Tuesday, May 26, 2020

A Trip To Shelter

Good morning everyone. Today is a rest day ahead of possibly another long training run tomorrow. In truth, I haven’t decided what to do yet, but thinking of repeating Saturday’s epic to try and get that time down. As you will know, the reason I am doing all this is that in March, I decided to do The Great North Run, partly as a challenge for myself, but most importantly to try to make a difference. One of the questions I am often asked is, ‘Why Shelter?’ when there are so many worthy causes out there. I suppose to answer that question, I go back to my teenage years, when the town in which I grew up had one man who slept rough. He used to sleep on the market until having to move on. Eventually, the local church approached him, as he was sleeping in the churchyard and asked him to become the hall caretaker. In return, they gave him the opportunity to sleep in there as he had keys and also paid him enough money to get by, as I recall. I worked in the pub near the church and occasionally he would come in at 8pm, buy a half of bitter (60p) and nurse it through until closing time. I have often wondered how his story ended...So my link with the homeless goes back to the very early 1990s. I always bought The Big Issue in Preston or Manchester and in recent years, whenever we go to a big town or city, am dismayed at how many people there are without a roof over their heads. We try to help, with hot drinks, sandwiches etc, but it’s not enough. Nobody should have to live outdoors, should they?

Today, I was invited by Max Newton (head of Community Fundraising) to a virtual hub event, to come and learn more about the work of Shelter and how public donations can have a direct impact. The speakers were:

John Ryan - Hub Manager Manchester
David MacIver - Hub Manager Glasgow
Ruth Francis - Service Manager, Inspiring Change Manchester.

Each talked for ten minutes about the aspects of their work and how it is made possible by the generosity of people like us. They are building their work around a core belief that access to a safe home is a fundamental human right. There is so much more to the work of Shelter than simply helping homeless people to find homes, they also provide a huge range of services including:

  • Legal advice and support
  • Working with individuals, communities
  • Supporting mental health
  • Providing basic skills tutoring
  • Involvement in policy direction
  • Helping people to access benefits 
  • Campaigns
There is so much more that I could tell you, but instead I will share a link so you can see for yourselves. The Inspiring Change Manchester project is close to home for me, please do have a look at their website and see what practical support they give.

Ruth Francis spoke at length about the services and this is really inspiring; peer mentoring, mental health support, basic skills, art sessions, tea and biscuits to name a few. It was great to hear that during lockdown, people were still being supported through (as an example) being given phones to enable virtual contact. This is amazing and shows that money donated is really making a difference. Much of the work is around prevention and intervention to support people in overcoming barriers. Please consider lending your support to this amazing charity.

Thanks for reading to the end! If you are in a position to do so, please consider clicking the link below and making a donation. All this really matters, and once the COVID19 situation is over, many more people will be needing support as are likely to lose employment and income. As you may know, many homeless people at currently being housed in large hotels. They can not simply be forced back onto the streets at the end of this.

Sunday, May 24, 2020

Long runs...getting longer

Looking back over the past ten weeks, there have been occasions where I have read back through some of the past entries just to remind myself that training is going well for me at the moment. In many ways, staying fit and free of injury remains my number one priority, given my age and track record. In fact, it is pretty much three months since I got on a treadmill to tentatively ‘run’ for five minutes in the gym at 7km/hr  for the first running I had done since the end of the cricket season (remember them?) last August. A more recent blog entry talked of stepping up to 10k, 12k even 14k runs. When I mapped out yesterday’s run, around 19k, it’s fair to say that this would be pushing myself, and in all probability, I won’t do a longer one as preparation for The Great North Run. I had been advised on this run by a friend who told me this would be a good run for me, as it is ‘as near to flat as you’ll get round here’.

As you can see, a circular route, from Billington into Whalley, through Clitheroe via Barrow and then into the beautiful Ribble Valley countryside. Once past Edisford Bridge, we are into the wilds. The road heads towards Bashall Barn, and then a left turn, optimistically signposted ‘Chipping, Longridge’. From there, across towards Dunsop Bridge, then left back towards Whalley via Great Mitton and the long haul past the sadly fenced off Three Fishes and back into Whalley. 

Nutrition is always slightly trial and error on a new run, but there are staples involved...coffee, 500ml Sports’s Drink (with amino acids) and, of course, flapjack. The flapjacks I like come in packs with three small slices, and on a shorter run, I only have two slices (35g) but for today I think the extra distance justifies an extra slice. Besides which, it’s Saturday morning and there are a few glasses of wine that need soaking up from Friday. On top of this, I load 3 gels into my pockets...1 of each type. Electrolytes first....Isotonic for half way through to make sure I stay hydrated and finally caffeine for the home stretch. It seemed sensible and my plan here was broadly to have gel one after 5/6k, the next one after 11/12 and then get to 14/15 see if I needed the third. Stretches and warm up done and I’m ready to go. One thing I have really noticed is the difference that proper targeted stretching makes. My issues with hip/gluten will probably always be there as will the abdominal weakness. Physio work has made a huge impact so before any run, I always really work the hip abductor, and get that opened up. Add in a few sit ups and some other bits and pieces around calf and groin and I’m good to go. If I do this, and maintain a good body position and form, these no longer have an impact at all during a run.

Before setting off this morning, some discussion took place around whether I should postpone for 24 hours. The wind is howling and one glance outside shows trees bending, but it’s dry...so I go for it. Of course, I have set a target time for myself, but there’s always flexibility on a new run due to the unknown aspects, terrain, number of roads to cross, slowing down due to social distancing...and on this one worrying about the level crossing in Clitheroe. The barriers always seem to be down when I drive that way, so it seems inevitable that I will be using trains as an excuse for being late...wouldn’t be the first time. Now doesn’t seem like the right time to start a discussion around renationalisation of the railman networks, so I shall move on, what I’m talking about here I see thinking up excuses in advance, any sports person will tell you, having the excuses lined up stops you from looking inwards and admitting you just weren’t good enough on this occasion. Target time... 1:50 but I’d settle for 1:55 and would be delighted with 1:45. This was determined based on previous times on 16k runs and a few other piece of information and also built on the assumption that the route was a flat one.

I set off at a reasonably slow pace, well when I mean slow, I was trying to find the right rhythm. In amongst all the other bits of brain clutter, I also have my virtual coach watching my every move, so am trying to run with faster steps and shorter strides. Apparently this will make running easier, especially if I can get my feet to stay in contact with the ground for a shorter time. A lot for my little brain to think about. The pace was ok though and the first 2k came through at around 10 minutes, which is fine, it’s mainly flat or downhill, so it’s ok. The wind at this stage feels blustery with the odd gust hitting me but it’s behind me when it comes. As always, I am struggling to get going...breathing isn’t quite right, legs feel heavy and by the time I am in Barrow, feel the need to take on board some carbs...gel number one, 3km sooner than I had planned for. Need some must and I tell myself that I’ll have next one between Edisford and Bashall. The road into Clitheroe provides further frustrations and interruptions to rhythm. It’s only pavement on one side, so of course my issue is caused by people. Nothing new there! I cross the road and run along the road itself with the oncoming traffic heading towards me a few times and cross back whenever it’s safe. Drivers were all very kind and gave me loads of room, but the constant shoulder checks, and coming back and forward didn’t help at all. It gets worse once into Clitheroe itself. It’s only 9am and the streets are busy. The run isn’t going well at all, I’m agitated and not feeling like I am running with any rhythm or consistency.  I’m still lacking energy but the times seem to be Ok. As I go past  Holmes Mill, I seriously consider turning left onto Woone Lane and heading home. It wouldn’t be my longest run,  but 13/14k would be ok wouldn’t it? Just at that point, I looked up, saw the Level Crossing up and took this as a sign, crack on. You can do this. Through the level crossing, no trains. Result. When I got to the end, Henthorn Rd was busy and stopping here for 30 seconds or so again interrupted my rhythm and, whilst waiting, consumed gel number 2. I’ve only run 7k. 

From here, I had a relatively smooth 5 minutes, but the wind was strong and now absolutely in my face as I headed past Roefield, over the bridge and up the hill. There’s a pub on the bend and the left fork here is signposted ‘Whalley’. A left turn here gives me a 16k run and a shorter route home. Time to choose... I choose right and decide to keep on plodding. By this time I am really plodding as well, there’s nothing flat about this route and the next 3km are all uphill, winding roads and I am exposed to the conditions. The wind feels like it’s  blowing at about 40mph and I cannot see me finishing this run, let’s alone within my target time. With only one gel left, over 10k from home and self doubt eating away at me, I need something positive to help me and nothing is coming. People say that boredom isn’t the biggest challenge of long distance running, but for me it isn’t. It’s being so far from home, already exhausted but with less than half the run done. Exposed to the elements, no way of contacting anyone and the only way home is on foot. In short, self doubt. As soon as I pass half way, this always diminishes. After what seemed like hours, Bashall Barn appeared on my right and a left turn would be the boost I need, especially if I get so some ice steady downhill sections. That doesn’t quite happen, but it undulates quite gently for a while and I finally, after 10k, am running quite well. I hit 10k in 55 minutes, which is a pleasant surprise. It’s about the pace  I was intending, a touch slower perhaps, but this has been much harder than I had anticipated.  This was the boost I needed...and I kicked on. I took my last gel at around 12km, as I know it takes a little while to get into the system. Otherwise, I remember little from there. Sections of road seemed not as long as I thought, hills didn’t seem as steep and the wind died down (which was a shame as it would have been behind me. Fatigue started to kick in as I crossed the bridge and headed up Whalley Road, but I managed something of a sprint finish and finally made it home. That had been a battle and one that the unknown had led to me underestimating. Still, I’m home, I did it and am feeling ok overall. Time?

Overall I have to be happy. There were some very shaky moments where I lost focus and confidence, the wind was brutal but I stuck at it. I’m going to do that run again soon, on a calm day, maybe I can push towards 1:45..: who knows?

Tuesday, May 19, 2020

Hitting peak pace?

As I write this today, I am planning a long run for weekend and a few fun challenges for the next week, when work will be quieter and I have a couple of days off. After the big adventure over Pendle, and the excitement of new running shoes (see previous entry), I have done a couple of shorter runs. By shorter runs, I mean runs that a couple of months ago would have been tough, but now seem more straightforward.

The first one was a quick one on Wednesday morning before work started. The first run in the new magic shoes!!! Cut a long story short, I have sorted out the slow first km and am starting to push from the beginning. The run took me up into Wiswell, down through Barrow and is just over 7k - time was just over 35 minutes - came out as 5:03 per km (if the distance measured by the shoe is accurate - I think it may be 200m short but not splitting hairs). It's all there in the last entry - with graphs and everything!

With this under my belt, I decided to redo the 10k run that I have done a few times before. When I say 10k, I have never been certain on the distance. The first time I ran it, Fitbit said 10.3km, last time it said 9.3km, which indicates the longer strides associated with faster pace. Regardless of the distance, it's quite a tough run as the first 3k are uphill, then some flat and slightly down but from 6-8k another long gradual climb begins. It's the bypass between Northcote and Clitheroe.

Anyway...previous times had been just over an hour for the first one, second time was 56 minutes and last time out, 3 weeks previously I had headed down again to 51:32 - and felt that I could still go slightly quicker with a better start. So on this occasion, knowing it is harder to carry on knocking massive chunks of time off PBs was hoping for around 50 minutes - aim for the 5 minutes per km and if I miss it a bit, I still beat my best time. Routines followed...coffee, stretch, flapjack and this time I decided to take an isotonic gel beforehand along with the 500ml sports drink (SIS). Set off, feeling fine, weather's good. Dull, cool and with it being early morning, quietness is important. Social distancing is still of huge importance and I basically run on the road to avoid other people - cross the road if need be and  just show some respect for others. Once on the A59, there are no people - there's no pavement, just a grass verge and at times a cycle track, so it's perfect in many ways.

As I said earlier, I felt good and started quickly - uphill, but a really fast first km (under 5 minutes) and at this stage, I am blowing already. Don't know if everyone is the same, but I do struggle until I hit 2km usually. So looking at landmarks, I surmise I am on track to run a decent time. At the point at which I reach the roundabout by Northcote, the time is saying around 13:30, a minute and a half up on last time. Great - all I need to do now is match the pace of the last run and we're fine. The flat section arrives and I take advantage, accelerate a touch and when I hit the 5 km bin (!) I am on 25 minutes - it is the half way point of the run, so 50 minutes is on as long as I keep the pace up over the  next two km. These are a real slog, long, uphill and at points quite steep. This is where the quick start hurt me...I slowed down and the splits show this in terms of the pace of the next 2 km, above 5:30 for both of them. Cadence also slowed down from around 170 steps per minute to around 155.

 Things to work on. Once at the next roundabout, it's a right turn and head for home, 2.2 km to go and a glance at the watch. Less than 40 minutes...can't recall exactly, but I know now that most of the run from here is downhill or flat (apart from a torturous climb up Whalley Road to The Judge Walmesley!) so I will be going under the 50 minute target set, barring some disaster. Foot down time, but not a lot left in the tank so to speak. The quick start hurting me here and energy isn't great. From then I stopped looking at the watch until home and I clicked stop...

47:56 - wow, I couldn't quite believe that, so I went in, synced up my trainers and phone (sounds odd I know) lo and behold, this showed the same time. 47:56 for a run that took me over an hour just two months ago...wow! Now the bad news - IT'S ONLY 9.5 km!!! AAAARRRRGGGHHH! Next time, I will run an extra 200m up Whalley Road and back down, probably need an extra 45 seconds for the full 10k!

That brings me neatly onto the next section...starting to question whether or not this is it - the peak? Running as quickly as I am for as long as I am is putting certain parts of the body under some strain and physically I am not sure that I can actually run with more pace. Maybe the odd few seconds here and there, but realistically, is an aim of 45 minutes for a 10k run asking too much of a body that is a) getting on a bit and b) a bit hammered after a lifetime of sports? Would I be wiser to consolidate now? Keep this pace but extend into longer runs - ie, aim for 16k in 80-82 minutes? With the Great North Run in mind, the purpose of the training is to help me do a half marathon (21k) with as little pain as possible. I have looked at running plans etc, but none of them quite work within the realms of knowing my own body, knowing when to push and when to rest. They are all quite regimented and for me that is demotivating. Any tips from readers who have been on this journey before is greatly appreciated. I have today spoken with a friend who has run full marathons and the feedback given was along the lines of 'forget the speed now. 10k time is fine...so running at a similar pace for longer should be the goal'. It seems wise advice to me and with that in mind I have planned my next long run.

There are very few routes round here that fulfil my 'I want a flat run' brief and with that in mind, the next run I have planned comes in at around 19km - it's a long one and my longest yet. I know I cannot maintain 5 minute kilometres over this distance, but on the first time on each run, it's about setting and maintaining the rhythm and getting the nutrition right. This is a run through Whalley, Barrow, Clitheroe, past Edisford Bridge, up to Bashall Barn, back through Bashall Eaves, through Mitton, back into Whalley then home. It's not flat, but it is the nearest to flat that I can find without driving somewhere to run, which I absolutely do not want to do. So 19km... It's about 3km longer than my longest run to date, which was the 'over Pendle' so if I could manage the same overall pace as that run, would be around 1:50...that's the target time. If I can go faster, great, but I don't want to push it, as this will become my standard long run and I can work on getting the time down... Let's see how it goes. Staying fit and healthy is number one priority and there is no rush. At the moment, the run is still scheduled, so I am preparing for a September run, nearly 4 months to go. No rush.

Friday, May 15, 2020

All the gear...

As the saying goes, no idea. After last week's challenge, I had realised that my original running shoes, whilst comfortable, light and generally great, were not really fit for this level of training. I had picked them up in a discount store in Accrington last summer for £25 as gym shoes and they have served me well. The longer this training had gone on, however, the more I could feel that they didn't quite meet the brief.

I'd been looking online for a while and knew that I needed a familiar brand for sizing purposes. Listening to friends with advice, I also knew that I should go up half a size so bravely I headed onto the Under Armour website (other brands are available) and had a look around. My first thought was obviously 'HOW MUCH???' as every pair that looked decent was over £100! The language kind of lost me...if you don't know what type of runner you are, how do you know if the type of runner these are aimed at is appropriate? Eventually, I settled on a pair that sounded from the description like shoes that actually could make me run faster - magic! I then went back into a well-known search engine (they don't need advertising...the brand is now a universally acknowledged verb!) and typed in the trainer but added the word 'cheap' to the search. Top tip... The first site that came up behind the official UA site had the same shoes advertised at £45. Less than half price - having some of that, but whats the catch? Only got size 15 left? All sizes available, I added to the cart and added half a size to my usual size, as advised. At that point, I decided to have a poke around the site and the amount of bargains was amazing (for anyone who likes good sports gear and likes a bargain, get on sportshoes.com). I also added a long sleeve compression top to the cart and checked out. Three days later, the shoes arrived. Like a child on Christmas Day, I opened the box and there they were...trainers, but not only trainers, once that would make me run more quickly and glide across the ground. Maybe. As I opened them, I noticed a symbol on the inside of the shoe... a symbol I recognised... Bluetooth? What sorcery is this? I had no idea, but the shoes had a bluetooth insert which would measure stride length, cadence (yes, I had to look it up too), pace, average pace and would work with an App called 'Map my Run' to produce all sorts of data and analysis. Maybe they would make me run fast as the app also has a 'live coach feature' (turned it off...annoying and needs me to take my phone out with me).

Only one thing for it, go for a run...no phone, just magic trainers and a new compression top (which I believe keeps you cool and warm as required? Weird). I got up early one morning, set my work up for the day...you know the drill by now. Coffee, flapjack, water, stretch, run. Running with my Versa is generally accurate overall but as I shorten my stride uphill it makes my uphill running look quicker and my downhill slower - would this be different? One way to find out - an up and down run. I didn't have long, so went on a route that I had walked a few weeks ago and was just over 7k - roughly 4 1/2 miles, with a mix of flat, then uphill then downhill. Obviously at the time, the information is stored in the trainer itself and when I got back I couldn't wait to get my phone, fire up the app and see what it said. I felt ok running, still feeling relatively injury free and strong (for me) and got home in just over 35 minutes - a good pace for me and probably the fastest I have run for a distance of over 2 miles.

The graphs...

Accurate splits! A decent first km - the first time I have gone under 5:30 for the first km... ou can see after that there is a sharp uphill section (for those who know Ribble Valley, Wiswell Road from Whalley) then a really quick one (down into Barrow) and from then on, all were below the 5m km. Stride length is interesting and one I have to watch. On flat runs, I seem to be around the 250cm mark, which is about 20cm further than it should be, so that's something to keep an eye on and control more. Increase cadence to increase pace. I got all sorts of other graphs and information:

Steps per minute...I don't know what I should be aiming for to be honest, but the relative consistency of this is the most pleasing aspect really. The grey behind is the pace, so no drop off as I go either uphill or downhill. All I do know is that increasing the cadence will be the key to increasing my speed. 5 steps per minute more with my stride length would give me an extra 5.5m per minute, 10 would give me 11m per minute, so over the course of an hour, I could increase the distance covered by just short of a kilometer. How I do that is another story, however. I will use the 'virtual coach' to help me more! Last one...anybody any idea what this means? Sorry...by means, I don't actually not understand it, but what to do with the information about the angle my foot is at when hitting the ground?

Looking forward to getting out again this weekend. Probably going to do a 10k and try to beat the best time I have had on that run so far. Three occasions I have done that... went 1:02 0:56 and 0:52 roughly, so the big question now is can the magic trainers make me run faster? Only one way to find out!!!

Sunday, May 10, 2020

An uphill struggle...

It’s Sunday now, and time to reflect on the big run from Friday, think about what I learnt, and start to plan next steps in the training schedule. For now, rest is on the cards and I won’t be running for a good few days while my joints recover from the pounding they took on Friday.

As mentioned previously, a good preparation for this run had taken place. A few alcohol free days in the build up, plenty of hydration with water, good food choices and a lot of stretches on Thursday meant that I felt ok on Friday morning. For me, a morning run is the absolute best time, starts the day off with some exercise and there are very few people out and about. Due to Coronavirus I am going out as little as possible and apart from when running, am pretty much staying home and avoiding contact with other people. With that in mind, setting off to run up Pendle Hill at about 8.30 am sounds pretty much perfect.

Go through the pre run routine...stretches as laid out by my physio? Done...groin and hip are troublesome areas, so it’s vital that they are properly loosened. Food? Back to this old issue, but the protein flapjacks from Graze are perfect. Light, so they don’t weigh me down, good energy release as well and pretty long lasting. One of those taken and a couple of gels in my pocket, to drink, 500ml of SIS mix (coffee before this obviously) and I am ready to go. At the last minute, I decided to take another flapjack pack with me, with the thought that once I reach the Nick of Pendle, and climbed 360m in a run of around 8.5k, with some steep climbs, I might need some food.

Friday was a decent morning for running, cloudy but warm. When possible, I like a simple approach, shorts and a T shirt, no coat, jacket, base layer and even my trusty tights get left at home today. I’m not someone who likes peripheral stuff getting in the way, so phone, keys etc are all off limits, extra bouncing around would just annoy me. Off we go...down into Whalley and not a soul to be seen, it’s even too early for the socially distanced queue outside the pharmacy to have formed. I’ve been running for about 3 minutes when something starts to irritate me. I am easily irritated as people who know me well will testify, but this time the irritation was caused by me.  The shorts that I wear for running are great, loose fitting, quite long UA ones, they’re not running shorts but who cares? They’re comfortable and that is what matters, but today I have overloaded the pockets, two gels in one pocket and a plastic box with flapjacks in the other is just annoying. The pockets are deep and on the gels side are rapping against my lower thigh. First km done...time is ok...keep running...past Oakhill, cross over and up towards Wiswell...2k done...11 minutes...decent start,  but I am increasingly agitated now, so there is only one thing for it. Without breaking stride, I need to move one gel from the left to the right pocket, take out the flapjack and run with that in my hand. Done...up the hill I go and into the village of Wiswell. Past The Freemason’s Arms (2.8km) in just about 15 minutes, not as quick as last weekend, those lost few seconds fiddling with flapjack...A lot of people really rate that pub and it is supposed to be one of the best in the country, yet I’ve only been once. Came home hungry...again, that says more about me than the place. Now I’m heading out of Wiswell towards Pendleton, a long steady climb and I’m hopeful of being there in under 30 minutes, (pretty much bang on this last weekend...it’s about 5.4km from home and largely uphill, so I’m happy at that pace) but at this point, 2 extra factors kick in:

1) I keep looking up to the right at Pendle looming ominously and asking myself how on earth I am going up and over...
2) Flapjacks are giving me sweaty palms and therefore annoying

So at this point, I make a call. Have a gel, then the flapjacks can go back into the pocket, it will bounce and squeak, but that’s less annoying than sweaty palms. Gel done, flapjacks back in pocket and keep on going. Every minute or so, I am glancing up to the right and Pendle looms large, putting doubt in my mind. As I write each blog, I imagine that the only people who will read my waffle will know the area, but the site hits suggest otherwise. So, for my readers in Russia, Argentina and Turkmenistan, here is a picture of Pendle:

I think there are a few things at play here. Pendle is impressive and intimidating as it is so wide, and in my head, looking at it from here, I can see the road that will lead to the top. It looks a long way off, steep and the question keeps coming to mind, ‘Is it too soon to do this?’Am I actually fit enough? Self doubt is always lurking. Back to it, a bit slower than last week and as I turned right at Pendleton at exactly 30:30 I’m still hopeful of finishing the run in a reasonable time (target in mind...). However, the next kilometre is a road I have never been on before and the one after that, up to the top is one that I have had cars struggle to get up. Any times I have in mind will be totally dictated by whether I can keep going, at any point, turning round and going home is a decent option as that would now give me a 12k+ run, decent workout, but would be downhill most of the way. As I slow down enormously as I get onto km and even more by km 8, the intimidation factor once more kicks in. I realise now, utterly exhausted and bereft of energy, that I cannot see the end, no sign of this climb finishing. Should I stop? Is this too much? Uneven roads, not great for running...all the excuses in the world. Time to take stock, have another gel and get on with it. Eventually, the Pendle Ski Club appeared and to my brain, this was a huge positive as I am sure that this, and The Wellsprings next door are pretty much near the top, so a couple of climbs and I will have made it. The climbs here get steeper and some gradients of over 20% kick in and when I finally reach the Nick of Pendle, there are a few people up there (travelled by car!) admiring the views. Social distancing means I go out of my way to avoid them, but I stop for 30 seconds to look around and,  more importantly to crack open the flapjack! I’ve made it here but am a good 8k from home, just over 50 minutes on the clock, so doing ok. If you want to see the climbs, on YouTube there are loads of videos of the Nick of Pendle climb. 

Exhausted but exhilarated, I move on...down into Sabden and this brings its own issues, as I run downhill, my pace increases massively and the consequences of this are jarring my back and in no time at all, upper back pain is kicking in. The running shoes I have don’t have any shock absorbance at all, and are designed for flat running basically...Time for some new wheels, but that’s a story for another day! The rest of the journey is pretty uneventful, although my hopes of it all being downhill  are dashed. The stretch out of Sabden towards Whalley undulates and towards the end, there are a few sharp and unwelcome climbs. I’m seriously struggling physically but the end is in sight, I know this is a struggle as I am counting down the Kms and keep telling myself ‘the time doesn’t matter’. Eventually I reach the main road, past the golf club and enjoyed running down Accrington Road, jelly legs kicking in, but nearly home. The last 200m are all downhill so I finish on a positive note. A glance at the clock... 1:32:39 and I am ok with that. In my heart, I had hoped to go sub 1:30 but my head had told me this would not happen. 1:39, Ben Stokes’ half marathon time was my real aim! 

Looking back now, I know I could speed that run up, get to Pendleton in a quicker time and not be put off by the steep climbs. Next time...definitely sub 1:30. Best news was being able to walk the day after... always a bonus! Thanks for reading. 

Saturday, May 9, 2020

Anticipation...Nutrition...Pushing myself

Ben Stokes ran a half marathon this week to raise money for charity. Well done Ben - a great effort and good to see one of the country's sporting greats putting his spare time to productive use. His time - 1 Hour 39 minutes. I have a target time in mind, not that fast sadly. I have nearly 20 years on Ben and am not a professional athlete. Being honest, I'm not even an amateur athlete, just a middle aged bloke who has entered The Great North Run to try to do some good!

After last week's run, which is documented in an earlier entry, I decided the time was right to do something with a real challenge aspect to it, and to take advantage of where I live. We are pretty much in the shadow of Pendle, so when I looked at the maps, I found a very challenging route that builds on what I have already done...broken up into sections - a 5.5k run to Pendleton, all uphill but a steady 6/8%, followed by what looks like 3km of the hardest running I could imagine. Right through the Nick of Pendle, which is the highest point of Pendle Hill that can be reached by road at over 300m above Sea Level.  Just look at that...

Given that Pendleton is around 135m altitude, this second section of the run will be tough. From the top, an equally steep descent into the small village of Sabden is then followed by a long steady downhill from Sabden into Whalley. Key questions for me are around how much the climb will take out of me? Will I have enough energy left to take advantage of the downhill second half of the run or will I simply be too  exhausted and continue to plod along at my usual pace? We will see tomorrow...


For the first time, I am actually preparing reasonably for a run - and it's for the best. Through the week, I have done little in terms of exercise above and beyond core strengthening work and a daily walk. What I have done differently is think about the fuel in the tank. Plenty of protein over the past couple of days and making sure I am very well hydrated. I have discovered that Protein Flapjacks are the best breakfast, so tomorrow before setting off I will have this, along with 500 ml of SIS energy drink (after, of course, the trusty strong coffee!). I am considering taking 3 gels - have 1 when I reach Pendleton, the flapjack will give me the energy to get there, one more as I reach the summit (if needed) and again, keep the third gel for if I feel the energy level dipping to see me through the last few miles. That will be a caffeine one, whereas the others will be one Isotonic to maintain hydration and an Electrolytes one that maintains the levels of sodium and potassium (to avoid cramps). I think that  should do the trick and is the right balance in the right order. No alcohol tonight and a 500ml SIS drink today should see me in tip top condition (well, by my standards). In terms of what I have eaten today - A bagel for breakfast, protein flapjack, Chicken Sandwich for lunch and a protein/carb heavy meal tonight. Let's see how that goes.

I'm going to come back to Ben Stokes now - a brilliant and dazzling sportsman - pushes himself to the limits and any cricket fans will have seen him last summer, out on his feet but still giving his all. Doing this run is about pushing myself, seeing what the body is capable of and, hopefully, giving me a completely new and different experience from anything I have ever done before. 1 hour 39 minutes...brilliant.

Thanks for sticking with the blog and a bonus thanks for reading right through to the end. You must have a very high boredom threshold. Here's a bonus picture for you of what some of the run looks like.

Sunday, May 3, 2020

Two Months...

It is exactly two months today since I signed up for the Great North Run. Obviously, at that time, I had little idea how much of an impact Covid 19 would have had on all our lives. Since lockdown in particular, many other people have been trying to raise money for worthy causes as all organised charity events have been cancelled. So far, I have managed to raise around 80% of my initial objective and with just over  four months until the scheduled event (possibly longer...), am amazed and grateful for all the support. If anyone reading does wish to contribute, my donation page can be found here: https://ukvirginmoneygiving.com/

Two months in, I have realised a number of things and have learnt so much, and it is time to pause and reflect upon what I have done so far, and what is still left to be done. Firstly for today, I have realised that all my blog entries have been done on the same day as a run, so adrenaline still pumping and no major aches and pains. Today is different as I am going to start with the run from yesterday, an early morning run and a run that I have done before. When I got up yesterday, I wasn’t sure what to do. I wanted a longer run than a quick 5k and even 8k wasn’t appealing, and as usual my competitive instinct kicked. Last weekend I ran up into Pendleton via Wiswell and back home via the edge of Clitheroe, Barrow and Whalley. Fitbit said this was 12.65km, but in reality I think it was nearer to 12km. Having adjusted stride length settings to allow for shorter strides on hills, I set off feeling pretty good. The Thai meal from the night before not causing any issues and I hit the 1km in 5.37, which is decent enough. From here, the hills begin and I made a conscious effort to push myself up the hills into Wiswell. I felt I was running more quickly than last week, but difficult to gauge from the splits as last week was slightly overestimated. The first real comparable was getting into Pendleton itself, bang on half an hour, about two minutes quicker than last week. The mapping tool I use clocks this at 5.4km, so considering this is largely uphill and two months ago, I couldn’t run 5k straight in 30 minutes, I’m feeling ok about this and hopeful of knocking some time off. Of course, the mental side of running kicks in, and as I head down to the bypass, I start to worry that I have pushed too hard and may run out of energy before the end. To overcome this fear, I take the second energy gel at around the 6k mark, hoping that the electrolytes will kick in to give me a boost for the last 2 or 3 k. Anyway, to cut a long story short, I didn’t feel any drop in energy levels, so that was a wise choice. The other decision made at this point was no looking at the clock for time comparison on pace. As I said, I had adjusted the stride length so even though I was faster, the pace per I had clocked in at 5:30, so maintaining that steady rhythm was fine. Competitive to the last, however, as I hit the 10k, I couldn’t resist a glance at the watch, 55 minutes, so I had run the last 5k in little over 25 minutes. Decent rate for me in a longer run. That left me with around 2k to go, and a time of 1:08:42 to beat. One thing for it, foot down...pedal to the metal and all that nonsense. This was fine through Whalley but at the end of King Street, the bridge over the river and next 300m are steep, brutal after 11.5k. The good news is the last 250m are downhill at about 8%. A sprint finish! A glance at the clock 1:04:17. As happy as I was with this, there was still time for a senior moment. Having paused the workout at this point, failure to click the chequered flag in the display and unpausing has given me 13 seconds (how long it took me to realise) of standing still and an official time of 1:04:30 on the display. I am amazed to have knocked more than four minutes off, but now worrying about what it will feel like tomorrow.

Well, now it is tomorrow...and every other longish run I have done, the day after has been difficult. Walking down stairs putting both feet on the same step and sedately moving. It’s the bottom of my foot, linked to calf and Achilles. Today it’s fine though, and I actually feel I could run again today! Not that I am going to, rest is so important in preventing injuries and that is one-off the main things I have learnt so far, along with:

1) Running with food inside me doesn’t work, unless it’s Flapjack (Pro2Go are ace)
2) I am not a machine, but am capable of more than I had previously realised. My age is not a barrier
3) On rest days, stretches, core work etc are vital, especially for areas with existing weakness
4) I enjoy running, but still find the first 2k difficult...why?
5) Being competitive is helpful, as I always want to improve

So what next? I fancy a big run again soon and going up over the Nick of Pendle into Sabden would give me a different challenge. 1 in 6 gradient up to 300m then a long downhill through Sabden and down towards Whalley. May just leave that one for a week or two....

In the meantime, I think that during lockdown staying on quieter routes is really important. Staying safe is number one priority. One longish run per week is enough for now, maybe with the odd little 5k thrown in to help maintain the increase in pace and to keep the fitness there. Sooner or later, I will plateau and hit the peak I what I can do and that’s fine. For now, though, I am enjoying the improvements.

Friday, May 1, 2020

What now? Open to suggestions...

Last weekend involved my first real venture into the hills - living in the shadow of Pendle certainly has its advantages! I was really pleased that, despite the fact that it was a tough run, I actually enjoyed myself and have spent the majority of evenings this week planning new routes (I use onthegomap.com) and looking at the elevations, the gradients to contextualise how hard the run is in parts.

Looking at last week's run again, the website tells me that one of the steepest parts of the run is the first 250 metres as this is uphill at a 9% grade - no wonder the first km is usually a slow one for me! Overall, the first 5 km is a steady climb averaging around 5% with one very short steep downhill section. Given that this was enjoyable, and I do like a challenge, would it be worth getting to Pendleton and turning right - instead of heading back towards Clitheroe, is there another route? In other words,  could I run further up Pendle and still find a way of navigating home? A quick look at the website tells me that, yes, a right turn towards Sabden is possible - and it is a route that I have had cars struggle to get up. The next 2.5 km has an elevation of nearly 200 metres - put into context - I have been running steadily uphill for 5.3 km and climbed to 125 metres. On average the gradient is over 10%, which is steeper than the killer start to the run and in parts is up as high as 18%. It sounds brutal to me - let's not forget that until 2 months ago, I had done  no running since the end of the cricket season, was still under the physio and hadn't even begun training. See the picture below:

As you can see from the graph - the last 8 km would be pretty much all downhill or flat. Can I take this on yet, or is this something to hold back from for a while? I am not sure...I think I could do this ok, and would relish that long downhill from Sabden to Whalley. What do people think? Please feel free to add comments - is a 10 miler with a climb like that any easier or harder than the half marathon? Do I need to get such steep hills into training for the Great North Run? Plans for this weekend depend on the weather...maybe a 10k to try and get my time down further, maybe repeat last Sunday's run. Maybe this is one for next Friday on my day off. VE Day could become VG day...

Watch this space...