30 03 2009

What a glorious day. The weather for the Liverpool half marathon was absolutely gorgeous. A crisp blue sky, no wind just a light breeze and cool but not cold.

This is the largest event I have ever run in in terms of number of participants. Around 4,000 – OK no London marathon but large enough to warrant chipping the competitors.

The chip system is great. You are sent a little tag which attaches to your training shoe. A timer is activated when you cross the start line and again stopped at the finish. This is done by means of a mat you run over so it is important the chip is near the ground. Each chip has a different number built into it. I was number 3174.

We managed to get to Liverpool without a hitch. This meant getting two grouchy little boys up at 6:30 (in reality 5:30 because of the hour change). A train trip is a great motivator though. Despite wanting to know if every station was our stop (there are oh too many on that line) the journey seemed pretty short and we were at James Street station.

Eddie was feeling particularly tired and insisted on a carry to the start of the race.

We were met by a lake of runners (sea seems a bit over the top) of all shapes and sizes and the odd clown or two.

I told Helen confidently “I feel fast today !”.

I lined up slightly behind the 9 minute pace man (see previous entry) and we were soon off (well walking to the start) past a modest but supportive crowd. I expected to be running by the time I saw Helen but alas it wasn’t to be due to the number of runners. Shortly though we were jogging slowly and then more quickly as the field began to thin out.

There was a bit of a crowd around the pace man so I just eased ahead of him. By the time I reached the bottom of Upper Parliament Street near the first mile marker he was way behind. I reached it in 9:45 so was glad I didn’t stay with the group.

The hill up Upper Parliament Street was straight forward enough as it was at the start of the race. I reached the 2nd mile in decent shape and back on schedule.

My race plan then came into play and after the first water stop I started to push. The run took us into Princes Park. Not a good idea though to run faster on a full stomach of water and felt stitches coming so I eased off a little bit.

It was quite funny to see the number of runners that whizzed off into the trees to do their widdles. I needed one too and so joined a row of runners all weeing into the trees. It seemed to take an age for me to squeeze it out despite thinking I was desperate. You should never hold on during a race or you can start cramping. I know that better than anyone !! Very funny sight though. No modesty. Everyone just gets on with it. No doubt at least 30 secs lost. In Madrid you could be arrested now I believe. Could be interesting come marathon day.

Bladder emptied and I could run faster and onto park two (Sefton). I was now focussing on making 8:30 pace per mile. After each mile marker I checked my watch and worked out what time I needed to make the next one by. To my amazement I was making 8:30 quite easily each time. I didn’t feel fast I was just being swept along with the other runners. What a difference a race makes. I was in a busy part of the field. It’s lonely at the front or the back but here there was a body of athletes.

It seemed I was surrounded by all shapes of men but beautiful, slender athletic panting women. Maybe I was starting to see things. If I was going to collapse now would be a good time !! Maybe I was in heaven already. I chased down each beauty one by one and then found myself behind a bloke who looked like an ex-70’s porn star. All hair and earrings. Well I didn’t want to look at that for the rest of the race so I eased past.

I was focussed on just getting to the next mile marker. I just had numbers in my head 48,48,48…56 1/2,56 1/2,56 1/2. I kept beating the time I was running well under 8:30 pace.

It began to dawn on me that I was going to knock a couple of minutes off my previous half marathon. Even though I knew this I daren’t be complacent. I kept focussed on the current mile. At 11 miles I could start to believe for real.

We reached the promenade at Otterspool at around 10 miles. The openness of it felt wonderful. My mind was numb I was just focussed on the next mile. I knew by now that I was going to smash my previous time I just had to hang in and keep going. I tried to keep my excitement under lock and key and keep focussed.

The next drink stop was Lucozade sport. It came just at the right time. I always stop to drink. I couldn’t get the wretched top off the bottle as I was so trembly. Then I managed to open it and poured down as much as I could. The runners around me had pulled ahead but I think it important to get the fluid in and not down your front. Drinking whilst running is incredibly difficult. I was soon in and amongst it again and still achieved 8:30 despite a drink. I was now feeling the effort. My legs were running out of steam. The “running train” around me kept me going at the same pace.

The end would soon be in sight. Mile 12 came. There were some revellers hanging out of a flat window hooting encouragement. Then shortly afterwards (I think) a runner being taken into an ambulance with an oxygen mask. He/she was talking and looked ok.

Then away from the prom around a small industrial estate and I thought I could see the Liverpool Echo Arena (the finish). I was to kick with everything I had left when I saw the 13 mile sign. I just didn’t notice it. We were now running through a funnel of spectators. I was looking out for the finishing arch and Helen. The arch had disappeared.

Then people around me stopped and I noticed I had passed through the mat. I turned to the runner next to me and squeezed out the words “Is it over ?”. He said “Yes – well done mate”. I stopped my stopwatch 1 hour 47 mins 25 secs. Then as we continued to walk through I saw Helen and the boys.

They had seen me start walking and finish walking.

You just can’t explain the feeling of elation you get when finishing something that stretches you so much. I nearly cried (I am an emotional sod). When I was 17 I ran my first half marathon in Wrexham in 1 hour 46 minutes 46 secs. I never thought it possible to run anywhere near as fast as that again in my life. I have re-found my youth at 43.

Before the start

Before the start

On Cloud 9 with my boys and medal

On Cloud 9 with my boys and medal


Liverpool here I come

27 03 2009

The clocks change on Saturday night/Sunday morning so we will all have one hour’s less sleep. On Sunday I will be running in the Liverpool half marathon at 9:30 but it will be 8:30 really (if you see what I mean).

Helen and the boys are coming but how we are all actually going to get there for the start is going to be the biggest challenge in my opinion. Especially as they will have “hang overs” from the roller disco party the night before.

The weather forecast has improved over the week. Wind could be a critical factor as the last 3-4 miles are along the front and will be pretty exposed. After the conditions at Oulton Park I am due some luck in that department.

My target this time is to beat my time at Oulton Park time(1:55:50) but really I have set my heart on knocking 2-3 minutes off that. The course is pretty flat but there is a testing hill between miles 1 and 2 : Upper Parliament Street. After that the worst is over.

My race plan is to run gently for the first 3-4 miles and then really push once my legs have recovered from the hill. I intend to inject some 8 minute miles in the middle of the race and then ease off when I reach the front back down to my normal pace. Sounds like a good plan to me. There is very little left in my legs after 10 miles anyway so I will do the hard work in the middle of the race.

The field is pretty big at over 4,000 runners and there should be decent crowds out to cheer – unlike Oulton Park. No music for me on this one. I intend to soak in whatever atmosphere there is.

The race will also have pace setters amongst the runners (talk about spoon fed runners). I could choose to run with a man carrying a 9 minute pace flag or one with an 8 minute pace flag (per mile by the way). Problem is I need to run in between. May well use the 9 minute man for the first 2-3 miles and then kick free ! Seems a nonsense though – part of the challenge is pacing yourself surely ???

For the last couple of days I have had Liverpool on my mind. It is all about Liverpool next week with my mum also having an operation there on Thursday. I hope Liverpool does us both proud.

For a bigger map click here:

Liverpool course

Somewhere under the English Channel

26 03 2009

I have been quiet on the blogging front for a little while so time for an update !

I have done two medium length runs and one shorter one since my last entry and so I have now definitely left the UK shores on my blog map ! In fact I am bearing down on Sangatte near Calais and have run 525 km to date. Mapping from here on in should be quite interesting.

My main problem of late has been blisters. My first pair of running shoes have almost come to the end of their useful life and I have invested in a new pair half a size bigger. When I bought my first pair I didn’t take into account the fact that the foot enlarges slightly when you run long distances. Hence I have been suffering from blisters since October. But being a man I haven’t complained (much).
I hope the larger size shoe will help together with some special blister proof socks which are in fact a sock within a sock… all new to me.

I ran on Wednesday wearing my new trainers and socks. 7 miles or so at a steady fast pace and certainly the blisters whilst still present were not made any worse. So I am quite hopeful. We will see.

I can now run 10 miles comfortably. Last Saturday I did a 9 1/2 miler, checked my watch when I got back and thought I had only be running for 30 minutes rather than 1 hour 30. Things are beginning to come together. If I can sort out the blister problem then I will be cooking with gas.

After 10 miles I do start to get tired and this is because the body has used up most of its available fuel. This is where carbohydrate loading comes into play. I have also bought some carbohydrate powder to put into my drink for my long runs.

Since my 16 miler I have been “tapering”. This basically means reducing your weekly mileage in anticipation of a race. This is because I am running the Liverpool half marathon on Sunday and more about that shortly.

My strategy at the moment is to consolidate at the half marathon distance through early Spring finishing with the Chester half marathon on 17th May. Following this I am running the Fleetwood marathon in September so I am going to increase my mileage significantly from late May through to August to include some hot weather training and follow a strict marathon training programme. I can then see how this affects me and tinker with it for the big event. I intend to be as ready for Madrid as I can be.

After Fleetwood I intend to reduce my distances again back to half marathon distances over the Winter. From late January I will then restart my marathon programme (adjusted for any problems I had the first time round).

No doubt my plans will need to be modified but I have to start somewhere !

Finally I have updated the recent runs page and will also update the roll of honour over the next few days. Donations and pledges now stand at over £1,500. Thank you so much to everyone who has given so generously. I think I might now be able to raise more than the original target which would be wonderful. If the legs can do it I will keep going. I will be in a better position by the end of the Summer to know how I am faring.



15 03 2009

Firstly my wife Helen made me very proud today. She completed her first race over the distance of five kilometres in a very respectable time of 30:40. I’ll hopefully paste a couple of pictures of her later on this week to this entry. How she has developed from a cuddly unfit lady to a very fit slim woman is quite astonishing. I never thought it would happen…but it has and looks set to stay. Helen was the woman that inspired me to pick up my trainers again. I still remembered the loneliness of the runs and the sheer boredom and tedium of it all. She convinced me to come out of my shell.

I keep looking at this map in disbelief:

I had the idea of Helen leaving me to find my way home from the finish of her race. Fortunately, there is a prom along most of the top of the Wirral and round the corner to West Kirby and then the Wirral Way takes over which would get me home (and beyond one day).

The weather has suddenly warmed up to around 15 degrees today and so shorts were worn for the first time in the season. Felt a little chilly to start with and a coolish breeze was a little worrying. Had I underdressed ? But shortly I had warmed up and felt very comfortable.

The thought of running home over such a long distance was quite daunting and when the car pulled off I was filled with doubts. How running has changed, though. I couldn’t possibly have attempted this run in my teens without a backup cyclist. Today you can be pretty self-sufficient with mobile phone, water carrier, mp3 music device and it feels safer as runners are not generally given a second glance. I don’t remember anyone having a mobile phone in the early 80’s and the ones that existed were just huge.

The promenade was busy all the way through to West Kirby which has a large marine boating lake. I ground out the miles and felt reasonably comfortable but focussed on remaining hydrated and keeping some sort of form. Offshore, I could see Hilbre Island which is only 2 or 3 miles out to sea and you can walk to it at low tide (avoiding the quicksand !).

On reaching a popular spot known as Red Rocks an additional bonus was to run on a board walk through a sanctuary for reed birds. Wirral really is full of exceptional bird spotting opportunities for such a small area.

Finally, I reached the Wirral Way and the drudgery. I was sorry to leave the prom. The run now draaaaaaged to Thurstaston the 10 mile point and relative familiarity. I always seem to hit a mini wall at around 10 miles.

I called my wife to let her know of progress and then had my first experience of runners energy gel. Orange flavour. Yuk ! Urrgh ! Help me !! The sweetness and texture were enough to make me almost retch ( I had this given to me as a free sample at my half marathon). I drank as much as I could to wash it down and set off again.

The last 5-6 miles were tough but not unbearable. You just gradually feel the strength ebbing away and being replaced by a slow stiffening of muscles.

I regretfully (not really) uttered my first profanity at a dog today. Stupid poodle thing was about to go for me I’m sure. Amazing how brave you can be when faced with a viscous poodle ! I think its the first time I’ve had to take action when faced with a dog. Selfish, stupid owners ! With twelve miles in my legs I was not ready to take any nonsense.

I was so pleased to arrive home and so so proud. But no medal or fanfare !! How disappointing.

I’ll let you into a secret too. I’ve reached the tunnel and am now almost under the English Channel on my virtual run !! Hurrah ! I have run England.

…now for France.

Lots more news to follow and my next big race is only in two weeks time ..the Liverpool half marathon.


8 03 2009

The last time I ran a half marathon race (13.1 miles) was on the 15th May 1983 in Chester. I ran that race in 1 hour 42 and I had just turned 17. The course from memory had been flat.

Today was my greatest running achievement to date. In my opinion it surpassed what I did then as I ran under 2 hours at the age of 43 with training conditions being far from ideal. What also pleased me was that I ran a really steady race and kept to my race strategy. On this occasion it all paid off. I was lapped by someone but he was much faster than last year’s winner !

We arrived at Oulton Park in good time and we got chatting to Craig who is training for the Edinburgh marathon in the Autumn. I must say most runners I have met on this “adventure” have been extremely nice and supportive. Craig certainly fell into the bracket – and a useful athlete to boot.

It was quite tricky deciding what to wear today with the changeable nature of the weather. Some guys were wearing next to nothing and the odd person even coats ! Well I stuck to the middle ground. Track suit trousers and two layers on top.

The athletes lined up on the starting grid (yes a real one this is a race track) shivering and warming up and before we knew it we were off ! It was pretty cold but not as bad as it looked. My race tactics for this three lap course were to run steadily on the first lap, work hard on the second and then just hang on in there on the third.

Like a caged animal at the start !

Like a caged animal at the start !

The course was undulating with a brutal cold wind. The first two miles or so were flat, then alongside a lake and finished with a hair pin bend with a reasonable rise. I reached my first mile marker at 8:45 and then knew I just had to keep under 9 minute miles thereafter and run at that pace. The hill was testing but Burton hill had given me the strength to see it through. Towards the top of the course we then transferred to the infield, past Chequers cafe with Helen and the boys waving me on, around a rally course and then back out again to finish the lap. I was settled and comfortable and was delighted to complete my first lap in well under 38 minutes (target time 40 mins or 2 hours for the three laps).

By now the weather had started to turn very nasty indeed, the second lap was run in pelting hail followed by steady rain. I had to look at the ground for quite a while to stop the hail drilling into my face. This was the lap where I had decided to kick on a bit. The conditions were against it but my effort ensured I didn’t lose time. I was approximately 3-4 minutes within my target time. I just had to hang on in there on the final lap.

I think it was around this time I had my battle with “Bambi”. Bambi was a beautifully light female runner that overtook me. She looked like she was floating. She stopped to tie her lace. I overtook her and then she floated past me once again. Grrrr ! I would keep her in my sights. If I could hang on in there with her in sight I was sure to get a decent time. I don’t know what happened to her. We both stopped at the drink stop. I overtook her and that was it. I expected her to come past again but she never did ! Campione Campione !!

On the third lap I dug deep and continued pushing for as long as my body could take it. I arrived at around 11 miles by which time my pace must have been reducing. At 12.5 miles and back on to the track I gave it everything. I knew I would be under 2 hours. I overtook a guy wearing a jumper, another guy carrying a heavy back pack. These made me feel so humble but still I was going to enjoy the moment.

As I came to the final straight I felt the excitement and the emotion. For a brief moment I welled up. As I approached the finishing line I could see I was well within 2 hours, made one final push and then saw my family just as I was crossing the line.

I didn’t think it would hit me quite so hard at the finish. After all it is only a step towards my final goal. But I must admit to a tear or two. I was just so happy to have achieved my time, I had paced myself beautifully (pretty sure my first two laps were similar times) and had proved to myself that I am now a long distance runner.

Finished and just a little overcome !

Finished and just a little overcome !

Run Rabbit Run around Oulton Park Race Track

5 03 2009

Started to get very excited about my first half-marathon and I have discovered this video of the course and been studying it to see where the hills are etc. Looks like a beautiful course as you can see by clicking on the big arrow in the centre of the video screen !

and aren’t I brilliant discovering how to embed video in my blog. Gosh the Mrs. will be impressed.

I went out for a run last night and clocked another 7 miles and felt just great. I still have a “productive” cough but feel alright in myself and we have had two sleep throughs this week. Hallelujah ! Although we did have a visitor last night (booooo !)

My race plan is to get as close to 2 hours as possible which makes a forty minute lap of the course my target (3 laps). Last year was the first time the event had been run and it sounded a bit chaotic with allegedly poor marshalling resulting in some runners getting lost in the tricky parts of the course (in the infield). Given I have no sense of direction I hope that this has been resolved this year.

The interesting thing for me is that the winner won the race in 1 hour 18 or so last year ie 78 minutes. I will be finishing my second lap around that time – all being well.

So if I can avoid being lapped by anyone I will probably be on to a sub 2 hour time. That would be brilliant. I can just imagine my panic as I come to the end of my second lap and the elite runners are all breathing down my neck. Hope it doesn’t bring on my toilet problem !!

Based on my last proper race at £10k back in the Autumn I could just sneak under 2 hours but I think it will be tight.

Can’t wait now !! Big day is on Sunday.

Below par

1 03 2009

Over the last week or so I have been below par (again) with yet another cough which turned a bit more sinister on Friday when I felt quite nauseas all day.

I suspect the reason was partly tiredness as Eddie has been up to his old tricks again. Can you buy straitjackets for 2 year olds ? Whilst it is always nice to see him visits at 1 am, 3 am, 5 am and 6 am do start to take their toll and so Thursday night was a bit of a stinker. I got up on Friday feeling extremely “fuzzy” and didn’t recover all day. 24 hour bug or Eddie – I still don’t know.

Friday lunchtime I thought there was no way I was going to be able to do my planned run on Saturday. I thought a good night’s sleep might help though and so Friday night I slept in the secret sanctuary of the spare room and slept very deeply.

Saturday I awoke feeling quite a bit better but still well below par but I had made a commitment to run with someone and so I thought I better see the thing through and anyway I have a half marathon next week.

I dropped the distance to a mere 11.5 miles and then set off. I still felt slightly queasy at the start but within 1 mile or so began to relax although I found the run a bit more tiring than I would normally.

It was however great to have company and to find someone who lives so close and with similar pace to myself is a real bonus that I wasn’t expecting. He must have had a real shock when the whole family turned up to see us off !

The run was incident free (fortunately) and I managed 11.5 miles whilst feeling well below par. When I got home I had a long soak in radox and felt slightly ill. I decided to take a nap and at 2 pm I emerged as right as rain.

The legs are really getting stronger. I am delighted I ran 11.5 miles with some hills and still had the strength to attend a roller disco the same day ! Today I couldn’t tell I had run yesterday and I feel almost fully recovered from the 24 hour bug.

Next week is the dreaded half-marathon. If I am well and sensible I should get around but the field last year was small (200-300) and pretty useful. A finish in the last 50 or so looks likely which will be an experience for me. I will also be lapped by some athletes.

I must bear in mind that I have really only just taken up running and a year ago if you had told me I would be running a half marathon again I would have said “rubbish”. I am quite proud of what I have achieved.