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?  

West Districts: X-Country

After a gentle warm up tail running at junior parkrun this morning it was down to Ayr for the West Districts. Cross Country and me are not great friends but the Renfrewshire and West District events provide a decent platform for the mere mortals like myself without the fear I associate with the National events. Despite being lapped by many of the superstars at this event this year I was determined to put on a better showing today.

 

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Brilliant Setting on a Crisp Winter’s Afternoon

 

Arriving just in time to see the ladies passing on lap 2 of 3 there was just enough time to cheer them through, get stripped and screw in the cross country studs. Glad I remembered after running the event in Renfrew in my track spikes. A gentle warm up to see the hills which I had missed on the way in proved this was going to be a trickier course but the ground seemed good to firm – as ideal as it gets at cross country. Heading over to the start line though it became clear that the curse of the men’s race was to strike the course too – a route totally churned up by a packed morning and early afternoon of racing. This made for heavy work around the home straight and start area on each of the four laps.

 

Settling in behind an obviously more experienced cross country runner I hugged the edge of the route desperately seeking some firmer ground and remembering the best line for subsequent laps. The Boy flew out of the traps and seemed to be winning his personal battle as I saw him tear off into the distance. While the first half of the lap was boggy in parts the second half was undulating. The hills won today for me with the second half of each lap being more favourable than the first.

 

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The Boy in Full Flow

 

 

Around the half way mark The Boy approached on the other side of the tape telling me he had put around 600metres between us in just under two laps. This made me fearful that a potential ‘lapping’ by some of the big guns might be on the cards again. This drove me on during lap three alongside some incredible cheering (a lot of random shout outs about hash tagging from the Bella Babes) which lifted the spirits at the traditionally tricky mid race stage.

 

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Leaning Back and a Concerning Complexion

 

Gunning it down the home straight for the third time I was pleased to be picking off one or two runners by adopting a wide and firm race line. Feeling strong (I definitely went off way too easy again) I was even more pleased to cross the start line without being lapped this year. So much so I skipped a little jig of joy and almost fell flat on my face in the mud. Refocused and with only a lap to go I managed to take another couple of places. An enjoyable run out but one I should perhaps have pushed harder – something I definitely need to try and bring over from my road running and a pretty common theme from the cross country events I have done to date.

 

 

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New Shoes Purchase This Morning 😦

Great course, great weather, brilliant podium place for the junior team and everyone’s favourite sweets and cakes in the tent afterwards 🙂 As always thanks to all the officials and marshals out on the course and involved in putting on a great event.

 

 

Drumchapel / Tollcross parkrun

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What a great morning at Tollcross parkrun yesterday. The original plan was a Team Runbetweeners visit to Drumchapel parkrun in the north of the city but that one unfortunately fell victim to the cold weather. Thanks to Brian for the early warning.

After some hastily rearranged travel plans we made our way towards the east end, scene of Jack’s wedding day run and one of numerous stops on our now infamous tour of the Clydes. Tollcross parkrun prides itself on two things – it’s hills and never having been cancelled.

Always keen to try something a bit different we were not sure if the new route would be a blessing or a curse for those trying Tollcross for the first time. The alternative course has less hills but more laps. It was very hard underfoot yesterday leading to the first challenge. Shoe selection. The lesson learned is that you can definitely have too many running shoes as I struggled to decide between road, racing and cross country shoes. Turning around for advice it was obvious that everyone else had trail shoes 🙂

After wishing everyone luck we were off. Hugging the cones around the middle field before dropping down and climbing sharply round the bank of trees. After that it’s back to the start line and repeat another three times. I set off crazily fast and was far too close to The Boy even although he was cruising. Slowing back a little I settled into a battle with two teenage boys who burned me on the downhills and who I caught on the uphills.

It was good to cross paths so often with the rest of the team who seemed to be enjoying it (of sorts). The Boy made a burst for home with about a lap and a half to go and the youngsters left me for dust around the same time.

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Two runners hit the 100 mark yesterday and the legendary John Softley was doing his 300th. This meant the post race snacks were even better than normal with a couple of customised cakes on offer. Thanks for that. A great event and we’re looking forward to heading to Drumchapel again in the near future. To complete a day of running we headed out for a 10 mile cool down followed by the Bellahouston Harriers Christmas Night out.

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!