Frozen Phoenix 2017

I’d been eyeing up Phoenix races for the best part of a year, without having finally made the plunge, and I doubt I would have done had it not been the 100th marathon of a running friend , Jan Lavis.  It had been meticulously planned, and she’d invited us (my wife Sue and I) to join her for the occasion. Not wanting to miss out, we booked places in September.

So, why hadn’t I done one before? Well, a couple of things: it’s laps or loops; it always seems to be in the same place; I’m not a big one for medals, no matter how big or elaborate they are. However, after running the Velothon a month or so ago, the potential for getting bored with laps was somewhat reduced. That race taught me to plan within a race, and take in those running around me.

On the day, we arrived nice and early, having picked up Karen and Steve on the way. I wasn’t exactly feeling that up for it, mainly due to work related pressures, and wasn’t sure how much I would do.  The race HQ was in the Elmbridge XCEL Leisure Centre, on the outskirts of Walton-on-Thames, near both what remains of the Brooklands racing circuit, and Shepperton Studios.  The Centre is well equipped, changing rooms, toilets, a climbing wall, a pool, and coffee shop.  We picked up our numbers, folded them up small enough to be pinned to our legs (but still big enough to be seen), chatted amongst ourselves, then made our way out to the race briefing.

Rik Vercoe the RD, made it very plain and simple, then went on to give out a number of awards to those running today: 250 marathons in 700 days, 52 in 52, 10 in 10, 100 marathons… you get the picture. There were some true runners out there that day.

So, once the awards were given out, we made our way to the start – a short walk to the Thames Path, just outside The Weir pub. The route was apparently the short loop, that is go west for about 1.6375 miles, until you reach Leon the marshal, then turn back. Four loops gets you to half a marathon, eight a full one. The loop itself is interesting enough. You pass another pub (The Angler), a couple of weirs (which on the day was raging quite heavily – a lot of flood water needed to be got rid of from further upstream), a couple of parks (yes, I checked them out), over a footbridge at Walton Marina (boats for sale, starting at £32k), under the A244 bridge, past Cafe Gino, then return. All the while, you’re by the side of the Thames, with all its birdlife. Ducks, geese, swans, gulls, rooks, moorhens, all joined us on the path at some point. The wind was also in a westerly direction, and quite fierce, so it was a struggle on the first half of every lap.

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Me sporting my retro running top circa 2005, with Sue, Brigitte and Jan in the background. Passing by The Weir Pub. Photo courtesy of Philippe Ecaille

The day’s race was a 6 hour cutoff, so if you felt like running more, you were more than welcome to do so. How do they work out how many loops you’ve done? They stick a hair scrunchy on your wrist each time you pass the start/finish line, which is also the bag drop tent, and the all-important aid station, which contained all manner of penny sweets and Freddos. I was a little disappointed with the lack of ‘real food’, such as bananas or biscuits, but it wasn’t a problem.

I ran the first half of the race with Sue – she was running the race with a suspected stress fracture of the fibula, and I didn’t want her to race on her own. It was touch and go whether she would have run at all, but she wanted to do it for Jan. It was a case of managing the pain with a run/walk strategy. At four, she’d decided she’d had enough, which was more than both she and I were expecting her to do.

After she dropped, I picked up the pace a little, running at my own pace and going by feel rather than anything else. Three laps went by pretty quickly, with the fourth a struggle into the wind. I walked a little further than I intended to, due to the wind, but picked up pace again on the way back to finish in a little under 4:40. Not bad, considering I’d run the first half in 2:30, and stopped for a toilet break (which involved going back to the Leisure Centre!).

I went back, got changed, and waited for Jan to finish a short time later. She was handed her 100 marathons medal, and her 100 marathon club shirt. Local cake-maker Helen Pratt had also been commissioned to produce a most marvellous cake to commemorate the event. And it was, both marvellous and delicious, in the shape and colour of the 100 marathon club shirt.

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The amazing cake, made by Helen Pratt

Not much more to say, except for the usual questions:

What did I learn from this race?

  • The friendship of other runners can drag a little more out of me, no matter what my mood is, going in.
  • Laps aren’t so bad. There’s a little familiarity that allows it to go by a little faster. “only two laps to go, ah this is the last one” etc.

What did I like about the race?

  • It was somewhere I’ve never run before.
  • It was by the river Thames.
  • Bird life.
  • The friendliness of the runners and marshals.
  • Low-key. I came 14th out of the 100 runners who did it.

What didn’t I like about the race?

  • Muddy, and puddly. Wasn’t really deep mud, or huge puddles, I just wasn’t expecting it, to be honest.
  • Aid station could have done with a bit more ‘food’ as well as sweets. But, having it being my first Phoenix race, and knowing what I know now, I’ll just bring my own.
  • That’s about it, really.

Is it a PB course? Potentially.

Is it a Negative Split course? Potentially.

Would I do it again? Not this specific one, but I would certainly do another Phoenix race again at the same venue, and do the long course.

But would I recommend it? Yes, absolutely.

Is it worth the fee? Yes.

The race itself is very well organised; Rik and his team have been putting these types of races on for a good few years now, and it’s a very well oiled machine, with very few moving parts. They know what runners want, and put it on very well, including a medal the size of which you could eat your dinner off.

So, on to the next race. Happy New Year, and I wish you all the best for 2018, whatever your running aspirations.

 

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Velothon 2017

This is an interesting race with an interesting outcome. To say I had things to learn from it is an understatement.

The Velothon. Something to do with bikes, right? Sort of. It’s a track race, but rather using a running track it utilises the facilities of the oldest cycling track in the country – Preston Park Velodrome, just on the outskirts of Brighton. The place was threatened with closure a few years ago on the grounds of safety, but was saved with a grant from British Cycling in 2015.

This is another Sussex Trail Events Race, and the second time they’ve organised it. Looks like it’s a biennial event, although that might change in the future.

So, I entered this race for a few reasons: it’s nearby; it’s a Sussex Trail Event race – they organise things so well, but with a low-key no-nonsense approach; a few others I know were running it; it’s at a velodrome; it’s not the sort of race I would normally do; lastly , to be able to fund the track we ran around and hopefully keep it from closure again.

I had no race plan, other than to complete it in under 4 hours. My training up to it was basically another marathon six weeks previously with some longish runs and tempo work thrown in between.

The entrant list wasn’t huge, only about 50 runners which made things a bit more cozy. They’d limited it to 100 entries, but I guess this sort of running round in circles is a niche event, not to everyone’s liking.  I must admit, I myself have never had an interest in track events, but it was the venue that changed my mind.IMG_1871

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72 and a bit laps – and 73 very similar looking aid stations!

The track itself is 579 metres, definitely not flat, and to complete the verified marathon race distance, you have to run round it 72 times, and another part – about 380 ish metres. The race entrants are chip-timed, so that they can easily count the number of laps you’ve run.

I will spare you the general details of the race, but I spent some time running with Darren Chilcott (long-suffering running buddy of mine) and James Elson, Centurion running race director, excellent running coach, and world class endurance runner himself. He was running this with Darren, in preparation for a 24 hour endurance race later in the year, so wasn’t at all at full beans pace!

I managed to break free after about an hour, as I realised I needed a wee and wanted to bank a half a lap or so to enable me to do this. However, I needn’t have worried as Darren had to do the same thing about 3 laps later!

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James, Darren and me. (photo courtesy of Jon Lavis)

Not much else eventful happened for the rest of the race, other than the fact that I had a bit of a downer at about mile 22, when I just had to walk a couple of times during three laps. I picked up the pace again. When I reached 25 miles, I asked the time-keeper how many laps I’d done.

“69!” he shouted back.

This presented me with a problem. How many laps do I need to do? I had to ask Jay McArdle the RD how many laps the race was – I’d forgotten! Was it 72 or 73?

It was 72. Two left! I had the energy left to do 2 laps, no problem. So I went, ran them, the last corner up to the top of the banking, which gave me a downhill needs to finish at a sprint!

I looked down and turned off my watch. I finished in 3:43:57. Hang on?! 3:43:57? That’s my second fastest marathon isn’t it? It was! My emotions were all over the place at this moment – as they usually are after a race! But should I be happy that I’d just run that fast? Should I be annoyed that I was that close to a PB and not realised it?  At the time the over-riding thoughts were “If only I’d not walked! If only I’d not needed a wee! If only, if only…”

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How fast?!?

As I write this a day later, with the benefit of hindsight, reflection and discussion, I’ve come to this conclusion: I ran a damn good race, which could have been better with a little more preparation and self-belief. I didn’t really think I could have run that well before the race, and if someone had told me I was at PB potential, I wouldn’t have believed them anyway. I was happy with a sub 4.

Jan Lavis, friend and local running coach has a saying: “There is more in you than you think!” It’s about time I started believing it! I missed a PB by 9 seconds!

So onto the usual questions and a couple of others:

What did I learn from this race?

  • Self belief is a huge deal breaker.
  • Don’t give up! A couple of walking points can be the difference between a good race, and a PB race.
  • Multi-lap races aren’t that bad. You get into a rhythm, which for me was three ‘treadmills’ of eating (40 min intervals), drinking (15 mins), and the all-important SCap o’clock! And working out early on that you’re doing 3 minute laps made the calculations that much easier.
  • Know your marathon PB, even if you don’t think it’s achievable for the race you’re doing. It might spur you on to bigger and better things!

What did I like about the race?

  • Nearby
  • Good parking.
  • Sussex Trail Events put on a good spread at the aid station.

What didn’t I like about the race?

  • Surprisingly, not much. I coped with the monotony quite well, and it seemed to be over quite quickly!
  • The banking on the final corner. Having a tight IT band on the right leg made this somewhat less enjoyable!
  • Missing out on a  PB!!!

Is it a PB course? Of course!

Is it a Negative Split course? Yes! But you’ve got to plan for that!

Would I do it again? Probably not

Why? I’ve done it now; time to do something else.

But would I recommend it? Yes, absolutely.

Is it worth the fee? Yes.  Definitely! All the STE races are!

To summarise, this was one of the lessons learnt races (aren’t they all), which I need to digest and move on from. To paraphrase Jake from the Stephen King Dark Tower books…

” Go then, there are other races than this…”

Clarendon Marathon 2017

This was meant to be my late summer race, but my indecision got the better of me over the summer, and couldn’t find anything that fit in between my last race and the two holidays I had booked, and I don’t think one could really call the 1st October summer.

I’d heard good things about the race from friends who’d run it previously, and it fitted with what I was looking for in a race. Hills, countryside, new area to run in? Tick, tick, tick, let’s go!

I can say the lead up to this race is typical for me in that I didn’t plan that well (hence the name of the blog!). Last long run was over a month prior, with a relaxing holiday in between. In addition I’d spent the night before feeling a little unwell – not exactly sure why, although we’d spent the evening in a local pub (The White Horse in Ampfield – I recommend!); only had one beer, and a good portioned, three course dinner. I was probably full up on rich food. Not good for my digestion…  …but I got up on the morning feeling okay-ish, expecting rain and so dressed for the planned weather.

The race starts at Wyvern College in Laverstock village on the outskirts of Salisbury. From the starting field you can just about see the spire. The facilities at the start are very well laid out, and the team of volunteers very helpful. Tea and coffee van at the start, as well as a bank of portaloos, and a gymnasium to keep warm in and take team photos, it would seem.

The race is made up of three disciplines and start times. If you’re planning to take longer than 5 hours you start at 9:30, quicker than that then it’s 10:30, and you start with the relay racers (teams of four). For half marathoners, you start halfway along in the village of Broughton, a couple of hours later.

The race started after a few announcements, including the whole entrants and spectators singing Happy Birthday to one of the runners. Klaxon sounded and we were off at 10:30.

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The Start – forbidding Sky

The first mile saw us through and out the village, past the Duck Inn, and off into the wilderness. At about one mile in, the race stalled as we reached the first pinch point – cart track down to single-file path. As we waited, I asked a runner next to me what the wait was.

“It’s a bottle-neck – the track goes to single-file here, but it widens a little later to get past people”, she replied. She looked at my rain-jacket and said, “you’re not going to need that today”.

The race then took on a familiar pattern – narrow paths through fields and woods, braking out every so often into cart tracks through the Clarendon estate.

 

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Every so often a view would present itself.

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Then we would be on our way, through the woods and along tracks to a new village.

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The skies threatened, but that was about it. I got about 10 miles in when I thought my fellow runner was right – no rain today, at least not enough to require a rain jacket. I took it off and wrapped it round my waste.

The route is well signposted, and well marshalled. There are at least 12 aid stations, with water, juice, jelly babies at all (or so it seemed), with the stations after half-way offering bananas, home-made flapjacks (some with dates! Yum!) and fruit loaf (not malt loaf!). In between you would regularly find a marshal at a turn, or just in the middle of nowhere!?

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Pro photo by Sussex Sport Photography – Official photographers of the day. Bought and paid for

Getting through halfway at Broughton, the scenery didn’t change that much. We went through woods, up hills, and over a lovely river or two. I lost count.

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After this, we went down a steep hill into the lovely village of King’s Somborne, and beyond that a long drag up the hill towards Farley Mount. This was particularly slow due to the fact that it was a single-track path, which included some of the 09:30 starters complete with backpacks holding up the traffic. But, it gave me time to check the view (by which time it had started to mizzle).

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By the time I’d reached the top, I was struggling. I basically ran-walked the rest of the way to the finish, mainly through what seemed like muddier and muddier woodland tracks. Eventually we turned a corner, and were told by a marshal it was just another 400 metres to the end.

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The relief of finishing! (photo by Sussex Sport Photography)

The finish is at another school – King’s School on the western end of Winchester. I was given my medal by a scout, and ushered over to drink more water. In addition to water and medal, you get a nice green marathon t-shirt (which doesn’t mention ‘finisher’ on it at all).

So, the usual sorts of questions:

What did I learn from this race?

  • I could have trained a bit more. A 3 hour pootle around the South downs 5 weeks before isn’t enough. But then, it is my 2nd fastest trail marathon to date. So, can’t really complain.
  • I should have checked the weather a bit more. I probably wouldn’t have struggled if I wore the right gear.
  • I should have brought some S Caps with me. Sweating in a rain-jacket for the first half wasn’t helpful. But then, if I was wearing the right gear, would I have needed them?

What did I like about the race?

  • It was somewhere I’ve never run before.
  • It was hilly
  • It reminded me of other races I’d done – NDW50, Fittleworth, Beachy Head…
  • Friendly if sometimes a little overwhelming marshalling
  • The mile count-down. In some respects good (near the end), but in other respects not (at the beginning). 4 miles to go is easier to take than 25 miles to go, if you know what I mean. But it’s in my list of likes!

What didn’t I like about the race?

  • Muddy! Probably added a few minutes to my time. Well, that’s my excuse !
  • Not a dislike, really, but I would have preferred more hills (I love hills, me!), and a few more views.

Is it a PB course? Er, probably not.

Is it a Negative Split course? I’m not sure – possibly?

Would I do it again? Probably not

Why? I’ve done it now; time to do something else.

But would I recommend it? Yes, absolutely.

Is it worth the fee? Yes.  The race itself is very well organised, and the marshalling top-notch with one or two exceptions. When you’re 20 odd miles in, you don’t want someone joking with you about taking a short cut; but there’s always someone at right-angles with the rest of the world (and that’s usually me!). I think some people would feel a little cheated about the size of the medal; if you’re a bling chaser I would think hard about doing this one, but for me, as they only live in a drawer in my house, I’m not that bothered.

http://www.clarendon-marathon.co.uk

Anyway, on to the next race. See you on the trails…

 

 

Mouth-to-Mouth 2016

It’s always nice to do a new race, and Mouth-to-Mouth was another new Sussex Trail Event that the boys had added to their portfolio for 2016. It was the final race of quartet  marathon distance races, the medals of which join together in a nice ultra-medal.

Held at the beginning of December, this was a race I’d been considering, and only decided to do about six weeks before. After reccying the last half dozen miles or so before the day I knew I’d made a good choice.

The race started at many of the other Sussex Trail Event starts – Shoreham-by-Sea. There was the usual race briefing, followed by the gathering by the start next to the Adur River. The first Mouth…IMG_1056

The weather was looking kind – not too cold, no rain planned, and the ground wasn’t too muddy. We had to endure the dreaded slabs on the west side of the river next to the airport on the way out – so nice to get them over and done with at the beginning of a race for once!

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Running with friends, Neil D, and Michael (HHH) – photo courtesy of Jon Lavis

I settled down into a nice relaxed pace, running with fellow BHR runner Neil Dawson, and spent the first half of the race talking previous races, views of the downs, farming,  and anything else that cropped up. Anything really, to keep us off the thought of running! Before long, we were at the foot of the Downs, ready to turn west towards Chanctonbury. Up the hill we went, past the pig farm.

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We continued on up the hill, right at the road, and continued to follow the South Downs Way. Past Chanctonbury Ring…IMG_1059

…and down into Washington. Neil and I managed to lose each other after we both had a comfort break on opposing sides of the path, and a quick flurry of text messages revealed that he’d carried on assuming I was ahead, while I waited for him! I had to catch him up!

The next few miles included that nasty hill out of Washington – short and sharp –  followed by the lovely descent from Kithurst Hill down into Amberley.

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Gloves on! Photo courtesy of Jon Lavis

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The race then joined the Arun river, where the rest of the race is run on one or other side of the bank.

IMG_1069.jpgI managed to catch Neil as we ran through the woods south of Amberley, as we reached the bridge. It’s a lovely, over-engineered bridge in the middle of nowhere, which bounces as you run over it. A bit unnerving for some, but I quite enjoyed it!IMG_1071

From then on, it was the race to the end. The views down the Arun are quite beautiful on a sunny day, and the race day this year was very kind to us. We saw Arundel Castle in all its glory.

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A quick scoot through Arundel town itself, and we were back onto the openness of the Arun estuary, making our way to Littlehampton Marina. Be warned, the river meanders quite a bit, so you may think you’re nearer the end than you are at times as you seemingly make snaking turns from left to right; and to cap it all off, once through Arundel, you seemed to be running into the wind, no matter which direction you seemed to be going!

And finally, the bridge was reached – under we went, through the car park, and the finish line. Made it, Mouth-to-Mouth!

Once again, the Sussex Trail Event team has produced a lovely, challenging and picturesque route, worthy of anyone’s time and trouble. The cup of tea at the end, as always the perfect finish to a race.

So, the usual questions:

Would I recommend? Yes!

Would I run it again? Yes!

Is it worth the fee? Absolutely!

Is it a PB course? Nope!

Is it a negative split course? Yes, it could be.

Any downsides to it? Not really, all I’d say is reccy those last few miles so you know what to expect – they’ll mess with your mind if you don’t!

Until next time… thanks for reading, and enjoy your running!

Thirteen The Hard Way

Thirteen the Hard Way. A good name for a race, I thought as I signed my name up for it. That, and the Steve Roberts designed advertising, depicting a particularly characterful sheep!

13THW was another of the Sussex Trail Events races, and was a new event for 2016. Two more reasons for me to run the race. STE races are always well thought out, but still low-key and well organised, and I think there’s a little kudos to be able to say “oh yeah, I ran the first edition of that race”…

The other reason for running it was – it started a mile from home! No worrying about parking, getting a lift etc., just roll out of bed, put the shoes on and amble over. Maybe some clothes too.

On the day we awoke to a wonderful sunny day. A touch of wind, but warm. This was late August, and we’d had a summer. The last remnants were still around, so as I left my house at 7:30, it was already 18-20 degrees C. I managed to help a few runners (in cars) to the start, justifying my refusal to accept a lift from one of them. Well, I wanted a warm up anyway.

The route is a basic there and back – from the field at base of the downs next to the Tank Tracks, we run up the fabled tank tracks, turn left when you hit the South Downs Way, pass the Ditchling Beacon, and continue along the top of the escarpment until we reach the Black Cap gate. Turn right (south) at this point, and continue following the South Downs Way all the way to Housedean Farm. A quick stop (or not) at the aid station, and back the way you come, ending at the bottom of the Tank-tracks.

My race went well; I started near the back as is normal practice for me. Starting near the back means I pace myself at the start and don’t rush off too fast. Also gives me the psychology of passing people later on, thinking I’m a speedy boy…

And so, out of the start field, turn left towards Clayton, and then left again up the Tank-tracks.  I’ve done them many times before. It’s a bit like Ditchling Beacon for cyclists – it’s a local challenge to run up them non-stop. So I kept my cool and relaxed up the first third. The path is quite narrow for the first part, until you get out of the woods, then it opens a little. At that point there were a few people walking, so I continued my progress up the hill, slowly passing people.

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Photos courtesy of Jon Lavis

I had no idea where I was in the race when I reached the top, as I was really just concentrating on getting to the top, but as I got there I felt pretty good, all things considered. It was a warm day, and this route had virtually no shade. I pushed on, knowing there was a water stop at the top of the Beacon about a mile and a half away.

I took on water, and then settled into the route: Street Hill Farm, followed by Black Cap, then turn right and shortly later left into a lovely downhill towards Housedean. Halfway down I started wondering again where I was in the race. No-one had passed me since hitting the top of the Downs, and I hadn’t passed anyone either. We were fairly well spaced out, and as I knew it was a there-and-back, I knew I’d be able to check my position based on the number of runners running towards me.

It wasn’t until we were near the woods that Paul Sargent passed me. Local legend, and race leader, he had the usual smile on his face, and looked strong. I started to count – two, three, four, five… by the time I reached the bottom of the hill, and the aid station at Housedean, I’d counted eleven runners. Wow! I was at the sharp end! Jay McCardle, one of the RDs gave me some encouragement; a work colleague (his cousin) was also running the race, and I’d passed him on the way up the Tank Tracks. “Go on! You can do ‘im” grinned Jay as I set off back up the hill.

My work in pacing a friend in the SDW100 a couple of months earlier certainly paid off at this point. It’s a particularly stiff hill coming back out of Housedean, and I was able to pass a couple of runners, while I power-walked up the hill. It was good to see my local club runners out there as we passed each other and gave encouragement.

The hill up to Black Cap was tough that day. Hot weather was to take its toll on people. Three of us traded places as we went up that hill. Although I’ve run it all many times, today was just too hot, and there was no real breeze in the valley. I had to walk, and so did the runners around me. I felt the signs of over-heating and took heed, rationing out my water as I went.

As we got to the top of the downs again, what little breeze there was helped cool me down, and I was able to start running again. We went through the Beacon, took on more water, and pushed the pace up a little more. I managed to drop one of the other runners for good, and felt good, knowing what was ahead.

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I got to the top of the tracks feeling good, just the hill to go. Halfway down I was met by the sight of someone on the ground surrounded by one of our club runners, and a couple of other friends. “It’s Paul!”, he said to me as I ran past. I carried on to the bottom, grabbed a medal and a cup of water then made my way back up. Apparently, Paul had been leading the whole race, and found climbing out of bushes by a couple of walkers, cut up and a little delirious. A couple of friends who were there to spectate saw him and rushed to his aid. Air ambulance then appeared, and he was whisked off to hospital for tests.

He’s fine now and made a full recovery, winning races again, and generally being an inspiration to us runners at club. But I haven’t really thanked him for dropping out and give me my first top ten race finish 🙂  Thank you Paul!

So, the usual questions:

Would I recommend? Yes!

Would I run it again? Yes!

Is it worth the fee? Absolutely!

Is it a PB course? Nope!

Is it a negative split course? Not at all!

Any downsides to it? None for me. I love the area, and love the route. And not because it’s near home. (Well, maybe a bit…)

Until next time…

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ps. all photos courtesy of Jon Lavis – local runner and brilliant photographer. Thanks Jon!

 

North Downs Way 50 – 2017

The lead up to this race wasn’t exactly perfect. Having gone 100% injury free in 2016, which included a number of marathons and a top ten finish to a half marathon, I was looking forward to my training build plan for this race only to fall foul of the cold weather, and ended up spending most of February and half of March laid up. I therefore had ten weeks to train up.

I spent a good few weekends testing the terrain and reccying the route, which I must say is beautiful: stunning views across the Surrey hills, and a number of monuments and places of interest on the way too. I finished off my training plan with my first 3 Forts marathon two weeks previous to the big event, with a sub 5 hour finish.  3 Forts gave me the confidence to believe that I could go the distance.

The race starts in Farnham, Surrey at a school near to the railway station. The Centurion team and their band of willing volunteers do a very good job of ensuring you have your mandatory kit with you, so don’t go thinking mandatory means anything other than that. They’ve disqualified people for not having it. James did his usual succinct and amusing race briefing, and then sent us on our way to the race start.

It was a short walk from race HQ to the start, inauspiciously set on the side of the A31 Farnham by-pass.  A few moments of quiet contemplation, and then we were off. The first few miles are very much an indication of what to expect later, but with a distinct lack of elevation change!  I wanted to ensure I didn’t go off too fast, and had started fairly near the back of the race group – a standard practice for me. In addition Darren, my partner in crime and more experienced ultra runner, also kept me in check. We did the whole race together.

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The race is essentially split into two (rough) halves. Halfway is at the top of Box Hill. The first half contains a lot of views like the one above and below:IMG_1361

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The second half contains a lot more climbing, so we were keen not to over-cook the first half with nothing left available in the second.

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Puttenham aid station. Photo by Stuart March Photography (http://www.stuartmarchphotography.co.uk)

We reached Guildford in good time, and were met with a wonderful view of the ‘unofficial’ bacon sarny barge of Allan Rumbles. The barge is well known in Centurion Running folklore, and was a welcome chance to refuel. I felt privileged to have been served! However, I wasn’t sure if they dressed like this every year!

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The route so far had been pretty kind, and it was about to get a little ‘interesting’.  The first of a few tougher climbs was around the corner- Martha’s Hill. I’d been there a few times, but only to start races, not run through. We walked it well, and were met with the wonderful views at the top.

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The photos don’t really do the views justice!

Quarter distance done. We carried on through woods, and enjoyed a quick stop at Newlands Corner aid station. Take on water, eat as much as you can in 2 minutes. Mainly fruit and chocolate!

The next section was pretty quick, as it floated nicely through the top of the downs, through woods to the top of Denbies wine estate. From the top, it’s a wonderful two-mile stretch of down-hill looping through the grounds. I couldn’t help myself from letting my legs do what they wanted through there.

At the bottom you navigate the A24 by way of an under-pass, to rejoin the NDW at the stepping stones crossing the river Mole.

I must admit to being a little trepidatious about these stepping stones. I had concerns that I would be so shot at this point that I’d struggle not to fall in. I needn’t have worried. There’s an aid station just before, so again we filled up on goodies, and waited our turn to cross. Yes, it’s a public footpath, and we had to wait a few minutes while “hobble-de-hoys” coming the other way made their way across. To be fair, I’m guessing they’d been waiting on their side for a while, letting runners across!

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Stuart, the event’s official photographer was on hand to capture the event! It doesn’t look like I was walking across gingerly does it?!?

Immediately after the crossing you have a short time to gather your thoughts before you start the next challenge: Box Hill.

It’s half a mile of steps – average 20% incline. No way to run it, at all. But the views at the top were immense!

The next few miles were spent running through woods, along the side of roads, getting us to the next hill tester – Reigate Hill. From memory of reccying it, I remembered it going on for much longer than it actually did! The views from the top again are stunning, and there are a few monuments around here – Reigate Fort, The Inglis Memorial, B17 plane crash site, pill boxes… and then the Reigate Hill National Trust car park. This was an official aid station, but also had a cafe nearby. During reccying we had a very welcome cup of tea there, so we did the same today. Tea is my saviour in races like this, and I ordered the biggest cup they had. Very good value – £1.50 for a half pint of tea!

From Reigate Hill we went downhill and then through Gatton Park school, mildly regretting I’d bought the larger cup of tea(!). Out the other side of the school and we were then running through Reigate Hill Golf Club, and over the M25 and A23 at Merstham.

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St Katherine’s Church, Merstham at a quarter past three! Clock was on time!

Past the church, under the M23, and we were met with this view:

 

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This was another of the hills. This one wasn’t too bad. Not too steep, and not too long, but you knew you’d done it when you’d got to the top.

We ran through some more woods (it’s a woody route!)

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Looking back to where we came

…and came to the next aid station. More refilling. My joke about booking a table with a view didn’t really go down too well… …and then Darren was pushing us out the other side of the aid station and onwards through more woods, and across the A22.

We noticed another runner join the route at this point from the wrong direction. From the speed he shot off ahead of us we wondered just how far off-course he’d gone – within half a mile he was gone, and we never saw him again.

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Typical terrain between miles 40 and 45

The next few miles were again through the woods (natch!), with the wonderful smell of wild garlic filling our nostrils.

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At Gangers Hill, we were met with more steps – down this time – for no apparent reason.

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We were met at the bottom of these stairs by amateur photographer extraordinaire and consummate crew to the stars, Jon Lavis. He gave us a few words of encouragement before we carried on.  The next few miles were spent along the edges of fields at the bottom of the escarpment. I had a concern at the back of my mind that at some point we would have to go back uphill, as I’d checked the final 6 miles and knew that it started at the top of the escarpment.

At this point we were wondering whether or not a sub 11 hour finish time was on the cards. We continued to push the pace to see if it was possible. Every time we slowed to a walk we’d give ourselves a few minutes then one or the other would say, “Come on, we can do this”, and we’d pick up the pace again.

The concern I had a few miles back didn’t go away, and was proved right – we hit Pitchfont Lane (and the highest point of the course) not having reccied this bit. It was a grind! Man, was it a grind! but we were met at the top with the final aid station. They had tea! I gratefully took a sugary cup.

So, we were 7 miles from the end at this point, and just over 9 1/2 hours in. The next couple of miles would tell us whether we were in shape for a sub 11 hour race. We reached Park Wood Golf club at Tatsfield at 10 hours. 6 miles to go? sub 11 wasn’t possible. We then took it easy. No point killing yourself if you can’t reach the goal.

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The rest of the race was spent running by the edge of fields (like the one above).

through more woods, and round the edge of fields, and we were almost there – I’d been warned that we’d see the finish line long before we got there, and it was true. Across the field, like a mirage the finish gantry was sitting across the fields looking inviting. But I knew we had to keep going to the end of the field, turn left down the lane, and into the village to reach it.  We steadied our resolve, gave ourselves a talking to, and kept moving forward. At last, we reached the road to the village, and our pace picked up. It was downhill, to the end, into the village, turn left, left again, slight incline (you notice uphills a bit more at 50 miles in!), and crossed the line.

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Official Finishers’ medal and a smile on my face. This photo is another reason to do this race. Stuart is a brilliant photographer (Photo by Stuart March Photography)

So, that was that. My first 50 miler completed. How did I feel?

Well, not as bad physically as I thought I would. I’m writing this a week on, and can remember thinking on the Monday after the race that it wasn’t the worst race I’ve done. All I had to show for it (which I didn’t I might add!) were a couple of blisters. The rest of me felt remarkably unscathed by the whole event. Having done a couple of ultras in recent years of shorter distances with less elevation, I remember feeling a lot worse after those than this one.

What have  I learnt from this experience? What can I say I did well?

  • nutrition – I ate well. I don’t mean I had organic, or were fine dined with roast pheasant etc., I mean at each aid station I ate something. Not too much, but enough to keep my stomach busy.
  • Hydration – similarly I ran with a Camelbak (actually it was Decathlon) and I took sips literally every 3-4 minutes.
  • Salt – S-Caps. Every hour on the hour, it was S-Cap o’clock. I’m certain this regime helped every bit as much as the previous two.
  • No need to worry. What happens, happens. 38 miles was the furthest race I’d done before this one, so once we’d reached 38 miles (and every mile after Darren congratulated me for achieving my longest run), I took stock of how I felt, and I knew it was in the bag.
  • There’s no such thing as the perfect race. And there’s no such thing as the perfect training plan. Go with the flow, listen to your body, and it’ll tell you if it’s not right.

And what would I recommend to people considering this race?

Do it! It’s a lovely route, full of surprises, but make sure you don’t go off too fast at the beginning, as it’ll bite you at the other end. The Centurion team look after you, and the medal, t-shirt, and official photos are all top-notch. To me, Centurion races set a standard to which all others attempt to live up to, in terms of professionalism.

I would also recommend  you reccy the route. Not necessarily all, but definitely from Box Hill to the end.

I am now seriously looking forward to doing another. Watch this space…

 

LUNAR-TIC Marathon 2016

LUNAR-TIC marathon is one of four marathon-length races put on by the Sussex Trail Events team. This was the second marathon race of theirs that I’d run after doing their Dark Star in 2015.  The team put together a good bunch of interesting races, which, for this year have interlocking medals to make one huge lump of medallion-ness to show off to your mates.

I decided to run this race, in part because it sounded a bit bonkers, in part because I fancied doing another marathon, and in part because running buddy Darren goaded me into it. He’s good like that.

The race is essentially three loops up and down the Adur river from Shoreham to Bramber and back (up one side and down the other), finishing on the dreaded concrete blocks on the west-side of the Adur. Starting at 8pm, the race is done more in darkness than in daylight. It’s flat, apart from the odd bit of ‘climbing’ up to or down from the 6 foot levee either side of the river. Nothing strenuous! Well, apart from it being a marathon…

We arrived in good time, and in good weather. Not too warm, but still warm enough. The usual race brief was a little briefer than normal, as Jay was not available, so it was left to Chris to do the honours. A few dos and don’ts out the way, and we were off, along with 86 others, doing the couple of laps around the field, and then out across the Norfolk Bridge and up the east-side of the Adur for the first time.

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Round the field no. 1 (photo courtesy of Jon Lavis)
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Field trip no. 2 – (photo courtesy of Jon Lavis)

This was the first loop, and I was determined to get as much done in daylight as possible, making sure I knew what to expect at each point. I suspect that meant I went off a little too fast – finishing the first lap in about an hour and 25.  But still had time to take a few photos, and partake of the food at the aid station at Bramber (the furthest point of the loop) and again at the wooden footbridge in Shoreham. The sunset was brilliant, and we were able to gauge ourselves against friends running it on the other side of the bank.

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Crossing the bridge for the first time (image courtesy of Jon Lavis – https://www.flickr.com/photos/jel183 )

We crossed the footbridge for the first time with the light starting to fade. My pace continued roughly the same, although I knew at some point I’d probably slow down. Not knowing where you’re putting your feet can slow you, and I didn’t really want to finish the night turning an ankle (or worse). More photos…

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Lancing College trying to look like Hogwarts

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The nice thing about the route – seeing other runners on the other side!

We had part of riverbank shared with another race – a walking race, which didn’t really slow us down. It was for about a mile or so, and both walkers and runners got on extremely well; cordial and obliging when it was time to give way to each other.

At the end of the second loop, I was starting to feel it a bit. In what way? Tum was a little churn-ey, which I think was down to a lack of fluids, and I suspect down to my choice of foods. I’d decided to go with Tailwind for fluids which had served me well in some other races I’d done recently; however those races hadn’t included any real food accompaniment. The STE boys like to put on a spread, and I’m always partial to a bit of teacake! So, the teacake, Tailwind and heat conspired to give my digestive tract a bit of a going over.  Luckily, nothing happened, other than the fact that I had to slow down a little!

The third loop was a bit of a trial – head torches were on, and we had to check our footing. img_0419We did have the moon to guide us, but nevertheless at certain points I didn’t want to risk running, having remembered how the terrain was on the previous two laps. This made my last lap a little (actually a lot) slower than the other two loops.

I ran most of the race with Darren (a great running companion and sounding board for my particular brand of talking rubbish!), but then we both traded places during the third loop when each of us had our demons to vanquish, including the dreaded concrete slabs after running 25 miles! We ended up finishing within a couple of minutes of each other. And! I managed not to get calf-cramps going over the slabs for the first time!!!

On the whole the race was brilliant and lived up to expectations: well organised, a novel twist, lovely scenery, awesome marshalling, well-stocked aid stations, and a unique finishers medal.

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Would I recommend? Yes!

Would I run it again? Yes!

Is it worth the fee? Absolutely!

Is it worth staying up for? Yes!

Is it worth buying a headtorch for? Yes!

Any downsides to it? Not at all! (just don’t mention concrete slabs to me!)

My advice? Check their website for next year’s race. They don’t advertise because they don’t need to – the places fill up quick!

 

 

London Marathon 2016.

The London Marathon has a certain aura about it. Since I started running in the early 21st century, its reverence in running circles has been huge. Back then, in the south east there weren’t many marathons organised, so the key focus in the running year was London. Even twelve years ago, the chances of you getting a place in the ballot was one in four. Roll forward to now, and it’s one in six, despite another 9000 places being available.

This was to be my second London marathon. My first marathon was in 2006, where I finished a creditable sub 4. Just!

This year was much the same as 2006. Having got a hallowed place through club, I was determined to make the most of the occasion: raise some money for a charity, give a good account of myself for the club and get a PB!

One thing to mention before going on to the day itself. Tapering. If anyone hasn’t told you about tapering, it’s physically easy, but mentally awful. For weeks you’ve been working hard to improve your fitness working to your goal, getting regular doses of endorphins. Then three weeks before you start reducing the work. As the endorphins go down, so does your mood. It affects people in different ways. With me, it’s anxiousness and paranoia. Weird thoughts went into my head in the week up to it, so I was so looking forward to running on Sunday!

Rather than go into a full description of the day, I will reduce it down to a few questions, bullet points, observations, thanks, and recommendations.

Is it the best marathon to run?

Having run only two road marathon courses, all I can say is the atmosphere is tremendous. Its iconic status and elusive place through the ballot makes it a special one to run in. You could argue its route isn’t special, but then it’s difficult to see very much except spectators. But then, running over Tower Bridge is something special, as is running down the mall. No other race can claim that…

How did this year compare to ten years ago?

More crowded! From memory, I don’t remember it being so bunched up for so long ten years ago. I remember having space to move about the bunch, adjust pace as I saw fit ten years ago, as soon as we’d passed the Cutty Sark.This year the field didn’t really spread out until past Tower Bridge.

Good Moments?

  • Getting the train up with my club the Burgess Hill Runners. They kept me relaxed until ready to race.
  • Seeing my first Eltham sign (Sarf Landan born and bred, me!).
  • The joining of the red and blue starters, and the jovial booing between the two streams.
  • Running past Floyd Road turning to the Valley – home of CAFC.
  • Running over Tower Bridge at a fast pace to shake off a bit of muscle fatigue (yes, running faster works!)
  • All of the bands. They were simply awesome whatever they played, and whatever size they were, but especially the steel drum band. Lovely!
  • hitting the Samaritans supporters area at mile 19, and feeling a wave euphoria as a result.
  • running up the ramp at Limehouse and passing a number of runners. The relief of a hill was exquisite!
  • Hearing and seeing Neil Dawson at mile 24 amidst a thousand other voices. Amazing how those moments of clarity drown out all else but the important stuff.
  • hitting the Samaritan supporters area at mile 25 – such a push and a buzz!
  • Turning the corner onto the Mall and pushing that much harder to get to the end.
  • Crossing the line realising I’d achieved a PB!
  • Blubbing with relief and euphoria after getting my (huge!) medal (same as 10 years ago).
  • Looking through the goody bag and realising how much they’d stuffed in it.

 

Bad Moments?

  • knowing after about 8 miles that my right shoe wasn’t on tight enough, and knowing I’d have to deal with blisters later.
  • Miles 7-12 still crowded.
  • Having to resort to mind games to get me to the end.
  • Lucozade gels. Bluurrrgh!
  • Seeing a runner on the side of the road receiving CPR at about mile 24. The runner later died. R.I.P. Captain David Seath. A reminder that there but for the grace of God we go.

Would you do it again?

Hmm – bit too early to say. But then, the ability to get a place will dictate when I will run it again!

Would you recommend it?

in a heartbeat. if you get the chance do it, do it, DO IT! 🙂

How about afterward?

 

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Enjoying a glass of something post run
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Big Medal!

I must say, if you ever get the chance to run London, even if you get in through the ballot, raise money for a charity as well. you will get looked after at the end, which is when you need it. Within ten minutes of finishing, I was in a dressing room in the Playhouse theatre having a shower, before being given a massage. Raising the money is important to them, and you’ll be rewarded for your efforts. Plus, they’ll be just as grateful if you have your own place as they won’t have paid for it!

To this end I’d like to thank the fundraisers at the Samaritans who looked after me after the race, and who helped during the build up to the event with emailed tips for training and fundraising.

http://www.samaritans.org/support-us

Anything Else?

I had five Plans. Plan A: 3:30 result. Plan B: 3:30 something finish. Plan C: Beat my PB. Plan D to finish. Plan E. DNF. According to official results, I achieved plan C, however, according to my Strava feed I ran 26.61 miles. A marathon is 26.21875 miles. I reached 26.21875 miles in less than 03 hrs 40, so plan B was achieved! sort of…

I think that covers the main points. The day is quite special, emotional, tough, exciting,tiring,humbling, but left me feeling so very exhilarated, even through the pain and exhaustion. If you feel so inclined, you can still donate to the Samaritans on the link below.

https://www.justgiving.com/Baillie-BHR-VLM2016

I’d also like to thanks Jan Lavis for giving me help and a few pointers on my training plan. Without her help, I doubt I would have achieved what I did.

Many thanks, and happy running!

 

 

 

 

 

Month 2- February Training

The month started out tough. A week of two speed-work sessions, and the longest long run so far this year, on hilly terrain.

Speed work 1 consisted of half an hour of fartleks of differing varieties, interspersed with a half-hearted assault on the Strava segment known as “The Mackie Avenue Hill Sprint”.

Speed work 2 (a day later) was at Lewes track, and I had us (yes, I was coaching again) working our way up the gears. 4 laps @ 1/2 marathon pace, 3 laps at 10k pace, 2 laps at 5k pace, and one lap as fast you can manage – all with an active 1 lap recovery.

Recovery run a day later, then a rest day, then a 30 minute tempo run on Saturday.

Weekend was finished off with a two-hour Hill work, taking in Buncton Lane! I managed just over 16 miles in 2 hours and 20 minutes, and was definitely ready for an easier week!

The ‘easy week’ wasn’t quite so easy. By Thursday my legs still felt pretty roughed up from a tempo run and a club run, but managed a PB at Hove Parkrun, beating my Preston Park PB from a year ago by 7 seconds. Sunday’s long run was a little shorter than last week, but came with a twist; it was a fast finish. I ran 75% of the time at 75% of my 5k pace. It was meant to be 65%, but I struggled to go that slow (yes, I know!). The final 25% was meant to be at my marathon pace, again I was a tad faster than I should have. Felt good at the time, but felt a little achy in my feet afterward.

Week three started with a tempo run at 30secs under Marathon pace, followed by a tough club session in the cold and wet doing 600m efforts with moving recovery. I had to miss my Thursday run for a  night out (shame!), so finished off the weekend with a steady run on Saturday at MR pace followed by two hours of marathon running with 90sec pick-ups at 10k pace.

At this point it feels as though my recovery times need to get longer, but it feels like I can’t slow down! Week four’s Tuesday ‘easy run’ was more at half-marathon pace. However, Wednesday’s coaching session with club had us hill training. We had a number of the faster runners with us that evening, and they seemed to drag me along at a pace I wouldn’t have normally gone at, but I was pleased I was able to keep up – for a while at least – and at the pace I’d managed at the end considering part of the session was five sprints uphill with a walk back down!

Saturday was a good tempo run at slightly better than half-marathon pace, followed by an aborted long run on Sunday. A niggling calf threatened to cramp on me, so I didn’t want to risk it. This is the first ‘refusal’ since my training plan started, so I can’t complain.

This leaves me with eight weeks to go, one of which will be spent on holiday. Plenty of time to push on training to reach my goal.  However, as said before, although I’d like my London result to start 3:30 something, it all depends how I feel in the weeks up to it, and more importantly how I feel on the day. It isn’t the be all and end all. To paraphrase Jake in Stephen King’s The Dark Tower, “There are other races than this”

Happy running all!

 

 

 

January Training – Month 1

This blog is an update on what’s been happening in January, training-wise.

Just a brief bit on the training plan itself. My previous route to a plan was to ‘go the distance’; that is, pick a training plan from the many online resources commensurate with the time barrier I wanted to beat. You know the sort of thing – “Your Best Training Plan for under 4 hours!”; “Training Plan for a 3:30 P.B.”. So, I would do the plan based on the idea that, as long as you run at least twice a week, and you always do the long run, you should be okay.  All of these were distance based plans;  you build up your long slow run until you hit about 20-21 miles, however you have managed it – and however long it took. The brief being that another 5-6 miles is doable. It’s one way of doing it.

With the help of Jan Lavis**, a local legend in both running and coaching, I’ve put together a coaching plan based on the following:

  • Long Runs built up by time, not distance.
  • Long runs at specifically Heart Rates and paces.
  • Long runs built up to no more 3 hours.
  • Targeted runs aimed to build strength and endurance
  • Not a weekly program, but a bi-weekly, tri-weekly, or a monthly cycle, based on the phase of the plan.
  • Pace reviewed periodically in accordance with results and VDOT calculators *
  • Cross-training using strengthening exercises and additional pilates-type stretching.

I won’t bore you with a blow-by-blow training plan here, as it only applies to me. And that’s the thing – it’s a personal plan, not an identikit thing made for the mass ranks of amateur runners.  Plus, it’s a plan that’s a work in progress, as I learn and understand more. So, what you see now won’t be what you see in a month’s time.

A lot of the information comes from the Burgess Hill Runners training area (of which I am a member) : https://sites.google.com/site/bhrunners/training-area, most of which was researched and written by Jan. It also links to other sites to “back up the science”.

Having read through the info and speaking with Jan it made me realise just how little I know, and how much there is to learn.

As a coach for the might blue army of the Burgess Hill Runners, I acknowledge that it’s one thing to be able to put together a coaching session for an hour or so for 30 runners who may or may not be training for something specific, but it’s a wholly different task to be able to put together a training plan for a specific race for a specific individual.  The years of previously pounding the streets and paths of Sussex, although in some respects enjoyable, are probably responsible for a number of niggles and injuries I suffered.

Hopefully, I can report back in a few weeks time on an improvement in all respects.

In the meantime, I can say that in January, all four of my ‘long runs’ were time-based, and with an eye on my Heart Rate. I’m slowly getting round to building in the non-weekly cycle. I had a base fitness test, which I took on the first Saturday of the month, running 5K on as flat a course as could be found within my village; the result of which suggests that a 3:30 running goal is definitely plausible. A couple of coaching sessions at club were a little bit egocentric; let’s just say they fitted in with my training plan as well as giving the runners who did the session with me a coherent coached run.

In all, I can say training has been a success, although I still have a lot to learn, a lot to encompass, and hopefully some improvements to make in both training and fitness.

I plan to review my February in a month’s time, so until then, happy and purposeful running to you all…

* VDOT Website – http://www.runbayou.com/jackd.htm

** Jan has her own website for her coaching services – https://jelfitness.com