Project THREE:30?


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, IMG_20151122_183914totalling 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 IMG_0849would 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, butIMG_0946 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.




Entering The Twilight Zone

So this weekend saw the curtain come down on another year of racing.  A season ranging from cyclo-cross and beach racing earlier in the year, to triathlon in the summer; then to the muddy mayhem of off road running to round out the year.  All with an off road sportive with my daughter as the cherry on the cake.

The season ended in Mothecombe, just outside Plymouth, at Pure Trail’s ‘Race the light’, an eight and a half mile twilight odyssey – encompassing estuary crossings, hills and mud.  Lots of mud, but more of that later.  The race started at 3.30 meant that you were all but guaranteed to be running in the dark, meaning a head torch was mandatory for the race.

After the usual pre-race double queuing to register and then for the toilet, we make our way down to the estuary for the race start.  I say we as I entered with a friend of mine, Tom, whom I have been running with for a few months.  We seem to run at the same sort of pace in training, so it was going to be interesting to see the effects of racing completeness on our compatibility.


At about 3.35 (we started a few minutes late to allow the back of the toilet queue to get down, and as someone who has missed the start of a race because of the loo queue I thought that was a nice touch) the klaxon goes and off we go across the estuary.  Once again I start too far back, but Im not likely to ever win a race and if I am honest I rather like passing hordes of people over the first few kilometres.

We cross the sand and head for the first water crossing.  Maybe it was because I hadn’t warmed up yet, or more likely because its December but crossing the river Erme is bracing – to say the least – and going by the collective groans I am not the only one feeling the water’s cold bite.

Once the icy waters of the Erme are negotiated we run up the slipway and continue up a track for about 500 hundred metres before taking a tight left, through a gap in the hedge and across a field and into the Flete Estate.  Once out of the field, the fun (read mud really begins).


The route is flattish to undulating for a while as we follow dual track out through woodland.  Despite the lack of real hill thus far the conditions under foot mean its anything but quick, as we constantly need to move across the track to find areas with the best traction.

I won’t lie, I was pleased when I got to the point where the route splits for the lollipop loop and I hadn’t seen the head of the race coming back the other way.  From this point the route continues to climb gradually to the checkpoint.

As I head towards the checkpoint I cross what can only really be described as a mud lagoon.  The first two or three strides the mud pit is only just over ankle deep.  The next step sees me stopping dead in my tracks with the mud well past my knee.  This wouldn’t be too much of an issue except Tom is just behind me and nearly runs straight over me. I can only imagine he saw an opportunity to use me as some kind of walkway to avoid the worst of the mud.

Once our timing chips have been dipped in the transponders, and with legs heavy from Lake Fuckloadsofmud, we are faced with a monster of a climb.  It is a real grind which is only made worse by the lack of traction.  As a result, the group I am in becomes a single file line, which internally I dubbed ‘The Pain Train’.  As we climb, I really hope the right-hand turn is the top, it isn’t.  I honestly think I would have just unhitched from The Pain Train had Tom not been there, but my ego couldn’t allow it. Not in a race. Not with witnesses.

We top out and slalom through the woods as we start to descend, before the trail opens up again and I try to hold on to the coat tails of the faster descenders in our little group.  I don’t really manage this, but as the route continues to drop down Tom and I have a little chat while we can.

The route retraces the way out for a while, and as I’m feeling good (relatively) I try to set the pace for a while.  I continue to do this for a couple of kilometres.  We reach the foot of the second big climb, where I conspire to trip over a branch that I had seen and made a mental note to avoid, but still managed to run into.

Muddied, but unhurt, I am puled to my feet by Tom and once our rhythm has settled down I find myself at the front of the second pain train.  This time it all seems less grim as I set the pace and concentrate on trying to reel in a few runners a hundred metres or so ahead.  I don’t quite manage it, but it certainly helped having something to focus on other than the burn of lactic acid.

Once at the top its downhill nearly all the way back down to the estuary.  As we pass through the woodland paths we must hurdle fallen trees and roots and duck lower level branches.  One of those environments that test your concentration and reactions as branches suddenly appear in your sphere of visibility.  This is reinforced when a guy about 10 metres ahead fails to see a tree root and just crumples to the ground before he has a chance to brace himself.  Luckily, he is straight back up again and appeared unhurt.


Once back down to the estuary we cross the river again, this time it is almost like therapy for stressed muscles, but the rippled wet sand is anything but therapy for the ankles.  The race started down at the bottom of the slip way, but Race the Light had one last trick up its sleeve.  The race finished up at The Schoolhouse, and while finishing at a pub is always welcome the hill might have been less so.  Thankfully my legs still have enough to get me to the top without having to resort to walking and I do my best to chase people down all the way up.   Finally, I turn off the road into the field and over the finish line at The Schoolhouse.  I finished in 1:18:43, which was good enough for 46th out of 273 finishers.  I’m fairly happy with that, especially as I spend most my time feeling like I am running through treacle.

After running with Tom for the whole race we went our separate ways as he has to resort to a power walk up the final climb (sorry for ratting you out).  Now, I never used to consider myself as very competitive, and certainly not with other people – claiming that I race to get the best out of myself, which is true – but I’m pleased to have beat Tom.  I really enjoyed racing with him, and I didn’t have any ambitions to try and drop him at any point, but I didn’t want him finishing before me.

This does leave me in a bit of a dilemma, he doesn’t know that I write a blog, and if I tell him he’ll know how I feel about beating him.  I’m pretty sure he would have wanted to beat me too, and if he had I would have been happy for him.  That doesn’t mean that I want him to know I really wanted to beat him.

I had a really good time racing into the twilight through the beautiful Flete Estate.  The route is a challenge without being too much, even with the seasonal mud.  It was a great way to end my season, and I will be back again.  I think I may have found my annual season finale.




Picture credit: 3rd picture taken from the Pure Trail Facebook page.

Family On The Run

I have been consciously trying to get my children – and my daughter in particular – into sport at an early age.  Not to be competitive – instilling that it should be fun first- but to create a lifestyle with sport as a part of it. The stats for school leavers stopping all sports – somewhere in the region of 70% – are staggering.  For girls however the stats are even IMG-20171208-WA0006starker, and even from a younger age – only 37% of 7 year old girls get the recommended amount of exercise (compared to 63% of boys).  Anecdotally, this is compounded when girls move on to secondary school.  I am a fair bit older than both my sisters (10 and 12 years older respectively) and both were actively into team sports, both stereotypically “girls’ sports” like hockey and non-stereotypically like football.  Both enjoyed playing and were good at their chosen sports.  Their participation however curtailed when they began secondary school.  A recent government paper (I say recent, it was published in 2014) seemed to identify 2 main areas that cause the decline in girls taking up sports in school.  The first focuses on the school environment – the lack of choices and over competitive nature of the school programme.  The second area has far more nuance, and can’t be changed with a restructure of the sports education system.  Over a third of the girls stated that a lack of confidence is a major factor, and a whopping 75% said that body image was a sport inhibitor, which can’t be helped by being forced to do sports they don’t like in front of a group of sniggering boys.  Now, I was a boy once and I can state with some confidence that boys can be arseholes.  The government report also stated that 51% of girls were put off physical activity in general due to their experiences of PE in school.  I find this stat heart-breaking as someone who looks back at PE, and team sports, with fond memories – I always tried to have PE at the end of my parents evening, so it could end on a high.

Women and girls who take part in sports are far more likely to partake in individual sports, such as running, and although they may enter mass participation events they are more likely to train alone (or with friends) than to join a club or formal group.  I don’t want this for my daughter; I don’t want it for anyone’s daughter.  Sport should be something enjoyed, not endured.  As a result, I have tried to give them a range of memories that include physical activity.  These have ranged from spending long summer’s days out exploring on our bikes and micro-adventures with wild camping to mass participation running and cycling events.   Initially it was just a way to spend time outside with my family, but increasingly it is also about trying to create a positive reinforcement that sport is a good thing, whether it’s something done with friends and family or competitively in a mass participation event or in a team environment.


It’s been two years since my daughter and I did the Santa run in Plymouth city centre, and after messing up the entry last year I was determined not to make such a mistake again.  The main difference to two years ago is that after years of “why can’t I come too?” my son was now old enough (he would have been last year) to enter, so it was now a family excursion.  We decided to try somewhere new and entered the Santa run at the Eden Project, rather than returning to laps of Plymouth city centre.

The route starts up by the entrance to the Eden Project, and slowly drops down to the biomes.  There are a couple of hundred Santas at the start and we end up splitting into pairs to make it a bit easier to keep track of each other.  As the route slowly makes its way down I chat with my son, trying to stop him from going full gas from the get go.

Once the route reaches the bottom we head through the main entrance to the biomes and IMG-20171208-WA0001make our way, or fight our way, past bemused bystanders and visitors and into the Mediterranean biome.  We complete our lap through the biome and exit through a side entrance rather than through the main entrance – which was far easier than the route in, before we begin our zig-zag ascent back to the finish line for a medal and a chocolate bar.

Having taken my daughter out for a few training runs before our first Santa Run, I was much more relaxed about their ability to run the 2km route, and decided that there would be no need to train for it.  They proved this was the right decision, getting most the way round before the need to stop to have a drink – and tend to a stitch.

I, and hopefully the rest of my family, really had a great time.  Really can’t go wrong with a run with a family and then going to see (the real) Santa.


If interested, the government report can be found here:

For The Love Of Mud

My season – if you can call it that – has taken a bit of a twist towards the end of the summer. For a variety of reasons (the main one being my 8 year old daughter wants to do an off-road sportive with me and I couldn’t afford to enter both) the end of year triathlon I have been eying up has been shelved.

As a – and I don’t want to use the word, but – consolation I entered a trail race just outside Plymouth. I found the Armada Autumn Trail race as I was looking for some races to do over the winter to compliment the cyclocross races I’ve got my eye on. I noticed this race – which happened to be on the same weekend of the aborted triathlon – and entered it at a fairly late stage.


The race is set in Newnham Park, which is a fantastic setting for this kind of race. The race IMG_0444starts in a meadow, looking out on hills clad in woods – it’s hard to believe that the city of Plymouth is just behind you. As the race begins we run along the meadow past the parked cars and towards a gate on the far side. I start the race a bit further forward than I usually do, but I still spent this meadow section trying to pass people, while being mindful not to go too hard too soon.  Out the meadow we take a left and make our first river crossing. The weather in the build up has been typically wet and as a result the river is going as a fair rate – and also about knee deep. I opt for a brisk walk, rather than run, through the water and get going again on the other side. We then go back along the other side of the river on a gravel fire trail, before crossing it again – returning to the meadow – this time the river is getting up towards my mid-thigh (I reckon if I had fell I would have ended up in the sea before I knew it).

We repeat the meadow stretch; however we turn right (and head up) as we head through the gate.  The first proper climb of the race isn’t too technical as it rises through the img_7167woods, but it is steep enough (up to 25% if you believe Strava) to get the legs working. This climb only really digs for a few hundred metres at most before slackening off again, as we leave the trees we contour across a field above the meadow and the start finish line, gradually dropping down as we cross it reaching the bottom as we get to the far side.  At this point we cross the second river crossing in the other direction and after just enough time to squelch the water out of my shoes the climbing starts again in earnest. As we join an estate road the route rears up right in IMG_0446front of us. Ahead there is a line of people; some who have gone too hard too soon have to resort to walking from the bottom. I move over to the far side of the road and just plod away, concentrating on my breathing – and trying not to look up and see how far from the top I am. This section of tarmac is only about 500 metres long, but that is certainly enough to hurt. As we turn off the road the gradient eases a little. The climbing continues for another kilometre before a slight drop and then further climbing. The surface along here is a combination of hard packed dual track with muddy puddles and muddy dual track with muddy lagoons. As we get toward the top of this section I move away from a fellow runner I have been alongside for the majority of this climb, and enter another section of woods – and mountain bike single track – on my own.

The climbing continues as the single track begins, and I target a group of three runners about 150m ahead of me. As I slowly reel them in one of them goes off the front of the group, just as I get on the back. I run with these two runners as we negotiate the single track, and I try to use the berms to keep as much momentum as I can on the tighter turns. As we join a forest track, the route ramps up steeply for a while and we catch and pass the runner who was with the group previously.  As we top out we pass the second water station – I grab a cup take a quick swig and chuck the rest on my head. At this point our trio becomes a pair, before we begin to descend slightly along the forest trail. Once we leave the woods the path becomes a narrow, rutted in places single track. This is where I begin to struggle. I don’t do a huge amount of trail running, and what I do I tend to concentrate on going uphill, so once the runner in front begins to distance my I can feel myself beginning to get a little tense as I over think what I am doing. Once the gradient lessens I begin to feel a little more comfortable and once back on the gravely fire trails I begin to try to push on again.  We stay on this fire trail for about 1½ km as we drop down towards the meadow for the final time. I try to catch my companion from the woods for the length of this track; I manage to reduce the gap, but never actually manage to get back to him.


All of a sudden, the route takes a hard left for the final river crossing – this on is deep enough for the supporting mountain rescue team to put a rope ‘hand rail’ across it. Back up a steep bank and a right hand turn and I am back on the meadow. Time to open up the tap and see if there is anything left. There isn’t much, but it’s only 400m to the finish line and I manage to hold on – just.



When I entered this race I wanted to use it as an indicator of my fitness, or lack thereof. After a summer of holidays and long days at work covering other people’s holidays my training had taken a bit of a hit and I wasn’t expecting too much. So much so that I forewent my usual prerace meal of pasta for pizza and a movie with the family – I did however stop short of having a beer.

The only problem with this plan was that I’m not too disappointed with my time.  I’m capable of going quicker, but with how disjointed my training has been – that and the associated holiday/long work day dietary decisions.  All in all I really am not too disappointed with 58:43 (good enough for 36/272).


Credit where it’s due: Photographs 1 & 3 Plymouth Sports Gazette (, photographs 2, 4 & 5 Louise Shipton (via Armada Athletic Network’s Facbook page)

Changing lanes

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 20170423_074258sinks 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.IMG_0915

 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.


Doing her dad proud

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 img_0537demanded. 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 whileimg_0544 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.

Mojo? Mojo? Where for art thou Mojo?

I dare say it happens to all amateur athletes at some point, probably around this time of year. Possibly even every year.

This year however, it feels far more acute. This, I think, is mostly down to having a plan laid out to follow. I’ve been working with Laura at Fryfit for 12 weeks, and I am, genuinely enjoying the increase in focus and img_0038structure. That is once I get myself out the door and actually doing it.
I get my weeks plan on a Thursday or Friday, and I will quickly make a mental plan of how it will fit it – usually swimming on Tuesday and Thursday, run at lunchtime and evening turbo on a Wednesday and weekend run and ride. I feel that this gives me a good blend of family time and training time. The problem is come Tuesday evening – usually quite late after getting the kids to bed after my daughter gets home from Brownies – I just can’t be arsed. I will just sit on the sofa having an internal battle and then re-jig the week in an attempt to justify having the evening ‘off’. I just seem unable to get myself going until I really have no option other than to either do it or drop sessions.

Typically, this coincides with another loss of discipline – eating. It goes something like “Im too tired/it’s too late/I can’t be arsed to go swimming tonight… I may as well have some biscuits with that cup of tea” or “Ooh, fish and chips for dinner?” (Laura, if you are reading this, I am NOT eating biscuits – or fish and chips – while writing this). I definitely find that this is a secondary issue, and once I sort out my training mojo the eating habits always come into line fairly quickly. But that doesn’t help now.

But, and this is the crux of it, how do I rediscover that mojo – that spark. img_0140Initially I have given myself a break – if I’m not feeling it I’m just not feeling it. I just need to deal with the training guilt in a way that doesn’t include custard creams. There is little to be gained from forcing myself out in December if I’m still resenting training come April. But I can’t live in this training hiatus for too long – see previous custard cream statement.

Fear not, for I have a plan – he tells himself. Usually I would just enter one – or a few – cross country races. It isn’t quite that easy at the moment, I’m having a few issues with a knee niggle which has been hampering the time and millage I can committee to running at the moment. This leaves one option, the bike. And one bike in particular.

At this time of year, for road cyclists, it’s all about cyclo-cross. My plan is to enter one pure out and out ‘cross race, the Lovecrossed in img_0048Gloucestershire. What awaits is an hour of mud based threshold suffering (in the best possible way) in the grounds of the country house in Poldark, with the added bonus – and potential argument fodder – of a couple’s race. The second race I’m eying up to kick start my training hunger is the Battle on the Beach held in Pembrey Country Park. It differs from a standard cyclo-cross format in a few ways, primarily the time spent racing. This is far more of an endurance event, comprising of around 45km of racing over sand, single and double track. The idea of the event is that whichever bike you choose (mountain, cross or fat) there will be sections where your bike is perfect, others where it is img_0243less appropriate. I have read a race report from a previous year where a guy on a fat bike barrelled into a puddle in the single track section of the course. The puddle however was far deeper than he anticipated – about a foot deep. The extra air in his tyres caused the bike to stop abruptly ejecting the poor rider into near orbit.

So, with a couple of races I mind, I really hope that I reignite my fire. Before the custard creams and fish and chips have irreversible negative effects on not only my fitness, but also before my clothes shrink too much more. And if my knee sorts its shit out I may be able to race a bit of cross country too. What? A man can dream.

Happy Christmas all, I hope you get all you hoped for, be that presents, family time, lots of food or your mojo back.img_0292

From despair to where?

So, if the silver lining is two personal bests in a few weeks (5km and half marathon) and a few seconds away from a 10km best. The cloud has been the heel injury I picked up just before, and exasperated by, the Plymouth half.

For a week after the race walking drew a wince, and sometimes an expletive muttering. This slowly improved, but hasn’t healed. The walking pain has gone, other than maybe the first few steps out of bed in the morning. Running however IMG_20160516_202229is still off the menu. Even trying to run across the road angers it. Initially I blamed my running shoes. I haven’t really gotten on with them, with blistering and numb toes being an issue – a bit of creative lacing sorted out the toes but not the blisters. A trip to my local running shop and I am the proud owner of some new running kicks, opting for the new incarnation of the trainers I ran the Eden Marathon in. I loved the Nike Zoom Elite 7s and I just hope that my relationship with the 8s is as happy.

The heel however has meant that I haven’t been able to test out the new runners. As my frustration grows, I began to research ‘running heel injuries’ and the dreaded Plantar Fasciitis comes up. I’ll admit now that up to this point I had no idea what it was, I’d just heard horror stories of long periods on the side-lines – to the point where it seemed to be the Voldemort of the running world. I have a look at the symptoms and feel my dread levels increase as I tick of the symptoms that I am showing. One article I see advices rest and some stretching and a visit to the GP if the symptoms continue for three weeks. This gives me a week to see a miraculous recovery.

That week passes with little-to-no noticeable improvement, walking is fine and no morning pain now but running is still a long way away. All too long. GP appointment made, and I manage to see a doctor the next day. Nervously I wait and I am slightly relieved when I am called in and I notice the doctor is wearing running shoes. I settle down, and explain the symptoms I am suffering. After a bit of pointing, poking and tip-toeing I get her prognosis. It’s confirmed, although I was already fairly sure, I have Plantar Fasciitis.

The confirmation doesn’t really sink in until later that evening. I don’t think it’s the being injured that really hit me. It’s frustrating yes, but it’s something that happens to anyone that partakes in sports. What I’m really struggling with is the lack of a time frame, that’s the darkest part of the cloud. A slight muscle pull – a few weeks; a broken bone – 6-8 weeks; Voldemort – who knows, potentially up to a couple of years. Man V Horse has been scrubbed from the calendar and other races later in the year that have been pencilled in will remain that way.

One thing the doctor said to me that has resonated however was ‘see this as an opportunity to try something new’. Initially I raced triathlons, but recently I have got my racing kicks from running because of its simplicity. No need for running clubs or race licences. Just enter, train, pin on number, race, and repeat. I like that. I like that because, basically, I am lazy.

If I have a free afternoon to train and given a choice of going for a run or a ride, I IMG_20160426_161800will invariably go for a ride (if I don’t have other race commitments to aim for). But I don’t race on my bike. This is mostly due to the need for a licence to enter road or circuit races, or membership of an affiliated club to enter local time trials. These aren’t huge obstacles, just a bit of bureaucracy and a bit of a financial outlay. They have however been enough to put me off bike racing. This is beginning to change.

I have entered the Plymouth Gran Fondo, which runs on the 18th of September, IMG_20160427_083153and I aim to enter a few of the local time trials over the summer months. Once the time trial season is over the Cyclocross will be about to start. Longer term I hope to use ‘cross racing to increase my confidence of cycling and racing in a group. By the start of the following road season all being well I should feel ready to give a road or circuit race a go.

Time to view this injury as a diversion, not a road block.

A tale of two halves

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 IMG_4522until 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 IMG_4547sent 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.

Pace analysis (2.5km laps)

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.


Do you even gym, Bro?

I was recently asked by a friend what gets me out in the winter, and I’m often met with derisory comments from work colleagues for leaving the house at 6am to run to work in inclement weather.  Essentially wouldn’t it be saner to join the gym? This got me thinking, why would I join a gym? The obvious reason is that they are relatively expensive for something that I don’t really enjoy, but there are more nuances to it than that.

I can see the advantages to the gym, I can, and this is in no way an attack on people who use them.  They are warm, dry and have a myriad of different bits of kit for me to embarrass myself on, and there’s the crux of it. They are warm and dry because they are indoors and I like to be outside.

IMG_20160115_175824Running outside offers me so much more than just a cardiovascular workout. IMG_20151122_183914 During the week I tend to run on the road and watch the world going about its business as I go about mine.  I love the visual impact as the sun goes down and the lights come on.  At the weekend I try to get out the city landscape and hit the trails.  This doesn’t always mean leaving the city, I’m lucky living where I do that I have a number of nature reserves and wooded areas within a couple of miles of my front door.  These little pockets of ‘wild’ offer the trail running experience without having to drive all the way out to Dartmoor.  Dartmoor is an incredible, beautiful place which offers amazing running options and is worth the drive but it isn’t always a viable option.

When running on a treadmill with nothing to look at but a magnolia wall – or IMG_20150926_102349worse a mirror – I feel I’m missing something.  Early morning runs offer so much visual stimulation, from the changing tones of the sky to the chance of a – brief – sighting of the cities shyer inhabitants, most notable for me a fox darting across a graveyard and one summer I had the privilege of seeing an adder basking in the mid-morning sun (admittedly the adder was some way out of Plymouth).

The only indoor training I do is cycling on the turbo trainer.  I don’t particularly enjoy the turbo but if definitely has a place within the winter training arsenal.  I IMG_20160211_214838have blogged about using a turbo trainer before (which can be found here: and won’t go into that again.  What I find with the turbo is I can get two hours’ worth of real riding into an hour on the turbo.  Having said all that given a choice of a two hour ride out in the cold (or even the rain) and an hour on the turbo I would take the two hours on the road.  I actually rather enjoy cycling in poor weather for a couple of reasons; one of them is that I genuinely feel it makes me a better bike handler.  There is also a feel good factor from getting back from a ride in bad conditions.  Provided to can keep yourself warm and dry these rides have a true feel good factor. The feeling that a lot of people will have had a look out the window and gone back to bed.  To quote Sean Kelly “To know if the weather is too bad for training, get your kit on and go train, you’ll know when you get back”.  I particularly enjoy riding in crisp cold conditions.  The type of day where it’s so bright you have to wear sunglasses but so cold you wouldn’t even consider leaving the house without having your ears covered.

Other than the physical and technical benefits to cycling and running outdoors, it also gives me a chance to de-frag.  I think I am a better person as a result of the time I spend outdoors.  I have more patience and generally I think I’m more fun to be around.  In fact when I’m being a bit snappy with my wife she’ll ask me if I need to go out for a run!