Wednesday, June 24, 2020

Maintaining Distance...

Today's blog has a double meaning...obviously, with our version of lockdown (ie, not really lockdown!) easing, and more shops open, people working, out and about, selecting a time to run is proving more and more difficult. I am extremely cautious around social distancing, not just for my health, but for the benefit of family and friends. The thought of me picking up the disease, being fine, but passing it on to people who may not be fills me with dread. Regular readers will recall that at the peak of the restrictions, there were occasions when I have run straight down the middle of the road to avoid potential meeting with people.

I gave myself a weekend off running last weekend - a number of reasons, but mainly because my body was telling me to do so. Work is busy, mentally exhausting, so some time at home to relax, switch off and do next to nothing was high on my agenda. Various body parts that are always liable to breakdown (back, ankle, achilles, knee) were all starting to feel like a break, so a break they had. Of course, having done so, by Tuesday evening, I am getting paranoid about losing fitness so in the early evening, decide to set off for a run - a 'there and back' to Pendleton (about 10.6km - target time 50 minutes). Did the usual set up, stretch, hydrate, gel...and off. Full pelt up the road, usual routines...Ankle? Fine. Achilles? Fine. Knee? Fine. Groin? Fine. Hip? Fine. Glute? Fine. Back? Fine. By the time all this  is done, I am at the top of the road, 300m (ish) done - uphill, breathing hard and ready for the run down into Whalley centre. This is where the problems started - people...everywhere! Ahead of me, two people side by side - it's rush hour so traffic is mad, running on the road not an option. Find a gap, cross road and down we go. Phew...carry on. However, as I reached the bridge, a problem. A family of 4 crossing the road with a dog...blocking the entire pavement and on the other side of the road...more people - and a road full of cars. Only one option for me here. Stop and wait.

I hate stopping when out running - I lose all rhythm and as the first km is where I generally sort out breathing and stride patterns, am starting from scratch. Once they crossed, I started again and carried on into the village. Another three road crosses for social distancing later, and a group of 3 girls side by side not stopping, two roads to cross normally that have required me to stop, I have steam coming out of my ears, I am agitated and fed up. There are too many people out and about for me to do this run. Don't get me wrong, I am not blaming the other people - I blame me. Firstly, I know that coming out at around 5.30 to run a route that requires me to run through the village centre is lunacy. Secondly, I also know that most people would just suck it up, walk to the other end of the village and start the run once in a quieter place. Not me - I turn round and go home. As I walk back, I consider a run up Painter Wood towards York (not that one!) and then a sprint down the hill... but I'm not in the right place mentally to do this. So I go home...have a bit of time messing about with a 'natural vector for the virus' and vow to do the run in the morning. In reality, I know this won't happen - I have a meeting at 9.00 so need to be back home, showered and ready before then. Which won't happen.

I think that's why I  couldn't sleep last night - got to get up early, got to run, got to maintain fitness and speed. All these thoughts running through my head and by the time I am up and had a coffee, there's only time for's the hottest day of the year so far and already 22C when I set off. Big voice in my head... TODAY IS NOT A DAY FOR CHASING PERSONAL BESTS... But of course...bigger voice in head YOU'RE LAZY...NEED TO PUT A GOOD TIME IN TO MAKE UP FOR NOT RUNNING ENOUGH LATELY!!! So I decided that based on my last run of the same route (23:52), the key to reducing the time was to do two things. 1) Push harder on the second km (uphill) and also to aim for 4:30 for each of the last 2km. If I could do this, I had a chance of breaking 23 minutes for the first time. I started ok - everything felt good, and the pace felt ok - after 1km, I am on 4:42...3 seconds slower than last time, but still feeling ok as now is the accelerate time...but it's hot and I am struggling to make headway...2km - 9:35 - just one second better...but by 3km I am bang on the same time as last week. At least I am consistent! Only one thing left to do and that is to absolutely go for it over the last two km. Maintain cadence, lengthen stride and see what happens. Of course, by now I am sweltering and don't look at the clock once until I get home. When I do, I am pleased to see that last weeks time of 23:52 is no longer my best for that run...two fast last kms see me home...

For some bizarre reason, my trainers have measured the distance as exactly 5km, not the 5.07km from last week...but it is the same run - 37 seconds faster and in the heat. I now feel capable of going under 23 minutes for this... 

Being honest, it's a timely boost for me because I know the heat played a part but despite this, the last 2k were completed in under 9 minutes (8:55). The weekend off has done me some good I think, I need to get a longer run done again soon - got to maintain distance in every sense. 

Monday, June 15, 2020


COVID 19 has undoubtedly had an enormous negative impact upon all of our lives and continues to do so. Over the past few months, we have stayed at home, protected the NHS and saved lives. Now we are alert... We have learned new phrases - imagine a time when we didn't use the phrase social distancing! Whilst easing the lockdown is now a priority for the Government, The Great North Run has been (using the words of the organisers) CANCELLED...

The first I heard of this was when I got an e-mail from the charity I am supporting, Shelter. They e-mailed to say that more information would follow but my entry would be rolled over to 2021 should I wish to do this. I had been anticipating this eventuality, but when the news was confirmed, I did feel really deflated. Deflated, not upset, not angry, not frustrated, annoyed or anything else, just deflated. As I type, I can now put this down to two main issues:

1) Personal sense of achievement. For the past three months, I have gone from being a complete novice, a non-runner, to where I am now, which is that of an ok-ish runner who was on target to complete his first ever half marathon in a semi-reasonable time. From the first 5k, when I only just made it home and failed to hit my 30:00 target to Saturday - 16 k in 1:22. This has been 3 months where I have worked hard,  gone out training when I really didn't want to do so and put myself through the mill. Why? Simple - to make a difference. So many people making so many kind donations to the cause, positive words. Advice and support from people who have done what I am doing themselves. All of those things and more meant I have been incredibly well-motivated and was really building towards a sense of personal achievement. Like most people, I work hardest and most positively when there is a clear goal in mind.

2)  More importantly - I chose to run to support Shelter - I have done this for reasons outlined elsewhere in the blog and this is a charity that really needs our support. As the country begins to recover from the COVID Outbreak, this will be a key time for organisations like Shelter to provide the care and support for families, especially those who are at risk. Given that we know the economy will take an enormous hit, we are looking at entering a deep recession, Shelter will be needed more than ever. My aim is to carry on running for Shelter - regardless of the Great North Run taking place or not. If you can spare a small amount of money, please consider making a donation through my giving page:

So what now?

Hippo time has gone and we're back onto a positive mindset now.

Firstly - the race has not been cancelled - merely postponed by a year! I will be 48 by then, not why can I not stay motivated for another 15 months. I am led to believe that my charity place will remain open for 2021, so mind and body willing, aim to compete in this.

Secondly - I have a 20k run that I do round here that I could easily extend to a full half marathon...a couple of extra turns and I am there. It is steep, hilly and hellish...but therein lies a challenge. On the day when the GNR should have taken place, it is my intention to go out and run an alternative version, 'The Ribble Valley Run' - not quite as snappy...but that's life!  As a bit of an afterthought, maybe instead of a known route, I should work out a brand new run, one I have never run before to try and recreate the unknown aspect of doing the GNR. Not sure I will be able to recreate streets lined with support, people cheering and a nice silver blanket thrown over me at the end but... who knows? All I will say now is WATCH THIS SPACE... Suggestions are always welcomed -   I want to start (and preferably finish) at home so please... could any suggested routes could start in the Whalley area? Thanks.

This isn't the end of the running, isn't the end of the adventure...just means I have longer to wait - and in the grand scheme of things, there are more pressing issues than whether I can run 13.1 miles with 50,000 other people. In the words of Johnny Logan, what's another year? (Slightly obscure Eurovision Song Contest music reference for the pleasure of Simon Ditchfield - and before you ask, Simon...1980)

Thanks once more for all the support I have had so far and hope to continue to have. I will keep working hard and doing all I can. #Togetherwecanmakeadifference

A week is a long time in training...

I didn’t add anything to this blog last weekend, and for good reason. I ran on Sunday morning and it was a failure, a disastrous run in many ways and the harsh voice of the inner critic was very real, telling me that was it, I’d hit the wall, peaked too soon, not as fit as you thought, etc etc. You get the picture and I didn't want to write about it. I’m not going to dwell on this, but a bit of background is needed.

I’d decided to give myself a Saturday morning off and enjoy a lazy morning at home with my family, which meant a run on Sunday. Now I like routines, but moving from Saturday to Sunday couldn’t make that much difference could it? I had decided a short run only as the weekend started early on Friday night and we had a few drinks Saturday as well (I know...) Anyway, onto the standard 7k loop...and a target of beating the PB by smashing up the hills and hitting the first 4K hard. Started off well, body felt good, no pains, aches or potential injuries. In fact everything was fine until I consumed the gel half way up into Wiswell, as just didn’t settle well and although after 4K I was flying, I really did struggle thereafter and was a couple of minutes slower than previous runs. Sunday runs...maybe not for me!

If you fall off a bike, you should get back on immediately, so the saying goes, which is what I did. Wednesday morning, early wind, cool, dry and since Sunday, I had been hydrating properly and was well prepared. This was the chance to set a new PB and prove to myself that there was still some improvement in me. I took the same approach, as fast as possible to start, and covered the first km in 4:25, by my standards very fast...then up past Oakhill and a glance at the watch as I approached the main road gave me a boost. Below 10 minutes for the first time, but then...disaster. It’s not even 8 am, but the traffic on the main road is awful! I have to stop, wait, look both ways and, following the green cross code, walk across the road sensibly. Problem now is that, having gone through the difficult first 2k and just got myself breathing properly, I have to do it all again, and this time, uphill! I have paused my watch, but there’s no hiding place from the official timer, which is the Bluetooth in my shoes! We will see what impact this has later...and I won’t know until then. Onwards and upwards...into Wiswell and through the other side... 15 minutes, now a km downhill...enjoy it, lengthening stride and kick on. Time is good and I am on track to beat my previous best of 34:13, but will the extra 30 seconds at the main road prove costly? As I hit each mini landmark, I feel the time is good and when I hit home, a glance at the watch shows a time of 33:29, but that’s not the official time, so I have to wait...

33:46! Great news, back on track...and an average pace of 4:49, which is really pleasing for me. With this under my belt, all being well, I will have a longer run on Saturday morning. Splits show decent pace up the hill as well (KM 2 and 3...with a 20 second or so stop on KM 3 for road crossing!)

So where to go and what to do? I fancy doing a run I have done before, but not for a while and then I can see if improvements have been sustained. I also want something reasonably flat - not that this exists in Ribble Valley, but in the end settled for this one:

The map website says 15.78 km - so with social distancing veering and road crossing, that covers 16k - ten miles (Trainers say 16.1 km) It's not flat and as you can see from the picture, elevation over the first few km is pretty steep. I have done this run twice, but not for a while, and my last run here took me 1:32 - so the obvious aim here is that I have to go below 1:30, but I have another target in mind - 1:25. From memory, I had a few issues on this run last time and was really slow at times, ran out of energy, so realistically I am hoping I can take 7 minutes off that previous time. It's a stretch, but I think I can probably just about do it.

The difficulty with doing a run that I haven't done for a while is remembering where I was at previous time points last time - I have only one definite point, which is just past The Bonny Inn in Salesbury. Last time, I hit 45 minutes. That's really the only indicator I have but my theory is if I set off quickly, I'll then drop back onto the same pace as last time and will be fine. All the usual routines followed, hydrated and energised, I set off. Bearing in mind the first 6k of this run is pretty much all uphill, going off at a decent speed is going to be a challenge, but as I hit 3k, I am under 15 minutes, possibly too quick and I may well pay for that later. On return home, looking at the splits, the first km is 4:47, whereas in this direction previously, I have been looking more like 6 minutes, so yes - a fast start. The good news is conditions were good, warm but not hot. No wind, no downpours and, as it was pretty early, very quiet out and about. As I said, I had no clue about how fast this run was until a point which is not far off half way, but after 3km, with more climbing to do, my legs ask me to slow down. Well, they don't ask - they more, well, just do exactly that. Muscles in my upper thigh start to feel weary and I'm wondering now if the fast start was a good idea. The good news is that I know that soon enough, I turn down towards Salesbury and get a nice (but short) downhill section to recover some energy and from there I can get back on to running at a decent pace. As I pass the landmark that was 45 minutes last time, I take a quick glance at the watch - 39:20 - nearly 6 minutes faster - that's over a distance of about 7.6km so a decent run so far and a decent time. This gives me a lift and running down from there to Longsight Road I am confident now that this will be a decent time. Energy levels are back up again, not a sign of any aches and pains. I'm now hot (sun has come out) and thirsty, but that's ok. The difficulty with this run I think is that once down onto the A59, the road towards Northcote is long, has more climbs than I anticipate and has few landmarks...I can count them, Yu (Chinese Restaurant) aside, the next mark of note is Langho FC on the right, and looking at the times on the watch, I am on this stretch for 20 minutes. 

What I am finding is that long, straight stretches where there is no sign of change are the points in runs when my energy dips, and the internal struggles begin... I don't think it is boredom that is the enemy. I have said that before and I am certain this is the case. It reminds me of when I used to drive to Lancaster every day for work. Had it all been motorway, it would have seemed longer, but breaking things down into chunks makes things feel less mundane, and ticking landmarks off on the way gives us a more rapid sense of progress. This road does not do's just long. As I hit the 10k mark somewhere just over 50 minutes, it's time for the secret weapon. Caffeine gel! I know that 75g of caffeine and 40g of carbohydrate is enough to last for 6km, it's now a question of trying to maintain something like a decent pace. Nothing can stop me...well, when I say nothing, what I mean is nothing apart from irritating sock issues. For some reason, after about an hour's running, my sock on my left foot seems to have moved and has a bobble that has gathered by my toes and is really uncomfortable. This is increasingly annoying and I take the decision that I have to stop and fix it. Stopping mid-run presents 2 main problems for me:

1) Starting again is hard...legs and lungs.
2) Time - my trainers time will keep on ticking and I might not hit the target I set

But stop I must, or my left foot will just be one massive blister later. I find a farm, lean on the gatepost, shoe and sock off, readjust as best as I can. The sock is soaked through, which makes this slightly lengthier than I hoped, and there is already a delightful blister formed on the end of the toe next to my big toe...such fun! Anyway, off we go again, back into a decent (ish) rhythm and let's see where this gets me. This section of the run was slow, it felt slow and as I went, had no idea of how the time would look at the end. With no landmarks, or memories of how the last run compared, I was completely in the dark! Eventually, I reached 'the roundabout' by Northcote and was on around 1:08 - from here it's around 3k to home, with undulations and a few steepish downhill sections, I  reckon 15-17 minutes from here. No more clock watching - focus on getting decent rhythm and let's see if I can shift a bit faster on the downward bits. I get a decent finish and once inside, sync the trainers and watch to find...
Now obviously, I have to be delighted with this overall, as I am well within my target time - at 1:20, I would be running 8 minute miles, which again would be another huge improvement for me. What I now know I need to work on is pacing myself properly - if I can set off a touch slower, but not much, could I then maintain a faster pace between km 10 and 14 (which were all close to 5:30 - too slow)? Or should I keep on setting off fast and just get fitter? Last time I started slowly on a long run, I still ran out of steam. Do I need to look again at nutrition? I used 1200 calories during this run, so maybe that's something I now need to look at again. Lots to think about...lots to ponder, but overall a good week following last Sunday's nightmare!

Thanks for reading again - feel free to comment below, check out 

Thursday, June 4, 2020

Back to it!

After last week's exertions, with two very long runs (well, long for me) in a four day period, I decided to build in a decent recovery period, so had a full week off running, which of course leads to the old self-doubt and inner critic kicking in...Will I still be able to run? Why is my heel still sore? How long will I need to stretch for? Has my fitness gone already? You get the picture.

For the first run back, I needed familiarity. A run that I enjoy - not too long, but still with some challenge built in. In the end the decision was an easy one - The Wiswell loop! 7km - nice distance, some decent uphill running to begin with a nice long downhill between 3 and 4 km and then reasonably flat  from there (see the below picture) It's a great little run and a reminder that from home I can be in the middle of nowhere within 10 minutes. Learning to run round here is perfect as there is absolutely no need to take a car, drive somewhere, run then climb into a car exhausted and sweaty to drive home. Early morning is my preferred time for many reasons and as I am working from home this works well. Get up early, fire up the laptop, check e-mails, get set for the day, eat flapjack (banana today), drink SIS Go Energy drink (500ml), stick a single gel in the pocket (lemon and lime/electrolyte) do a few stretches, then hit the road.

Today's aim was simple really - set off at a decent pace and keep moving as quickly as I can up the hills and see how it goes. Of course, beating my PB is always on the agenda - 35:56 to beat (although last time I did 36:35, so not the easiest of targets). One thing to note - if you know the geography of where I live, you will know that the first 300/350m of my run have been my nemesis. When I started out on this in March, I took the option of jogging gently up the hill (around 9% average) and reading back through the blog entries, my first 1 km often took in excess of 6 minutes. I reached a point where I realised that jogging up the first section was a massive error. Splits were telling me my final km was usually the fastest and the first was ALWAYS the slowest, so now I adopt a different approach and try to get to the top of the road in around a minute. I haven't broken that barrier yet, but am down to about 1:04 on average now. From there, I have set a decent pace, am breathing hard and feeling it - point is, I was doing this when going slowly, so I have decided to go as fast as my little legs will carry me!

Today this felt weird - as I set off, the excuses were forming in my head immediately. The foot didn't feel right...I seem to be afflicted with Plantar Fasciitis (Self diagnosed via Google!) ever so slightly and the first few steps I take each day are uncomfortable - the rest had not cured this. It's nothing really, but it is there niggling away in my brain. we go, normally I do a mental checklist over the first section...which is basically running through all the ailments I have and ticking them off as 'feels ok'. Without covering old ground, I start at the floor and work up... Right ankle, left foot, left calf, left knee, right groin, right hip/glute. I know...that's a lot of injured parts - I'm old and have always played sport, it's to be expected 'at your age' (quote from an anonymous doctor 8 years ago). I didn't go back to him. By the top of the hill, I've normally ticked all these off as 'ok' but today I didn't. It just didn't feel right, I got as far as 'left foot'...which was followed by 'hmm...not quite right'. Another reason I run early morning is that I do actually have these conversations with myself out loud - anyone within hearing distance would be disturbed at some of the stuff I talk about. Watch check at the top... 1:04 - decent time, but it was uncomfortable, turn left, down into Whalley there's a really good downhill stretch of about 250 m so it's foot down time, ignore the pain and crack on. The first 'checkpoint' is the Post Office - my watch vibrates around there and this represents the 1 km mark. I feel like I have run quickly through the village and now, looking at the splits, I know that the first km had taken 4:37, which is a really quick start (for me...) From here, the challenge begins and all sorts of dialogue is going on, internally and out loud. Problem is, my foot isn't feeling quite right, there's still a slight pain every stride and part of me wants to stop and go home. It's not hurting as such, more just stiff and taking a while to loosen up. As I reach the right turn up Wiswell Lane, I give myself an option. Keep going, if it's still not right, turn right at the top, along the main road (always sensible...) right down Accrington Road and just do a 5k. The weird thing is, I was actually running pretty well and as I got the the top of Wiswell Lane, I am just over 2k, having gone uphill for the past three minutes and the time looks like the best I have done. Suddenly, for some reason, the foot feels fine, so the next barrier to a good time is crossing the main road and I get lucky - NO TRAFFIC...RUN!!!

Across the road I go and have about another 1 km of uphill running left. This is where I have to push myself, last time out the second two kilometres took nearly 12 minutes and the third one alone was over 6. I have a habit of plodding and really slowing the cadence when it gets difficult - need to sort that out. On this occasion,  I push, focussing on maintaining a decent rhythm as I approach Wiswell. Looking back at the splits, km2 took 5:24 (Post Office to top of Wiswell Road) and km 3 took 5:38 so definitely an improvement for me. The danger is that the next km or so, which is down Whiteacre Lane into Barrow. This is a long downhill and it is easy to get over-excited and push too hard. From the bottom of there, there is still 3km to go - it is mainly flat but with undulations and a steep climb towards the end. I cannot push too hard, steady acceleration, lengthened strides and as I reach the bottom and go back onto Whalley Road, I am on approximately 20 minutes. Feeling good now, I push through the last 3km quite well and with a sprint finish (well...when I say sprint, I get up to about 17km/hr for the last 200m!) I get home feeling that I have had a decent run.

I really enjoyed the last 5 k today...once I got over the initial anxiety. It was a strange run in many ways and again illustrates completely the impact of state of mind. Had my time been poor at the 2 km point, would the foot still have been causing discomfort? Probably... I have to make sure that I stay positive and focussed throughout and to switch off the voice in my head who is making all sorts of excuses for why I may not do as well as I had hoped. Anyway...the target time was to beat my previous PB (35:56) and the good news is that I beat this, with a time of...

Obviously, I am really pleased with this and really delighted that, with the exception of kms 2 and 3, each km was below 5:00 - the final 2 at 4:46 and 4:49 is the pace that I hope to run consistently at over this distance. If I could just go slightly faster uphill...and maybe push harder on the lovely downhill stretches, maybe there's another few seconds that I can shave off this. I love this run and for anyone who lives round here it's recommended. 

So what is next for me? I am thinking that at weekend I should take on a longer run, not a new one, but one I have not done for a while. I am thinking about a 16k (10 mile) run through Langho, Wilpshire and Salesbury. Last time out I did this in 1:32, but on my  (even!) longer runs recently, have hit the 16k mark at around 1:28, so hopefully I can do this in around this time. Probably be Saturday, but we'll see - today is Thursday and I may need an extra day's recovery before doing that one.

Thanks for reading to the very end - massive appreciation for your patience and perseverance! :-) Take care and stay safe.