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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
So, how did 2017’s running go? I’m pretty pleased.
I gained a place in the London Marathon for April 2018 (I’m looking for sponsorship in aid of Guide Dogs) which added a major new goal, and as a result from May 2017 I’ve run a half-marathon every month: it’s not easy yet, but the distance is not nearly as daunting as it once was.
I enjoyed 10 different races: the challenge and variety of Hadleigh Legacy 10k which I’ll be doing again in 2018; Greenwich Park 10k where despite the hills I got a great time; the old familiar ground of the Lee Valley Run Fest 10k; the different challenge of 10 laps of the Lee Valley Velopark for the 10-mile there; the London 10 mile in the glorious scenery of Richmond Park; the delights of the Great Yarmouth half with the thrill of a new PB; my shortest race in the Stowmarket Golden Mile; the new challenges and pleasant scenery of my first trail half in Kings Forest; the flat Great Eastern Run half-marathon in Peterborough where the crowds helped to propel me to another PB; and another different environment in the Snetterton Race Track half-marathon, where I managed to equal my half PB.
I set new personal best times at every distance I monitor, from 1 km to half-marathon.
I ran 1331 km, the furthest I’ve run in a year, including finishing the year on 31st December with my longest run yet.
heart beats per km fell 5.2%, hopefully a further indicator of improving fitness
I met my commitment to go to new places, visiting 512 different map squares, the most in a year (including 394 not been to at all before) – that expanded my red visited squares in Suffolk (the green boundary), as well as taking me to my 53rd different parkrun location.
With a holiday of over a week in the USA planned, I wanted to do some running while I was there. The holiday started with a day in San Francisco, where there are some good running spots, but I was very tired from the long journey to get there, we had a packed day as it was to make the most of a fascinating city in a day, and there was no good running near our hotel, so that pleasure is indefinitely postponed.
So, after 33 hours on the California Zephyr AMTRAK train we reached Denver, Colorado and the neighbouring Aurora, which gave me the opportunity for a run, albeit not very thrilling. I managed 3½ laps of two blocks around the airport hotel, which had the novelty of being my furthest west run and my highest at around 5000 feet above sea level. I didn’t notice any significant impact from the altitude.
A couple of days later, after the remarkable spectacle of a total eclipse of the sun and a beautiful visit to the Rocky Mountains National Park, we reached Teton Village on the edge of the Grand Teton National Park. In among other activities, I went for a beautiful run. It was 28°C and now at 6300 feet above sea level so I took it easy, giving plenty of time to admire the glorious views to the Tetons.
More of the sights of America in the Teton National Park, Yellowstone National Park, and the Craters of the Moon National Monument, before reaching Boise, Idaho. The final morning before starting the journey back to the UK gave time for 6km along the Boise Greenway either side of the Boise River, starting before dawn. It wasn’t as interesting as the map had hinted, as there was little to see of the river from the paths on either side, vegetation blocking the views, but still pleasant to be out before the heat of the day, and this became my new “furthest west” run.
A few years ago, a holiday in a series of strange places, and the temptation of the hotel bed would have meant a holiday from running, but now I’m pleased to be taking advantage of the opportunities to run somewhere new, without letting it dominate the holiday.
Before last year, going on holiday was generally reason not to be running, but with my commitment to run in more different locations, and to maintain fitness without the excuses of travel (leisure or business), that has changed. My runs while away from home may sometimes be shorter or easier, but hopefully most offer plenty of novelty. First up from this trip away for some sailing in the Baltic was Denmark: a 6km circuit of the Copenhagen lakes. Quite a few other runners about including a tall muscular blonde going at just the right pace who I enjoyed following, then overtook for a kilometre while she followed me, then we swapped places again.
After a train journey from Copenhagen to Kalmar in Sweden, we sailed overnight to Visby on the island of Gotland. Overnight watches could have been an excuse to take things easy but instead I headed out for a 7km Swedish run past the port and then along a delightful promenade, partly under the old town walls, then past a large campsite which seemed to settle well into the landscape and not be a blot. Lots of people about including a few other runners, all slower than me.
We had more sailing around Gotland, then another overnight sail, heading SE to Klaipeda in Lithuania. I was on deck from just after 1am, seeing three watches as I didn’t feel tired and was enjoying the various other tall ships visible in the dark and then more as the dawn broke. Klaipeda was to be a port in between two legs of the Tall Ships Race, which made for some great explorations on foot and by bike, and for an interesting 5km Lithuanian run relatively early on Friday morning – later we spent more time exploring some of the square-riggers, and enjoying the party atmosphere with Lithuanian music vying with Omani bagpipers from the RNOV Shabab Oman II.
This week’s runs have seen me on the Thames towpath just south of Oxford, from home to Drinkstone and back, knocking five minutes off my Thetford parkrun PB from two years ago, and then today’s big one.
I was travelling to near Manchester, so I’d always thought that if the weather was good I might spend some time walking or running in the Peak District. As I was late away from home, I decided that a run would be a good option, and had selected the Monsal Trail near Buxton, a former railway line now restored for use by walkers, cyclists and horse riders (I note they rarely say runners), with several tunnels and high bridges.
I had planned a 10-12km run, but once out I found the idea of making it a bit longer grew on me – perhaps because most of the planned first 5km was gently downhill so it was bound to feel relatively easy. I turned round at 8km with the possibility of a 10-mile run, but on the return leg I decided to push on. Of course, the way back was gently uphill, but although I was a little slower it wasn’t excessively hard, and so I ran on past the car at Millers Dale, ran to the western end of the Trail and turned back to the car.
Total distance was about 21.7km, a smidgen over a half-marathon and my longest run yet. I was tired but not wiped out, and indeed the worst outcome was once again sore patches on my lower back/upper bottom from my sweaty shorts. As I didn’t wear my running belt (having the hydration vest on) I can eliminate that as a potential cause. It is the shorts. More testing is needed to determine whether it is this particular design (I have two identical pairs which I use for almost all my running at the moment) or something generic to me.
But the ability to just choose to run a half-marathon distance almost at will is very encouraging. Running twice as far still seems an awfully long way, but there’s time to build up to that, and I needn’t run quite as fast.
The scenery of the run was delightful with steep gorges and flowery meadows, the railway line cut into shelves on the side of the hill, striding across the river on high bridges, and many tunnels – I was impressed with how well the Garmin coped with those, presumably reverting to its “run indoor” mode relying on my arm swings until it could get a GPS fix again when I emerged.
The chunky entry fee for Sunday’s London 10 Mile run included “free” photographs. Most of my 18 are actually of other people entirely or I’m barely visible.
But two are reasonable photos, at 5 and 10 miles…
The official results put me in 1086th place (based on chip time), about 34% of the way through the field, my best relative position in a long race, helping me put things in a bit more perspective.
By a curious coincidence, I was 1086th across the start line too, which all sounds very even and satisfactory, but my two halves were uneven, the first being 43:30 and the second being 45:20, and it’s those lost 110 seconds that are annoying me. I was 972th at 5 miles, so I overtook a net 114 people in the first half and was overtaken by a net 114 people in the second half. That latter was particularly dispiriting.
My mysterious benefactor who had unwittingly spurred me on at several points is now identified as Harriet Kiddy, and I’ve been able to thank her via Strava. She in turn thanked me – she’d been chasing me for a few miles: great to hear that I’d been a little help to her too, and it added a further little cheer to the post-event analysis.
Looking further ahead, one analysis of the London Marathon course has ascent of 54 metres, about a third of the London 10-Mile, and almost all of it very minor rises: no hills!
Wednesday saw me realise that the need to drop the car off at the garage meant that the window for a run was short, so it was just a brisk 3.5km across the village and back rather than the intended 5 or 6km tempo run.
Friday by contrast was planned to be short. Inspired by the Strava Mile sweepstakes, I decided to run a brisk mile – something I’ve never aimed at before. Although I’ve done intervals with fast runs, they’ve been embedded within a larger effort and so I’ve never focussed on them individually.
I did a warm-up run of 2km fairly gently (though 12 months ago it would have been at my limits), then paused to get my breath while leaving my heart and muscles nicely warmed up, then ran back. I was somewhat frightened by the 4:10/km pace initially, and couldn’t quite keep that up, but knowing that I needed to beat about 4:33/km, I kept ahead of that and set a new kilometre PB of 4:23 and mile PB of 7:05. Very satisfactory.
The picture is at Languard Point, with the sea behind me, the exit of Harwich Harbour to the left, and shows a bit of the nature reserve, cluttered with the accumulated remains of several centuries of military defences and hemmed in by the Port of Felixstowe behind and the seaside world of leisure away to the right. The boardwalk is really bouncy to run on – great fun. A lovely spot.
My longer Sunday runs have been around the lanes near home for quite a few weeks, and while each has been somewhere different and included new roads, there has been a certain sameness about them, and it was time to shake things up a bit.
So this morning it was ho! to Felixstowe for a visit to the seaside – not entirely novel as I’ve run here a few times before, but not for a while. I ran south-west to the tip of Landguard Point, then retraced my steps and continued north-east to the first Martello Tower then along the prom, past the pier for a while before turning to run back to the car. By the time I finished just after 9am it was 23° and there were already sunbathers out, with lots of other people taking a stroll on the prom, together with a few other runners.
There were the smells of rubber from things being inflated, of cooking food, and of chlorine from the leisure centre. The last is a bit of an obstacle at the moment as the prom has been closed since last June for a short distance to allow some works to be carried out, which means a little diversion around the leisure centre, a route that has confused my Garmin each time I’ve done it.
The intention was for a run of 8km at 5:37/km but my legs felt great after a gentle week and I committed one of the sins of the taper period and ran both further and faster, but not too seriously so. I will need to be very careful to rest properly towards the end of this coming week, but no harm done today. It did at least have the benefit of giving me fresh confidence as there was so much in the tank to push a little harder and plenty of energy when I finished. It has left me in fresh doubt though about whether to adopt the run-walk strategy that I used successfully on my 10-mile race at the Lee Valley Velopark (and last Sunday’s 15.3km) or to return to my more normal “run it all” approach and trust to the energy gained from the taper and the occasion to see me through. Something to ponder.
As my main road shoes (I have another pair of trail shoes) are coming towards the end of their recommended life, I treated myself to a new pair of Brooks Adrenaline GTS shoes, my fourth such – this is the 2017 model, and I’ve had two 2016s and a 2014 pair.
The primary focus was to be able to run the London 10-mile a week on Sunday in shoes giving their best. Despite the fact that they shouldn’t need “running in” and are essentially the same as three previous pairs, I thought I’d better give them a little test.
So this morning it was my semi-regular 6.4km loop to Drinkstone and back. Once warmed up, my legs felt good – whether it was a fairly restful few days (ignoring the 15km on Sunday) or the new shoes (physically or psychologically) I don’t know. I’ve also managed to shed a small amount of weigh in the last couple of weeks (Christmas weight, here I come!) which will have helped a tiny bit.
But anyway, the net result of all that, despite deliberately slowing down for a km in the middle, was a new record pace on this route and for a couple of segments within it, and a 6km personal best time of precisely 30 minutes.
So the shoes passed the test with flying colours, and are now put aside for 10 days until it’s time for Richmond Park.
With two weeks to go before the London 10 mile race in Richmond Park, Sunday was my last long run for the next 14 days. My schedule called for 15.3km at 5:37/km and I managed 15.3km at 5:36/km, coming in 9 seconds ahead of plan, so that was pretty pleasing.
Today was a day of experiments, not so much with the London 10 mile in mind, but thinking more of the London Marathon and training for it. So it was my first outing for my new Camelbak hydration vest which allows me to carry 1½ litres of water on my back and drink on the move. The Camelbak also has some small pockets on the front into which I put a couple of Sport in Science gels and energy bars, which I consumed on the run.
The Camelbak worked well. I was unsure how quickly I was depleting the water supply (one can obviously tell when holding a bottle of water, but tucked away on my back, it was less clear) – hopefully I’ll get better at judging that with experience. The tube gently rubbed my neck as it passed from my back to my front, more annoying than causing any physical problems. Later inspection showed that it had arrived with the tube emerging from the left at the back and moving to the right at the front, which I fixed for next time.
The gel was a novel experience, the most difficult bit being tearing it open with sweaty fingers – more experimentation needed, I think. The energy bar was more of a challenge to eat on the run, and presumably slower to be absorbed, but did provide variety to the gel. Plenty of time to experiment on my long runs over the next few months.
I’ve said here and elsewhere that I’m using travel with work as an opportunity for my running, not an excuse. But that doesn’t mean it is without challenges.
Some can be tackled with planning: when I need to stay away, but it doesn’t matter where exactly, then I try to pick somewhere where it will be practical to go for a run on arrival in the evening or first thing in the morning.
But sometimes where I’m staying just doesn’t lend itself to running, or I may have colleagues with me making adjusting plans more difficult, or hire cars to drop off, or aeroplanes to catch, or simply no sensible way to bend my day to fit in a run.
There is always scope to get up from a hotel bed earlier, or get home later by stopping off en route.
But tiredness is a problem not so easily addressed. Yesterday I got up at stupid-o’clock to drive to Liverpool to fly to Northern Ireland, and this morning, after a long day, it was an early departure to come back. I’ve yet to have a run in Northern Ireland, but it was impractical to do so this time, so I stopped off in Warrington for a run on the banks of the St Helens Canal, also known as the Sankey Brook Navigation.
My run schedule called for some six-minute fast intervals with three-minute recovery. But my body quickly told me that after early mornings, travel, and not to mention a weekend of fell-walking, it had other thoughts about running fast for six minutes. So I improvised, and if I want to be positive, what emerged was 6km of fartlek. It was hard work, whatever it was.
A run schedule is all very well, and making a gap in the calendar is important, but making sure the body is ready too, that’s a different challenge.
Having said the other day that I had determined to use work travel as an opportunity rather than an excuse, I stayed in bed in Elgin yesterday (after all, it was a great bedroom with a four-poster bed and three showers to choose from!) so on the last morning of the Scotland trip I felt I really ought to get out.
So despite a latish night in the bar last night, I set the alarm for 6am and got up and out into a bright morning, running through the streets of Bridge of Allan and out to the north bank of the River Forth. The footpath along the bank of the Forth offered views of the Wallace Monument and of Stirling Castle.
It was a bit of a challenge to get myself out of bed but as so often, once I was outside and running, I was so glad I had done so. Why that lesson is so easy to relate, but after all these years still so difficult to put into practice is a challenging question to answer.
A good cooked breakfast and then the flight from Edinburgh to Birmingham and a drive back to Cumbria for the weekend – I’m not sure whether there will be any weekend running: we will see.
Travelling with work used to represent a challenge to my running – or perhaps “excuse” was a better word. I find travel tiring, and fitting in the running meant rising early before hitting the road, or finding the energy to go for a run after getting back after hours of driving, or getting up from a hotel bed when I really wanted to enjoy the luxury before knuckling down to work again.
But a couple of years ago I vowed to use the travel as an opportunity, not an excuse. It’s an opportunity to run in new places (or at least places where I run infrequently), even if it means a very early rise from a hotel bed, or stopping off part-way home to run.
Last night I flew up to Aberdeen and stayed at an airport hotel prior to driving to Elgin this morning. For once there was little hurry so there was plenty of time for an extended run around Dyce (the small town where the airport is located). With advice from a runner on the WeightLossResources website, I set off in perfect running weather.
I ran around the end of the runway, through housing into woodland where there were bluebells aplenty, down through the woods to the River Don where I diverted to the south to the weir, then back north along the bank of the Don for a few kilometres before joining the path along the old railway line to the railway station, over the bridge and then back along the airport perimeter to the hotel.
My legs felt a little tired after Sunday’s half-marathon, but I slowed down a little and they were fine. The sore spots on my back (from sweaty shorts) gave me no difficulties. So all in all, a very satisfactory and enjoyable run.
Back at the hotel I opened the laptop and ordered some sports gels and energy bars and recovery stuff, to start my experimentation with better long run fuelling.