March – parkrun location 47

A visit to March in Cambridgeshire this morning for parkrun #79 at my 47th location. After a warm-up jog, I quickly got chatting to people – it rapidly became clear that it is a particularly friendly event with a lot of mutual support going on for the full range of abilities.

The route is four laps of the pleasant park: out and across the grass, back on a firmer surface alongside the old course of the River Nene (about four miles from the modern straight course), up the dozen or so stairs, down the grass slope and back to the start. I’ve had a few steps before, but this was my first parkrun with a flight of stairs.

I’d planned to take it a little easier this morning, but I got caught up in the moment and ran with the 24-minute pacer. (They had 27 and 30, plus 1-minute-run-1-minute walk and 2-minute-run-1-minute-walk pacers too, the first time I’ve seen that – great idea.) It didn’t really feel like a sub-24 morning or course (I’ve run under 24 four times), and I had on my trail shoes which I don’t think are quite as fast, but I felt sorry for Clive who’d offered his services and didn’t seem to have any takers. We set off very briskly but soon steadied the pace.

First lap was reported as 5 seconds ahead, which was fine, but I was already feeling that I was pushing too hard for this morning’s legs. After the next half-lap, we were 7 seconds ahead, so I eased up a bit along the river, and we finished bang on target. The third lap was hard, but we were 5 seconds ahead again by the end, but I was now really starting to wilt. On the fourth lap Clive (PB 21:21, ex-military and a personal trainer) really earned his keep, as did Hugh (PB 22:51) who’d by now joined him in pushing me round, cajoling, encouraging, and insisting that I persist, with some very emphatic pointing at the ground alongside them telling me to get myself there, to lift my legs, to lengthen my stride. So I pushed my weary legs on, feeling that I was definitely slowing down, but tried to power up the steps and then find anything left for the run for the finish.

Final time 23:49 – very satisfying, and on more rested legs they would I’m sure have taken me close to my PB. I also found later that I was 18th of 153, my best relative position (11% through the field) yet. Good job Clive and Hugh.

Once I’d got my breath back, I lingered to clap and cheer people over the finish line, said thank you to the run director and a few volunteers, and was on my way after a good outing for the legs.

King’s Forest Trail Half-Marathon

This morning the King’s Forest Half Marathon, my first trail half. Or rather, half and a bit as it was long: the race director said 13.71 miles though I measured it a bit less.

I arrived in good time at West Stow Country Park and put the car in the overflow car park, missing a huge hole which would have got the car stuck and possibly damaged it – it may be a field, but it is a field signed as a car park, and while I wasn’t expecting ‘flat’ I wasn’t expecting such a large hole, either.

I picked up my registration pack which included a bold orange t-shirt, which will get more use for routine runs than array of darker colours I’m starting to collect. There was also a chunky chip-timing device which I strapped to my ankle. I returned to the car and pinned on my race number.

I chose to wear my hydration backpack today, as it was a warm day and there were just two water stations. There is a lot of advice about not making sudden changes to footwear, clothing, nutrition, and so on, between training and racing. Well, the hydration backpack has rapidly become something I rely on during longer runs, and despite the minor penalty of running with an extra 1.5kg on my back, I think there’s a lot to be said for sticking with what’s familiar and what works.

We assembled near the start for the pre-race briefing, given by a chap with possibly the loudest voice I’ve heard. There was good news and bad news. The bad news was that with a slight change of route to avoid knee-high nettles and brambles, he’d measured the course at 13.7 miles. (To be fair, the publicity had always made it clear that the distance was approximate.) The good news was that it was a lovely sunny day.

And so we were off promptly at 10.30am, an hour behind the marathon runners. I had expected that the fastest of the marathoners would catch me up near the end of the route (as they were doing two laps of the half-marathon course) but that didn’t happen.

We started along the River Lark, including alongside a lake, mostly firm footing with a small bit of mud and a couple of gates. Then we crossed the road and took to field-edge paths to Icklingham. I found that I was going too fast, but struggled to slow down, and once I’d done my first 40-second walk break found that I was between people on narrow trods, which made me want to avoid getting in the way by slowing down.

After the first drinks station at Icklingham, we turned north and the start of a long gentle climb across breckland. It was lovely scenery, but still I was going too fast given the ascent.

There were quite a few large puddles on the level ground at the top, and some sandy, gravely patches from time to time, but mostly the going was not too demanding.

We eventually turned into the eponymous forest, with some challenging running initially, on a hogsback of a section which descended and ascended every few metres. After the second drinks station, I ended up at the back of a procession of five along a narrow trod, which worked quite well, but I was now starting to tire.

The remainder through the forest did at least benefit from quite a lot of shade on a warm day, but it was increasingly hard work and my pace slowed. A woman who I’d caught up coming out of Icklingham, and who had then got away from me, was having problems with her knee, and we passed and re-passed each other several times, before I eventually kept ahead.

At various points, the route through the King’s Forest was in familiar places, albeit often from an unfamiliar direction. We eventually emerged to cross the road for the second time. I passed the magic 21.1km and soon there was the sound of strong applause, and I realised it was for me as I powered over the finish line.

2:08 was my second slowest half (my first attempt at Reading being 2:10 but the last 4km or so of that was walked when my knee gave way), but my position of 39th of 101 was my best relative position in a half (first time in the top 50%), and I suppose a trail HM PB (and also my longest race as it was measured slightly long).

A trail should be expected to be harder, and I should be satisfied, but I was a bit frustrated, in part because I had failed to pace myself well enough. Looking back, I probably did too much running in the last fortnight, too, plus a very cold swim on Thursday took more out of me than I’d realised, so all in all I wasn’t quite 100% at the start line.

A great welcome at the end, and lots of cake.

Mulbarton – parkrun location 46

It was bright and sunny when I left the house, but started raining heavily once in Norfolk, and it was a gloomy scene when I reached the puddle-strewn car park on the edge of the common at Mulbarton just south of Norwich.

I waited in the car for a while, and the rain turned to drizzle, then I got out and warmed up my legs a little with a jog around, then joined the growing numbers of people for a little chat.

We were then all taken across the common to the start and the briefing. The route is 3.75 laps of the common, which is more interesting than it probably sounds, with a variety of conditions underfoot, slopes up and down, trees, a few sharp corners. The rain stopped for the run itself, which was an improvement, though of course the ground was by now rather damp. One chap I overtook on every uphill and he overtook me on every down, but as the up came last, I managed to beat him.

I finished in 23:58, which I was quite content with, and was 31st out of 100 runners.

Mo runs London

Great news that Mo Farrah has decided to join me in running the London Marathon 2018.

I can talk for years to come about running with Mo. Great news. And I’m confident that such will be my speed that Mo will be nowhere in sight when I cross the line.

His win today of the Great North Run for the fourth consecutive year was a mere 59 minutes faster than my time at Great Yarmouth – but the latter did involve some grass at the start, which makes all the difference.

Stowmarket Golden Mile

My shortest race yet was the Stowmarket Golden Mile race on Saturday afternoon, being a mile through the main shopping street. Rightly or wrongly I did a 2km warm-up with some sprints about 50 minutes beforehand, this being the first time ever that my warm-up has been longer than the race.

The entry was 300 people, and it was a very busy start up a gentle hill before entering the main shopping area where there was some good support, then little footpaths before returning to roads to enter the park for the finish.

The best value paid-for race I’ve done: in addition to all the organisation, there was drink, food and a medal, all for £3. Thanks to the Stowmarket Striders running club for their organisational efforts including the many members volunteering to help manage this fun event.

It was rather too crowded at the start and too undulating (and warm) for a PB, but my second-best mile time so quite pleased with that.