Breaking down

I’m beginning to think I’m cursed.

Saturday morning and a beautiful clear, crisp spring affair. The third consecutive weekend longer spin out on the bike, training for my first bike event since 2013, Le Tour de Yorkshire in just over a weeks’ time. The weekend before had been a bit of a struggle, back home for the weekend and out on my 18 year old mountain bike with knobbly tyres struggling on the road and a horrific headwind. This though, was heavenly; birds chirping away as I whizzed down the country lanes of Cheshire, the sun gradually taking the edge off the early morning chill. Thirteen miles down of a potential 32 miler, a nice flattish affair with a gradual descent for the first half and the breeze behind me, about to reach the furthest point from home before swinging round and back up through Knutsford and Tatton Park. An average speed a touch under 20mph, smashing all my PBs on Strava, it felt about as good as a ride could be. The Red Arrow, freshly rebuilt and with all the gears now in order, was absolutely flying along.

Suddenly, disaster. Dropping down onto the middle ring for a gentle incline and a without warning I was greeted with a horrific crunch, followed by pieces of metal flying everywhere, my chain in pieces and my legs flailing around like Chris Froome on Mont Ventoux. The bike was fucked, and I was stranded again.

My mind drifted back to my birthday back in October. A similar story, although this was a failing of my own idiocy. Sweating up Blaze Hill near Bollington (I know how to celebrate a special occasion, okay?) and about to enjoy the descent back down into Pott Shrigley, I felt the unmistakable jarring of a flat rear tyre. Happy bloody birthday. Foolishly swapping the inner straight out without checking the outer casing, I was instantly Thorngreeted with a second flat as the tiny thorny bastard struck again, and suddenly I was stuck on top of one the highest points in Cheshire, some 14 miles from home.

Thankfully, Saturday’s disaster had an ultimately happy ending as by a remarkable coincidence, my chain had snapped five minutes walk from a local bike shop. Helpfully directed by a kindly soul sweeping his drive, in one of the last properties on the road before I would have been proper Out In The Sticks, I walked in pushing my crippled machine, and despite them clearly being in the middle of other jobs, within 15 minutes I was back on my way and only £14 worse off. Great lads.

A lucky escape then, but it really got me thinking about how bloody unlucky I’ve been over the years. My first ever proper road bike was constantly cut down by punctures and then just as I began to get a grip on them and get out and about on some longer rides, off she went. Stolen from, quite literally, under my nose by an opportunist shithouse spotting the door to my building left open.

It took me until the following August to finally replace her with The Red Arrow, and then after barely a handful of the rides came the birthday incident, a new set of wheels and a winter rebuild. A new year, a couple of pretty ropey rides with the gears slipping around all over the shop as I tried to get the indexing right and then when I finally got all that right the bloody chain exploded. Oh, and none of this is taking into account all the occasions when one of my vintage bikes has had some sort of complete mare; brake blocks and cabling failing, loose pedals, wheels and headsets, slipping chains, puncture after puncture on 30 year old tyres, a snapped saddle (!) and then the absolute nadir on KaputChristmas Eve when the entire crank fell off in the dark and pouring rain on my way home from work one evening.

I’m absolutely loving the new-found freedom of being out on the bike again, heading out to far flung places, up hill and down dale. The upturn in weather in the past few weeks mixed with me having two beautiful racing machines available has made a pleasant change to the usual start to a year, sweating and panting in the pouring rain, running up and down the same old stretches of South Manchester six days a week. But bloody hell, cycling is a pain in the arse sometimes. There’s so much that can go wrong, I can barely remember a ride without some sort of weird incident along the way.

It’s enough to almost yearn for the simplicity of going out for a run sometimes, where the only thing likely to ruin it is the usual worry about accidentally having a Paula Radcliffe moment on some of the longer runs or something. There is something beautifully pure about lacing up a pair of shoes, slapping an old football shirt and heading out just to run around for an extended period of time. But, after several thousand miles on foot, through a dozen pairs of running shoes and countless tales of sweaty woe over the past six years or so, I’m enjoying a bit of a change of pace. And with my first event of the year looming on the horizon, a lumpy 60km over some of the route of the inaugural Tour de Yorkshire, I just need to hope the bloody machines are up to the job.

A return to the road

So here we are, in April. The days are getting longer, spring is a-springing. Time for the annual running checklist. Sayonara 2New shoes? Check. Training plan in place? Kind of. Running lots and lots of training miles? Erm…not so much. Building up to the first big event of the year? Well, yes and no. Yes, I have an event in the diary. But not as I know it.

For the first time since 2011, I arrive here without a run in the calendar, this year’s pair of running shoes remain boxed away yet to see the light of day. But why? What happened? Well, dear readers, let’s just say it wasn’t entirely a conscious decision.

It all started back in December, at the peak of the daily Marcothon runs (which raised over a grand for the Booth Centre, you lovely lovely people). As is often the way, sat in the pub on a Sunday afternoon with a couple of premium-strength IPAs inside me, I began to ponder. I’d been running every day for nearly a month, and I’d be continuing to keep myself in some semblance of fitness by carrying on all through the Christmas break. The daily runs were getting easier and I’d already chucked a couple of slightly longer ones in on a weekend just for shits and giggles, because I’m a bit odd like that. I’d had an email offering me a discount entry to the Manchester Marathon and I thought about the challenge awaiting me, right here on my doorstep. I thought back to last April and the 150-odd seconds I’d missed out on the good for age time to get into London. I thought about the 12 minutes I’d lopped off my marathon PB on that occasion. Was another two and a half feasible?

The more I thought about it, the more it made sense. Conveniently forgetting the sheer horror of the last time I attempted marathon training, I began to crank the Marcothon runs up a bit and see what happened. Suddenly, the Sunday long run was into double figures, the first time that had happened since April. It felt OK. Unlike last year, most of the runs seemed to be on beautiful crisp, clear wintery mornings and it was almost a pleasure being out there. Just two days after Christmas and the long run was up to twelve miles, a week later and it was fifteen. I’d sworn back in April it’d be another two or three years (at least) before I went again for a full marathon, and yet here I was again, out running for over two hours on a Sunday morning, or nearly the same again straight from work on a Tuesday. Running six days out of seven, over 60 miles a week.

As January wore on though, it began to hit home just what a ridiculous commitment the full distance is and in the end I’m not ashamed to admit that I began to feel increasingly like I wasn’t quite ready for it again so soon. It was set to be my biggest month of running ever, hitting 170 miles in the opening three weeks alone and well on target to beat the previous best of 216. The Sunday long run by then stood at 18 miles (twice) and it was all getting A Bit Bloody Serious. It was also God forbid, A Bit Bloody Boring. All the runs seemed to be low speed chugs, and after only really running 10ks for the past six or seven months I’d forgotten how bloody dull the slow stuff can be sometimes. I got to the 23rd of January and climbed the stairs into my flat, absolutely exhausted after a ten-miler straight from work in the dark and pissing rain, with my clothes in a rucksack. I slumped against the front door and sat there. I felt a bit down, a bit sad. I thought of how far I still had to go, not even a third of the way through the 18-week plan I’d set myself. And so, after the hardest opening to a new year in living memory, I tapped out.

Instantly I felt a wave of relief wash over me, and I knew then I’d made the right decision. I’ve got nuff respect for people who constantly marathon and enter events left right and centre but for me it’s something to do every so often I think. Something special, something meaningful. Go absolutely all in for a few months, then steer clear for an extended period of time, never to speak of it again. Leave it to the other nutters for a bit.

With that decided I then set sights on a spring half. I mean, why let all that hard work go to waste, right? And I always say that it’s my favourite distance anyway; a rewarding challenge, but without the batshit mentalness of the full effort. Nothing would fall into place though: without a car I’d struggle to get to any of the further flung ones before they actually started (Oulton Park, Silverstone, Liverpool) and the only local one that I could actually get to (Wilmslow) had already sold out. I’d left it all too late and run out of options.

So, I switched focus.

Triban 3The gradual death of the marathon dream had neatly coincided with the completion of my beautiful new road bike. Bought on a whim at the tail end of last summer, I’d not had much of a chance to truly stretch her legs before a final ride of the year resulted in her being cut down in her nascent prime. A puncture, followed by an instant second puncture because I am a complete helmet and forgot to check whether the tiny thorny bastard was still in the tyre, resulted in a 14 mile ride home on a flat rear, and subsequently a dented wheelrim. But now, she was ready.

Brand new wheels, hubs, skewers and tyres, a bit like Trigger’s broom I guess as more and more of the original bike was replaced. Just like that though, a whole new world of possibilities had opened up and I sit here now with less than four weeks until my first event of 2015, and the first on the bike since 2013 when I went for a 50 mile spin of four laps of the Mancunian Way, shortly followed by my bike being nicked.

I’m back in the game. Despite a third successive knockback from RideLondon (London fucking hates me), I now have potentially four events lined up over the next six months, including an attempt at my first ever century in July and a big fundraising effort later in the year with a few comrades in tow. More on those to come, but first up it’s a crack at the big guns.

What a brilliant way to kick things off, the start of my little odyssey on two wheels. Basically, on the final day of the inaugural Tour de Yorkshire, I’ll be riding around the same route that the pro riders (including Sir Bradley Wiggins) will be hammering round later that very day. I’m not doing the full distance because I don’t even know if I can ride that far yet, not to mention the fact that Yorkshire is considerably lumpier than the pancake-like nature of most of the roads I commute on at the minute. Nevertheless, it’s a nice first challenge of the year, 60-odd kilometres with a really nasty bastard climb towards the end which looks on paper like the biggest I will have attempted on the bike to date. Game on.

So that’s where I’m at. I know it’s been a while since the last blog, as I attempted to plan what I would be doing for the year and I flopped between marathon, half marathon and now all the bike stuff. But now it’s all falling into place and I’ll be aiming for more regular posts throughout the year as each ride comes and goes, especially as the big charity ride looms up in September. I’m looking forward to having something new to bore you all about for once, rather than just banging on about sub-40 10ks or moaning about being out training in the pissing Manchester rain. OK, so you might get some of the latter but them’s the breaks with living in the North West.

Most of all, I’m just looking forward to spreading my wings a bit further afield over the summer, culminating in a huge effort with friends to raise a shedload of money for an incredibly worthy charity. As I said though, more on that later in the year, but first up I’ve got a month of training to get myself in shape for a 60km spin over the Yorkshire Dales. I’ve not ridden further than 50km for nearly two years so I’ve got a bit of work ahead of me to get myself in a decent state so I don’t embarrass myself in front of Sir Wiggo and co. I have to be honest and say I’m rather looking forward to it all. I feel positive, excited and keen to get out there and do something a bit different to the norm. Most of all though, I’m just relieved it’s not another bloody marathon.

The final run

So here we are. The 31st December 2014. The end of the year, and most importantly for me the end of the month. A 31-day challenge taken on, on a boozy whim over a month ago, is now close to completion. 31 consecutive runs, one per day, for an entire calendar month. And finally, it’s 30 down and just one to go.

After work today I will lace up one of my trusty old battered pairs of running shoes and head out for the final time in 2014, satisfied in the knowledge that I have managed to complete every single run for this year’s Marcothon. At least three miles a day, every day, through wind, rain, ice and hail (and even the occasional sunny one thrown in along the way too). I’ve run on Christmas Day, I’ve run Boxing Day. I’ve run with a cold, I’ve run with horrific hangovers and minor injuries, and I’ve (unintentionally) even run with a small yappy dog trying to nibble my ankles for a few yards too. I’ve run fast, I’ve run slow, I’ve run long and I’ve run short. On Sunday, I ran the furthest I’ve run since Marathon Day all the way back in April. I’ve run 120 miles this month and now I’m 97% through the challenge. And, remarkably, thanks to all you lovely people I’ve raised over £600 for the Booth Centre. I’m genuinely so incredibly, unbelievably happy with that. Thank you all so, so much.

I probably have to say that the favourite run of the whole month was actually Christmas Day, believe it or not. Arising early doors to squeeze it in before all the presents, family visits, eating and drinking, I headed out with a mild hangover in near-darkness and returned feeling clear headed, under resplendent blue skies having seen a stunning sunrise as it peeked out from behind the gloomy overnight clouds. Despite the time and date, I saw (I think) six other runners out and about on my quick festive loop around South Manchester and each and every one acknowledged me, which almost never happens. Most reflected my grim smile of appreciation at another seeing nutcase forsaking their traditional Christmas morning, and then in most cases followed by a cheerful “Merry Christmas!” as we flashed past each other, never to be see one other again. I returned home feeling refreshed, revitalised and ready to smash Christmas Day in, and unlike last year I hadn’t fallen over on the way round which is a bonus. Maybe this should be an annual thing from now on.

That was probably the high point anyway, with the two terrible hangovers probably the lows. It’s been an odd month generally, and somewhat dull at times trudging round the same three mile loop from my flat every single day. I should have mixed it up a bit more I think, as the middle of the month became a bit of a chore at times, and as the month has gone on those of you who follow me on Strava or RunKeeper may have noticed that I’ve started to do just that as I begin to build up to what could potentially be my next challenge.

Regardless of how I got here though, the fact is that I’m chuffed to say that I have, and I wanted to thank you all again for taking the time to read my ramblings, and to those of you who have donated. My JustGiving page is still open, and will be for a time after I’ve finished the whole bloody thing, so anything you’d like to chuck in would be gratefully received, no amount too big or too small. You’ll be helping the Booth Centre to go about their amazing work at a time of year when homeless people need them more than ever. Just yesterday they posted on Twitter to announce they’d found employment for the 50th person since April, and then today an announcement that they’ve managed to help 44 people into accommodation in just two days, which is absolutely fantastic. And you’ve all helped to make it possible.

So I’ll sign off for 2014 by saying again, thanks everyone, and I hope you have a good one this evening and 2015 treats you well.

Happy new year. x

If you’d like to donate you can visit my fundraising page at
justgiving.com/marcothon2014

Or text GUMP81 followed by your amount (e.g. £5) to 70070

Home straight

Afternoon everyone. Just a quickie to say Merry Christmas to you all, and thanks for all that have taken the time to read this little blog over the year, and even more to those that have sponsored me for this month’s Marcothon challenge. I’m so incredibly humbled that thanks to all you lot I’m now approaching the £500 target, and this will make a tremendous difference to help the Booth Centre support those with nothing this Christmas. So thank you so much – it really means a lot to me and no doubt to them as well.

To update you on the challenge so far, with potentially the two worst days still to come (tomorrow and Boxing Day), I’m happy to announce that despite all the festive commitments, after work drinks, parties and whatnot, I am still going strong now with 23 consecutive days successfully completed and a total of nearly 70 miles now in the bank for December. The first time in my life that I have run more than (I think) seven days in a row so that’s already a bit of an achievement. No rest days, no excuses if I’ve accidentally had one too many the night before, just back out again to log another three miles and tick off another day.

It’s been a bit of a struggle at times I’ll be honest, but when I look at the absolute legend that is Ron Hill’s achievements, who hit 50 years of consecutive daily running this week, I guess it’s pretty small beer really. Nevertheless, there’s been a few challenges along the way, mostly weather related (it’s grim up North etc etc), but also a couple of proper meaty hangovers in the past fortnight and a stinking cold in the opening week or so (and I’m hardly ever ill, so not sure what that was all about). Not to mention the fact that I cycle to and from work every day; only a ten mile or so round trip, but it all adds up. KaputThere’s light at the end of the tunnel now though, as I enter the final week, and with my bike unexpectedly falling to bits on Thursday I’m back on feet only for the time being, so it’s got a bit easier on that front too.

Oh, and thanks to the second part of the challenge my face also looks absolutely ridiculous. There’s been plenty of comments from friends, family and work colleagues as the ginger “iron filings” gradually sprout through, and I actually had to ask a chap I work with about shaving last week as I have no idea how to get this off without hurting myself once it’s all finished. I have never had such a conversation in my 33 years on this earth so I suppose that’s another achievement for the month. I have finally become a man.

I hope you all have a fantastic festive period anyway, and I look forward to boring you all again in 2015 with tales of sweaty woe. I have a few interesting ideas up my sleeve which should give me some material to do just that, but for now I just wanted to say thanks again for all your support over this year, through the bleakness of 22 mile runs in hurricanes and torrential rain in March, all the way to the unexpected run of 10k successes from May to October. And now, the final miles of my final challenge of the year and then we can do it all again sometime. Thanks for being a part of it.

If you’d like to donate you can visit my fundraising page at
justgiving.com/marcothon2014

Or text GUMP81 followed by your amount (e.g. £5) to 70070

Broken feet and bumfluff

So here we are approaching the end of 2014. An at times immensely challenging yet rewarding year, with a chunk of the absolute hardest training I have ever done coupled with some of my best results to date. My last blog back at the end of October wrapped up most of the year, so I won’t go into too much again this time around. I wasn’t even planning on writing another blog before 2015 if I’m perfectly honest, but just like this time last year something rather unexpected has popped up. Twelve months ago I had suddenly decided to run a marathon and had already started training, embarking on a near-800 mile odyssey that would take me all the way through to early April. This year, a boozy decision made on a whim late on Sunday afternoon has left me facing a second consecutive December of running, and for the second year in a row a run on Christmas Day. WTF.

It all came about following a few beers in the local watching Tottenham put in their best performance of the season against Everton. Absent mindedly checking a couple of Facebook notifications after getting back, I noticed one of my friends had invited me to a group called Marcothon 2014.  Usually this sort of thing barely registers as I get all sorts of shite sent to me, invites for rubbish games and whatnot. But for some reason – possibly the six pints of Sheffield stout – I felt drawn to click on this one and was presented with a brilliantly simple yet fairly daunting challenge where essentially all participants run at least three miles per day for the whole of December. The name comes from the name of the runner who inadvertently started this whole thing back in 2009, Marco Consani. After setting himself the challenge of doing it every day throughout the whole of November, his wife Debbie subsequently upped the ante by taking on the challenge herself the following month, Christmas Day and all. She dubbed it Marcothon and it’s now in its fifth year, with a Facebook group of nearly 3,000 committed idiots and probably hundreds more the world over taking on the challenge.

And what a challenge it promises to be. An entire month of running, during one of the coldest, darkest parts of the year and in amongst all the boozing and eating over the festive period. A nice little challenge to round off the year. Well, maybe not “nice”, but y’know. Something to get my teeth into while the bike still lies in pieces awaiting repair ahead of the return of the warmer weather and longer days. Something a little bit different to the norm, rather than just me boring you all with “blah blah blah, training training training, because target” etc. There won’t even be any training this time. I’m just aiming to go out and run for extended period of time, for 31 consecutive days.

I’ve never done anything quite like this before. A whole month of running without a single day off. Even in the darkest extremes of MARATHON TRAINING I never managed that. OK, so the distances were waaaaaaaaaay longer back then (over seven times longer in some cases), but at least I got my Fridays and the occasional Saturday off to rest and recover a bit. Not so for Marcothon. No time for any niggles or injuries to heal, just straight back out the following day. Running before work, after work, running early in the morning, late at night or whenever I can squeeze it in. Running hungover, running on Christmas Day, Boxing Day, New Year’s Eve. No matter what the weather, no matter how cold, wet, windy or snowy, I am committing to running every single day for an entire calendar month.

Most importantly, for the first time since 2011 I’m doing it for charity. With it being Christmas, I can’t help but feel for those with nowhere to live as the nights draw in and the temperature plummets. The Booth Centre offers activities, advice and support to homeless people in Manchester, providing education, training and advice to enable them to find new homes, improve their health, increase their skills and confidence and to successfully resettle in the community. They are recognised as being one of the country’s leading day centres for homeless people and have received awards in recognition of their work to reduce the number of rough sleepers in Manchester. So, I’ve decided to have a bash at this to try and raise a few quid to help them go about their amazing work, at a time when homeless people need help more than ever.

Just to add a twist, this particular charity challenge has two sides to it, and to be honest the second is the one that I fear the most. But first, a bit of background. Basically, anyone who has know me for any period of time will know about my complete inability to grow any decent semblance of respectable facial hair. A 2006 “dissertation beard” while finishing my university studies resulted in a frankly pathetic ginger Gary Neville affair, but surrounded by several of my mates with varying degrees of facial success, not to mention being in an environment where I rarely ventured out to meet real people, this seemed somehow acceptable. Significantly worse though was 2009’s attempt at Movember, as the ginger fluff returned and nearly resulted in the breakup of a three year relationship with the other half. Despite the three figure sum raised for charity, the ridicule from friends, family and work colleagues (which to this day still continues) was enough for me to vow “never again” and just make sure I donate plenty to others who can pull it off rather than revisit the scene of the crime myself.

So, bearing all that in mind, ladies and gentlemen, I give you DECEMBEARD.

Much like a marathon, where it takes me years to build up the courage to have another go, 2014 marks the latest (and probably, in all fairness, the last) attempt at growing some facial fluff as a challenge. As with Movember, Decembeard is aimed at a specific cancer charity, however I am accepting the challenge as an extension of my Marcothon fundraising. Not to knock the original cause by any stretch of the imagination, but as I’m already putting my legs through hell for the Booth Centre I thought why not tag this on as well in the hope of raising a bit of extra cash for them? Maybe you were reading this and started glazing over as soon as I started banging on about running again. But now look! I’m making myself look utterly stupid for a month as well so that’s got to be worth a few quid, right?

If you do decide you would like to donate a bit for either act of lunacy then please do. I’ve set up a fundraising page here as I’m now already three days in, with all the runs so far in the bank and an (un)satisfactory amount of scratchy fluff appearing around the face. It’s yet to begin the transition to “strawberry blonde” as it grows longer but the month is yet young.

So there you have it. The month of December will be my “Forrest Gump” month, as basically I just keep on running and not shaving. It’ll be nowhere near as impressive as the great man of course, neither in terms of distance covered nor facial hair sprouted, but hopefully by at least having a bit of a go I can make a small difference to those who have nothing this Christmas time.

If you’d like to donate you can visit my fundraising page at
justgiving.com/marcothon2014

Or text GUMP81 followed by your amount (e.g. £5) to 70070
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Featured image (top of page) © theweek.com

Family fortunes

Despite there being good couple of months still left, it’s usually around now when I begin to reflect on how the past year has gone and look forward to the challenges that may await in the future. For the third year running, the Standalone 10k marked the end of my “season”, and I’m chuffed to bits to report that it all went rather well on the country lanes of Hertfordshire. I’ve had a love / hate relationship with the place over the years, as I either seem to run it relatively slow (2008, 2012) or surprisingly fast (last year). It’s a great little race though, and always a proper family affair to boot with my dad, sister, uncle, cousin and my other sister’s boyfriend all taking part in recent history, not to mention several other members of the clan stood at various points around the course cheering us on. This year there would be three of us running, with my uncle on the tannoy again of course.

Unlike last year, I came into this one entirely relaxed about what I wanted to achieve. After four and a half years of trying, Standalone 2013 marked the day I finally got back under 40 minutes for a 10k, followed by an unexpected second success eight months later over on Merseyside. Regular readers will be aware that since then running has fallen off the radar a bit, which is kinda unforgivable for what is supposed to be a running blog, but nevertheless that’s what happened. The training mileage for this one was barely 25 miles from just five runs; hopefully enough to ensure I wasn’t a crippled mess after finishing, but not enough to raise expectations of a fast time. No intervals, no long slow Sundays, no fucking hill repetitions. Just a few evening jogs to loosen up a bit and make sure my legs remembered what they were supposed to be doing and that was that.

Unfortunately, without the pressure of BIG TARGET comes a lack of focus and bad preparation. The journey down South the day before involved six hours spent on one of the hottest coaches I’ve ever been on, meaning it was absolutely inevitable I would end up having a refreshing 6% IPA in one of my favourite pubs in London before catching the train back out of the capital. A quick “splash and dash” pit stop for a couple more beers with some old friends before actually making it home also wasn’t ideal, and although my mum laid on a lovely carby lasagne for us all, thanks to my hop-induced delay I ended up eating it at 10pm, less that 12 hours before the race was due to kick off.

Pre-race

We arrived at the farm nice and early on Sunday morning to pick up our race numbers and so had plenty of time to chew the fat ahead of the 9:30am start. My mum asked us all what what we were all aiming for so she’d know when to look out for us at the finish, and I mumbled something about “probably a good two or three minutes off my best”. My sister and cousin weren’t terrifically confident either, with neither having done a great deal of training and my sister suffering from what would later be diagnosed as vertigo. With all of us having raced here at least once before though, we knew what we were getting ourselves into and generally felt pretty relaxed about running 6.2 miles on this most glorious of autumnal mornings.

As kick off approached, we bid each other farewell as I went to line up with the 40 minute runners through force of habit, although I vowed to take it easy at the start and see what happened from there. It’s a funny old race though, Standalone. After really nasty little uphill section within a few hundred yards of the start, it’s pretty much all downhill until half distance, then a bit up and down (but mostly up) in the second half, before a tremendous last half a mile, hearing my uncle on the tannoy from afar as we all plunge back down onto the farm with all the cheering crowds at the finish. It makes it all a bit hard to pace it properly though as you always start fast and feel brilliant until around half distance, then all too late realise you’ve overcooked it and it’s a right old struggle from there.

First_400mTrue to form the opening couple of miles were well ahead of what I should have been running with so little preparation in the legs. I couldn’t help myself though as I felt probably the best I’ve ever felt at this stage of a 10k. We couldn’t have had better conditions for racing in; bright, crisp and sunny with a nice little chill in the air preventing us from overheating, unlike last year’s unexpected sweatfest. The little pockets of supporters dotted around the outskirts of Letchworth helped spur us all on, with large families with their kids ringing cowbells or trying to low-five us as we ran past. Groups of lads outside the pubs (at 9:30am!) and various people on bikes. Even the odd Sunday jogger running in the opposite direction shouted encouragement to us all. The field had yet to spread out properly and everyone around me seemed to be running a similar pace, perhaps wary of the magic 6:26 per mile required to hit a sub 40. I found myself sucked into it all against my better judgement, but I felt so damn good it was hard not to.

First_400m_563px

I was only half paying attention to the time though and it wasn’t until a few kilometres in when I began to take notice of what was actually happening. Going through the halfway stage I was actually faster than at the same stage a year before, clocking myself at 19:27 with a frankly ridiculous 6:05 third mile thrown in along the way. Hang on a cotton picking minute. Was the sub 40 actually on again? I started to play over all the possibilities in my mind. In the Mersey Tunnel 10k in June I was already over the 20 minute mark at half distance and I’d managed to do it from there. Yea okay, so there were a few hills ahead of me, but surely I couldn’t lose half a minute on them? Common sense flew out the window and I kept on pushing. Mile four slipped by another ten seconds under the target and all of a sudden I wasn’t just staring at a sub 40, I was on for an all time PB, beating a record that has stood since May 2009.

In the end, sadly, it wasn’t quite to be, although I ran it pretty damn close. The lack of training predictably kicked in big time, exposing the stupidity of the fast start (and that ridiculous third mile) as I struggled horrendously along the undulations on Stotfold Road. I went into a bit of a daze a couple of times and couldn’t be sure how much time I’d dropped as we headed downhill into the big finish so IArms was so absolutely chuffed to see the big clock still on 39-something as I staggered over the last few yards, arms aloft as I got the big shout out over the tannoy from my uncle. A totally unexpected result, I’d clocked it at 39:30: a mere second outside my 2009 PB.

Unfortunately, while glancing at the clock at the finish line, I’d missed seeing my parents in amongst the crowds, but I knew they were there. Twelve months ago I’d stood on that very spot and cheered my dad home in a race he didn’t even know if he’d be able to start, let alone finish; this year he was there doing the same for me, along with my mum, whose lasagne I’d like to think gave me those extra few seconds. I grabbed my finishing t-shirt and walked round and join them in time to see my cousin and sister cross the line as they came in a minute apart just inside the hour mark. Considering my sister couldn’t even move her head without feeling like she was going to be sick everywhere, this was a remarkable achievement. Although she probably shouldn’t have actually run when you think about it, but we can gloss over that now.

Post_race

We all met up and congratulated each other on a job well done, and then it was a nervous wait throughout the morning for my official time to come through to see if I’d set a new PB or not. I felt like a bit of a fraud if I’m being completely honest, as I thought about the lack of training and all the drinking and stuff the day before. Hundreds of people taking part would have probably done weeks, maybe months of training, and here I was running as fast as I’ve ever gone without going for a proper run in months. How could I even be sat here contemplating a PB? Last year I put in over 170 miles training for this and had gone slower. I looked back to races like the 2012 We Love Manchester 10k where I’d trained even harder and taken over a minute longer to get round. It didn’t make sense. In the end, my official time of 39:31 confirmed I was a couple of seconds outside my old record, but it was still a bizarrely rewarding feeling getting so close.

So as with this time last year, now all the dust has settled, what’s next on the list? Well first of all, after a sixth successive knockback from London, 2015 ain’t gonna be a marathon year. I might throw in a cheeky spring half though just to blow the Christmas excesses away, perhaps one I’ve done before, maybe something new. Liverpool, Silverstone, Oulton Park, Wilmslow. Who knows? By then, I should’ve found out if I’ve got a place through the ballot in August’s RideLondon-Surrey 100 as I look for some new adventures on two wheels. Or more likely, they’ll probably turn me down for the third year running and take my total number of rejections from London events – including the this year’s Royal Parks Half – into double figures. Either / or.

Whatever happens, I can look back and say that 2014 was a pretty special year, running wise, as I added a trio of new medals and a few more t-shirts to the ever-growing collection. But that only tells half the story. The weeks of slog and sacrifice at the start of the year for April’s marathon almost paid off, and although I missed my target to get into London 2015, I’m still immensely proud of what I achieved as I took 14 minutes off my PB. The pair of sub 40 10ks were completely unexpected, and it would have been three if the course at Southport been measured correctly (and maybe even four if I’d got out of bed for Salford). It’s been a year of two halves, running nearly 750 miles in the first six months and then only 67.5 since. And now, with it all behind me, I begin to plan the next set of challenges so that I can continue to bore you all for another twelve months. Watch this space, I guess.

That was the run that wasn’t

Well then. How to approach this one? The fact that it’s nearly a month late tells its own story, I guess. The race report for the City of Salford 10k, an event that I’d had in the diary for nearly four months, booked in before I’d even run the last race I entered. An event where I’d had (some) preparation, a bit of training and reasonably decent build up and an early bedtime. And, sadly, an event where come the 10:15am start time, I wasn’t even there. I’d bottled it.

There are mitigating circumstances here, least of all the fact that I hardly slept from not long after midnight onwards. Watching it gradually get light knowing every minute spent wide awake would hinder my ability to get round the course without collapsing and smashing my massive face on the quayside, the closer it got to KO the more worried I became. I’ve done a few silly things going into a 10k before, like not training, going out on the piss the night before or eating an imitation pound shop Fray Bentos as a way of carb loading. But I’d never gone in on the back of a couple of hours sleep, and as I attempted to eat my breakfast and chug down a couple of strong coffees I knew I could be making a terrible mistake. The lackadaisical preparation didn’t bother me too much; neither did the couple of drinks I’d had at a barbeque the day before. Been there done that, after all, and at least I’d done some training this time around and stopped drinking long before my 10pm bedtime. But this was different. I felt sluggish, nervous and a little bit sick in the pit of my stomach, probably the first time this has ever happened in eleven 10k races. So, regrettably, as the time slipped by for when I needed to leave to make it to the start in time, I made the decision for the first time in the history of my little blog to pull out on the morning of a race.

The initial relief was tempered by more than a little sadness when I remembered this was supposed to be The Day We Ran Together. Since April, a few of us had been swinging by our local parkrun for a quick 5k amongst the pigeons and the dog shit. A rag-bag assortment, with as many as five or six of us on some weeks (if the weather was nice and we’d avoided a hangover), and then suddenly at the end of May we made a decision to have a bash at double the distance with a few months to get ourselves ready for it. Each person went into 7th September with their own challenges and targets for the day, and since I’m such a lily-livered let down and essentially went back to bed rather than going for a run, I decided this time around to talk about someone else for a change and focus on the stories of the four intrepid sisters and brothers in arms who took on the challenge on that warm morning on the streets of Salford.

So let’s meet the team. First up, Rosi: the most experienced of the group, and using Salford as a stepping stone towards a sponsored half marathon in October (and if you’d like to sponsor her for that, I’m sure she’d be absolutely thrilled). A relative veteran of distance running, with the Great North Run already under her belt, and a keen fundraiser for charities that always mean a great deal to her, she said beforehand it felt strange to be building up to a race of less than half her usual distance, but there is bigger to come for her just around the corner and so this promised to be a very useful warm up.

Next in line was Adam. You may have heard one of his podcasts before (and if you haven’t, you really should). He was entering on the back of making his racing début in the Great Manchester 10k back in AdsMay, aiming here to trim his 10k PB down to under an hour after 25ºC heat last time around was sadly enough to ensure he just missed out. One of my favourite things about following him on RunKeeper is the picture he posts of his little face after each and every training run, looking like a broken man. Judging by his training pace I thought he had a decent chance of hitting his goal here so this was an important day for the big man.

Finally, two brave souls who only took up running in May and were both entering their first ever 10k. Before the race, Nicola had literally never run further than 5k in one go and just 48 hours before the race was unsure if she’d been able to run at all. With a wedding (to Adam) looming less than three weeks down the line, she was reluctant to risk an ankle injury that had prevented her from training and ending up having to hobble down the aisle. Finally on Friday she decided to go for it and pencilled in a tentative 1:20 target. As a sub-30 parkrunner, in theory this should have been doable but it’s never as simple as that, especially with it being twice as far as she’d ever run before, being injured and not running at all for a month before the race. Chatting with her about it on the eve of the run it’s safe to say she was a tad nervous ahead of the big day, but I assured her she could do it with a nice slow start and perhaps the odd stroll through water stations and the like.

The other, a fellow Joe, was like Rosi aiming for bigger things further down the line. “I wasn’t very fit leaving school” he says, “and since then I’ve done various sports and exercises (bouldering, metafit sessions, spinning) but nothing that would give me a definitive fitness level. So I had an idea in the back of my mind that I wanted to complete a half marathon before I’m 30 (April 2016). But before I decided for sure I wanted to get some small runs completed to see if I could stay alive after 15 minutes of jogging”. As a keen F1 fan there is a reasonable chance this half marathon will be around Silverstone pretending to be a car. We’ve all been there.

To say he’s come a long way though in a short space of time is an understatement, from a first ever 5k effort at around 36 minutes, quickly down to a 28:40 on his first parkrun, he signed up for Salford “in a cocktail of pride and stupidity” after seeing Adam’s efforts in the Great Manchester 10k. Inspired to take on the challenge himself, he set about a summer of training to hit under an hour, however with a couple of injuries leading to a three week gap right when he needed it most, the target was hastily revised to 1:05.

Onto the race itself, and on the day it sounded like it was pretty good for racing. “We’d woken up to pretty perfect running weather” said Rosi “fairly cool with a bit of mist in the air, but dry and no threat of rain; a great combo. But by kickoff, the sun was out and making its presence known.” Thankfully not to the extent of the sub-Saharan sweatfest that was served up for the Great Manchester 10k (a relief for Adam in particular), but still enough to add an extra layer of challenge on a course with little shade. A fast, flat route, with good PB potential, I will be back one year perhaps aiming to finally beat my 2009 record.

So how did they all do?

Extremely bloody well, all in all, each and every single one of them achieving something pretty damn significant. First of all, a heroic effort from the two débutants, coming in a couple of minutes apart either side of the hour mark. Considering Nicola didn’t even know if she could run that far and was aiming just to finish, that’s a remarkable achievement whichever way you look at it. Pushed on by the crowd and a soundtrack of early 00’s pop rock from a compilation ‘Teenage Dirtbag’, she absolutey rinsed her 1:20 target by nearly 19 minutes which left Adam “so proud”.

Joe’s similarly heroic run also ensure he was just inside his original target, and then some, actually breaking the magic 60 minute barrier. “I began the last kilometre feeling okay, I’d averaged around 5:58 for the last nine so I figured even if I was dropping off I could still do a 6:18 for the last one and make it within an hour. I came past a section of crowd that Rosi and Ads were stood in having already finished, and saw them waving. This spurred me on to pick up the pace and after about 200 metres I realised I was completely knackered and had about 500 metres to go, and the hour pacer was creeping away from me.

“I began pushing a bit harder, keeping the pace up until I was about 100 metres away from the finish when I pushed into a sprint, Christ knows how. I managed to overtake him about a metre from the line and just about managed not to throw up afterwards.” We’re all glad about that.

His final time was 59:01. “The longer you have known me, the more absurd all this is.” he said afterwards. “When I left school I was 17 stone and couldn’t run 200 metres, so I’m massively chuffed that I have this achievement now“.

Second place on the day went to Ads, and his performance was just as remarkable as the two rookies, smashing a frankly ludicrous nine minutes off his PB set only weeks previously on the sweaty streets of Manchester. An absolutely brilliant result, and such a leap bodes well for his hopes at the Rio Olympics in 2016, where we I am sure we can all wish him well in the 5,000m, 10,000m, steeplechase, marathon, 110m hurdles, shot put, rhythmic gymnastics, go-karting and ice cream challenge.

Last but by no means least (and first over the line amongst the group) was Rosi, who also set a PB with a mighty 47:19. She was similarly glowing afterwards: “It was a great day. Not only did I smash my PB, but most importantly I got to share it with friends, and cheer them on as they all followed quickly behind; something I’ve never really done before. It makes a massive difference to the enjoyment of the event. There’s even talk of a group jaunt to the GNR next year – fantastic!” with Adam adding “we are already looking for the next challenge”.

Team

All four did amazingly well and deserved their pints afterwards. Writing this now, I’m still a bit sad I missed out. Even doing a Saturday parkrun together is a nice little affair as you occasionally see each other over the course, shout encouragement at the finish, before all having a bit of a debrief through the sweat and exhaustion and possibly share an isotonic beverage or two together (lager).

Being a runner is such a lonely existence sometimes; endless hours spent up and down and round around, often at weird and unsociable hours, especially if you occasionally turn into a marathon wanker like me and have to give up three hours on a Sunday morning, or run a half marathon straight from work. SORRYThankfully that won’t be happening for a bit, as today marked the day when I received yet another fucking SORRY! magazine in the post from London HQ, but the point still stands. Running together is ace, and if the idea of a team half marathon next year comes off then I’m sure we’ll all have a jolly good time.

As for me and my running, I’m back out in action this Sunday for what will probably be the last time in 2014. It’s Standalone 10k time again for the third year in succession. A nice genteel jog around some country lanes in Hertfordshire with no particular target in mind. I’ve had a couple of midweek runs over the past fortnight to keep limbered up, I’m running with my sister and cousin in this most family of affairs, and to be honest I’m rather looking forward to it all. I just need to make it through the night before first.

1JoeAdsRosi_rsz

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