A fast short long one …

It was a welcome respite from those long, long Sunday runs this week as my training plan suggested a fast 10k run (or race) was the best way to spend Sunday morning.  Coincidentally, it was the same weekend that we’d booked to go away to a cottage in the Cotswolds so it all fell together quite nicely.

One of many flooded fields in Oxfordshire

One of many flooded fields in Oxfordshire

I love running somewhere new and this weekend was no exception.  We were staying just outside of the small village of Kingham which was far enough north to have escaped the worst of the flooding, but still wet enough to change the landscape for a few days.

My route around Kingham, Churchill and back looked straightforward when I planned it and the first two kilometres were great.  The sun was shining for the first time in weeks and, whilst it was cool and crisp, the calmness of the air made it the most enjoyable running conditions so for this year!

I intentionally set out at a fast tempo avoiding any frosty patches that the sun hadn’t yet warmed and covered the first few kilometres through the village in good time.  The road kicked up a couple of times so inevitably my pace slowed a little but things got even more troublesome in the final kilometre or so when I realised I must have taken a wrong turn and began running on an unfamiliar road clearly in the wrong direction!

I should have paid more attention to this

I should have paid more attention to this

Being dedicated to running as fast a 10k as possible I just ignored the fact that I was lost and kept going until Runkeeper announced I’d done the distance I set out to do (albeit finishing a couple of miles south of where I’d intended!!!).  Taking stock of where I’d ended up, I made the embarrassing S.O.S. call to Mrs G and heard my eldest daughter in the background saying “Is Daddy lost again!!”

When my wife arrived to my rescue I tried to deflect from the daftness of getting lost by gloating that I’d averaged under 7 minute miles for the 10k but it was to no avail.  So when I was taking a post-run hot-tub back at the cottage I just had to soak up the stick I was taking from them all.  Like I said – I love running in new places but really should pay a bit of attention to where I’m going!

But I still averaged 6.59 minute miles and that’ll keep me buzzing until next weekends 19 miler!

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The Run of a Drowned Rat

The two pieces of information didn’t sit well with me.  Looking at the 14 mile run scheduled on my training plan and then looking up at the weather forecast had my mind racing.

What excuses could the devil on my shoulder give me that would make it OK to stay in bed rather than setting a 7am alarm for my long Sunday run?  My normal running parters, Jim and Leanne, had already given me a warning that they’d not be training if the weather was bad.  I’d already cycled 40 miles on Saturday morning…. surely it was enough?

But another look at my training plan showed that it was 15 miles next week and 16 the week after.  I couldn’t find a hiding place.  No excuse was good enough, so I set the alarm and got up in the dark to go out for the run I knew I had to do.

And I’m chuffed that I did!

It’s the fourth “long” run this year and I’m getting more and more confident each week.  Last weeks run was a bit of an epiphany for me.  I actually did what I’d say to everyone else: set off at a steady pace and kept it steady throughout – finishing with a better average over 13 than I had done over 12 the week before.

This week I satisfied my need for speed with a high tempo 6.5 miles on Friday so, once again, steady was the name of the game.  And it’s just as well.

As soon as I left the village I was running (largely up hill) in to the wind for 5 miles.  The wind. The icy wind.  The very strong, icy wind. The very strong, icy wind carrying very heavy, very wet rain.

I was delighted to turn out of the wind with an average pace of just under 8 min/m but I was completely saturated.  You know when you’re so wet that your feet squelch in your trainers? Yeah, just like that.  But I felt great.

Steadily bouncing along another 4 miles or so I reached the bottom of a steep climb (coming out of Croft towards Huncote in case you know it) but still kept a fantastic rhythm going.  I slowed a little after that though.  I lost concentration and started fantasising about what I was going to eat when I got home!  The prospect of scrambled eggs and baked beans cost me about 20 seconds on that mile!!  But as I turned a corner, my daydreaming stopped.

The sight of an overflowing ford known as Watery Gates reminded me that I’d had an easy ride in the elements for the last few miles.  The following wind had tricked me in to thinking that the rain had stopped.  So, it was with an impending sense of doom that I tackled the last three miles.

One more right-hander and I was head-on in to the elements again.  The steady, mile long rise combined with the stinging rain and battering wind made it the hardest mile of my training so far.  There was an upside to the conditions though: my legs were so cold that they didn’t ache, so I was able to push as hard as possible to keep the pace up.

After a brief respite, another battle in to the wind got me home with 14 miles on the clock and an 8.02 min/m average pace.  Spot on!  If I can turn out that sort of pace in those sort of conditions I think I’m in good shape to look towards sustaining that pace come April.

So if there are any fellow drowned rats reading this, give yourself a big pat on the back and recognise that it’s runs like the ones we did today that will make the difference when the weather turns.

(The eggs and beans were delicious too)

Not the sort of bonk you want …

Check out how smug I was in my last post where I was bragging about how I’d done so well losing weight since the turn of the year!  Well, I learnt a good lesson about dieting and training on Saturday morning.

I was delighted to get out on the bikes with my mate Stu who I cycled to France with.  He’s had a number of injuries over the last 12 months but seems to be on the mend so I hope he’ll be out with us more often this year.  We had a good chat and some banter around the first 27 miles of our route, then Stuey sensed the end was in sight and picked the pace up a little.

In normal circumstances I find the last 8 mile run-in on this route a good blast. It’s largely downhill from a beautiful village called Bitteswell, along quiet country lanes in the Leicestershire countryside.  Anyway, on Saturday I wasn’t so keen.

As soon as I had to start working harder, I found there was nothing in the tank. My quads felt heavy and ached to the point of exhaustion as I tailed behind Stu who was holding a 19-20 mph pace.  As soon as we hit the solitary incline on the run home I dropped way back despite pushing as much as I could.  The rest of the way home was just a case of keeping the wheels spinning and reserving some strength for Sundays 12 mile run.

Now, I do suffer from bad days from time to time and I am conscious that form and fitness only come along with hard work and dedication.  But this felt like something different and it didn’t take much analysis to work out what was going on.

I think I bonked.

Bonking is a “technical” cycling term relating to the point when you’ve got no energy left to draw on in your body.  Chris Froome was in danger of doing it in last years Tour de France and suffered a 20 second penalty when he got a late energy gel from the ever-loyal Richie Porte.  I’m not saying that the situation coming in to Sapcote was anything like the one Team Sky endured on l’Alpe d’Huez, but I do think I bonked!

A picture from the BBC showing Froome and Porte

Looking at what I ate on Friday helps explain.  With a total intake of around 1500 calories I hadn’t fuelled up for the ride which burnt 1200 calories in itself.  The tank was well and truly empty!

On rides of that distance I don’t bother with snacks but could’ve murdered a banana just to get some strength back.  As soon as I got home I started steadily carb loading with some macaroni cheese for lunch and a pasta dish for dinner.  I think I just about got enough in to cope with the 12 mile run on Sunday, but won’t be risking the same situation happening again.

So, lesson learned: In place of my daily tuna salad I’ll be having a pasta salad on Fridays from now on, with a proper carb balanced dinner in the evening. That’s about the best I think I can do to prevent any unwanted bonking in the future but I’m open to other suggestions?…

Training Plan for the Brighton Marathon

Right, here is the aim.

6 April, Brighton Marathon, sub 3:30.

Given that I’ve run only one marathon in the past (London 5 years ago in 4:51) that is an ambitious target. So why do I think I can do it?

Well, I don’t know if I can.  Just like I didn’t know if I could finish the London.  Or if I could cycle to Skegness that first time.  Or if I could cycle to Paris.  But I did each of them, so that’s why I believe I can do this.

And the target is 3:30 because I see 4 hours as the upper limit of a serious time.

I’ll be blogging about the trials and tribulations of my training here throughout the winter.  Using a BUPA (Intermediate) training plan as a base, I’ve drawn up my plan this week.  Here goes:

Marathon Training Plan

Up Peak and Down Dale (the sequel to Reaching Peak Fitness)

After exploring on day one of our stay, I decided on a run rather than bike ride for day 2.  The commuter bike is OK but not up to any off-roading and I wanted to get closer to the country side.  So I pulled on my old trainers and set off for my first run in my new running tights and gloves.

Leaving our cottage at Hulme End I headed straight up hill over the Manifold River and swung a left to run along a small lane parallel to the camping and caravan site.  I was stunned to see some hardy campers getting ready for a days trekking in the wet and blustery conditions.  But probably only as stunned as they were to see a bloke in fluorescent yellow gloves and jacket run past them for fun!

The lane was about a mile long and came out on a small cross roads.  With no particular plan for my run I decided to follow the signs for Beresford Dale, and after a another mile or so the lane came to an end as it was met by another fast flowing river.DSC_0127

So far I had been running on Tarmac and had managed to avoid any of the bigger puddles beginning to accumulate as the rain water ran off the surrounding fields.  Now though, the terrain changed as I headed along a trail next to the river.

The landscape changed from fields and hills in to something resembling a rain forest.  It was stunning.  Heavy rainfall had boosted the river and it was roaring along its path as I ran past a couple of Dippers.  These beautiful birds are generally pretty scarce but can be found around several of the rivers in the area.

Flanked by rocky cliff faces on both sides, the sounds of the river was impressive and after stopping for a few pictures on a bridge, I continued along the path.

Eventually I emerged over a stone wall on to a footpath across the dales.  Out in the open once more I realised how heavy the rain had become and the uneven grassy surface was quickly becoming treacherously waterlogged.

Continuing at a slower pace with unsteady footing I followed the path up hill and down dale before passing through a muddy gateway.  This is where the elastic laces of my old tri-trainers were found wanting.  Having selected a slightly less muddy route through the gate I did my best to skip through the mud and find some more solid ground.  But failed dismally when the mud sucked the trainer right off of my left foot!photo

Unable to immediately convert my running action to a hopping action meant my foot went in to the mud and my sock was instantly saturated.  So I decided to take a photo to capture the moment, figuring that I was wet anyway!

Slipping my trainer on over the muddy sock, I reached the end of the cross country section of my run and arrived in Hartington.  A final couple of kilometres along the slightly busier road got me back to my cottage safe and sound where the process of drying out and warming up began with a cuppa in front of the fire.

I loved the unpredictable cross-country run and will be doing more of it as I train through the winter.  But I’ll be hard pushed to find anywhere as spectacular until I go back to the Peaks.

…and the wind blew us to Skegness

On Saturday morning at 5.30 I was amongst a group of about 70 local cyclists heading out from The Blue Bell car park in Stanton to Skegness MedalStoney Stanton. With a real mix of experience and a wide range of ages we were all heading on our annual trip to Skegness.

I was late, of course, and barely had time to attach my number before the peleton hit the road.  Which meant I missed out on my bacon sandwich but plenty of others had tucked in and were well fueled before they left.  Most of us were buoyant about the prospects of a fast (or at least easier)  ride due to the forecast of a following wind, but rain was scheduled to be across the Midlands by lunchtime.  So the aim was clear – ride with wind and beat the rain!
Normally the first few miles of the ride are pretty steady. Everyone takes a bit of time to warm up that early in the

Me in black (to match my bike), Dickie in red (to match his bike)

Me in black (to match my bike), Dickie in red (to match his bike)

morning and its good to chat with people you don’t usually ride with. But this year went slightly differently. After a couple of miles I was chatting to a guy I met a few weeks ago who had raised over £1100 for charity by doing the ride, then I looked up the road and saw a group of about 8 people had already started taking things seriously. At the back of the group was the flashing rear light of Dickies bike. So, regrettably, I decided the social ride would have to wait and got my head down to join the front group.  It took me another couple of miles to get on to the wheel and that effort was an unwelcome leg burner, but we settled in to a good pace heading in to Leicester.

One of the reasons for leaving so early in the morning is to avoid traffic on the busy ring road in Leicester and most years we are the only people on the road. This, and cycling as part of a group, usually creates an almost-acceptable approach to the traffic light and roundabout systems.  As a rule of thumb, if there is no traffic on the road anywhere near us, we’ll tend to run through a red light.  But this year the attitude of some of the guys was different and they didn’t stop for anything.  At one point, two of them rode on to a roundabout in front of a car just waving it down to stop.  That’s not acceptable in my book because if you start pissing off drivers, they show less consideration to you as a cyclist and their cars are harder and faster than my bike!
Anyway, moan over!
Pretty quickly we were through Leicester, briefly stopping to give our numbers at the first check point, and headed on through to Melton Mowbray. There are only 3 notable hills on the ride so the pace was still pretty high along the rolling roads and the sun was shining to take the chill from the morning air. Melton came and went and when we hit the third checkpoint I started feeling confident and declared that, given the conditions, we should target a 20mph average speed now we only had flat ground to cover.
We’d been working reasonably well as a little group.  A guy on the front shouting out if there was gravel or pot holes meant we were able to stay on each others wheels. But when we hit the main road, one fella really put the hammer down and we all struggled to keep on the wheel.  The dreadful road surface on a 20 mile stretch of the A52 made things a lot harder than they needed to be. It was boneshakingly bad and when the guy in front dodged a pot hole, both Dickie and I ploughed straight in to it.  After a couple of minutes of general swearing, Dickies front tyre started deflating and our progress was halted for a quick inner tube change before continuing on the road as a pair rather than a group.
With about 35 miles to go the long, flat, grinding road started to get more difficult and heading through lanes around Boston my legs got heavy and some cross winds knocked some momentum out of us.  We had one last stop, grabbed a banana each, topped up the water and headed on through the flat countryside for the last stretch. Even though my legs were now seriously aching, when we got back on the A52 for the last 5 miles, the following wind kept us ticking along at over 20 mph.
Slightly disappointingly in the end we did a 19.8 moving average, with a ride time of about 4hrs 55 mins. But we rolled

The Clock Tower on our arrival

The Clock Tower on our arrival

down Skegness High Street well before 11am which was earlier than ever before.  After a quick loop of the Clock Tower (because it looks good on the GPS) it wasn’t long before Mrs G and the kids arrived while Dickie and I were enjoying a pint in Wolfies Wine Bar.

People rolled in over the next few hours and, as always there were some great achievements from first timers and veterans alike.  Dave and Gareth, who organise the ride each year, were handing out medals long after I’d been to my hotel and got changed. Each year they make the ride easy for us to do and somehow this year they got a reporter along from the local paper, their families helped out at the stops and Dave even drove the route a few days earlier to spray arrows on the roads to help everyones navigation ….we all owe them a pint.
So that’s Skegness done for another year.  We’ve set a record time that might be tough to beat in future years.  Most people had a day in the pubs and watched the FA Cup final.  I spent a great afternoon with the kids at the Pleasure Beach and was fast asleep by 9pm!

Fair weather cyclist?

When I got home this evening, I had a choice to make.  Sit down eat the sweet ‘n’ sour pork stir fry that Mrs G had made and play with two tired kids, or dash about the house trying to find my kit (that was still strewn all over the place after the weekends triathlon) and make a quick 15 minute turn around to go and meet on our cross roads for a ride.  Sometimes I make good choices.  Tonight I made a bad choice and got the bike out.

Dax stings your eyes

Dax stings your eyes

Turning up late never goes down well and my 15 minute turn around had actually taken more like 25.  A group of lads had already gone on ahead and just two of us remained.  It didn’t take long for us to catch everyone up with the wind behind us, and we arrived at Mallory Park in good time.  After a quick chat and paying our £2 we set off on the lap to find an annoying head wind all the way down the start and finish straight.  By the time we hit the hairpin for the first time it was raining and after just one flying lap I was soaked through and put my rain coat on 5 minutes too late for it to keep me warm or dry.  Then, after a busy day at work forgetting to drink, I got cramp in my calf.

Only a couple of laps later and the lure of a hot shower and my sweet ‘n’ sour pork won.  My mate Dickie and I moaned all the way home and trundled along at an uncharacteristically slow

Definitely wonky

Definitely wonky

pace.  My eyes were stinging because the rain was washing all the crap (it’s not crap, it’s Dax) out of my hair and in to my eyes, my feet were cold and I couldn’t see out of my glasses.  I couldn’t even put my specs on my  helmet in a way that looked cool.  They were lopsided.  And the end of the arm hurt my head.  My nose was running and I was nearly drowning in snot.

There were no consolation prizes today.  It was windy, wet, cold and slow.  I’ve enjoyed my hot shower and my sweet ‘n’ sour pork.  And now I am enjoying a glass of red wine whilst ranting on here.  There were plenty of people still at Mallory Park when we left and we passed a few more cyclists on the way home.  Let’s face it, they must be more dedicated than me and I must be a fair weather cyclist.