8 – 14 January 2018

Read on for the answer to my next challenge, as well as a race report where I score my ultimate personal best!

Monday – runcommute

Today was absolutely freezing. Nonetheless, I was going to aim for 7:15 min/mile pace but felt comfortable at 6:40ish. This run as a commute, the bus I would have caught set off at the same time I did, so naturally I wondered if I could beat it home again! Running at a fast but comfortable pace, as I arrived at the stop I would get off, I looked back with a grin as I saw I’d beaten it!

My focus had been to get back before 4pm so my wife could go out for her run. We had a Simpsons moment when we both arrived home at the same time, both rushing to be the first!

Strava data here.

Wednesday – runcommute

On a high from catching Mewtwo the day before, I played Pokemon throughout this jog. With a race this weekend, I kept the distance low at just 10 miles. Though I was tempted to alternate miles at half marathon pace, stuck to the easy jog plan. However, I included strides just to remind my legs of race pace.

To make it more fun, switched my watch display to clock and didn’t check my pace at all, no matter how tempting it was every time it beeped! Checking data afterwards, the mile splits came in pretty even at about 7:15 min/mile pace; particularly the last three miles where there was only a second difference between them.

As I neared my house, some kid was riding his bike without holding the handlebars. I picked up the pace to show him what “cool” really looked like. When he saw I was beating him, he quickly held the handlebars and sped off! I’ve proved my point.

Strava data here.

Friday – 5k

I have a tapering routine where I jog 4, 3 and 2 miles with strides on consecutive days in the days immediately before a race. However, being busy with work, church and family has meant I hadn’t got these runs in, which are important for keeping the legs ticking over and preventing lethargy. So once the kids were in bed and despite knowing I’d have a busy day tomorrow, I squeezed in a short 5k. Not ideal, but better than nothing!

Compounding the difficulty was that I wore my glasses that day; something that didn’t occur to me until my baby was already asleep in my bedroom, preventing me from retrieving my contact lenses! I’d have to jog while my glasses balanced precariously. This should be interesting…

Despite going considerably slower than my normal jogging pace, at about 8:45 min/mile, my glasses wobbled a lot and kept falling off! Having to hold them for much of the run was annoying, but needs must, eh?

The jog was successful nonetheless, at least managing to maintain the strides at decent race pace.

Strava data here.

Sunday – Brass Monkey Half Marathon

I’d heard about this race due to it being one of fellow runblogger Andy Yu’s favorites. It’s not one I would have considered otherwise – not least of all because it’s quite early in the training season and 130 miles is a heckuva long way to travel just for a half. But as my wife has an ambition to run a race every month and I wanted to check it out, I figured; why not?

I managed to get a hotel perfectly right next to the venue at a decent rate (£60, thanks to England Athletics), and was walking distance from the town centre. A night of Nando’s and Costa, Fellowship of the Ring and 2 Fast 2 Furious later, and it was race day!

Admittedly, I wasn’t looking forward to this race in the fortnight prior. December had been a bit of a non-starter with training, my parkrun times hadn’t been impressive, and I’d hardly had any long runs. With my last half marathon back in September giving a time of 81 minutes, I doubted I’d be able to match it (check out the comments on my blog post a couple of weeks back). I wavered between attempting a sub-80, or offering to pace Andy to a sub-84. In the end, I figured I spent money on the hotel, petrol and race fee, and drove 3 hours to get there; I may as well give it my best!

My plan – not fleshed out at all and is always one I default to despite being a bad idea – was to go at 5k pace for 6 miles, hang on until mile 8, and see what happened for the rest of the run, with a sufficient time buffer having been built up. Energy gels would be taken at 5 and 9 miles to get me through the parts of the run I’d figure to be the most exhausting. Yes, there were a lot of holes in that plan!

Pre-race

With a gentle half mile warm up jog from the hotel to the start line, the temperature was barely bearable. There’s a reason why the race is called Brass Monkey! Packing for all circumstances, I’d brought my club vest, t-shirt, long sleeve top and gloves. I settled on the long sleeve, which proved perfect for the temperature, and chivalrously gave my gloves to my wife. I don’t need my fingers for running, right?

With start pens suitably organised, I left my wife at the 1:45 area (her current PB at 1:53) and headed for the sub-80 area. I’d gotten accustomed to positioning myself right on the start line, but the runner’s pack suggested that the faster runners were defined as approximately 65 minuters! Humbling, or what?

Meeting up with Andy (who bravely wore a mere vest!), we had a good chat about our expectations. We’d come to the same conclusion that the wind would be against us for the first half, but should give support on the return journey. He warned me about a couple of hills at the start, though thankfully less troublesome than the ones I’m accustomed to at Sandwell parkrun. He also mentioned it was safe to pick up my pace when I saw the racecourse we started from. It was good to have a seasoned expert on hand for all this!

We also met his friend, Carl, who was targeting a faster time than me but was running according to his heart rate. As I’m dependent on my watch, I’d love to be at that stage one day! Carl introduced me to another of his friends, who again was targeting a slightly faster time. In my head I figured that if I could keep him in sight but not worry about catching him, then that would prove a suitable guide. I’d made the mistake of informing them that I was targeting sub-80. I was committed now!

The race

Go!

The start was a bit rammed, forcing me to only 6:30 pace, 30 seconds off where I wanted to be. My experience from London however, had taught me not to worry about it too much; there’d be plenty of time to make it up later. With a bit of dodging, sprinting and weaving, I managed to slip away from the main pack. Carl’s friend was visible for the most part thanks to his bright red top, but just like in the movies where someone disappears when obscured by the crowd, he vanished!

Soon came the the first hill Andy warned me about; good to have a heads up about it. Then came the second hill. “Oh my life!” I thought. Though not as bad as Sandwell, it was still worse than I thought! I took it gently, thankfully was over with quickly.

BrassMonkey
Before… (Photo credit: Ben McNeilage)

Decent sharp downhills followed, as well as a long, subtle decline. Balancing it out, however, was a strong wind against me that drained energy. I made use of other runners as windguards, but it was somewhat limited.

A funny thing about racing, that people you’ve never met before and may never see again will naturally gravitate around you due to running similar paces, and you strike up temporary alliances. Using one such runner to keep my legs and breathing steady at an even pace, windguarding for each other, we had an unspoken motivation between us; “you help me, I’ll help you.” He took a corner sharper than I did, gaining a couple of seconds and reminding me of a scene from 2 Fast 2 Furious I’d watched the night before. You’re not racing, you’re allies! I reminded myself.

At the halfway point (helpfully made clear by a sign stating such), he broke the silence with “we’re doing well lads, keep it up.” It was confirmed; I couldn’t let him down now! In the distance I saw Carl, and we gradually caught up to him. Checking he was doing okay, he felt “just” to drop to marathon pace. Here I was going all out, and he was strolling!

My ally and I chatted a little bit afterwards, confirming that we were both at PB efforts and discussed our marathon goals. To my surprise, he still hadn’t achieved his London Good for Age, having had a disastrous attempt last year but would go for it at Rotterdam this year. Best of luck to him, guy who’s name I don’t know!

Getting my energy gel out for mile 9, the pocket’s zip was troublesome and I was worried about losing my hotel keycard with my fumbling! Eventually – with great difficulty – I managed to get it out while ensuring my keycard was safe. However, my ally had started to pull away, either from second wind or me losing pace. Choosing not to pursue him, I looked to maintain as steady a pace as I could.

The Mile 10 sign came into view, my watch displaying a shade under an hour. Just think; if I was only running 10 miles, I could have gone all out now and achieved my first sub-hour 10 mile run. Oh well, another day. On the plus side, my new 10 mile time is 1:00:38!

In the meantime, another similarly-paced runner had pulled up beside me and he confirmed we were on for an 1:18:45 finish. I was tempted to pull back, knowing that the target was beyond my capability. Nevertheless, I stuck with him, feeling okay though starting to fall apart.

Mile 11, I attempted to swing my legs rather than push too hard, but they felt more wobbly than jelly, less stable than those strawberry shoelaces sweets. I lamented that I hadn’t carb-loaded enough the days before, my legs feeling as though they had literally nothing left within them. Making it worse was the return of the hill we faced at the start of the race. “What goes up, must come down” my ally reminded me. I chanted it as a mantra, closed my eyes, managed to drag myself to the top of the hill and made the most of the downhill.

My new ally had started to pull away from me, and despite trying to keep up, I’d had to let him go. Mile 11 is always the worst point in a half marathon for me, and it proved true today. I constantly felt that the wheels were about to come off, that I’d crash right down to near-walking pace, that despite a valiant effort I’d end up with a time slower than my current PB.

Why am I doing this? To beat Barry. For my wife’s “well done” afterwards. For the “well done” from my colleagues. To prove I’m capable of a 2:45 marathon. Ten minutes left to run one-point-two miles. You should be able to do it.

Andy had said when I saw the racecourse, it’s safe to go all out. It’s one thing thinking it ahead of time, but when you’ve pushed yourself beyond your limits for an hour and a quarter, “going all out” means “keeping upright!”

BrassFinish
…and after! (photo credit: Ben McNeilage)

Before I knew it, the “800m left” sign came into view. Two laps of the track. Come on. I started counting back from 30 (I don’t know why, I’d have picked any number, even a million if it crossed my mind). Then 600m left. 400m. I switched to “duration” on my watch, which displayed 1:18:40. I caught up to my second ally. “You predicted it spot on!” I call out, him responding with something positive. Finish line in sight, I passed him. There was a woman just ahead. You gonna let yourself get beaten by a female? My kick came into full force and I passed her. The announcer confirmed a surprise; it wasn’t just any female, she was the first female! Kicking onwards, I crossed the line a mere second ahead of her. New PB: 1:18:54! Three minutes faster than before!

Post-race

I collapsed onto a metal railing, desperately catching my breath. Once I gathered my strength, I gave thanks and congrats to my two allies who had supported me throughout. Seeing Carl’s friend who finished not long before me, he confirmed a PB as well. A little while later, Carl casually crossed the finish line and Andy a little while afterwards, him having bagged a PB also.

I immediately went for a quick dash (as quick as my exhausted legs would allow) back to the hotel for a shower, change and checkout, returning back to the course to greet my wife. She had also scored a PB by three minutes, 1 hr 50 min!

I’m really happy – even if somewhat bewildered – with the result, accomplishing not only a sub-80 which I’d dreamed of for almost a year, but a sub-79! Even if I don’t run a half marathon again, I’d be happy with that to be my ultimate PB. At least, that’s what I thought for the first hour. Then thoughts of 77 minutes crept into my head… and then 74…! I achieved 78 minutes after two quiet months. Just think what I could accomplish if I actually trained!

Strava data here.

The future

Back at Silverstone a few years back, I attempted my first sub-90 by making use of a pacer. Unfortunately it didn’t happen (I clearly wasn’t ready at 1 hr 35), but since then I’d wanted to be a pacer to help others accomplish their goals. I’m happy to say that it’ll soon be a reality!

At the Birmingham 10k in May, I’ll be a Duracell Bunny, pacing those looking to go sub-40! It’s a distance and time I’m more than comfortable with (I pulled out a 37 minute one, twice today!), but it will be nerve-wracking knowing there’ll be people watching and dependent on me. Nonetheless, I’m excited about it!

New Years Day – 7 Jan 2017

Read to the end for a clue to an exciting endeavor on my horizon!

Monday – New Year’s parkrun #1

Staying with friends in Milton Keynes to ring in the New Year, it was a great opportunity to run the two local parkruns, a mere 1.7 miles apart. Sounds fun and easy, right? Try doing it with kids…

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Linford Wood parkrun (photo credit: Bruce Li)

First up was Linford Wood parkrun, a course very similar to Kingsbury Waterpark in terms of its one lap nature, terrain, and paths enveloped by trees. It was a very congested start – 449 runners! – with the great majority having to start to the sides of the path. I wasn’t too fussed about going all out for it, having already bagged two victories in consecutive weeks at Sandwell and maturing in needing to see every parkrun as a race effort. Instead, I’d planned to just pace my daughter around; two parkruns in one day would be a boost to her then total of 7. However, my wife – courteous and loving – volunteered to pace my daughter at this parkrun, and I’d do the second. Teamwork!

The course itself was decent, with a good number of sharp downhills owing to Milton Keynes’ many subways and just one uphill where I overtook a couple of runners. I wondered if I’d overexerted myself on the hill, but I kept a good distance from them. All that hill training has paid off! I felt fatigued due to a late night and my baby crying throughout the night, but managed a sub-19 and 11th place while keeping to a steady pace. Decent course, one I wouldn’t mind running again.

Strava data here.

New Year’s parkrun #2
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Milton Keynes parkrun (photo credit: Bruce Li)

This parkrun circled Willen Lake, and was even more packed with a whopping 588 runners!

When I first floated the idea about the double parkrun to my family, my daughter was totally on board with it, the thought of her “10” t-shirt fixed in her mind. Today, she discovered the harsh reality of “careful what you wish for!” Pretty much the whole time around, she was complaining, shouting and screaming (I’m pretty sure she would have swore if it was in her vocabulary) whilst my baby whom I was pushing along was fussing loudly as well. Needless to say, it wasn’t an enjoyable six hours (what, it was only 38 minutes? Oy vey).

The course itself wasn’t too bad, which was largely flat except for one very steep buggy hill over four flights of stairs, climbing 25 feet in about 100 metres. The park was pretty scenic, and to my surprise I’d in fact run through there before during the Milton Keynes marathon way back in 2016!

And my daughter’s feelings afterwards? “I enjoyed it!” Fickle little thing… oh well, she only has one more parkrun to go!

Strava data here.

Tuesday – fartlek

With this week just easing into my training plan, it gave opportunity to run a fartlek session with my club rather than solo monotony of the track.

Though the route was just down the road from me and I was familiar with most of the roads, I hadn’t connected the dots with how effective a route it was for training. It was a mile-long loop using pavement and cycle paths, fairly flat and perfect for training.

Unsurprisingly, the January weather wasn’t great for it, wind and rain creating an extra dimension to the training. A bunch of kids were sat at the side of the cycle path, watching us run.

“Who would run in this f-ing weather?!” one yelled out, attempting to sound cool to her friends.

I am, you coward.

After a couple of loops, I noticed I kept running into one of the other runners who was taking a shorter route through the park. It naturally turned into a cat-and-mouse session; every time he turned off for his shortcut, I’d speed the long way around until I caught up, sometimes being half a mile. Tom and Jerry, Itchy and Scratchy; eat your heart out!

Strava data here.

Wednesday – runcommute

With this week being full of jogs to ease me into the training routine, this would be my usual runcommute at slow pace though my legs weren’t particularly tired from yesterday’s fartlek. But after my wife questioned my 10k ability, my pride necessitated I prove her wrong!

After my usual expected first mile being slow in the city centre, I was disappointed that my second seemed off-pace as well. Was she right? I panicked.

Nope! From my third mile, I quite happily kept to a 6:15 min/mile pace despite only targeting 6:27 for a sub-40 10k. Once miles 2 to 7.2 were safely and comfortably under 40 minutes despite the first of the miles being slower than desired, I resumed the runcommute as a regular jog.

But it became evident that I could also get sub-90 half marathon despite those seven miles being a jog! Keeping it casual with only one 3-second-pause at a traffic light, I got my most comfortable sub-90 half. Perhaps now I should be targeting comfortable sub-85s…

Oh, and I made sure to rub it in my wife’s face! Comfortable sub-40; booyah!

Strava data here.

Thursday – 10 miles

Someone commented – innocently and purely out of curiosity, I’m sure – if I had a plan or if I made my training up as I went along. Thinking how much that was nearly a word-for-word quote from one of the Pirates of the Caribbean movies regarding Jack Sparrow (sorry, Captain Jack Sparrow), it occurred to me how often I improvise with my plans and routes. Today was definitely no exception!

I’d planned to jog it at 7:15 min/mile pace, I in fact ended up at about 7:00! Accepting my fate, I kept it to the pace without trying and enjoyed it.

The route was a partially improvised one I thought up just before leaving the house. I needed a 10 mile route, so I combined two nearby 5 mile routes. 5+5=10, right? Wrong! As I got closer to my house, I saw that I’d be nearly a mile under! Spotting a side road which I knew had some distance to it, I quickly turned onto it and looped back onto my route, the improvisation successful.

Another Jack Sparrow quote seems apt: “you’re mad!” “Well if I wasn’t, this would probably never work!

Strava data here.

Saturday – five miler

Having hogged the volunteer roles which allow me to still run at parkrun, I bit the bullet and decided to try my hand at timekeeping instead (a character’s quote from Johnny Bravo kept springing to mind; “I am Chronos, Master of all Time!”). Closer to the time (heh, no pun intended), I thought to have my 20-mile long run afterwards; the parkrun is about 11 miles from my house, and I figured I could easily make up another 9 miles via Sutton park or one of my usual routes.

“Ready… go!”

And… click. Wait, is the stopwatch supposed to be counting down from 10 hours?!

Checking with another volunteer, he suggested I just ignore it and still click it as runners came through.

18 minutes later… click. And… nothing happened. Typical.

We (well, he) reset my watch and it would have to be something the Run Director would have to make adjustment for when the results were uploaded. Good job there’s a backup timer!

About an hour after the parkrun started, the tail walker came through. By which time, of course, my fingers were frozen and I was starting to lose feeling in my toes! I was in no mood or shape for my long run, which wasn’t going to happen due to logistical issues anyway.

However, I managed to get my originally planned 5 miles in, with a bit of a Pokemon detour which made it a shade more interesting and got me exploring more of my neighbourhood.

Strava data here.

Sunday – aborted 20 miles

Urgh. This was really one of those days…

Despite my wife valiantly agreeing to be on baby-duty for the night so I could get up early for my 20-miler, my baby was in hyper-overdrive with fussing and crying, meaning neither of us got a decent night sleep. And once I managed to drag myself out of bed and got myself dressed, a peek out the window showed icy conditions which would make the jog somewhat treacherous. Not wanting a repeat of a slip I had last February which made the following days painful, I decided to have a runcommute from church later.

However, being a one-car-family and my baby needing to stay at home meant that plan was shot (as an aside, I also badly dented the car on the way into the church’s car park. That stationary post jumped out at me from nowhere!)

In no mood for 20 miles anymore, I opted for just a quick 7 miler. To make it interesting at least, I decided to whip out another comfortable sub-40 10k but maintain the pace to 7 miles. However, in the space of 30 seconds during the run, I was nearly knocked over 3 times!

I’d say some days it doesn’t pay to get out of bed, but there’s a baby crying in the bedroom…

Strava data here.

The future

For those of you interested, here’s my Jack Daniel JD training plan. Essentially, I have interval sessions on Tuesdays, mid-long runs on Wednesdays and marathon-paced long runs on Sundays. All other runs are to be easy, though I may make Thursdays tempo runs and/or switch it with Tuesdays depending on my work schedule. I won’t go into detail about it here, but if you’re interested in the detail let me know and I’ll break it down for you (admittedly, it looks like random formulae but I understand it!)

And finally, I have a race coming up in a few months which I’ve been wanting to run for a while. “What is it?” you may ask.

 

Duracell_Bunny

Here’s a pictorial clue (there were also hints throughout this blog post); make your guesses in the comments feed, I’ll reveal it next week!

2017 – Looking backward and running forward

It’s been a wild journey hasn’t it? Before my next stage of training begins, I thought this to be an apt time to reflect on where I’ve come from and where I’ll go in 2018.

First up, thank you all for reading my blog, whether you’ve been with me since the beginning or this is your first time. Part of the reason I started this was to provide a measure of accountability in my training; by putting my lofty goals out there for all to see, I’d be forced to persevere no matter how hard things got. Your support and encouragement throughout the year has been incredible, and so part of my success I owe to you. 

Highlights

Without a doubt, the London Marathon was the main event of this year and is a milestone etched in my memory. 8 months on, I still don’t understand how I completed it 6 minutes faster than target when I doubted I’d be able to achieve it at all!

A notable run was a random one I had back in September when I ran from a meeting in Rugby to back home in Birmingham, 28.5 miles. It was then I realised that the marathon distance was no longer something to be feared our bothered about.

Another change in mindset came after the Wolverhampton half and Draycote 20 races in autumn; not so much for the races themselves, but that it was the first time I’d not only placed top 10 in official races, but also won a prize! From then, I began focusing on positions rather than just finishing times. 

Downers

One disaster was running the Stratford marathon two weeks after London. I went in overconfident, without any plan; even during the race I hadn’t decided what pace to go at! It was no surprise then that I pretty much took a nap partway through, exhausted and almost beaten until I hauled myself back up to finish.

Being a man of numbers, I’d like to think of three downers to equal the amount of highlights. But I really can’t think of any more! 

Progress

I started off the year with a 5.0 handicap, and would have been around the 15,000th fastest person in the country. Somehow – and this has surprised me more than anything – I now have a 1.2 handicap and ranked 4,622nd!

I’ve ran more miles this year than in any other – and likely more than I’ll run again – racking up a whopping 2,162 miles; further than the vertical length of Europe!

My target had been to run a marathon in under 3 hours, I’ve now accomplished it three times; the last time without any training or significant preparation. How far I’ve come, eh?

Goals

Thanks to my success this year, I’m now looking to run a marathon in under 2:45, a target that a year ago I couldn’t even dream of! With any luck I’ll achieve it at London, freeing me up to run marathons for the rest of the year without focus on time. 

I’ll also look to run an ultra marathon in the summer; a daunting task, but one which excites me! 

Thanks again for your support, I look forward to seeing you at various races! 

Christmas – 30 December 2017

A 5-year-old running 5k in 31 minutes? Must be my daughter!

Christmas Day – parkrun

There was a time when the prestigious Christmas parkrun at the flat Walsall course would warrant an all-out PB effort. But given that I’d already accomplished much throughout this year, I opted to take a step back to run with my daughters to allow my wife to go for a PB effort while also getting my daughter one step closer to the 10 t-shirt she’s excited about!

My daughter had given me a Christmas card a couple of weeks back but not one to my wife. When asked, she said it was because “daddy always runs with me!” Yes, that makes her an ingrate and backstabber considering all that mummy does for her, but on the other hand, my heart swelled with pride seeing how much running means to her! I’m now obligated to train her to be the best!

Her PB stood at 34:09, achieved at the trickier Perry Hall course. However, her paced had slipped a bit lately during recent practice sessions, likely a result of decreased mileage and cold weather.

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Photo credit: “rocket ron2012”

While my instructions fluctuated between “hurry up and stop looking around!” and “slow down, take it easy!” she enjoyed herself, regularly looking out for mummy. She held onto my baby’s pushchair on occasion (always at the same slight incline in the course) but handled most of the course on her own strength.

Her result? 31:30, a PB by about 2.5 minutes! My first thought? Let’s see if I can get her sub-30!

Simply having a wonderful Christmastime!

Strava data here.

Wednesday – mid-long run

Despite being a rival/nemesis/motivator/buddy, I don’t get opportunity to run with Barry too often; a shame given our similar capabilities (though he’s always one step ahead, dammit). Fortunately, our coinciding holidays gave the chance for him to take me on one of his 14 mile routes.

Starting off from Sutton Park, we headed towards (in his words) “the posh part of Sutton Coldfield.” Me, I consider all of it posh!

Normal people chat in bars, pubs and homes. Yet despite using our lungs and exerting our muscles, we runners chat quite happily while in motion! It was nice to catch up with him, reflecting on our progress over the year as well and sharing our ambitions for next year. Of note, he informed me our 2:45 target for our next marathon would make me eligible to enter London Marathon as a Championship entry, starting within spitting distance from the elites! New motivation!

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My failed picture!

One downer on the route was a large muddy puddle which we were hesitant to run through, though it was a necessity. Barry braving it first, it was comedic to see him run awkwardly in trying to avoid the mud! I wish I’d taken a picture of that, I thought. As luck would have it, we came across another, larger one shortly after. Whipping out the camera app on my phone, I waited for him to go first. And… now! Oops! I slipped on the muddy path and nearly fell flat! And then the camera decides to click! Nearly ended up a mess for nothing!

Splodge splodge splodge, our trainers went for the next mile, thoroughly soaked through. Meh, typical runner problems! Before long, we’d re-entered Sutton park; a late hour, dark, and vacant. And yet, my biggest concern was the cows that sometimes frequent the park! I don’t know if I was expecting a few ninja-cows to jump out from bushes or to randomly start charging at me, but thankfully the park was cow-less.

I don’t think we monitored our pace too much (I certainly wasn’t at all), but the splits came in even, puddle-wading aside. A good run overall, and nice to get away from the urban environment. Always great running with someone and discovering new routes!

Strava data here.

Thursday – 10 miler

Another joint run made possible by coinciding holidays, this time with my beloved. Acting as pacer, I sought to run at 8:00 to 8:30 min/mile pace, but unfortunately frosted paths made such an attempt unwise; there was many a time both of us nearly slipped!

Keeping it steady instead of egging her to run faster, it was a relaxed affair (the good kind) and it was good to have something just to keep my legs ticking over after yesterday’s adventure.

There was one point which I guessed would be muddy but figured the ice would have made it manageable. No such luck; finding iced puddles broke under my foot like crème brûlée, I had to bounce around on paths for stable footing like I was Legolas! Fortunately, my wife knew of alternative route to bypass that area for the return journey, which we used and I’ll bear in mind for future visits. After 8 years of marriage, there’s still a thing or two I can learn from her!

Strava data here.

Saturday – parkrun

After last week’s successful first place finish at parkrun, I decided not only to aim for first again, but to also try to beat the course record of 17:50. My PB elsewhere is 17:40, so it would be possible but difficult given the nature of the course and lack of training lately. Always need to find a way to keep it fresh!

Showing up a bit later than I would have liked, my legs felt a bit heavy (though they always tend to during a warm up) but the attendance didn’t seem particularly large. There were a couple of under 20s that I thought would be sub-18 material, though it seemed like I was the guy to watch out for: “you can chase down that bike!”,”you going to come first again?”, “watch out for him!”, and other such compliments. The pressure was on!

The aforementioned cyclist had headed down the route just before we started, so I decided that I just had to make a strong showing at the beginning by taking and keeping the lead!

Go!

Zipping off, I indeed took first place from the get-go, though heavy breathing behind me suggested someone would overtake soon or they’d overexerted themselves in trying to keep up with me. Fortunately, it was the latter!

Though still feeling sluggish, I held first place despite an unimpressive 6:00 min/mile pace (my target was 5:45) and knew a course record would be off the books today. Enjoying the run nonetheless, the route was easy to navigate though I’d only run it once before. The only downside about being first is that there’s no-one to follow!

Checking my watch at what I thought was a mile through, 1.25 miles had already passed. This’ll be an easy one, I cautiously thought. A quick look back showed second place to be about 10 seconds behind; not enough to relax, but still enough to comfortably score first unless he was playing me.

There was a hill around the 2-mile mark which had proved a struggle last week. Knowing what to expect this time around, it didn’t seem as bad though it still felt like it took forever to climb up. However, I kept my focus on the runners at the apex starting their second lap, so my pace didn’t slip too much and I took advantage of the downhill immediately after. Another quick check showed I was about 20 seconds ahead now. I was good. Relax.

Dodging the first-lap runners wasn’t too bad, however there was one tight path with sharp turns where I’d had to run on the grass and nearly slipped. Nearly; no chance I was going to lose first place from such a calamity!

And then came the final kick-in-the-teeth hill. Loosened my hands. Checked back; second place nowhere in sight. Attempted to push; nothing. I slowed my pace by about 10-15 seconds, knowing there was nothing to worry about and I could at least finish with a smile on my face rather than desperation!

20171230_092908-1Casually crossing the finish line, for the second time in as many weeks I took the first place token thankyouverymuch!

Second place came by quite a while after; to my surprise it was the Captain-America-type guy I’d ran with at the Wolverhampton half! Knowing that he could have beaten me had he been on form somewhat tarnished the victory, but hey, it’s how you perform on the day, right?

Earlier this week I spent half an hour waiting for a bus, only for – typically – three to show up at once. I’ve waited all year to be first place parkrun finisher, and I’ve done it twice! Moreover, I’m now the only runner to have placed first at this parkrun more than once!

I’ll try not to leave it so long next time, lest auld acquaintance be forgot and never brought to mind! Happy new year!

Strava data here.

18 – 24 December 2017

So here it is, Merry Christmas! Hope you’re all having fun!

Monday – 9 miles

A man of diverse music taste, listening to everything from Adele to ZZ Top, from Les Mis to LL Cool J during my runs, I had a recommendation from a reader to check out the soundtrack to Conan the Barbarian. I listened to it on today’s run and was surprised to discover one of the tracks was used in one of my favorite adverts, the Legend of Zelda Ocarina of Time advert from the 1990s! Don’t you love when little things like that happen? What are your favorite running soundtracks?

I hadn’t been too enthused about going out lately, a combination of no immediate races and cold weather dampening my spirits. But as my wife had taken my girls out, offering me a couple of hours to myself I had little excuse for staying in. I considered running for 7 miles, but I felt in the mood for 9 and went with that. As my legs coasted along the pavement and I deeply breathed in the fresh air, the thought popped into my head, Face it, man; this is who you are.

It just felt so good being back out, like meeting up with a friend I hadn’t seen for years! I’d planned on just a casual 8 min/mile pace, but ended up happily doing 6:20s without trying. I’m back to my metronomic pace!

Strava data here.

Tuesday – Christmas Pub Run

Little known fact; my first run with my running club – the Centurions – was their Christmas pub run a couple of years back. Bright eyed and bushy tailed, I’d expected to join them on one of their regular runs; I didn’t expect that my visit coincided with their annual event!

Put into 5 teams of 5, we set out at a few minute apart to have drinks (whether alcoholic, soft or water) at 6 nearby bars before returning to the Sports Centre. The team completing it in the shortest time after handicaps are applied wins; simple. The trickiest aspect of this however, is getting served at each place. So while it’s nice to run as a group, it’s more effective if the fastest of the group can get ahead to place the order. Guess who ended up as the vanguard of my group!

We were the second group to leave out. First stop, aptly, was The Centurion pub. I sprinted off but was only vaguely aware of its location.  After nearly taking a wrong turn, I made it to the pub just as the first group were getting ready to leave. I got the order in successfully and quickly. Well, kind of successfully; one of the group hadn’t planned on drinking but I’d inadvertently ordered them a beer!

Second was The Punchbowl. I couldn’t recall it from the previous pub runs, but fortunately I had my phone. Google Maps to the rescue! Sprinting off again, I made it there in good time, though the first group weren’t to be seen. Had I fallen behind already?

Third was The Toby Jug. On the way, I saw the first group heading back from there, quite a distance from it, taking a different route. How far behind was I now? Ramping up the speed, I pushed on. Fortunately a lady was standing right by the entrance, which I totally would have missed! I rushed my order in quickly, almost illegible due to adrenaline and being out of breath!

Fourth was Sheldon Hall. A few minutes in, my wacky GPS started playing up, making it unclear which roads I was supposed to take. Using the homing instincts of a chicken with an ear infection, I headed in the vague direction I guessed it was in. Random sideroads… shrugging my shoulders at forks in the road… over fences… through a park. I was way off what the route should have been! Running into one of the other teams doing the route in reverse, they said I could tag along with them to get there. Jogging with them for a few seconds, my spider-sense went crazy. “You know what, I’ll find my own way.” Turns out I was right; they revealed later they were messing with me! Heading down a dark path that wouldn’t have been out of place in Lord of the Rings, I eventually emerged on a main road I was familiar with, close to the pub. Success! Sprinting off with my direction sure, guys in a passing car told me to “slow down,” the third time I’d heard it that night. Never. At the bar, the waitress was just staring at a customer on his phone. Is she serving him…? “Can you take my order please?” She looks at me. Then back to the guy. Fine, I’ll wait. Stare. Stare. Stare. “Can you take my order?” I politely request again. She turns to me, then back to the guy. People think I’m fast; not true, I just move at normal speed. It’s everyone else that moves in slow motion! Now, somewhat forcefully and loud (for me), “Can you take my order, PLEASE.” Looking as though she was trying to decide if I was worth her time, she eventually asked for what I wanted. At the last pub, the beer drinkers of the team asked for a non-fizzy beer as Carling proved troublesome. As I’m not familiar with beer, I asked for a non-fizzy alternative. She seemed clueless (surprise, surprise) and suggested Heineken. I accepted. The beer drinkers when they eventually arrived (while she moved like a rusted robot in getting the drinks) weren’t impressed, guessing she was upselling intentionally! On the plus side, the first group arrived long afterwards!

Fifth was The White Hart, very close to the current pub and I knew exactly where it was. On the downside, I’d ordered a lemonade at the last place rather than water which I’d drank up to that point. Man, did I feel bloated! Annoyingly, there was no-one at the bar when I arrived! My frustration growing, I considered jumping behind the bar to get the drinks myself! The first group caught up just as the landlady got behind the bar, but thankfully she took my order first despite the protestations of the first group. However, they’d rushed their drinks and left before my group. Time needed to be made up.

Sixth was The Banbury. Annoyingly, I couldn’t find it on Google! Not trusting myself with the simple directions the team gave me (past the Sports Centre, turn right, and it’s right there), I tagged along with them for the most part. “Turn right here,” my teammate said when we were close. Following the road to the right, I’d taken the wrong right! Running across fields, tree branches smacking me in the face, I got back on track and sprinted to the pub. Got the order in quickly, had time for a selfie before the group arrived, and headed off once they’d drunk.

Back to the Sports Centre. Despite 6 drinks, constant stop-starting, I felt good. So much so, I didn’t even realise I was on sub-6 min/mile pace! Thundering to the entrance, I didn’t bother to slow down, allowing myself to crash against the door to stop. The first team were already back, but by how long? My team arrived shortly afterwards. Were we fast enough?

Yes!

My team won first place, prizes being bottles of wine (appropriately). It was a fun evening out – a great mix of socialising and competitiveness – and I’m glad I scouted successfully to play my part. Hopefully next year I won’t get lost as often!

Strava data here.

Thursday – 7 miles

Finally off work, I did my daddy duty by taking my daughter to school, running style! After dropping her off, I went for a run myself. I’d been wanting to practice running at 6 min/mile pace for longer distances for a while, and thought this would be a good day to try it out. For some reason (though probably not helped by carrying around a Paw Patrol backpack containing my daughter’s change of clothes), I wasn’t able to maintain it over two miles. I’ll just chalk it up to “one of those days.”

Ignoring my watch, I switched to just a casual jog while catching newly-released Pokémon. Gotta make the most of the miles!

Strava data here.

Friday – School Run

Just a leg stretcher today of about 1.5 miles after dropping my daughter off at school, saving my legs for parkrun!

Strava data here.

Saturday – parkrun

Another course change at Sandwell Valley this week! In order to make the course more accessible, it was slightly adjusted from last week’s emergency setup which made it easier to deal with in case of adverse weather. This may be the new permanent course, depending on how it fares for the next couple of events. I was just looking forward to running at Sandwell again, having only had one decent run and one slow-paced!

My warm-up/reconnaissance showed it would be a good course to run on; paved areas providing good grip, trail terrain not too muddy or slippy, and the hills would be manageable. My legs felt a bit heavy though, so I doubted I’d be able to go faster than 6:15 min/mile pace. A shame, as I’d lamented I hadn’t been first finisher at parkrun all year, and I’d hoped to squeeze one in before the end of the month. Who knows, though; perhaps faster runners would stay away?

No such luck, I thought as I headed to the start line. Not only were there runners of good build, but they were raring to go! Nonetheless, I positioned myself on the start line, refusing to be intimidated.

Go!

The first course had a notorious motorway bridge at the half-mile point. The second version removed it. The current version has it right at the start! In one sense, it’s not too bad; having it immediately takes advantage of fresh legs and the initial adrenaline burst. Handled correctly, the sharp incline can be overlooked and there’s the benefit of a boosting decline to usher you into the race (yeah, I class parkrun as a race. Sue me!). Though I was in first place, there was a bearded clubrunner (from henceforth, named “Beard”) who was right on my tail and I knew I wouldn’t shake him anytime soon.

Following the motorway bridge downhill was a steady incline for half a mile. My reckoning was, continue at target pace regardless as there’d be a steady decline for another half mile afterwards. My plan worked, first split coming in at a very pleasing 5:40 min/mile from a target of 5:45. However, Beard was still with me though breathing heavily. I’d hoped that by pushing harder I’d discourage him and he’d back off. He’s going to make me work for this.

1.5 miles in, my pace was at 5:33 min/mile. Consider that my current mile PB is 5:35! Giving in, I slowed down a shade and commented, “go for it, man.” First place wouldn’t happen today.

About 1.75 miles in was another steady incline I hadn’t accounted for, the apex so high it was hidden by fog! I thought to slow down further, but third place was about 10 seconds behind me! Am I really going to be relegated to third? First place was still only about 5 seconds ahead of me, surprising as I thought he’d maintain our previous pace. Nonetheless, I contented myself with second place.

About 2.6 miles in, we’d completed our full lap of the lake and were to head to the final straight for the finish. But Beard was turning off for another lap! Option 1: let him carry on and steal first. Option 2: Same as option 1, but laugh while doing it!

Unfortunately, that kinship we runners feel kicked in and I felt compelled to make things right. “DUDE!” I called out. He’s not going to understand I’m calling him. “FIRST!” I attempt, hoping he’d turn around. Coupled with a marshal’s calling, Beard got the message and quickly swerved back on track. Dammit.

If the previous hills weren’t enough, the final straight is a quarter mile incline for one last kick in the teeth. It didn’t seem so bad during my warm up, but going at full pelt with my energy drained, it just felt to go on forever. A marshal bounced up and down to cheer Beard on for his first place position. Me, a mere second, didn’t receive such an ovation, though she did say “keep pushing.” What else am I going to do?

Though Beard had pulled away from me a bit… I was now drawing closer! Why’s he slowing down? Throwing caution to the wind, I gave it everything I had and then some. I regretted it immediately. That’s why he’s slowing down. However, I kept on pushing harder!

I drew level with him. He’s going to sprint off now, I thought, based on past experience. No, he was maintaining his current pace while not offering to challenge my increased speed. I’d noted earlier that I took the hills better than Beard had. Was this his Achilles heel? I sped past him, up the starting motorway bridge and powered on the downhill to the finish.

I usually try to maintain a level of facial composure, never knowing when there’s a camera around. This time, I was huffing and puffing, expecting Beard to snipe me at any moment, glaring at the finish line willing it to be closer. I must have looked a right sight!

2017-12-23 11.10.15Boom, I snagged first place! Beard coming in shortly after, we congratulated each other on a well-fought race, looking forward to racing again in due time. I can end the year happy, having earned another first place. Maybe I won’t leave it so long next time!

Kudos to my wife, who despite the harder course got a PB by 9 seconds! 

Kudos to my nemesis, Barry, who also bagged a first place finish at our home parkrun with a new PB (currently faster than mine. Currently)!

Strava data here.

Sunday – 9 miles

It’s Christmas Eve, a good reason to stay in, right? Wrong! While others last-minute shopped or spent the evening with families, I decided on a nice steady 9 miler today. Once again, I’d planned on 8 min/mile pace but ended up naturally going at low 7:00s. Though I wasn’t giving much heed to the pace, it seemed like I was going progressively without effort!

Kudos to Martyn who I ran the Nottingham Christmas marathon with; he won a marathon yesterday!

Strava data here.

10 – 17 December 2017

Why is it that no matter how fast I am, I’m always late? Anyways, apologies for this week’s late entry! It was also a low mileage week; ’tis the season to be lazy, after all…

Monday – light jog

Do you remember that elation you had as a kid when the schools were closed because of snow? Turns out the same feeling continues when you’re an adult, who’d have guessed? Working from home due to cancelled buses, I spent all day indoors and was eager to get back out after a pleasant run through snow-packed paths yesterday.

Intentionally taking my time as ice now encroached the paths, I took the opportunity to mess around with Instagram as I ran. It’ll take me a while to get the hang of this new-fangled tech!

toddcartyOn the plus side, I only had one near-disaster; attempting to sprint across a road to dodge an oncoming car, I slipped, though not enough to fall over entirely. I must have looked like a right wally as I just about made it across the road… Oh, wait; I know who I must have looked like (click here)!

 

Strava data here.

Wednesday – steady jog

Since Tuesday had proved too troublesome to go out for a run (even walking to the bus stop proved treacherous), I thought to just have a light run today (even after I’d advised my wife not to go out… yeah, I’m a backstabber when it comes to running!). Having not run any great distances for a while, I was absolutely itching to get out.

Taking caution with every step, I maintained steady footing with a steady 7:00ish min/mile pace. The ice didn’t prove too troublesome, some might even say it was vanilla. Meanwhile, I handled it so smoothly, I was Black Ice!

Strava data here.

Saturday – light jog

Well, that was a weird parkrun…

With many parkruns across the nation cancelling due to ongoing sub-zero temperatures and lingering snow, my current regular parkrun was the one of the very few operating in the Midlands. As I’d volunteered to marshal anyway, I was less concerned about the dangers that might be presented and more about the potentially overwhelming numbers that might show up. I’d guessed at least 300 would attend, treble the usual number; I was way off, only 170 came!

Using a new route which had been valiantly cleared by the Event Director, today would start a short walk away from the usual starting point, go two laps around a kilometer-long lake, and finish after a quarter-mile uphill. I’d gotten lost trying to find the start point, so once again I was late despite having arrived five minutes early. Typical!

I’d marshal right at the end, between the lake and finish. As I had 10 minutes to spare before the start time, I had a short jog around. I was somewhat glad not to be racing parkrun; the conditions were not PB-friendly, though heavy helpings of grit made a number of the paths pretty safe. My jog over, I headed to do my marshaling. To be honest, I thought it would be the least interesting point. How wrong I was…

12 minutes after 9am, a runner came sprinting up. He’s not a parkrunner, no way he’d be finished already. He’d need a dog to be dragging him for a sub-13 time (yeah, I’ve got my own thoughts on that so-called record). Ignoring him for the most part, a second runner came up about 30 seconds later. Something is wrong…

Me: “What distance are you on?”

Second-place: “2.3. Have I taken a wrong turn?”

Me: “Err… carry on…”

As he left and a horde of parkrunners came charging up, I panicked. I was marshaling directly opposite a path that would run parallel to the lake. Was I supposed to point them in that direction for their second lap?!!

I ran to the finish (passing a few runners, thank you very much) to meet the Event Director. He was already running toward me, clearly aware of this awry event.

Me: “Was I supposed to point them towards their second lap?”

Event Director: “Nah, it’s not you.”

Me: “That’s a relief. Well, I mean, it’s not great anyway…”

Event Director: “Can you barcode scan for me?”

I grabbed his scanner and headed to the finish funnel to switch volunteering roles. All was going well, and it was nice to see the runners after their efforts (even if 1km too short). That is, until I scanned one runner’s barcode and he casually dropped his finish token into the bucket before I’d scanned it.

Me: “I haven’t scanned it yet! What number were you?”

Runner: “I don’t know. Maybe… this one?” as he pulled out a random token from the bucket.

Me: “Maybe?” I’m not risking screwing up someone else’s – perhaps everyone’s – time on “maybe”.

Calling a halt to my scanning duty to save from mangling the parkrun further, I switched roles again to token sort! I figured just to do the first 100 just give the nominated sorters a headstart, and began sorting out in the cold as the cafe didn’t open until 10am. I was halfway through when the nominated sorters came up, wanting to fulfil their duty. So four of us sorted tokens in the cold, when they’d planned to do it in the warmth of the cafe. Oops.

All in all, it was one to remember. Surprisingly though, I didn’t hear a single complaint about the unexpectedly short course; I think people were just happy to be out, and appreciated that a parkrun was running where the others had cancelled. Of note though, it felt like the revised route was an improvement on the regular one, missing out the infamous motorway bridge hill.

Here’s to hoping next week’s runs smoother!

Strava data here.

4 – 10 December 2017

Training like Rocky Balboa, dashing through the snow!

Monday – Recovery jog

With work and Mandarin class taking up the day, the only opportunity to run came at the unsuitable hour of 9:30pm. As I have no races for the rest of the year, it was so tempting to just skip it entirely. But my legs were drained and quite achy after yesterday’s marathon; likely down to not cooling down properly, foolishly just sitting down immediately afterwards. Therefore, I needed to run to stop from seizing up entirely!

I’d initially thought to jog 5k, but settled just for 2 miles. I couldn’t really get up to speed, hardly venturing below 8:00 min/mile. Not concerned though, the point was just to stretch the legs out.

Strava data here.

Tuesday – Intervals

I’d watched the Japanese cartoon Dragonball Super for the first time the night before, with the rivalry between Goku and Vegeta continuing. After the conclusion of Dragonball Z, Vegeta had grudingly accepted Goku was the strongest after saving the planet. But refusing to fully concede, he increased his training, refusing to settle for second best. As my nemesis Barry recently ran a 5 mile race in a stellar 28:27, I have to acknowledge he’s the faster one for now. But it doesn’t mean I have to settle for second best!

I’ve ran the same sessions at the track over the last month. As I needed to up my game from just 800m reps, I ran 5 reps of 1k at 5k pace but allowed a generous 400m (2 minute) recovery. My plan for now is to increase it to 6 reps, then drop back to 5 reps but with reduced recovery of 200m. Perhaps then I’ll increase it to mile reps with 400m recovery, then see about doing a whole 5k at that pace!

When I arrived at the track, a club member I regular see said there was a rumour going around I was aiming for 2 hr 30 min at London, quickly adding he was kidding. It wouldn’t surprise me if people were actually saying that about me! Seeing quite a few others from the club, one called out, “it’s Shaun!” It felt like a fan calling out to a celebrity! With everyone around, I thought being in their presence would cause my pride to push me, but they left not long afterwards.

The reps didn’t come in as fast as I’d liked, not helped by the wind and a growing discomfort in my leg. Disappointed that it didn’t seem as though I’d hit the target, I gave it everything I had on the last stretch of the final rep. My frustration at being temporarily beaten by Barry caused me to shout out in a Japanese accent, “NUMBAA ONE!” My pace then momentarily hit 10 seconds faster than target!

On analysis, the reps weren’t as bad as I feared; 5:26 min/mile, 5:32, 5:32, 5:34, 5:36. Though only one had come in faster than target, the others bar one were acceptably close.

Of concern though, I could barely manage the first of the cooldown laps; I was actually limping! Will need to take a day off to fully recover methinks.

Strava data here.

Saturday – jog

Skipping my regular Wednesday runcommute, I’d wanted to run 6 miles at half marathon pace on Thursday but my legs were still aching. I’d then wanted to go all-out at parkrun, but a shortage of volunteers meant I’d have to miss it in order to marshal. Perhaps I could run there afterwards? No, it was cancelled due to bad weather!

Needing to pick up some screws from the local DIY store, I used it as an opportunity to get a run in. Still not feeling 100%, I aimed to run it as a jog. Sensible, given the snowy conditions!

However, my pace tended towards 7:00 min/mile which was a pleasant surprise. There was still a slight niggle in my legs, but it was more of stiffness rather than an ache. Getting back on form, glad I haven’t got any races soon!

Sunday – snow jog

One of my favorite movie scenes is the Rocky IV training montage; Ivan Drago using the best of 80s technology to become the perfect fighting machine, while Rocky Balboa uses natural methods, training in a cabin and running up Russian mountains in the pursuit of vengeance. All to the set to the perfect running track, Hearts on Fire!

So when the curtains unveiled a white landscape and driving to church would have been problematic, my first instinct was to run the 8 miles there! But not wanting to leave my family alone, we instead had a nice morning of snowball fights and making our first snowman as a family!

Later on, my daughter – not fazed by our busy morning – wanted to go out again. “Do you want to run to the park?” I asked. “Yeah!” she exclaimed!

So after a bit of daddy-daughter time, I then went out for a run of my own; just a little 5k to see where I was at and what it would be like running in the winter conditions. There was no training like snow training!

20171210_144844-1Sticking to the cleared roads for the first part, I reached a comfortable pace quite easily, the blowing snowfall actually proving quite refreshing. The cycle paths were completely buried, so I was unsure most of the time whether I was dashing through the snow on a paved surface or grass! Holding caution on my every step, I only had one almost-slip, though fortunately there was a rail I was able to grab to steady myself. Unfortunately, it was embarrassingly in front of park users!

Though it was only 5k, there was considerable effort exerted but I felt all the better for it. I’d definitely do it again, a shame such conditions are rare. Let it snow, let it snow, let it snow!

Strava data here.

Musings
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Finish line pic, as fresh as a daisy! (photo credit: Mick Hall for Time2Run events)

You might remember that I had some criticisms of last week’s marathon, though overall it was an enjoyable experience. To their credit, the organisers have taken people’s feedback on board and have made the following changes for next year: goody bag; separate events on different days to reduce congestion; lowered the car park price to £3.00; improved medals; toilets around the course; and additional prizes. There were also free photos to download, of high quality. I’d probably only run it again if I was looking to rack up my marathon count, but I’d be more inclined to do so, and certainly feel comfortable recommending it to those interested (assuming you’re okay with running laps!). The early bird price is £32, £36 full price (both if affiliated, add £2 otherwise).

On the other hand, the Birmingham International Marathon has increased its cost to a whopping £58.00 for next year! No early bird discount, or club affiliation reduction. I’m usually borderline at £50, there’s no way I’d spend £58.00 on a marathon; especially a non-prolific one such as this one which is still working out the kinks. Compare that with, say, London which charges £35.00 and attracts such legends as Paula Radcliffe and Eliud Kipchoge. Perhaps I’ll spectate instead!