It’s that time of year again when we start making an exhaustive list of races that we want to do, or at least that is true for me. My list is usually starts about 10 races long, and most are unrealistic in at least one aspect (hundreds of miles away, child’s birthday, an ultra. You get the idea). So this year I have decided to set a couple of targets. While out training I was listening to a Marathon Talk podcast and the topic of setting targets was discussed – and also how to commit to them. The easiest way to get yourself to commit to something is to tell people about it, but I don’t to be banging on about how I am going to be doing this, that and the other to anyone that will listen, I don’t want to be that guy (because nobody likes that guy!). In an effort to prevent me being the person everyone avoids in the pub, I have decided to keep my list of sporting confidants to just a few people (the lucky bastards) – and also the faceless masses of the internet.
The first target is a yearlong one, mileage. Last year was my biggest running year, totalling 829km – up on the 655km I ran in 2016. So this year I am going to aim high (for me) and hit out for 1600km. I know that’s quite a jump from last year, but why set a target you can reach by October? In my head the maths works, I am looking to enter a couple of marathons this year, along with some half marathons and one or two in-between – see first paragraph for race list caveat. So with the increased training that marathons require a thousand miles could be possible. Maybe.
The second target is more difficult to commit to. Predominantly this is due to not being entirely sure if I can achieve it. I have entered Boston Marathon (Lincolnshire, not Massachusetts), which was my race of choice for a couple of reasons. One being I can tell people I have done the Boston Marathon; and the second, its flat and living in Devon I don’t race – or even train – flat. The South West is a lot of things, including beautiful, but flat it most certainly is not. With the topography of the Boston marathon being what it is – flatter than a witch’s tit – the question of time comes up; are you going after a quick time?
So, what is a quick time? To qualify for a good for age place at the London Marathon I would need to run a sub 3 hour 05 minute marathon and that is not going to happen, even if the race was entirely downhill. With ‘good for age’ out the window, what would make a good time for me? What time would I be happy with? Obviously, as with any race, my first concern is getting around in one piece. Putting this to one side for a moment, what time would I be proud of? My current marathon personal best (and only marathon) is 4 hours and 16 seconds, set at the not so flat Eden Project Marathon, in Cornwall.
I am going to lay my cards on the table. I would love to run a 3 hour 30 marathon, but only time will tell if this is possible. I don’t know if I can knock 30 minutes off my marathon time. To put it into perspective my half marathon best is 1 hour 36 minutes, which only leaves me 18 minutes of ‘fade time’. I feel like I’m talking myself out of it as I write, but I’ll be dammed if I’m writing this again.
I entered my half marathon best time into the Runner’s World Race Time Predictor, and low and behold it predicted a 03:21:26. I aslo took a look through my Eden Marathon training log; I did a Yasso800 session, which uses a series of 800 times to estimate a potential marathon time. That time was 3 hours 25 minutes. So project THREE:30 it is.
To quote the great Bill Nicholson “It’s better to fail aiming high, than to succeed aiming low”, he does go on to say “And we at Spurs have set our sights very high, so high in fact that even failure will have in it an echo of glory” and as much as I love that quote (being a Tottenham Hotspur fan), it feels a bit rich for a blog about trying to run a three and a half hour marathon.
The alarm buzzes annoyingly. Its 6am, it’s a Sunday, and its race day. Like any other race day, I get up feeling a bit nervy; wake up the rest of the family. Then flap about, eat porridge, drink coffee and leave the house about 20 minutes later than I had hoped to. Except this isn’t like any other race day, I’m not racing, my 8-year-old daughter is. It’s her first race without me, and the nerves are just as strong if not worse than if it was me racing. But as I tell her ‘if you’re nervous it means you care about it’. And, I certainly care about it.
We arrive at The Hoe with a few minutes to spare, and find her classmates. I think this is the point it sinks in that she is running without me and begins to get some doubts. Luckily this doesn’t last long, and the excitement takes over. Photos are taken and she is taken with her group into a massive holding pen. Part of me remains relieved that I wasn’t asked to help with the schools’ challenge; the noise coming out of the pen – containing something like 300 excitable 6-10 year olds – was unbelievable. Must have been like trying to herd cats on amphetamine at a rock concert – but less fun.
Once they are in the pen we scamper over to past the start finish line for a good view as she comes past. All the runners have been given the same red top, so picking out individual children is nigh on impossible – in fact I know people who didn’t see their kids at all. I resort to trying to spot her teachers, then who is running with them. It works; I see her teacher from last year and there she was running next to her chatting away. We cheer, take lots of photos and then try to get across to the other side of the route for a second shot. This time we are less successful as we can’t get very close and don’t want to miss her crossing the finish line. Missing the second photo opportunity we dash back across the finishing straight. As she comes into view she is still with the same teacher – beaming from ear to ear even if she is chatting a little less.
She crosses the line and disappears into the hoards past the finish line. After a few minutes, we find her school’s spot in the pen, sat with her mates – medals around their necks rummaging through the goody bags. I can confirm that goody bags at kids’ races are also full of crap that no one wants. After what feels like an age, the schools begin to file out. We head around to the drop off point to scoop up my running champion. Once the crowds disperse we find a patch of grass with a few of the other parents. The kids run around for a while enjoying the late morning sun.
As our parking runs low, we head off and go for a celebratory brunch. It feels right to make a big deal of her accomplishment and she is overjoyed when the waitress takes an interest in her medal and how she got it.
My grasp of the English language fails me when I try to describe how proud of her I am. It’s not that she ran the mile. Its far more than that. Running isn’t something she finds easy or that comes natural, but she persists at it and works hard. She has a stubborn streak in her – not always in a good way – and a stoic determination that even if she has to walk she will get to the top of the hill.
My 8 year old daughter has recently signed up to run a half marathon – of sorts. She will be running the schools’ half marathon challenge in Plymouth and will be running a mile a week with the final mile taking place on the half marathon weekend on the Hoe (where the main event starts and finished). This has really caught her imagination, and has reignited her desire to come running with me – which I am obviously overjoyed about.
Despite the looming threat of ‘Storm Doris’, an after school family run was all but demanded. So after school, we pop home to get our running kit on and head over to Saltram House (a local National Trust property), however not all of us are quite so keen to go for a run in the Plymouth mizzle. So the two of us head to Saltram for a run around the grounds and down to the river. Despite the threat from meteorologists it’s a lovely night for a run, a bit cool but not too cold or windy and the trees protect us from the worst of the rain.
She is noticably excited as we set off – she skips, bounces and grins like a cheshire cat. I try to calm her down a bit – without wanting to piss on her parade – and we jog around the grounds while we chat and generally just be silly. Running as it should be, fun.
We make it as far as the river, before having to turn back for failing light. It’s been a while since we last ran together, and I honestly can’t believe how much more resiliant she has become, she is able to run much further and was able to push herself much harder, wanting to get to pointmarkers despite obviously working hard.
Famous Danish beers don’t make running buddies, but if they did she would be it.
This spring has been quite busy for me. For someone who usually enters 2-3 races a year having two in spring felt rather congested. The two races, The Forest of Dean Spring Half Marathon and Plymouth’s Half, had very different objectives.
First up was the Forest of Dean. This is a mostly trail half making use of the old mining train lines making most, not all, the gradients steady with the added bonus of a beautiful forest backdrop. The objective for this race had been to run with my youngest sister and my dad, but unfortunately my sister was unable to get the time off work so it became just me and my dad. This seemed to concern him. I say seemed, he was quite vocal about it. Having not run consistently for about 5 years, he was planning on running until my sister had to walk, and then walk with her. That plan was now redundant. The new plan: run, and when you can’t run then walk.
From a personal point of view my training for this race has gone ok. I am using this as a dial up for the Plymouth half a few weeks later so I haven’t got all the speed endurance in my legs but I am building towards it, including a new course PB at my local parkrun a few weeks before.
In typical fashion, we turn up with a bit of time to spare, but leave it too late before joining the pre-race toilet queue. As a result we manage to miss the start of the race by a few minutes. We are not the only ones; we were by no means at the back of the line.
Don’t panic, DON’T PANIC. No mad dash, just go at our pace and we begin to pick up the back of the pack. We do just that, and then try to pass people as and when we can, but as we hit the trails for the first time about 1 km in this becomes a little trickier. The first 5 km or so are all either flat or down hill, giving us a chance to warm up before the proper work starts – did I mention we missed the start, thus no warm up? After being gently eased into proceedings, the climbing begins. We gradually climb for about 7 km, topping out at the highest point of the race. We then drop down before climbing again for another kilometre or so. It is at this point that stage two of Dad’s strategy comes into place, the walk. So I do what any good son would do, I continue to run and leave him to walk alone. If I am honest, I can’t believe he lasted 13 km running once, maybe twice, every 5 years. Obviously good genes, or poor decision making.
Once on my own I try to push the pace a little, and try to run the remaining 8km at around threshold. It has to be said, there is something uplifting about waiting until half way through a race before really opening the taps and being able to give it a big push as others begin to feel it bite. By the time I finish I am the beetroot red, sweaty mess that I usually finish a race in. Garmin paused, and medal collected I go find the family for the obligatory ‘just finished a race’ pictures, and then go for a little cool down run to get the distance up.
By the time I’ve done that and gone to collect my bag I find that my dad has made it back, and not moving too freely. Feeling guilty, I give him a hug and make sure he is ok. Thankfully he’s ok, just a bit disappointed that he couldn’t finish the race.
After a couple of days off I get back to focusing on the Plymouth half. The aim is to be as consistent as possible; double run day early in the week (2 x 10km), speed work on a Thursday, longer run on the weekend. This continues with the exception of a couple of away day Parkruns (both at Swansea Bay, both PBs). Two weeks before the half I set a new half marathon personal best. It was only 1 minute faster, but all is looking good. A week later I set the second new 5km personal best of 19.09 at Swansea Bay Parkrun, which is another 27 seconds quicker than the time I set there a few weeks earlier. All is pointing towards a new personal best at Plymouth half, I just had to try to manage my expectations.
In the final week before the half, all the preparation appears to be going well with the exception of a slight niggle in my left heel. It doesn’t appear to be anything that will prevent me racing, just something I need to be mindful of.
Race morning comes around, and the niggle in my heel is still there but it shouldn’t give me too much trouble. I walk down to the ‘race village’ with Steve, a mate who is also running the half. He has only been running for 6 months to a year and is annoyingly quicker than me, so I feel the 15 minute walk may be the only time I see him. We get to the start with a decent amount of time to get ourselves sorted and find where we need to be in the starting pen, no running late this time.
Once the ridiculous warm up is done – how can you do jumping jacks in a crowded starting pen? – We are off. Over a minute passes before we cross line. The first km or so is very crowded as 6000 people make their way through the closed roads of the Plymouth waterfront. Steve and I go our separate ways shortly after, I see him about 10 people ahead, but make the conscious decision to let him go. My plan is to try to keep it as steady as possible to start with, and open the taps towards the end. As the roads widen there is more room the run at my own pace. The early kilometres tick over nicely as I consciously try to run at an ok pace without over cooking it.
After around 6km the first of two climbs starts. It’s a long gradual drag, rather than a steep hill. I consciously aimed to just try to hold my pace, and not let my average pace drop by more than a few seconds per km. I try to relax and make the most of the free speed on the other side of the hill, and then repeat the process on the second climb which comes straight after the first. The decent from the second climb is a long and gradual affair through the beautiful grounds of Saltram House. Once out of the grounds the race recounts its steps, with one exception. Just before the route heads back to the waterfront it takes in an out-and-back. This takes us along the river for a kilometre each way, which, in direct contradiction to all topography rules, felt uphill both ways. On the way out I see Steve coming back to other way – quickly I try to look comfortable. I make a mental note of where I am and by the time I reach the turnaround point I guestimate he is about 1 km, maybe a bit more, ahead of me. I conclude that I won’t be catching him and concentrate on my own race. As much as I would like to beat him, I don’t want to ruin my race chasing after him.
There are now 5 km to go, 4 of which are predominantly flat with a climb for the final kilometre. My plan was to push on at this point, but when that message was sent down stairs to the engine room there wasn’t much of a response. I try to keep my pace up as much as possible, saving something for that final climb.
The lower cobbled section of the climb is tough going, but as I hit the tarmac and I round onto the sea views I begin to feel a little better. As the climb continues the crowds get bigger, and louder. I push again, giving it as much as I can. The final two corners approach and the crowd is 10 deep, or my vision is beginning to blur. It feels like nothing I have raced before, I genuinely don’t think I have seen so many people at a mass participation event. I dig in for the final ramp and push for the line.
I had hoped for a new PB, and had told people I wanted to get as close to 1 hour 40 as possible. Internally I was hoping for something close to 1 hour 35. I glance down at my Garmin and I have managed to get a personal best, finishing in 1:37:38 (course) and a half marathon PB of 1:36:45, an improvement of 6m 34s. Just outside my internal target, but if I’m honest I don’t think I had much more to give. There isn’t anywhere that I can look back and think if I had done X or Y here or there I could have saved a little time. What I am pleased with is my pacing. I had planned to pace it as uniformly as possible, before pushing on. I didn’t quite manage the push but the pacing was pretty much uniform for the whole race, something I have never managed before.
In the week since the Plymouth half I have been unable to run, as the sore heel has felt pretty tender. Usually post-race this isn’t too much of a concern, but I have entered another race.
After running part of Man Verse Horse as a relay a couple of years ago, I have had an itch to run the full race. This year I have entered it, using the training I have been doing for the halves as the base miles to build up to 23 fell miles. It was always going to be tight getting my endurance up. However the longer I have to rest my foot the more anxious I get about it.
Forgive me reader(s) for I have procrastinated. It has been a very long time since I had anything even remotely interesting enough to warrant writing a post – and arguably I still don’t.
I think the biggest development has been an increase in little runners in the family (note: same number of children, just both come running). My 5 year old son had become more and more vocal in his annoyance that going for a run was either a solo or a dad/daughter affair. I had come to the point that I had run out of reasons, proper reasons, why he shouldn’t. My main reason was that this is the only bit of one-on-one I manage to consistently get with my daughter. He is fascinated with bikes and riding them and has happily helped me build him a bike. We started off buying a cheap kids bike on eBay – which was a bit too big for him. We stripped, re-painted, upgraded and renamed it – giving it that personal touch. Then once he was just about big enough he was riding it. My daughter on the other hand isn’t so keen on the bicycle. She is learning – and is doing well – but she just isn’t that into it, nor is she so keen on falling off. With this in mind, I had pigeon-holed running as ‘daddy/daughter’ and cycling as ‘daddy/son’ one-on-one time. So, once it was clear that a) he wasn’t going to let this go, and b) she was happy to include him it was a done deal.
Off we went around the block – the same route as the first daddy/daughter run. It was incredible how well they cooperated, listen to instructions and most importantly both enjoyed the running – and my daughter genuinely seemed to enjoy having her brother join in too.
Since that wonderful, sunny winters morning we haven’t all been out for a run together. This is due to a couple of reasons. One of those reasons is I am trying to get them cycling as often as possible, but also I am waiting for them to ask me again. I am conscious that I want it to be something that they want to do, so I don’t ask them if they want to go for a run , it has to come from them – I don’t want them to feel at all pressured to do it. The weather may have played a part. It has been a little wet recently, and I think this has put a little dampener on their running ambition. But the interest is still there it seems.
Since the Santa Run in December I have been looking for another race which is suitable for the kids to run too, and then it came to me. I had been half looking at a 9km night run organised by the National Trust. Now a 9km run is definitely out of their range, but there is also a 2.6km option. Perfect. A little bit of digging and kids are welcome. Family entry booked, a proper race experience for the whole family.
The day of the race arrives, and there are equal measures of excitement and trepidation. The latest storm has hit, and – luckily for the Lake District – Plymouth appears to be at its epicentre this time. In the morning I am emailed with the warning that a decision on the race will be made by 2 pm. Finally the email arrives, and the final decision has been made – the race is off. To be fair to the organisers it is probably the right decision, with trees being blown over and heavy rain over the moor.
We inform the kids that the race has been postponed – and subsequently cancelled. Their disappointment is obvious, and I make an effort to lessen the blow by promising to look for more races we can do together.
The following morning the weather has calmed down significantly, the wind has dropped and there is even a hint of sun. First out the door is me and the boy, who declares he wants to go for a long run. A longer run it is then, a hilly two km later as we turn for home he still isn’t satisfied and wants to keep going, I – joking – suggest we throw in some hill reps on the way back “YEAH!… what are hill reps?” you’ll see my boy, you’ll see. The prospect of running up two steep, but fairly short hills didn’t deter him, and the grin was smeared across his face as he plummeted back down them again. He’ll be a fell runner by his 6th birthday.
Upon our return, I swap son for daughter and head out on the same route – minus the hill reps. The improvement in her running is amazing, and it isn’t that she is getting quicker. It’s the increase in confidence. Knowing she can get to the top of the hill before having a little walk or running up to the road because she knows we’ll have to stop there anyway and have a breather. The most pleasing improvement however, is that she is now confident enough to tell me to slow down. Confidence has always been an issue for her, never really willing to back herself, so I love that she now has the confidence to tell me we are going too quick. I couldn’t be prouder.
On a personal level, the running has begun again in earnest. I have entered two ‘spring’ half marathons four weeks apart, the Forest of Dean spring half in mid-March and Plymouth’s half in mid-April. I am really looking forward to both for very different reasons. The Forest of Dean will be my youngest sister’s first race and being able to run it with her is going to be a real joy. Plymouth on the other hand is all about the time. I set my personal best there a couple of years ago and running it again should be a good indication of where I am at. Up to this point I have been concentrating on base training and some hill work, but it’s getting close to the point where some speed work will be required. This is not my favourite aspect of training; I generally like to just lace up and run but needs must and if I want to get a time that I am happy with now is the time to put in the hard work.