Week 2/52 – Back into the habit

I’ve enjoyed my running this week. I’ve trained everyday again for a total of 52 miles. I got back into the habit of running 10 milers in the week. The aim will be to build these up into 15 milers over the course of the next 5 weeks. Thursday’s run was perhaps the most enjoyable of these as the 8 minute miles felt comfortable again and it felt nice to be chipping away along an undulating road route.

On Saturday I ran Bolton parkrun as a steady effort. I was annoyed with myself for getting a bit carried away at the start, I need to remember the purpose of the sessions a bit more. I’m not remotely concerned that a steady effort is now the wrong side of 20 minutes (at least I’m not worried at this stage!)

Marcus Chester, Bolton parkrun
Bolton parkrun

On Sunday a group of us training for various marathons and an ultra ran a very enjoyable 15 miles on a mixture of roads, paths and trails. It’s great to do these runs without any time or pace pressure. It’s even better to put the world to rights and generally just enjoy the fresh air early on a Sunday morning. It felt great to be home and showered long before 11AM.

The target next week is to continue to chip away at the mileage. I’m planning on a couple of ten milers before running the Four Villages Half Marathon in Helsby on Sunday. On the back of this I’ll put my mind to a target for the Manchester Marathon in April.

Year to date: 98 miles

Bolton parkrun results


Week 1/52 – A tale of three parkruns

It’s not long after seven in the morning on New Year’s Day.  I’m in the carpark at Leverhulme Park. More precisely, I’m in my car looking at directions to a parkrun that is due to start at 8:30. I’m waiting for two Burnden Road Runners teammates that I have arranged to meet.  The plan is to drive over to Rochdale for the Watergrove parkrun at 8:30; trot round this; drive back to Bolton for the parkrun that is due to start at 10:00. Normal parkrun times have been altered because it is New Year’s Day. In honour of this, extra parkruns have been slotted into the schedule and the ‘double’ is now a recognised way to take advantage of the additional events on offer.

With the directions settled in my head, I wait for Katy and Aidy to arrive while reflecting on the fact that it’s over five years since I had a drink, let alone a hangover. New Year’s Day hasn’t always started so positively.  I’m grateful.

A quick pitstop for some coffee and we are on our way. We drive past houses that are still in darkness until we arrive at Watergrove Reservoir on the outskirts of Rochdale. There are already lots of runners here and lots of volunteers donning hi-vis making their way to the start.

We decide to jog for a while to get limbs… well, limber. A local parkrunner tells us that the course is hilly and that we are in for a treat. He isn’t wrong. Hilly it is. By the top of one of the two main assents that make up the course my lungs are protesting. I’m not fit at the moment having spent a lot of time since the start of October just jogging around or worse: resting. I’m trying to resolve this ongoing ache deep within my left hip.

But, the burning lungs aside, it’s a lovely enjoyable course. More like a fell race than a parkrun. I’m sweating by the time I meet my two clubmates. We exchange our views on the course and walk back to the car.

Next up: Bolton. By the time we arrive there it is already looking busy. We’ve twenty minutes to loosen legs before it’s off again, another 5K round Leverhulme Park. I can’t imagine ever being fed up of running around this course. It’s great, and before we know it, it’s over.

The rest of the week passes by just as quickly until I find myself lining up for the Sale Waterpark parkrun. By quirk of the calendar this will be the third parkrun in 6 days. I’ve never done this one before. It’s a simple out and back course along a section of the River Mersey. I muster a 6:23 first mile before taking my mind off it and allowing myself to drift. By the time I realise what I’ve done the second mile has passed in just under 7 minutes despite the course being almost pancake flat. I make an effort to get shifting again and manage another quicker mile and the finish arrives in 20:24.

I run 46 miles during the first week of 2018, and I end the week with a 12 mile ‘long run’ at just over 8:30 pace. It’s not fantastic, but it’s progress of a sort: my left hip is stiff rather than painful. Sometimes in running, that’s enough.

Year to date: 46 miles

Watergrove parkrun results

Bolton parkrun results

Hyndburn parkrun

With Bolton parkrun being iced off, I decided to make the 40 minute drive over to Hyndburn parkrun at Clayton-le-Moors.  The event takes place at Wilson Playing Fields. Although to be honest, on a cold, damp, dark winter morning ‘playing’ was far from my mind as I pulled onto the carpark.  Other runners were just about visible from behind steamed up windscreens, with only the odd one or two dedicated enough to venture out into the rain.  And then, as these things do, it suddenly stopped.  It was time for a quick change of shoes before jogging to warm up and find the start line.

Despite missing the first timers briefing, I was easily able to find where to go.  A path around edge of the field led to the familiar signs and high-vis that marks the all important start and finish.  A warm welcome by the run director and we were off.

Hyndburn parkrun. Muddy. Fun.

The first part of the course is uphill on some very solid trails.  Despite the heavy rain the running surface was great.  Wide enough for the runners who stormed ahead and substantial enough to get a good grip.  My left hamstring immediately started to complain of stiffness, but if I’ve learned anything over the past few weeks it is to relax more as this seems to help it to ease off. A sharp right at the top of the hill and the course follows some woodland paths along what I assume is the boundary of the park.  With houses visible on the left and the woodlands on the right the path dips and rises through the trees until it eventually reaches a turnaround point.  This is located off the paths.  The course winds through some off road stuff, that with the winter weather, had become seriously muddy.  I chose to cling to the outside edge of this in an attempt to stay upright in my road shoes and to avoid aggravating my hamstring and hip.  The turnaround being successfully negotiated, it was back on to the path and back to the start line.  Ample signs and volunteers requested that we all keep to the left so that runners don’t impede those coming in the opposite direction.  It’s a system that works really well.  The start line passed soon enough and then it was back out to complete lap two of this two lap course.

The end seemed to arrive quickly enough in 23:07.  It felt like a solid effort.  Not too hard, but not an easy run. I’m not going to dwell too much on the fact that it was nearly five minutes slower than my PB.  Things are what they are. This gives me a good indication of where I am at at this point in time.  There are 99 days left until the Manchester Marathon, and with the Christmas celebrations behind us, it’s time to get focused on this as my main goal for the first third of the year.

On the way home I took a slight diversion and drove past what used to be Darwen Moorland High School.  The site has now been completely demolished with just the odd pathway, tree or post signalling where the building used to be.


I spent six years of my life teaching English there before the school became an academy and subsequently moved to a new site in the centre of Darwen.  Some of my former colleagues have died.  Some have stayed in Darwen.  Some, like me, have moved on.  But, this morning, sweaty and muddy from an enjoyable parkrun, I thought of them all for a moment before heading for home and the promise of a new year.



parkrun, Wythenshaw parkrun, Marcus Chester, The Happy Teacher Podcast

These are the moments I run for

Running continually renews me; this much is evident to me.

It’s an odd paradox that through exhaustion I feel more alive, more refreshed, happier. It’s the stripping away of the layers of self that does it. In exhaustion my mind is liberated from everyday thoughts and I return home with a clarity of outlook that lasts until the next run.

I run to get some time away and time alone. It’s not that I want to be lonely; what I want is to be better when I return: there’s peace and exhilaration in exhaustion. I’m a better human when, through running, my jangled nerves are calmed and my senses are refreshed. Through exhaustion I gain the peace of mind that has, for so much of my life, eluded me.

Sometimes the renewal is sudden. There are times when while plodding along that the light through the trees penetrates my eyes at a different level and it resonates deeply. It would be hard to explain were it not so commonplace: one minute my thoughts are confused, tricky to make sense of; within the next footstep the assault to my senses from the outside world is so complete that the only thing to do is to stop and to stare. Thought stutters to a halt. I’m at peace.  It’s what every addict seeks.

Wythenshaw parkrun, 22 October 2016

These are the moments I run for. This is where running refreshes me in ways that progress measured by the stopwatch never could: to stop and stare at how the universe has brought me to this point at this time; to witness the early autumn light breaking through the trees of a park; to experience the damp rising from the grass.

The journey is always significant. Running is a daily reminder of that. It continually helps me to arrive at a renewed, refreshed state of mind.

This much is evident to me.

Burnage parkrun

One of the things that fascinates me about parkrun is the fact that each of the events has a slightly different feel to it.  You’d think that they would all be very similar given that, at heart, they are simply free 5K events at 9AM each Saturday morning.  But, with the changes in setting and location, size of the field, and the subtle organisational alterations it is clear that each offers something slightly different from its neighbour.

I was pondering this as I drove over to Burnage parkrun which starts and ends at Burnage Rugby Club, close to Manchester’s leafy suburb of Didsbury.  It was a glorious September morning, and even though my calf was throbbing away my mood wasn’t dampened at all.

After a few twists and turns through a nondescript industrial estate I found the rugby club – the car park already filling up with runners, and with families attending football training on some well maintained green spaces.  I checked where the start would be and set off to jog a couple of miles, both to understand the location better and to warm up my aching calf.  I really didn’t know that such a nice green space existed here.  Despite being a PGCE student just down the road in Disbury many years ago, I never ventured past the Parrs Wood entertainment complex; so it was with some surprise that I encountered dog walkers, other runners, and an abundance of wildlife just minutes from a very busy suburb of Manchester.  It made for a very pleasant warm up.


At 8:55 I made my way to the path that the run would set off from and was surprised to see more than 100 people already organising themselves into an appropriate starting position.  As the run director welcomed first timers and visitors to Burnage many more were arriving and the turnout looked very promising.  With a quick explanation of the course we were off.

The course itself is a twisty affair over good paths. It takes in sections alongside a river and consists of a couple of small and larger laps. A few steps at roughly half way through the large lap break your stride on a couple of occasions, but otherwise the course is relatively flat and smooth.  I wanted to run steadily: there would be little point in aggravating my calf.  This was fine; the only time I felt it tweak was on the turns as several of them are quite sharp. However, slowing down to an almost stop and then turning allowed me to maintain my position at 15th in the field without too much bother.

The second lap seemed to be over before it started, and with another sharp turn onto the rugby field for the final straight, the parkrun ended.

Despite taking it easy with my calf, and the acknowledgment that I’ll need another couple of weeks of easy jogging, it still made for an enjoyable morning.  Another recommended parkrun.


Marcus Chester, Marcus Chester runner, Bolton parkrun, parkrun, Burnden Road Runners

The benefits of a low battery

As a teacher I am fascinated by the challenge of helping people to push past their perceived limits.  I truly believe that we are all far more capable than we think.  Indeed, thinking too much can sometimes be counterproductive.

Here’s a recent personal example:

When ran my first Bolton parkrun  on Saturday 18 February 2012 my time was 25:46.  By 16 November 2013 I had managed to reduce this to 20:38 before my times plateaued.  I justified this by thinking:

  1. I was a returning runner and I was constantly stopping and starting training through niggles and injury.
  2. I was training for other things: marathons, and in 2015 IronmanUK – events that are much more about endurance rather than speed.

This rationalisation of the plateau remained until the day my Garmin battery ran out on 7 May 2016.

I found myself on the start line of the Bolton parkrun with many of my Burnden Road Runners friends wearing the club vest; we’d been asked to wear them as a way of promoting the club to the 300+ runners that were about to take part.  I looked down to my wrist and was met with a blank screen: the battery had died.   Without my watch I was forced to run on feel and I made the choice to run as hard as I could.  Luckily I had a faster club mate in front of me for most of the run and we took it in turns to push the pace along.  Without the feedback from my watch all I had go off was feel; and this is very different from running on feel at a known pace.  It was really hurting…but without the knowledge of the pace that was causing the pain it was just that: hurt and pain.

So I pushed on, crossed the line, jogged home.  I avoided any post-run discussion about the possible time that I had run, instead preferring to wait for the email to arrive later on in the day.  I thought that it would give me time to reflect on my run and try and come to a prediction about what my time would be.  In the end I couldn’t do it.  While waiting for my email I simply couldn’t work out what my time had been.  I knew that it hurt me a lot, but without that pain being anchored by the clock and given meaning through digits it was quickly forgotten.

It was then with some surprise that to find out that I’d taken 14 seconds off my previous best for the course.  It was a pleasing reminder to stop over-thinking things and just run.

Of course, there’s wealth of psychological theory to account for this.  But, I’ll save that for another post.  I don’t want to over-think the benefits of under-thinking!


Stretford parkrun #24

Yesterday morning I made the short journey round the M60 to Longford Park in Stretford for my first attempt at the Stretford parkrun.  It was only when I arrived at the car park that I realised this was one of the tracks that I ran on as a teenager nearly thirty years ago.  I had a vague memory of running the 1500 metres in a Greater Manchester schools meeting on this track; but like everything else about running from that era, I can remember very little and have no record of it.

I didn’t worry about that yesterday though.  I was here to run round the park with several hundred other runners to on a mild, sunny spring morning.  We were all lucky.  The rain that had hit Bolton during the night had abated and as I left the car to jog for a couple of miles the air had that great early morning freshness that makes being out at that time so worthwhile and enjoyable.

As I jogged round I said hello to the numerous volunteers who were setting out various parts of the course with cones and tape.  It’s brilliant that so many see the value in volunteering; no volunteers, no parkrun.  It was also pleasing to see that the parkrun looked like it was going to be on smooth dry paths with only a very slight incline on one part.

The course starts and ends with a lap of the track.  From this point it’s a two laps of the park affair, with an out and back section towards the end of each circuit.  As we lined up I thought that there must be around 350 runners so I made my way to the front line.  Even though I wouldn’t be running with the fastest guys I wanted to be away before the sharp right turn out of the track into the park.  I also wanted to set off hard as a consequence of my plan for the morning.  As I embark on marathon training for the Chester Marathon in October I wanted an indication of my fitness and running hard would allow me to gauge this.  As it was the effort felt hard but not flat out.  I just couldn’t muster my legs to turn over any quicker.  The hilly session on Monday with Burnden Road Runners and the hilly race on Wednesday had taken some of the sharpness out my legs.  However, I somehow managed miles of 6:23, 6:35 and 6:26.  This brought me home in 19:29 for 35th place from 426 runners.  A new PB; a result that I was delighted with.

Stretford is a great parkrun.  I’ll definitely return at some point for another hard effort.  The course allows for quick running and the enthusiastic shouts from the event director as I ran down the last 100 metres helped to make for a very enjoyable morning.