parkrun East of England regionnaire

So, parkrun returned after the 16-month Covid “pause” on 24 July 2021, and it saw Lucy and me travel to Soham Village College for their 18th event. It was both reassuringly familiar and very strange, being around people again, not sure how close was socially acceptable. The Run Director did his briefing fairly quickly, and if not entirely consistent with the parkrun Covid protocol, then largely following the spirit of it. And then we were off for the run itself, which was just like always – great to be out in the open air with others, great to be able to thank the volunteers, and to go home happy and satisfied, and in the case of we tourists, with another new location ticked off.

16 months with no parkrun – it’s great to be back

My gradual ambition was to visit the remaining events in the East of England region, to reclaim my “regionnaire” status – that is, having run all the parkruns in the region (which is made up of Bedfordshire, Cambridgeshire, Essex, Hertfordshire, Norfolk, and Suffolk). It’s naturally a moving feast since there are new parkruns starting from time to time (and occasionally closing).

I first gained the status on 8 June 2019 with a visit to Thomas Mills, my 78th in the region, making me at that moment one of such four people. I subsequently visited Hunstanton soon after that opened, to regain the status on 2 November 2019, at that moment one of just three EoE regionnaires.

I’d visited Great Yarmouth North Beach in February 2020, but by the time Covid got in the way, I was missing four: Soham Village College (started November 2019), Fulbourn Hospital (December 2019), Chalkwell Beach (February 2020) and Wickford Memorial (February 2020) – though Lucy had visited the last two. So the restart of parkrun had seen SVC crossed off, but Fulbourn Hospital would have to wait as permission from the landowners wasn’t immediately forthcoming. But still four events to visit, because of Chilton Fields…

The restart of parkrun in England on 24 July generally had also brought a new event starting that day, our new NENDY (Nearest Event Not Done Yet), Chilton Fields, but we kept that for a couple of weeks until we wanted one close to home, duly visited on 7 August – a surprisingly varied and pleasant route, more interesting than the map had suggested. This was the location of Lucy’s 50th parkrun at her 50th different location, thus gaining her membership of the Hoffman Club, with Roderick Hoffman himself coming to Chilton Fields to welcome Lucy, plus fellow member Charlene Gower and her partner Ash. Still four events to go for the region as Storeys Field has started…

Lucy with Roderick Hoffman and Charlene Gower after completing her 50th at her 50th

Another new one, Storeys Field in Cambridge, began in July and was visited in August, but that still left me three to do including the still-closed Fulbourn Hospital. Storeys Field was an almost-flat route on the western edge of Cambridge, with a great atmosphere – and quidditch hoops on the walk from the car park. We were recognised by tourists who’d also been at Exmouth where we’d run the previous Saturday. But making progress, back to only three to go.

Getting ready at Storeys Field

On 18 September, I met friend Claire at Chalkwell Beach, a pancake-flat run along the prom, always a favourite for me, hindered just a little in this case by the large number of dinghies being prepared for launch and blocking the route. After my run, I jogged back to run in with Claire, and afterwards we had an excellent breakfast at a cafe on the seafront. Still three to go, as Sandringham had started.

On 2 October, Flegg High started and I visited that day – a pleasant run combining school playing fields and a twisting route around other parts of the school estate. The RD amusingly confirmed what so many of us already knew that “It’s a race, not a run” in the pre-race briefing. I continued afterwards with a run to the seaside at Winterton, and back, rounding the morning out nicely, but somewhat shockingly when I saw how much less of the seaside there was at Winterton than on my previous visit, with the sea having eaten away many metres of the land. So, another parkrun location visited, but by this time I’d actually gone backwards in my quest as meanwhile Henlow Bridge Lakes and Harleston Magpies had started, so now five to go (including Fulbourn Hospital which was still closed).

A good finish position at Flegg High, but only because it was a small field.

16 October saw Lucy and me travel to Sandringham for a delightful two-lapper around the royal estate, somewhat hampered in my case by a chest infection leaving me a bit short of breath and a confused GPS watch which misled me as to how fast I was going causing me to rather overdo it and completing the last two kilometres with a worrying amount of wheezing. A very good, if smallish, bacon bap afterwards, too, before Lucy headed for an agility trial. Making progress again, just four to do.

Waiting around the finish funnel at Sandringham

23 October saw me head west to Henlow Bridge Lakes, a flat almost two-lapper on gravel and earth paths around gravel pits, with a good unwitting pacemaker to help me go a little faster than I’d planned. Hurrah, just three left now.

Part of the Henlow Bridge Lakes route alongside the infant River Ivel

On 6 November Lucy and I travelled at last to the finally reopened Fulbourn Hospital, and met with our friend Helen for the first time in some while; I ran round with Helen catching up on news, and then the two of us jogged back to find Lucy and run in the last bit with her. A deceptively challenging grassy route around the grounds of the mental hospital. Still three to go, as Alton Water started today.

A fortnight later we visited Alton Water, by the reservoir of that name just south of Ipswich. A very pleasant route, mostly on grass with some awkward cambers, but views across the water where I learned to sail, and of the Highland cattle. Still three – Markshall Estate has started.

Highland cattle at Alton Water

The following Saturday I travelled to the Suffolk/Norfolk border and Harleston Magpies Hockey Club – I had a warm-up run in the rain to the bridge over the country boundary, but the rain had stopped by parkrun time. I chatted with Charlene and Ash, who’d been to Markshall Estate the previous week (and subtly corrected my pronunciation of it – imagine it is spelled Mark’s Hall, and you’ll be right) and had a decent run around the convoluted grassy route, which was surprisingly firm despite the rain. Just two to go now – back to where I was in February 2020.

The fields of Harleston Magpies Hockey Club

On 4 December I travelled to Essex for Wickford Memorial, two and a half laps of the park, partly running alongside the infant River Crouch, but having been put in a ditch it’s not particularly attractive. Just one to go now…

And on 13 December, with no further new parkruns announced, I travelled to Markshall Estate with Brindley, his first parkrun since Whitehaven in September. He’s very enthusiastic, and the challenge is to slow him down enough at the start that he still has some energy by the end. Today, with a 10-minute walk/jog to the start, he was really raring to go – amazingly, as a dog who can get very anxious around other dogs and people, parkrun doesn’t seem to faze him. A very attractive two laps of the estate, mostly on rather uneven broken concrete roads with quite a bit of mud and puddle for Brindley to get himself into quite a state.

So regionnaire status regained – and at the moment I am the only person who’s visited all 88 current parkruns in the East of England (I’ve actually visited 92, including 4 that are now closed).

A Voronoi diagram of my visited extant parkruns as at 26 December, including all of the East of England region.

No doubt more new parkruns will follow – I’m aware that Mildenhall is in the planning stages and there will probably be others I haven’t heard about. But that’s part of the joy of it. Occasional new ones will follow around the edges and elsewhere in the country when away for other reasons, and of course repeats for me as Lucy makes her way towards 100 in 100. Lots to look forward to.

Boston Marathon (UK) 2020

Well, sort of. The title of this page is what was shown on my bib, after the race was postponed three times, eventually taking place on Monday 31 May 2021 rather than the originally planned Sunday 19 April 2020. I think most of us in the race would probably regard it as the Boston Marathon 2021.

My 16-week marathon training plan for 2021 was stretched to 22 weeks when the third postponement took place, but I felt ready. Training had gone well: I’d run at least a marathon distance over the course of every week since November, many weeks totalling over 60km, including several individual runs over 30km; I’d run slow and I’d run fast. I wasn’t going to be challenging the elites, but I’d done my preparation.

On the Monday morning I got up at 5.05am for breakfast and we left the house just before 6 o’clock, Lucy driving me the 1.75 hours to Boston. She dropped me off outside Central Park and then drove off to Butterwick, location of our first meeting point, and also her morning run beforehand.

I walked around the perimeter of the park and in to join the rest of the runners in my Wave D area, putting on my mask on the way in – it was a requirement to wear the mask in the assembly area, and rules had required it to be worn for the first 300 metres of the race, though the latter requirement was dropped a few days beforehand. Having said that, a cursory glance around while I was waiting for the toilet suggested that maybe 50% of people were ignoring the amended rule.

In the assembly area

When I eventually emerged from the toilet, I found that my wave had already moved to the exit of the park, though it wasn’t yet the published time of 8.20. The six start waves for the marathon were scheduled to start at 10-minute intervals from 8.00 onwards, with the half-marathon waves following. Each was limited to a maximum of 200 runners under the Covid-19 protocols.

Heading for the start

Wave D were soon were under way to the Market Place for the start, and as I arrived there, the runners at the start of my wave began their runs. I removed my mask, tucked it away, and slowly made my way to the start line. I was conscious that I was in Wave D rather than Wave E because, last July, I’d given my estimated finish time as 4h20. Today I was aiming at 4h26 (or at least better than 4:27:21, last year’s unofficial time), so I deliberately tried to start near the back of my wave.

The Market Place and the race start

Although it was a wave start, there was still atmosphere from being among over 100 other runners, and some crowd support – the official line from the race organisers being a statement that they had been advised to discourage supporters and spectators, without actively doing any discouraging.

We made our way through the town centre roads and across the ring-road where the traffic was being held for each wave, before heading along an arterial road towards Freiston. With the exception of the first few hundred metres, none of the roads for today’s race were closed, and though there were signs and marshals, one had to be aware of traffic, particularly in these early stages on the way out of Boston.

I banked a small amount of time in the first kilometre or two, then settled into a good rhythm and stuck to my target pace. I successfully met Lucy at Butterwick and was passed fresh supplies.

Me approaching Lucy at Butterwick, wearing my distinctive blue legionnaire’s hat

With the exception of the start and finish, only Freiston, Butterwick (twice) and Fishtoft constituted real villages, and the rest of the route was very rural with an occasional hamlet. After mile 6 I was startled to find runners coming the other way, more than 9 miles ahead of me, but the shared route didn’t last long and we north-east-bound runners were soon alone again.

Those near the front, running towards me

A few runners from Waves E and probably particularly Wave F (people who didn’t submit an expected time) gradually started to overtake me, but mostly it was fairly quiet – I very slowly overhauled a few people, but for the most part we were well sorted by finish times and running at our own consistent paces.

Lucy’s spot at the crossroads for miles 9 and 12.

At water point D, just short of mile 9, Lucy met me again, passing me more supplies. She was able to stay there because just over three miles later, the course had looped around and started back towards Boston, passing the same point again.

When I got to 20km I felt really quite strong, and now with the wind tending to be behind me (albeit very inconsistently as the route twists and turns greatly), and where the situation allowed, I gained a few seconds on my target pace on some kilometres.

As I approached Butterwick for the second time, just short of 29km, I looked out for Lucy at the road junction, but couldn’t see her. I assumed she must be just around the corner for some reason, but I didn’t see her there either. By the time I was certain I hadn’t see her, I glanced over my shoulder and in the distance saw a red car that looked familiar. A quick phone call as I jogged along confirmed it was her, and somehow I was there sooner than she’d expected. Analysis later showed I’d supplied Lucy with incorrect information and so she’d been expecting me a few minutes later.

Although spectators are generally asked not to drive on the marathon route, in practice the roads are open and at this stage the field of runners is very thin. Lucy in the car overtook me and pulled in, to pass me my final batch of supplies. I’d been 90 seconds ahead of schedule at Butterwick, so there was scope for this tiny delay which flustered Lucy more than it did me.

By now the early cloud and chilly breeze had turned to almost clear blue skies and the warmest day of the year. I still felt good, but not as good as before, but pressed on at my target pace, feeling increasingly queasy and slightly nervous about whether I was going to need a toilet.

With less than 5km to go, I began to find it really tough, but with almost two minutes in hand, I knew I could ease off the pace a little and still meet my time objective. However, my energy rapidly began to fade – whether that psychological acknowledgement that I could ease off was actually counterproductive, I’m not sure, but it became harder to push my body.

However, as I reached the edge of Boston, my legs became less and less cooperative, and the running intervals got shorter and the walking intervals got longer. My arms and hands were now tingling from poor blood flow, and my feet were starting to cramp a little, or at least to complain and to hint that they were soon going to cramp fully. I rapidly moved to being totally zonked, and started to wander around a little as I progressed. Quite a few people cheered me on, though no-one asked if I was ok. My target time now unachievable, I was now almost continually walking with only the briefest of attempts at a jog. I walked around the last two corners and then jogged over the line, my official chip time being 4:34:18.

Jogging across the finish line.

The mild cramping signs in my feet for the last couple of kilometres now got much worse and I got Lucy to remove my shoes and socks. But the cramping in my feet and particularly toes got worse and worse, and spread to my calf muscles.

The next two hours were spent around the finish area, with me trying to walk and stretch away the cramps as I would normally do, but they just kept getting worse, despite taking on lots of recovery and rehydration drinks and ordinary water. A series of physiotherapists tried to help with massage, ice, and deep heat – at times I had four of them working on me at once. They were very keen for me to sit down but that was extremely difficult as my lifelong experience is that removing the weight off my legs makes my calf and foot cramps ten times worse, and such was the case today. They managed to get me sitting by the tightest of grips on my calf muscles as I sat down, and with Lucy standing on my toes to keep them straighter and make the pain there bearable.

I had ibuprofen and paracetamol an hour after the finish, and twenty minutes later the ambulance crew took the decision to put me on gas and air. That helped with the pain but not the underlying problem, though it did allow me to sit for more muscle massage, but eventually I exhausted two full bottles of gas, which was their entire supply, and they decided to take me to hospital. Getting me onto the trolley was very painful as there was now no gas, no weight on the legs, and no massage going on. They radioed ahead that they were bringing in a patient with a 10/10 pain score.

The ride to the hospital with the blue lights and sirens on was an experience, I suppose, but rather uncomfortable. I managed to jam my left leg against the ambulance to keep some pressure and relieve pain in that leg, but the right leg kept cramping very intensely and I could rely only on breathing techniques to see me through. There was talk of possibly being prescribed diazepam when we arrived but in the end that didn’t happen.

We parked up outside the hospital A&E entrance, and from there, things started to improve. It was a long wait, first to be triaged – by that time the worst of the pain had gone (albeit not the anxiety that it could return at any second with any movement), but my feet and toes were locked upwards at the maximum angle they could produce, but now only the mild pain that you’d get if someone was pushing your foot and toes a bit further than they wanted to go. The reduction in pain was a good thing, but may have contributed to the delay in eventually being admitted. I gave a variety of bits of medical history to a variety of people, and various blood samples, testing of my heart and lungs, and eventually urine, but it was the litre of saline that made the difference, coupled with rest and the drinks at the finish, in the ambulance, and in hospital.

When I needed to go to the toilet, I was given some non-slip hospital socks (as my socks and shoes were with Lucy), and very tentatively got to my feet. Though I felt unsteady and my calf muscles were bruised, I found I could walk slowly without much difficulty. On the second visit to the toilet, the consultant said he would now discharge me, but it took about 40 minutes for that to happen, and it did feel like I’d been forgotten – not unlike that time in a restaurant after dessert when all you want is to pay the bill and depart, yet the previously very attentive waiting staff have lost interest (oddly as this is the time when you might be deciding on a tip). By now I needed to go to the toilet for the third time, but after that I was outside, wandering in my slightly dishevelled state in socks, rather uncertainly around hospital car parks looking for Lucy, but we quickly found each other and were underway once Lucy had sorted out payment for the parking.

Hospital socks – XL

So, a very good race for almost all of it, a very poor end to it, and a very traumatic afternoon. I achieved a marathon race PB, though not my best time over the distance, though I did gain my best 30km time along the way.

Lucy’s afternoon view

Lucy had a tough afternoon, being bossed around while I was in so much pain, and then having to linger in the hospital car park for almost four hours. The physios who worked hard to care for me had a tough time and I suspect may have perceived me as a rather uncooperative patient, but I’m grateful to them, and the two guys who took me to hospital. One of the marathon organisers commented that it had been some endurance by me, and a Strava running friend commented it had been scary seeing how much pain I was in – I was almost totally unaware of the impact I might have been having on other runners who finished after me, but it could have been a bit of a spectacle – there was a lot of screaming!

The Boston medal and t-shirt after a slow 2.7km run 36 hours after leaving hospital – it was all worth it!

So, what can I learn? Pay more attention to hydration, I suppose. I took on 500ml of electrolyte drink just before the start, and regular electrolyte gels during the race, plus plenty of water, but presumably not enough. I am a copious sweater, and while it will never be possible to replace everything lost during the course of a long run, maybe I could get a better balance.

As for Milton Keynes Marathon on 27 June – I think I’m likely to pull out, but will make a firm decision shortly.

More delays

The day after my last blog post, and this from MK Marathon:

We have been working so hard with our partners, including Milton Keynes Council to stage the Rightmove MK Marathon Weekend on 1-3 May 2021. However, unfortunately, due to late Government clarification on the COVID-19 roadmap, including the recent and unexpected ban on spectator attendance, it has been agreed with the council that it is best to postpone the event for a short period.

We have secured an alternative race weekend with the Stadium MK, of 25, 26 & 27 June. Exact individual event dates and times will be confirmed by 14 April once we have had time to consider how the new weekend should be structured.

Stuart Proffitt, Milton Keynes Council Director for Environment and Property said “we have been working hard with the MK Marathon Team to ensure our long-standing marathon is as successful and inclusive as ever. We will continue to work with the MK Marathon Team to ensure a successful rescheduled event during the last weekend of June and we are confident that we will receive statutory approval to proceed with these dates.”

If you are unable to run in the rescheduled event, you will be able to defer your place to the 2022 event at no extra cost. Alternatively, you can transfer your entry to the virtual event at no extra cost.

This has been a real shock this evening as we were expecting to be able to proceed and we were not expecting to be in this position.

It’s not clear to me how one can “ban” spectators from being on the public highway – there is no longer any restriction on leaving the home, only on gathering, so provided households are well spaced, I would have thought there is no legal restriction on spectating. However, what’s done is done.

The status of the thrice-rescheduled Boston Marathon on 31 May hasn’t yet been changed, so that’s now my first target date. It’s still worth keeping the MK option in case Boston is postponed for a fourth time, but whether I should plan for a subsequent (and mid-summer) marathon on my slightly less favoured route, I’m not sure, and maybe I should go back to just the one run if Boston looks certain to go ahead – either by deferring MK to 2022 or getting my refund.

More to ponder, and the marathon training plan is now stretched out even further – my Garmin says my performance is “peaking” which would have been ideal for the original date of 18 April, but I’ll now ease off for a short while to avoid overdoing the training since the current Boston date is six weeks later than originally planned.

Looking brighter

My last post, entitled “What’s next?” (which I struggle to write without hearing Martin Sheen in my head) was as long ago as August.

It’s hard to decide whether a lot has happened since then, or not very much. Whatever one’s perspective on that, things are looking much brighter on quite a number of fronts. Big picture: Covid situation vastly better in the UK. Littler picture: my injuries largely under control, races returning, parkrun returning, weight back heading in the right direction.

Looking back to that August post, I talked a lot about my plantar fasciitis: that has almost completely subsided. I’m continuing with exercises to keep it in check, and it’s not causing me any pain, just a minor occasional grumble that is no bad thing in reminding me to keep up the exercises.

I gently aggravated my right hamstring (again) in February and so eased off the pace and distance a little while it recovered, but it hasn’t really stopped the distance work: regular stretching largely keeps the hamstring complaints at bay but the muscles clearly are a little vulnerable, and it may be sensible to get some further advice about them. My knees continue to tolerate the workload, so that’s encouraging.

Running duration has been at a relatively high level for me since early November (I ran at least 5km for 50 consecutive days up to Christmas Eve) without significant problems.

The Boston Marathon UK that I entered for April 2020, that was postponed to September 2020, was later postponed to April 2021, and now to 31 May 2021, and that’s still a key target for me.

Having some doubts about whether the English government Covid restrictions would be sufficiently relaxed by April, or even if they were, whether the public mood would be supportive of hundreds of people running through the town of Boston, I took out an “insurance policy” and entered the Milton Keynes Marathon for 3 May 2021 as I thought that was perhaps more likely to get the go-ahead. Boston was subsequently postponed for the third but now probably final time.

Yesterday, 29 March, we were allowed for the first time to meet in groups of up to 6 outdoors, and organised outdoor sport is allowed again: Lucy returned to her running club last night. With the vaccination rollout going well (I had my first shot last week) and hospitalisations and deaths plummeting (excess deaths are now negative), it seems likely that the roadmap isn’t going to be dislodged (in the short term, anyway) and so for the moment I have two marathons booked, four weeks apart.

I could cancel MK and get most of my money back (I paid a few pounds extra to give myself that option) but the idea of doing both, and potentially treating MK as a trial-run for Boston, has started to grow on me. MK’s organisers seem very definite in their public communications; Boston perhaps less so, making keeping both up my sleeve still a sensible thing to do in planning.

The 2021 MK route is completely different from that I ran in 2019, being two laps almost completely on footpaths and cycle-paths rather than the roads of the first few kilometres last time. There will be phased starts to avoid crowds, so it will not have quite the atmosphere of the mass start, but perhaps 80% of the race was well spread out anyway so it should be just as fun, albeit presumably with a lot more overtaking going on, and there may even be more spectators as a result of the adapted format.

Meanwhile in other good news, parkrun will return for under-10s in England from Sunday 11 April, with 5k parkruns for England from Saturday 5 June. I’ve been logging my (not)parkruns and have over 150 recorded now, which has been a small useful focus during some of the monotony of the low months, but being back with friends and other real people will be wonderful.

June still seems a long way off, though, and one thing the last 12 months have emphasised to avoid disappointment is to focus on what you can control now, and while with half an eye on the future, make the most of now, and not look too far ahead. I’m optimistic in general, but not pinning all my hopes on anything in particular happening at any particular time.

In my August “What’s next?” post, I also commented on my weight control – sadly that was unsuccessful up to the end of February with a further gradual increase, but it’s been under control for four weeks now and moving very nicely in the right direction at a sustainable pace. I wish there was more time for more of that success before the marathons (which is a small argument in favour of dropping MK), but all improvements will be welcome.

There’s a good deal of advice around about the challenge of seeking to lose weight while training for a marathon, and long runs (more than three hours) can be very tough with a calorie-restricted diet and presumably a partially glycogen-depleted body, but I’m hopeful that my current moderately high-protein, lowish-fat diet (which is still averaging 2350 calories a day) should avoid muscle loss, and that with rest and good feeding in the few days before the big day my energy levels will be topped up when they need to be and I’ll cope much better with a bit less of me to haul around.

After the marathons, I will look to shift the remainder of the excess weight and, if my ever-tight hamstrings will let me, refocus a bit more in training on speed and that 2350 plan for a sub-23-minute 5k and a sub-50-minute 10k, both of which I’ve come close to (23:12 in 2017 and 50:20 in 2018, respectively) and could beat, hopefully with some real parkruns as an additional focus as well as an additional joy. And, as of yesterday, being allowed to leave the house and travel without the need for a reasonable excuse means that I can reintroduce more variety into the locations of some of my runs.

What’s next?

Well, before I get on to what’s next, first a reflection on the months since April. It’s been too long since I last posted any running news. In part that’s because there was relatively little positive to say, running-wise, but that’s now starting to change.

The week after my “not the Boston Marathon run”, the plantar fasciitis that had grumbled away quietly for several months, not really troubling me except when I first got out of bed and quickly dispatched by some exercise, suddenly rebelled and went from a quiet grumble to a loud scream, leaving me in 24-hour pain and barely able to stand.

I adopted the “rest it and wait for it to get better” approach for a while, but quickly realised that was going either to take forever or going to be unsuccessful, so eventually I made a video appointment with a physio (face-to-face appointments being unavailable due to Covid). Technology (apparently at his end) let us down for the first appointment, and we did it by phone, but I was underwhelmed, and when the second appointment was with someone else who wasn’t well briefed and who I struggled to understand, I went elsewhere.

The next option was telephone-only, which nearly put me off – it’s not that I wanted particularly to see the face of the physio, but a second-best to a physical examination would be video so they could see where I was pointing to rather than relying on my descriptions of whereabouts on my foot I was being troubled, and have my hand virtually held while I get the motions of the exercises right. But Diane inspired a lot more confidence in her, and I stuck to her prescription of a variety of stretches and exercises, and initially more rest – or at any rate not running or walking, so the bike has come out as much in the last few months as in the last 25 years put together.

I was then authorised to run for 10 minutes three times a week, and 3 months on, I’m still supposed to stick to three times a week, two of them for 30 minutes and the third gradually longer. In practice, I’ve done a little bit more than that the last two weeks but one or two runs a week are with Lucy and so at a fair bit slower pace and putting somewhat less strain on my foot.

Cattle watch runners, cyclists, rowers and walkers go by – Saturday saw my first 10k (along the River Cam) since April.

The foot pain has diminished significantly, though hasn’t gone yet, but Diane is confident we’ll get there – and now has me doing what seems a huge slew of exercises daily to strengthen my feet. Meanwhile I’ve recently seen another physio, Rosie, in connection with some minor shoulder pain – the only person I’ve been near for a prolonged period indoors other than Lucy for almost five months. I also got Rosie to have a look at my PF and she was happy with where I’d got to and the actions I’m taking with Diane, and was likewise confident about an eventual return to pain-free feet.

So, what’s next? More physio-instructed exercises, more focus on losing some of the excess weight – I gained 8kg in lockdown and was overweight before that, so there’s a long way to go.

I’ve entered a virtual race, called the P12, on 24 October, which involves running a mile every hour for twelve hours, keeping friend Catherine (virtually) company. I’ve run 12 miles plenty of times, but a run every hour will present new challenges. A part of me wants to run each of the 12 miles somewhere different, but that might be starting to get silly and I could end up spending most of the day in the car.

The return of parkrun and parkrun tourism remains a long way off. While the risks of outdoor transmission remain low, it’s going to struggle to justify its return without significant mitigation measures that don’t fit well with its model. But I keep a small part of me living in hope that one day it will be back. Initially parkrun and then parkrun tourism have brought joy to many a Saturday morning, kept my running fresh and interesting, got me visiting friends and travelling to runs with Lucy, all of which I now miss greatly.

Lucy has been engaged with the Tourist Virtual 5k and (not)parkrun from more or less the start, whereas I’m a later arrival with my period off not able to run 5k.

We have met up with friends Catherine and Alex for a (not)parkrun on a course of my devising from Broxbourne together with an excellent takeaway breakfast from the cafe there, which was fun, and hope to meet up with Claire for a (not)parkrun soon.

The real UK Boston Marathon continues to plan for its postponed September running, with the sorts of Covid mitigation measures that are practical for a race of that type and size. I’ve deferred until April 2021 because of my PF and associated lack of training, so have about four months to get my feet back in tip top shape ready to start gradually ramping up the distances in training.

Meanwhile, I set a post injury 5k PB on last Saturday’s (not)parkrun of 26:31. It was really encouraging as the pace and stamina are returning as the weeks go by, and a sign that I haven’t lost as much fitness as I’d feared. It’s still more than 3 minutes off my overall PB, but for what it’s worth the running calculator app on my phone says that Saturday’s pace was equivalent to a few seconds over 23 minutes if I can reach my target weight, so most of the gain I’m looking for will come from weight loss and only a modest amount from regained fitness.

The L-2350

My “2350” goal of a sub-23 minute 5k and a sub-50 minute 10k is currently further away than when I dreamt it up, but despite that remains realistic. I’ve been fairly close to both before and if I get the fitness and the weight control right at the same time, will beat both of those times. Something to keep in mind when the will power wilts in the weight control effort.

Onwards and downwards…

Not the Boston Marathon

Sunday 19 April should have dawned with me in a Travelodge near Boston, Lincolnshire, ready to drive the final distance to the town to arrive about 8am ready for the marathon later in the morning.

Instead, I rose at 6am at home, had a banana for breakfast, and Lucy and I left home at about 6.40am to travel the short distance to the less than half-built Suffolk Business Park on the edge of Bury St Edmunds, for the ultimate in long training runs – a Sunday morning jaunt of 42,195 metres – better known as a marathon.

Continue reading “Not the Boston Marathon”

Marathon preparations

So, in 2018, I stuck to my beginner’s training plan, but I was probably too ambitious about my target pace, and more problematically I had knee niggles going into my first marathon, and they duly manifested themselves a little over half-way through the London Marathon, and I had to walk a good deal and go a lot slower than planned.

In 2019, I had months of injuries with various pulled muscles starting from the previous autumn, none of which I let fully recover before I injured them again. Despite adopting a run/walk strategy with walking for 45 seconds after 135 seconds of running, and a conservative pace target for the Milton Keynes Marathon, I hit the wall around 20 miles due to inadequate training, and was even slower than London.

In 2020, my Boston Marathon UK plans started well but encountered AOC (Age of Coronavirus) – the race was postponed until the autumn, then lockdown rules and guidance imposed constraints on being out of the house. Plan B for a run on the seafront at Felixstowe had to be dropped as it was too far from home, likely to be too busy, and Lucy as my crowd support and water station would be too conspicuous, and I developed a Plan C closer to home, less interesting, but still practical and sticking to the spirit and science of the new way of life.

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A report from the inaugural Woolpit parkrun

The volunteer team was small but very efficient and friendly, setting up the course, conducting the new runners’ briefing, and even finding time to help with the all-important selfie. Some of the equipment for the course seemed non-standard: apparently the official kit hadn’t arrived so some Kennel Club Rally equipment had been repurposed.

Ready by the start line, with parkrun tourist buffs

Fortunately for an inaugural with an inexperienced team, the turnout was manageably small. The course instructions given were a little vague, but one of the runners who is on the core team confidently declared that he’d run the course 57 times already during 10 years of planning for this event, so just to follow him.

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Keep on running

It was a week where the UK started to shut down properly as the coronavirus epidemic intensified (though with much more to come), and we staggered from one extraordinary government announcement to the next with barely time to take breath, and virtually no challenge or scrutiny.

But, returning to running for the moment, I opted to accept the default option for my postponed Boston Marathon of running it on 13 September 2020, and continued to hope that I would also be able to run a marathon distance on the original date of 19 April 2020, though as the week wore on that went from a confident expectation of a second-best option, to growing doubt that even that would be possible.

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Boston Marathon (UK) postponed

So the almost inevitable has happened, and the Boston UK marathon has been postponed, until 13 September (maintaining the link with Boston USA).

I will be contacted in due course, and offered one of three options:

1. Do nothing and thus transfer my entry to 13 September.
2. Request deferment to the 2021 Boston Marathon, on Sunday 18th April 2021.
3. Request withdrawal of my entry, with a refund of 90%.

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Coronovirus dominating thoughts

At the end of last week’s blog, I reported on my plans for my personal marathon on 19 April in the event that the Boston UK marathon is cancelled. By Tuesday morning, as the evolving situation worsened, I was suffering from a lack of motivation but I managed to get myself out of the door anyway and did my 10km run including three brisk 2km sessions within in.

Wednesday was difficult too, but I did my slow 10km. Thursday I did 13km to Hessett and back at target marathon pace, but not feeling the joy.

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Victoria Park half-marathon

I started the running week on Tuesday with 10km comprising a 1.5km warm-up, then 3 lots of 2km brisk with 500 metres recoveries, concluding with a 1.5km jog.

Wednesday saw me setting out before dawn from Whittlesford station for a 13km slow run along the cycle paths that head in all four directions from the A505/A1301 roundabout, before heading into London for some work meetings.

Dawn from the A505 on Wednesday
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A week of running and Covid-19

So, what’s been in the news this week? Very little reporting of my running in week 9 of the 16-week training plan, but a fair bit on Covid-19. Let’s start with my running.

Tuesday saw me travelling to Bury for my favoured hill. I park so that I have a 1.5km warm-up run to the bottom of the hill, and today I ran at top speed for 90 seconds up the hill, jogged back down, and repeated nine times, for ten in all. “Top speed” should mean the maximum I can run consistently for the 10 ascents, making the first one a bit of a challenge to get right, but I think it was broadly correct, each being just under 5:15/km which is good going for me uphill. Then the 1.5km jog back to the car.

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Dorney Lake Half-Marathon

Week 8 of my 16-week marathon training plan had a half-marathon race, and I’d chosen Dorney Lake. This is only a small race, but is simple, almost flat, and I hoped would give me what I needed – a little bit of atmosphere, something different from an ordinary training run to test myself a bit, after only short runs at speed, and long runs all being slow or at most “easy”.

Two Sundays ago we had Storm Ciara, and I lurked on the treadmill; one Sunday ago we had Storm Dennis, and I lurked on the treadmill. So I had watched the weather forecast with some trepidation for several days. The wind, which has barely dropped below 20mph (gusting to 40mph) for more than two weeks, with yet more rain, looked likely to put a damper on things, though by Saturday the forecast was hinting that the worst of the rain would be out of the way by the time we got underway.

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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.

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