Chester Marathon week 2/18 – Freckleton Half Marathon

The aim of this week was simply to turn the mileage up slightly for the eighth consecutive week.  I managed to do this despite the best efforts of the increasingly warm days and evenings.  It’s not been easy though: Sunday’s Freckleton Half Marathon was hot.  It’s always a risk entering this event because it’s a 2PM start time in the middle of June…Sunday didn’t disappoint – it was the hottest day of the year so far.

On the start I made the conscious choice to take it easy, or at least as easy as I could given the heat.  I wrote last week that I thought that I could comfortably run a PB on this course; but with the sun blazing in a azure sky I put this to the back of my mind.  As it was I set off at 1:40 pace, but with stopping at every drink station I came in at 1:41:17 (74/431).  Although this time is off from where I want to be, I’m still pleased.  I’m pleased that I altered my plan and stuck to it.  Setting off too quickly would have made for a very miserable race indeed, and stopping to drink at every station (and stand under the showers) really did mean I could manage the heat.  I’m pleased that, despite the heat, a 1:40 half felt very comfortable from a pace perspective.  I’m also pleased that it has taken so little out of me.  Final pleasing note, I didn’t ease down for this race.  I ran 55 miles last week.

But, there is unfinished work here:

2012: 1:51:51

2013: 1:50:24

2015: 1:48:16

2016: 1:36:29

2017: 1:41:09

The rest of the week was made up of easy running, although I did a session on Tuesday which involved running strides.  Perhaps the most enjoyable run was Saturday’s Bolton parkrun because I volunteered to pace this at 27 minutes.  A steady start, and a negative split, meant that I came in at 26:54.  It was really pleasing to see people sprint past me on the track as they hit their sub 27 minute target.  It is always a pleasure to be able to give something back to running, and it’s nice to help others achieve the things that they want to.

Freckleton results

Last week’s training looked like this:

Monday: 6 easy miles with the dog

Tuesday: 8 miles with strides and stretching

Wednesday: 7 miles @ 7:13 m/m (hot)

Thursday: 6 miles very easy

Friday: 10 miles

Saturday: pacing at Bolton parkrun, warm up and cool down (hot)

Sunday: Freckleton Half Marathon

Total: 55.5 miles

Next week’s training continues with the aim of building the endurance base.  Mileage increases slightly and there are two hard sessions.  One is Bolton parkrun on Saturday and the second is either a hard five miles at the end of Tuesday’s or Wednesday’s run.  The heat will dictate which of these runs I do this on as I can only run at specific times again this week.

Chester Marathon week 1/18 – general election

After the ups, downs, and general confusion inherent in a general election week it was good to put my entry in for the Chester Marathon which takes place on 10 October; whatever spurious toing and froing is involved in forming a workable coalition, at least an autumn marathon lends a degree of certainty to training if nothing else.  It is now 18 weeks away.

With my only DNF at Blackpool in April, I’m obviously keen to redress the balance and give a good account of myself in October.  With the passing of time and an honest conversation with myself (and with a far more experienced runner who has lent me a supportive and challenging word or two) it’s clear why Blackpool ended in a DNF: I was simply undertrained. Or at least I was undertrained for what I wanted to achieve, which was a time between 3 hours and 3 hours 15 minutes.  Lesson well and truly learned.  I hadn’t done enough.

Since that point I’ve had one main objective: steadily increase the mileage. It’s clear that a serious attempt to get anywhere nearer to three hours in October is going to require running a far higher mileage than I have ever run before. With this in mind, I have spent the last 8 weeks building up to last week’s 53 miles.  The average for the last four weeks has been 50 miles per week.   Over the next few weeks I’ll be increasing this in order to get in the 80+ plus mile weeks which are outlined in the P+D schedule that I’ll be following.  So far it feels manageable.  Just.

But it’s not all been about getting the miles in, I’ve also managed to get some quality work in too.  Obviously, given that I spent a lot of time last year limping around with an injury, I’ve been mindful of my right calf.  My main concern this year is remaining injury free.  However, I’ve managed to run a 5K PB of 18:27; I’ve set a Bolton parkrun PB of 19:29; run a 10 mile PB (for training) of just under 1:09. I’ve also had good runs in the Haigh Hall trail race and Henderson’s End fell race…

Marcus Chester, Marcus Chester runner, Henderson's End Fell Race, Burnden Road Runners

…all of which sets me up nicely for the next 17 weeks.  I’ve also done some fartlek and hill rep sessions as a way of starting to get my legs to turn over a bit quicker and to prepare them for the sessions to come.  I’ve also managed to get my weight down to 12St 8Ibs and I have had moments where I have felt much easier and freer while running.  At 6 feet 2 inches, I could still afford to lose more – and every pound lost is one less to carry around 26.2 miles – but I’m certainly not going to get caught up in the trap of obsessing about it.

Marcus Chester, Marcus Chester runner, Bolton parkrun

The schedule for the 18 week build up is based on that outlined in the book Advanced Marathoning,  After speaking to various sub 3 marathoners and assiduously reading everything that I can online, this appears to be the schedule that many place their trust and confidence in.  I’ve spoken through my plans with another runner and have had to tweak some of the sessions to fit around family and work commitments.  I’ve also had to adjust a few sessions so that I can accommodate the club races that I want to take part in; but I trust what sub 3 hour runners have told me and I’m electing to stick as closely as I can to the plan as is set out in the book.

 

So, last week’s training looked like this:

Monday: warm up, Burnden Road Runners club challenge timed uphill mile, cool down

Tuesday: really easy 3 miles (legs still felt battered from last Thursday’s fell race!)

Wednesday: 12 @ 7:31 pace

Thursday: easy 5 miles

Friday: easy 10 miles off road

Saturday: Bolton parkrun @ 6:54 pace 

Sunday: AM – easy 5, PM – 9 @ 8:11 pace (family commitments meant I had to split the runs)

Total: 53.6 miles

Next week’s training introduces structured strides on Tuesday with a session including 10 x 100 metres.  The main event for the week is the Freckleton Half Marathon on Sunday.  My target time here is, naturally, 1:29:30 which equates to 6:49 miles.  This will be right on the edge of my comfort zone at this point in time.  I ran a couple of recents 10 miler at 6:48 pace, whether I could hold on for another 3 miles is highly debatable, but I’m up for the challenge.  Either way, with a PB of 1:36:12 (set at Freckleton last year), I’m confident of being able to smash this. Freckleton is a relatively fast, flat course and the thirteen miles of the race should take my mileage for this week to 57.

What goes up

I’ve always enjoyed running uphill.  I think it’s probably because I have always equated running with struggling; I’m not a natural runner.  I’m a struggler.  So I enjoy the pain that running uphill invariably brings because it reminds me of the things that I’ve struggled with, and struggled against, and struggled for.  It’s a long list.  I enjoy the burning sensation in my lungs.  I’m not quick enough of a runner to make my lungs really, really ache on the flat.  I just can’t run fast enough; my legs won’t pay any heed to my thoughts to get a move on.  There is a disconnect between my nerves and my muscles and my subsequent shuffle is too sedate to really challenge my heart and lungs.

But uphill is another matter; when running uphill I gain the searing sensation across my chest that is the precursor to feeling cleansed from the inside out and I love this feeling.  I cherish the idea that, somehow, with each gasping breath we are renewed.  On some level each fading footfall brings us closer to who we could be and the mistakes of the past recede into an ever-diminishing memory.  We gain perspective when we sweat.

Of course, it’s all too easy, after the pain has receded, to make this sound philosophical.  While racing uphill in the brilliant Mast Race a couple of week ago I was hardly thinking of anything at all.  And for me, this is always good thing.  The brutal uphill slog of Bolton’s Smithill’s Dean Road required a simple and unthinking focus: breathe.  So, it was a welcome and meditative climb through the fog which after a mile cleared to reveal a stunning morning sun.  Over Coal Pit Lane we rose and beyond to the icy paths that lead up to the television mast that sits atop of Winter Hill.  I breathlessly reached the turn around point at just over three miles in ninth place, took another deep gasp and turned back to run the way we came.fullsizeoutput_5bd6

On the downhill I remember thinking that I must avoid the ice which glistened in the relative warmth of the clearer air.  It was just as well that I did: some runners obviously came unstuck and returned to the finish clutching grazed limbs.  I also had thoughts of being caught; I’m just too timid to let everything go when running downhill.  I make the fatal mistake of projecting into an imaginary future.  Before I’ve run very far I’ve ended up falling, breaking my leg, smashing my pelvis, dying, burying myself, imagining my own funeral…  The worst thing is that I know that I’m doing it, and I know how to stop doing it.  But, in the time that it takes me to organise my thoughts, I have invariably tightened up a little and such tightness is the enemy of the little speed that I only occasionally manage to muster.  An impromptu self-coaching session with just a touch of cognitive behavioural therapy saw my head back in the game.  Ultimately, I didn’t lose too much ground by gingerly stepping over the rocky path that marked the last mile on the uphill and the first of the downhill.  I was only passed by two runners on the downhill, and on the line another dipped for eleventh place leaving me twelfth.  I’m delighted with this progress because there have been many occasions in the past where I’ve been caught by countless others when running downhill.  But perhaps more pleasing still was the fact that I left the race thinking that I’d put as much into it as I could at the end of a week of hard training.

Marcus Chester, Marcus Chester runner, Mast Race, running, Bolton, Burnden Road Runners
The Mast Race

This metaphorical climbing continued with a solid 19:17 in the Stretford parkrun two weeks later.  Despite putting in some hard sessions and a higher mileage I felt great all the way round and was pleased to get a PB despite deliberately holding back at the start.  It felt good to be running at faster than target marathon pace and to feel controlled.  I was working hard towards the end, as I started to pick off some places, but at no point did I tip over into it becoming a battle against lactic acid and dwindling confidence.

So, two solid timed efforts, and back to back weeks of hard training should have meant that I felt good at Sunday’s Central Lancs 5K.  This race is the first of the Central Lancs Grand Prix races, and with it being the first official race of the club championship I wanted to hold my own and run as well as I could.  In the end, it simply wasn’t to be.  I’d incurred the early morning wrath of Mrs C by leaving the house in the first place.  I don’t blame her.  I’d spent all day on Saturday unable to move from bed having been laid low with some sort of bug; I literally couldn’t summon the energy to move.  Every trip to the bathroom to refill my water glass hurt my hips.  Although I wasn’t sick I could not abide the thought of eating.  I believe that I was suffering from what the medics call ‘Being Knackered’.  I slept for six hours during the day and ten hours on Saturday night.  By Sunday morning I felt a lot better, although it must be said that it’s all relative.  By the time the 5K had left the track, a mere 300 metres into the race, I knew that it’d been foolish of me to even start.  My legs felt detached and a day of eating very little had left me feeling totally drained.  Three miles later, and a very uncomfortable 20:52, I wandered over to Mrs C and the children relieved that it was over.

Blackpool marathon: 61 days to go.

Results (Mast 10K)

Results (Stretford parkrun)

Results (Central Lancs 5K)

Casey Neistat – My Addiction

Casey Neistat is a prodigiously talented film maker.  His youTube channel is testimony to his skill in allowing the everyday and the commonplace to speak.  There’s an undoubted truth in his work.  His relaxed visuals and humorous approach belie an almost obsessive attention to the details, the patina, and the texture of life.

His latest offering resonated with me on so many levels.  Not long ago I wrote a short piece about why I run.  Neistat’s film energetically explores a similar question and it’s wonderful.

Toenails and Tracks

On New Year’s Day I cut my toenails; I really wish that I hadn’t.

Or rather I really wish I had managed to cut them properly.  I somehow slightly misjudged the angle of one little clip.  Instead of cutting straight across the top, I had somehow managed to cut diagonally into the side of the toe.  For reasons unknown, this resulted in the underside of the nail becoming infected, and over the course of the next two days I saw the nail bed progress from healthy to burning red to a white hot patch.  Luckily, a few days later, things came to a head (literally and metaphorically), and some improvised minor surgery with a sterilised pin, plenty of Dettol and hot water, and, some questionable language later, the mess that was causing pressure underneath the nail oozed forth in a stream of puss.  The relief was great; although the smell wasn’t.

As I get older I keep thinking that running’s real gift is finding new ways to taunt me with dubious injuries.  It’s a generous gift too; it keeps on giving.  Only a couple of months before I’d broken a different toe without ever fully understanding how I’d managed to do it.  The resulting missed training was only slightly less frustrating than the fact that the only explanation I could give for the intense bruising of foot and blackness of mood was that, ‘I put my foot down on an uneven bit while running downhill’.  On saying this for the hundredth time (by way of accounting for my ungainly lumbering around at work), I got a glimpse of someone looking at me as if they thought I was vacant.  Or simply an idiot.  Either way, nothing reminds you more about the weird things that happen to your body as you approach a certain age than, well, the weird things that happen to your body as a consequence of running.

Mind you, I don’t need to be running.  When I started getting active again a few years ago I somehow managed inflict a bewildering injury upon my back while turning in my sleep.  This sort of decrepitude was simply unfathomable in my youth.  I approached my health and general wellbeing with the insouciance and diffidence that characterised my younger self.  Perhaps we all do.  The beauty of running is the comforting contradiction that it brings: we can rage against the dying of the light, but there is no guarantee that our bodies will always hold up.  But mostly they do.  And that is comforting.

Apart from my right calf.  That’s not comforting.  Unless you count the alarming regularity with which it starts to throb and nag away; then it’s only comforting in its predictability.  Just days after a track session it started to tighten again.  In a way, I’m pleased that it did.  Looking back over my Strava for the last year it is clear what causes it to complain.  It’s not running hard, or races, or marathons.  It’s the track.  There are two positives here.  The first is the fact that I have no desire or ambition to run or race on the track.  The second is that I don’t need to train on a track in order to make progress in the marathon.  The negative is the fact that the local track session on a Wednesday is brilliant.  It’s a great mix of people, speeds, talents and efforts.  It would be great to be able to do these and get something out of the sessions, but alas, it’s not to be.

There is another reason why I’m pleased that it throbbed.  It reminded me of the importance of setting a clear objective for the purpose of each session.  To be honest…I let this slip.  I’d planned for a fartlek session, which given that I was still on holiday, I could have done off-road and in the light.  This would have allowed me to run a bit quicker in a less structured way.  At this stage in marathon training it was precisely the session I needed to do.  There was a reason I had planned it.  Instead I mistakenly opted for the track; l ended up slipping my way through a session which, at this stage of marathon training, was inappropriate.  It wasn’t even a vaguely relevant session.  Result: aching right calf.  And, like the toenail incident, it meant not missed runs, but much shorter, easier ones.  Lesson well and truly learned.  It’s the last time it will happen.

Other than that this has been a productive few weeks.  As I write this on Tuesday 23 January I’ve run every day this month for a total of 152 miles.  I’m not going to obsess about the fact that I’d planned for around 35 more at this stage.  Pleasingly, yesterday’s run with the Burnden Road Runners marathon training group was a hilly 9.5 miles with the last 3 all under 7 minute miles.  To be close to marathon pace at the end of a hilly run (even if it was only 9.5 miles) is a nice little confidence boost.  But the real value of this month has been the timely reminder not to take any of this too seriously.   Yes, I want to make progress; yes, I want to fulfil my potential, particularly in the marathon; but perhaps most of all, I want to remember to wear my glasses the next time I cut my toenails.

Sixteen weeks to go…

Ok then…

Obviously, New Year’s Day lends itself to reflection and projection: learning what you can from the past and setting goals for the future.  Three weeks ago I wrote about my goal to break three hours at the Blackpool Marathon in April.  It’s now 16 weeks until marathon day, and with the Christmas break now over it is time to get focused on doing everything that I can to realise this ambition.

In the last three weeks I have: 

  • Run 92 miles, an average of just over 30 miles per week.  My intention for this period of time was to tick over through the Christmas period, and I feel that I’ve done this productively.  However, the next few weeks will see this average mileage increase steadily.
  • Placed first in a parkrun.  Admittedly it was against the smallest parkrun field that I’ve ever competed against!  But, it felt nice to come first in something.  The results are here.
img_2718
Chadderton Hall parkrun, 17/12/16 – First

02/01/17 – 08/01/17

The aim for the next week is to bookend the week with a couple of long steady runs.  Monday’s will be 12 miles at 8:40 minute miles and Sunday’s will be 13 at 8:30.  I’m going to complete a parkrun on Saturday and the target time for this is 20 minutes.  On Wednesday I’ll do a track session with the group that meets at Leverhulme.  Like last week, the emphasis will be on form rather than on flat out speed.  I don’t want to overreach myself, particularly in the early stages of the training.  All other running will be recovery runs/easy runs for a total of 50 miles.

Another aim for the week is to start to cross train.  I’m using body weight exercises and the emphasis is simply to become much stronger throughout the core.  These will be mixed with some stretching.  There will be some element of this each day.

Marcus Chester, Marcus Chester runner, Bolton parkrun, parkrun

Finally, nutrition.  I’m not adopting any formal plan for this, but I will be following some rules to ensure that I get onto the start in April feeling healthy and 28 pounds lighter.  The main rule is to completely cut all refined food.  As my weight has stabilised around 13 stones (down from 21), I have been less strict with the amount of refined food (particularly sugar) that I have consumed.  I’m not really happy with this, and I know that the effect of this are deleterious on both general wellbeing and performance.  A central plank of placing greater emphasis on nutrition will be through using the Nutribullet.  This really is a great way of making quality, nutritious drinks within a matter of minutes.

So, whatever challenge you are planning, I wish you well.  We can all #BeHappier.

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.

Blackpool Marathon (2017)

Sunday 23 April 2017.

It’s a significant date: Shakespeare’s probable birthday.  St George’s Day.  And, of course, the day when I’ll break three hours for the marathon.

I’m nowhere near capable of doing this now.  On Saturday I ran Bolton parkrun in 21:00 – Although this was not a flat out effort it is indicative of how fit (or unfit) I am.  Other indicators of how difficult this challenge are:

My marathon PB is 3:40 set in Manchester 2015 – this was subsequently found to be a short course!

My half-marathon PB is 1:38:29

MY 10K PB is 41:15

My parkrun best this year is 19:29

So, putting it bluntly, the chance of achieving this is pretty low.  That is my first thought, but as I said here, just because your first thought seems natural is not a good enough reason to act as if it is the only way of viewing things.

I’ve been using this blog as a way of demonstrating some ways in which I’ve learned how to become more fulfilled and happier.  One of my main motivations for doing this is to promote my belief that through striving to realise our potential we can become more fulfilled.  I believe that it is time to practise what I preach with regard to running.  I am to become my own experiment: I am to become my own coach and coached.

I think I’ve learned some important lessons over the last few years about how to extract every last drop of willingness out of myself.  Outstanding teaching has at its heart the conviction that we can all be so much more than we initially think.  It’s time to utilise this belief with regards to running.

Now, I run mainly because of the positive impact that it has on my happiness and wellbeing, and this will continue to be the case.  But, I’m intrigued by the simple question of how fast I can become over such a challenging distance.  It would be dishonest of me to train for this marathon and then subsequently blog or podcast about how I’m not really bothered about the time I’m aiming for.  The truth is that although I recognise the totally arbitrary nature of breaking 3 hours, I am also highly motivated to do so.  I want to be honest with my intentions.  I don’t want to say to people that I’m not concerned about what time I run when really I am.

So, I’ve made my intention public.  My target is verging on the delusional.  But, I hope you’ll see that (for me) being transparent about what I want to achieve is a great way (for me) of getting focused, gaining momentum, and remaining committed.

I also hope you’ll see that if I can do this with my own very obvious lack of innate talent, then maybe you can turn your hand to whatever it is that you want to achieve but have, maybe, been putting off.

I’ll be posting a weekly update right here.

Target:

To run the Blackpool Marathon on Sunday 23 April 2017 in a time of sub 3 hours.

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.

img_2420

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.

Results

Freckleton Half Marathon

The Freckleton Half Marathon has been a fixture on the road running calendar for the past 52 years.  It’s easy to see why: a flat course and great organisation is always a good starting point.  Add to that some good course support, a carnival-like atmosphere at the start and the finish, and it becomes a very attractive way to spend a Sunday afternoon.  Oh yes, it’s a 2 o’clock start time too.

So it was with a positive sense of expectation that we made our way over to Freckleton on Sunday.  I had spent time in the week thinking about a target time for the race and had settled on 1:35:00.  I was looking forward to a solid run.

My body had other ideas.  I ran a disappointing 1:36:39 (93/488).  Not disappointing for missing my target time by 90 seconds; disappointing because of the manner in which I missed it.  Once again, like Manchester in April, I felt empty.  From the outset this race was a real struggle: breathing, legs, and stomach all seemed out of sync and I felt like I lumbered along the course.  I really do need to reflect on why this is the case, but even summoning the energy to do this properly seems like a step too far.

Perhaps I need a break.

Results