A Little Wet One

The logic is this:  Run in the winter because cycling when the weather is bad can be rubbish.

Now that marathon training us well underway I am running twice each weekend (unless Saturday is good in which case I’ll take the chance for a ride).  So I’ve applied new logic too: If it looks like bad weather on both Saturday and Sunday, embrace it and go trail running on the Saturday.

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Sounds good in theory, but lessons I learned this week include:

  • Running across fields and slipping all over the place doesn’t really replicate a road run
  • Slipping can be dangerous
  • Pay attention to the telly when it says there is flooding everywhere
  • Wading through 15 inches of flood water is not great training
  • Have the kettle ready to go … it’s pretty grim out there!

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It was a character building run on Saturday but I twisted my knee a little while running through a swamp!  Subsequently, Sundays 10 mile run was a little disappointing.  I suppose there’ll be plenty of good and bad training runs before April. Let’s hope this running lark gets a bit more fruitful in the next few weeks!

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New Year, New Regime

Aarghh!!

Has anybody else got that perennial feeling of dismay after stepping on the scales or going for a ride and realising they’re back to the same stage they were this time last year?  After training with focus and determination during October and November the festive month of December has completely scuppered me!

The pinnacle of my autumnal training came at the start of December with a 14 mile run.  It was the most substantial distance of my early marathon training and a real confidence booster for the strains and stresses that lie ahead.  But that was it.  During the following week I contracted the man-flu that is doing the rounds (I was lucky but I know lots of other people using antibiotics to fight off the virus) and lost 10 days of training before heading out for my pre-Christmas half marathon (which was a big disappointment anyway)

I threw myself 100% in to New Years Eve

I threw myself 100% in to New Years Eve

Even on the run-up to the event I was fully in to Christmas party mode:  For two weeks I had drinks on Tuesdays, recovery Wednesdays, party on Thursdays, recovery on Friday, out on Saturday night…. you get the picture.  When the festivities were finally upon us, I was already feeling the bulge growing around my belly and my belt appeared to have shrunk again!  During this time the exercise all but dried up.  Even the Boxing Day bike ride that I arranged (from our local pub) didn’t help because my hangover started after about 10 miles!  Other than that, one short bike ride on a Saturday morning and plenty of postponed runs are not enough to maintain fitness whilst loading the body up with lager, wine, gin and mince pies!

So here I am again at the start of January, having enjoyed a brilliant months of partying, nursing the tail-end of my New Years Eve hangover and rueing the loss of that fitness I had just a month ago.

Yet I still feel hopeful of what the sporting year ahead may bring.  I’ll be repeating last years alcohol free January which helped me shed about half a stone and my marathon training schedule will

Todays Net Diary

Todays Net Diary

kick back in properly next week (with plans for a couple of runs/rides in the next few days).  As of today, I’ll resume using the app that helped me get on top of my food intake 18 months ago (that I’d highly recommend) and start avoiding the “3 C’s” of crisps, chocolate and cheese.  The tuna salad is already in my lunchbox along with some Greek yoghurt and fruit and I’ll be actively ignoring the treats lying in wait within the kids’ Christmas selection boxes!

So I think I’m in a good position – well informed and motivated for the marathon – and should be OK to drop the first few kilos that will get the ball rolling and enable me to see the rewards of my dietary discipline!

Is anyone else in the same boat as me and if so, what’s the plan?

Bang!! Running in to the wall.

Phew – what a roller coast the last week or so has been.

The response to my last blog post was simply stunning.  A few of us has a deeply, deeply emotional weekend as we read peoples responses to the post on Facebook, email, and in the Just Giving pages.  The pledges made to Mind so far have knocked me sideways.  As I write this, nearly £700 has been raised online alone.

All sorts of people have sponsored: friends of mine, friends of Paul, friends of Sarah and even some people none of us have ever met! The impact of such generosity was firstly extremely satisfying, then slightly overwhelming, and then confusing.  Then my head hit the wall.

Just a snapshot of some inspiring messages

Just a snapshot of some inspiring messages

It was during a highly motivated 14 miles that I started to get my head around the sponsorship thing.

Some people are sponsoring me because they know me and want to support me.  Others are supporting the charity and the cause.  But most people are sponsoring because of the sense of affection and loss they still feel about Paul and their admiration for Sarah.  Anyhow, if anyone who has sponsored me is reading this: Thank You.

In fact, in many cases I’ve stopped thinking of the generous donations as sponsorship for my run.  Instead I think people are using the opportunity to sponsor as a tangible way of showing their ongoing grief and commitment to support.  The results are tremendous and more overwhelming than the amount of money raised so far.

Lot’s of people still feel the same way that I do.  I know they do because I read what all of them have written on the Just Giving pages.  I’ve had contact with a number of people following their donations and something that will stay with me forever came from one of Pauls friends who I only met a couple of times.  He said “what happened with Paul changed us all forever”.  Yes.  Yes it did.

That makes me think about my grief and the ongoing grief demonstrated by so many generous people who reacted my last blog.  We changed.  We’re all trying to come to terms with the loss we feel, but maybe we should also be coming to terms that we’ve changed.  That gap that Paul left will never be filled – it’s just a Paul sized gap that we’ll all carry around with us for ever more.  Because we’ve changed.

On the training front things haven’t gone too well.  After the successful 14 miles I’ve had a horrible cold and taken a week off training.  I was back on the bike last night and will be running 10k tomorrow before resting up for a half marathon at Stanwick Lakes on Sunday…. watch this space to see how I get on.

Chasing Rainbows

To commit to marathon training you either need to be addicted to running or have a bloody good reason to ramp up the training. I’m not addicted to running. Here is my bloody good reason.

Three years ago, pretty much to the day, I lost my best friend Paul.

Over a number of years Paul and I had become close friends as our lives came together and intersected through our work, our hobbies and our families.  We met working in India but were originally no more than friendly acquaintances.  I can’t remember how it happened, but when we were back in the UK we began playing golf together and pretty soon spent every other weekend at a golf course.

By this time our work life was following a similar path.  Both of us were selected for a management development programme as our careers moved steadily forward and we graduated together with our Mum’s looking proudly on. Throughout this time, we were both cultivating great relationships for ourselves so Paul and his fiancee Sarah came to our wedding about a year before we went to theirs.  Within the next 12 months we’d both had fantastic baby daughters.  I can remember playing golf with Paul at Oadby in Leicester where he told me they were expecting a baby.  We were on the 7th tee. We celebrated with a couple of pints when we finished and he told me of his impending redundancy.

It was at the same golf course that I planned to break the news about our second pregnancy a few years later.  I’d intended to tell him on the 7th tee and he was to be the first person I had confided in outside of my family.  Anyway, he pipped me to it when, on the 2nd tee, he told me that they were expecting their second baby too.  We were delighted for each other and stood hugging in celebration.

That was just one of many fantastic memories I have of sharing time with Paul.  His stag weekend in Newquay was easily the best one I have been on and we often shared stories of mine in Edinburgh.

After leaving our company Paul worked hard to make a go of things in the Financial Services sector and seemed to be getting along well.  But there must have been something else going on in Paul’s mind.   Three weeks after our last round of golf, two weeks after coming round to our house with his family to enjoy dinner together, three days after we popped round to ease the quarantine induced cabin fever of their daughter having chicken pox, Paul committed suicide.

None of us saw it coming.  And to be honest, I have never understood or really got my head around what happened.  It felt like our worlds had been turned upside down and I cannot begin to imagine how Sarah, who was still pregnant at the time, coped with losing him and looking after their daughter.

In my world, I had hoped that Paul and Sarah would be our “friends for life”.  The ones with whom our lives just easily intertwined.  And so, selfishly, Pauls death hit me hard.  And it scared me.  Because Paul was like me, he was my buddy and I can’t understand what happened that made him need to end his life.  Running this marathon for Mind is both charitable and therapeutic in equal part.  I still don’t understand and I still can’t change what happened but maybe I can raise a bit of money to prevent it happening to another family.

Throughout everything, Sarah has been a rock and is truly my most inspiring friend. I’m sure she has had dark days and I hope that we have been the friends she has needed us to be.  Our youngest daughters were born just a day apart less than three months after Paul died, and if ever a person should be celebrated as an amazing mother it is Sarah…. but she’d hate that!

To help their daughter come to terms with things, Sarah asked her to remember her Daddy every time she saw a rainbow. I hold on that as a reminder Sarah’s strength and of the glorious responsibilities and privileges we enjoy as parents.JustGiving - Sponsor me now!

Every rainbow I see makes me smile. It makes me cry. And it makes me remember Paul.

I’m running the Brighton Marathon for Mind because there are enough rainbows in the sky.

Trail Running Adventure

When the weather closes in this winter, a wet Saturday will mean only one thing for me …. trail time.

Slipping on my new trail running trainers I headed out across the local footpaths to get muddied up and enjoy all the lumps BYnXNwaIIAAKl1I.jpg-largeand bumps this part of Leicestershire has to offer.  Skirting around Stanton Lakes I soon found the first land mark of my run as I crossed a lovely little bridge that we know as Sophies Bridge.  Nestled half a mile or so in from the main road in the land covered by Sopers Farm is a little steel and concrete bridge over the Soar.

Don’t get carried away, the river is less than 5 meters wide at this point and generally shallow enough for kids to paddle in so it’s no raging torrent like previous adventures in the Peak District.  But it is a lovely, peaceful and lush spot to run through.  In summer months it’s worth heading down with a picnic and bottle of fizz that you can keep cool in the river.  We did that a couple of years ago with the kids for our wedding anniversary and it was a day that we’ll always remember.

But it’s slightly less serene when being run through in November.  So following the footpath I emerged to the village of Croft and headed off towards landmark number 2: Croft Hill.

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There is a sheltered woodland path along the bottom of the approach to this man made hill so keeping an eye for protruding roots I paced myself up to a style to start the climb.  The hill is the result of years of quarrying in Croft and the steep climb is now covered in 734428_10151694221007056_811947761_ngrass and rabbit droppings!  Having walked up the hill pulling a sledge and a child earlier in the year, I knew how hard the gradient could be to scale.  But running up was a different experience and by the time I was half-way up my lungs and legs were burning.

Reaching the top was a relief and provided a welcome rest as well as stunning views.  The contrast in scenery between the dramatic drop in to the working quarry and the expansive Leicestershire countryside was breathtaking but I couldn’t afford to be distracted when I started my descent.  The winding path was slippery underfoot so required more mental strength than physical exertion until passing through the final gate and heading off to some flatter ground.

The unfamiliar paths were sodden after days of rain and pretty quickly my feet were saturated picking my way through the footpaths.  That was until the footpath seemingly disappeared and the terrain changed from grass to ploughed field.  It gets to be hard work when each foot is carrying a couple of pounds of mud, so the bright yellow sign pointing to another footpath was more than welcome.

Without stopping to think, I headed down the next footpath, following the trails until I emerged out of the farmland and on to a country lane.  The road looked familiar, but worryingly I was a long way from where I had planned to be!  Jogging down the road I kept looking out for another footpath or bridleway on which to make a shortcut home, yet it wasn’t long before I realised that an hour in to my run I still had 3 or 4 miles to go.1468574_10151694220787056_790507799_n

Just as I began considering calling Mrs G to come and collect me I rounded a corner to see a car stranded in a ford we know as Watery Gates.  Not being one to miss an opportunity to snap such a scene I whipped out my phone and took a couple of pictures before noticing a family looking at me.  It turns out that the daughter drove in to the ford last night while the water was running at 1.5 meters deep!

Checking my Strava feed I saw that I’d covered over 7 miles. So I called in some support before running another mile and being ushered on to an already muddy blanket for the couple of miles of my lift home!

The Big E.ON Run, for the NSPCC

It’s not often that your big corporate employer does something that you and you’re family can get involved in.  So this weekends Big E.ON Run for the NSPCC was a good thing for them to do.imaging.ashx

The event was held at Holme Pierrepont, the National Watersports Centre near Nottingham, and consisted of a 10k race, a 5k race and a 5k family walk.  The NSPCC is E.ON’s Charity of the Year so all fundraising went to help the cause that all parents can relate to.

Holme Pierrepont consists of multiple watersports facilities, but the run took in two circuits of the 2000m long rowing lake.  This meant the route was flat but exposed.  It makes me wonder if I’d exchange undulation for wind?

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Having given an estimated time of 45 minutes on my entry form, for the first time ever, I was classed as “elite” amongst the 500 strong field of runners and walkers.  Mrs G and the girls took their place amongst the friends and walkers whilst I stood 3 people back from the front.  

The start was quick (my legs and lungs told me that) and it was difficult to gauge the right pace.  

One of the things I try to do on race days is to stick close to somebody with a Garmin and a club vest to make sure that I’m with a person who appears to know what they’re doing!  My hope is that I run along with an athlete looking for an even paced race and then avoid any “boom and bust” mistakes.  So the fella with a Garmin and a club vest was an ideal companion for the first 2k with the wind behind us.

He was an even more welcome companion to follow when we turned on to the other shore and began running back in to the wind.  It was really blustery and when the rain started at about 3k it was heavy and stinging in nature. Fortunately, my recent memories of running in the same conditions whilst in the Peak District strengthened my resolve and actually encouraged me to push on.

After one lap, I’d passed under the finish line in about 21 minutes and pondered the prospect of having set off too fast after-all! The rain had stopped and the wind had eased (which was not good news because it was now blowing in to my back) so I settled in to a steady tempo, eagerly keeping my eyes open to see how well Mrs G and the girls were getting on.

It wasn’t long before I could see them in front of me.  They’d not even covered 2k when I “lapped them” and my suspicions of the impact of the weather were confirmed when Mrs G called out “I’m soaked and I’m moaning … A LOT” as I ran passed clapping and cheering them on!  The quick high-five with both girls and seeing family and friends was a little boost that ensured I carried on the same pace for another kilometre or so.

Turning back in to the wind, tucking in behind Mr Garmin again, the end of the lake looked miles away.  As my legs grew heavy, the concept of tempo running reverted to plodding and I just about managed to stay in contact with my little group before rounding the final turns on to the finish straight.

Normally I’ve got a bit of a kick in me for the final 100 yards, but I was shattered and a minor increase of pace was the best I could muster.  Crossing the line in 42:15 I was surprised to see a PB (by 1:15) on my watch before congratulating Mr Garmin who immediately declared the course too short, showing me the 6.06miles registered on his watch.

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After dodging my friend Suzanne who was threatening a video camera and microphone, I quickly reclaimed my bag and got some warm kit on to wait the girls finishing.  They must have been so cold as they started running with 100m to go after about an hour’s walking! I nearly clattered into a couple of people having a sprint for the line.

Anyway, we all got medals, we all got hot drinks and eventually we all got hot dogs before driving home.sprint finish as I crossed the course to run the last 50m alongside them – it makes me so proud to see the kids joining in with things like this that I got a bit of tunnel vision!!

It was good to catch up with friends and colleagues at the event.  I hope they do it next year and I hope we’ve helped some less fortunate kids get slightly better lives.

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.

Anyone ready for next years Standalone?

There we have it.  For another year the Standalone 10k is done and dusted.  It was another amazing family day out, as always it was a superb event and even the weather was brilliant!

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The Family Day

This is the most important aspect of the race for me.  My girls look forward to the day, so we started celebrations early.   On the way to Standalone Farm, we belted out a few classics in the car.  Mrs G and the kids joined in with my energising renditions of Gold by Spandau Ballet, Fire by Kasabian and the Rocky sound track classics Eye of the Tiger and Gonna Fly Now.

Every year, my family turns out and supports the race and the runners.

Step-father, mother-in-law, and Mum

Step-father, mother-in-law, and Mum

By the time we arrived, my cousin Linda was at the farm with her kids, and pretty soon we were joined by my Mum, step-father, sister, mother and father in-law, brother-in-laws (x2), an abundance of nieces & nephews and a handful of great friends.  After the race we were joined by my Nan and enjoyed a meal for 20 in a local pub.

This years race was even more special to my family than normal because my sisters husband Matt completed his first road race.  It’s an emotional day for me and my family anyway and when Matt came around the corner on to the finishing straight, half of us were in tears because we were so proud of him.

The main race is followed by a 2km fun run for all the kids.  Most of ours ran in the 6-10 age group and I shepherded my eldest, my Godson and my nephew around.  It was hilarious! We started with the plan of running together until the sprint finish but things got tricky when my nephews shoe came off (twice).  Then they were running in zig-zags all over the path.  Then we got split up when my Godson made his run for home about half way around.  We all made it in the end, and even managed to finish in front of the lady running it in Ugg boots and jeans whilst carrying her handbag and a Bob the Builder rucksack!  I probably had it easy though; Mrs G ran with my God-Daughter and my youngest who insisted on sitting on her shoulders the whole way round (until collecting her medal at the end)

The Event

I can’t believe that, from it’s humble beginnings as the Novatek 10k in the 80’s, the race my Dad built now has a capacity of 1400 runners.  It felt bigger this year but maybe that was because I started with Matt, and my friends Jim & Leanne at the 55 minutes (target finish time) section.  That was a good move because it kept my pace steady at the start whilst picking my way through runners.  Of course there was one person walking in the first 600 yards, but that is the only tiny niggle I could come up with for the whole event.  The course remains undulating but reasonably fast and the field is made up of a good range of experienced club athletes and people like us – which means that everyone feels at home!

The sun came out around the 6k mark and for a moment I was worried that my decision to not take a drink was going to backfire when I could feel the temperature beginning to rise.  But the small pockets of shade helped me through the final 3k and I maintained my pace to finish under my target time of 45 minutes … so I was happy.

Here comes Matt

Here comes Matt

After collecting my fetching blue t-shirt I quickly made it back to cheer on our other runners.  I missed Jim who was just after me at 48 minutes, managed to catch Leanne’s sprint for the finish and was delighted to be able to celebrate Matt’s arrival well inside his target time of an hour.

Once again, the North Herts Road Runners have delivered an outstanding day.  Everyone who came with us had a great day out and I can guarantee that we’ll all be back next year to keep supporting the event that has become so important to me.

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Getting fit for the Standalone 10k

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Dad and Me doing stuff at an early Standalone 10K race

Each year I run the Standalone 10k race that my Dad used to organise.  I started running it when my sister had the idea that I run the 20th anniversary race (cheers Sis).  In hindsight taking part in that event, and being honoured by the North Herts Road Runners with handing out the winners prizes, has spurred me on to all of the sporting challenges I have completed since.

I think that first race took me about 53 minutes. The following year I entered my first three half marathons, eventually smashing the 2 hour barrier in the inaugural Birmingham Half. A few months later I was full of emotion whilst standing on the start line of the London Marathon and facing the biggest physical challenge of my life. So I owe a lot to my sisters idea and to the Standalone 10k.

This years race takes place on 6 October and is probably full with 1200 entries by now. My brother-in-law has been training hard to compete in his first ever road race after a knee injury prevented him from taking part last year.  My best friend from my school years is “competing to complete” after his training plan stalled in July but it’ll be great to see him there. It was a special occasion when my wifes brother ran with me, and every year my good friends Jim & Leanne have been there with us, running when they’ve been able to and this year will be no different.

My initial reason for writing this blog is because each of us has been on a different training journey to get fit for it.  So I thought a bit of a best practice review would be interesting because I’m not sure if my cycling led approach is worth recommending or if Matts stamina training might be a better idea.  However, after a very quick Google search, it appears that we are all doing just fine according to one plan or another.   For those of us who need to get fit quick, there are even 2 week training plans around …. I like that idea.  My only bit of advice (to myself a much as anyone else) is to take it steady and run at a sensible pace for the first 5k.  You can speed up if you feel good but, if your lungs and legs are dead after 7k, it’s a seriously unpleasant last 2 miles!

It is only 10k.  Which is 6.2 miles.  If the worst come to the worst you can walk that in less than an hour and a half.

It doesn’t matter that none of us have followed proper training plans.  It means the world to me that my friends and family take part with me and that we continue to celebrate the race that my Dad built. Thankyou.