Saturday, 16 July 2016

Mersea "Round the Island"

So on Sunday 26 June, I returned to the scene of one of my most difficult ever race experiences, determined to lay a few demons to rest. I'm not sure I quite managed that - it was just as tough as I remembered, even though this time I wasn't attempting to race it - but I'm glad I went, and the Mersea Island Lions Club is a great charity that will have benefited from the event. The following is a brief write-up of the day.

The beachfront start. Running well on sand is a real skill. Sadly one I appear to lack.

Multi - Terrain

I've never tackled the big ultras, or one of those horrific mountainous races - not even an obstacle race - so for me, Mersea 2013 ranks as the hardest race I've ever done - tougher even than the couple of marathons and the 30 miler I've struggled through. It's not the distance - in 2013 it came up just under half marathon distance, this year it was a little more, but normally that would be easily manageable. It's the multi-terrain nature of it which is the real difficulty. The race follows the perimeter of the island as closely as it can, so of course there are beach sections, and also sections alongside the estuary that separates Mersea from the mainland - and these are generally through long grass and nettles, etc. The route also takes you through one or two fields, a few very muddy dirt tracks and a very small road section - something of a relief. So a bit of everything - and none of it feels at all nice! Not even the road, by the time you get to it!


Previous blog posts can be found using the menu on the right
So why the toughest race I've done? This was the first race where I felt the groin pain which was to drag on for the next 3 years or so, and has only recently been sorted . If you have no idea what I'm on about, you've clearly not read any of my previous blogs. I'm not saying you should by the way. I'm not that cruel. You're reading this - that's more than enough for one day. If you do want to read previous blogs, the injury gets mentioned a fair bit, so I won't bore you with the details here. But effectively it meant I found the whole race deeply unpleasant, and what I'd hoped would be a decent race performance near the front of the field ended up being a struggle to get round in sub 2hrs, running in constant pain throughout. One of the very few occasions when, on reflection, I think I really should have pulled out. 

No matter - I got to the end, and vowed never, ever, to go back. Ever. 


So, there I was. Back. The recent operations seem to have sorted the problem finally, and I'm in need of increasing mileage and time on feet as I try to build up my base fitness and move into a period of marathon training. So what better way than to run just over half marathon distance, with my good friend Bernadette, with both of us taking it nice and steady? Having enjoyed a fantastic evening in the company of Lionel Richie the night before (at a concert I mean -  we're not mates or anything) we turned up at Mersea ready to take on the worst the island could throw at us. That finishing medal was going to be collected, come what may. Call it our Destiny if you like. (Apologies in advance, I may feel the need to sneak in a few more Lionel songs here and there - for some reason, it's the kind of thing I find funny. Remember, you are not contractually obliged to read any further.)

Is it really an island?

It really is an island! And you do pretty much stick to the edge
Glad you asked that - and perhaps not in the traditional sense, in that it's part coast, part estuary - but it does look like a real one on my Strava route picture display thingy. It's not far from Colchester, and is reached by - erm - just basically driving on to it using a road. However, that road - the Causeway - does get covered at high tide, at which point it all feels a bit more island-ish. It's actually a very beautiful place, with some great views, and would make a lovely day out. Trouble is, I've only ever been there to run round it. Which is hell. Truly.

Tough irrespective of pace

So whether racing or taking it a bit more steady, I think you really just need to ignore pace for this one. That probably holds true for most of these multi-terrain races, and certainly for all the off-road ultras that so many of my friends do. You couldn't even have compared times to previous years, because I think the route alters slightly every time depending on various factors - I understand damage to the sea wall was the reason the distance was about a mile further this time than 3 years ago. And there was me hoping coastal erosion may have helped my cause somewhat. It's hard to overstate how far the distance actually feels - never mind round the island, it felt like we were running All Around the World (yeah, I didn't know that one either, but it fits nicely.)

I remember in 2013 being hugely frustrated when I hit the beach sections and saw my pace drop off dramatically - but that's obviously the case for everyone, and I think had I been racing well it might have been the kind of race when I concentrated more on position than time. As it was, everything went out of the window that day. It certainly wasn't Easy. Although it was on a Sunday morning.

This year, pace was even more irrelevant as we had decided we just wanted to get round - but to be honest that didn't seem to make it any easier! The beach was just as energy sapping, and the long grass sections seemed to drag on for ever. Fairly early on in the race, we hooked up with two more friends - Kevin, who I know a little through Bernadette, and Ruth, who we've both known for a while through parkrun in Colchester. After we'd all said Hello (sorry about that one) the four of us decided to tackle it together, and there was a fair bit of gallows humour on the way round as we took it in turns to try and convince ourselves we were having fun. This may or may not have involved such childish antics as jumping in muddy puddles - socks were already soaked at this stage so why not?! The rain held off for most of the race, and at times it actually got pretty hot and muggy, but some heavy downpours overnight and on that morning meant the course itself was already pretty sodden.
Although we ran side by side for most of it, this is me, Bernadette, and Ruth (in the pink) just trying
to get through one of beach sections. Kevin had buggered off somewhere by this point. Understandably.

Time on feet

We wanted time on feet. We got it. At one point I began to wonder if we were going to be there All Night Long. (Oh come on, that was a good one. Sort of.) In the end we finished in around 2hrs 50 - over an hour longer than I'd run for in any one session since my final operation, and only a very small amount of groin discomfort, so pretty encouraging. I've been warned by my physio to expect a bit of this, and that it doesn't mean the operations weren't successful, just some kind of referred pain from the hip since it's not fully healed yet. In theory it will be after 16 weeks - which must be in a couple of weeks from now - but my consultant has said that in terms of racing, I should really expect it to take 6 months before I can consider myself to be competitive again. This ties in with what happened after the first op, when it took half a year to get back under 20mins for 5km, (and almost under the 90mins for HM) - so I have another couple of months really before I have any right to anticipate decent times again. 

The most positive part of my Mersea Island expedition was that I felt great the next day - whereas at the height of my injury I would have struggled for days afterwards - so I was actually pretty happy, all things considered - if not exactly Dancing on the Ceiling (that's the last one, I promise.)

What's next?

Following Mersea, I was feeling really encouraged about my mileage and my fitness was improving all the time. A few good speed sessions had led me to believe I may do quite well at the upcoming Civil Service Sports Day, where I was entered in the 1500m and the 5000m. Spoiler alert - the day didn't quite go to plan - but as with Mersea, I reckon I can drag that particular story out into a whole blog post of its own (and I've practically already written it for a work newsletter article, so it's just a cut and paste job really.) That, and the injury that arose from it - yup, another one! - will be the subject of my next effort. 

In the meantime, my marathon training is well under way, albeit predominantly cross-training due to the aforementioned problem - and I'm feeling surprisingly positive about Chelmsford, which is less than 16 weeks away.
Targeting a sub 3hr 30 marathon. Wait, there's a 5k option?


Sunday, 26 June 2016

Bury 5 mile and a bit of Lionel

A quick round-up

Many of my blog posts are essentially round-ups of my racing and training. Since one of the main aims of writing it is in order for me to keep a "running diary" and to chart progress, I make no apologies for this. Sorry about that. However, I do always try to include things that are relevant to all runners, since I am not vain enough to think that anybody wants to read all this drivel simply to keep track of how I'm doing personally.

So, as I continue to chart progress with my recovery, I hope I can throw in one or two bits of useful information along the way.

June 9th - Newmarket 5km - (Kevin Henry series race 3) 

I always find this one of the hardest races of the 6 in the series, the surface isn't great (grass, dusty/sandy path for most of it) and although it's flat, it's very open, which means you can see the finish from a long way off. And it never seems to be getting any closer. I never race well here, and I'm not sure if that was playing on my mind, but I didn't feel particularly confident lining up for this one.

I think a big factor was the training I'd done the previous two days - having run a hard session on the treadmill on the Tuesday, I'd then gone along to Sudbury Joggers again on the Wednesday (ie the day before) and run 6.7 hilly miles. So I was racing on tired legs, which is clearly never a good idea. However, this is all part of my plan to try to prioritise mileage and general fitness over race results -- however well rested I am, I'm not going to be anywhere near PBs this soon into recovery, so it doesn't make a lot of sense to rest in preparation for races if it means missing useful training sessions. And I was particularly keen to make the Joggers session, as I seek to get to know a few people there. Those 6.7 miles were tough, running about 7m40 pace and trying desperately not to fall behind the group I was with. And that's exactly what I needed.

So the Newmarket race was a bit of a disaster - I was struggling after the first mile (I feel this is a recurring theme!) and mile 3 in particular was very disappointing. In some ways it actually helped to have a sub-standard race, because it reminded me that I really shouldn't be worrying too much about times at the moment, and that I should be grateful and encouraged by every pain-free mile. Which I am - although it's not always easy to feel that way in the immediate aftermath. Facebook has a lot to answer for sometimes, but after having a little moan about my 5km times, I was given some sound advice and encouragement by some good running friends that helped me get things into perspective.

June 16th - Long training run

Perhaps I was still feeling a bit negative when I went into the next week's training, and I struggled
both on an evening run on the Monday, and at an HRC club speedwork session on the Tuesday. However, Thursday was a lot more encouraging, as I decided to ignore speed and just see if I could increase mileage with a "long" run. I managed a solid 10 miles, at around 8m30 pace - which I found particularly pleasing since I chose to throw in a few hills along the way, and yet these didn't significantly slow me down. My route was a somewhat convoluted one, around the housing and industrial estates of Haverhill, and it was far from scenic - but it was exactly what I needed.
Nestled in the Suffolk countryside, the town of Haverhill is a really beautiful place to run through.....
(joking apart, we're very lucky to be only a few minutes away from really beautiful countryside, so I shouldn't moan)

I felt I could have gone on to do a fair bit more, but was sensible enough to stop after 10, since as all runners know, you need to be careful when increasing mileage - too much too soon is a surefire way to pick up an injury.

With a day off the next day to recover, I was feeling suitably encouraged enough to "go for it" at parkrun on the weekend - and I was really looking forward to this, my first attempt to race Great Cornard for about 10 weeks. In line with my current strategy of prioritising useful training over racing, I didn't feel under any particular pressure to hit a certain time, but it would be nice to see some progress.

June 18th - Great Cornard parkrun

And I was reasonably pleased with the result - 20m39 equalled my best time post operation, which I'd achieved on our club time trial route, a course that I would describe as slightly faster. So a little bit of progress - certainly when compared with my previous two 5kms at Newmarket and Colchester - and I always enjoy my local parkrun.

Preparing for Bury 5

And so on to this week's training.

It was a close finish in the Civil Service 3 legged race last year
Monday: a short sharp blast on the treadmill, to practice ahead of the forthcoming Civil Service Sports Day, but primarily this gym visit was about cross-training: working harder on the bike and the elliptical thingy than I normally do, and getting back into using the weight machines again.

Tuesday: I chose a training route that took me out to Kedington, where we'll be racing our club's home Kevin Henry race this summer - I wanted to run some hills again, but couldn't face the prospect of another tour of Haverhill's industrial estates. There's one particular mountain that I wanted to incorporate into the run - Cock Hill (I'm pretty sure I've made some immature jokes about this in the past so I'll leave it this time) -  and I was pleased with how easily I managed it this time. My aversion to hills is something I really want to address, since I can't keep avoiding them, otherwise I'll just get found out in any race that isn't entirely flat.

Wednesday: Back to Sudbury, complete with membership form - so I'm now a member of two clubs, albeit with Haverhill remaining my 1st claim club. This means I continue to race in HRC colours, but I can attend training sessions at either club, depending on what fits best with my training and - of course - other commitments. The two clubs train on different days, so I should be able to attend one of them every week, fitting it around my son, and work, etc. This week, I chose the group that was doing 6 miles (rather than 7) - and our route wasn't as hilly as in previous weeks, although still much tougher than anything I'd have done on my own. I was particularly pleased with the pace, which increased as we went, making it a progression run of sorts - excellent practice for racing, when ideally you want your 2nd half to be faster than your 1st, even though you're running on tired legs.

I'm a recent convert to STRAVA: it's a really easy way to keep track of your training - and to analyse individual runs. The following screenshot shows the pace we ran at - and has left me feeling extremely positive about the way things are progressing.

Thursday: REST DAY

It's so important to factor in some days off into your schedule, and all the more important to rest the day before a race. So I did.

June 24th: Bury Friday 5

And so to race day - and I really hoped to get an encouraging time to give me a boost and keep me positive. Five miles is one of my favourite distances to run - with my best times proportionately pretty good in comparison with my 5km PB, and much better than my 10km efforts. It's a short enough distance that you can really go for it without fear of running out of steam, but not so short that you can't make up time if you have a slower patch during the course of the race.

With this is mind, and well aware that I'd been pacing really badly recently, I determined to not get carried away for the first mile, and purposely stood a little way back from the start line to ensure I didn't get dragged along by the quickest runners. And although I did find myself inching a little closer to the front in the moments before the start, I did remain reasonably sensible as we all set off.

The course runs roughly the Bury parkrun route, in reverse, for about 1.5 miles, before you leave Nowton park and head out onto the quiet country roads for the majority of the race, with one random section through a farmyard. I have such a lousy memory that I never really remember the routes to races, even when (as in this case) I last did them only the previous year - however, I had looked at my split times from 2015 and had seen that miles 2 and 3 were a bit slower, due primarily to changes in elevation (ie a ridiculously long hill, that never gets particularly steep but seems to go on for ever!) So although I had a target in mind of 33m45 (6m45 pace) I wasn't too concerned when I began to creep over 7min mile pace, and concentrated instead on trying to maintain the same effort, on the assumption that what goes up must come down (© Isaac Newton) 

The importance of form

I've started reading this book, and I believe
the advice on running form played a significant
role in my improved race performance
In particular in this race, I was concentrating on my running form. Trying to lean forward a little more, and fall into each new stride. Attempting to keep my cadence high, but keep my feet landing underneath my body rather than ahead (which effectively acts as a brake.) And crucially, thinking a lot more about my arms - which, in common with a lot of amateur runners, I often forget about. And when I noticed my pace dropping over miles 2 and 3, I tried even harder to keep good form. If you can get it right, you'll be running a lot more economically, and in theory you should have more energy left towards the end of the race.

Sure enough, I was able to pick up the pace again in mile 4, and even more so for the last mile, which I was chuffed to bits to complete in 6 minutes dead (although it measured a little short according to my watch, so this may not be entirely accurate.) Nonetheless, it gave me a finish time of 33m54 - almost exactly what I'd been aiming for, and about a minute quicker than I'd managed the previous month at our club's 5mile handicap time trial, which took place on a totally flat course and on a better surface.

South America. South Africa. Las Vegas..... Colchester.....?!
So, progress, and a great way to start what proved to be a great weekend - I followed this up with an enjoyable pacing event at Great Cornard parkrun on Saturday, before travelling to Colchester to hook up with Bernadette to watch Lionel Richie in concert at the football stadium. He put on a great show, and the fact that such a big name had chosen to play in my home town made it all the more enjoyable, if slightly surreal. 

On then to Sunday, and back to face some demons at the Mersea Round the Island race. I could moan about how difficult this was, (and I will, in my next blog post) but it would be remiss of me not to mention that I have friends at the moment competing in a local event in and around the small village of Barrow, which puts on 10 marathon (ish) distance events (some of them are actually a little bit over the regulation 26.2 miles) over the course of 10 days. I know a number of people who have chosen to run one of these marathons, a few that have completed the "quad" (as in 4 in 4 days) and one Sudbury Jogger - Gin - who is tackling the full 10 in 10. When the heavens opened this morning and I very nearly wimped out of a measly half marathon, it was the thought of these guys battling their way round double the distance that ensured I didn't bottle it. 

So all in all, an encouraging period of running, and a decent increase in mileage - looking good as I commence marathon training next week. Next blog post will be dedicated to the Mersea Round the Island race, which was so tough it deserves its own post!

Sunday, 5 June 2016

Back racing, and trying to be sensible

So a few weeks into my recovery, and so far so good, with a number of runs now under my belt, and no problems of any significance to report, other than a tendency to pace badly and run out of energy too soon. So, nothing much new there! I've had my last physio appointment, and been given the all-clear to commence marathon training, so still feeling very positive about my running.

However, I do seem to have ended up racing a bit too much - the following then is a round up of what I've been up to over the last 3 weeks.

May 19 - ELY 5km - (Kevin Henry series race 2)

Having watched the first in the series from the sidelines, it felt great to be able to run this one - it fell exactly 8 weeks after my operation, and so I always had it pencilled in as my first run - but thanks to my physio allowing me to start up a couple of weeks previously, I went into this with a handful of training runs behind me and knowing I'd be able to manage the distance easily - although with no idea what kind of pace I may be able to achieve.

First race back. The key was not to take it too seriously.....
I was sensible enough to start somewhere in the middle of the pack, so that I didn't get too carried away and try to keep up with the quicker runners. Despite this, with the course being almost completely flat, I did probably go off a little too fast, with a 6m45 min pace for the first mile that I was never realistically going to be able to maintain. Sure enough, mile 2 was considerably slower, but I was pleased to find a little in reserve for the last mile, and ended up with a time of 21m24.

I had hoped to average sub 7min miles, and so was pretty pleased with a 6m50 pace overall - a lot quicker than I managed in the first race back after my first hip was operated on, and proof that you can maintain a certain amount of fitness whilst unable to run if you work hard enough in the gym.

All those hours on the exercise bike were clearly worthwhile, and although I definitely felt exhausted at the end, there was relatively little discomfort from the hip, and what there was could probably be put down to tired muscles rather than anything more serious.

Speedwork Training

So following this encouraging start, I have completely ignored my own advice (not for the first time) and have allowed myself to become a little too pre-occupied with getting my pace down, rather than simply building up the mileage as I'm supposed to be. Consequently, I followed up this race with a couple of speedwork sessions- one at the gym on the treadmill, and then the next day a club track session. I'm finding even the slightest incline a bit tough at the moment (I have been told to try to avoid hills if possible, since this is going to put the hip flexors under the greatest strain) and so I found our track a bit tough, since it's not entirely flat! But the 1km reps I did on the treadmill were encouraging, and I went into the club's May time trial confident that I'd see an improvement.

May 26th - HRC 5km Time Trial  

I ended up averaging 6m42 pace, with a finish time of 20m39, so a pretty decent improvement in just over a week. Mile 2 was significantly slower (by 10secs, which is quite a big drop in pace over a short race) but I managed to dig in and not let the race fall apart completely, and mile 3 was pleasing enough, and I found a little bit at the end for a reasonable sprint finish. I don't think I'm going to do myself any harm racing, providing I don't push too hard too soon, and although this wasn't really the plan, it was probably inevitable given that 5k has always been my favourite distance. I'd love to get back under 20mins, and on this showing that was beginning to look like it may not take too long. (Spoiler alert - perhaps it might....)

May 28th - Great Cornard parkrun - pacing event

So I was finally back running at parkrun again, although as one of the pacers I wasn't racing as such - my job was to get round in 29mins, and hopefully drag one or two others around to their PBs in the process. Unusually for a pacing event, Gt Cornard managed to get every single minute covered, from 20 through to 36, meaning the majority of our runners would have someone to keep in their sights. In the end, over 40 attendees got new PBs, including two runners, Shirley and Michelle, from HRC - proof that these events really do work. I was pleased that 3 or 4 of the runners near me all beat their best times too, and I'm hoping to be able to grab the 28min pacer vest next time, so I can run with the same people as they progress. One of these days I'll try to get someone to pace me to a new PB - there are certainly a few runners at Gt Cornard who I'm sure would be able to do this for me - but for the time being, I'm some way off this, and helping others to do so is the next best thing.

I was so pleased to hear from my old University mate Paul, who, following my last blog about parkrun, plucked up
the courage to attend his local one in Greenwich, and has since done 3 in a row - another convert! 

May 30th - Hatfield Broad Oak 10km

A bit of a last minute decision to enter this, purely because I had a free Bank Holiday Monday and I knew lots of people doing this popular local race, near Stansted Airport. It's one of those great events where the whole village seems to embrace the run, coming out to support and making for a lovely atmosphere. That said, it's a pretty big field - over 1000 runners - but importantly, the roads are closed, so there's not much congestion,

I met up with a few friends from parkrun, who are all part of Sudbury Joggers running club - a really friendly group who have made me feel very welcome, to the point where I'm looking to join the club, whilst keeping my membership with HRC too. The rules relating to who you can then race for - 1st and 2nd claim membership - are a little more complicated than I'd realised, and this needs a bit more investigation before I decide what to do next. But it was good to see a few of them at the race, together with some club colleagues too.

As for the race itself, this proved to be a bit of a reality check. I hadn't appreciated just how hilly the race was going to be - this is all relative of course, and most would describe it merely as undulating at worst, but for me, at this stage of my recovery, it felt really tough. Not only did the elevation find me out, but so too did the distance - this was the furthest I'd run since the operation, and after a reasonable start I was unable to maintain pace throughout, falling apart pretty badly in the second half. That said, it was still a quicker time than I managed at Kingston 10km last December, and I was probably being a bit unrealistic with my starting pace - which I was basing more on my recent 5km pace.

June 1st - Sudbury Joggers Training Session

In desperate need of a rest day, I ruled out club training the following evening - especially when I noted it was a hill session, but this fitted in quite nicely with my plans to go along to the Jogger's training session on the Wednesday, and I was looking forward to meeting up with everyone and trying out my potential new club.

Sudbury. Pretty much. 
An impending office closure - with plans to move us all to London - means I will need to consider moving from Haverhill in about a year's time, to somewhere with a train station. Sudbury would actually be an ideal location, giving me a do-able commute to work but still within easy driving distance of my son in Haverhill, and a bit closer to my mum in Colchester too. Coupled with Gt Cornard parkrun being just round the corner, it's certainly an attractive option - and so Sudbury Joggers may well become the most logical club for me in the longer term.

At the moment, it's a half hour drive or so away - but it's nice to have a couple of options, and I suspect I'll alternate between the two clubs for a while, and see how it goes.

That said - Wednesday's session all but destroyed me! They mix up the training each week, and this week it was 25 out 25 back. In other words, run for 25mins, then turn and follow the same route back, aiming to get back bang on 50mins, the idea of this being to encourage even pacing. I've done sessions following the same principle at HRC, but only speedwork pyramid sessions, and not over this kind of distance.

Because I got there a bit early, I was able to tag on to the back of the beginner's session that leaves 30mins before the main club session, which gave me a nice warm up run and a chance to chat to one or two people. I didn't chat a great deal during the rest of the evening, which was partly my fault for trying to keep up with the lead group. But mainly it was because of the hills. Which were ridiculous. I had no idea Sudbury was so mountainous! In truth, I've become very lazy with my hill training over the last couple of years, because they always increased the discomfort, and so this was a real wake-up call. If I can commit to doing a few more of these sessions with the club, it's going to be a great way to improve my strength and stamina. At the moment, it was probably a bit too much too soon, and I suffered for it the next day - it was also, factoring in the warm up too, the furthest I've run since the operation too, totalling nearly 8 miles for the evening, so all in all a really good workout.

3rd June - Kirton 5

On to a weekend full of racing - and first up, a scenic 5 miler near Felixstowe, part of the Friday 5 series of races but not one I'd tried before. I was hooking up with my good friend Bernadette from Colchester, and we'd decided together to see if we could get her round in a new PB, which meant trying to average 9min miles or so, with a sub 46mins target to try and beat.

In common with loads of runners, Bernadette is much better than she realises - so I put her under strict instructions to ignore her watch and let me worry about the pacing! In fact, this race was also a little bit undulating - and after 3 pretty consistent miles, we were faced with a hill at the start of mile 4 that put a significant dent in our pace. That fourth mile has to go down as one of the most pleasing I've ever run with someone, as we gradually worked hard to regain that lost time. To then go on and run the last mile - at the end of a tough 5 miler -  at below her usual 5km pace, will hopefully have shown Bernadette just how good she can be. The result in the end was 45m17, so nearly a minute off her previous best for the distance - and loads more to come.

4th June - Colchester Castle parkrun

Yes, that's mine I think......
So this turned out to be another reality check. I felt good, was keen to race hard and had my race tactics all planned out (if that's not a bit over the top for a parkrun, which it undoubtedly is!) The course is hilly, but the first half is all flat or downhill, so you can usually get a really good 2 miles in before you need to dig in for the tougher part. Discovering during the pre-race briefing that the route had been changed (due to another event in the park) was a factor in a disappointing performance, seeming to make the course even hillier than normal (although this may not actually be the case) Whilst I don't think I can fully blame this for a drop off in time from my previous 5k race, hills are definitely affecting me far more than normal, and in the event I should probably be pleased enough with another sub 21m30 run. But, I'd hoped to be inching towards sub 20mins, so I was a little down afterwards.

Fortunately, there's always the cafe to look forward to when I run at Colchester, and things didn't seem so bad after my mocha and a healthy slice of lemon sponge. Healthy as in large. Not as in healthy. That's now 85 parkruns completed. Or in other words, a lot of cake.

5th June - HRC 5 mile Handicap

And so bringing things up to date (finally!) with this morning's race. I say race - this is a yearly event put on by club colleague Yusuf, with plenty of help from a willing band of volunteers, who threatened to outnumber the runners at one point, although in the end I think there was a fairly even split between "competitors" and helpers. The route took us twice round a disused airfield, but parts of the route were actually a lot more scenic than that sounds and, crucially for me, almost completely flat. As indeed, most airfields are!

Finishing reasonably strongly, and not
looking quite as knackered as I felt
You're given a predicted 5 mile time - for me, 33m59 - calculated using a result from a recent short distance race - for most of us, our times were taken from either the time trial at the end of May or the KH race the week before. Runners set off in order depending on that prediction. Whoever crosses the line first is the winner. If everyone were to exactly hit their predicted time, then we'd all cross the line together.

Of course, in practice this doesn't happen - although there wasn't a great deal of time difference between first and last over the line, which suggests that the predictions were pretty good. Our winner was Zoe, followed closely by Dave - two stalwarts of the club, so the result couldn't really have been any nicer. There's not many races where it's a level playing field for all competitors, (or should that be a level airfield? No, probably not....) and I think everyone gives their all as a result - certainly we were all grateful for the water station (and cakes) at the finish line.

I didn't match my predicted time, which didn't surprise me much since I don't seem to be able to do much more than 5km at the moment without struggling - but I did dip under 35mins, so another run averaging sub 7mins per mile, which was really what I was after. I've recently ordered a replacement USB stick for my GPS watch, so I can recommence downloading my runs and analysing the stats a bit more. I've also finally joined STRAVA, although at the moment I'm only able to manually key in my runs, so they're simply logging progress at the moment rather than showing me any detail.

But just by looking at the history on my watch, I can see my mile splits were as follows:

Mile 1:  6m24    Mile 2:  6m47   Mile 3:  6m59   Mile 4:  7m11    Mile 5:  7m08

Now, I'm no expert (clearly) but I think I can see where things went a bit wrong! In fact, I'm not at all surprised - my aim was to run the first 5km hard, try to keep each of the first three miles under 7mins, and then just see if I could hang on, given that this was going to be nice and flat. However, 6m24 was obviously a bit daft - and I think I got a bit carried away by the nature of the event, where it's so tempting to try to catch the runners that started ahead of you as quickly as possible. I did note my 5km time, which was much better than at parkrun the day before, and so it wasn't all bad news, but I got given a real lesson in pacing from Mary-Ann, whose predicted race time was the same as mine. As a result therefore, we set off together - and whilst I sped off at the start, and then started to slow, Mary-Ann simply maintained consistency throughout and came flying past me to finish well ahead. Will it stop me starting too fast in subsequent races? Probably not, but it really should!

Next up

So with the plan to not race so much well and truly out of the window, I'm now looking forward to Thursday evening, the next instalment in the KH series of 5km races. After that, I'm tempted to enter the Bury 5 mile, but what I do already have scheduled at the end of June is a trip up to Liverpool to take part in a Civil Service sports day, where I've (rather foolishly) entered a number of races - I think it was the lure of the free BBQ afterwards that persuaded me. I'll probably look to do a bit more speed training between now and then, and try to give a good account of myself, before we move into July, and I begin my training with my new coach.

At this point I'll need to stop entering all these races and let Siobhan guide me, as I seek to increase mileage and build towards my autumn marathon.

NB today many of my running friends completed the Stour Valley Marathon - off road, in very warm conditions - complete respect to them all !

Thursday, 19 May 2016

All about parkrun

For a long time now, I've been meaning to write a blog specifically about parkun. So, here it is. I tend to mention parkrun in most of my posts, since I'm there most weeks - and so I would ask regular readers to please accept my apologies if some of the material in this post duplicates that found in previous ones. I doubt that many of you actually pay much attention to what I'm writing anyway, so I should get away with it. I often make reference my "regular readers" with a sense of irony, or maybe self-deprecation, because I'm not so sure I have many of them. But then, if you're a regular reader, you'll know that already, so I'll move on.

What is parkrun?

parkrun, then. Spelt with a small "p" - even when you're starting a sentence with it. I think. The distance is only 5km, or 3.1miles if you prefer. Founded by Paul Sinton-Hewitt back in 2004, in Bushy Park, it has now spread across the UK, with nearly 500 events taking place every Saturday morning at 9am, at a park near you. There's a map on the parkrun website, reproduced below, showing all the various event locations - plenty to chose from! And it's popular - very popular, with the organisation recently celebrating its millionth participant. I say "the organisation" but I very nearly wrote "our organisation." Because that's how it feels - once you get involved, you feel a part of something very special, and everyone plays a part in its continued success.

And, it's free. All you need to do is register on the website - go to www, and click on your country's page - you'll be given a unique barcode to print out and take with you, and that's all you need to do. You never need to tell anyone in advance that you're going - one of the biggest benefits for me personally, since you can make a last minute decision as to whether or not you go - or indeed, as to where you're going to go. More on parkun "tourism" in a bit....
I should point out the stats I've mentioned relate to the UK, but parkrun is now global - visit for a list of countries. I know I have readers in the US, Australia, Poland, Russia - you've all got parkrun in your country too. I should
also point out, the map is interactive - and you can zoom out. Which is kind of necessary!

How does it work?

A lot of parkruns have a laminater for you to use.
So that this doesn't happen
So, you've registered online, and printed off your barcode. Chose which parkrun you want to attend - you can use the interactive map to find your nearest. Each event has its own website, where you can discover a bit more about it, including instructions on how to get there, and what facilities are at that particular venue. For example, is there car parking - and if so, is there a cost attached? Are there toilets? (nearly always there will be, which is a relief for runners. Literally.)  And, most important of all - is there a Cafe?!

On arrival, you don't need to do anything in particular, although a warm up is never a bad idea, and a visit to the loo is usually a good idea. If it's your first parkrun, or your first at that particular venue, then one of the volunteers will give you a newcomers briefing, so you have an idea of what's going on. All runs are well-marshalled, so there's very little danger of going the wrong way, and if you were to get into any kind of trouble, you'll never be far from someone who will look after you.

There will then be a pre-race briefing for everyone, given by that week's Run Director, when they'll mention any issues out on the course, remind people of the etiquette (eg, that we should be respectful of other park users, etc.) and to make sure you stick to the course properly in order to get an accurate 5km time. Otherwise, you're only cheating yourself. Which is something my headteacher used to say all the time.

Usually, there will be some recognition of people who have reached various milestones. Runners of all ages qualify for a free T-shirt each time they reach a particular milestone -  completion of 50, 100, 250 and 500 runs. Our junior runners have a special 10 T-shirt too.

This is also an opportunity for everyone to thank that week's volunteers - and there's a T-shirt for racking up 25 volunteer appearances too - more on volunteering later....

Then, just run. Or walk. Get round the course however you want. Within reason. As you come into the finish funnel at the end, you'll be given a numbered token. This represents your finishing position. Then, after you've got your breath back, simply take this token and your barcode to the nice people with the scanners - and they'll do the rest. You give back your finish token - that bit's really important, it's needed for subsequent weeks! - and you keep your barcode, for next time. By the wonders of modern technology, by about lunchtime the same day, the Core Team at your particular event will have finalised and released the results - you'll get an email or text, if you've signed up for that, and the full results will appear on the website. It's really that simple.

However, DON'T FORGET YOUR BARCODE, otherwise you'll end up in the results as "Unknown Runner" and your run won't count towards anything. And you don't want that.

Course Description

I was confident I could beat the hotdog, but wary that
the bottle of mustard might have a bit of a kick...
On the event page, you'll also find a description of the route - particularly relevant if you like to run with a buggy and small person, for example (or I suppose, a buggy without small person, although that would be a bit strange.) There are some surprisingly quick mums and dads out there - I once got overtaken by a guy pushing his young daughter round the course, who came in under 20mins. To make matters worse, the next week was halloween, and he went past me again, but this time dressed up in a skeleton costume. I assumed this would probably haunt me forever (no pun intended) but I think it was trumped a year or so later when I got passed in the London Marathon by a large bottle of tomato ketchup.

Some courses allow you to take your dog with you too - although make sure you check the website first to be sure. The route description is also relevant if you prefer certain types of running, because you'll be able to discover if it's flat or hilly, on paths or on grass - and if, like me, you like to chase PBs, it's a good way of finding out the likelihood of achieving your personal best on any particular course. More on this in a bit too.....

Home run?

You can set which park will be your "home" but it really doesn't matter where you go each week - you're not tied to your home event at any point. It used to be more relevant when the milestone T-shirts were presented to you - because they would automatically go to your home event - but these days, you order your T-shirt online and it's delivered to your address, so it's not so important. If you chose to volunteer at an event that's not your home, it's worth letting them know, so that they can find you on the database - particularly if you have a more common name - but in terms of running, your barcode is unique to you, so it doesn't matter where you are, you'll be readily identified.

Great Cornard - definitely a course with PB potential.

PB hunter?

One of the great things about parkun is that you get given a PB for each different event, so you can look to improve your times at specific locations - because let's face it, there are certain courses that you'll never get an overall 5km PB on, perhaps because they're particularly hilly or have tough terrain. This means that, whichever course you chose to visit, you can always aim for a PB - should you wish. For example, when I visit Bury St Edmunds, which is all on grass and mud, and has a couple of inclines, I know I won't get the same kind of times as I can manage at Great Cornard, which is also grass, but completely flat and a much quicker course. But it doesn't matter, because I have different PBs for each course which I can try to beat.

Not interested in PBs?

parkrun is not a race. This is central to the whole ethos of parkrun, and is no doubt one of the reasons why so many people have embraced it. Of course, you can treat it like one should you so wish - and personally I tend to, because I like competition and am always aiming for specific times - and it's fine to race it if you want. Providing you don't use elbows or anything. But of course, not everyone is competitive, and so many people just enjoy the experience of running without aiming for certain times or positions. parkrun is all inclusive. Most events have participants who walk as well as those that run, which should immediately reassure anyone reading this who is worried about being too slow. Besides, there is always a "last runner" so you'll never be left at the back on your own.

Age limits?

There are none - although children under 11 must be accompanied by a responsible adult, for obvious safety reasons. Most parkruns have a whole host of enthusiastic youngsters running regularly, meaning it can be a nice family activity. Many locations are now introducing Junior parkruns, usually on Sundays, using a shorter (2km) route - so if you have children looking to get involved, this could be the ideal place to start - and I believe they can run without an adult at these, in most instances, which may well be preferable for all involved.

There's no upper age limit either, and it's inspiring to see runners well into their 70s and beyond clocking up a 5km every weekend - although slightly depressing if they overtake you.

parkrun Tourists

If you spot a tourist, make sure
they feel welcome
We're all different - some of us are creatures of habit, some like to add in a bit of variety to their
parkunning. I've moved about a bit over the last few years, and so my local parkrun has changed regularly. I started off running at Milton Park, Cambridge, before moving to Colchester for a while - and this is where I really got the parkrun bug, and became a bit more involved in helping out. Subsequent moves have seen me becoming more regular at Bury St Edmunds, at Thetford, and more recently at Great Cornard, near Sudbury, which is now my home. However I do still travel occasionally to Colchester, and to Great Notley (where I have a number of friends on both Core Teams) and I have the choice of a fair few within reasonable driving distance, so I enjoy mixing it up a bit from time to time.

In addition to this, I've tried out one or two parkruns further afield, whenever the opportunity has arisen - so I've combined trips to see family and friends with one off visits to Worsley Woods (near Manchester), Newport in Wales, and Coventry - to name just 3. This parkrun "tourism" is extremely popular amongst regular parkunners, and in fact there's a club set up for those who have attended at least 20 different locations - I think I'm only on 11 so far, but it's something to aim at. That said, having just got my 25 Volunteer T-shirt, my next goal is to achieve my 100 runs T-shirt: only another 17 to go!

All your parkrun stats are recorded on their website, both course specific and overall ones too.


Because it's run by unpaid volunteers, most of whom are runners themselves, it's nice if everyone pitches in to help out from time to time. As an organisation, parkrun suggest people aim to volunteer at least 3 times a year - in practice, many people chose to do so more often.

Each event has its own Core Team, who take it in turns to be Run Director. Your Core Team do a fantastic job - including things a lot of people don't see, for example recruiting volunteers to ensure a safe run each week, getting there really early to set up, staying later to pack away, and spending time processing the results afterwards.

Binman comments not appreciated
In addition to these guys, every run needs a number of volunteers, and everyone can offer to help. Never be worried about any particular task - they're fully explained, and you can always request specific ones that you're more comfortable doing. My own personal favourite is barcode scanning, since you get to chat to loads of runners and congratulate them on their efforts - and they're usually in a good mood, because it's all over with for another week! Other roles include being on the stopwatch, handing out the finish tokens, managing the finish funnel, and of course, being out on course marshalling.

More recently I've been marshalling a lot, and it's been great to see the same friendly faces each week, seeing some of them making obvious progress, and getting lots of smiles and "good mornings" along the way. As regular readers will know (yes, both of them,) I've not been able to run for a few weeks following surgery, so it's been an opportunity for me to get in a decent run of volunteering, and I'm so glad I have, because through this I've got to know fellow Gt Cornard parkrunners in a way I don't think I would otherwise have done. Now I'm back able to run again, I'm intending to alternate between running one week and volunteering the next, because I can no longer decide which I prefer!

So, What's stopping you?

Unless you've been along to a parkrun or two, you really can't appreciate just how friendly and welcoming they are - far more so than other "races" - since you get to know so many regulars, and there's no real pressure on anyone to achieve anything: predominantly people are there to have fun. So, if you're reading this and you're a runner who's never tried parkrun before, or if you're reading this as a non-runner (why you'd be doing that is anyone's guess, but I suppose it's possible) - get signed up, and come and give it a go.

I know so many people whose lives have been enriched through getting involved in parkrun. Mine certainly has.

Tuesday, 17 May 2016


This blog post has been a long time coming.....but it does finally look as though I am going to be able to blog predominantly about running rather than injury from now on, following a successful operation 8 weeks ago, and the welcome news that I am allowed to start running again. The following is a summary of what I've been up whilst unable to run, and what my hopes are for the future.

The operation

I had been expecting this second hip would require far less work than the first, since between operations I'd been able to get back to a relatively decent standard of running, and with almost no discomfort whatsoever. This suggested to me that, purely by chance, my consultant had fixed the worst hip first, and perhaps this one would just need a bit of tidying up. Not for the first time when it comes to running and injury, I was completely wrong.

I didn't really have a clue what was going on after the op,
but at least there was a nice view from my hospital room
The operation itself took longer than the first, and apparently they gave me a top up of anaesthetic part way through, which goes some way towards explaining why I don't remember a great deal of the conversations afterwards, and felt pretty grotty for the rest of the day. I even left my lunch, and if that's not an indication that I wasn't right, I don't know what is.

As a result, I didn't remember much about what the consultant said to me when he did his rounds later on that day - other than him making it pretty clear that this one had actually been much worse. I did remember being pleased when my physio came round to get me set up with the crutches - pleased because it was the same physio, Emily, who had helped me with my recuperation before, and so I knew I would be in good hands.


Things definitely progressed a lot slower this time around - I was on crutches for a full two weeks, whereas before I was able to ditch them after a few days. I shouldn't complain about this - the official guidance (and doubtless what my consultant thinks I did) is to take 4-6 weeks off work, whereas I only stayed off for 10 days, and I didn't really have any problems returning so soon, other than a bit of soreness when I was required to walk any distance, as I have to on tutorial days in London. It probably took a full 4 weeks this time before I was walking "properly" - again, last time it was probably nearer half that - and all this no doubt reflects the fact that more work was required in surgery. But I get the impression that this is still quite a quick recovery compared to a lot of people who have undergone a hip arthroscopy, and is apparently because I'm a bit younger than most who need them, and in pretty good shape (ish!)

So since the operation, I've been back to see Emily three times, and sandwiched in between these appointments I saw Mr Khanduja, who was able to tell me exactly what he'd had to do. As well as having to shave off some bone, as he did with the right hip back in August, it seems there was a lot more work required on the labrum - the area of cartilage that lines the hip socket. In addition to the expected tear, he told me that a "flap" of cartilage had come right away from the bone, and I believe he had to anchor this back into place. Other than telling me to take things easy though, he seemed pretty pleased with the way things had gone, and the fact I don't have to see him again for another 12 weeks suggests he's confident that recovery will be problem-free.

Every two weeks, I've been attending physio - not so much treatment, but a discussion about how things are going, and a new set of exercises to add in to my daily routine. I enjoy these visits - Emily is a runner herself so understands my desire to get back out there, and she has been tailoring the exercises I do with that in mind.

I hit upon the idea of taking my revision notes with me
to the gym, and reading through them whilst spending
an hour a day on the bike. Which probably looked a bit
weird, but it helped me pass my most recent set of exams,
and took my mind of how bored I was. Or rather, helped 
to shift the focus of my boredom onto something equally dull. 
In addition, this time around, I've been much better at maintaining my overall fitness by attending the gym. This includes an hour a day on the exercise bike, which is dull as anything  - to start with I was restricted to level 1 and it just felt too easy, although the main point of this is to regain full movement of the hip, not to build fitness. I use the heart-rate facility on the machines - which I know isn't 100% accurate but does give an idea - and no matter how fast I pedalled on the lower levels, I couldn't get above about 120bpm. At least it's becoming a little more interesting as I am allowed to increase resistance - I can now get up to around 140bpm, and I'm gradually upping the levels each week.

I've now also moved on to use the cross-trainer too, and this is much more like it - hard work, and I can already see and feel the difference in my leg muscles and glutes, not to mention my heart rate. I've also learnt how to safely lift free weights, in addition to using the usual static weight machines, and whilst I'm only using low weights at the moment, whilst concentrating on getting the technique right, I'm enjoying the variety it brings to my workout, and finding that I've been able to increase weight on the machines as a result too. At the moment, this is all restricted to upper body, but I can already notice a difference here too. Unsurprisingly, the belly is back again - I feel this is going to be an ongoing struggle the deeper I go into middle                                                                                        age! - but this should be easy enough to shift once I'm back doing proper mileage again.

I wasn't anticipating being allowed to actually run until at least 8 weeks was up - last time it was 9 weeks - but I pleaded with Emily at my 6 week visit a couple of weeks back, and she must have felt sorry for me because she checked me out on the treadmill (not like that) and gave me the go ahead to start again, with the proviso that I don't try to do too much initially. With this sound advice still ringing in my ears, I obviously went for a run as soon as I got home - but only for a kilometre or so, electing only to run to and from the gym either side of my daily sessions there for a week or so, and to judge how it felt before attempting to increase distance. I did also find myself on the treadmill at one point - no idea how that happened - and managed to knock out a 4 min kilometre, but I resisted the temptation to do any more, and ensured I rested the day after. No point getting this far and then suffering a setback by trying to do too much too soon.

Since then, I've gradually increased mileage, and am now up to 5 miles, although I've been restricted to running only once every three days. I'm in email contact with Emily now, so I can bother her in between sessions, and she agreed today that I can now step things up to every other day - although I have to keep the pace steady, and only increase mileage very steadily. This works fine with me, and fits with the advice I was given by my future coach (more in a bit on this) in that I should keep the running steady whilst I build back up, and use the gym to get my heart-rate up in between times.

What difference will the operations have made?

Lots of people have asked me how my hips are over the last year or so, and the weird thing is that, other than in the immediate aftermath of the operations, I've never had any pain there at all. The pain has always been more central, in the groin area, but this is a typical symptom of this kind of injury, and so I am very hopeful that I will no longer suffer in the same way. And of course, as I've been at pains to point out throughout my blogging, this "suffering" is all relative - nothing like the problems many others have had or still have, and it's never actually stopped me from being able to run (again, other than in the weeks immediately after the operation.)

However, what it has stopped me doing, I firmly believe, is progressing as I should have been able to. I had a reasonably promising start to my running, back in 2012, but this injury kicked in within a year, and ever since I've had the frustration of being unable to train and race as I'd have liked. There have been purple patches: periods when - for whatever reason - the discomfort has been more manageable, and as a result I've been able to train more regularly, with decent results. But equally, there have been (too many) periods when a hard race or training session has then knocked me out of action for the next few days, meaning training has been sporadic and, frankly, not particularly enjoyable. The 7 month period between operations was really encouraging, and so I can't wait to get going properly now that both sides have been done - because, in theory at least, I should finally be able to run without discomfort from now on. This was certainly the case in my most recent training run, which was as comfortable a run as I can remember for a long, long time.
My runBritain graph, showing clear peaks and troughs, rather than the steady upward progression I would have hoped for

I tend to use the word discomfort rather than pain, because the discomfort only ever really became pain if I overdid things. Short sharp training sessions or 5k races were manageable, even if I suffered a bit afterwards - but it was only really the longer runs that actually hurt as such. Consequently, looking ahead, I am particularly looking forward to being able to spend more "time on feet" - which as all runners know, is a phrase that crops up all the time when you embark on marathon training. Which leads me nicely on to my plans for the remainder of the year, and beyond

Making plans

So, having established I can now look ahead with some confidence, I've been able to start planning what races to target, and what sort of times to go for too. On the assumption that it makes sense to start off at a slower pace whilst building mileage, I'm not really expecting to see my 5km times come down that soon, so although I'll hope to attend the 5 remaining Kevin Henry club 5km fixtures, I'm not really targeting particular times for these. I'm looking forward to running some parkruns again, after a period of volunteering that I've thoroughly enjoyed, but again I don't anticipate being anywhere near the front of the field for some time, and will just continue to enjoy my Saturday mornings without any pressure, alternating between running and helping out.

Because I love racing so much, in addition I've entered a few shorter races - roughly one per month - although I'm not particularly worried about achieving a specific time in any of them. At least, not to start with.

June: Kirton 5 mile: Part of the Friday 5 series, which I enjoyed greatly last year, although I didn't race this particular one. I'm told this is a quickish course, although it will come too soon for me to grab a decent time - but I'm hoping to hook up with a good friend from Colchester to do this together, and it should be a fun evening. If I'm being honest, when I booked this I had it confused with the Girton 5, which is far more local, and only 5km, But don't tell anyone. It makes me look a bit stupid.

July: Ekiden Relay: Running the last leg (5km) in an Ekiden relay for my running club. The total of the legs adds up to marathon distance, with 6 of you in a team. I've been the last three years, and it's one of the most enjoyable events of the year. All the various teams and clubs set up tents and gazebos around the course, making for a great atmosphere, and I believe this year we have seven or eight teams there, so a big crowd of HRC runners. We're only submitting one "competitive" team, which I wouldn't get into anyway, so there's no real time pressure for me, with the emphasis on fun. Which is good, because I call this blog "Competing for Fun" and yet I'm often guilty of neglecting the fun bit!

August: Ipswich Twilight 10km: again a race I've chosen mainly because I enjoyed it so much last year. In fact, I did the 5k version rather than the 10k - but, as you may recall if you are a regular reader (why do I keep referring to regular readers, as if they may actually exist!) the 5k requires a qualifying time of sub 20mins, and whilst I could use my time from last year to get in, I'm not sure I'd be back running sub 20 by this stage, so there'd be a danger of coming last! So I'm in for the 10k, and looking forward to it. I would hope my times will have come down significantly by this stage, and will use this as a marker.

September: Langham 10km: I know nothing about this race, except that it's near my home town of Colchester, I'll know a fair few people doing it, and I'm hoping that I'll be back to my best by this stage, so it could possibly be a tilt at a PB. That said though, with the emphasis on increasing distance rather than speed, what I really want to do is, finally, nail a marathon.

October: Chelmsford Marathon 2016

So that's the big plan - and I'm more excited about this marathon I think than I was before Edinburgh in 2013 or London in 2014 - because of what I may be able to achieve there. The main reason for this optimism is that, coupled with the anticipated run of pain-free training, I'm going to be getting some proper coaching too, for the first time. This could be so important for me, since I have struggled to get things right in my previous two marathon attempts, and I'm sure that my coach (Siobhan, who I know through my running club) will help me address all the issues that accompany marathon training. These include such important things as getting the pacing right in training runs, getting your nutrition and hydration spot on both during training and of course for the race itself - and helping with the psychological aspect too, which I think becomes more important the longer the race. It certainly it does for me.
The route for the marathon - taking in all of Chelmsford's famous landmarks.....

I'll let Shiv determine how I progress towards the marathon, and it may be that some of the races mentioned above become training runs, whereas some may be useful to act as markers to gauge progress. I'll always have my parkruns to help me do that too, and although - as I mentioned earlier - I don't want to focus too much on 5k for the next few months, my times should naturally come down as I get deeper into the training.

As for my marathon time, I should really wait and see how things go before settling on a target, and I think that's something a coach would recommend too. It's very hard to judge, because my times across all distances up to half marathon suggest I should be capable of getting under the magic 3hr15 barrier, but my best marathon performance is over 4hrs! It's hard to say how much of this has been down to the injury - which shouldn't now be an issue - how much is down to preparing incorrectly - which again, with a coach, shouldn't be an issue either - and how much is simply down to not being very good at marathons!

Most decent club runners would say the magic barrier is sub 3hrs, and this is certainly a benchmark time to aim at in the future, but 3hr15 is the "good for age" qualification standard to get into the London Marathon, for my age category, and that is my target. Whether or not I achieve this in October, or whether perhaps in a marathon next Spring, it doesn't really matter, since neither would come in time for the June deadline to enter for 2017. So, like pretty much every runner I know, I've entered the general ballot to try to get in for next year. But I'm really hoping I can hit that target by June next year, in time to qualify for London 2018.

To be looking to improve by over an hour might sound ridiculous, and indeed might well BE ridiculous, but I'm keen to set myself tough targets now I'm "fixed" - even if I don't quite achieve them, I'll surely hit some PBs along the way as I try. This extends to all distances. I don't know how much quicker I can get, but I think (and hope) that I haven't achieved my potential yet, and it's this belief that has got me so excited about the next stage in my running "career." I use the word career quite wrongly, but the only other word I could think of was "journey", and I didn't particularly want to go all X-factor on you.

The new parkrun T-shirts have been rolled out, I finally
got around to ordering my 50 shirt (for running) and am now
able to order the 25 shirt (for volunteering.) Next up, the 100
club beckons. Some way to go before I catch up with my
club mate Terry, however, who has reached the 250 milestone.
In the meantime, whilst I've been plotting my future running plans, I've kept involved with the running community through volunteering and supporting. Some injured runners find it hard to watch others run, and I understand that - particularly if you're out for a ridiculously long time, or perhaps if you have no end in sight. For me, the worst part was running with an undiagnosed injury, so I've been relatively content to see out this latest period of inaction, safe in the knowledge that everything's now been done and it's all onwards and upwards from here.

In fact, I've thoroughly enjoyed having a run of marshalling at parkrun, which has proved a really good way to get to know a few more people at Great Cornard, which is such a friendly community. I also took the opportunity to get over to Great Notley recently too, to help out alongside some friends who are part of the core team over there. As a result, I've begun to wonder whether I might volunteer on a more regular basis - my previous volunteer/run ratio has always been about 1 in 4, but I think I'd quite like to alternate between running one week and helping out the next. It's a way of feeling much more involved in the feelgood factor that symbolises parkrun for me, and it will also ensure I don't focus too much on 5k running, as I build up the mileage in preparation for Chelmsford.

So there you go - a horribly lengthy blog, for which I can only apologise, but the end of a frustrating chapter, and I can't wait to get back to what I enjoy doing most - training hard, racing hard, getting some pbs, and Competing for Fun. 

Monday, 2 May 2016

Catching up - Part Two (Colchester HM)

As threatened, a second post to complete a round-up and bring my blog up to date. My memory being totally useless, I'm having to check back on runBritain to remind myself what I did back in February/March - but I do know that everything was geared towards my "A" race for the Spring, the Colchester Half Marathon. It had been a while since I'd selected one specific race and tailored everything else towards it - and I do feel this is the way I'd like to develop my racing in the future, rather than my usual scatter-gun approach of entering far too many races and trying to do well in all of them (and often failing miserably!)

Back running Sub 20

Having said all that, nothing is going to stop me racing 5k as often as I can - still my favourite distance, and the one I'm best at. Since I do them so often, they act as a marker to tell me how I'm progressing, and alongside my aim to beat 1hr30 in the HM, I was keen to get back under 20mins for 5km if I could, before operation number two.

I came agonisingly close in a club time trial at the end of February, clocking exactly 20mins on my watch, which was rounded up to 20m01s (or do I mean rounded down - I get confused!) As I've said many times before, the great thing about the shorter distance races is that, if it doesn't quite go to plan, you can try again almost immediately - so I had the next day off, and then had another go at parkrun on the Saturday. The plan worked, and I grabbed 19m50, my quickest time since my first operation, and further proof that the training was going well.

Having hit this particular target, it was back to getting a bit more distance into my training, and as race day approached, everything was looking good. Unfortunately, on my last long training run I got slightly lost (if you're a regular reader, you'll know this is a recurring theme) and ended up doing a little bit too much, about 14 miles to be precise, and somehow picking up a niggle in my calf along the way. The distance covered in this last long run gave me confidence that I was fit enough to get round without dropping off towards the end, as I had at Gt Bentley, but the calf was a worry, and despite resting it for the remainder of the week, it seemed to get steadily more uncomfortable, meaning that, right up to race day itself, I really wasn't sure if I'd be able to run.
If I can't figure out the machine, I have a plan B

This is not the first time that I've picked up a calf strain - and will probably not be the last time either, and I really need to look at some strengthening exercises in that area, since it's clearly a weakness I have. I did recently try the stepper at the gym, which would certainly target this muscle, amongst others (also good for glutes in particular) but I had to stop after a couple of minutes because I really wasn't sure I was doing it correctly! I'm a bit embarrassed asking someone to show me, because it really can't be that complicated, but it definitely didn't feel right!

Colchester Half Marathon - 13 March 2016

Close to my target - if only I hadn't run in jeans
Anyway, a massage the night before seemed to help a bit, and on race morning it was time to catch up with a few friends and try not to worry about it too much. The race starts and finishes at the Colchester United stadium, and it has to be said that many of my visits there have ended in disappointment (not least this season, which has culminated in relegation.) But away from the football, I'd only raced my home town HM once before, back in 2013, and I had fond memories of what was, at the time,  a PB run - and the first time I ever really felt I'd run the distance well (at the 5th time of asking!)

The aim that day had been to get under 1hr40, which I missed out on, but only by a few seconds. This time, I was hoping to go under 1hr30, and I had been confident I would be able to find the extra 30 seconds or so per mile I needed to take off my pace from Great Bentley a month before. But the calf was bothering me, and I was unsure if I'd get round without it becoming too tough to continue - an issue I'd had with a calf injury had caused me to pull out of the London Marathon in 2015, and I remember at that time I'd been able to run on it a bit, but it then would become too painful after about 4 or 5 miles. The route is almost a figure of eight, with the stadium forming the middle part, so I determined to give it a go, and see how I felt by the halfway point - knowing I would at least be close to the stadium and that if I needed to quit, I wouldn't have far to walk to get back to the car!

Not the best frame of mind with which to begin a race, and again regular readers amongst you (if I still have any of those) will know how much store I put in being in the right place mentally when at the start line - but the knowledge that this was to be my last race for a while meant that at least I wasn't worried about missing any future races as a result of running on an injury, and I had worked too hard for this one not to at least give it a proper go.

North Hill - the cause of much pre-race consternation,
 but at least you get it out of the way early on.
The race route is a mixture of town and country - roughly half and half, with the town part first. It doesn't take long to get to the high street, but first you have to tackle North Hill - hard enough just to walk up, never mind trying to race it. However, it isn't really that long, and is over before you've lost too much time and energy. Much harder, in my opinion, is Ipswich Road - a long uphill drag that never gets particularly steep but seems to go on for ever. If you've set off too fast (and let's face it, I usually do) then this can really seem tough, and I was definitely feeling my calf at this point, and dropping off my target pace a little. To go sub 90mins, you need to be running sub 7min pace, and at this stage, I wasn't!

However, having got this part out of the way, I didn't feel too bad - and certainly nowhere near bad enough to consider stopping. And having passed the halfway point, I stopped worrying about the calf, and started worrying about my time - which was in danger of becoming far slower than I hoped. I had left myself too much to do in the second half to get back under 90mins, and in fact it took everything I had to dig in and maintain pace, but by this stage I was aiming for my secondary target, which was to average 7min mile pace, and I was close enough to this to make it worth going for.

Despite finishing strongly, I ended up just outside this new target, with a time of 1hr32. So not the sub 90mins I had been aiming for, but I was pretty happy with this, all things considered, and it was still my 2nd best ever HM time, albeit some 6mins outside my PB from Gt Bentley in 2015. 142nd wasn't a great finishing position- I'd been hoping top 100 at least - but it was out of a field of 2400, so still top 10%. All in all, a nice way to go out before the second operation - if not quite what I'd been going for.

The race itself grows year on year, and I have to say I thoroughly enjoyed the whole experience. When I ran it before, the support on route had been a little sparse, but not so this year - it really felt as though the town had embraced the event and came out in force to cheer on - not just at the stadium, but throughout the route. I have always preferred quiet country races, ideally flat ones, but I really enjoyed the mixture of town and country, and the hills do at least keep things interesting -- I'm obviously biased having spent the first 18 years of my life in the town, but this is definitely top of my to-do list for next year.

Love this picture of us coming down the High Street, with Colchester's iconic "Jumbo" water tower in the background.
Seem to have quite a stream of runners trailing in my wake, although I think most of them came back past me going up Ipswich Rd! 

Gt Cornard parkrun - 19th March - The last race

Well, hopefully
That sounds a bit more dramatic than it should - although I suppose if the operation had gone horribly wrong, it might have become that. But strangely enough, given that I'm a natural worrier, I haven't been all that worried about any of the three operations/procedures I've had on my troublesome hips - you have to trust in your surgeon, and I've been very fortunate to end up with one of the very best. But this was going to be my last chance to race for a while, and I was hoping to get another sub 20 - which I managed despite running far too quickly in the first mile (a 5m45, what on earth was I thinking?!)

In fact, this ended up being my best race in the period between the two operations, and so was a really positive way to sign off for a bit. It was only my 11th time running at Gt Cornard, but I was getting to know a few of the regulars and I was looking forward to putting in a run of weeks volunteering whilst incapacitated - I wanted to remain involved in the running community during that time, even if I knew I'd get a bit of run envy from time to time!

And so that completes my round-up of racing over the winter and early Spring, and takes me up to the long-awaited second operation - which I'm pleased to say appears to have been successful. A good place then to end this blog post - and I can bore you with details of my recovery in my next effort, together with my plans to tackle a marathon again in the Autumn.

Although I will cover the London Marathon and the first Kevin Henry club 5k fixture in my next post, it would be remiss of me not to mention two runners for whom I have the utmost respect, both of whom have come back from far far worse than me recently, and who continue to impress all who know them. Richard, who I've got to know a bit through parkrun, completed the London Marathon in a superb time of 3hrs 12 mins, the culmination of a really impressive set of recent results, following a remarkable recovery from very serious illness. Paul, a fellow HRC member, suffered a stroke only a year ago, and I often bump into him at the gym, where he is clearly working very hard on his recovery, so it was fantastic to see him completing the Impington 5k a few days ago. 

I am always impressed by quick times, but what I like most about observing other runners is seeing how much effort, hard work and dedication so many put in - meaning that, irrespective of times on stopwatches, I enjoy watching all my running friends as they seek to achieve their own targets. The determination both these runners have shown is nothing short of inspirational.