Yearly Review: 2014

So the year has come and gone, and what a year it was. In my head I had planned to write an enormously long analysis and diatribe of the year, micro-analysing every detail and statistic. But instead I though I’d just go through the highlight reel. And boy, were there some highlights.

I wonder what next year will bring?

I completed my first marathon, in the time I targetted and set out to do.

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I proposed to my girlfriend, who said yes.

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I started a blog.

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I joined a running club.

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I became the Event Director at my local parkrun.

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I reached my long time weight loss goal.

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I smashed all of my race time targets I set at the beginning of the year.

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I ran 1833 miles, gaining 23442 meters of elevation.

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My average run speed increased to 6.7 mph

I planned most of next years wedding.

All in all a highly pleasing year. Happy new year everyone, and here’s to a fantastic 2015.

Manchester Marathon Training: Week 2 of 18

Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year to all my readers and followers! Needless to say as someone who struggles with weight, its been an indulgent festive season. I’ve eaten far too much, but thankfully my training has continued uninterrupted. So whilst I no doubt have gained weight (And I shan’t be finding out how much for a couple of weeks) the running has been consistent.

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This is the most disjointed week of planned training, and doesn’t follow P&D too much at all. It was always going to be though – with it being Christmas week, there is always so much going on family visits etc I was pleased to get these all in.

Tuesdays General Aerobic run was splendid, and Introduced me to Strides. Bursts of acceleration to 5k pace (I actually just accelerated to top speed). I felt strong and comfortable and it also involved a lot more climbing than I thought – and didn’t really feel it to much.

Wednesday was meant to be a recovery run, but as Thursday was Christmas Day and I was intending to do the parkrun Chrustmas special, I switched it with Thursday, so it was a 10 mile General Aerobic run in my second home of Basingstoke. I’ve found some really nice routes around there now, and the run felt comfortable.

Thursday was Christmas! Yay! At Basingstoke parkrun they host a Christmas run and it was always my intention to run this if timing allowed it. So although I SHOULD have been recovering, I wanted to run it hard. Furthermore, I wanted to run a sub-20 minute 5k by the end of the year. Unfortunately off the back of 18 miles on the previous 2 days, I didn’t make the sub-20, but I DID set an ALL TIME 5k PB by 5 seconds. On that course, off of 2 long training days, I was very pleased. Jodie also managed to smash her PB at Basingstoke and rather nicely they presented finishers with a christmas medal!

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Saturday was, again, supposed to be a recovery run. But still being in Hampshire, the opportunity for parkrun tourism was rife, and it would have been my last chance to go sub-20. We went to Woodley parkrun, as Kerri, who interviewed me for the parkrun show, is the Event Director there. She wasn’t present, instead touring in Southampton. She told me Woodley was very flat, so thought sub-20 was more likely. But alas, it was not to be. I knew the opportunity had gone after the first kilometre, and instead treated it as a threshold run. The course WAS flat, but there was a lot of muddy field I didn’t have much grip on, my legs were tired and it was absolutely FREEZING. C’est la vie!

Finally, Sunday was the Gutbuster. P&D would have had me doing a traditional long run, but Jodie bought me this race entry for my birthday. And what fun it was! It was cold, hilly and muddy 10 miler. There was a ford which few people ran through (Though me and Jodie did) and a brilliant medal at the end. No way a PB course but certainly a lot of fun and great motivator to keep you focussed over christmas and stop you indulging TOO much. I ran a creditable 1:18:57, and could have gotten a little quicker but had a seriously bad tummy and was praying for a portaloo for the second half of the race which, alas, didn’t arrive! As you can see from the photos below, Jodie also ran and did incredibly well. The race was brilliantly organised, has a fun, friendly atmosphere, superb medal and mulled wine and mince pies at the finish – first class event!

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So Week 3 starts tomorrow and is back to the proper structure of the plan with minimal of my own mods. Though we are doing a New Years Day parkrun double – so will need to fit those in as part of another session.

Manchester Marathon Training: Week 1 of 18

So my Marathon Training plan, (18 weeks, up to 55 miles from the Advanced Marathoning book by Pfitzinger and Douglas) has officially kicked in. The first week is done and dusted and I couldn’t be happier. 3 key sessions this week aside from the rest and recovery runs, but had to do some shuffling around to accommodate work and Christmas parties!

The calendar shows me planned runs vs actual runs.

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With the P&D plan, you shouldn’t run the day after a long run. However, this was week 1 and I didn’t run on Sunday, so running my Lactate Threshold run on Monday was OK. As I knew I would be travelling back from Birmingham on Thursday I knew I wouldn’t be able to get in a 9 miler, and as I had a rest day on Tuesday, I switched out the Wednesday and Thursday runs.

According to the actual plan, Saturday should have been a 4m Recovery run, but as we were away for the weekend and the opportunity was there for some parkrun tourism, we went to the beautiful Lanhydrock parkrun instead.

What an amazing course and a brilliantly friendly team! It was a real toughie, with the second half being all uphill aside from a quick downhill finish. Got some brilliant photos too.

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And the cafe was magnificent! Highly recommend this run, well worth the travel!

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The week was rounded off with a 13mile Medium Long Run with 8m at Marathon Pace. This was the key session of the week and the one that filled me with the most apprehension.

According to the book, the run is supposed to start at your long run pace, and crank it up speed wise to run the last x miles at intended marathon pace. I modified it slightly so I had a mile cool down back at long run pace before finishing up. My main issue was being worried about running at marathon pace in the middle of a long run – but I needn’t have been. That may change as the runs get longer but this session I just nailed.

The first 4 miles I increased the speed by 20s per mile and found the sub 3.20 marathon pace (7.36m/m), maintaining a good cadence and keeping a reasonably consistent pace in spite of nearly 200m of elevation.

So all in all I can look back on week 1 happy with my efforts, raring to go into week 2 (Christmas week!) high on confidence.

Here’s some more photos from Lanhydrock.

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Why does Garmin not agree with Strava…

… When it comes to Calories?

Figure 1 – My workout in Garmin Connect, displaying my workout burning an impressive 1230 calories.

garmincalsSo why is it that Strava (Figure 2), when the activity is synced via the Garmin integration (The accounts are linked) shows an even more impressive 1802 calories?!

stravacalsI mean… that’s not even close! 600 calories is 3 pints of lager! Or a decent lunch! How can 2 systems with exactly the same data calculate such different values? And more importantly, when considering this data from a weight loss/calorie controlled diet point of view, which is right?

Answers on a postcard…

 

 

Marathon training starts here! My strategy

Time Every man needs a plan, and this is mine.Well, in spite of unceremoniously uttering “never again…” after completing the Paris Marathon in April, the bug caught me again. After many months seeing my running improve, I want to better my time. Its amazing how ego comes into play to overrule any thoughts of historic pain and agony!

I signed up a few months back, along with Simon and a few others. Jodie managed to make it into London so it means we’ll be training together. Well, we’ll be training at the same time at least.

I’ve spent the last month or two researching different training plans. I had a great deal of success following the Bupa training plans in the past – they’ve delivered many PBs in the last year, and I certainly need the discipline and structure of a training plan to keep my running balanced and focused. But following Bristol’s half marathon PB, I’ve set my sights quote high. After much deliberation I settled on the Advanced Marathoning 18 week up to 55 miles per week training plan, by Pete Pfitzinger and Scott Douglas.

As that’s not a particularly snappy name, it often goes by the name “P&D 18/55”, which is much shorter to write!

It has been tried and tested, and comes highly recommended on the Runners World forums. Not to mention, its from the same book Steve Way used to run his first marathon! Though he did the “Up To 70 miles” version.

I could of course have just mindlessly followed the training plan, but I would have: a) Not learned anything. And b) Not understood how to effectively alter the plan when things go off track. Which would have inevitably resulted in c) Abject failure.

On the surface, it seems pretty complicated. There are some difficult terms to get your head around and aside from my “Lactate Threshold” and “Marathon Paced” runs, I’m still not QUITE sure what my pace zones will be – but I’m going to use common sense (As well as the trusty McMillan Calculator). Overall, I must make sure my easy runs are easy.

Unlike a lot of training plans, P&D promote marathon paced running during the long runs, something which excites and scares me in equal measure. Whilst I know compared to my recent half times this is well within my comfort zone, sandwiching it in as part of an 18 miler is a bit scary!

Although I want to follow a structured well designed training plan, I have made some tweaks. For example, I wanted to get more 20 milers in after reading that around 5 is the optimum number, so I have modified the long run routines a bit to reflect this, as well as included some “races” which i’ll run at training paces – Its nicer to run with others than it is on your own!

Also, the plan has several “Tune Up Races” on Saturdays. parkrun isn’t really long enough for this purpose, so I have added some tempo type running in the mix there instead to simulate a hardish race effort. Instead, I have incorporated the Reading Half as my “Test Race”. My target is to run this in under 90 minutes. If I can achieve this, then I will be on track to hit my end goal.

Another element that ought to help me with my overall training strategy – weight loss. My target weight to hit for the race is 12st13lbs, which should be 1 stone less than my weight at the end of the year. This equates to losing less than 1lb per week, a very sensible weight loss. However, If I can lose it a bit quicker, I can focus on proper nutrition and energy in the month or so pre-race.

Finally – my greatest improvements and focus seemed to come when I was accounting for my running and diet on a weekly basis in this blog, before I got lazy and reported monthly. So I am determined to write a weekly report, every Monday (In place of a run – its a rest day after all!) of how things have been going.

So with all that that said, here is my masterplan.

Endurance Mesocycle (17 to 12 weeks to go)

Also referred to as “Base building”  this starts preparing the body to endure the rigours of a tough training program, building the miles and mixing in some threshold training.

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December is a tricky month. I’ve made several tweaks here but you can see the focus is largely on General Aerobic type of runs. Christmas week is a bit special and I’m going “parkrun mad”. I’m hoping for some final end of year PBs, and they are short enough for recovering from the tough efforts quickly so not to affect the longer runs – at least thats the plan!

Lactate Threshold + Endurance Mesocycle (11 to 7 weeks t go)

This phase builds on the endurance phase and introduces more work at the Lactate Threshold (LT). Many sources believe training at or around your LT is the best way to improve your race performance. You can get properly tested to identify your LT, but I tend to use the approximate value that McMillan Running’s paces calculator tells me.

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You can see there is either an LT run or an MP (Marathon Paced) run on a weekly basis here. It also introduces a VO2 Max workout, basically hard intervals in the middle of a longer run. But more on that later!

Race Preparation (6-3 weeks to go)

The portion focuses on speed. There is a VO2 max interval workout each week to increase raw speed performance. This is also where I have my practise race to check my pace is where it needs to be, and I’ll also use it to check my hydraton and nutrition – the gels I use in Reading will be the gels I use in Manchester.

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Taper and Race (3 to 0 weeks to go)

The plan follows a pretty standard 3 week taper. Reducing the training volume whilst maintaining intensity. I’m a bit concerned about running the day before the race, but in for a penny in for a pound! Its been tried by millions so might work out OK!

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Recovery

P&D have a 5 week recovery phase. I’m not sure how patient I’ll be with this, but I can promise to follow this for 2 weeks minimum. Plenty of recovery runs and light on intensity. If anything, I may try and bank a speedy 5k in here, after building my fitness so much I’m sure I’ll be able to give it a blast!

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The Eighth Stone

Great news! As of this morning I officially weigh 13st13lbs.

In real terms, this means from the date I first joined weight watchers for the first time all those years ago (And I wish i still had the records from those days) I’ve lost 8 stone.

That’s 112lbs.

Or 51kg if you prefer.

Which is 36% of my original body weight.

Whilst it is clearly a massive milestone, it has taken a very long time to get there. Clearly, its only been through running that I’ve been able to lose the weight sustainably, and hopefully for good.

But for some reason, I don’t feel the same sense of accomplishment I thought I would.

Over the years I had one primary target weight, which was 14st10lbs, or a healthy BMI. I reached that back in 2014 and to be honest, even then it didn’t feel like a huge relief or point of celebration.

I’ve spent the last couple of years hovering between 14st1 and 15st ish. To put that period into context, I originally drafted this post on the 9th December 2014! Back then I weighted 14st 1lb and honestly thought I’d lose the 2lbs it would take to dip me under the mark. It never happened.

I’ve always wanted to break through that 8st mark, into the 13 stones but never really was able to make it and I lost hope that I’d ever really be able to do it. But with my recent London training I had a renewed vigor for it.

Has breaking through that plateau given me some sort of wild sense of elation? No, it hasn’t.

As a former fatty I watch all sorts of weight loss programs – from the normal to the extreme and see all manner of people changing their lives and celebrating big time when they reach their goals. But for me, my motivation has changed. At some point over the last couple of years, I’ve changed my approach from “I run to lose weight” to “I want to lose weight so I can run better”, and it sort of happened without me really noticing it.

I spent many years being upset, embarrassed and sometimes depressed about my weight. Even now I bloody hate seeing race photos with my belly wobbling about, but I’m not nearly as annoyed by them as I used to be. I’ve still got a ring of loose skin around my belly which I think is basically excess from when I was much bigger, and I don’t think that’s going anywhere without surgery. But I think I’m OK with that. In some ways its a trophy, or sign of just how far I have come. Maybe its marriage, maybe its fatherhood. Maybe its a mix of those things AND being at a healthy weight?

The most important thing above all though is health and I now feel that I am healthy, and I’ve done it in a healthy, sustainable way – through exercise – and that’s why i think I’ll be able to keep it off.

I still want to lose a bit more – my target now is 13st 5lbs which in theory will give me a body fat percentage int he “Athlete” zone which will be pretty cool, and then I want to maintain around there. Whilst I’ve spent that last few years hovering in the 14st mark, I’d like 13st13 to be my new “top end” with 13st 7lbs being my new normal.

But who knows? Unlike before I’m not going to get myself too worked up or too upset if I don’t.

I just want to be as lean as I can so I can run London as fast as I can…

 

Weston Christmas Cracker 10k 2014

Last year I took part in the Weston Christmas Cracker. It’s a 10k race in Weston-super-Mare, the popular west country seaside resort, home of the grand pier and other such things.I used it as a gauge and my last big race before starting my Marathon training.

I don’t often repeat the same race twice, but given the availability of local 10k races being slim pickings at this time of year, I thought I’d give it a go again.

Organizationally it was a slick affair for a relatively small race. With only 2000 entrants the race sells out very quickly. Numbers (With attached disposable chips) were set out in advance along with an extremely useful guide all about the race, the route, HQ bag drop, the works.

HQ was at Weston College and was spread across 4 floors, but it was very well managed and sign posted. I managed to drop my bag of securely with some great volunteers from Weston AC and headed to the beach toward the start. When I reached the beach I found it was more than a tad blowy!

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I knew this would be a problem. I’d had my heart set on breaking 42 minutes for this race, so I was pretty gutted to have these conditions – but they are what they are and there was nothing I could do about it! Its a shame about the wind too, as despite the temperature only being about 3 degrees, it actually felt quite mild.

After a bit of a warm up I headed toward the start. As this is very much a charity race (With the theme being somewhat obvious…) there was fancy dress everywhere. I was definitely in the minority.WP_20141207_002

As runners assembled I was keen to get a good spot nearish the front. There were no start pens or guide times for runners to stand at based upon estimated finish time, so i just got as close to the front as I could. I saw Kevin who I know from parkrun there and we had a bit of a chat whilst we waited to head off. I knew he’d run a fast time here before a few minutes quicker than the time I had targeted. So I didn’t expect to see him again after the start.

Before long we were off. I settled into my pace nicely, and the wind seemed to be behind, as I couldn’t feel it too much. This was a bad thing. The course was different this year to last year. We started in a different direction and did a mini-lap on the beach that was about 4 k, then a larger 6k lap. This however meant running into the wind for half the race.

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And I suffered with the wind, big time. OK, the wind behind would have helped some, but the swirling nature meant it was more of a cross wind than a tail wind, so it still whipped across.

I knew early on that sub 42 was overly optimistic. But I tried my hardest to get as close as I could. The support was tremendous, the marshals were excellent and the course was very good. No road closures in place but a very safe well organised route.

Running the last 3k back into the wind was utterly demoralising. I was watching the Garmin closely as I’d caught back some time, but I just couldn’t bring it back. Then turning back onto the beach for the last 500 yards the wind was right in your face and it knocked the wind from my sails. I kept my head down, motored on and crossed the line in 42.44 – Still a PB, but 5s per km off my target. It was tough.

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No goody bag from this race but there was a mince pie and possibly the best free technical tee I’ve received. Really top quality.

I stuck around and offered some support, but I cooled quickly and race HQ was 500 yards from the finish, so I made a jog to get my stuff and head home.

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Statistically speaking the Garmin made some balls ups. For some reason it screwed a whole load of elevation up at points during the race, and I’ve got no idea why. Here’s the full activity. My cadence lacked some consistency, but looking at my heartrate I don’t think I could have given it any more than I did.

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I have to say though, looking at the results I finished 71st, 1st in club (Ahead of Kevin, who I mentioned earlier) and 35th in my gender/age category. Out of 1700 finishers I was delighted with that! Its a shame it’s not a UKA race, as I’d like to see how the SSS and vSSS fared to see how I actually performed. But unfortunately I won’t be able to see. Either way, its 10 minutes better than my last years time – and thats a pretty satisfying improvement, year on year.

My final goal of the year is to run a sub 20 5k. I was hoping this would give me some confidence to hit that time in the Street 5k on Wednesday, but I’m not feeling hugely confident. There are 2 parkruns left in the year I can run yet though, so I’ll be giving it all I’ve got until the last moment. McMillan doesn’t think i can do it based upon yesterday’s time – but hopefully the conditions are better and I can prove it wrong.

But until next year, Weston…

WP_20141207_006UPDATE: Here are the suitably horrendous official race photos! Certainly won’t be paying for these!xmascracker4 xmascracker3 xmascracker2

 

Jantastic is back!

Jantastic was relaunched this week. Its been heavily hyped on Marathon Talk almost since the end of last years, and I for one am very excited about it.

Its a very simple honesty based motivation challenge. You sign up and tell the website how often you are going to run each week in January. In February, you need to tell it distance of your longest targeted long run, and in March you try and predict a race time and see how close you get to it in order to see how in tune you are with your fitness.

Yes, it sounds simple, because it is. Its incredibly cheatable. But much like cutting a corner on your local parkrun, the only person you’d be cheating is yourself. But now if you use Strava, you’ll be able to link your profiles and, I imagine, it will automatically add your Jantastic runs as they get logged through Strava.

The key as I see it is about making yourself accountable. By telling Jantastic you are going to run 5 times a week, the idea is that you want to meet those targets to achieve the cool badges they award, and to try and maintain an elusive 100% record. Because you set your own targets, you are far more likely to want to go out and hit them than if someone else told you to go and run 3 times a week!

Last year I was relatively new to running, and when I heard about it I used it to maintain my motivation throughout my Marathon training. It worked spectacularly, not least because of the concept of “Teams”. By joining a team you are also contributing to the success of your team – you miss a run, your team score gets affected. So not only would you be letting yourself down, you’d be letting your team down too!

And this is what drove me to keep running through the cold, wet, miserable winter months.

Its cleverly designed to finish right in the middle of “Spring Marathon Season”, but you could just as easily want to use Jantastic just to get out and run  more often. Maybe you just want to improve your parkrun PB. Its great for helping you set and keep the dreaded “New years resolution”, and really is suitable for anyone.

I can’t say that without it I wouldn’t have completed my marathon – I probably would have – but by remaining accountable with Jantastic I was able to run more consistently which is the key to improvement in any activity. This in turn had a tremendous effect on my weightloss and a year on I am a completely different person – In a positive way, obviously!

I still have a stone and a bit to lose to reach my perceived “optimum” race weight for Manchester Marathon, but I know after Christmas I’ll have Jantastic to watch my back, shift the pounds and help drive me on to that 3h20.

So sign up and join a team. No team to join? Hop in with the Yeovil Montacute parkrun team, we’d love to have you!

Monthly Review: November 2014

November started high and took a gargantuan dip in the middle of it before starting to peak again towards the end.

Early in the month I felt amazing, smashing my times, hitting my splits and felt on top of the world. in the first week of November I topped my first ever Strava segment leaderboard!

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Rather stupidly perhaps, i followed this up with the toughest tempo run I’ve ever attempted. I finished it feeling fantastic. But the day after I was much the worse for wear. My planned 13 mile LSR was cut back to 11 as my legs just couldn’t take it any more. My foot hurt along the bridge for some reason and I generally felt like I’d been hit by a bus. I resorted to almost exclusively easy running for 2 weeks with only a couple of “Progression” sessions to try and get some speed back.

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I’m not convinced I fell victim to over-training – but I’m pretty sure I was walking the fine line. The easy runs recovered me well, and I’m finishing the month doing much better, at a new lowest ever weight. I’ve rethought about my training and am now sticking to the rules of easy, tough days and I’ve adjusted my marathon training plan to compensate for this.

With this in mind, I look back on the goals I set and have to question if they were realistic or sensible. Lets look at them in turn.

  • Complete 25 runs – Achieved. This was still sensible, it was the intensity and volume I was struggling with.
  • Increase average speed to 6.6mph+ – Not Achieved. This is one of the less sensible targets. Basic running dictates that your easy runs should be the bulk of your mileage and your sessions should be where you do the faster stuff. So averaging a whole months worth of speed across including easy runs is only going to cause an increase in the pace of the easy runs – and whats the point in that? They won;t have the desired recovery effect and just end up fatiguing the body more. Lesson learned.
  • Increase elevation gain to > 90 – Achieved. Running hills is still the best way to improve leg strength, even at easy pace. Looking back on some of my marathon training, this was really important and will continue to try and improve this.
  • Go sub 21 at Yeovil Montacute parkrun OR Sub 20 at Poole parkrun (Depending where I decide to go on 30th November – Not Achieved – My wobble in the middle of the month hit me for 6 and I couldn’t have a good enough crack at it.

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So though I didn’t achieve all I wanted, I learned a lot from the month. As I move into December and my marathon training starts, I have been warned not to push the body too much, and the training plan I’ve chosen (I will be posting separately about my marathon training plan) will have me resting 2 days a week instead of one and adheres to the basic principles very well.

As December rolls around, its a quiet enough month, and as mentioned, Marathon Training begins. That said, I have some time goals I’d like to break in the races I do have planned as well as a weight target.

  • Sub-42 at the Weston Christmas Cracker 10k
  • Sub-20 at the Street 5k OR Basingstoke parkrun
  • Reach a weight of 13st 13lbs