the view from the middle of the pack

"the hopelessness of the long distance runner"

Conwy Half Marathon

Voted one of the top 5 most scenic half marathons in the UK by Runners World and with a start and finish in the shadows of the majestic Conwy Castle it was certainly one I was looking forward to.

I had decided to enter the race at the last-minute after a club training run a couple of weeks ago. After 2 half marathons in a week followed by a 10k and several 5k races, another half marathon race was the last thing I had planned on doing but as usual my competitive streak got the better of me and reason and common sense went out of the window!

Coming into the race I wasn’t exactly in peak condition.  Minor niggles were proving an irritant and I hadn’t trained for the distance because of the late entry. Add that to the fact that my overeating was starting to catch up with me and it wasn’t exactly a recipe for a PB but regardless that was the target and sub 1.36 was where I wanted to be. Psychologically I felt strong, if not physically and I hoped that would be enough to pull me through.

I decided to make a weekend of it in Llandudno and was joined by my eldest boy Thomas, Mum and Dad while my poor, exhausted wife had to stay home and look after my youngest son Aaron (Llandudno isn’t ready for him yet!!)

So to the race….

A dry mouth caused by insufficient water intake due to problems with parking and a rush to the start (luckily Dawn and Steve came to my aid with a much-needed slug of water) left me a little worried about dehydration on the start line.

A congested start area on the Quayside meant that a little jostling needed to be done over the first half mile to find some space. Chip timing was on offer so there was no issue there but (minor running etiquette gripe alert!!) I do wish that runners who know they are going to run a slower pace would line up further back to avoid the dancing round runners that invariably has to be done at the start. Don’t mean to offend anyone but common sense should prevail and I certainly wouldn’t start with the sub 5 and 6 min mile guys at the front and impede them as they set on their way. Pacing flags at the start similar to the ones used in the London marathon might help.

The field started to string out as we headed alongside Conwy River towards Deganwy Beach and the West Shore of Llandudno. You could taste the salty air and after an ill-advised cooked breakfast with salty bacon that wasn’t particularly welcome.

The plan (if you could call it that) was to push hard over the first 5 miles to try to put some distance between me, Steve and Kev, who I knew would both be the main competition for the first finishing Biddulph runner. I’m quite strong on the climbs so knew if I had a decent lead at this point then I would hopefully be able to push on up the Orme and hang on in the second half of the race to come in first from the BRC runners.

The first 5 miles from a pacing perspective were too fast and the plan didn’t work because Steve was right on my shoulder and Kev was only a hundred metres back when we got to the Orme. A high 5 from my boy Thomas gave me a much-needed energy boost before the steady climb of 2 miles to the summit which was actually my favourite part of the race. I knew I would be strong and managed to put a little more distance between the guys and myself. At the summit I wasn’t looking forward to the long run down, the stress on your quads shouldn’t be underestimated and I could never shake off the fact that I knew Steve and Kev weren’t too far behind me and I was tiring badly, totally unlike the Congleton Half where I felt stronger as the race went on.

Steve passed me on the run down at about the 8 mile point and he steadily edged away over the last 5 miles. My quads were shot on the way down towards West Shore and I knew the run back in to Conwy was going to be hard. I fully expected Kev to pass me at any point from 10 miles onwards and he duly obliged at 11 miles and I just couldn’t respond and he looked strong on the way in. The last mile is usually where I like to push hard but I had nothing left in the tank and towards the end I was looking over my shoulder for Nigel. It felt like I was running in treacle for that last few miles and I was just glad to get it over and done with in 1.38.24, still my second best half marathon time but I know I should have been nearer 1.35 if I had run a smarter race.

No more races for me now in 2012 apart from the Hanley Park run but I will be working on my pacing. At the moment I lack the confidence to go out steady and maintain an even pace throughout and I fear no further improvements will be made until I get this sorted. Sheer pig-headed will can only get you so far and if I want to run sub 1.35 over the distance, work needs to be done.

A big well done too to the other Biddulph Club Runners, a brilliant turnout and the level of competition is great at all levels. That can only help us all become better runners which at the end of the day is why we all do it. That’s mirrored with PB’s for Dawn and Nigel and excellent first runs over the distance for Karen and Janet plus a brilliant 2nd placed age group finish for Pat.

PS – Steve and Kev I will get you next time 😉

Splits below which highlight my pacing problems.

Split Time Distance Elevation Gain Elevation Loss Avg Pace Calories
Summary 1:38:24.3 13.08 683 683 7:31 2,017
1 6:38.8 1.00 7 0 6:39 152
2 6:53.1 1.00 7 0 6:53 153
3 7:05.6 1.00 0 15 7:06 154
4 7:03.6 1.00 15 0 7:04 152
5 7:17.4 1.00 69 31 7:17 156
6 7:53.5 1.00 179 123 7:53 154
7 8:23.9 1.00 230 49 8:24 157
8 8:04.6 1.00 143 49 8:05 153
9 6:42.3 1.00 0 319 6:42 153
10 7:35.9 1.00 13 67 7:36 156
11 7:56.6 1.00 0 9 7:57 155
12 7:51.5 1.00 20 0 7:52 156
13 8:21.6 1.00 0 21 8:22 154
14 :36.0 0.08 0 0 7:33 12
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BBC Sports Personality of the Year 2012

Now I don’t usually care for the SPOTY award, indeed the title implies personality over achievement and that has been in evidence in the past. Certainly anybody that remembers Zara Phillips taking the award a few years ago will know that it has sometimes been fairly meaningless and has highlighted the mediocrity of British sport (sorry to pick on Zara but that was a farce!) Fast forward to 2012 though and we have borne witness to what has arguably been the greatest year for British sport in living memory.

For the first time in years the SPOTY award is actually a ‘real’ competition and it’s incredibly difficult to pick a winner from a number potential nominee’s  that will eventually be whittled down to 12 contenders.

Potential nominees for the main award should include Mo Farah, Bradley Wiggins, Jessica Ennis, Andy Murray, David Weir, Johnnie Peacock, Greg Rutherford, Laura Trott, Ellie Simmonds, Rory McIlroy, Ben Ainslie, Sarah Storey, Jason Kenny, Katherine Grainger, Victoria Pendleton, Sir Chris Hoy, Tom Daley, Nicola Adams, Alistair Brownlee, Jonny Brownlee, Jade Jones, Heather Watson, Laura Robson, Charlotte Dujardin, Carl Froch, Kell Brook and Phil Taylor.

As far as the team award goes I think Team GB have that sewn up, although very noteworthy are the Europe Ryder Cup team who had a none golf fan in me glued to the TV.

The oversea’s award is also a tough contest with Usain Bolt favourite against the likes of Roger Federer, Novak Djokovic, Sebastian Vettel, David Rudisha, Lionel Messi and Cristiano Ronaldo.

The news that Sir Steve Redgrave, Denise Lewis and Baroness Tanni Grey-Thompson have joined the panel should ensure a balanced ‘sporting world’ view amongst the journalists and media types that make up the expert panel.

We had immense success in the Olympics, a triumphant Ryder Cup team, Andy Murray taking his maiden Grand Slam and Olympic Gold, Bradley Wiggins taking the Tour De France and Olympic Gold a few days later, Heather Watson becoming the first female to win a WTA tour event since Sarah Gomer in 1988 and of course super Mo Farah taking double Olympic Gold in the 5,000m and 10,000m which will surely make him favourite for the award.

One thing is for sure, whoever the winner, I will be watching this year. It will be a pleasure to re-live the fantastic summer of sport we had in Britain this year (as long as they don’t show the embarrassing Olympic closing ceremony with George Michael et al!!!)

For my money the winners will be: –

Sports Personality of the Year

1. Mo Farah

2. Bradley Wiggins

3. Jessica Ennis

Team Award – Team GB

Overseas Personality – Usain Bolt

PB’s and mud!!

For various reasons it’s been a little while since my last post. Thankfully, my lack of activity at the keyboard hasn’t been mirrored in the real world and I’ve run two races and one PB since the Macclesfield half almost a month ago.
First up was the Congleton half a mere seven days after the Macclesfield race on 30th September. It was always my aim to try and run a PB at the Congleton race, even with it’s ‘sting in the tail’ which in reality, despite some apprehension amongst runners, was actually not that bad. The course was a little less undulating than Macc so I expected to go a little quicker than the 1.39.09 PB I had set the week before and was aiming for around 1.38.00. A minor cold had proved an annoyance all week and to be honest on the day of the race I didn’t feel particularly confident and was doubting the wisdom of doing back to back half marathons. Some extra time in bed would have been preferable than running 13.1 miles on a cold, but sunny October morning.

Race numbers had to be collected on the day but the organisation was faultless and despite arriving only 15 minutes before the gun, no problems were encountered during registration. The start at Congleton high school was a little congested but once though the initial 100 metres the road opened up nicely and there was plenty of space to move into. The actual race was a bit of a blur and the only things I really remember are being surprised at my pace when I looked at my watch at the top of the hill on mile 2; having a chat with a fellow runner between miles 5 and 6 about the perils of back to back marathons and realising that I was well within PB pace when I got to the top of the ‘sting in the tail’ hill. I was able to ease off in the last mile as I had comfortably achieved my PB and came home in 1.36.00. Amazingly, I never felt very strong during the entire race and the PB wasn’t even on my mind until about mile 7 and I was certain I would do it at mile 10. I certainly felt stronger in the Macc race so was very happy with my time (although couldn’t help but wish I had gone sub 1.36!! Typical runners mentality, never quite good enough). Sub 1.30 is my aim for next year, so some big improvements are needed in terms of pace management and speed endurance.

Feel the pain!!!!!

The splits for the race are below: –

Split Time Distance Avg Pace
Summary 1:36:00.5 13.04 7:22
1 6:49.5 1.00 6:50
2 7:22.1 1.00 7:22
3 6:59.7 1.00 7:00
4 7:18.5 1.00 7:19
5 7:17.5 1.00 7:18
6 7:14.5 1.00 7:15
7 7:12.7 1.00 7:13
8 7:20.6 1.00 7:21
9 7:26.8 1.00 7:27
10 7:33.1 1.00 7:33
11 7:38.8 1.00 7:39
12 7:36.0 1.00 7:36
13 7:55.4 1.00 7:55
14 :15.3 0.04 6:02

Last weekend was the Sandbach 10k. Now 10k is my least favourite distance and in all honesty I only ran because so many Biddulph RC runners had entered. My aim for the day wasn’t a PB for once but to be first home from the Biddulph runners and beat Steve J for the first time. I felt lethargic on race day and from the moment I arrived at the race to find no car parking I knew I wasn’t going to enjoy the day. I love racing and enjoy the experience but the organisation has to be smooth and adequate car parking is a must. A minor gripe maybe, but most of the parking in the surrounding area was residents only so I ended up having to park a mile away from the start and only arrived for registration with a few minutes to spare. Not ideal preparation for a hard run.

The start was a bit of a jaunt down rain sodden, muddy tracks and over the railway bridge which turned out to be pre-cursor for the start of the race where a muddy ploughed cow field would provide the first and last 1km of the race. My tactics (or lack of depending how you look at it) was just to go hell for leather through the field and try and get a lead on Steve and Kev ready for when we hit the road. I must admit I didn’t enjoy the race at all and though my pace for the race was good (average 7.01 per mile) I felt it was more of a struggle than either marathon and to be honest was probably a race too many in a short period of time. I didn’t look back once during the race as I knew if I did and saw Steve or Kev close behind my legs may have gone, so it was head down and plough on. I did manage to achieve my aim of coming home first from the Biddulph RC runners, despite a late challenge from Kev Shuff , which proved to me that progress was being made. Onwards and upwards to next week’s 5km park run. A bit of fun rather than a serious race but I’m attempting to break 21 minutes for the first time.

Macclesfield Half Marathon

Sunday September 30th 10am start….Macclesfield. Half Marathon PB attempt.

After a week of mammoth eating sessions (not a literal mammoth though, far too hairy and extinct) I woke up at 7.20am surprisingly bright and not feeling like Elvis after a deep fried peanut butter and banana sandwich fest. I was a little nervous in anticipation of my first half marathon since the disaster that was this year’s Potters Arf, keen to prove to myself that I could still post a half decent time.

For the Potters race I set off far too quickly, pushing over the first the first 5 miles after a long injury lay off and only a few weeks back running. I paid for it later in the race by staggering in, dehydrated in 1hr 56mins, my worst time in several years. At one point I had said to my brother, who was running along with me for a couple of miles, that if I went over 2 hours I would quit running forever!

Luckily I just about made the finish line in time, helped by my eldest son Thomas running the last few hundred metres with me and was thankfully able to carry on with my running.

This time, determined never to repeat this type of performance again, I made several changes in my training. Firstly and most importantly implementing a proper training plan, aided by a newly purchased GPS watch to focus my training. I also made an overdue purchase of some orthotics to help with my ropey right shin and set out to break my PB at the Macc Half.

I arrived at the Macclesfield athletics track where the race was to start about half an hour before the race. The traffic for the car parks was heavy but well marshalled. I was ushered into a nearby car park and found a space no problem and was off to the start for a warm up on the track with 20 minutes still left to the gun.

The start was a lap and three-quarters of the running track and then off out onto the roads for the start of the proper work. The route was a nice rural course, very undulating as you would expect for a rural course but with plenty of downhill to go with the inevitable uphill.

A quick lap to start

The conditions were blustery and I seemed to be running into a head wind for the whole race (always the head wind never a tail wind, why is that???) but the rain held off for the most part which was good and the temperature was perfect for distance running.

My tactics for the day were to push hard on the downhill and flat parts of the route to make up for the time that would be lost on the climbs, particularly the 2 mile climb from miles 10-12.

I was worried at mile 6 that I had covered the first 5 miles too fast as I started to feel heavy legged (the same feeling I would usually expect after 10 miles or so) and indeed this didn’t ease off for the rest of the race.

Thankfully I train a lot around Mow Cop so hills are more than familiar to me and I was making good ground on the climbs and overtook many runners on the uphill sections, which is always good for morale. Despite feeling a little heavy legged I was able to maintain a pace within my target average of 7.38 min/miles by pushing on the downhill to recover what I lost on the climbs.

The race was superbly marshalled and four drinks stations were positioned out on the course although the cups were tricky to drink out of on the move. Still they did the trick and kept me suitably hydrated as I pushed on.

As I hit 11 miles my slowed pace on the 10-12 mile climb led me to believe that I would not make my 1 hr 39 mins  target and a PB. Thankfully though, I had miscalculated and realised as much when I ran past the 12 mile point in 1 hr 31 mins . Freshly invigorated by the thought of a PB I dug deep and pushed hard for the last mile and was pleasantly surprised by my pace, covering the final mile in 7 mins 17 secs.

The finish was on the 100 metre straight back on the running track and the prize a nice technical tee shirt (and PB), much more useful than a medal which usually end up in the kids toy boxes.

Overall it was an enjoyable, friendly event made much more pleasant by the solid organisation and I would definitely take part again. Shame it wasn’t traffic free but the police were on hand to ensure that junctions were blocked and traffic directed sensibly. All in all, a good way to spend a Sunday morning.

Only a few hundred metres to go….almost there.

Only seven days until I do it all over again in Congleton……

My splits for the race are below: –

Split Time Moving Time Elevation Gain Elevation Loss Avg Pace Calories
1 07:04.5 07:03 30 24 07:04 151
2 06:58.5 06:59 0 62 06:59 155
3 07:33.7 07:33 15 0 07:34 156
4 07:00.9 07:02 12 62 07:01 153
5 07:21.1 07:20 15 92 07:21 156
6 08:12.6 08:06 149 0 08:13 156
7 07:48.4 07:48 75 40 07:48 157
8 07:49.0 07:50 31 95 07:49 156
9 07:53.4 07:53 83 69 07:53 153
10 07:19.4 07:19 0 162 07:19 155
11 08:37.8 08:38 135 0 08:38 155
12 08:13.1 08:13 103 14 08:13 155
13 07:17.3 07:18 40 70 07:26 151
 Summary 1:39:09.8 1:39:02.0 688 689 07:38 2,009

Taper Week

With the bulk of the hard work done and the Macclesfield Half only a few days away, a sensible and decent taper is the order of the day (or week) especially as I have the Congleton Half to run the following week and a dodgy shin to manage.

Thus far training has gone reasonably well with only one training day missed due to man flu and I’m raring to go. Typically, with the increase in training mileage (at least until this week) I have rediscovered my love of eating everything in sight, so it’s a good job that I’ve been training so much or I’d be on some ropey satellite TV show having my stomach stapled and being evacuated from my house by the fire brigade after they’ve had to demolish my front wall! As I write I’m shoving a big chicken sandwich in my face!

Now for the first time in living memory I have used and stuck to a training plan specific to the finish time I’m looking to achieve (Sub 1:40). This weeks schedule is a follows: –

Monday – 4 miles easy (9 min/mile pace)

Tuesday – 1 mile jog warm up followed by 10 x 1 min 30s repeats (7 min/mile pace) with 1 min jog recoveries followed by a 1 mile jog cool down

Wednesday – 3 miles easy recovery run ( 9 min/mile pace)

Thursday – 3 miles brisk (7 min 38s /mile pace)

Friday – Rest

Saturday – 3 mile easy (9 min/mile pace)

Sunday – Race Day 13.1 miles (target sub 1 hour 40 min)

Sunday will be interesting to see how much I can push it as I know the course is quite tough, undulating and hilly.

Here’s to hoping for a PB….lots to do based on my longer training runs but I’m fairly confident that if my shin holds up I might knock a few seconds off my PB of 1.39.57 set in the Potters Arf in 2011.

 

Hills are speedwork in disguise…

So claimed Frank Shorter and he was an Olympic Gold medal winning marathoner so who am I to argue.

Recently I decided to make a major change in my training strategy; gone are the long plodding training runs of old replaced by my first ever training schedule. The schedule encompasses the five S’s set out by Julian Goater (strength, suppleness, skill, stretching and psychology). More on those principles at a later date but on Wednesday evening, armed with  new found optimism I headed for the hills of Mow Cop or Castle Road to be exact.

Now anybody that knows Castle Road will know that the 0.17m stretch elevates over 100 feet of energy sapping climb, from the Mow Cop Inn to the highest point for miles around. Not as fearsome as the 1 in 4 stretch of Station Road that is part of the Killer Mile but tough all the same. Not to be deterred, I opted for 12 long reps at 80% effort with jog down recoveries. Each rep took on average 1:45, with a best effort on my last rep of 1:34. Hard work but surprisingly enjoyable, not least for the dog who got to bark at me on every rep up and down the hill. Definitely one to do again.

The psychological impact of getting used to running fewer miles to train smarter shouldn’t be underestimated. After years of thinking that hard miles were all that mattered, a new philosophy where this type of session is included takes some getting used to. I suppose it’s common sense to know that you should leave enough energy in your legs to be busting to get out of the door on the next session but runners are not renowned for common sense and I should know having run through countless injuries in the last few years.

I’ve definitely done more harm than good in the past and am suffering the effects still now but the realisation that it’s okay, or rather, imperative to do 4 mile recovery runs or repeat sessions and you don’t have to be exhausted at the end of each session has started to set in. It’s more about mixing it up, keeping things fresh and doing a variety of sessions to reduce the risk of injury and to keep interest levels up. Some hard, some not.

Having not been blessed with the right mix of fast twitch muscle fibre’s I’m never going to be at the front of the pack in a race. That said, I always want to be pushing myself to my absolute best and to achieve the targets I set out for myself. This new regime will hopefully help me do that and the proof of the pudding will be in the eating (or running) and fingers crossed that I arrive on the start line in Macclesfield, fit and ready to break that 1 hr 39 min mark on what will be a very challenging course.

About time too!!

Mirroring my initial foray into running back in 2006, after much procrastination I have decided to start writing my running blog.

The procrastination was down to the fact that I expect nobody to be interested in what I have to say. I’m not Mo Farah or Steve Cram so why would anybody care what I have to say about running. Then it came to me during a moment of clarity on my training run last night when I realised that I was sort of missing the point. The blog is for me to document my running and the trials, tribulations and achievements I experience along the way. I suppose it will act as a sort of catharsis for me and as a form of open diary for people to dip into if and when they like.

As I said, I’m no Mo Farah when it comes to running. I’m tall (over 6ft) and heavy (14 stone), more suited to rugby than distance running but why let genetics get in the way of a hobby. That said, I’m no slouch either, very much a middle of the pack athlete. I can run a half marathon in sub 1 hour 40 minutes and a marathon in under 4 hours. I tend to shy away from the easier courses and go for the more challenging events where personal bests are not generally on offer but my aim for what’s left of 2012 and 2013 (assuming the world doesn’t end on December 21st) is to run sub 1.30 for a half and sub 3.30 for a full marathon. Ambitious yes, but very achievable with plenty of hard work and the right training plan.

The reason for my optimism after years of marginal improvements and ‘junk’ miles, is a book that I’ve been reading called The Art of Running Faster by Julian Goater.

Goater is an ex international distance runner and Commonwealth Bronze medalist from the golden era of distance running in the days of Bedford, Jones, Spedding, Foster and Ovett. The book explains how to bring structure into your running and that coupled with my recent purchase of a Garmin GPS watch (and the wonderful Garmin Connect) has given me the impetus I need to push on. I will review the book in full at a later date but recommend it to anyone, whatever your standard, if you want to shave time of your PB’s and improve as a runner.

That’s enough for a first ‘proper’ post. Hopefully the first of many and who knows, maybe somebody might actually read them 😉

Dave Clarke 5k Trentham 23rd August 2012

My first proper 5k race!

Meerbrook 15k, August 4th 2012

No Meer mortal indeed. Even the hills had hills!! Killer race though, can’t wait to do it again.

“Every morning in Africa a gazelle wakes up. It knows it must run faster than the lion or it will not survive. Every morning in Africa a lion wakes up and it knows it must run faster than the slowest gazelle or it will starve. It doesn’t matter if you are the lion or the gazelle, when the sun comes up, you better be running.”

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