that lined the course were great, they must have been chilled to the bone on those exposed ridges but they cheerfully pointed the way and one young lad offered me the chance to sit down and take on board some energy drink. He’d have had to call mountain rescue if I’d taken him up on it and eased myself into a seated position,

20120618-215336.jpgEventually the descent came and although it was the slowest and most painful section, it meant the end was nigh. I came down the finishers straight to some very enthusiastic and appreciated support from the few supporters left standing. Lynn had sneaked into the press compound so I could see her welcome party just over the finish line.

I crossed over happy but tearful but then I sat down and opened the salted pistachios in my finishers pack and put my medal on, and the world felt better and then good and then fantastic.

Route Details

Route: Karrimor Great Trail Challenge – Keswick Half Marathon
Distance: 21km
Terrain: F***in Hilly, a bit muddy if in monsoon season
Ascent: 617m
Google map: link
GPX link: Great Trail Challenge.gpx
TCX link: Great Trail Challenge.tcx

20120618-230458.jpg

20120618-230512.jpg

The Good Samaritan – London Marathon Tragedy

While I was still intending to run the 2012 London Marathon, I started a post entitled “Why I’m running for the Samaritans”.

As you know I chose not to run and so my expose has remained in draft format. I will give you a sneak preview of the opening paragraph and leave the rest for the time I do manage to go the distance:

I wouldn’t exactly call running a life saver but it has definitely been a sanity saver. It’s given me a sense of community, of achievement and of worth.

If I want to look for life savers there have been a few in my life and to those I am forever grateful.

It doesn’t take a genius to realise that one of my life savers was going to be The Samaritans.

While I was out on the streets last Sunday, supporting OGB on his first marathon attempt, I kept one eye open for the Samaritan runners who did make it as far as the start line to raise money for a charity dear to my heart.

Claire Squires would have run past me twice that day.

I was incredibly saddened to find out today that she died within the final mile of the 2012 London Marathon.

On her Just Giving site Claire say’s:

if everyone I know could donate £5.00 that would be a great help and change lives

Imagine the impact if everyone she doesn’t know could spare £5 for a runner who gave her all?

As I write this she’s managed to raise £536,762.10

Two Half’s are Better Than One

It’s about time I came clean and announced that my marathon plans have withered in the late winter sun.

The initial training plan went rather well but as the runs got longer, I started asking myself questions and it became obvious that my heart wasn’t in it. The marathon is such an all encompassing challenge, demanding week after week of commitment that you really do need to have your heart on side. Mine was digging it’s heels in and sulking at every enforced run.

So, for the time being I don’t feel as though I have a marathon in me.

But I’m still fired up for running. It’s felt great to let myself off the hook and start running for the sheer hell of it again.

I’ve reassessed and set new targets and now I’m chasing a half marathon PB. The new plan has me splitting the marathon into two half’s, the first is the Great Keswick Trail Half in June and the second is the PB showdown at the Great North Run in September.

The Winter Cross Training Concept

The Hal Higdon marathon plan includes one day of cross training every week. My fear of recurrent plantar fasciitis pain has made me determined to include at least one (preferably two) days of non-running activity in my weekly schedule for injury proofing purposes.

Settling on the cross training activity of choice has been a little tricky. I initially pencilled in a whole load of cycle commutes but the weather has been grim and I’ve turned a little soft and spoilt in my old age and they just haven’t happened.

I considered swimming but my swanky gym was burnt down during the riots and the ever expanding Tesco monster demolished the local municipal swimming pool for a car park.

With swimming and cycling knocked off the list of possibilities I turned to rowing which led me to a whole new world of gadgets – massive gadgets!

20111230-115718.jpgHaving sought agreement for the acquisition of a smallish rowing machine I was very quick to fill out the hire agreement for a Concept 2 erg. Within 4 days of the initial idea I had installed the worlds largest rower in the middle of the bedroom.

It may be huge but it is a damn fine rowing machine. I have it wired up to an old PC running RowPro software which enables me to visualise my attempts on the water and race against my previous sessions – the equivalent of the Garmin Virtual Partner.

Rowing is satisfyingly technical, I have yet to explore the world of power curves and it’s relationship to stroke rate and pace but any sport with graphs has got to be one for me.

My first 2k attempt at 9:40 ranks me as a fairly useless rower, perhaps moderately better than my running rankings but unlike with running, I can actually visualise myself as a speedy rower. I’ve started the Pete Plan for beginners and will spend countless hours analysing my technique. Hopefully come April I’ll be able to record a respectable 2k rowing time as well as jog around a marathon course in central London.

Natural Navigation in Ever Decreasing Circles

I’ve been watching Sue Perkins, Alison Steadman and that other fella trying to cross the UK without recourse to a nifty Garmin navigator or even an oldey worldy compass thing.

They got on to their hands and knees to examine the differential drying of poo sides, scanned the horizon for the tell-tale sweep of exposed trees but mostly they’ve spun round in circles saying “is that East, North, South or West?”.

I was in Mitcham Common yesterday – my personal Bermuda triangle. For some reason I step into the gorse and become immediately disoriented. Still, I am an adventurer, so I ignore my personal wrist link to at least 3 satellites and ask for directions from the trees.

The natural navigation wisdom informs me that the prevailing wind direction in the UK is South Westerly (wind comes from the SW), so the sweep over of the trees foliage is in the opposite direction, ie NE. Had I stuck to this piece of evidence and run on I would have been fine but I always look for corroboration where there is only contradiction. Moss grows on the north side of trees but if the sweep over was accurate the Mitcham Common mosses prefer a southerly aspect, and the destination Croydon buses appeared to be headed East. I started spinning in circles and despite being less than 5 mins from my car I was best described as lost.

I was particularly keen to define the run by the cardinal points as I was trying to do a recce of London’s next official parkrun and was building up the race description in my head. I keep meaning to try a parkrun in my new locale but it occurred to me this weekend that it would be far better if parkrun came to me, so I set about trying to define the perfect 5km route around Mitcham Common.

I think I’ve found one – a lovely cross-country route hugging the wooded edge of the common for a loop and a half before cutting across the scrub and past the Seven Islands pond to finish. Just don’t ask me for directions.

I need to find a race organiser now and a way to appease the Mitcham Common conservators who may not be too keen on the idea of hordes of Saturday morning joggers.

It would be mighty convenient though.

A Soft Approach to the London Marathon

I’m taking a softly softly approach to this years attempt at the London marathon. No early heroics or ambitious time targets. I need to make it to the start line this year and that means, at the very least, that I have to still be capable of running when the proper marathon program starts at the end of December.

I started my preliminary marathon training schedule this week.

An 8-week program that will hopefully drag my aching plantar fascia through to a 10k standard without me needing to hobble to work on crutches.

While I may be easing may back into the running, I’ve gone full steam ahead with the research and planning. As befits my gentle approach I’ve opted to follow the non-runners marathon trainer. It’s not exactly lightweight, no successful marathon plan can be, but despite having run for quite some years I do still identify with it’s target audience of non-runners and I’m happy to build up slowly. If I ever get into double digit training weeks I may be tempted to amend the plan slightly as it never gets beyond 18 mile long runs and I think that is leaving too much unexpected pain for the big day.

I am also reading more hardcore running material. Marshall Ulrich, the ultra runner almost as famous as Dean Karnazes, has just released a book called Running on Empty. It gets a huge “must read” recommendation from me and has already provided much inspiration and encouragement to get on the treadmill.

By his own refreshing admission, Ulrich has had something of a flawed character, not the best of husbands or fathers, and has spent much of his running life running away from his emotions. I identify with him to a point but unfortunately haven’t developed his skill of zoning out of the pain and maintaining the relentless “one foot forward” maxim to life.

Ultra runners are a funny breed but I do enjoy taking inspiration from them. He reminded me of Eddie Izzard with his crazy multiple marathon feat. It seems that if you run far enough, for long enough, your body breaks down and then re-emerges from the ashes as a runner.

Hard to moan about plantar fasciitis when you read about an ultra runner’s woes.

The distances were taking their toll. The tendons in my upper and lower legs had begun to throb constantly, as if someone had cracked them both with a hammer. My muscles were so tight that they felt like guitar strings strung over the bridge of my aching bones. My achilles tendon was giving me no relief, and my bones and joints hurt from the incessant pounding.

Unfortunately I am unlikely to run the necessary 2000 or so miles to convert my grumbling body into a finely honed, injury proofed, running machine between now and April 2012 but I can enjoy the read along the way.

Apologies in advance for much whining to come.