On the up

Well at the risk of speaking too soon I think I’ve finally turned the corner this week as I’ve got a couple of good runs under my belt and felt much more energised out on the road. It might be the fact that the cooler nights are taking me back to my earlier training when I was leading up to marathon number 1 in Jan as I had quite a good routine at that time. Holidays, work and hot weather just threw everything out of sync so I’m really glad to be feeling like things are getting back to normal.

Anyways, the acid test will be tomorrow’s long run but since I’ve only got just over a week to the Berlin Marathon now I’ll not be going too mad. Thanks to all for the messages of support last week, it really helped with getting my head back in the game.

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Got to get out of this rut

Still not back on form after another disappointing week. I thought things were beginning to pick up after some reasonable speedwork last week and a half-marathon last weekend but then managed to go downhill again and Saturday’s long run was just lamentable. I think a major factor has been pressure of work. Long 12-14 hour days and late nights are just not compatible with training at this level and added to that is the inevitable rushed meals, poor hydration and restless sleep… The list goes on!

What concerns me most is the fact that Berlin is fast approaching and I’m not feeling marathon fit yet – let alone ready for a new PB which is disappointing considering it was probably my best chance for it. Still, I should really be pleased with the fact that I’ve got this far and I’m still running at least so I’m sure I’ll snap out of it at some point.

Anyway, things should start easing off at work this week which is a plus and that might get me back into the swing of things – here’s hoping! Only 4 more races to go anyway and the main thing is that I finish them all and worry about PBs next year when I can focus my training on specific races.

Sorry if I’m not sounding very inspiring this week (especially for those choosing to follow my example) but we all have our off days.

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Off the Pace

Really been struggling this week – pace is way off and just had that “too heavy to run” feeling in my legs a lot of the time. Not sure why but holiday has probably contributed to my lethargy (even if I did run a marathon while I was away). I think I need to go teetotal for a bit and maybe change my diet until things get back to normal. I also need to get my sleep patterns sorted out I think – I’m going to bed far too late and waking up too early. I’ve found getting back into a normal routine after 2 weeks in Canada (where I never even wore a watch) quite hard. Still, work is getting busier for the next few weeks so that will force me into a routine whether I like it or not…

Saturday’s long run wasn’t nearly as long as I’d planned but it was enjoyable in that I just randomly followed every “Public Footpath” sign I came across on one of my usual routes. This took me to some parts of my local area I never knew existed so that was a positive outcome as there’s a fantastic view of the whole of London on a hillside that I’ve never been to in 15 years of living in this area!!

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Word is getting round!

Just had my first donation today from someone I don’t know! That has really made my day as it’s the first time someone other than family and friends has acknowledged what I am trying to do.

Thanks Mark, it’s really appreciated.

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The Baccalieu Trail

On Sunday I completed marathon number eight. This was my second solo run of the challenge since there was no organised race I could participate in but unlike the Grand Union Canal in February where I had to carry all my supplies with me, this time I had my family in a support vehicle carrying water, sweets and energy drinks! It also meant that, unlike many of my previous races, we could actually get some photographs of me en-route. This was my first international marathon too, being on holiday in Newfoundland visiting family this was an ideal opportunity to do a long run through the fantastic scenery and clean air here.

The route I chose started on top of the hill just south of New Perlican and finished at the Lions Club in Old Perlican, the town in which we were staying. There were two routes I could have taken, the other being along the Southern side of the peninsula. The Southern road would have been considerably flatter but is a lot busier in terms of traffic and not nearly as scenic as the Northern road which takes in all of the coves as it winds through some seriously challenging hills – just see the profile on GB Mapometer to see what I mean!!

Amazing Views

The good thing about hills of course is that all the “ups” have a corresponding down, so whilst I spent a fair amount of time power-walking up the more severe gradients I was able to keep my average pace up on the runs back down the other side. Considering the amount of hills I was still able to complete the run in 4h 23min which is on a par with the trail runs I’ve done in the UK. This was due in no small part to my support team who kept me supplied every few miles – usually on the tops of the hills so that was always a welcome sight to see a water bottle being held out at the end of a long climb.

Presentation

At the end of the run, the local Lions club had prepared a reception for me with a very welcome lunch. The run had been publicised around the local community and they had been collecting sponsorship for a charity they support – The Max Simms Memorial Camp, which provides recreational facilities for disabled children. In total, my run raised $800 for the centre which was very welcome.

Joined by the crew for a couple of miles!

This was by far the most scenic run I have ever done and I certainly felt the difference from the unpolluted air. Seeing a couple of whales breaching in the sea off the coast was an amazing sight too! This will certainly be one to remember and having now run the inaugural “Baccalieu Trail Marathon” perhaps the Lions club will make it an annual event…

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Gearing up for Number 8

Only a few days to go before the next run and I’m feeling ok, despite it being so close to the last one. Did a comfortable speedwork session this morning without any problems and will probably squeeze in a short run before the weekend. Sunday is marathon day and like February, this will be a solo run as I was unable to enter an official race this month. Should be fine but motivation is always a problem when running so far solo but we’ll see.

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Fairlands Valley Challenge

Well yesterday was a milestone with marathon number seven. I now have less races to do than I have done, which is a great feeling. The Fairlands Valley Challenge is organised by the Fairlands Valley Spartans AC and has been running for a number of years. Similar to the Cheltenham event last month this is a trail run but whereas Cheltenham had route markers (for all the good they did me) this was a completely self-navigated route. Several distances were available, both for walkers and runners, with each being a slightly different route so following someone else was not a good idea unless they were on the 26 mile course!! The instructions however were very clearly written with enough detail for you to orient yourself with landmarks along the way. You did have to keep track of where you’d got up to though as trying to subsequently find your place in the list was quite a task. We were also given maps but apart from occasionally using it to get a rough idea of how far round I was I pretty much relied entirely on the written instructions.

As with Cheltenham, you had a route card to be stamped at each checkpoint (which were also water/feeding stations) and you could effectively turn up and start at your leisure but they did have two organised mass starts, one at 9:30 for walkers and one at 10:30 for runners, which was the preferred option to make the timekeeping easier. After a few miles everyone seemed to settle into similar paced groups, which helped with the navigation and encouragement. This time around I managed to stay on course 100% and each checkpoint distance was almost spot-on with what my Garmin was telling me. The checkpoints were almost like mini cafes with a selection of sweets, biscuits and homemade bread pudding! as well as water & squash. This time around I didn’t stop the watch for the checkpoints so my time of 4h 43m was total time out on the route which is an improvement on last month. This was mainly due to the terrain being much more “runnable” as it used a lot of byways, bridleways and tracks that allowed us to keep the pace up – with the inevitable stop-start every so often to read the map etc…

I found this to be a very well organised event and one I would certainly do again. The free barbecue at the end was definitely a welcome sight after crossing the line too!

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JP Morgan Chase Corporate Challenge

Last week I participated in the JP Morgan Chase Corporate Challenge, an annual event in Battersea Park that is now in it’s 34th year! The race is part of a series that takes in all of the major cities of the world culminating in a championship final for all of the best teams. This year Singapore is the championship host. Teams are made up from companies all over the UK (though mainly those which have staff in London) and I have captained the team for my employer for the last 3 years. This is an all-ability and the course is only 5.6km in total so it makes for a pleasant jog in the park if you can negotiate the crowds. This year’s event attracted over 25,000 participants from over 622 companies and has for the last few years been split over two evenings to accommodate the sheer numbers but even so, the 13,000 runners we had on Thursday night were still packed in pretty tight!

This is the first year that they have also introduced a wave start, grouping runners into time pens allowing the faster ones off in advance and gradually letting each group go in intervals. This has no bearing on times since it’s a fully chip-timed race which makes life a lot easier for the team captains who originally had to collate everyone’s times as reported by the runners themselves and since this year one company fielded over 1000 runners that would have been no mean feat!

In the end I managed the course in 26:00 exactly, which is shy of the 21:00 I was hoping for but to be honest I could comfortably do with shedding about half a stone at the moment! Anyways, marathon number 7 is this coming Sunday and is another off-road trail run so hopefully I’ll sweat a few pounds off then… Other than that, training is going ok – although probably a bit lax compared to earlier in the year but the plan is to go for a PB in Berlin in September as I have a six week gap between races so I can get some quality speedwork and distance runs back under my belt. As always, marathon report will be published a day or two after the race so see you next week.

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Cheltenham Circular Challenge

Well they call this the “prettiest marathon in Great Britain” and I would certainly agree with that statement because this was definitely a change from the tarmac torture I’ve endured over the last five races. However, to call this a race would be a a bit of a misnomer because you start on your own!! Basically this is a 4-stage trek around the outskirts of Cheltenham, starting and finishing at the racecourse. On arrival you register at the HQ and then when you are ready you get your timecard stamped and off you go. At each of the checkpoints your card is stamped and you get the option to return to the start on the minibus, allowing you to do as many of the sections as you feel able. The whole route is 26.2 miles however which is why it qualifies as an official “marathon” but don’t expect a PB when doing this one! I decided at the start that I would take my Garmin time over the clock time and would stop the watch at each checkpoint for a short break, which proved to be a good strategy in the end as I spent quite a while at one checkpoint with a bad case of the runs (yes ok – too much information). So, while my watch time came in at 4:57:28 as actual time spent on the move I would image the course clock time would be closer to 5:20 or so.

Off into the hills!

Anyway onto the course itself, the first stage starts out on single track roads and you start heading towards what is quite a significant climb up onto the panorama overlooking Cheltenham. It was only after a mile or so that the first waypoint took me off-road and into a field, which wasn’t too bad to start with as the ground was quite even but as the hills approached the gradient really started to take it’s toll and I was soon down to a stride as I was literally climbing up a steep grassy bank. I decided that the best approach to this race was going to be walk up – run down (wherever possible) and only run on surfaces where I wasn’t going to risk going over on an ankle and – and there were certainly plenty of those!! As well as the tracks and open fields there were a lot of  passages through hedgerows and small bridges over streams to negotiate as well as countless stiles and kissing gates – and this was just the first section… The  first checkpoint was a welcome sight, not just for the water but also to reassure me that I was following the map ok. Waypoint MarkersThis was not repeated on stage two when I managed to get very lost having missed one of the small waypoint markers on a fencepost and ended up in a small village street that I couldn’t find on the little hand-drawn map I was given. A local passer-by couldn’t really make out where I should be going and just suggested I ran down the main road until a got to a road sign which I duly did and managed to get back on a heading to a village that was on the map. By this point I was worried that I’d completely messed up the route but when I eventually got to checkpoint two, the official half-way stage, my Garmin clocked me in at just over 13.1 miles so despite missing out on some of the scenery I was still ok as far as distance was concerned and decided that was good enough.

Yes, that really is the path!!

After a water refill in my new Camelback belt (really good!) and an energy bar I was off again and this time paying more attention to the map. Section three was called “Fields” and they really were not joking as most of the route was across completely open terrain with only the faintest hint of where the actual path was but thankfully there were plenty of walkers on the route taking time to read their OS maps and GPS’s so I found them to be a reliable indicator of the route. At checkpoint three there was the offer of free squash and biscuits and a request to sign a petition to stop developing on greenbelt land, which was a small price to pay for a couple of fig rolls, and then off onto the last section known as “Villages”. As the name suggested this had far more of the solid surfaces I was used to and I was able to actually run a decent pace for the final few miles but this soon dropped back into the cross-country terrain as I hit mile 23. By this time, negotiating a stile with tired, stiff legs was becoming quite a strenuous exercise and having banged my knee in the same place on about 10 or more of them by now I was starting to hate every one but soon the racecourse came into view and that last mile magic kicked in as I jumped the last stile and ran down the road to the HQ to be stamped out after more than five hours of being attacked by nettles, thorns and just about anything else that the British countryside could throw at me.

Still, this was without doubt one of the most enjoyable races so far and the overall event organisation was superb with plenty of water available, a friendly family atmosphere and some spectacular views. I fully intend to come back next year and do this one as a walk so that I can better appreciate it. Full marks to Cleveden Vale Rotary Club for a great event.

The route I ended up taking is below and the gallery contains a few more pictures.

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Almost Half Way

Well another week gone and only a week to go until the Cheltenham Circular Challenge which will be marathon number six, marking the half way point in my challenge. It will certainly be a good feeling once that one is out of the way! This week has seen me finally getting back on form after what has been around a month of coping with a knee problem. I’m glad to say that it has now completely cleared up and I’m getting no problems now whatsoever so that has been a real confidence boost and has allowed me to start getting some decent speedwork back into my training.

My pace is slowly creeping back up to what it was too. Thursday night’s speedwork was hitting the kind of split times I was getting back at the start of the year and hopefully this is a sign that I will be able to start coming in with sub-4:00 times again. However, I doubt that will be the case this month since it’s a multi-terrain trail run and the course record to date is 3:33:10!!

Today’s run was a pleasant 10 miler in the sun and I maintained an average 8:30 pace all the way round so hopefully I can keep improving on that over the next six months. Not a lot else to report this week really as it’s just been a case of business as usual apart from the fact that my wife has finally got the running bug now and is training for her first 10K in July. It’s a race I’ve always done every year but I’m going to drop out this time around so that I can cheer her on – that and the fact that I have another race that week too so best not to overdo it…

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