Tips for First Time Marathoners – The London Marathon 2017

A week on, and with the pain in my legs now a distant memory, it seems the time is right to review my 4th crack at the London Marathon and 6th tilt at the distance overall. Well not really a review – more a message to myself 7 years ago and hopefully to some of you gearing up to your first marathon.

 

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So Many Messages of Support

 

Setting off for Blackheath last Sunday I’ll admit I knew I was going to run strongly and that there would be no repeat of the infamous walk/crawl/drink beer strategy adopted on my last London in 2013. I had a 3:20 and 3:25 timing band on my wrist and knew with 100% confidence I would achieve this sensible goal in my marathon journey. Quite a jump from my previous runs of 4:02, 3:57 and 4:03. The reason was simple – with a badly bruised ego after several calamitous runs I was finally ready to listen to all the advice anyone who’d ever run a marathon before had ever given me. I’d made most of the mistakes they advised me to avoid and wonder in hindsight if that had to happen for me to finally accept what they were telling me.

 

When you tell other runners you’re doing your first marathon you will hear the same things all of the the time. Guys telling you about mistakes they’ve made and warning you not to make them too. But if you’re stubborn like me you’ll convince yourself they don’t apply to you, that you are ready to hit a strong performance before you are ready. Well the reality is that if you don’t treat it with the respect it deserves the marathon will bite you on the back side. For me I’ve had to learn from my mistakes before I got to this stage. I’ve sat head in hands at the roadside. I’ve clung on to barriers. I’ve willed people to stop shouting my name and longed for the ground to swallow me up. On the flip side my stubbornness has somehow got me around each of the previous 5 marathons I’ve run.

 

If you’re lucky you might be the type of person that listens to others or you might learn some of them in training. If not remember so many factors come in to play on race day so be prepared. So much has to go right – kit, weather, nutrition, health, pacing, ablutions etc. As a result your first marathon is unlikely to be your best or even the most pleasant experience but like most tough things in time you’ll only remember the good bits. You’ll dust yourself down and get back on again.

 

 

So what makes me so happy with last week’s effort? Was it time? No it was being in a mindset beforehand that I was going to enjoy it, run consistently (perhaps even a bit within myself) and make a good stride forward in my own marathon story.

 

And that is it. The realisation that I wanted to be happy with my performance and not beat myself up about a time afterwards. It’s the first lesson I was told and the one you’ll get when you tell an experienced runner you are doing the marathon – listen to them. Be happy with your performance and don’t chase a time goal. Running 4:02 in my first really annoyed me when I should have been really pleased I could get around and proud of that fact.

 

What else should you know?

 

Lesson two is let the field go. I’ve learned to pace races well in the last few seasons and every race I go to sees most folk hitting the start too fast and fading in the second half. Nothing gives you the feeling of a strong performance better than being able to pick up speed in the home straight (well maintain your pace in the marathon – hanging on in the final miles is as good as speeding up). Consistent splits will see you reel similar runners in who set off too fast. This is a timely boost (albeit based on the suffering of others but I’ve been the other so it’s ok). Negative splitting is difficult in the marathon but consistent pacing is possible for all.

 

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A Career in Professional Pacing Beckons

 

Lesson 3 – listen to your body and adjust your goal accordingly. You’ll know by mile 9 how you are feeling. Do a body MOT from head to toe. If this is starting to sound a bit like the runner’s cliche bingo it’s because the things you always hear are right. So if it’s not your day treat it as a training run and drop the goal pace. Trying to stick with Plan A when it is not going well will result in a really tough day out, probably a world of pain and maybe even some tears (I mean dust in my eye).

 

Lesson four – don’t let a costumed runner dictate your race strategy. Trying to stay ahead of someone dressed as a banana isn’t sticking to your race plan. It’s messing with your speed and that banana is just going to pass you later in the race. It’s a long way and that banana is probably a sub 3 hour marathoner once peeled. It’s a potential banana skin 🙂

 

 

Lesson five – when the pacer for your life goal goes past consider letting them go. When the 3:15 bus went past me last week I was so content it actually felt good letting them disappear over the horizon. It meant I was on pace. They should be getting further ahead of me. Rewind 3 years and I would have been trying to cling on to them for dear life. This resulted in the 3:30, 3:45 and 4:00 paceall passing me before the finish line. That’s a poor outcome in any book.

 

Lesson six – do not worry about your pace until the crowd thins. If you’re first mile is a minute down from goal pace, bonus. You’ve just had an easy mile and you’re in better shape than expected for the final 25.2. Unless you have the self discipline to catch it up at 2 seconds a mile for the final 25 let it go. If you try and catch it up you’ll bust yourself as you’ll try to do it in those very important first miles. Relax in to the race. Aim to feel strong certainly at half way. Similarly do not weave in and out at the start to get on pace. This will increase your total distance. 26.2 is crazy, who wants to run any more.

 

And that is about it. I was so determined to enjoy it and run steady that the miles flew by. The route merge where the Red and Blue starts come together and Cutty Sark passed the first 50 minutes with a carnival of music and dance as we passed through different boroughs. I was having a blast and the greatest danger of cramp was in my cheeks as I laughed and smiled my way along the first half of the run. Turning the corner to Tower Bridge I allowed myself to enjoy the iconic sights and crowd at one of the most special parts of the course. Turning right towards the notorious Isle of Dogs I cheered the elite runners coming the other way – 9 miles further up the road – rather than curse them for being so close to the end.

 

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Mile 14 – This Year The Banana Thorn in My Side Was a Giant Corn in the Cob

 

 

Another strategy I adopted from around mile 9 this time around was to count down the miles rather than count up. Mentally this helped in bringing the finish line closer and closer with each marker. Seeing my support crew twice helped as well as chasing the Road Runner vest several hundred metres ahead of me. The World Record for fastest Bishop, Monk and Nun was either just in front or behind me for most of the race meaning the crowds were noisier than normal and with the weather brightening up over the morning there seemed to be more people on the route than ever before.

 

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Mile 21 – Still Enjoying It But Lost The Ability To Direct Waves At People I Know

 

And so as I exited Canary Wharf I did another top to bottom body MOT and was in good shape aside from a nasty chafe on my right ankle – a new one on me. Vaseline-d up I was able to keep going with only minor discomfort. A great feeling with approximately seven miles to go. Then as always it gets tough and you need to dig deep. From the elite through the club runners to the run-walkers this is the same and what unites everyone who runs the marathon. If it was easy everyone would do it. Keeping going is the last thing you want but knowing you are well prepared and getting closer to home with every step will see you through.

 

This time around it was mile 22-24 when I started to hurt but nowhere near how bad it had been before and perhaps that is what got me through. I’d made mistakes by not listening to others and hurt big time in 2013 but maybe that is what it took for me – to learn the hard way. And then you see Big Ben and it still hurts. I used the mile dedication strategy for the final seven miles, thinking of someone during each mile. This hadn’t been planned and I found myself thinking of quite different people when the going got tough. This definitely helped.

 

And then you get near the finish and people tell you it starts to get easier again. Well this is one piece of advice that is wrong 🙂 It doesn’t get easier and the 1 mile to go, 800m to go, 600m to go and 400m to go will make you want to punch whoever thought it was a good idea to cruelly count down such massive distances at that stage of a marathon. The only one that helps is rounding the corner at Buckingham Palace with 200m to go and seeing that iconic finish line.

 

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Crossing the line in 3:22:31 I had managed a 35 minute course pb and a 22 marathon pb. I know I could have run faster but I was delighted. Anything faster would have been too big a risk, too big a jump and I wouldn’t have had a really great experience. So that is what a good performance is for me now. Incremental improvements towards my goals making sure I continue to learn how to run. The simplest of things but a much more complex sport than I ever imagined when I decided to become a runner back in 2010 with my first London Marathon.

 

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Lisa Covered As Many Miles As Me Out On The Course Supporting

 

It is such a great event. Full of emotion with great stories, real people, amazing sights and vocal support all around. I am really glad to have been lucky enough to take part in four. My only regret was not listening to other marathoners sooner.

 

Or perhaps all this is sentimental rubbish and the reason I ran so well was that I dressed backwards. Wearing my vest back to front in particular made The Boy’s year.

 

Alloa Half Marathon!

This morning was a funny one for me. Alloa had been a target that I set myself back in January, as I was just starting to get some fitness back, after a fall from a curb in December left me with a badly sprained ankle and a severely bruised ego. Instead I found myself packing a bag to spectate at the event after the National X-Country of three weeks ago left me with stress damage to my shin. As much as I was gutted to be missing the race itself, I was excited to have the chance to see plenty of our ‘Runbetweeners’ running group in action – some of whom were taking part in their first ever attempt at the distance.

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As we drove down to Alloa the forecast was mixed. Glasgow seemed destined for rain but the BBC were adamant that the weather at our destination would merely be ‘cloudy’. Pulling into Alloa however it was clear that this would not be the case and, as the sun broke through a sky as blue as my Bella vest, I found myself shedding layers and preparing for a hot one. The run was a busy one and a crowded start area generated a fantastic atmosphere as the unconventional choice of ‘Westlife’ blared out over the speakers –  I guess that’s one way to ensure people get a quick start out of the blocks!

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The runners passed me by after a one mile loop brought them back round past the start and it was exciting to see the lead pack being chased down by a group including Colin  Thomas of Bellahouston Harriers and Shaun Lyon of Greenock Glenpark Harriers. As other familiar faces made their way down the course, it was nice to be able to offer a cheer of support and report back to interested parties. It wasn’t long before Paul Burningham flew by as the first of the Runbetweener contingent. Paul’s recent form has shown fantastic progress and he seems to be setting himself a PB every time he dons his trainers. Today would be no different.

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It was exciting to be watching Vicki taking part in her first half marathon since completing her debut at ‘Balloch to Clydebank’ last year. As she glided past enthusiastically, it was fantastic to see the progress that she also has made with her running and it was clear that she would be looking for a big PB today.

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Once the remaining runners had disappeared around the corner I set about on the most important mission of the morning: coffee. Rumour had it there was a D’nisi in Alloa and I was determined to find it. I was in luck. A short walk into the town centre and I was rewarded with a huge cappucino and the weather even took another turn for the better! I made my way back round the course away from the finish in order to see the runners coming into the final mile.

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Colin was the first Bella Harrier to come flying past en route to a finish time of 73:58 while Russell Whittington of the Road Runners, fresh from a Kenyan training camp with Colin, crossed the line in 78:13. There were several good performances in windy conditions including a great run by Neil Nairn who managed to improve on his time from last year by an impressive 5 minutes.

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I started to make my way back to the finish and it was great to see all of the Runbetweeners racing hard as they made their way down the long final stretch towards the welcoming, inflatable archway. At the finish line we discussed the race over some home baking and free samples of a strange BCAA concoction that was being handed out. Generally, the feedback was very positive with the event seeming to generate a good atmosphere and enough runners to maintain a good depth to the field. It was highlighted however that several water stations had run out by the time that some of our runners reached them and that the large crowds and limited toilet facilities meant that several runners missed the start as they were waiting in queues. I can only imagine that the unexpected hot weather meant that more water was being consumed than the organisers may have anticipated but it was a shame that some of the runners then had to endure the heat with no way of re-hydrating themselves. Hopefully this is something that is addressed for next year’s event.

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This was a fantastic turnout from the Runbetweeners and we managed to get 14 of the group across the finish line! Hopefully we can choose another race in the near future to target and get another great showing. Well done to the following Runbetweeners who absolutely smashed it today: Paul, Jill, Susan, Sarah, June, Jacqueline, Vicki, Pauline, Anne, Kirsty, Angela, Stephanie, Liz, Jennifer (Sorry if I’ve missed anyone!)

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Running with an Olympic Legend!

Last Friday I finished work, jumped on the train and made my way down to Sheffield for my sister-in-law’s birthday. After a fantastic evening filled with food, drink and catching up,  I set my alarm for an early morning adventure at Sheffield Hallam parkrun. Now I have actually done this parkrun before however last time I was sneaking out of my hotel on the morning of my brother’s wedding armed simply with a map and my barcode. This time I was a little better prepared and had the luxury of a lift and some company for my morning as my dad would be running also while my mum and brother watched on with a coffee.

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As we walked into the park things looked much busier than my last encounter here. On my run in December 2014 there had been just 354 people taking part, on this Saturday there were over 700. There had been rumours circulating that local hero and Olympic Gold Medalist Jessica Ennis would be taking part in her first parkrun on this very morning and it appeared that this prospect had drawn out a lot of runners! I was a little starstruck when I lined up alongside Jess on the startline but I managed to get a cheeky selfie before the run instructions began and she was great.

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As the countdown to the start began it became clear that this would be a congested start. The BBC had cameras on Jess as she lined up at the front and I think a lot of people were keen to get in the picture! After a few seconds we were away and it took me a while to find my stride. The initial section of the course involves a small loop before heading straight back up the path from which you have started. In these busy conditions it was a little tricky to maneuver through the crowds but eventually things opened up and we climbed the path through Endcliffe Park. The route follows a gentle slope up alongside a rive until eventually leaving the park. A sharp right turn then leads into a long steady downhill section on the pavement just outside the park itself. On my first lap it felt as though it took up to this point for my legs to really get going (possibly due to my poor warmup – I may have been slightly distracted by Jessica Ennis!) but the long downhill really gave me a chance to open up and get some pace going.

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At the bottom of the hill it was another short loop inside the park before heading back up the slope again. This time around I found that I was overtaking runners and gaining on the runner in front. I started to settle into my rhythm a little and began to feel strong. As I hit the top of the hill I turned right and prepared to push down the hill towards the finish but things were just a little crowded. The pavement was only really wide enough for two people side by side so it made it a little tricky to pass. I was able to pick up the pace a little but definitely had more in the tank.

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Coming into the finish again was very busy but the marshals were fantastic. The huge turnout made it a little awkward as the final mini-loop is very tight and it is a little difficult to get through the traffic to the finish funnel. The parkrun volunteers did a great job however of making this as clear as possible and, while it maybe cost me a few seconds, it was a great atmosphere and a lovely route.

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After the run I got chatting to a few people from other parkruns. Notably, Paul Sinton-Hewitt was taking part and made the time to have a chat with me about parkrun. I told him of my experiences on the core team at Rouken Glen junior parkrun and of my trip to Bushy park on Christmas morning. He was brilliant and had plenty to say about running in Glasgow and of his experiences with the community. I also had a good chat with a guy from Woodhouse Moor parkrun who was working his way round the Yorkshire events.

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All in all this was a great morning. My two Sheffield Hallam parkrun experiences have been fantastic and both stand out for different reasons. I wonder what will happen next time I am down…

The Runbetweeners Review 2016

At this time of year (well we’re a week late but most of you will be used to us being late by now) folks normally sit down, reflect on the previous 12 months and plan for the year ahead. It’s been a pretty phenomenal year running wise both on the track (and road, trail and hill) and off it with visits to old and new races near and far including some international excursions, the growth of our own running group and the launch of Rouken Glen Junior parkrun. A year of pb’s for both of us but what have been the highlights?

Between us we have raced a lot in the last year making it hard to narrow down the list to just 10. Therefore we went for 12 So here follows the countdown of our best 12 races from 2016.

Look out for next week’s blog post as we pick 12 races for 2017.

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  1. Springburn parkrun (Kenny) – 14th of May 2016

This one makes the list as I managed to break 19 minutes for the 5k for the first time in a shiny new pb of 18-47 (gaining qualification to the elite sub 19 minute pack at the Harriers). Jack, in the middle of a heavy training schedule, decided to pace on this one allowing me to shadow him around the two loop course. Running in a small pack is something that I’ve learned this year can be extremely effective in pursuit of personal best times. An added bonus on this one was gate-crashing Springburn’s 2nd birthday celebrations meaning there was cake aplenty at the finish.

https://therunbetweeners.wordpress.com/2016/05/14/happy-birthday-springburn-parkrun/

    11. Polaroid Clydebank 10k (Jack) – 19th May 2017.

The Polaroid series has been a staple of my running calendar for the last few years and in 2016 I approached it in a slightly different way. In the past I had entered all four events but this year I decided to enter just one and to target it for a personal best. I was over the moon to break 33minutes for the first time here and this made it a highlight of the year for me!

https://therunbetweeners.wordpress.com/2016/05/20/polaroid-clydebank-10k-2016/

  1.  Brian Goodwin 10k (Kenny) – 17th of June 2017

Another pb for me on a brilliant evening in Pollok Park. After dipping under 40 minutes for the first time at Troon a few weeks before, I was delighted to take a good chunk off  my 10k time finishing in 39-30. An annual event, the race is organised by our club – Bellahouston Harriers. Knowing I was pacing the Men’s 10k a couple of days later, I decided to take this one easy but felt good from the start and again used similar runners to pull me along. Moral of the story: if you are feeling in the zone just go for it. A two lap course, the route takes in many of the flatter parts of the park and Haggs Road. To top it off entry includes a beer and a burger. What more could you ask for?

https://therunbetweeners.wordpress.com/2016/06/17/brian-goodwin-10k-2/

     9. parkrun du Bois de Bolougne. (Jack) – 26th March 2017.

What better way to spend my birthday that by striding around a Parisian park – they even let me cross the line first (there’s no winning in parkrun, apparently). This was my first international parkrun and was followed with cake and champagne under the Eiffel Tower. An awesome day and a birthday I will never forget!

https://therunbetweeners.wordpress.com/2016/03/31/a-parisian-parkrun/

  1. #Glasgowparkrunsmashup (Both) – 15th of April 2016

2016’s answer to the Clyde Trail this was the one that was meant to send us trending worldwide. Unfortunately while we were up before dawn the rest of the running world was asleep, uninterested or both. The idea was simple – run each of Glasgow’s 5 parkrun routes in one go arriving at Pollok in time for the 9-30 start. As usual planning a sensible route was almost the undoing of this challenge as we cycled between each of the parks. Much harder than anticipated when the idea was hatched over a beer or two – 15.5 miles of running, more on the bike and very little enthusiasm, interest or support for a daft idea making this everything a good runbetweeners challenge should be Surely still a record? parkrun UK we are still waiting on official notice…

https://twitter.com/search?q=glasgowparkrunsmashup&src=typd

https://therunbetweeners.wordpress.com/2016/04/17/glasgow-parkrun-smash-up/

     7. Bushy parkrun (Jack) – 25th December 2016

This Christmas I decided to head back to where it all began and took part in Bushy parkrun. Lining up alongside 1200 other parkrunners for a free 5k run on Christmas morning was incredible and the atmosphere was even better than I had expected. I will definitely be back!

https://therunbetweeners.wordpress.com/2016/12/25/bushy-parkrun-a-christmas-cracker/

  1. Dunoon Ride and Run (Kenny) – 2nd of April 2016

A momentous day as I topped the podium at this event in my hometown. Put together by the team at No Fuss Events the concept of this one is to bring the cycling enduro concept to running. Basically there are four timed stages and you can walk / jog or sprint between each. A 5k out along the prom is stage 1. Stage 2 is a gentle uphill trail section of around a mile. Stage 3 is two laps of the ash track at the local stadium. The final stage is a trail and road downhill smash up finishing on the newly restored pier. Total times from all four stages are added together and the lowest time wins. Simple. In this case the winner was shocked – especially since I’d taken a wrong turn on the first 5k section. My first and likely only victory – hopefully the event never happens again and I can lay claim to the title for the rest of my running days!

https://therunbetweeners.wordpress.com/2016/04/02/dunoon-ride-run/

     5. Tom Scott Memorial 10Miler (Jack) – 10th April 2016.

This was a favourite of mine in 2015 also. There is a huge field at this event and there is always an abundance of fast runners. This means that there is usually a good pack to run in. At this year’s event I felt great and managed to run with a brilliant group of good mates who were all hitting good levels at fitness at the same time. The result was a fantastic pack run with a train of Harriers and a big PB for myself.

https://therunbetweeners.wordpress.com/2016/04/11/tom-scott-memorial-10miler/

  1. The SouthSide Six (SS6) Kenny – 6th of November 2016

One of our absolute favourite races of the year and a Glasgow institution. The only reason the SS6 is not at the top of the list is that it’s been there before. This year Jack gave the run a pass leaving me to join the others toeing the line in this challenging 16-mile course. For those who’ve not done the race before it’s a 6 park tour of the south side painfully climbing to the highest peak in the two hilliest collecting stickers along the way. A brutal finish up the stairs and slopes of Queens Park, this one is always worth it for the excellent feed alone. This route sells out quickly so register for facebook updates to ensure you don’t miss out in 2017.

https://therunbetweeners.wordpress.com/2016/11/06/southside-six-2016-ss6/

     3. MOKrun 1/2 Marathon (Jack) – 29th May 2016.

Our third visit to the Mull of Kintyre and, despite not coming home with the trophy, we still loved the experience of the weekend. A friendly, well organised event with a fantastic route and a brilliant post-run Ceilidh. Magic.

https://therunbetweeners.wordpress.com/2016/06/02/running-a-mok-in-campbeltown/

      2. TCS Amsterdam Marathon 2016 (Jack) – 16th October 2016.

After four months of focused training, I finally made my way over to Amsterdam in an attempt at a new pb. A brilliant weekend and my first international Marathon – I’m sure it wont be the last!

https://therunbetweeners.wordpress.com/2016/10/19/amsterdam-marathon-2016/
And the number 1 race of 2016 in our humble opinion….

  1. Kyles 10 Miles (Both) – 10th of September 2016

This was our second visit to the Kyles of Bute and this race did not disappoint. A challenging and hilly route the 10 mile distance is a good marker to test out speed endurance. Guaranteed good weather (we’ve been twice and it’s been sunny both times), unbelievable scenery, beer on tap at the end and a BBQ followed by a ceilidh in the evening. A cracking race; low key, excellently marshalled, reasonably priced and growing in popularity year on year. A worthy winner of the title of 2016 Runbetweeners Race of the Year.

https://therunbetweeners.wordpress.com/2016/09/13/kyles-10-miles-2/

 

Finally, a short footnote to those races that didn’t quite go to plan in 2016. No prizes for guessing which race ends up in the number 1 slot. Bang goes the idea that the runbetweeners will ever make our fortune Stateside…

 

  1. Toward for a Tenner (Kenny) – 6th of August 2016

Before I go on – Jack won this race, it was brilliantly and cheerfully marshaled, well organised and positively reviewed by local and visiting runners. I’ll be going back in 2017 and this race offers excellent value relative to other similar half marathons.  The addition of a 10k race makes this an inclusive running festival. Any negative feedback that follows is down to my own race naivety. On a positive note I suppose you learn more from the nightmare races than the ones that go well but this was everything that could go wrong in one race for me.

Starting far too fast and thinking I was in much better shape than I was, I decided to launch an attack on a near 5 minute pb on this one. There is no excuse really as this is my neck of the woods therefore I should have anticipated the wind factor which made running out in the first half a much more demanding effort than it would otherwise have been. Struggling badly the group I was in gradually put some serious distance between me and them as a stream of runners gradually passed me with words of genuine encouragement.

 

However I couldn’t help but slow to a near standstill by mile 7 reaching a point of exhaustion usually associated with a heavy session of sprint intervals or hill reps. Burned out by half way I managed to drag myself home thanks to the support and encouragement of my friends from Dunoon Hill Runners who were out in force (plus the fact is was an out and back course and all my gear was back at the start line). The first race I’ve run/walked in a long time and a massive positive split on the second half of the race. Meeting a friend who suffered an underwear malfunction and was running pantless for the final miles perked my spirits at mile 10 giving me the last ounce of strength to jog home the final 3 miles. The closest I’ve come to DNF’ing yet.

https://therunbetweeners.wordpress.com/2016/08/08/toward-for-a-tenner/

  1. Nationals – Short Course X Country (Kenny) – 5th of November 2016

Not a bad run – in fact I ran pretty well. Also not down do my hatred for the terrain as I’ve enjoyed the x-country much more this year. Perhaps I’m developing a love for the grass and mud as I become more experienced, fitter or maybe it was just down to the fact the weather has been much better than equivalent events in 2015.

This had all the ingredients to be a good one – I’d been training well, top athletes such as Laura Muir were competing and the event was reasonably close by meaning we could get there early enough to see some of the top junior and female races.

However the choice of venue was a strange one. The route was a two lap, pancake flat circuit around a playing field. Single file around the park perimeter the route lacked imagination or the challenge you would normally associate with such a prestigious race in the Scottish Athletics’ calendar. As a result it didn’t get a look in on the blog. Shame.

The worst race of 2016 award goes to…

1. Sommer Sports Florida Clermont 5k (Jack) – July 2016

You will have heard me rant about this one before I am sure but what kind of race doesn’t set up the finish line! Having got up early on my honeymoon to go and race this 5k in Florida, I was loving leading the pack for the whole race. I built myself up a nice lead and kept running for the finish – only to find that the finish line wasn’t there yet! I kept running down the road until I realised there was a problem and when I turned back the finish line had been constructed behind me! Witnesses at the end of the race spoke to the organisers and it was decided that I would still get the trophy but an angry competitor (relegated to second place) kick up a fuss and I did not get it. The organisers then ignored my email (I know I got petty!) and refused to respond to my questions on Twitter. I’m going to stop writing about it now because it’s getting me angry again haha -for more info read the review 😉

https://therunbetweeners.wordpress.com/2016/07/23/there-is-no-finish-line/

 

 

Bushy parkrun: A Christmas Cracker!

Having hurt my ankle attempting to run to parkrun in Leamington last week, I took the entire week leading up to Christmas off running. The sudden removal of running from my life was a bit of a shock to the system and I was keen to get back into the swing of things. This year I am spending Christmas at my parents’ house just outside of Croydon and so decided to ease back into things with a bit of parkrun tourism – and where better to pay a Christmas visit than the place where it all began: Bushy parkrun.


Lining up before the run (not a race! 😉) it was clear that this would be an experience. 1262 people (including Santas, Elves and the odd turkey) made their way through the misty park to congregate at the start line and there was a powerful dose of Christmas spirit in the air! 


The sheer volume of runners definitely gave the event an added buzz; the start line must have been forty people wide and the crowds wound their way back across the park. I was not planning a fast one today but didn’t really want to get stuck right at the back so I took up a position three or four rows from the front – squashed tightly between a man in a turkey hat and a woman dressed as a Christmas Pudding!


As the starter announced “Go!”, the charge was on and chaos ensued for a couple of hundred yards as people jostled for position but things eventually spread themselves out as we hit the first bit of path and made our way across the park. I was a little worried about my ankle today and was only intending a slow jog round but the atmosphere swept me up. As the watch beeped to tell me I had actually run a fairly quick first mile I made an effort to slow things down and settled into a group. Fortunately my ankle felt ok so after a slower second mile I decided to see if I could make up a few places and started working my way up the field – I couldn’t let the guy in a full elf suit beat me!


Coming into the final section of the race I jumped out of my skin as a huge stag appeared just to the side of the path on which I was running! I then spotted the other seven or eight deer which were grazing just behind it. I couldn’t believe these huge animals were quite happily minding their own business so close to a path which had over a thousand people (many covered in jingle bells!) running along it. Amazing.


As I crossed the finish line I was surprised to see that I had managed to work my way up to fourth position. I was also pretty impressed (if somewhat confused) with the huge, twin funnel! Nevertheless, the funnel management was impeccable and it was clearly a well oiled machine! Dad also had a good run, crossing the line in a new course PB, and we made our way home for a full fry up before crashing on the sofa with a beer and Christmas TV. 


A huge thanks to all at Bushy parkrun for an awesome event, dad for the lift and mum for the breakfast  – is there a better way to start Christmas than parkrun?  

Renfrewshire X-Country Champs 2016

This year I missed the start of the cross country season due to being focused on the Amsterdam  Marathon in the middle of October. I enjoyed spectating at a few of the events but was definitely missing out on the challenge and camaraderie which seems to be such a prominent feature of cross country races; there is something about running through the cold, wet mud with a load of like-minded (odd) people which generates an atmosphere like no other. So it was that I found myself lining up on the start line at the Renfrewshire Championships for my first x-country of the season.

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The rain stayed away and the cold was soon forgotten after a decent warm up with a few of the other Harriers. We just about made it back to slip on the spikes, lose the layers and get in a few strides before being called back to take our positions on the line. As I looked to my right I spotted a few exceptional runners from Inverclyde who looked like they meant business as well as a few mates from other clubs whom I knew would be looking to put down some fast times.

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A blast of a whistle announced the start of the race and we were off. After an overenthusiastic burst away from the start I realised I had been a little over-keen and so dropped the pace to settle into a rhythm. I found myself striding along with Cris Walsh sat on my shoulder for the duration of the first lap. I knew Cris would be putting in a good performance on the back of an excellent year including a great result representing Scotland in X-Country last weekend. We continued to run together until I nearly took him out when I lost my footing turning a corner on lap two. We both recovered very quickly, and I don’t think my time was affected in any way, but I was unable to match Cris as he strode away up the hill. I settled into my stride and, naively, believed I would make up any lost ground on  Cris over the downhill section that would follow. Needless to say, this didn’t happen! Any ground that I was able to make up was soon lost again as  I found myself struggling to match his pace on the uphill sections of the course.

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As we hit the final lap I put in a final burst and managed to close the gap on Cris slightly but it was too little, too late. I finished the race in 32:55 (8seconds behind Cris) to take 9th place. We managed to claim bronze in the Men’s competition and there were some great results for the Harriers all round. Cris did well to claim silver in the V40 race while Anne Macfie took bronze in the V50 category.

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This was a great day, and I definitely will have benefited from the session, but I did finish a little disappointed with my performance. I struggled to find my rhythm and my splits would suggest that I switched off a little in the middle.This was definitely a learning experience however and it was nice to get a proper race under my belt after my marathon. It has definitely given me a focus again and a renewed motivation to get things back on track. Next week is the Glasgow Uni 5 Miler and I cannot wait to toe the start line once more…

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Run to the Hills!

Last week I fell victim to Kenny’s latest scheme – taking on a hill run! I have always been intrigued by the concept of hill running and have often thought that I would actually quite like to give one a go. I do enjoy getting off road and exploring when out for a run so I figured that powering up and down a hill could be fun! When it transpired therefore that Kenny, Iain and Paul – all fellow Harriers – would be heading out to Tinto for a 4.5 mile challenge, I found myself signing up.

After a journey filled with whispers of the difficulty that would face us, we arrived at the base of the hill. And what a hill it was! Tinto towered over us as we collected our numbers and prepared for the race.

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With the Renfrewshire X-Country Championships coming up the following week, I had been advised to watch my footing during this event – the loose, rocky surface and rapid descent could potentially be hazardous. With this in mind, I decided to use the run more as a training exercise than a flat out race and I am definitely glad that I made that decision!

Standing at the base of the hill, I tucked myself into the middle of the pack and, on the gun, began my ascent. I made a conservative start, aware of the long climb ahead, and found myself slowly moving up the field. At about two-thirds of the way up I started to really feel the burn in my quads and, as the runners around me slowed to a walk, I joined them and found myself striding up the hill for much of the final section.

GOPR1830.JPGCircling the cairn at the top of the hill, I decided to try and stretch the legs out on the way down in order to make up a few places. I took a dozen speedy strides down the hill before I realised that I had absolutely no control over my pace! Panic set in and I reminded myself of the other races on the horizon. I settled into a pace which I found fast enough but at which I still felt I was in control of my legs (just about!) and less likely to do myself some damage.

At about half way down the hill, the path became a little more clear and I was able to push the pace on a bit and finish the race with a sprint. On the descent I had been overtaken once and had managed to overtake one person myself, leaving me sitting in 18th position. The other Harriers had put in some decent performances also with Iain finishing 69th, Kenny 90th and Paul in 95th despite a fall on the way down.

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Sitting in the cafe afterwards with a pot of tea and a huge scone, we reflected on the afternoon’s race. I had enjoyed the experience but I felt a little lackluster about the race itself. The event was very well organised, great value and had a brilliant atmosphere but I did not feel challenged in the same way that I do when racing on the roads. I felt that my commitment to a number of other races meant I was unable to really commit to the downhill section and therefore did not feel that I had pushed my body physically. I believe that, were I a committed hill runner, and that this had been my target race of the season, I would have got more out of it but it felt like I had too much to lose by really pushing it.

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I’m sure loads of people will disagree with me but I came away thinking road running is more of a challenge. When you have no ‘obstacle’ to overcome, the ‘race’ becomes more pure – there is nothing to hide behind other than your own fitness. Over a 10km flat road race, for example,  I can push my body to its absolute limit. In future I will continue to run on hills but I think I will only use them as training runs – they don’t mean enough to me to risk injuring myself and ruining my season. This was a fun day out, and a good experience, but I haven’t been converted to hill running just yet!

 

Amsterdam Marathon 2016

Having secured myself a satisfying personal best at the London Marathon back in 2015 (read about it here!), I made the decision to skip the 2016 event in order to focus on my first ever autumn marathon. The theory behind this was twofold: firstly, it would enable me to develop some speed over shorter distances by focusing on my 5k and 10k racing through the spring, and also that it would enable me to complete a substantial part of my marathon build up during the summer holidays when I would have more time to train and recover. It was incredibly frustrating therefore when I fell victim to a series of minor injuries in the early stages of 2016. Despite these setbacks, I was able to start my marathon training block 12 weeks ago upon the return from my holiday in Florida.

The training went about as well as I could have hoped. I had to be cautious building up the miles each week in order to avoid aggravating my earlier injuries but I also had to be prepared to take some risks or I would stand no chance of hitting the sort of times that I was hoping to achieve. This fine balance was one which I would obsess over and each week I made careful notes in my training diary of any slight niggles or concerns that arose in every session.

I was incredibly fortunate to have a very knowledgeable training partner in Colin Thomas for this undertaking. Colin has a marathon PB of 2:33 and was recently back from a training block in Kenya where he had spent time talking to some of the most successful marathon coaches in the world. Colin also gave me feedback on my gait along with some exercises to help improve my running and help me to avoid injury. We trained together as frequently as possible over the months leading up to the race and I felt my running improving dramatically every week. We both had similar goals for this race and having somebody to train with on the long, hard sessions was invaluable. I also benefited from the detailed feedback and advice offered by Matt Brown who helped me understand a lot of the theory behind the sessions which I was undertaking. It was thanks largely to these sessions that I found myself sitting in my hotel in Amsterdam the night before the race with a belly full of pasta and a feeling of confidence that I was in the best shape of my life.

5:30am. The alarm screeched across the hotel room – I had taken no chances with the volume control – and I was immediately alert. During my training I had experienced a few issues with stitches and had decided that I needed to allow a little longer between the start of the race and breakfast. After a moment of sheer panic, during which I thought we had no kettle in the room (Vicki did not appreciate being woken up to help me fix this!), I realised I could get boiling water from the Nespresso machine and was able to prepare my trusted pre-race fuel of porridge to go with the slightly squashed banana that had traveled in my suitcase from Glasgow in case I couldn’t find one in Amsterdam! I washed the whole lot down with an espresso and began sipping my bottle of Isostar. The entire operation was completed by 6am and I then found myself in the slightly awkward situation of having a couple of hours to kill without waking Vicki. A little stretching and yet another read through of the race instructions filled some of this time before I gave up and tried in vain to get a little more sleep.

Leaving the hotel as the rest of the city slept, I made my way to Colin’s hotel so that we could travel to the start together. Our train was filled with the smell of deep heat and the sound of nervous voices, whispering away in a hundred languages, as the morning commuters tried coming to terms with the challenge that awaited them. We poured off the train and into the area surrounding the Olympic Stadium. Our race would begin on the track itself under the gaze of a stadium filled with supporters. Once we had squeezed through the entrance and found ourselves on the start line the atmosphere was fantastic – although the very narrow start line meant that the crowding was a little uncomfortable. A few minutes to warm up and we were ready to go.

The start of the race was a tricky one: 17000 people all trying to run on an 8 lane running track is never going to be easy. Nevertheless, we made our way out of the stadium and away from the city. I found myself settled early on into a small group of about half a dozen runners that included Colin and also our former club mate Stuart Macdougall. We hit a steady pace and began counting down the miles.

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The first section of the race was fairly uneventful and to be honest I can’t remember any of the course itself. At the 11km mark we were greeted with a cheer from Vicki and Leigh which perked us up a bit and then things returned to normal  until we hit the canal path a few miles further in. This was a section which I had been warned could be very lonely as there would be no spectators and the route would be highly monotonous. I was very lucky to be running in a group with friends as there was some good banter as we made our way along here which helped keep us ticking along.

We hit the halfway point in about 76 minutes and I felt fantastic. The pace was manageable and I felt strong. I was a little annoyed however that my drinks bottles – which the organisers had offered to place out on the course for me – had not materialised. I am not sure how this happened but neither of my bottles ended up being where they were supposed to be so I had to make do with the little paper cups of water. This made things a little tricky as trying to drink from a paper cup whilst running at speed is not a skill which I have mastered! Nevermind- I would just have to get round quickly!

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During the second half of the race our group broke up a little and Colin and I found ourselves a little isolated. It was great to see the girls again on a couple more occasions to break up the route and provide a little more motivation however aside from these moments of support the route was very quiet. As we entered the final 10km we were running on our own and the crowd was non-existent. It was about this time that my calves began to suffer. I felt a tightness come into both calves which was not enough to force me to stop but definitely gave me something to think about. The fear of not finishing started to creep in and I started to let the pace slip a little. Colin was also beginning to suffer and was experiencing bad cramps in his leg. With a couple of km to go, he told me that the cramp was causing him issues and that I should push on for the final stretch.

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As I came into the Olympic Stadium I managed to put on a bit of a burst and overtook a competitor on the final bend. I crossed the line in an official time of 2:34:13 – a 3.5 minute personal best. Whilst it was not quite as quick as I had been hoping for, I was pleased to secure a big PB and was delighted to discover that I placed 49th overall and was the 3rd Brit. It was nice to finish in the stadium but we were quickly shepherded out again and I thought it was bizarre that we were not able to get any water at the finish line. There would be no water available until we had left the stadium and reached the larger area outside.

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After the race I enjoyed my first beer in months along with a fantastic portion of fish and chips! Vicki and I spent the following day exploring the city (although mainly by boat due to my sore legs!) and eating lots of amazing food! I am pleased to have made a step forward with my marathon time and had a great weekend but I don’t think I would rush back for this particular race. The route itself was pretty uninspiring and the lack of crowd support was definitely noticeable. Whilst it was undeniably very flat, there were also very narrow elements to the route and lots of sharp bends which makes me think that it is not as fast as other courses might be. I would not have enjoyed this marathon as much as I did had I not been running in a pack containing my mates.

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I have only been home a few days but already plans are forming for the next one. Possibly London 2017? Maybe Berlin? Either way, I am looking forward to getting back down to Bella and putting in some training with the rest of the club. Besides- I’ve got cross country to deal with first!

Kyles 10 Miles

After stumbling across this picturesque race last year, Kenny and I booked ourselves in early for a return visit – it did not disappoint!

Last year we had both loved the race but it had been a last minute entry and we had not even considered the possibility of making a weekend of it. This year we knew better and decided to make the most of the event by booking ourselves in to the Kames Hotel for a couple of days to fully enjoy the post-race BBQ and ceilidh.

The 12pm start was ideal and allowed us to have a decent night’s kip and a reasonable breakfast before we would need to start thinking about warming up. Nevertheless I still felt a little disappointed at having to turn away the full cooked breakfast in order to stick to my reliable pre-race bowl of porridge! The weather was certainly better than that of the previous day and, as we made our way to the start, conditions were looking fantastic.

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I have been working my way through a marathon program over the last couple of months and, with only 5 weeks to go until my target race, this would be a real test of how effective that time had been. The hilly nature of the course meant that it would be difficult to judge my current fitness levels purely on time however I knew that I would get an idea of where I currently sit by comparing my time to that of last year. I certainly felt fitter this time around, but an official confirmation was the goal!

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As I warmed up, any hope of a first place finish disappeared when I spotted Neil Renault preparing to take his place on the start line. I also spotted Broc Drury, last year’s winner, fitting in some final stretches before taking his own place and I hoped I would give him a good battle. Last year Broc beat me by a couple of minutes however I was confident that this year I should be able to knock some time off my previous performance and therefore believed I could hold on to him for a few miles at least (I was wrong!).

The race began with the familiar climb up and out of Tighnabruich – which seemed to never stop – and I found myself tucked in behind Neil and Broc. I soon realised as we crested the hill however that I was running a little too fast and that I would have to let the pair of them get away. And so they did – quickly! I settled into a steady rhythm and felt good despite the horrifically undulating first few miles.

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As I reached the half way point I was still sitting in 3rd and felt great. I calculated that I was on for a pb and decided to try and pick up the pace a little, safe in the knowledge that the remainder of the course would be relatively flat. It was also at around this point that I remembered to actually look around and take in the spectacular surroundings that I was encountering. Last year I barely noticed the beauty of the route as I was too busy staring at the road before me! Some of the sights were truly stunning and I started to plan less strenuous trips to explore the area further in future.

During the second half of the race I started to pass the walkers who were completing the same route but had started earlier in the morning. This was a great distraction as I had been running solo for a while now and the cheers of support were fantastic motivation to keep pushing. I will be the first to admit that I struggle to maintain pressure on myself to really push hard when I am running alone and the eyes of these walkers was exactly what I needed to inspire me to keep digging deep.

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Coming into the final miles I was pleased to note that I still felt strong. I knew I was running much faster than I had done last year and my legs were feeling surprisingly fresh after all of the climbing in the first half of the race. I was able to  maintain a nice pace into the final mile and then really kick for home when I spotted to huge gazebo that promised the finish and a burger!

I was over the moon to finish in 56:51 – two and a half minutes quicker than last year and nearly thirty seconds inside the previous course record. Neil had managed to win in an incredible 53:33 with Broc crossing the line just over a minute later.

As I crossed the line it was great to be joined by Vicki and Lisa, along with Kenny’s dad, to cheer Kenny to the finish as he managed to sneak inside the top 20. Burgers were eaten and we wandered over to the local pitches to take in some of the shinty before grabbing a cuppa and a cake in a local tearoom. After that it was a chance for some shuteye and recovery before hitting the post-race ceilidh (and fantastic buffet) where we learned how to dance like helicopters.

All in all this was a brilliant weekend and I will definitely be back!