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Race Report: Virgin Money London Marathon 2017

It’s been 3 months since I ran the Virgin Money London Marathon. I didn’t want to blog it straight away, as I wanted some time to reflect on it and write objectively about my experience as a whole and only now do I feel recovered and refreshed enough to do it. I did want to do it sooner than this though, I blame my expert procrastination skills!

It’s been a dream of mine to run London ever since I started running. My “Mission GFA” was designed to enable me to run a qualifying time, after many unsuccessful ballot entries. When I was drawn at our club ballot to be awarded our “club place” it was a dream come true! And I spent the next 6 months furiously planning my visit and of course training to ensure I had the best possible experience.

I documented my training extensively right up until race weekend. So lets pick up where I left off.

Saturday

The most important part of the London Marathon experience is attending the expo. Primarily because this is where you register and pick up your number and timing chip – so without attending you can’t run! But for the first timer the expo is a chance to experience an overwhelming buzz of nervous anticipation mixed with commercial advertising.

The Expo was held at London’s Excel arena as it is every year – a popular exhibition centre just off the DLR. Our hotel literally looked over the Excel which was very handy, though as we were travelling from Mile End parkrun we needed to take the DLR to get there anyway.

I’d been to the expo before when Jodie ran London in 2015, but returning to collect my own registration was an exciting and slightly emotional experience. For so long I’d worked towards running London, and when I finally picked up that race packet I could finally relax – I knew I was going to make it to the start line.

After getting my number I went through to get my timing chip – which you get to keep, unusually. But it’s a nice memento of your run as its London Marathon 2017 branded.

After collecting my number, I was into the expo proper – the arena was filled with rows and rows of stands of mainly retailers, but also other races trying to recruit you to attend their events. There were plenty of opportunities to grab freebies, leaflets and “tat”, as well as photo/video opportunities. I made the most and got fully into the swing of things. After all, we had all day!

Some of the highlights for me were the New Balance video, the official London Marathon photo spots and also meeting the guys at Fitness Rewards including Jenna, who sold us our life insurance policy. I had a go on their agility game – I was pretty woeful though!

We left the expo at about lunchtime and headed back to our hotel where our room wasn’t quite ready. So we had lunch in the lobby, chilling out until check in time. It seems the hotel were understaffed, as no-ones rooms were ready for when it was advertised. We eventually got in at about 4 and spent the time chatting to a nice lady from Edinburgh who was also doing her first London Marathon.

When we eventually got to our room I made my final kit check and obligatory kit photo before chilling out in our room.

In the evening we procured some hearty Italian fare (I ate a lot more than I needed) which arrived stupidly early – we were expecting it at 7 as we requested on Just Eat, and it arrived at 6! Then we met Marcus and Pippa for a drink in the evening – once we worked out they WEREN’T in the same hotel as us like we thought!

We headed to bed to watch some rubbish on TV and I set my alarm, drifting off to sleep at about 10. Not too bad considering how nervously excited I was.

Pre Race

I woke up, naturally very excited about the day that lay ahead. My prior preparation meant that I had plenty of time to get ready, as my kit was all laid out nicely. I put the hot water in my porridge pots (I had 3 of them…) and got in the shower to freshen up. I was awake, raring to go.

We loaded up our bags and checked I could get it in my official kit bag – success! But then a rather lovely spanner was thrown in the works – we won the hotel’s marathon prize draw! We were awarded a hamper of goodies, which contained energy bars, Lucozade, a fit ball, a pedometer, sweets and all sorts of other bits and bobs. It was brilliant – if only we didn’t have to try and fit it in with all of our existing stuff and have Jodie carry it around London! We had to remove all the packaging from everything, but we eventually managed to make it fit.

We went to meet Marcus and Pip and headed to the DLR station. Marcus said his goodbyes as he was meeting the club later to go to the cheering spots they’d organised, so Pip was in our capable hands.

We were nervously chatting on the DLR journey to Cutty Sark station, on a carriage with a few other runners and supporters. What surprised me was how quiet it was – I was expenting a lot more activity, but then again I guess it was quite early still. As we left the station we walked past the Cutty Sark ship – they were getting it ready for the swarms of people that would be cheering here – it’s one of the most popular points on the course. It was a bit quieter when we got this snap than it would be later! I was already picturing how it would feel running past this after 10k. My nervous anticipation was already building.

We walked towards Greenwich Park. I made a slight cock up with the directions, but we got there in the end, heading up the hill toward the start zones. There isn’t a race like it with start zones like London. So many people all gathering to fulfil their ambitions after months of long hard training – there was such an amazing buzz.

We had arranged a meeting point to get a club photo at the start and almost everyone made it! It was fantastic to share the experience with my club mates, all of whom had gone through their own journeys to get here. We were all raring to go!

Then, I had another great surprise. Race day was also the day of our nephews birthday party.  So there weren’t any plans for the in-laws to come and watch. But just as we were about to head to the start area, my father in law Robin came strolling across the field! He’d gotten the early train and come all across London, just to see me and wish me luck. It was a really touching thing for him to do and I can’t express how much that meant to me. It really gave me an amazing boost and I am so thankful that he came.

Then after a few “good luck” and “all the best” to everyone, we went our separate ways! At London, there are 3 start zones. Green, Red which is mainly charity runners (and that’s where most of the club had to start) and Blue was for Ballot and Club Places ran from, so I headed to Blue with Steve Vellacott. It was Steve’s first ever marathon, but you wouldn’t have thought it – he was as cool and calm as you like. I remember on my first in Paris – I was a nervous wreck in the start pen! We had a wander around, and I grabbed a coffee to get a caffeine boost (It was free which I didn’t realize!)

The start areas were so well organised and with so much space it was a really nice place to make final preparations. The weather was lovely and bright with little breeze, and listening to the theme tune and other announcements over the tannoy, I really felt part of it now – I was finally experiencing the London Marathon! Before long we were making last toilet visits and depositing our bags.

Speaking of bags, mine almost didn’t get checked in…. Bulging with swag from the raffle, I tried squeezing it in the provided polythene bag and ended up splitting it slightly! Luckily I was able to tie it up and get it on the truck.

I then cracked open my banana, said goodbye to Steve, and we headed to the start pens. It was starting to get very real.

I was fortunate enough to be in zone 3, so very close to the front. I was quite surprised how small the pens were. They did a great job of getting the right paced runners into small enough groups. I had a short warm up and then stood near the front of the pen. People were talking about their sub-3 ambitions and I felt a bit out of place but I thought, sod it. I’ve worked hard and I’m going to stand where I bloody well like!

Before long we were ushered forwards, slowly came around a roundabout, and there I was – I could see the start gantry about 40 meters in front of me. I was literally ON the start line – I felt so fortunate. The emotion really started to set in now, and I gulped. Despite not being religious I looked to the sky.

How was the heat going to affect me?

Have I trained enough?

Is my race plan was suicidal?

But it was a bit late now. They called the elites names. Then the gun went. We were off!

The Race

In the short walk to cross the start line, I gulped down a gel and reviewed my plan. 7 minute miling. Simple. Don’t get carried away through the first downhill 5k, get to Tower Bridge and review.

I quashed my nerves, and by the time I crossed the line I had my game face on – a smile! Finally a lifelong ambition was being realized. Time to enjoy it!

The first 3 miles were an absolute whirlwind. Despite being in a “faster” group near the front, the amount of congestion was still crazy. I found myself having to tread very carefully, especially in the first mile. Looking back I can see that my biggest mistake came after the 1st mile. I ran it in 7.08, which was a little slower than target (Only 4 seconds… but in my head I thought that was too much) and I ended up trying to claw it back over the next 2 miles – especially as the course was due to get MORE congested once the red start joined our course. This resulted in a 6.55, which was EXACTLY what I wanted, but then came the damage… Mile 3 in 6.34. It was downhill granted, but just the same that was too quick.

I hadn’t really taken much in at this point, but somewhere along here I could see the back of Rob Deering – host of the “Running Commentary” podcast which I listen to religiously. I’d heard what his race plans were on the show, and given that I’d just banged in a 6.34 mile I knew that was not in his plan! So I said “Bit quick? Love the show!”. He said thanks and I continued on my merry way. At this stage I felt comfortable and strong – but of course, you are supposed to – there was still 23.2 miles to go!

At mile 4 or so we ran through Charlton and saw the R4T cheer squad. I gave them a big wave – it was great to see them there, so many had come to experience marathon day as a spectator – and even spectating is a special experience. Thank you to all you guys who came to cheer us on.

Around here my gel strategy commenced. I planned to take a Gu every 4 miles (It’s my tried and tested fuelling method) so took one on just in time to see Jodie, my mum, stepdad and brother! That was another nice lift.

It was around here that I really noticed it was getting warmer. The sun was forecast to be sunny spells but mostly cloudy. I’d not seen any clouds yet, it was very sunny and I could feel myself sweating more than I’d have liked.

Before long we were rounding the 10k point and the cheers became deafening – Cutty Sark really is everything they say it is! A real spectator hotspot and an amazing experience.

After Cutty Sark I did a quick time check. I was definitely up on pace by about a minute thanks to a 6.43, a 6.48, a 6.57. Definitely too fast. I knew I was ahead and I just wanted to sustain my pace now. I thought if I could get to half way with a minute in the bank I would be OK, so I tried to be a bit more conservative, and spent the next 6 miles hovering around 7s. 6.51, 6.51, 7.00, 7.01, 6.52, 6.56. I seem to recall seeing Lucy and Stephen around this section, but I can;t be sure now looking back.

I wasn’t familiar with Rotherhithe at all, and knew there wasn’t to much to see. I’d pretty much zoned out focussing on trying to stay relaxed, thinking about my cadence and form.

I also remember Jimbob catching me up. Jim is a multiple sub-3 marathoner, so when he passed me I had an inkling I was going too fast. We had a brief chat, and he said just to run it out til you get to 20 and see what I had left. I then let him go ahead of me. Its amazing to think when you have 40,000 runners in the same race  of runners with different abilities from 3 different starts that you end up running with someone you know!

After 12 miles you start thinking about Tower Bridge. It’s an iconic part of the marathon and running over it was really special. I heard my name halfway across and saw James Parrot cheering me on. How I heard him I don’t know, there was so much noise! I didn’t realize until I was headed toward the bridge, that the drag towards it is ever so slightly uphill. That was a bit of a warning sign that my legs were tiring, as I felt the slope a lot more than I should have done. I thought I was prepared for it though, and I went through halfway in 1.31.05. That was a minute and a half too fast. Again, I convinced myself that this was “time in the bank” whilst still acutely aware that my legs were starting to diminish.

Running towards the Isle of Dogs I tried to get things back under control by staying closer to my target pace of 7.04. Miles 13-16 were 6.54, 6.53, 6.54, 6.55 – the model of consistency – but too bloody quick! Looking back now I wonder what the hell was going on in my head… Why didn’t I slow down?!

It was around here I saw Jodie and my family again. Great timing! I still felt OK but knew it was on a knifed edge now. Big smiles again for them as I trotted around the Isle.   By the time I saw them again at around mile 19-20, my smile had dropped and it was my real game face.

Liam still found time to expertly time a boomerang though!

I was just about hanging on to my target pace. Before long I came across 20 mile marker. That’s supposed to be a big boost as there is only 10k to go – but it didn’t feel that way to me.

At this stage I was telling myself “One mile at a time”, and that worked until I passed the corner around the 21 mile mark. The R4T cheer squad was around about here and I was grimacing – Dave shouted “It’s all mental from here” and I felt like shouting “That’s not what my fu*king legs are thinking!!” but I just mumbled “I can’t do it!”.

By the time 22 came along, I couldn’t hold on any more, and I had to walk. Just as I started walking, I saw Fred Fox. He tried his best to get me going, but I was suffering. I managed to start running again, butthe next couple of miles I was run walking. Everything below the waist hurt and I was just so hot.

At around 24 miles or so, I came to an absolutely standstill and had to lean against the railings. I felt broken. The supporters were amazing and offered me jelly babies and water which I gladly took. The encouraged me to keep going, and I did.

The embankment is supposed to be one of the biggest highlights of the marathon, and I was looking forward to running along it feeling comfortable and soaking up the atmposhere pushing on for glory  but it wasn’t like that for me. For me it was a painful, humbling experience and I was crying for small parts of it. Partly due to the pain, but mostly because the “good for age” time I had trained so hard for was disappearing before my very eyes, and I just didn’t have it in me to claw it back.

I had to have a good word with myself and tell myself to “man up”. I had less than 2 miles to go and I just needed to put one foot in front of the other and enjoy the rest of it. And that’s what I did.

Running towards Big Ben I stopped worrying about my pace and just waved to the crowds and took in the atmosphere. It was magnificent. I heard an almighty “Come on Matt” from the Grandstand and there was James Gibbons – wow what a pair of lungs he has!! It was EXACTLY what I needed.

Video of that can be found here. Thanks for getting it on film, Holly, and thanks for lifting my spirits James.

Birdcage Walk was a tough slog but I knew the end was in sight. Those infernal “800m to go!” signs weren’t coming quick enough, but I dug deep and rounded the corner under the “385m to go!” gantry. It was the Mall. I could see the finish, so I gave it all I had left, looking around, clapping to the supporters and put in the best “sprint” I could muster and just before the finish line a shot of cramp ran up my leg! I stumbled but crossed the line in an official time of 3.08.43.

There is a video of me finishing here.

As I turned around and looked back down the mall and saw everyone behind me crossing the line. I had done it, I had completed the London Marathon!

It was a strange mix of emotions. I fulfilled a lifetime ambition, setting a 5 minute PB, running a time I should have been really proud of. Most of the people in the race would have been pleased with a 3.08. But my target had been 3.05 so I could run this wonderful event again.

It took many weeks for me to reconcile those two things in my head, but I reached that sense of pride eventually. I collected my medal, a wry smile on my face and got my bag before calling Jodie.

We met, and with my mum, step dad and brother had a celebratory drink in Green Park. They were so proud of me and did a brilliant job of lifting my spirits.

It was the best race of my life… But I have unfinished business and I’m not giving up on Good for Age just yet.

Analysis

It’s only now I can look back objectively and try and understand what went “wrong”. As you can tell, going out too fast and sustaining a face faster than target was a big factor. It was only a few seconds per mile, but I guess when you are running on the very edge of your capabilities, this can have a massive effect.

It was pleasing that despite a detonation in the last 10k the slowest mile I ran was only 8.17.

The heat though transpired to be the biggest factor. I underestimated how much of an effect it would have.  I found out after the race was that Neil and Jason – both sub-3 marathoners – also struggled on the day.  So when I put my run into context, it wasn’t so bad after all.

Looking at my heart rate, it was very much under control – all in the right heart rate zone.

Its when I consider all of this, I really don’t think i could have prepared any better. This was the best I could do on that course, on that day, in those conditions. If the conditions were slightly more favourable…. who knows.

According to the results, I finished in the top 7% of the field and in the top 11% of men. In spite of my detonation, over the last 7.2k I still overtook more people than I was passed by.

Looking back, I am now very proud of my performance.

Strava Activity.

Summary

The London Marathon really is the greatest race in the world and I am so proud to have completed it. I need to thank the following people.

  • Mum and John, who came to support on the day. They looked after Ivy when we were in Yeovil and both Jodie and I needed to train. It really was invaluable.
  • Liam, for coming to support and enjoying some support beers
  • Trish, for looking after Ivy when we needed to train and taking care of here on race day
  • Mac, for coming to see me at the start of the race despite how busy your day would be. You supported me throughout my training too.
  • Dave Purchase, for motivation and being a sound pair of ears for me
  • Running for Time, for being the best club, and to everyone from the club who came to support and run.
  • Jodie – for literally EVERYTHING.
  • And of course little Ivy.

Race Report: Silverstone Half Marathon 2017

Silverstone  Half Marathon has been a race on our list for a couple of years now. It’s ideally placed as a warm up for many spring marathons, though it tends to clash with other major half’s. This year, given that we lived an hour closer than we used to, we thought it was the best time to do it.

Organised by the London Marathon company, It really is excellently priced compared to other events of a similar scale. Signing up was hassle free and our race packs arrived in the post with plenty of time, along with a very detailed “Final Instructions” magazine. it was all very similar to the London Marathon process, and I wonder if they use this as THEIR warm up prior to the big event from an administration point of view!

Pre Race

Unusually the start time of the race is 12.00 noon. one of the advantages of running on a race track is that along with a traffic free course there is no time pressure to reopen roads so they can start it at a sensible time! I wasn’t sure how I would feel running at Noon. Usually I’m a morning racer and this meant I had to change-up my usual pre-race routine, particularly on the breakfast front!

We woke up at the same time we always do (thanks to having a 7 month old baby!) which was quite nice, not too early a start, and drove Ivy to her grandparents where she would stay for the day, before we made our 90 minute drive to Silverstone. The conditions when we set off were horrendous, it was a difficult drive. It started to clear but it remained drizzly right up until the start of the race.

I’ve never been to Silverstone, but as a former F1 fan the thought of running on the race track was really quite exciting! We were forewarned about parking and that it was a bit of a walk to the race village in the far end of the circuit from the car park. There was a special car park for sub 1.35 runners, though I’m not really sure if there was any benefit to parking there. Though the traffic was congested it kept moving and the parking marshals were excellent.

The walk to the village itself was definitely less than a mile, but the problem was the foot traffic had to go across a couple of bridges with some tight bottle necks. This slowed everything right down, so a 10 minute walk ended up being about 20. But we were there in plenty of time and there was actually quite a lot of hanging around.

There were more toilets than I’ve ever seen with the shortest queues I’ve seen as such a big event, really well maintained too and they were proper toilets, in portakabins! It was positively luxurious! The bag drop was instant and easy with so many volunteers on hand there really was no hanging around. This was organisation at its finest.

The other thing I noticed was the number of “official photographers”. They were absolutely everywhere, I’ve never seen so many. Not that I ever buy them as they are horrendously overpriced, but for those that like that sort of thing or wanted a decent memento from their first half, then you’d be guaranteed at least one good snap.

We headed to the start pens in plenty of time and they were enormous – lots of room for a proper warm up, particularly down near the front where there was even extra toilets! I took care of business one last time whilst there, just because I could!

The drizzle started easing off just in time for the start and before long we were off – the official starters were apparently the band “Scouting for Girls”, not that I knew that at the time, who then jumped into the pack and ran the race themselves.

The Race

The start of the race was on the F1 circuit.  The wet surface made it very squeaky, but it was a great wide track and meant for little congestion. The first few miles were all on smooth race track, and I found myself trying to hit the apexes like I was an F1 driver taking the shortest possible route. Though i have to say, even running the tangents, by the end of the race I’d run 0.25 miles farther than advertised distance. I didn’t weave  around THAT much and being near to the front there wasn’t a huge amount of traffic to get around.

Seeing the sights that the drivers pass at considerably faster than we were running was quite a thrill. It was a lot of fun running through and around the F1 pit lane though, past the F1 podium and rounding famous turns like Maggotts and Stowe. Looking at the map from Strava below, you’ll see just how confusing it is. If it wasn’t marked out, you’d never be able to go and do it as a “freedom run”!

Sadly the race also spent a lot of time on support roads and other minor race tracks where people weren’t easily able to get to support. So crowds were sparse in places and it got quite lonely sometimes, but where there were crowds it was quite dense and had some good cheers.

The number of marshals were plentiful and I have to say they were outstanding in terms of encouragement and support. First rate!

The course itself is reasonably flat, the climbs though are long and gradual and it’s not till you crest them, blowing out of your arse that you realise you’ve run uphill. Additionally there were two bridges to cross that were quite steep – and you definitely knew about them, they really take the wind from your sails.

The last couple of miles seemed mainly uphill, and seeing the finish gantry in the distance was torture! The support on the final stretch was great.

Post Race

Crossing the finish line was a relief. The funnel was well-managed , with the ramps and volunteers cutting off the timing chips, and I was able to quickly move through to get a pretty decent goody bag – lots of food, drinks and a nice medal. The only thing that could have topped it would have been a technical tee instead of a cotton one. I don’t understand why the event is sponsored by adidas and there is no tech tee, whereas events like the London 10,000 are not sponsored by adidas but you DO get a tech tee!

After I finished I stood waiting for Jodie watching the masses come in, the event really does have a great vibe and a wide range of abilities.

After Jodie crossed the line we started heading back and got a selfie on the way through.

Getting out was a bit more of a problem than it was to get in. The walk back was much slower as there were more people and the same pinch points. Traffic on the way out was busy, but in line with the scale of the event.

All in all a good event which I am glad we have done. It was fantastic value for money and would recommend it – though don’t think we’ll be hurrying back, as I preferred other events in the same time of year like Reading, and I also want to do Bath next year which is usually on the same day.

My Race Analysis

I was using the race as a tune up for London, like many others. I was a bit unsure how I would perform for a couple of reasons. Firstly, it’s the first half I’ve run with a decent block of training for over a year. Secondly, because when I ran Cardiff last spring I blew up after about 10 miles. I still PBed, but I felt I was in shape to run a bit quicker. Thirdly, when I tried my last threshold run which was 7 miles with 11 at lactate threshold, it all fell apart.

The numbers however, looked good. If I was targeting a half rather than using it as part of a marathon build up, I would have tapered a bit more than I did. As it was, I just reduced volume and intensity for the last couple of runs before the race, and my Fitness Trend looked like I had a mini-peak (I was at + 11 “Freshness”), so I felt I could give it a good go.

To be on target for my sub 3.05 in London, using McMillan I knew I’d need to run under 1.28. That was quite a scary prospect as it was a good minute quicker than I’d gone last year, it was totally uncharted territory. That’s about 6.40 a mile, so that’s what I had in my head when I set off.

Almost immediately, my watch was short of the first mile marker, and I was 8 seconds over my target. I felt pretty comfortable though, so stepped it up a gear for the next couple and was probably a little too fast. Up until 7-8 miles I felt pretty good, but there was a long drag uphill there. I managed to claw some back up until 10, and my watch said that if I kept going I might sneak under 1.27! However I knew pretty quickly that was optimistic, and instead I focused on trying to hang on for dear life for that sub 1.28. With 2 to go I was really struggling, and the last mile really was a case of sheer bloody mindedness.

I crossed the line delighted, but as I had been manually lapping I didn’t stop my watch, I just pressed lap again! I did stop it and I knew I had comfortably beaten my target. Later that evening my time was officially recorded as 1.27.24 – a PB by over 2 minutes! I finished in P160 of 6690, beaten by only 6 ladies and 117th in my age group. Not bad for a (former) fay lad!

Looking at the Strava analysis, I can see it wasn’t the best executed of races, with the second half definitely being slower, but the course profile naturally causes this with most of the climbing in the second half.

From an effort point of view, I really couldn’t have given a lot more. Strava recorded it as “Epic” and rightly so. Looking at the line graph you can see a progressive increase, peaking just toward the finish. I really was spent.

Walking away with such a PB I can be nothing but delighted, and I am perfectly on target for London. Now, I just need to stay in one piece!

Strava Activityhttps://www.strava.com/activities/897381889

Race Report: Bournemouth Marathon 2016

Well, that didn’t exactly go to plan…

Saturday

Coming into the weekend of 1st and 2nd October I was in a bit of a mixed bag as to how I felt about this, my autumn target race. As I mentioned in my previous post, training had been a bit up and down, but I felt I may have just been able to squeeze out a decent performance come race day.

We headed to Bournemouth with a little optimism on Saturday morning, so we could take in Bournemouth parkun. This doubled up a bit of parkrun tourism with a recce of the Race HQ.

bournemouth-parkrun

The weather was a bit rubbish, but the rain just about held off as we completed 2 big and 1 small laps between Kings Park Athletics Stadium and AFC Bournemouth’s Vitality Stadium. The course itself is a mix of tarmac, trail path and a bit of grass. There is a room at the stadium you can change/shelter in with toilets on hand there too. Naturally with it being marathon weekend, there were plenty of tourists about and there was an excitable vibe to the event.

bournemouthmapsplits

Though we were taking it easy, it wasn’t as flat as advertised in my opinion – I wouldn’t go there on a PB hunt – but the marshals and volunteers were excellent. Thank you!

We had to hurry off to check into our AirBnB so couldn’t stick around, but there is a cafe onsite for post-parkrun cake, coffee and gossip!

After getting to our digs we headed into town to check out the finish area where most of the activity was going to be over the course of the festival. It was already bustling. I had to pick up a replacement number as mine never arrived. This was a painless process except it was a generic unbranded number which was a little disappointing, as they are souvenirs to me. never mind!

After a bit of shopping, a trip to Starbucks, some playing the amusements and even a cheeky pint, we decided to watch the races. There were a couple of kids fun runs first and then the 10k in the late afternoon. The course for these was fast and flat as it was all along the beachfront, and I was amazed at the size of the field! Saw plenty of folks I knew running and cheered everyone in both directions as good neutral supporters should!

Then we headed back to the AirBnB. In all we did 20,000 steps on Saturday which may be a little high for the day before a Marathon! But never mind eh.

Dinner was pasta from a local JustEat vendor. Good food and the same stuff I had pre-Manchester. We got a reasonably early night as Jodie was off in the Half at 8am which meant a VERY early start!

Prerace

Getting up at 6am wasn’t a great deal of fun, but as we went to sleep early it didn’t feel like too bad a hardship. I feasted on my usual 3 porridge pots and armed myself up with a couple of bananas for before the race and we took the short walk to race HQ. The weather was perfect! Clear skies and no wind at a cool temperature. You couldn’t have picked better marathon weather.

As we were pinning Jodie’s number on for the half, we noticed the foam had gone from her embedded timing chip. We checked at the helpdesk to make sure the chip was fine, but they weren’t sure – so issued her a new number. Which was the same unbranded type as me! So at least we both had crap bibs!

numbers

One thing became clear as the morning went on, and that was that the half seemed significantly better attended than the Marathon.

Jodie was a little nervous about her race at it was her first half since our daughter Ivy was born. I dropped her off in the start pen and headed a bit further on from the start and took this Facebook Live video of the start of the race. Logistics meant I couldn’t see her anywhere else on the course so all I had left to do was wait nervously for the start.

startline

I headed back to the cafe to have a cup of tea and it was a little chilly! I had checked my bag in with Jodie’s number, as she’d need it at the finish first, but was wearing a “disposable” hoody – just my race hear other than that! As the 2 hour wait went on, more and more people arrived, though it was still notably a much smaller affair than the half. I got a bit bored but before long it was time to head to the start.

I was assigned a pen right near the front due to my estimated (ha!) finish time. So I had plenty of loos to use and warmed up at the side of the course. I saw Ben of Marathon 401 fame who was starting the race on the warm up too, but didn’t introduce myself – he seemed busy. Then before long I was in the pen. It was nearly time to go!

startselfie

The Race

My race plan was to go out at 3.10 pace, so that was around 7.14 a mile. I figured if I could get to 20 miles at that pace I’d try and cling on for the rest of it.

For the first few miles I ticked along quite nicely. A little fast, but it was downhill. There was some good support along here. I felt comfortable at the pace I was running, and when it levelled off a few miles later I slowed a little naturally to bring me back into target range.

One of the challenges with this course was the number of “out and backs” you have to contend with. By mile 7 I was already on my way back of the second of these alone – the “out” here was gradually uphill, but I managed to stay on pace before we dropped back down to the seafront for a few more miles, heading towards Boscombe Pier.

Now, I like the seaside, and I like the view of the sea. But that was all there was to see. I found myself getting a little bit bored of trudging along promenade for mile after mile with nothing but beach huts and the english channel to look at.

By mile 12 there was the first of 2 not-insignificant hills. 30 metres of climbing in 400 metres which is 8% incline! And believe me, by the time I got to the top, I knew about it. With the benefit of hindsight, I should have eased off a bit here to save the legs, but my stupidity/pride meant I tried to stay at target pace – which did work…

Once we reached the top it was a mile through to the half marathon split, by which point local parkrunner Miles Caswell caught up with me. This lad is super speedy round Yeovil Montacute parkrun and he was running his first marathon with a similar goal to me. We chatted for a bit but by this point I was starting to flag.

Thankfully, this was when we dropped back down into the finish area (for the first time). The crowds were MAGNIFICENT. I, being the crowd pleasing tart that I am, was pumping my arms in the air to get them going – and it worked. Miles and I appreciated the roar of support echoing around us like a mexican wave. I bet not every runner got that!

Shortly after this I saw Jodie for the first time. She had managed to get a marshal to cheer for me too which was lovely, but then I looked ahead to Boscombe Pier, which we’d already seen once… and yet more promenade running my head started sinking.

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By the time I got to Boscombe I had eased back to my target marathon pace. Running with Miles and the support at half way meant I had increased effort and I was starting to suffer. I encouraged Miles to push on without me. Running the pier and then back toward the finish area (For the 2nd time) I saw Jodie and told her things were not good. I ran Bournemouth pier and got a high 5 from King Danny and then ran THROUGH the finish (3rd time!) before looping around onto some road then running past the finish for a 4th time.

Realisation had struck by this point that this pace was not only unsustainable, but utterly ludicrous – my legs were shot to bits. Ahead of me lay the biggest and longest hill of the course, at which point, my race plan was abandoned. I walked the hill. All of it. At the top of it was a toilet – I stopped in there too at which point I think the bluetooth/internet connection on my phone went, so the LiveTrack i had set up on my phone stopped. This meant Jodie and others thought I’d stopped, or switched it off in a huff. I didn’t! It just stopped working, promise!

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The next few miles were around some park, some closed roads and were a bit lonely. It was a tough part of the course for me and it was a bit undulating too. I had decided by now that I was run walking for the rest of the race.

We eventually dropped back onto the promenade (for a change) and the last 6 miles were out and back along the beach. I was losing my sense of humour. It felt incredibly patronising for all these beach hut owners to tell me I was doing really well, even though I really wasn’t. I smiled politely and said thank you though. It wasn’t their fault I was having a bad race, and again, with hindsight I can say the support was excellent throughout.

With slightly more running than walking I eventually got back to Bournemouth Pier to see the finish line for the 5th and final time. I crossed the line, a bit emotional, and headed to the funnel to see Jodie. I had a bit of a “moment” with her and I was obviously disappointed but a 3.33 marathon is a time many would be proud of, and a marathon is a marathon.

Jodie had also had a tough day coming in a little slower than she would have liked, but still faster than her lowest target.

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It was a very well organised event, with great support. However we both really bloody hated the course. We also weren’t too impressed that everyone got the same tee shirt. All the 5k and 10k runners got the same T shirt as the half and marathon runners! Either way unfortunately we won’t be back for the half or the marathon, but I do quite fancy the 10k for a speedy time.

Analysis

In the cold light of day, and thanks to Strava, I can see where my race really went wrong.

bournemouth-analysisNot only was I too fast in terms of pace, in effort terms I was far too fast over the first half. In GAP I was running a GAP average of 7.04 a mile (3.05 pace) and if I then extend that to mile 16 it was 7.00 a mile (3.03 pace)! So its hardly any wonder I blew up.

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I barely felt like I was in 3.10 pace so to find I was actually running faster than that means that I wasn’t actually far off form wise (I don’t think) but not understanding/using my effort as a gauge is what really cost me.

My spring marathon is much flat, so with this in mind, a strong block of training having gotten through the bulk of life upheaval the last few months, I’m still encouraged that Mission GFA is on.

Strava Activity: https://www.strava.com/activities/731955875/overview

 

Vitality London 10,000 2016: Race Report

I’d booked this race many months ago, as I had such a great time in the 2014 staging of the event. It’s a popular 10k held in London, with the race assembly area on the Mall right in front of Buckingham Palace and the finish on “Spur road” – the last corner of the London Marathon – taking in many popular landmarks along the route.

Waking up on Monday morning, I quite frankly couldn’t have been in a fouler mood. I’d had a few bad runs in the week leading up to the race, my legs weren’t playing ball and I thought I’d actually run slower than my PB – a time I had since beaten as part of both Bramley 10m and the Cardiff World Half Marathon!

We arrived late, the weather was overcast and I needed the loo. And the queue was predictably enormous. It all felt like a bit of a waste of time and money. Not only for the entry, but the fuel, the parking and the train.

With all that in mind though, there we were, Jodie and I, plus Imogen, Lauren’s friend who was running her first 10k. Jodie was planning to run with Imogen all the way,  which given that she’s 7 and a half months pregnant was probably a wise choice!

We went our separate ways before I went to the toilet stop as I was in a different wave and needed to check my bag. The toilet queue made me stress even more but actually moved quite quickly, and I made it into the start pen with about 10 minutes to spare.

Before long, and without too much fanfare, we were off.

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My strategy was to target about 6.45 pace which would have been sub-42, a 45 second PB. I didn’t think I’d get it, but I figured at the worst I’d still fall inside the PB even if I slowed up.

The course itself differed this year from when I ran it in 2014. There was more running through buildings and no running on the Embankment, which was a bit of a shame as that was one of my favorite parts of the course as it took in basically the last 2 miles of the London Marathon.

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2014 Course
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2016 Course

The course is advertised as predominantly flat, though I found the profile actually quite odd. I had no feeling like I was really running uphill at all at any point of the race, but there were certainly some fast downhill sections. Looking at the course profile it looks like there was a lot of climbing in the first mile – thankfully I didn’t notice it! According to Strava, there was 161ft elevation gain in total.

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During that race we ran through Trafalgar square, the theatre district, past St Paul’s Cathedral… not that I saw any of them. I DO remember passing Downing Street, the Houses of Parliament and Birdcage Walk though.

Aside from my personal preference of the “sights en-route” being better on the old course, the biggest problem with the ne course was the narrowness of the course after Trafalgar Square. Running down the Strand was VERY congested right up until we got to Aldwych were it seemed to open up, but until then it was almost impossible to find a comfortable stride and space to run unimpeded.

The support through the race was excellent and I can’t think of anywhere en route that was sparsely cheered.

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My first mile was a little slower than I would have liked, but I didn’t realise it was net uphill. I managed to bring the pace down a bit for mile 2 but it went up again for 3. Strangely however, I crossed the 5k mats in 20.55. This was encouraging for 2 reasons. Firstly, this was the time I ran Yeovilton 5k in a couple of weeks ago – where I died on my arse – and was still feeling pretty comfortable. Secondly, My watch didn’t register that it was 5k yet and was coming up short, which meant my pace was actually OK.

With this in mind, I pushed on for the second half and ran a very creditable second half in about 20.35(ish). With the last 1.2 miles at a decent pace I really didn’t expect to have at all, yet alone in the final stages. This resulted in a tidy negative split too, which I was very pleased about!

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So in spite of my foul mood trying its hardest, I actually came away with a PB. Now don’t get me wrong I still don’t feel in great shape. I still think back when I was in Marathon peak form pre-Manchester I think i could have managed a sub-40. If I hadn’t had such a shocking post-Manchester recovery, and I’d been able to kick on I think I could have managed it too. But c’est la vie. It’s still great for the confidence that it’s somewhere in the right direction, better than Yeovilton last month.

The finishing funnel was excellently managed, people kept getting moved on and the tag was removed on a funky bridge – saving the volunteers backs – which was a great idea.

Then to top this off, the goody bag was absolutely first class. An Adidas “Response” technical tee, cracking medal, loads of food and drink too. Probably the best goody bag I’ve ever had.

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Considering the price of this race was only £28, I felt that this was EXCELLENT value for a city center race with such a good atmosphere and goody bag.

The only down side was the queue for the baggage. By no means as bad as the Manchester Marathon fiasco, but still quite a wait.

After I finished my race I went to find Lauren who was supporting and cheered in Jodie and Imogen at the 150m to go point. They looked really strong, Imogen ran really well and I think she actually enjoyed it too.

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All in all, a fabulous race and we will certainly be back – a highly recommended race.

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Race Report: Greater Manchester Marathon 2016

Saturday

With the training completed, myself, sister-in-law Lauren (Taking part in her FIRST marathon) and 9,000 others were anxiously preparing for the Greater Manchester Marathon on Saturday evening, many of us already in the area wondering if the pouring rain would let up in time for the race. Meanwhile I double checked I remembered everything –  which I did except for the hole punch I needed for my race number! I had to improvise with a biro.

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We tried carb loading in Frankie and Bennies on Salford Quays, but it seems like most of the runners had the same idea, so after waiting 45 minutes for a table we gave up,  and retired to the hotel and used Just Eat… Not for a Chicken Madras (Cue a mini fist pump…), but for a nice pasta takeaway we found which was just the job. I actually managed to be in bed by 10 and asleep by 10.30. Perfect!

Morning

Having miraculously slept through the whole night (That hasn’t happened for the last 2 marathons) I set the alarm for 6.30, and when I woke up I immediately wished I set it for 6.00! Pre race breakfast was 2 Oat So Simple porridge pots, and as the morning went on before the race I also had 2 Whitworth seed shots and a banana, which seemed to work perfectly for me. I was ready to go!

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Race Village

We walked from the hotel towards race village at the Emirates Old Trafford Cricket Ground. This is a change from last year at the football club and it was a bit of a further walk from the hotel. We had to walk past the start area which was absolutely deserted at 7.50 but the closer we got to the village the busier it became. The race buzz started kicking in as we passed the now-standard enormous queues for the toilets.

The village itself was absolutely packed – It seemed MUCH busier than the village last year. On our way in though, father in law caught sight of olympian and now TV presenter Katharine Merry who was filming for a highlights show they are going to put on TV in the near future!

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We spent some time at the ASICS stand where we entered a competition to win some trainers… I’m still waiting to hear if I won! Everything seemed so cramped in there though. I think they would have benefitted from spreading things out a bit more, around the stadium.

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I headed off to check my bag in. This is where things got a bit unusual. Usually there are big tents with rows of people taking bags in in blocks of numbers of 500 or so. Here, numbers 1-13,000 had one location which, I can only describe as being a desk, with 13,000+ (Which, thankfully I was in) had a different one. People gave their bags in and someone literally walked in a building with it. I have heard that just before the race it all got VERY frantic with people literally throwing bags at the volunteers which isn’t cool, but at the same time it should have been better organised ahead of time – but more on that later.  My bag drop was actually up some stairs which I thought was a bit cruel – wouldn’t be fun getting that with marathon legs!

Race Start

The race start was under the big archway on the A56, almost exactly the same as last year. Now I don’t remember how they were set up last year as we got there quite late, but the assembly areas were unguarded/gated and merely indicated by flags for runners to stand near.

The advantage to this was that the assembly areas were very VERY wide, so there was actually plenty of room to warm up, hang out with friends and family and there was just loads and loads of room. It was brilliant! There weren’t too many runners trying to jump zones that I could see and thought it was a very interesting change to the norm. Then a couple of minutes before the start everyone converged together ahead of the start.

I was totally unprepared, I hadn’t got my Garmin on to get a signal, and I hadn’t taken my pre-race gel so I frantically sorted that out and before long the gun went… and we were off!

The Race

The course itself was very flat – with only some small inclines – though you certainly know about them when you get to them!

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The first section of the race is 2 out and backs in Trafford. The first is pretty uneventful, but the second goes past the Imperial War Museum, Coronation Street and the Hovis factory, and of course you have the mammoth Manchester United Football Ground. I found my pace pretty early on and stuck to it and felt very comfortable, managing to see my support crew outside Old Trafford who were able to cheer me on twice in that first section.

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What I liked about this section was seeing the floods of runners in the opposite direction, occasionally you’d hear club mates and friends shouting at each other. I saw Lauren once along here and we managed to shout encouragement at each other. The support around this section was amazing, even so early on I was hearing “Come on Matty” with people reading the name off my vest.

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Next up was a pretty long drag towards Sale up the A56. This was a pretty dull section, though pockets of support did make it a bit more interesting, this part was good just to find a good rhythm and settle into the race after a buzzing start!

The next section was one of the best of the race. After going through Sale you start a long out and back going through Timperley and Altrincham. The support was AMAZING around here. I lost count of the people cheering for me, the bands that were playing, the bystanders with Jelly Babies… Just a phenomenal stretch of the race. The main climbs in the race are around Altrincham, one going over a bridge, then going through the Half Marathon split you rounded the back of Altrincham town center and dropped down back to town to go back and re-experience all the amazing support all over again! I saw Lauren at about 15 miles and my support crew at Brooklands at 17 miles. At this stage it had stopped being quite so easy, but I still felt pretty strong – even if I didn’t look it!

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The next stage of the race was definitely the quietest. Coming out from Brooklands you headed west towards Carrington. There was some residential areas along here where the supporters were most welcome but there were also long stretches where you saw no-one. This is where I struggled the most last year but mentally I was prepared for it this year and focussed on my pace, my fuel and my hydration. This is where you got through the tough 20 mile barrier – 10k left! I still felt pretty good, and knew I was feeling much better than last year. I was passing people and it felt good. If anything I was going a bit too fast.

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After the loneliest part of Carrington we turned right towards Urmston and we ran through the ASICS zone. There was a catchy name for it, but I’ve forgotten what it was now! The we turned the final right onto the long drag home. The support here was fantastic but now I started to struggle. My calves started twingeing with cramp and at this point I had to adjust my running. I had to put less emphasis on pushing off with my feet and more on driving forward with my quads, with a noticeable effect on pace. It was time to draw on all the guts I had to not walk and to keep going as fast as I could. I remember very little of this part, other than swearing a lot, squealing whenever I felt myself cramping, and frantically looking at my watch.

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My pre race “A” target was a 3.12 with 3.15 being my “B” goal. With 2 miles to go, I knew I would really struggle to hit the A, so focussed on trying to secure my B and just going as fast as my weary legs would allow.

We turned left onto the A56 for a short while before turning right onto the finish straight. It was cruelly deceptive – you could see the finish, 3/4 of a mile away… It just didn’t seem to get any closer. I just dug in. From a support point of view, the final straight was magnificent, the change in course really helping more crowd see more of the finish. A 3.13 was JUST ABOUT on and I drove forward, pumping my arms trying to get the crowd going… And they responded, roaring us all he way to the finish line. It was the best finish line I’ve ever run through. I pumped my fist as I crossed in a personal best time of 3.13 (and 47 seconds).

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Exhausted, random strangers were shaking hands, all of us delighted with our accomplishments of the day.

What an amazing race!

I staggered through the finish funnel and eagerly accepted my medal and headed to my goody bag. Helpfully, the volunteers giving out the goody bag had one for me to try on for size! So i took a medium, took a free SIS recovery protein gel and a free Erdinger alcohol free beer – and I have to say, it was VERY tasty! Emotional and proud I headed out through a chaotic exit. This was pretty badly mismanaged it was really tough for runners to get out as loved ones were just crowding the exit. There just wasn’t enough room.

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Baggage Collection

I headed to get my bag and I was pleased I was a high number… Given i finished 850th, I reckon the queue for then main bag drop was 600 people long. Now, I was a bit peeved that I got asked to remove my number to get my bag, but this was because I had to give it to a person who had to go in and look for my bag. I was in and out in a couple of minutes.

However that single desk I mentioned earlier were clearly massively struggling. There were just not enough people retrieving bags, and the single entry point was causing chaos. Some people had to queue for over 2 hours, and from what I read on twitter it really ruined some peoples days… and rightly so. Once you’ve finished a Marathon you want to go and celebrate, not wait for two hours for your bag. Not cool!

Fair play to the organisers though who have taken full responsibility and vowed to correct it for next year. Kudos for fronting up.

Goody Bags

I heard some complaints about the quality of the goody bags…But I thought they were great!

  • Medal
  • Tee shirt
  • Dolmio pasta and sauce (Seemingly in EVERY goody bag for every race nowadays!)
  • Dried fruit
  • Beef jerky (I don’t like it, but still)
  • Sweet and salty popcorn
  • Cereal bar
  • Squashie sweets
  • SIS Protein gel
  • Erdinger alcohol free beer

Seriously, whats to complain about!

Parking

I also heard some complaints about people having to wait to get out of the car park. I have limited sympathy but not a lot. You are going to be parked in the busiest carpark near to a closed road course. You’ve had months to prepare and plan and now how to get in and out. Come on people!

Mile Markers

I have a gripe about the mile markers. I had the same gripe last year – some of them were so far wrong it was ridiculous, even allowing for GPS inaccuracy.  1 came at 1k, 14 came at 14.3, 19 came at 19.5, and 22 came at 22.5. Really not cool for those not running with a GPS and relying on their pace band, and REALLY not good for psychological motivation, particularly in the last part of the race. Additionally some were completely missing. That needs to be sorted for next year!

Post Race

Lauren was still completing her Marathon so I had to opportunity to stand at the finish straight and cheer the runners on. Jodie had met Lauren with 7 miles to go to run the last stretch with her. Unfortunately Lauren had become injured and the last 10k was a real struggle, but Jodie did brilliantly to help gee her along and finish. Massive respect to her for gutting it out!

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I really enjoyed cheering folks on at the end of their marathon journey. I’ve not done it before but it was so inspirational watching people complete their own marathon journeys… all of them had their ow story which I’ll never know but I’m glad I could cheer them on their way.

My Race Analysis

I am very pleased with my result. I managed to keep my splits in line with where I wanted them, and as a result I still felt reasonable with 4 miles to go. If I hadn’t have cramped I’m certain I would have met my target.

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My fuelling strategy worked. Breakfast was on time, the gel before the race helped as did my 4, 8, 12, 16, 20, 23 plan.

Considering the hot day my hydration worked too. I had about a litre pre race, and then took a few swigs at every water stop except the last – I had no time to spare!

Looking at my heart rate it looked under control with a steady climb in line with what I expected to see.

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So how do I prevent the cramps? I’m going to invest in some calf guards to reduce muscle vibration, and I am also going to use some form of electrolyte on course to add salts. I’m not sure what, but I’ll find something.

Summary

Quite simply put, a phenomenal race. Brilliant support, great course and aside from a few small (and one large) glitch very well organised.

For me, it was right where I want to be to target sub 3.10 in the autumn and GFA next spring.

Thank you to the people of Manchester for welcoming us so warmly. We’ll be back next year, but this time with Jodie running!

On Video

 

Race Report: IAAF World Half Marathon Championships

Back when it was announced that the IAAF World Half Marathon Championships were announced to be in Cardiff, Jodie and I immediately signed up. Cardiff is a city close to our hearts, as Jodie studied there, its where we met, and its also where I graduated with my MBA.

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Thursday

We were keen to make a weekend of it, and as it was Easter, I took Thursday off to get up good and early. Much like the London Marathon, the event had an “Expo” where you pick up your number and goody bag in advance of the race, and there were stands/booths for major brands and events to advertise their wares. We won a couple of tee shirts from the Cardiff University stand for beating their buzzer game, and I ate a whole lot of Clif bar samples! The expo wasn’t as large as London but then it is only a third of the size. One thing I was glad of was that we went on Thursday. It was very quiet and we got to see all the stands in relative peace! This also meant picking up our numbers took seconds.

After getting our numbers and having a look around we headed to our hotel as we wanted to get a run in. Whilst we were out, we saw the Canadian elites out on a run which was pretty cool!

One of the most interesting parts of the expo was the guest speaker programme. The main highlights were, Paula Radcliffe on the Thursday evening, and Mo Farah on Friday Lunchtime. We decided to head down to see Paula, and got there good and early, only to find out that she was delayed (eventually, by an hour and a quarter) but whilst we were waiting we heard some inspirational stories I wouldn’t have ordinarily gone to hear.

Steve Jones, former Marathon World Record holder and welsh running legend spoke of his times at the peak of the sport, breaking records, and stopping for a sh!t on the way to winning the London Marathon.

Then, unexpectedly Dave Bedford was asked to speak on stage to fill in for Paula in the meantime. What an absolutely top bloke! Dave Bedford is the former world record holder over 10,000 on the track and became the race director of the London Marathon for 20 years. His most famous story was that he actually ran the first London Marathon as a bet. On the Saturday night he went out, had a skinful, had a late night (early morning!) curry and then dragged himself round in less than 4 hours. His witty repartee was excellent entertainment and he really seemed like the sort of guy I’d like to have a beer with, and could have listened to him for hours!

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Eventually, Paula Arrived and she was as inspirational as I expected. She spoke so eloquently of her experiences as a runner, as a running mum and I’m sure she struck all the right chords with Jodie. It was a real honour to see her in person and rounded off a great first day of the event.

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Friday

I slept in, but Jodie went for a walk to casually bump into team Kenya! Lucky girl, shame she didn’t get a photo! As today was “Mo Farah Day” at the expo we headed over there at about 10.30 to get good seats – and we weren’t disappointed, we got into the second row. We arranged to meet Nikkii and Steve and they joined us on row two as we waited the guest of honour.

The seating area filled quickly, and then there were people standing 4 or 5 deep all around the seating area too – it was crazy!

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When he eventually got on stage the crowd went wild! During his introduction he walked behind the projector and project a mobot onto screen to the delight of the fans.

When he was on stage I was so impressed with how he spoke. He was so enthusiastic, passionate and dedicated and clearly appreciated all the people that came to see him. Often when I’ve seen him with the media he seems a bit closed, or a bit “stiff” but this was the opposite – he was in his absolute element, and was thoroughly entertaining.

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As he left the stage he was totally mobbed by people trying to get his autograph and if he had is way, he’d have stayed to sign every single thing. Unfortunately he had to be dragged away for other commitments.

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We then left the expo to go for a walk and have a picnic. We walked past the start area into the park, ate, then walked back down the finish area to see the finish gantry and grandstands they were building. It was quite exciting!

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We chilled out for the rest of the day before having our usual pre-race ritual dinner – Fish and Chips – and watching telly.

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Saturday

Race day was a weird day. With a 2.10 race time we had an awful lot of anxious waiting around to do. We went for a wander to find the start area and take some snaps. At the time, the weather was good, almost perfect conditions for running. If only it stayed that way!

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I really struggled trying to work out what to eat. I had a porridge pot at about 9, and another at about 11. Other than that I was just drinking lots of water. We were literally in our hotel room bored, waiting to check out and head to the start.

Chris came to meet us at our Hotel, as did Nikkii and Steve. We got a good club photo before heading off to the baggage areas.

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This is when things started buzzing. The atmosphere was great, and organisationally the whole race was fantastic. From the runners village, baggage storage, signage, access to all the right areas, road closures and start pens were all superbly managed.

Unfortunately, the sky got darker. Thankfully the temperature was OK and the wind was quite low, so putting on our free ponchos we deposited our bags and headed for the start pens. Chris and I were in White near the front, so had to leave Jodie quite early on. Again, the marshals getting people to the right pens were superb, even to the point where when Chris and I got separated they were very strict. I was meant to be in the pen ahead of Chris – we tried to get Chris forward one, but instead they offered for me to go back one… Sorry to Chris, but I chose the forward pen!

There was plenty of room so I managed to have a bit of a warm up as I got there so early, but the pen soon filled up. The pre-race entertainment was quite emotive, with the Cardiff Arms Park Mens Choir singing welsh hymns with Rhydian off of the X Factor and after some speeches from the Chairman of the organising committee and Lord Sebastian Coe, the elite ladies were paraded out (that sounds kinda wrong…) and off they went, lightning fast as you’d expect.

Nervously we waited for another half an hour before the men got their big announcement and we were ushered toward the start… After a good amount of fanfare and some giant flames coming out of the castle… we were off.

The Race

The course itself was advertised as “fast, flat and iconic”. The course itself is similar to the one which is run in the regular October edition of the race, which is held annually. The course has changed slightly from that but not too much. I’m not too convinced on the “flat and fast” part, though it is certainly flatter than most – though not as flat as I remember! There were some tough longish climbs which to be honest, I wasn’t expecting. The elevation profile below shows that the second half seems to be most uphill!

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The route takes in Cardiff’s biggest landmarks. Starting in front of Cardiff Castle, you run past the Millenium Stadium, Cardiff City Stadium, Penarth Marina, The Barrage, The Doctor Who Experience, Roald Dahl Plass, the Millenium Centre and Roath Park before finishing in the grounds of the university. Aside from a few industrial areas, the route was varied and interesting – not that I was able to take much of it in! The crowd support in places was amazing, which, considering the weather was testament to the people of Cardiff.

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Speaking of the weather, it was a hot topic of conversation throughout the weekend. It was just destined to be a torrential downpour at some point with reported 41mph winds. The first half of the race for me was relatively weather free. But at the 6/7 mile mark, the wind kicked in and the heavens opened. Within seconds, I was drenched and the howling wind, no matter what direction we ran in, seemed to be in our faces. The worst of it passed in a few minutes, but it was still rainy and windy for the second half.

The grandstand finish was excellent, it was fantastic hearing the cheers of all the magnificent supporters as we rounded the last corner onto the wide finish straight. It was quite an experience crossing the line of such a big event, with sponsor board and TV cameras lining the funnel.

Additionally, the bling and finish tee shirt were superb!

shirtmedal

My Race

My race itself was a tale of two halves. The first half I went out a little ahead of pace. I felt like I was in control to a degree, I was running with people of a similar pace and tracking quite nicely towards a comfortable 1.27. After about 6 miles it started to feel a bit of a struggle, but this was expected. I hoped I had built enough of a buffer to continue slightly behind pace and still come in at 1.27. But then there was a long uphill which I really struggled with. My quads started to burn and I started thinking about revising my goal.

This became inevitable when the weather hit me and really took the wind out of my sails. I struggled on for the rest of the race. Roath Park was really hard and another seemingly endless uphill to the far end. I had to walk a few steps at 10 miles and I at that point I knew I’d have to fight for every second to try and come in under 1.30. As we turned at the end of Roath Lake it started gradually going back downhill until the 12 mile marker which was a short sharp uphill that I just had to walk up for a few steps. After this it was pretty much downhill as I puffed and panted my way through to the finish. As amazing as that finish funnel was, I wish I could have enjoyed it more.

Looking at the race analysis below you can see it all fall apart during the second half.

cardiffraceanalysis

Yet my heart rate maintained a steady pace. This meant I literally couldn’t have put any more effort in – my legs just couldn’t keep up with my heart rate.

cardiffhr

I’v been annoying Jodie trying to analyse where it “Went wrong”, even though it didn’t really. My finish time was 1.29.27, a 40 second PB which I am really pleased with – But I was hoping for a bit faster.

The conditions obviously didn’t help, and I do think I went out a bit quick. I think a few seconds per mile slower in the first 10k probably would have helped. My legs feeling dead though was purely fuelling. I needed more to eat in the morning. If it had been a 9am race, I think I would have been just fine as I’m used to that routine and what to eat pre-race. With hindsight, I probably should have taken on some gels. Additionally, a 22 miler 6 days before probably affected things too.

Jodie finished in an amazing 2.01 – faster than Yeovil last week, and 5 months pregnant. So very very proud of her!

Summary

We had a brilliant weekend. Cardiff were the most welcoming hosts to such a big event as you can ask for. It is a shame the weather tried to ruin the party but everyone seemed to enjoy it. It was a brilliantly organised race and the crowd support, considering the weather was excellent.

Thank you once again Cardiff. You were ace.

 

Greater Manchester Marathon 2016: Week 14 of 18

Really getting down to the business end now, and following last weeks marathon paced beasting I seem to be riding along on a crest of a wave…

Midweek

The first run of the week was another interval session. 8 miles with a set of 5 x 600m. Last week, my legs just couldn’t carry me through any sort of speed at all. Given Sunday’s performance I wasn’t massively confident going into this one. I didn’t feel up for it and felt pretty tired. But, the lengthy warm-up seemed to work, and blasted through the intervals like I’ve never been able to before…

intervals

Average of 5:19m/m per interval. Now I only did 5 not the full 8 for a 5k session, and I’m not sure if I could have continued with any more, but lets so I could, that would equate to a 5k average of 16:31! Still a long way off that level though, ha ha!

Wednesday was a strange one. We had my grandfathers funeral in the morning, and the wake at about lunchtime and I ate a lot of food and had several pints. I did get a one hour nap in before my 11 mile medium-long run, but I felt the effects of it. It had some pauses, I felt really ill (probably drunk) and I really shouldn’t have gone out. But still, it was miles in the legs.

Thursday was a recovery 4 miles with a set of strides. Strides were decent but my legs were a bit knackered!

parkrunday – Poole parkrun

Jodie was off on a hen weekend and I was due another tune up race. I was originally going to do Blandford, but Simon was off to Poole so I thought I’d join him.

I’d not run Poole parkrun other than the day after New Years Day, when the conditions were awful. This time though, conditions were perfect. It’s already regarded as one of the fastest parkrun courses around, so fresh off the back of my PB, I thought I’d have a crack at an even faster time today and optimistically set my watch to pace me to 18:59. I figured with 20s leeway I may at least get another PB even if I didn’t dip under.

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We got there early, parked up at the far end of the lake and jogged in as a warm up. It was pretty cold first thing, though it did warm towards the end of the run. Conditions were absolutely perfect, not a hint of wind, dry, cool… After a run brief which was barely audible we headed to the start. It was back on the “main course” compared to last time. We were quite near the front and aside from a dog runner right near the front (why oh why…) we got away pretty cleanly. I immediately found a stride and rhythm I felt comfortable with, though looking at the watch it was a tad fast.

The first mile ticked over in 6.01 – my new fastest mile PB if nothing else! I knew I was working hard but was still hopeful I could sustain. As we rounded the lake the the first time we were at halfway. One of the great things about a fast 5k is that they don’t take long, so you can hold on! Mile 2 came and went in 6.09 which meant I was jsut and just on pace. It started getting tough and the back end of the lake was a bit of a blur the second time round. I had to take the racing line when we reached the road and by now I was clinging on.

As we tantalisingly reached the pavilion we still had a 400m loop of the cricket pitch to round… I looked at my watch and I was 1 second behind target pace. I kicked on a bit but felt like I kicked to soon – with 300 to go I felt like I wanted to be sick, but I clung on and somehow found another gear. As my watch ticked over for mile 3 in 6:08 it was on – close, but on! I was worried that I’d end up with 19:00 flat, or that my watch was mis reporting something, or the official time would be a bit behind so I gave it absolutely everything I had for the last 100 meters and crossed the line, stopping my watch without looking at it…

I heard someone say “well run” to me as I heaved in the funnel, I was ushered forwards and then I looked at the watch… 18:54! I’d done it! A 26 second PB, and the official result confirmed the time. I was absolutely chuffed as nuts and can’t believe that after a year of trying to break 20, I bunny hopped in the 19s and into the 18s!

5kpb

Simon also run a brilliant 18:28 which he was delighted with, only 18s off his PB at Blandford last year. We are on fire! It made for a very happy drive home!

Sunday

On Sunday a few club mates were running the local Sherborne 10k. I had to do 16 miles so I decided to run the race at an easy pace and then run home which was about the right distance.

Though it was a small, local race it was a lot of fun thanks to my club mates and the fact that we paced 3 members to PBS! I wrote the club race report about it here.

The remaining 10 miles were a bit of a slog, we got a bit lost and my new short shorts started chafing but the pace was decent and brought the average down.

The biggest challenge with this run was the weather – it was so bright and sunny! I was too hot by the end – that’ll teach me to wear long sleeves instead of a vest!

Summary

Well with that week out of the way it’s the last tough week ahead before tapering. A set of long intervals, a midweek long run, and my longest long run as time on feet (3.15 hours) resulting in my peak mileage week.

Just one more week… Just one more week..

Greater Manchester Marathon: Week 12 of 18

I can’t believe it’s week 12 already! With only 3 weeks left until I start tapering (based upon the date of writing – 4 weeks as of the first session of the week discussed below) now is when the “Race Preparation” mesocycle of training kicks in, trying to sharpen my aerobic gains into speed through Interval workouts and tune-up races.

Midweek

On Tuesday I had an Interval session to do. I hate doing intervals on my own, but at least it was a short session. 8 miles with 5 x 600 meter reps in the middle and 2 minute recoveries. I was in Coleshill this week, and funnily enough I did the same session here last year, so a good comparison! When I finished the run, I felt the reps were excellent and thought I was in good shape compared to last year, but the reps weren’t a lot faster at all – I’m not sure whether to be concerned or not!

5x600

Rep 2015 2016 Difference
1 2:11 2:15 +4
2 2:12 2:12 0
3 2:14 2:12 -2
4 2:11 2:09 -2
5 2:11 2:11 0
Ave 0!

So looking at the data I’m in exactly the same shape I was in last year! A bit frustrating really, and it made me question if a sub-20 5k was possible this week, as I wasn’t able to do it last year – the PB which still stands. On the plus side, I know my new Garmin is a bit more accurate than the old one thanks to the addition of GLONASS so the data doesn’t quite tell the whole story.

Wednesday’s 12 mile medium-long run was suitably hard considering the day’s session previous. Couple this with the fact I was in Coleshill I also needed to find my way to a slightly new route, in the dark. Despite a couple of pauses and some very VERY dark alleys and crossing a couple of motorways (on bridges of course) I got around unscathed thanks to my handy printed map! What made it extra nice was progressing through to sustain sub 8s for the last half of the run including some nice segment PRs. I was on fire!

Thankfully, Thursday  saw me run 5 miles recovery (Which my legs were grateful for) with a set of strides. I ran with Jodie and my strides were of good form if the pace was a little slow. Nothing I was concerned about though.

parkrunday

On Saturday we went to the under threat Little Stoke parkrun. The full report can be read here.

To summarize, this was a tune up race according to my plan, so I went for it big style and delivered the goods! A 1 minute PB for 19:20!

Tactically it wasn’t quite perfect – my miles got progressively slower but I’m not sure how much of that was my fatigue versus having to weave around back markers in subsequent miles.

littlestoke race analysis

But sod it, I am bloody chuffed! I’m off to Blandford in 2 weeks which will be a bit less busy and no congestion, possibly a slightly faster course and single out and back. I wonder how close to 19 I can go?

Sunday

On Sunday I wanted to run 22 miles at a decent pace, somewhere around 8:15 pace which is target marathon pace + 15% ish. Thankfully Simon was doing similar. We met in the afternoon it was a lovely day and we just ate the miles up. After about half way I was starting to feel the pace and it got worse when we reached Ilchester Road for a long climb! Not nice to hit when you are 16 miles in!

We got to the top. Interestingly, despite us running it up together, Simon ran that segment 5 seconds faster than me! Its only a segment, but it got him 7th overall and me 10th overall! Hardly fair!!!

After about 17 miles, Si had to pause as he felt his knee twinge and wanted to take a short cut back. I carried on for another mile and then I felt my bum twinge. I needed the loo. Had to walk a bit for the cramp to pass then run towards the pub. After that my legs had seized a little making the last few miles a bit of a struggle, but that said, I managed to keep a pretty decent pace up. The last couple of miles I started cramping  little so needed to stretch out but otherwise a very successful long run.

22miler

I only have 1 more 22 miler to go, and that one will be slower so I spend 3:15 on my feet (8:45 pace).

Summary

A successful Interval session, a 5k PB and a successful 22 miler. What more could I ask for?

Next week will be a bit tougher with a marathon-pace long run, but that’s the last really tough one. 6 weeks til race day and I’m feeling good!

Run Report: Little Stoke parkrun

On parkrunday we visited another new parkrun to us, the under-threat from closure by the parish council, Little Stoke parkrun.

The council who are short sighted enough to think that the cost of a few loo rolls (Ok I’m sure its more complicated than that) outweighs the benefits of 300 of its local residents staying fit and active!

Ahem.

Anyway, we arrived with Nikkii and Steve and got the obligatory selfie.

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This was designed to be a tune-up race for me – yes I know parkrun is not a race, but what I intended was for it to be run at a race effort, all out, to see what shape I am in.

I’ve not run an all out 5k effort since August in Yeovilton, post honeymoon and well out of shape – mainly because of that very reason. I knew I wasn’t in PB form, what was the point?

So here we were in the exact same point in my training plan that I set my PB at Newbury last year. Could I finally go sub 20?

I treated it as a race, wore my club vest, did a proper warm up… the works. I had a time in mind and I set my watch for it. No rain, no wind. I felt ready.

The run briefing was excellent, and they warmly welcomed all tourists, but unusually we had to walk nearly half a lap to the start which actually meant we started a bit late. No big deal but as I wanted to start near the front I got there early and had to wait for everyone to catch up!

Without much fanfare, we were off. The course itself is a 3 and a half lapper, all tarmac but on some quite narrow paths. It is also pretty flat, though half the lap you are gradually moving (very slightly) uphill, so the second half is ever-so-slightly down. Its not too noticeable until the last lap when you realize you are blowing out of your ass at the farthest point of the course!

littlestoke map

The marshals around the course were excellent and very supportive, and of course there was always Nikkii making her voice very well heard! I’m sure whoever was running near me also got a boost from her yelling at me for going too slow!

The first lap and a half flew by and I was on pace for my target. Then I started catching some back markers. Despite the best efforts of the marshals and the briefing to keep them to the right, unfortunately they didn’t so it meant a lot of weaving for the rest of the run. It cost a few seconds but hey its parkrun, a run not a race!

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Mile 2 was bang on pace (Mile 1 was ahead) and mile 3 started getting tough, probably because I went too quick in mile 1. As I reached the “peak” of the gradual slope and started going a little downhill my legs turned to jelly and I had to really concentrate to hold it together. I was on target still. I dug my heels in. With a quarter of a lap to go I saw I was within 5 seconds of a time with an even nicer ring to it… I gave it one last effort and crossed the line, ready to collapse in P16.

My watch said 19:20. My target was 19:30 and my old PB was 20:22. A PB by over a minute! (The time was confirmed in the official results later).

littlestoke race analysis

I immediately lay on the floor to recover. Absolutely exhausted but utterly thrilled. Not only had I beaten my PB, I had SMASHED it. A guy from behind me thanked me for pacing him – happy to help but it was unintentional! The only person I was racing was myself, and I bloody won!

With a single lap/out and back course with no traffic, I wonder how close I can get to 19 minutes? I hope its not another year away.

The team at Little Stoke did an excellent job. Unfortunately we couldn’t stick around for coffee but if the council come down and see the joy in peoples eyes when they see friends, and achieve their personal goals, and they can see how important this is to the local and national community you would hope they could see no other option but to forget about their objection.

Thank you Little Stoke, long may you continue!

Greater Manchester Marathon 2016: Week 10 of 18

Well, what an interesting week! The last 7 days has epitomized how running performance often works in “peaks and troughs” starting in pain and finishing in pride.

Midweek

The week started out with what was meant to be an 8m easy run. The pace felt MUCH tougher than it did last week, though this was off the back off a particularly difficult Sunday run as I wrote last week. At the time I shrugged it off and figured I’d be OK tomorrow.

That was until that next day… where I needed to do 8 miles with a set of (6 x 800m Intervals). To start with things were OK, but the 5th interval rep was absolute hell. I even had to have a brief pause midway through such was the agony. I managed to ‘Man Up’ for the last rep but the 4 mile recovery jog afterwards was just awful to the point I could have cried. It was just hideous, my legs were in pieces. Still the set of intervals were in the right ballpark pace range.

6x800

Thursday was a 5 mile recovery which was again, hard work, but I felt a lot better for doing it, and my legs felt fresher come the end.

Thankfully, Friday was a rest day, and I treated myself to a much needed sports massage for my legs. I wanted to stay local, and found Bow House Physiotherapy in Langport, not far from our office. The masseuse was Denise Rees and for the bargain price of £30 I had an hour and twenty minutes deep tissue massage, relatively pain free. I came away feeling so refreshed and relaxed – my legs fel warm for the rest of the day and it was an absolutely pleasure – I highly recommend them!

parkrunday

On saturday as always we went to parkrun, and our tour continued, this week at Maidenhead parkrun.

It was a lovely 2 lap course on gravelly trail and tarmac round a nature reserve. The start and finish were on a pretty muddy field but other than that, road shoes would have been absolutely fine. There was loads of parking (we parked close to the road but there is also a car park MUCH closer to the start), toilets in the Toby Carvery and also at the Athletics stadium.

Newcomers and tourists alike were made to feel most welcome, and the first timers briefing was all about inclusivity – superbly delivered with clarity.

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This really was an excellent parkrun and we will definitely be back! It was made even more interesting by the presence of Karen Weir – one of the original 13 “parkrun pioneers”! Always nice to have a brush with some parkrun royalty!

As for my run, I knew I was racing on Sunday, but wanted to check to see if I had any pace at all given my problems earlier in the week. So I ran it as a progression, right up to my target pace. Felt very comfortable! So either I had recovered fully, or the massage really did work wonders!

Sunday – Bramley 20/10

On Sunday we went to the Bramley 20/10 – a full report on the race can be found here that I wrote for the club.

Going into the race I really wasn’t sure how I would do. I know that sounds like sandbagging, but its totally honest. With how my legs felt on Tuesday and Wednesday I wasn’t hopeful. But I knew that if I wanted to be “on track” for Manchester I needed to run 1:07:59, which is about 6:47 a mile. This was ambitious, as my tempo runs had been just about slower than this, and only for 6 miles. Either way, I set my virtual pacer and went for it. And as you can see…

 

bramleysplits

… I smashed it! The first few mioes flew by pretty comfortably, and after a while i realised I was running at a similar pace to number 278 – he looked and sounded a bit like a short John Bishop!

Credit: Barry Cornelius (http://www.oxonraces.com)
Credit: Barry Cornelius (http://www.oxonraces.com)

I kept plugging along, naturally easing off for the slopes which were on the course, but somehow making the time back up as it rolled downhill.

Credit: Barry Cornelius (http://www.oxonraces.com)
Credit: Barry Cornelius (http://www.oxonraces.com)

With about 3 miles to go I knew that I’d make my goal, and if I could put in a quick last mile not only could I break 1:08, I could also break 1:07 – so I went for it and absolutely nailed it! Official chip time 1:06:44, a PB by 1m46 seconds!

Looking at the race analysis below I can see the consistency really paid off with the first 3 quarters (2.5 mile splits) all within a couple of seconds of each other, then a kick finish down the hill.

bramleyanalysis

To say I’m pleased is an understatement. Its a big sign that the training is working and I now have masses of confidence. Could a sub 3:10 be on the cards at Manchester?
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Time will tell. I’ll assess that after the Cardiff Half. If I can break 1:29 at Cardiff then I’ll seriously think about doing Manchester in 3:09:xx.

Summary

Well frankly I’m bloody delighted. Despite a tough early part of the week I’m on a total high! Now to come back down to earth, focus on the next few weeks training and set my sights on the next tune up race – a 5k parkrun. Surely sub-20 has to be on the cards now?

Extra Bramley Photos

All Credit: Barry Cornelius (http://www.oxonraces.com)

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