19 months since a blog was posted. Did we miss anything?! Nothing of any real global importance springs to mind… I’m going to make a point of trying to stick to running here – that’s the point of the blog after all, although it does feel fairly impossible not to get too opinionated or political in these insane times, but I will do my best!
So, I am going to give a brief recap of my running since Summer 2019 LL100 – the feature of my last blog. In an effort to reduce the length of my posts I’m going to split this into three: firstly, a brief review of Summer 2019 to March 2020 (ie up to Lockdown 1), part two will focus on then running through COVID times, then I’ll finish off with my ‘sort-of’ provisional plan for 2021 and beyond. Here goes…
I pretty much had the entirety of August off to let my feet recover from Lakeland 100. I then set myself a little target to try and get some pace back up to Christmas. This didn’t really happen. I alternated good month and bad month to see the year out. I got going again in September, but a job interview and the aftermath of it wiped out a decent chunk of October. I did OK in November before the usual Christmas carnage accounted for December. I did, however, manage to run a few races in that period, although they more served to underline my poor level of fitness, rather than doing anything to improve it. In no particular order:
Parkruns – There are far too many opinionated ‘runners’ who look down their noses at Parkrun. (More on opinionated runners in future posts!) I’ve never done many Parkruns, but more because Saturday morning is my optimal long-run slot than any dislike of the event or runner-snobbery. But I can tell you now, I still get more scared of a full-gas 5k than I do of an ultra! At my age, this is mostly down to the fear that the all-out 20 minute exertion will undoubtedly lead to a heart attack! But, for me, anything that encourages people out to exercise, especially the less confident, is to be celebrated.
In late 2019 I ran five Parkruns: three at West Park in Wolves, one at Lister Park in Bradford, and one at Victoria Park in St Helens. I ran 20:08 in Bradford (7th September), 33:12 with Leanne in Wolves a week later, 19:17 again in Wolves (28th September), 19:31 at St.Helens (16th November) and finally 20:05 in Wolves on December 28th, which I was pretty pleased with the day after a 15 miler in mud the day before!
The Wolves course is easily may favourite Parkrun route to date. Exactly 3 laps of West Park in the middle of the City, with just the right level of gradient to make the half lap of downhill feel like a nice breather without the uphill section being too impactful on pace. St Helens also affords a decent bit of downhill, but the uphill is just a bit steeper and the extra half a lap doesn’t help. Bradford is also three laps with a hill but, as with anything in Bradford, the hill there DEFINITELY impacts on pace!
The single greatest aspect of Parkrun though, is the absolute joy of running in a perfect cross-section of the local community, all joined together in doing something with no material gain other than the fun of it. Having not lived in Bradford for the best part of 25 years now, it blew my mind to be running such a happily multi-cultural community event. Pensioners and young children, Christian and Muslim, male and female, athletic and erm… less athletic; everyone was there and everyone had a friendly smile and a word of encouragement for each other. Brilliant. Then you throw in organisers and marshals, all giving up their Saturday morning for free – the marshal at the bottom of the hill in Bradford was particularly entertaining – and you have, for me, the perfect community event. Wolves is an equally multi-cultural City and their Parkrun is exactly the same. And this happens in towns and cities across the country every Saturday morning! (Or did – we’ll get to 2020 soon enough!)
My point is that anyone who has a bad word to say about this sort of thing needs to give themselves a good talking to. It’s run-snobbery, that’s all it is. Oops, sorry. Getting opinionated already!
10k Races – Given how much 5ks hurt these days, I was (and still am!) severely apprehensive about trying to hold threshold pace for 10k! I managed to run two in the Autumn of 2019: 40:19 at Southport (22nd September) and 40:58 at Rainford two weeks later. I would have been delighted with anything sub 40 but set off miles too fast at Southport – 19.20ish for the first 5k, which would have been fine a couple of years ago but wasn’t going to be sustainable now! The last 5k hurt a lot! If anything, the near 41 minutes at Rainford was a much better run! Part of that course is off road which doesn’t matter so much in the dry (I ran 38.45 the previous year) but this time heavy rain really messed up a couple of sections of the route and ultimately discounted any chance of a true time reflection. In fact, I came 15th, which I was pretty pleased with! Cheers to Mark Dickinson (Dicko) for providing the company and motivation at both events.
Northern Athletics Road Relay Championships 2019 – I had never done this event before but had long been told how great it was by clubmates. Technically, I couldn’t attend this one either, we were away somewhere, but I answered a club SOS and arranged to get there. The event was at Sports City in Manchester and utilised the running track and the surrounds of Manchester City’s Etihad Stadium. We had A and B teams for the Wigan Harriers men and I ended up on the 1st leg for the B team.
There was approximately 120 teams from across the North of England and I was pre-warned as to the high standard! This was the week after the Bradford Parkrun in early September so I was well aware of my lack of fitness, so decided to adopt a cautious approach, ignore all the fast guys and just try and evenly pace myself round the 4.25 miles over two laps.
The gun went and most of the field appeared to simply sprint off! Discipline discipline discipline, I thought to myself as I tried to find a suitable pace for the distance. The course lapped the running track before looping the outer concourses of the stadium and then venturing out into the more barren car park areas. A couple of hairpin turns afforded a full view of the opposition both in front and behind.
I was stunned at the first hairpin to realise that, of the 120 runners, there only seemed to be about 10 behind me! I am no Mo Farah but I am definitely not used to that! I briefly consoled myself with the fact that I was pacing myself – I’m sure I could be further up if I wanted to be?! That notion was quickly quashed when my watch beeped the first mile split – 5.46!!! 5.46 and I was practically last?! What kind of race was this?! I was supposed to be going steady and running four consistent miles – nope!
The next mile was a 6.20 as things quickly unravelled and, in the circumstances, I was delighted to hold it together and run 25.53 at an average of 6.07. I think I came about 105th of 120!!! But looking back, this is easily my best run of the last three years and just goes to prove my thoughts that I am better when training and racing with people better than me. More on that later.
Make the pain stop! Photos of the ‘challenging’ Northern Road Relay Championships and a part of the Wigan Harriers squad.
Cross Country – at this point in 2019, Nancy’s gym schedule meant I still couldn’t attend Harriers training sessions, but I was still a member and have always loved cross-country events. Much as I mentioned above, I now get really nervous about 40 minutes of maximum effort, so seem to be more tense about the events than I used to be, but I managed to run a couple of races pre-Christmas and a couple more in 2020.
Hyndburn is a cracking little course near Accrington. Almost trail race like as it weaves it’s way through the woods, quite often single track – mostly in ankle deep mud! I ran pretty well then and beat some people who are faster than me simply by having the local knowledge that it is very hard to overtake! So I got out early into a decent-ish position relative to my current pace and then just ran round in single file with everyone else!
A couple of weeks later we were back at Sefton Park for the big annual local race of the season. A couple of local leagues come together and are also joined by the National U23s to give the event a much more high profile. I always seem to run well there and, relative to fitness, was pleased with my run. Definitely an event to recommend to any of my club mates who have never done XC before.
Lakeland Trails Helvellyn 2019 – This has become an annual ‘adults-only’ event for us. A rare opportunity to meet up with friends and stay at the Patterdale Hotel for the weekend. (Until 2020, obviously!) Leanne and I had another great weekend away with Helen and Martin, Donna and Darren – one year we will persuade the latter to take part in some race or other! It is also nice to bump into familiar faces too, including Jeff McCarthy, Colin McEvoy and the friendly faces of the Lakeland Trails team. I had zero plan or ambition for the race, other than to enjoy it. I didn’t enter the Sunday event this time either; it literally was just a good excuse to go to the Lakes and relax. And it was a good job we did as, for obvious reasons, I haven’t been to the Lake district since!!!
Running with Friends and Family – with ultra training and ultra recces a thing of the past, these runs were more few and far between, but I did get out for three nice runs with different people in different settings. Just before October half-term we visited the Lister family at Catterick. This was a chance for one last run with Rob, my ultra teammate, before he had a hip replacement operation. He was naturally apprehensive about this and, at the time, I had just been through a big interview process, so it was a borderline cathartic run for both of us! If that is to be the case, there are few better places for mental wellbeing to run than Swaledale in the Richmond area, so I think both Rob and I look back on that run through teary eyes!
Once the Christmas holidays began, I could actually start to put together a more concrete plan for 2020. I was no fitter than the summer so decided to commit to running every day of the Christmas holidays to kick start the new year. There was a slight spanner put in our family Christmas holiday schedule when my Mother-in-Law badly broke her leg on December 13th. (I’m not calling her a spanner, she’s very nice!) So Christmas was hastily re-arranged for Wolves as she would be spending quite some time in hospital.
I nipped over to Bradford pre-Christmas and was taken out around the Calderdale Way area with my brother, Dougie. Any run back ‘home’ reminds me of how gloriously hilly (and unexpectedly beautiful) this area is. Dougie had had a pretty decent spell of running and we enjoyed 17 splodgy miles with the first half being roughly all downhill towards Brighouse and the second half being pretty much unrelenting uphill back to Wibsey. It was easily the furthest I had run since Summer and I suffered for it in the last few miles. So out of touch with long runs, I never even thought to take anything with me and I totally bonked towards the end. I think Dougie will long remember striding gleefully away from me on Beacon Road for many years to come!!!
Next, on December 27th, I took advantage of our extended Wolves Christmas break to meet Jon Cadman for an early morning Womborne Wander. In many ways, Jon epitomises the good hearted nature of the ultra running community and always has time for others despite his pretty hectic work/family schedule meaning many of his running miles happen while the rest of us are unconscious! It is always good to catch-up with him and discuss his race plans.
January to March 24th, 2020.
I manage a little 14 day holiday streak up to January 3rd but immediately hit the skids on return to work. I managed two runs from the 3rd to the 15th and, after squeezing in 3 runs in 3 days, a weekend away followed by Ofsted meant another nine days off. My 2020 running year therefore only really started on the 26th and it was only a concerted effort the last few days that pushed me up to a grand total of 80 miles for the month! ‘Hello again Square One. Yes, I’m back again!’
February 8th saw a return to cross country to run in the Mid Lancs fixture at Blackpool. Lawson Road isn’t the greatest of venues nor the largest. Four laps really messed with my head on the day – cross country is three laps, right?! Despite a lack of confidence and form I enjoyed it (sort of!) and it was certainly good to catch-up with Harriers friends and contribute to the team again.
I was more consistent in February and half-term was here in a flash. I got in a decent few days before a family mini break to London, revolving around a visit to The Harry Potter Studios. (Highly recommended by the way.) “Won’t we all catch this Corona Virus, will we?” asked the ever cautious, stressy Nancy, (8 at the time). “Don’t be daft!” we laughed. Oh, the innocence of youth…!
The trip was doubling up as a mini taper for me as the National Cross Country Championships were being held in Nottingham the day after our return home. But, obviously, I still packed running stuff – just in case! After a busy day on Wednesday we were all asleep pretty early meaning that, quite by accident, I woke up at 4.30am the next morning. I sneaked out of bed, dressed and was out of the door fifteen minutes later for the most amazing nine mile City tour with the roads and major landmarks all to myself, save the night workers on clean-up duty.
I made my way down to St Paul’s from our hotel on Old Street, before making my way down Fleet Street and The Strand into Trafalgar Square. Then through Admiralty Arch and up The Mall to Buckingham Palace before running the last mile of the London Marathon in reverse direction, down Birdcage Walk before crossing Westminster Bridge and following the river back East all the way to London Bridge, past The Tate Modern, The National Theatre and The Globe, before making my way back. Not planned, but what a run!
We had a terrific, busy three days and it is still slightly bemusing to think that we haven’t had a family holiday of any sort since, approaching one year later! Therefore, you will have to indulge me while I post my entire 2020 family holiday portrait album right here!
Home on the Friday night, off to Nottingham first thing Saturday morning. I always go early as I just like to get to races and not worry about being late, but also a family friend, George Bond, was running in one of the earlier junior races. Unfortunately, because I knew the route I never checked the traffic – the A50 was shut just past Stoke. If I’d checked beforehand, I could have gone a completely different way. So what should have been a leisurely morning became a bit of a desperate rush; doubly problematic as the storm rain from the week before had flooded the fields around the event venue and meant there was no off-road parking available.
Anyway, we arrived eventually, just about saw George finish and could prepare for the race. I love the course at Wollaton Park – the main race is over eight miles in four laps – yes, four laps again! But, in this case, every lap is different, each one increasing in size, so it never gets boring and the course as a whole is a perfect blend of lumps and flats, mud and faster sections.
What quickly became apparent on arrival though, was the state of the course and, subsequently, the state of anyone who had run round the course in earlier races! Quagmire doesn’t do justice to the state of the main field and the shorter laps used by the junior races. This was going to be a war of attrition on a Northern Championships scale! (Reminder to my club mates of such esteemed venues as Knowsley Safari Park and Witton Park, Blackburn!)
I would like to tell you that I was drained by our trip to London and the two days of travelling but, in reality, I was just unfit. The only way I was going to make eight miles in those conditions was to pace myself into the race. There is nothing else like the National for club runners and I really enjoyed it, but I wasn’t racing, I was running round just to make sure I got to the end. I’ve run at Nottingham twice now and run poorly twice – one year I’ll be back to do it in style!
I might have had a fairly poor run, but many of my team mates were in the midst of their Spring marathon training and ran blinders. I was even more astounded the following day when, while I struggled down the stairs like I had just run one of those marathons, most of my team mates were pounding the streets of Wigan on their Sunday long runs! Are you kidding me?! This only served to highlight the gulf between myself and teammates who I used to consider equals. I was being left behind. So much soul searching took place that day that I eventually kitted up and headed out on a ‘recovery run’. Unfortunately, peer pressure is not something you should necessarily take notice of – better to listen to your own body – and, as I topped out on Stoney Lane, I thought I felt one of my, by now, infamous calf twinges. I followed this up in the next day or two with my usual strategy of ‘ignore it and hope it goes away’ which seemed to be working until I got a proper calf pulling sensation at a Harriers session later in the week.
I had made it to the end of February, but I had just wrecked March.
“Well hello yet again Square One! We must stop meeting like this!”
The next weekend, the first in March, was my birthday and we just happened to be in Wolves. My Father-in-Law hadn’t been to see his beloved Wolves in weeks due to the weather and Chris’s broken leg, so I did my good Son-in-Law bit and agreed to accompany him to Molineux. Wolves were flying high in the Premier League at the time and were entertaining lowly Brighton. I was/am a bit of a good football snob (An Arsene Wenger sympathiser!) so I was secretly looking forward to seeing this stylish Wolves team in the flesh.
Why am I telling you this? Well, because we sat in a packed pub before the game discussing this COVID-thingy before trooping through town with the masses to watch the inevitable dire 0-0 draw (that could only happen to me) with over 32,000 other people, before meeting the rest of the family in the pub for a meal and to continue to discuss this COVID-thingy!
Literally a week later, Leanne and I were discussing that schools were likely to shut because of this pandemic thing and wondering quite what we must have been thinking to go to a Premier League football match in close proximity to over 30,000 people just seven days earlier!
To get back to the subject of running though, I realised that, if there was going to be nothing else to do in April except run, I had better be fit for it. So I sat out the entirety of March, determined to be fit to run if the lockdown ever happened.
I was permanently residing at Square One by this stage, and had been for 12 months. But, unbeknown to me, the one silver lining of 2020 was to be presented with the perfect opportunity to actually become a runner again.
To be continued……..