Tuesday, July 21, 2020


One of the difficult balancing acts that I am trying to maintain, and I am guessing this is the same for anyone who runs, is around the whole 'how hard can I push?' issue. From the outset, my aim was simple...be fit enough to run a half marathon - the time is irrelevant. Obviously, I would aim to go well and not simply hobble round in 3 hours but nonetheless, I remember saying to myself 'anything under 2 1/2 hours is fine'. Since then, my competitive spirit has kicked in and every time I run, I am aiming to go either faster or further.

There must come a point, and I have touched on this before, where my body physically cannot go faster, or further, without risking everything by putting undue pressure on. This is what I am struggling with at the moment - I have the training plan and am trying different runs, simply to stop me from doing the same stuff but pushing too hard and, to quote a friend, 'doing myself a mischief'. For instance, I have a 7k run scheduled for this week, but I know if I do the same 7k that I have done in the past, I will be pushing hard, just to shave a few seconds off the 'Personal Best'. I have used inverted commas as for most of this process, every run has been my best...not because I am ace...but because it's the first time I have done the run! So what is wrong with this approach? A number of things:

1) My age... I don't like to hide behind this as an excuse, but it is there in reality. I'm not 25 anymore. Come to think of it, I'm not 35 either...or even 45! Do I really need at my age to be pushing myself just to say I ran 7k 3 seconds faster than I did a few weeks previously? Really? Can I not just enjoy it? (In case you were wondering, the answers to those questions are YES, YES and NO)
2) Injury record - I think it is pretty well documented that I have had my fair share of injuries over the years...and there are still weaknesses in the areas that I have needed treatment for this year. I am still doing my physio exercises to prevent issues in various limbs and muscles, and cannot afford any major setbacks. One muscle tear at this stage would absolutely ruin 4 months of hard work and I am trying everything in my power to avoid this.

It is taking all the above into account that I have settled on doing a number of 'timed runs' lately. This consists of me running in one direction for a set amount of time, turning round and trying to get home in a time less than I got there in...testing stamina and finishing, rather than 'How quickly can I do 10k?' An example of this is my latest run...I'll explain how it works. My plan was for a 45 minute run. In that time, running at a steady 5 minute per kilometre pace, I would hope to run around 9k. Not pushing...definitely not pushing...Steady away, hit the 23 minute mark, turn round and go home. If I'm not back in 45 minutes, I have failed! So - some competitive element, but not trying to break myself (although in reality...I am still thinking 'Can I cover 10k in the time?')

The morning was cool and fresh and there was no wind of any note (stop sniggering...)  so I went through the usual routines, got well hydrated and stretched. Overnight, I had felt a couple of twinges in my left calf, so was a little bit edgy about this. With this in mind, I used my calf roller to try and relax the muscle along with some extra stretches. I will see how it goes. Once outside, I flicked the watch timer on and sprinted off along the road. I think I had got about 50 metres when a familiar feeling hit home. The feeling that all sports people have felt - one that has happened to me on football and cricket pitches countless times...the feeling of a muscle that is stretched so tight, it is about to go 'PING'. My worst nightmare...now in the normal world of sensible people, what would be the correct course of action to take? Of course...sack it off, go home. Ice, elevation, stretches and maybe a walk later in the day.

My decision was an easy one - do what I always do...crack on. I know that people will be reading this now and thinking 'muppet' (or worse) but the reality was I decided to slow down a touch, see how it went and after 1 or 2 km, if it was problematic, go home. I always set off at a rate of knots and have recently been covering the first km in really quick times - but today isn't a race, so I decided to slow down. I knew this was the case as the first time checkpoint was about 1:03, and recently I have been doing this in 55/56 seconds. Good...sensible me...and I noticed that while I was taking it steady, with good cadence (170 PPM, short strides) the discomfort subsided. So I carried on...checking off the landmarks and for once, being PLEASED that I am slower than previous runs. As I reached the 2.5km mark, which is for the mathematicians reading this, the halfway point of my favoured 5k run, I was on about 12 minutes 10 seconds, which is a good 30 seconds slower than when I am pushing, and at this point it was decided - crack on with the original plan and up through Langho I went. There was just one moment of hesitation - as I reached The Royal Taj (cracking restaurant!), should I turn left and head up Whinney Lane, get back in the hills and then down from York to Painter Wood? Dodgy calf firmly in mind, I soon put that idea away and carried on. The next km is always the slowest of this particular route - up past St Mary's School and Church is deceptively steep and I did feel that I was actually going so slowly, I wondered if I was walking! That said, the times seemed consistent and I was feeling ok, so I ploughed on into Wilpshire. Just as I reached the old Carr Hall Garden Centre, I noted that the watch was saying 23 minutes - time to turn around and head home. The race was on...there in 23, could I make it home in 22? Well...to be fair, on the way there, I have climbed 115m and descended 21m, so on the way back, it's this in reverse. I know if I can get two or three sub 5 minute kms in, I'll get there and can do this without pushing too hard.

I made it home in 44:14 - so 45 seconds to spare - a total of 9 km, with an average pace of 4:55, which I am happy with, considering my calf was playing up. Fastest km was 4:26 - so nearly 20 seconds slower than when I am pushing. Using technology for analysis is great, so when I look at the last 2km, completed in 9:38, compared to my first 2km, in 9:44, it is clear that I was taking things very steady today - only 6 seconds faster - for a downhill run? In fairness, there are undulations, but overall, it's up there and down home! Next time I do this challenge, I think...as I had 45 seconds to spare, I should run for 23:30 and try to get home within 45 minutes. You never know, I might even get to the magical 10k mark!

Tuesday, July 14, 2020

Two months to go...Training Plans...

With less than two months to go until 'The Great North Run Reimagined', I decided it was probably time to bite the bullet and develop some form of training plan. Right back in March, when I set out on this adventure, I read a great deal and the common advice was 'do a training plan'. I really didn't want to go down that route and have such constraints put upon me. As stated in an earlier entry, I know my own body and was not prepared to work in a way that made me feel like I 'had to' run if I needed rest. However, over the last few weeks, with a combination of poor weather, work, tiredness and out and out laziness, most of my running has been short distances. At one point, 4 consecutive runs were 5k. Not belittling the 5k run as it is great for building lung capacity and speed, but just doing this isn't going to help me do my first ever half-marathon in September.

I decided that I needed to get over this and start to step up the distances...as well as seeing if I can now up the regularity of the runs. Thus far, 2 runs per week has been my general pattern and is usually one short (5/7km) and one longer (12-19km). Occasionally I have been tempted to do two longer runs to beat the previous time, but following these, I have needed longer recovery. When I look at my own discipline, it is waning slightly, so at this point, I sat down to draw up a training plan. One that would give me some flexibility, to stop me getting bored, bogged down and doing the 'same old'. What I could not do is put days of the week against runs - too many variables, so I have done the below table as a guide. I am now onto week 2 and have already changed from the plan. You will see on w/b 13th July that a 10k is in the plan. In the original, it was 7k...but I set off and just felt good, so I ran further! (more of that later). Hopefully this will give me enough structure and enough miles in my legs to finish my route in a reasonable time on 13th September but gives me enough freedom to choose, to swap things around and to change things up or down if I feel it isn't quite working.

Midweek 1
Midweek 2
6th July
40 minutes 
40 minutes (Harder route)
13th July
10k (Wiswell)

12k (Hills)
20th July
1 hour timed
27th July
45 minutes
2 miles - SPRINT
16k - Normal
3rd August
2 miles
16k (Pendle)
10th August
45 minutes
90 minutes
17th August
45 minutes
12k (Hills)
24th August
19k (Bashall)
45 minutes
31st August
12k (hills)

7th September
45 minutes

The Great North Run Reimagined...

As soon as the official run was cancelled, I started looking at options. There was no way I was doing all this training for nothing. Too many people (THANK YOU!) have given me words of encouragement and have donated to Shelter for me to just say 'oh  well, there's always next year'. The Great Run organiser have also decided to carry on with the 'reimagined' theme and I will learn more about this in early August. From a running point of view, living in Ribble Valley brings challenges - in the form of hills largely - getting into the middle of nowhere and maintaining social distancing is less of a challenge, and for me (I don't know if this is typical or not...) I get really irked if I have to stop to cross a road (it interrupts stride pattern and breathing) so planning a route with the fewest possible road crossings was important to me. What else did I want? Some challenge...not too flat, but hills at the beginning, I wanted some countryside. Nothing beats running on quiet country lanes. I also wanted a loop - to start and finish in the same place with the smallest amount of repetition. The final decision rested with familiarity. One of the routes I looked at would be a brand new route...in a different direction to where I usually run, but one that could only be a the full half marathon and no shorter alternative I could use as a trial. With all of that in mind, the following route has been chosen:

Here we go... Billington into Whalley, up to Wiswell, back down into Barrow, into Clitheroe, down past Edisford Bridge, up to Bashall Barn, then back towards Whalley through Mitton. It's a fantastic route with challenges galore! As you can see - over the first couple of km, there is a 120m climb, which is the highest point of the run. From there, it isn't exactly what you would call flat, but any climbs and descents are relatively short. Looking at the bottom picture, the worst part is going to be the climb just after 15km and of course, the final pull at the end! For those who know the route, the uphill sections that you can see are firstly, from Whalley to Wiswell (at the beginning), then up through Barrow towards Clitheroe, with a couple of steep ones - one around 10km, which is near Edisford Bridge and then again after 15km, which is near The Aspinall Arms in Mitton. As it is a loop, the ascents and descents are equal, so it seems a fair route to challenge myself with.

So what have I been doing to prepare... a few little runs, nothing major so far. Last week I did 2 x 40 minute runs where the challenge was run for 22 minutes, then turn round and try to get home within the 40 minute limit. I didn't manage on either occasion, but in 41 minutes (roughly), I managed between 8.3 and 8.6 km. The highlight of these runs was running my fastest ever km - 4:09 for the first km of the run. If you look at the picture above, it is the same first km - starting with a sharp uphill, then equally sharp downhill. I looked at that and thought to myself that I will probably never better that!

Run 3 was an early morning run - cool, cloudy and a light breeze. Perfect conditions and I decided to follow a similar route to last week, but to run for 23 minutes and try to get back in 45! See how far I could go in that time. Anything over 9km would be just fine. I set off quickly and felt good, all the old injuries causing zero problems, which is always encouraging. Up the hill into Wiswell and towards Pendleton. There are some HUGE properties up there! One of the weird things on that route is that is all feels uphill, with a few flatter bits once you are through Wiswell and heading for Pendleton. Nothing strange there, until you turn round and come back...and it all feels uphill again! Anyway, I get further than last time and am just short of Pendleton at about 23:15 and I turn round for home. Recently, I have adjusted the stride length on my watch and it now gives an accurate picture of the distance covered (splits not really as it works on cadence and doesn't calculate differentials in stride pattern - it would if connected to a phone...) so I am looking towards 46/47 minutes if I make it home in a similar time. Difficulty is, the last section covered was steeply descending, so as I turn round I am faced with a sharp incline for about 400m, which is a bit brutal. Once back in Wiswell, there is a lovely long downhill section down to the main road and I get to that in a reasonable time. 2km from home...7.5km done, 37 minutes on the clock. At this point, I make the call that once on the home straight, I will continue up past where I normally turn for home and run another 250m or so, to bank a 10k, rather than a 9.6k run! Problem there is the road is steep and pulling up there is always hard work (look at the last section of the half marathon diagram...it's that 'up' bit but for some reason I voluntarily extended it!)

Anyway...I made it back in one piece and in a time of 48:04 - 10k at an average pace of 4:48. Fastest km = 4:08 - faster than last time and a slowest km of 5:20, which is ok on the climb...for me anyway.

So onto weekend and according to the training plan, I have a 12k run planned. We'll see...

Monday, July 6, 2020

A wet week...

Not much to report this week - training has been utterly minimal due to the weather. Many runners I know tell me that rain is their preferred weather condition. All I can say here is it isn't mine. Twice in the last week I have set off in wet conditions, got fed up and just done short runs as a result.

On Wednesday, I did have a good run - setting off, it was (as always) raining, but very fine, there was little or no wind and the plan was the standard early morning 5k. I had recently done this in 23:06 - so going under 23:00 was the aim. Definitely possible - conditions in my favour and feeling good this morning. Well hydrated - caffeine gel in my pocket ready to kickstart me at the half way point and a 'plan' (if you can call it that) to set off as fast as possible and try to take a good 30 seconds off the first 2k. If I can do that - 22:45 is definitely achievable. Given that the last 2 km is generally downhill, energy should still be ok and let's see!

Setting off involves routines...stretches until my joints stop cracking, a few bonus calf stretches once outside and then set off...sprint the first 100m or so and then settle into a rhythm. If you have read previous entries, you will know that the run to the top of the road is about 300m and is up a pretty steep climb (8-10%). Recent runs I have been hitting the bend at the top at around 1:00 - which has been good improvement and as I slow down to negotiate the sharp right turn (wet underfoot as well), I look at the watch, which is showing 55 seconds - it is these moments that give the boost required to keep going. Feeling good now, I settle into a decent stride pattern, telling myself to do shorter, faster paces. As I hit the familiar landmarks, I keep glancing at the time - Village Store - around 4:30, obelisk 6:30... what? 6:30? It's normally over 7 minutes to here...what is happening? Am I actually running pretty quickly (this landmark is, in old money, a mile). Buoyed by this, I carry on up the next bit, up the hill, and up to the turnaround point - Last time (23:06 overall) I reached this in around 12 minutes - just over. This time, the watch is telling me 11:30 roughly. I know the wind is now blowing today, so no assistance down the hill today. Time to turn round and see what happens.

The rest of the run is pretty much uneventful - seemed to be going ok, but no more watch glances - just keep going, keep running and one final push downhill at a decent rate sees me home...22:!5!!! A new Personal Best (and one I don't think I will ever beat!) and here we have the splits - interesting reading! (If you like looking at graphs)

Looking at this, it is easy to see where I made the inroads... 17 seconds off each of the first 2km is where the progress came - 4:23 for that first km I find the biggest shock. When I started running in March, this km always took me well over 5:30 and often 6 minutes - the decision to try to start faster is definitely making a difference. 

The rest of the week was so wet, it was hard to face going out - I managed to get out on Saturday with the aim of a longer run, but after 15 minutes, I was soaked the skin and feeling cold and miserable - with two months to go, there is no point training when I don't have to and resenting this, so I don't feel too disappointed.

So what next? As I type, Great North Run has obviously been cancelled and the organisers are working on #GreatNorthRunReimagined - which means on the day, I will still run a half marathon, but this will be a solo run rather than with 50,000 others! I have now planned and settled on my route (more on that next week!!!), so from here on in, all the plans will go towards doing this in the best time possible and also to try and raise more vital funds for Shelter, my chosen charity. If you are enjoying the blog, and want to help out, please consider paying a visit to my donation page, which can be found at the link below:

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