First outing for the Vaporflys

As I mentioned last week, for my birthday I received a pair of Nike Vaporfly Next% running shoes. They weren’t a surprise – they’d been sitting in a box in the spare bedroom since just after Christmas when a discount-on-a-discount meant that they’d been picked up for under £200 rather than the RRP of £240 – though still a very significant sum for a pair of shoes, 50% more than I’ve ever paid. And though these things are rather subjective (when is a shoe worn out?), the new shoe definitely has a shorter lifespan than my regular shoes, making the cost per kilometre that much higher.

It’s worth noting that running, despite it’s simple origins, has never been particularly cheap for me – regular new shoes, clothing, race entry fees, occasional overnight hotels before races, GPS watches, sports nutrition, hydration backpacks, running belts, dedicated headphones, petrol/diesel/trains to get to parkruns, races and weekend long runs in the various places I like to travel to (arguably aeroplanes too though the two overseas race holidays probably substituted for other holidays we would have had), physiotherapy, massages, water bottles, head torches, extra towels, running the washing machine and tumble drier more often, and more – it all adds up. In that context, a more expensive shoe that will largely be reserved for my occasional races on suitable terrain doesn’t make an enormous difference, though I would probably still have baulked at the cost, hence the pleasure at receiving them as a gift.

The shoes have proved somewhat controversial, or at least sparked a large amount of commentary, including from non-runners. I can see merit in a range of perspectives. Is wearing them cheating? Of course not, any more than wearing running shoes generally rather than flippers or wellingtons (neither of which I’ve run in) or hiking boots (which I have when I accidentally turned up to parkrun without a change of footwear). Nor are spikes, or fell-running shoes, both of which clearly convey an advantage in appropriate circumstances. Technology has always progressed, as has nutrition, coaching techniques, financial support, the quality of the surface of racing tracks, and all sorts of other things which together contribute to elite athletes today being faster than their peers of decades or generations before. Technology doesn’t replace the need to train – I’m training for my third marathon with more discipline and devoting more time to it than previously – the shoes are most definitely not a short-cut for me.

But equally I share a degree of nervousness about the “but where will it all end?” concern, and that the quality (and brand) of equipment could become disproportionately important in determining outcomes for the elites. For me, as a mid-pack amateur, I’m quite content to adopt a shoe that has been widely adopted, and declared legal for elite competition by World Athletics (formerly the IAAF) – though I admit that, as a mid-pack runner, I will feel self-conscious about wearing a conspicuous shoe that some might, wrongly, perceive as wasted on me – I will, in fact, quite probably gain more from it than those at the front who’ve adopted it in such large numbers.

A more interesting question could arise soon if Nike or other brands release shoes which are not allowed for elite competition – will amateur runners including me want to adopt them?

Anyway, with my new shoes’ first race coming up on 23 February, a flat if exposed and thus potentially windy half-marathon at Dorney Lake, I wanted to give them a little outing, just as an experiment – it’s not generally a good idea to do anything for the first time in a race. So on Tuesday I decided my intervals session would work nicely – just around the village, on dry pavements, and intended to include some fast running.

Although I’d very briefly tried them on, on carpet, when they arrived, this was my first really experience of their feel. The first impression (other than the vibrant pink) is of the oddness of the offset lacing, intended to reduce pressure on the top of the foot which can otherwise get sore, particularly as the upper of the shoe is so thin (to save weight) – by contrast my Brooks Adrenaline has a heavily padded tongue and upper generally. I found after a few hundred metres that I stopped to tie the right shoe more tightly, and with hindsight should probably have re-tied the left one too – they do need to be done up quite tight to stop the foot moving around, hence the need for the offset lacing. This was definitely one useful thing to emerge from this outing that will help me get things right for the race.

The next impression is the bounciness – it’s not quite like being on springs, but they are bouncy – the foam and internal plate combining in some way that should improve energy return and hopefully also reduce the impact effect on my legs.

Once I set off, I felt full of energy and really struggled to run slowly enough – my plan was for a 1.5km warm-up. Struggling to run slowly enough isn’t totally novel to me (few runners have mastered perfect pacing), but it did seem hard to get the pace down to my 6:59/km target, and the best I could manage without being ridiculous about it was 6:25/km for that 1.5km. Of course, I was mentally expecting to be going quite quickly after all the hype about the shoes, and Tuesdays should be easier as Monday is a rest day.

I then moved into my intervals – a fast 1km, then 200m recovery, then 8 times fast 400m with 200m recoveries. There was a 26 mph wind, mostly blowing from my side, but presumably occasionally giving a small helping hand and at others slightly in my face as I ran back and forth along the cycle path. I ran 4:42 for the kilometre and a variety of paces from 4:47/km to 4:15/km for the 400 metre intervals. The shoes definitely felt fast. I don’t have a direct comparator for those times, as I’ve not done that set of intervals recently, but I don’t believe I’ve run at those paces since 2018.

My 1.5km cool-down at the end was an uncontrolled 5:47/km which is far faster than a normal cool-down – my legs and my enthusiasm getting the better of the control of my head, but for that pace to be so easy is interesting.

All in all, an encouraging outing, and these 9km give me enough confidence to tackle 21km in a couple of weeks even if I don’t do another trial with the shoes. On the race day, I need to allow myself time to make sure the lacing is right, something I’ve never had to think about much, and to test it properly with some warm-ups before the start.

Distances build

Week five saw another 11km slow run before work on Tuesday which at the moment still requires a fair bit of running in the dark. Wednesday was what I suppose you could call fartlek, being 3km of my normal slow pace (6:59/km), then 3km jog with Lucy and Brindley, and then 3km at marathon pace. Thursday was a full 8km at marathon pace.

On Saturday I paid my fourth visit to Harwich parkrun. I planned to get a course PB, but that only required beating 26m08 which I was pretty confident I could manage. I had new running shoes, my 8th pair of Brooks Adrenaline GTS, my first of the 20th edition. New shoes always give an extra little boost – fresh grip, fresh foam, and no doubt a small psychological extra too. Harwich starts off with a little loop and then downhill onto the prom, so the result was I found I’d started with a good pace. It was into a strong 20+ mph headwind, and I thought I would see how long I could maintain the pace. The answer was to the turnaround point, overtaking a good few people along the way, and suddenly it was a quiet, calm day, now that the wind was behind me. I found a woman to chase for 2km, overtaking her going up the hill away from the promenade, then she sprinted past me as I approached the finish. Net result was my first sub-25 minute parkrun for almost 12 months, and my fastest since August 2018, despite strong winds. I’m not particularly focusing on speed at the moment, but there are still signs that a little more speed is gradually returning.

Sunday is LSR (long slow run) time. In my quest for somewhere different to go, preferably traffic free, I roamed fairly far afield, heading for the Brampton Valley Way, a former railway line from Northampton to Market Harborough. I ran 9km mostly gradually uphill to the summit tunnel, and through the tunnel which is unlit – fortunately I was well prepared with a headtorch for that section. I was caught by another runner who chatted with me for a couple of minutes before he pushed on past me. He is training for the Peterborough Marathon, one I looked at but rejected in favour of Boston. After 9km I turned round and came back through the tunnel and headed gradually downhill back to the car. After lots of rain, there were lots and lots of puddles and a moderate amount of mud, but it was still fairly easy going and pretty well sheltered from the stiff winds.

Week six saw hill training on Tuesday with 8 uphills initially in the dark in Bury. Wednesday was 10km slow where the growing light in the mornings for the first time this year meant that it was just possible to do this in daylight, albeit a fair bit before dawn. Thursday I had a meeting in Warwickshire which meant an early start anyway – fitting in a run beforehand would have been quite tough, so I decided to squeeze one in afterwards, running for 8km at half-marathon pace along the towpath of the Northampton Arm of the Grand Union Canal, before dashing across the country to get back for some bellringing.

Saturday’s parkrun is currently called Greenwich parkrun, though the current trend towards renaming them for a more local feature could well see it being known as Avery Hill Park parkrun in future. It’s in the corner of the borough of Greenwich, but it’s a bit as if Pymmes parkrun was called Enfield parkrun. It was my 171st parkrun at my 114th different location. Lots of friendly faces today for Ben’s 100th parkrun celebrations. I ran a very satisfactory 25m19 on an undulating and in places muddy course, helped unknowingly by a woman who pulled me round – I caught her at the end of the first lap, but after that I couldn’t quite reach her but she remained close by. Immediately afterwards I ran across the park to pick up Catherine – I was expecting a short rest on the other side, but spotted her running, clearly setting a great pace, and I ran in with her: she set a course PB and her best parkrun time for quite some while. After the others had crossed the line we had a very impressive cake and other celebratory goodies.

Sunday’s main feature was Storm Ciara with 60mph winds, so I did my run indoors, doing a half-marathon on a treadmill at the gym. It’s a mentally challenging thing, running for so long on a treadmill – it’s fairly uninteresting with no scenery (though there was a regularly changing array of other people on the machines in front and to the sides of me to watch), but really hard in that you can press “stop” whenever you want – outside, when it gets tough, usually I need to keep going anyway to get back to the car or the house or the train or wherever. At the gym today the lights flickered quite a few times as the wind howled outside, but the power stayed on. Interestingly, I seemed to find it easier once I’d changed the treadmill display to show time rather than distance. After 20km I upped the pace from 6:59/km to under 5:30/km for the final 1.1km – it’s a good sign that this was pretty easy.

I was able to listen to the cricket commentary for most of the run, and a bit of Lord Hornblower during the interval in the cricket. (England went on to beat South Africa, but by a narrower margin than seemed likely at one stage.) Still, 21km is 21km and it feels reassuring to be upping the distance though, as in previous years, 42km still seems an awfully long way.

The other feature of Sunday was that it was my birthday, and though not a surprise I was delighted to receive my Nike Vaporfly Next% shoes from Lucy and my parents. Now officially allowed by World Athletics, they will, if all that other people say is true, make a noticeable difference to my pace and to how tired my legs are after a long run. Their first proper test will be a half-marathon race in a fortnight, but one of the midweek runs between now and then should be a test run to make sure I’m not totally taken by surprise by them when I run in them.

10 weeks to go and lots of running still to do.

A quarter of the way there

So, I’m four weeks into the 16 week marathon training plan. The long Sunday runs still aren’t all that long, but the weekly mileage is consistently above what it typically is, and my legs are hopefully getting more used to running when tired without too much objection.

Week two: three midweek runs from home, a gentle parkrun at Ellenbrook Fields with Alex, and then 13km in the King’s Forest. The long run was ideal conditions, sunny and dry underfoot, cool but not cold, and no wind, and though the terrain was very familar to me, I really enjoyed it. As a long(ish) run, once again was really easy – at the end I felt I could have gone on for much longer, and it was nice to be on (easy) trails for a change.

Week three: three midweek runs, the first from home and then two around the NEC site. It’s not easy or particularly interesting doing a 10km in the dark around the car parks of the NEC, though there was some mild interest from passing one group of runners eight times as we each made our way round a similar 1.9km-loop multiple times in opposite directions. The weekend saw me run my fastest 5km since March, during a visit to Morecambe Prom parkrun. And on Sunday my slow run was almost 15km initially along the River Lune and then mostly along the towpath of the Lancaster Canal to Carnforth. Not quite such an easy long run, but a much harder parkrun the day before, with other walking being done during my Lake District mini-holiday.

Week four: I started with intervals along the old railway line from Broughton-in-Furness, then returned to Suffolk where my other two pre-work runs reached 11km, requiring an early alarm clock and some out-and-backs along the short bits of pavement available to me before it got close enough to sunrise to venture onto the country lanes around home.

Saturday saw Lucy and me at Kingsbury Water parkrun south of Tamworth (prior to a visit to the National Running Show at the NEC) – it was a very crowded start and I lost a good deal of time trying to overtake people, in addition to which the lovely course is quite twisty and has a variety of surfaces, so it wasn’t as fast as Morecambe’s easy running, but still very satisfactory.

Sunday was a change from the typical pattern as the plan called for a 10k race. I decided to forego that and just run 10k about as quick as I could on my own, and headed for Felixstowe prom. After a warm-up mile, I turned up the pace for the 10k and was pleased to manage a time of 53:46, despite having to weave in and around a lot of inattentive wanderers on the prom on what was a delightfully sunny but cold and very windy morning. It’s still some way off my best, but my fastest for a good while.

All in all, I’m happy with how things are going. I still worry a bit about how my knees will cope as the distances increase, but for now all’s well. Hopefully doing a greater proportion of my distance at a slow pace, as widely recommended, will also have the advantage of putting less strain on my knees.

If you put the 53:46 into a race predictor to give a marathon time estimate, then the app on my phone says 4:19:58, Runner’s World says 4:21:24, McMillan Running says 4:12:16, Good Run Guide says 4:22:11, and OmniCalculator says 4:07:06. They’re all inside my goal of 4:29:59, which is encouraging, particularly as (subject to IAAF decisions to come) I should be in faster shoes on the day, hope to have lost some more weight, and will have done 12 more weeks of training. The shoes could knock 10 minutes off if all about them is true, as could losing 5kg in the next 10 weeks.

However, I’m still inclined to think the calculated estimates are too confident, and underestimate the extent to which my performance wilts over longer distances (somewhat more than the average runner), but perhaps this time round I’ll have got the training right and will cope better.

Marathon training plan one week in

The first week of 16 in the marathon training plan is complete. As I said in my previous post, this was an odd week, with the original plan mauled about a good deal. Let’s see how the remaining 15 weeks stand up to encounters with real life: this week’s deviations were planned from the start, but I’ve managed to fit the remainder of the plan around my current non-running intentions.

Monday was supposed to be short, a gentle introduction. Why do most training plans seem to have us starting almost from scratch? It can’t be at all unusual for someone aiming at a marathon to have run a half-marathon the previous week, as I did.

I had the additional objective for Monday 30 December (Tuesday being devoted to bell ringing) of running far enough to make my 2019 distance further than 2018. In the end, I needed less than 6km for that little objective, but rounded up to a nice slow 11km along the River Cam – the route was amended on the fly when I found a path from Stourbridge Common onto Ditton Meadows closed due to construction of a new bridge as part of the Chisholm Trail cycle route – which will in due course open new opportunities for some nice runs around here.

River Cam looking NE from Green Dragon Bridge

Wednesday, being New Year’s Day, was centred around the parkrun New Year’s Day Double, the once-a-year opportunity to claim two parkruns in a day. We went to Grovelands in Enfield and Oak Hill in Barnet. These were my 109th and 110th different parkrun venues, and Lucy’s 41st and 42nd in her quest for membership of the Hoffman Club.

Grovelands in the fog

Grovelands was very busy (it turned out to be a record attendance both here and at Oak Hill) with a congested start leading to slow jogging interrupted by walking at the start. But once we thinned out a bit it was a pleasant run, despite being in fog. The route was 2¾ laps, each with a modest hill, but all on tarmac (part of the benefit of coming here after such a very wet month). After I’d finished, I saw Lucy just disappearing as she went past the finish funnel, and I waited for her to complete her 1¾ laps ready to run with her for the final lap. Lucy had forgotten to bring her Garmin watch with her, so I’d set the Strava app on her phone recording, but it wasn’t behaving as well as it should so she was guessing pace and intervals.

After Lucy had finished, we walked back to the start where she’d left her fleece, and I then started the next phase of my running day: the run to parkrun number 2. The two events being close together, quite a few people had undoubtedly done this, but I was probably the last to do so, not setting off until almost ten o’clock, from the wrong end of the park, but I knew I had time. Part-way, I was offered a lift by some kindly parkrunners, but I assured them I was fine. After some slight confusion about where I was meeting Lucy, I found her just as the busy new-runners’ briefing was getting underway.

For Oak Hill, I ran round with Lucy, trying to get the pace and intervals right for her. Although she’d had a bit of a break, her longest run in a day is 6km, so to go to 10km was a big increase. The first km was sensibly slow, but after that Lucy seemed to gain energy and coped well, particularly on the flat sections. The route was again 2¾ laps – as we came through the finish area at 1¾ laps there was a good deal of congestion, with a queue building up for the finish funnel, but also a lot of people standing around on the course, seemingly oblivious to the fact that the slower runners were still coming through. Lucy finished strongly – great to see.

Thursday was the first day to stick to the original plan, with a 3½km “steady” run, a pace which is variously described as “comfortable, but purposeful, pace” or marathon pace, or (suitably vaguely) as 10 seconds faster to 20 seconds slower than marathon pace. For the moment, I’ve adopted about 6:20/km as my “steady” pace, and today it was a familiar jaunt across Woolpit to the far end of the Old Stowmarket Road and back.

Saturday is, with a couple of exceptions, going to be parkrun-day in my marathon Plan. Today was a visit to Barking in east London for my 111th different event, and Lucy’s 43rd. We met up with Claire who is returning to parkrun after a bit of a break. A very pleasant urban park, almost flat, all on tarmac and with a nice lake. Brindley and I managed a respectable 25:31, after which I jogged round with Claire who we haven’t seen for a little while, catching up which continued at the café afterwards.

Brindley and us at Barking – woof woof.
The lake in Barking Park.

Most weeks Sunday is the long slow run, though coming up in the plan I have a fast 10km and two half-marathon races thrown in for variety. Although I tested myself with the 21km on the busway a fortnight ago, the Plan has me starting with 11km, and I stuck with that today, accompanied by Lucy on her bike – it’s very slow for cycling but it was really nice to have her company on a longer run. I’ve tentatively pencilled her in for another such in a few weeks though she doesn’t really want to go much further than today so it may need some adjustment in a few weeks.

When I did my slow 21km two weeks ago, it was surprisingly easy. Today, with just 11km it was a fair bit harder – but I must recognise that it was at the end of a 50km week, which while necessary as I aim for my marathon, is a step up on my normal and so to an extent I’m training my body to cope running on somewhat tired legs. “Slow” in this context is again subject to a lot of variation in definitions and guidance: I’m currently aiming at about 6:59/km (for psychological reasons) for the shorter ones, a bit slower as they become very long. I’ve never before aimed at running quite so slowly, nor at spending such a high proportion of my week running either slowly or fairly slowly, but I can understand the wisdom of getting miles in my legs without always pushing myself too hard – let’s see what happens.

One week down, 15 to go.

2019 including infographics and statistics

So, how did the year go?

Races

  • Vienna Half-Marathon, 2:15:11 – enjoyable as a run and a holiday, the race went as well as could be expected given injury-induced lack of training.
  • Milton Keynes Marathon, 5:01:07 – with far too few long distance runs in my legs, and suffering from knee pain, I tried to jeff my way around. It almost worked but I ran out of steam and slumped to slower than London 2018, which had been my target to beat. With hindsight, I wish I’d then tried harder to beat 5 hours which would have been still something to note. A great race with fantastic support – I may return in 2021.
  • Clacton 10k, 56:19. A rather frustrating race, with no attempt at starting people in order of speed, and the start being too broad compared to what followed, the inevitable result being a fair bit of queuing to make progress; on the lower prom, there were sections with deep sand.
  • Great East Run (half-marathon), 2:10:09. Very satisfied with this, as it was four minutes faster than I planned, and I achieved some really good pace control throughout, getting the pace appropriate for the ups and the downs.
  • A14 Great Ouse Challenge (7km), 49:04. I ran this at a deliberately gentle pace – it was a unique opportunity to run along the new Huntingdon southern bypass before the road opened in December, but was for me it inconveniently timed the afternoon before the Great Eastern Run, so I wanted to take it very easy.
  • Great Eastern Run. Cancelled on the day, after spending a lot of time standing in cold rain. A man acting suspiciously on the course had been reported, and resulted in an armed police response in fear of a suicide bomber. Fortunately it proved to be a false alarm, but not without causing enough delay to make holding the race on closed roads no longer possible.
A decent year’s running – a smidgen further than 2018, but slower – too much weight being carried, and too little good training ahead of the spring races due to persistent injuries in late 2018 and early 2019. Here are previous years for comparison…
The Veloviewer wheel for 2019 shows a slightly different distance run as it doesn’t include my few treadmill runs. Mostly UK, naturally, but with four runs in Norway (three in the Arctic) and a couple in Vienna.
Fairly consistent monthly distances.
This shows how many tiles (an area of the Openstreetmap maps) I’ve visited – fairly consistent across the months, and showing ongoing good outcomes of my vow to keep my running interesting and fresh by keeping finding new places to run, or at least places I haven’t been to for some time, rather than re-running the same routes again and again.
My Voronoi diagram of UK parkruns visited shows a slowly growing expanse of green – two new ones in Cambridgeshire to visit in weeks to come to fill that little gap, but quite a few more apparently in the pipeline in Norfolk. A few other scattered ones will be added in the next few months too.

Third time lucky?

London Marathon 2018 was a great experience, but somewhat unsatisfying as a run since I injured my knee around mile 14 and thus went much slower for the remaining 12 miles and was very focused on that pain and whether I was going to finish, in addition to the challenge of a very congested course.

Milton Keynes Marathon 2019 was a great experience, but somewhat unsatisfying as a run since I’d had a series of muscle strains which had constrained my training, and some concerning knee niggles, and so I went even slower than London, running out of energy towards the end.

There followed much dithering about whether I should abandon the idea of another marathon. I so enjoyed the atmosphere of Milton Keynes that I would have given that another go, but a family wedding counts out that option for 2020, though who knows about 2021?

In the end, I’ve signed up for the Boston Marathon on 19 April 2020 – the UK version in Lincolnshire, which while not being the original and more famous Boston Marathon (the UK one is the day before the big one across the Pond), does start and finish in the original Boston. The course is the flattest in the UK, with barely detectable changes in height as it makes its way across the flat southern Lincolnshire farmland. If it’s windy, it could be a challenge, but then few courses in reality offer a huge amount of shelter from the wind.

By comparison with London and MK, the size of the field is much smaller (614 finishers in 2019), and the size of the crowds commensurately reduced – that could be a mental challenge, but also an opportunity to focus on myself and my running, without needing to worry about crowds on or off the roads.

The flatness and simplicity of the course appealed – I’ve had plenty of practice at running along country lanes between arable fields, and it doesn’t bother me. And, let’s be honest, the idea of telling people I’m running the Boston Marathon does tickle me slightly.

I’ve identified a marathon training plan which includes my much loved parkruns, and adapted it slightly to fit my needs. I’ve tentatively planned some locations for the long runs: I’m trying to make as many as practical of the long Sunday runs different – unique in the context of this plan.

I’m going to try to stick with the advice to run slow for much of the weekly mileage, even though it feels wrong.

The 16-week plan officially starts on 30 December, though the plan is flexing on the first day since the Monday will not be a short introduction, but will serve the twin purposes of being the previous week’s longer run, and of mopping up any kilometres still needed to meet my 2019 objective of running further (just) than 2018. The Wednesday (1st January) will also deviate from the original as it is the New Year’s Day parkrun double, and I’m planning to run between the two parkruns as well, to add to the fun. Two half-marathon races are in the plan, and I’ve booked one and am still pondering the other. There’s also a 10k race but I may end up just running a hard 10k somewhere suitable.

I’ve been regularly running a little bit longer on Sundays the last few weeks, up to 16km, as my thoughts of a marathon intensified, and having entered on Friday, this Sunday I betook myself to the Cambridge Guided Busway at Impington for what was originally planned to be another 16km, squeezed in between service ringing at Woolpit and Great Finborough. But a last-minute realisation that the benefice service was at Drinkstone and thus 75 minutes earlier, gave me extra time for the run, so I decided to target 18km.

Over Windmill near the Guided Busway

But when I was out, deliberately running slower than I had for seven months (since I ran out of energy in the MK Marathon) I found the going really quite easy, and decided to round up to a nice 21.1km. The effort increased a little towards the end, but it was really remarkably effortless – despite succumbing to temptation just a little and aiming at the more psychologically satisfying 6:59/km rather than the computer’s suggested 7:07/km. I could definitely have gone a few kilometres further without undue effort or distress. I adopted a jeffing approach with around 120 metres of walking per kilometre, and Garmin says I managed within one second of 6:59 for each of the full kilometres which is nicely consistent, though the single kilometre that was 7:00.1 was trivially annoying.

As far as Boston goes, my goal A is to finish in under 4h30, goal B to finish in under 4:52:11, and goal C to finish. Goal A will require a pace of around 6:22/km, and it is mentally tough to be deliberately aiming to spend so little time running at that pace.

Four and half hours is a less ambitious time goal than I had originally set myself for London, but I’m a good deal heavier (and two years older and wiser), and so let’s just see how things go.

Sheringham and Felixstowe

Saturday started with Sheringham parkrun, my 152nd parkrun at my 103rd location, for the present leaving just Hunstanton Promenade to visit in the East of England region – until the next one starts. It was a lovely course across the National Trust estate of Sheringham Park, with sea views as well, but a lot of uphill on the return leg and I found it hard work.
Sunday sees me at Felixstowe for my long run of the week – I’d contemplated an organised half-marathon today, in part to replace last week’s Great Eastern Run, but in the end decided just to go out for a stretch of legs, and to visit a few more un-run squares on the map. I’d been along most of today’s route on walks, but not as a run, and it’s a different experience. Here I’m crossing the last of the six railway lines where they leave the Port of Felixstowe.
A small rise takes me to the top of Fagbury Cliff, at one point almost the river’s edge but the river is now some distance away behind the container park and dock.
Looking back across part of Trimley Marshes, the container park is still there, behind the trees to the right, largely out of sight but still making its presence felt by the constant beeping of the cranes and lorries.
Eventually having worked my way around the container park, I return to the riverside for a while, with a view of a Thames barge
About to cross a small creek
Making my way around the new tidal mud, created as part of the compensatory measures when the port was expanded
A look upriver to Levington Marina, as I turn inland
After climbing the hill to Trimley St Martin, it has been a suburban run mostly along roads through the Trimleys, Walton and Felixstowe, eventually returning to the prom. A look to the left…
…before turning to the right for a run along the prom and back to the car. A very enjoyable run – lots of stopping for photos and navigation, but I’m trying to teach myself that not every run needs to be fast or non-stop.

The £1.5 billion running track

The upgrade of the A14 between Milton and Ellington has been a frustrating experience as a motorist, with seemingly endless roadworks, and at times little evident progress with millions of pounds of equipment sitting idle so often. But at last the progress is becoming more evident, and while the online improvements south of Fenstanton aren’t due to be finished until December 2020, the offline section forming the Huntingdon southern bypass will be opened this year. Perhaps arising from a post on Facebook that I saw, or perhaps elsewhere, there emerged plans for cycle and running events on the nearly complete carriageway before it opens. Although I have the Great Eastern Run half-marathon tomorrow, I thought that this wasn’t an opportunity I would get again, so signed up as soon as I could. There was a 14km run, to match the A14, but bearing in mind the Great Eastern, I selected the half distance of 7km, and planned to take it easy to try not to tire my legs too much for tomorrow.

(As it happens, the Great Eastern Run was cancelled the next day, due to a police incident involving an armed response, so I could have run faster, and/or done the full 14km, but hindsight is a wonderful thing.)

From the Brampton Hut junction (Highways England call it the Ellington junction, but I think they’re currently in a minority) I’ve had the rare experience of driving along the eastbound carriageway at 15 mph with my hazard lights on, dodging various bits of road-building equipment, barriers and holes. I then did a u-turn through a gap in the concrete barrier onto the westbound carriageway, where I’ve driven past a long line of parked cars to put mine at the end. The photo is looking north along the “westbound” carriageway, with the new A1 to the left.
From the car, starting the 1.2km walk along the new carriageway
From the registration area, looking back towards the A1 with the sliproads of the Brampton Interchange on either side.
Spreading ourselves out across the four lanes of the A14 westbound
And we’re off – 1km into the run. The 750m-long Great Ouse Viaduct can just be seen in the distance as the road curves to the left
We’ve gained some lane markings but a bit more work still to be done
After the 3.5km turn around point, and we have road signs – incidentally seeming to confirm that it will, after all, be the A14 and not the A14(M) as had been proposed. Emma Nicholson of the Lonely Goat Running Club is just in front of me – we each passed the other twice. I contemplated asking her what the Lonely Goat RC is, but thought she might not favour a detailed conversation while running.
Back on the Great Ouse Viaduct
And crossing the Great Ouse
Almost there…
I clearly slightly misjudged the first kilometre but was otherwise successful in my aim of a nice even pace, deliberately moderate so as not to overtire my legs.
I was pleased with the water bottle at the end – some water to drink, but something worth keeping rather than a “goody bag” full of rubbish.
I liked the slogan for the day – I hope I haven’t damaged my chances for tomorrow, but this was one chance, and I’m glad I took it. Congratulations to Highways England the the A14 Team for making it happen.
And a decent medal too, highlighting the Great Ouse Viaduct element of the run.

Vienna half-marathon

We had a weekend away in Vienna for the twin purposes of me running the Vienna half-marathon and eating Wiener Schnitzel – we stayed in an apartment close to the Danube and the race start, while Mum and Dad stayed in a hotel in the centre of the city.

Friday evening in front of the opera house
Saturday morning and we went for a gentle 5km jog – Lucy crosses the Danube with several other runners
a barge on the Danube
Most of our morning run was on this lovely island between the new and old courses of the Danube
In the afternoon we went to the exposition to collect my race pack
We also found that we were able to collect some Kaiserschmarn
The Wiener Riesenrad is a 65-metre tall ferris wheel, dating from 1897. Astonishingly they didn’t take credit cards but we had just enough cash, leaving us with one eurocent.
The capital city from the Wiener Riesenrad
Later, we went for a boat ride on the Danube Canal
Later, a visit to the Hotel Sacher where the four of us had the famous cake (after a lengthy queue for a table). Very nice, though not extraordinarily special.
Sunday morning, and I’m ready for the off, if rather wide-eyed.
The Danube is looking much bluer than yesterday
The joining instructions weren’t as clear as they might have been, and focused very much on using public transport to get to the start, but our apartment was deliberately within walking distance – it wasn’t clear whether I would be forced to use the Underground to cross the river, and clearly I wouldn’t be the only one within walking distance so it was something of an omission. When I reached the closed road, I found a few others walking across so I joined them. Looking back to the south-west, this will be the direction of travel across the Reichsbrücke once we’ve started.
The only sight of the lead vehicles I’m likely to get
Continuing to walk to the start through the cars, officials and other detritus – it still wasn’t clear whether the route of myself and others was permitted or not, but no-one asked us not to, so we pressed on, finding much more confusion – there were no maps, no signs, no significant number of toilets, just endless people moving about in all directions. I eventually found my start area more by instinct than any clear signage, and there was no system in place to make sure people were in the start zone they were supposed to be. Perhaps Austrian efficiency isn’t up to German levels.
We’re ready to start, but first the billowing piece of fabric, presumably advertising one of the sponsors for the benefit of the helicopters above, needs to be passed over our heads and back down the field.
Lucy is waiting at the far end of the bridge and here is the lead car and a pack of elite African runners.
Meanwhile I’m still stationary, being entertained by the big screen.
Here I am at last.
After Lucy, Mum and Dad had waved at me mid-way and passed me fresh nutrition, Lucy found herself a spot in the grandstand just short of the finish. I knew she was there somewhere, so I’m waving confidently even though I haven’t yet seen her.
Still waving, and I think by now I had seen Lucy
Afterwards, walking back to the underground station to return to the apartment for a shower and a rest. Later we went for a boat trip with Mum and Dad on the Danube and back into the centre on the Danube Canal, then headed out for a final meal, once again sampling the delights of Viennese cuisine.

Two in Essex – Hadleigh and Burnham-on-Crouch (67)

Hadleigh with Alex, Andy, Catherine, Claire and Lucy

That heading is the first time I’ve written anything quite like that – with the exception of the WLR gang at the Reading Half in 2010, I don’t think I’ve had more than two people known to me at a run. When I’d met with Catherine and Alex at Harlow, we’d agreed we should do it again soon with Lucy along too; it was also a little while since Southend parkrun in June when Lucy and Claire had run together; and with Andy having done some volunteering recently, it was to be his first run.

From near the start, the view across Benfleet Creek to Canvey Island with the estuarine Thames beyond

Lucy, Catherine and Alex getting ready at the start

Catherine, Alex, Lucy and me (sporting my new MK Marathon top)

Andy, Claire, me and Lucy

Me with one of the zeroes from the three-balloon 100, this being Hadleigh’s centenary run

Lucy and Alex on a beautiful morning

This was my fourth Hadleigh parkrun, and my slowest yet – I’m probably the heaviest I’ve been at Hadleigh, and not at maximum fitness either, but it was an enjoyable run, and I pushed myself hard enough to run all of it (having walked a little one at least one of the earlier, quicker, attempts).

After getting my breath back and my token scanned, I had a couple of bits of celebratory cake (it being Hadleigh’s 100th run), then I jogged back to find Lucy, Catherine and Alex. On the steep zigzagging section downhill, it was a bit of a challenge trying to run while keeping out of the way of those making their way slowly uphill. I passed Andy who was doing well, despite his slightly unconventional running kit.

I had to go about a kilometre to find the others, weary after the first steep uphill. We jogged a little downhill then tackled the long bouldery zigzags. Alex seemed keen to run on, so with Catherine’s encouragement she and I went on a bit; I’m not sure whether she then changed her mind or ran out of energy or just wasn’t yet comfortable with me, but we didn’t get all that far ahead and mostly walked uphill.

Soon we reached the finish with a sprint from Alex, and soon after a final push from Lucy with support from Catherine. Claire, as tail walker, came along a bit later. All was packed up and we walked back to the café. Although I had a recollection of cake here, there wasn’t much along those lines (surprisingly) but we were tempted by bacon or sausage baps, accompanied by some unusual chips/wedges/potato things, and sat outside chatting for a good while.

A great morning: lovely course, lovely weather, lovely company.

Burnham-on-Crouch (67)

Another parkrunday, another lovely morning, and the third consecutive visit to Essex. Once safely along the twisty B1010 (I count 10 right-angle bends, on flat land, in just 2.3km) I parked up and after a quick visit to the river-wall for the view, made my way to the start via the convenient toilets. I said hello to a few people, then offered some navigational guidance to Claire, which was good enough for her soon to be joining me on a chilly morning with temperatures just nudging 4° with a stiffish breeze which got stronger during the morning.

From the river-wall, a look up the River Crouch past Essex Yacht Marina on Wallsea Island

Soon the call “3, 2, 1, go” came, and I realised that I had forgotten to get my Garmin ready. I can have it ready 15 minutes early when I’m on my own, but give me company and I regularly forget. Fortunately it found a GPS signal within seconds, and as I was towards the back of the pack, I was able to start it as I crossed the line.

Looking east along the River Crouch from the parkrun route

I wished Claire a good run and took advantage of the firm grassy field to overtake much of the field before we climbed the zigzags onto the river wall and headed west into the headwind. The route took us to the marina on the north bank where we turned north alongside the marina, then a long loop around a grassy gentle slope and then retrace our route along the river wall, with the wind on our backs, descending a different path and back to the start. Then it all again for the second lap.

I overtook a couple of people on the ascent up the river wall, and then it was a long, long reeling in of Frances Nestor who was in front of me, it (unknowingly) being her turn to fulfil my objective once again of someone to help me keep my pace up. I caught her around the mid-point of the grassy loop, and managed, just, to keep ahead of her. I half thought she might catch me as we neared the finish, but my legs had a reasonable kick in them today and I accelerated nicely to the finish line.

After catching my breath, I thanked Frances and then ran back to find Claire and ran back in with her. We then went to Happy Returns, mentioned as the gathering place on the parkrun website but devoid of any parkrunners except Claire and me. We enjoyed hot chocolates, chatting about running and plans for sailing next year among other things, then went our separate ways, she back home and me to the recycling centre to deposit our old fridge-freezer.

South Woodham Ferrers (66)

Looking east down the River Crouch from near the start.

So having completed Cambridgeshire again last week, today it was time to return to Essex, and to South Woodham Ferrers parkrun on the River Crouch. I parked the car as instructed in the car park of Marsh Farm Animal Adventure Park, but there were surprisingly few other people about, and as I jogged down the path to the river, when I got to the south end, I turned back and looked along the path: no-one was behind me. However, I continued on, and found that almost everyone had parked in the car park for Marsh Farm Country Park, which is rather more convenient.

And they’re off…

After the briefings, we moved across the car park to the start, and were soon underway. The course runs around the car park onto the sea wall, which it follows for a little while before descending onto the marshes and going inland for a little while, eventually reaching another river wall at Clementsgreen Creek which we followed for a while before reversing our route on a track below the river wall, then taking a different route back to the River Crouch, eventually rejoining the outward route which we followed back to the finish funnel. I didn’t manage to find anyone to latch onto for an extended period today, four people fulfilling the role, each for a little while: the first three I eventually overtook; the fourth sprinted away from me every time I caught her up, and in the end finished eight seconds in front of me.

River Crouch looking upriver

A really lovely course. Final time 25:39, finishing 26th of 103.

Incidentally, I came across the 5000m dash-board today, which shows the numbers of people who have run all the parkruns in a particular area, and how others (including me) are progressing. It reports that there are only two people who’ve run all the East of England parkruns, and there are only another two people who’ve done more than 60 of the 70 runs in the region – clearly completion, or being very close to completion, is not a widespread thing. The site says I’m 18th equal on the list, and with 22 more to go I will take a while to rise up the rankings.

Commiserations

So, no place for me in next year’s London Marathon in the ballot – like 2018, but unlike 2018 I don’t plan to seek a charity place. I am proud of the funds I helped raise this year, and very grateful to family, friends and colleagues in their support, but I don’t want to put either myself or them in the position of asking for more money again so soon.

But I do still feel like I have unfinished business – I didn’t entirely succeed in what I aimed to do from a running point of view, particularly once my knee gave out at about mile 14 and so the second half turned into run-walk and my pace was much slower than planned.

So I’ve booked myself in for the MK Marathon on Monday 6 May after a good deal of deliberation as to where I wanted to run. It’s slightly more undulating than I would have liked, but I think the style of the course will suit me, and it’s not impractical to go and practice run on some sections over the winter. I did consider the Boston marathon (the one in Lincolnshire) as being the flattest in the country, but the course isn’t inspiring and it could be really challenging if a bit windy.

And in advance of that, Lucy and I will be spending a long weekend in Vienna at the start of April, when I’ll be running the Vienna City half marathon, fuelled by schnitzel and a slice of Sachertorte.

parkrun catch-up (numbers 98 to 104)

It’s been a little while since I posted here, during which time I’ve had a few more great Saturday morning parkrun experiences, so here’s a brief recap:

Harlow parkrun – location 60 for parkrun #98

me, Alex and Catherine

Harlow parkrun (my 60th different parkrun location) was an opportunity to meet with my friend Catherine and her daughter Alex. It’s described as an “undulating” course, and that sums it up: not actually a huge amount of ascent (just 53 metres) but it makes its presence felt more than one might expect. There’s a mixture of woodland and some very brown grass. The uphill start was very congested, but after a while I was able to stretch out a bit. Once I’d finished, I went back to find Catherine and and Alex and ran the last lap with them. We chatted for a while then Catherine took Alex off to get her ears pierced.

Felixstowe parkrun – parkrun #99

The plan to meet up with a friend in Clacton was abandoned as she wasn’t well, so Lucy and I went to Felixstowe for my second visit, where parkrun is along the prom: pancake flat apart from the gentlest of rises over the entrance to the pier. I set off too fast (5km PB pace) and couldn’t keep it up, but still finished in a good time. It’s a course with out-and-back in one direction, then out-and-back in the other. So by the time I’d finished, Lucy had gone past the finish into the second leg; I got my breath back then went to catch up with her, but it took far longer than I’d expected, and I only caught up at the second turn-around point. We ran in together, she knocking 45 seconds off her PB, which was fab.

We then went for a paddle (in my case) and swim (in Lucy’s case) in the sea to cool off, followed by a lovely ice-cream. A brilliant start to the day. I still can’t quite believe I’m going running with Lucy – it seems so unlikely.

Letchworth parkrun – location 61 for parkrun #100

My 100th parkrun was at Letchworth yesterday, my 61st parkrun location, en route to lunch in Surrey. This is the local parkrun for a couple of friends who were there to help mark the occasion, though Kate didn’t feel great as one of her contact lenses was malfunctioning and making her feel sick. Lucy was on finish tokens: I got a “99½” as I finished the first of two laps, and a nice cheer across the finish line. A surprisingly tough course: about three-quarters of it is on tracks and around field edges, with the relatively modest undulations (macro and micro) making their presence felt more than the numbers might have suggested, and lots of dodging around holes underfoot. Fortunately, despite a month’s rain in 36 hours, the previously dry ground meant that Calamity Corner didn’t live up to its name, being merely sticky, but I can see how it would be interesting in the winter.

Lucy with the prized token number 1 – neither of us are ever likely to be handed it at the end of a run

Ford parkrun – location 62 for parkrun #101

Ford parkrun is named after Ford Park in Ulverston. We’d popped up to the Lake District for the August Bank Holiday weekend. At one point I’d considered visiting Whinlatter, another Cumbria parkrun I haven’t yet been to, but Ulverston was closer and fitted in better with plans for today, so our weekend started off with me running the parkrun while Lucy watched and cheered with the dogs. The course description on the website is one which risks sowing confusion rather than light, and makes me grateful I’m in the middle of the pack and so usually need only to follow the person in front (but see Fritton Lake).

The start and the green field of the park are overlooked by the Hoad Monument, but once underway the focus is on the many twists and turns which make for an interesting run. Still recovering from the pain in my bottom (self-diagnosed as a strained piriformis muscle), I tried to take it easy, but found myself as so often finding someone to latch onto and pull me round a little faster than I felt comfortable with – we both accelerated in the final circuit of the field, but she pulled away for a sprint finish while I’d already given what I could. On only its third run, the organisation was excellent though the marshals were rather quiet.

Littleport parkrun – location 63 for parkrun #102


Lucy and I visited Littleport parkrun at the start of September, thus allowing me to complete Cambridgeshire again (for the third time). It was a decent sized crowd gathered outside the leisure centre on a beautiful summer morning for two-and-a-bit laps of two grassy field, linked by a relatively narrow trod and a broad tarmac path for a bit of variety. I’m still suffering from the effects of relatively little running (and too much gained weight) but was reasonably satisfied with my run. I joined Lucy as she went past with half a lap and the extra bit to go: she was finding it a bit tough with the conditions underfoot being more demanding than her previous two parkruns at Southend and Felixstowe, but still recorded a decent time.

Manor Field, Whittlesey parkrun – location 64 for parkrun #103

A visit to the inaugural parkrun at Manor Field, Whittlesey made me a little anxious as I know inaugural-chasers can risk overwhelming new parkruns, but fortunately the numbers weren’t excessive. It isn’t something I plan on making a habit, but it was interesting to experience the first time once. Today’s visit also enabled me to complete the Cambridgeshire parkruns (for the fourth time). As was to be expected, there were various announcements of thanks to those involved in getting the parkrun off the ground, and not quite the practised fluency that one can get where they have more experience, but all seemed well organised.

The parkrun is another around playing fields, and to be honest these never sound terribly appealing when reading about them online, but they can still be very pleasant and quite varied in reality – if they are “around” playing fields, then what is on the edge? In this case, the biggest edge feature was King’s Dyke and Ashline Lock which we ran past twice, plus some tree-lined sections and the distinctive smell from the leisure centre swimming pool. Once again I found someone to latch onto and she pulled me round, all the more helpful today as my GPS watch had a fit part-way round and claimed I was elsewhere in Whittlesey and then back again, and thus all the distances and paces were up the spout.

Afterwards, as I was cheering on some of the slower runners and chatting with one of the marshals, I heard and caught sight of steam and smoke from Union of South Africa pulling a train along the track on the other side of the river – I was too slow to grab a picture, but it was still great to see, especially as such a surprise.

Coldham’s Common parkrun – location 65 for parkrun #104

Andrew is one of the 13 Bushy pioneers who ran the first Bushy Park Time Trial, the format which evolved into the parkrun we know today.

Today we were on our way to Chester, and at one point had considered a stop in Kettering for parkrun, but the weather forecast suggested it would be raining hard there, and a sunny summer’s day when we can also have a ride on the train would be a better time to visit Kettering. So we picked Coldham’s Common – the second parkrun in Cambridge, thus allowing me to complete all the Cambridgeshire parkruns (for the fifth time!). Although originally Lucy had been going to run too, in the end we decided to save that for another time and get back on the road northwestwards as soon as we could.

The route is two circuits of two sets of playing fields, linked by a gate which needs to be used in both directions, and is thus potentially something of a bottleneck, but which was very well marshalled and didn’t cause me any problems. I latched onto another runner partway round the first lap, and she pulled me along at a decent pace. We both accelerated in the final few hundred metres but she pulled away with a better sprint finish than I have. After barcode scanning, I looked to thank her but she’d disappeared so we hit the road for Chester.

With the closure of Heartwood Forest parkrun, that takes my East of England tourism tally to 47 out of 70, two-thirds of the way. Although the journey can be more fun than the destination, I’m enjoying the target (even though it keeps moving) and the journey – it will take me a while yet to finish, so lots more interesting places to visit, and some to re-visit.

Tring parkrun – location 59 for parkrun #97

This morning’s visit was to Tring parkrun, the most westerly parkrun in the East of England region. It was hot and it was hilly, but beautiful too.

A few visitors to Tring

The RD, Anna, gives her briefing

And they’re off!

The route is fairly steeply downhill, then a gentle incline up the grassy valley, then a steep wooded zigzag up onto the ridge, along the woodland ridge, then downhill to the bottom of the valley, gently back up the valley, a steep “Heartbreak Hill” then along an avenue of trees to the finish – delightful.

The avenue of trees, scene of a few sprint finishes after the challenge of Heartbreak Hill

The climb up to the ridge is quite challenging for a Suffolk lad, but the run down with a decent gradient and reasonable footing was thrilling, with my Garmin recording my peak speed at below 3mins/km and me grabbing a Strava segment at an average of 3:30/km, which is astonishing for me – definitely the fastest I’ve ever run.

The picture is taken from the ridge route which forms the middle kilometre or so, and is the first time in 97 parkruns that I’ve stopped on the way round to take a photo. The finish is on the other side of the valley at the right-hand end of the avenue of trees in the centre of the picture.

This is the only parkrun I’ve done which has cow marshalls, to try to keep the cattle out of the way of the runners or to direct runners around the cattle if that fails. In practice, I saw a few at the start but after that it was only cowpats that presented a hazard.

A view of the finish line

A day out in Norfolk including Blickling parkrun – location 58 for parkrun #96

Today a visit to Norfolk, starting with parkrun at Blickling Hall, a large National Trust estate. After I’d had a little warm-up run, I stood guard over a frog as it gradually made its way from the danger area where runners were assembling towards the long grass where it would be safe.

Once it was out of the way, the new runners briefer told us of the course, with what he described as a “Norfolk hill” to start with.

The main briefing advised that pacer-makers had been withdrawn because they considered it irresponsible to encourage people to go quickly – but if we really wanted to, they had trained first-aiders and resuscitation equipment. It was only 22 degrees, for goodness sake – warm, yes, but hardly hot. If people are affected by that temperature, slow down, but for those not significantly affected, just let them enjoy the conditions while they last.

We set off, and the runners in front of me pushed up a lot of dust into the air – it was worse than last week when I was passed by a couple of off-road bikes on a dusty byway. As we spread ourselves out while climbing the Norfolk hill, the dust dissipated and wasn’t a problem for the rest of the run. A lovely mix of gravel/dust paths across open grassland and through attractive woodland. Although with the steep mountains to climb, the loose surface underfoot, and the warm day, it wasn’t my fastest, I was pleased with my time of 25 minutes exactly. That was parkrun #96, at location #58.

I then headed to the coast for a bike ride and then coastal walk to fill in the last bit of the Suffolk and Norfolk coasts as far as Hunstanton that I hadn’t walked. Glorious day for it, and I did the last 6km barefoot which was lovely though left me with sunburn on the top of my feet, a risk which I hadn’t thought of.