Marcus Chester, Marcus Chester runner, Bolton parkrun, parkrun, marathon training, Chester Marathon

Chester Marathon week 3/18 – Betting on Zero

The aim of this week was to continue to slightly increase the mileage.  It’s now been nine weeks of upping the running, and this week came in at just over 61 miles.  I’ve found myself going out running without thinking about it too much, and I’ve certainly not needed to talk myself into it.

I’ve also spent time this week watching the documentary Betting on Zero.  On the surface this could be seen as a dry account of two prolific investors squaring off with each other over the investing in, and shorting of, stock in the company Herbalife.  However, it’s much more than a drama being played out between two Wall Street big hitters.  Not only does it open the viewer’s eyes to the ways in which these types of companies operate, it also explores aspects of trust, faith, and the often mistaken belief that we can all make it if we work hard enough.  It’s often a dishonest assertion, and yet it’s one that is ruthlessly promoted by one side of the argument in this film.  It’s a fascinating and sobering film.  It left me being reminded of the old truism that if it looks too good and sounds too good to be true…then it probably is. 

Thankfully, running is a much simpler business, or at least it is if you keep it that way.  And it would seem that some people don’t.  I’ve been bombarded this week with adverts on Facebook for all sorts of running related gadgets and gizmos with the implication that they can help me to get faster, recover better, and generally be a quicker runner.  Perhaps these frivolities avoid another truism: you get out what you put in.  Admittedly, only now am I beginning to realise that I haven’t actually ever put that much into it.  I’ve always played it safe; always held back; always stopped long before I’ve actually found out what I can really do.  Previously, I’ve bet on zero, or at least acted as if that’s all I’m capable of getting from running.  I suppose if there is one thing that I have learned in steadily increasing my mileage, it’s that I want it.  I’m ready to work hard, really hard.  I’m ready to put as much as I can into this marathon build up. 

Marcus Chester, Marcus Chester runner, Bolton parkrun, parkrun, marathon training, Chester Marathon
Bolton parkrun (Photo: Dave Hitchen)

So, this week’s training looked like this:

Monday: 6 miles recovery

Tuesday: 10 miles at 8 m/m

Wednesday: 9 miles with miles 2-8 as progression

Thursday: 7 miles recovery

Friday: 10 miles at 8 m/m

Saturday: Bolton parkrun (6th in 19:47)

Sunday: 14 miles easy

It’s clear where the focus needs to start to move towards.  The aim of the coming week is to continue to build the base and increase the miles.  However, I also need to increase the pace of some of the runs.  Bolton parkrun came in at 6:25 m/m which is the nearest thing to quality that I ran all week.   Other than a couple of low 7 m/m in the progression session on Wednesday, it’s been all easy running.  With the aim of increasing the quality of some of the running, I’m going to do a 5K race on Sunday.  This is a club race, so there should be a healthy element of competition and plenty of runners to aim for.  I’m also going to run the last 5 miles of Wednesday’s long run at a pace that is just under 7 m/m.  On Tuesday there is the inclusion of 10 x 100 metres of strides in an otherwise steady run.  Other than that, I’ll be keeping an eye on my pace during all of the runs, and making sure that unless they are recovery runs, that the pace is turned up just a notch.

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Marcus Chester, Marcus Chester runner, Freckleton Half Marathon, Burnden Road runners

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.

Marcus Chester, Marcus Chester runner, The Happy Teacher Podcast

We Are All Made Of Molecules – or a hot seven miles

Just in front of my house lies the start of one of my favourite runs.  By taking the path that lies at the southern edge of the estate where we live it is easy for the off-road runner to pick up the trails that lead down through Moses Gate and beyond.  This afternoon I did just that.  Picking up the old canal, now completely filled in with vegetation and the passing of time, I made my way down to Bolton Canal and out towards Radcliffe.

I really should have waited.

It’s been very warm today, and running at 4:45PM rather than, say, 8PM was a mistake that I felt within the first mile.  Unusually, I was sweating so profusely that my eyes were stinging and my top felt heavy and uncomfortable.  But hey…we are all made of molecules and mine were doing what they should – leaving me rapidly.

It’s not the first time that the title of Susin Nielsen’s young adult novel has been brought to the front of my mind.  It’s bugged me ever since I read it a few week ago.  It centres around two narrators.  Stewart is ‘geeky, gifted but socially clueless’, while Ashley is ‘cool, popular but her grades stink’.  They are forced together because his dad and her mum have decided to live together.  Stewart still grieves the loss of his mum; Ashley is still annoyed at her dad for being gay.  Within the first few pages Stewart (like many a male narrator since The Curious Incident…) is mapping out his world in diagrams and with a mathematical lexis that, well, doesn’t quite add up.  Ashley is even less sympathetic and wants to become ‘unconstipated.  Wait.  That’s not right.  I keep having to look it up.  I mean emancipated.’  Her lack of precision, or even correctness with words, is not only annoying, it serves little purpose other than to reenforce the stereotype that girls can’t ever be seen as being bright, or if they are then they are definitely devoid of personality.

Like my run, I struggled to the end of the novel.  It raises some serious issues and then almost serenely passes over them as the plot moves on.  Whether this is because Nielsen’s perception of youngsters is that they don’t have the attention span for depth, or simply because the novel is devoid of any coherent centre to which the molecules of narrative adhere, is not really clear.  What is clear is that, like my run, I was glad when it ended.

 

 

Marcus Chester, Henderson's End, Henderson's End Fell Race, Burnden Road Runners, Happy Teacher Podcast

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.

Hide and seek gets serious

Hide and seek in the park with my children reminds me about the importance of prioritising happiness over anything else.

Together we can all #BeHappier
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Feedback

I’m feeding back to Yr11. They have just completed mock examinations in GCSE English Language and GCSE English Literature.  The process has several aims.  The broader aim is to provide accurate information about where the cohort is at this point in time.  We know what the targets are; we need to know how are they performing in relation to those.  The narrower aim is to ensure that individual students know their strengths and area for development.  They need clear instruction on how to improve.  This is the most important outcome.

Ok, so far so straightforward.  We all know the evidence: formative assessment with lots of feedback, alongside structured opportunities to use that feedback, enhances achievements.  It seems self-evident.  And yet my through my reading and lurking on various threads I’m not convinced that, as teachers of English, we have fully grasped what feedback is (and isn’t).  Even a short spell on Twitter reveals an abundance of methodological and pedagogical approaches towards what (in my mind anyway) has always been simple.  My theory is that the exponential growth of ways in which we provide feedback is probably linked to a collective nervousness about what constitutes outstanding practice.  I’ve certainly seen many examples of feedback strategies that appear to prioritise form over content; image over impact.  But it’s just a theory…

Of the thousands of lessons that I’ve taught and the hundreds I’ve observed, these are the salient points around which I base practice.

Feedback is not advice or guidance; it’s not a judgement.  Feedback is framed by its reference to goals.  In the English examinations this means that comments should relate to the purpose of the piece.  Any comments can only be considered to be feedback if they relate to being on track towards meeting that goal or if the student needs to think about a different strategy in their attempt to meet that goal.

Feedback needs to be clear; it is not feedback if the student has to work out what they think you mean.  Feedback should be tangible and explicit.  It should be evident what the student needs to do to improve because feedback needs to be actionable.  Students should know what they need to do more or less of next time round in order to improve.

Feedback is for the students only.  Feedback is not the place for a teacher to demonstrate their own subject knowledge, or the place to demonstrate that they are meeting their own performance targets. If the student cannot understand it, if it is too technical, if it is confusing, or if there is simply too much of it it becomes counterproductive.

Feedback is timely; the sooner the student gets it the better.  It doesn’t need to be immediate, but the memory of the learning needs to be fresh and clear.  Timely feedback can be sought in a range of places and contexts.  Peer assessment and review can be really useful in this regard if students have been taught what feedback is and isn’t.

Feedback should be ongoing.  This means that there should be plenty of opportunities to make use of it. Highly performing people in all areas of life have the learned ability to very quickly adapt and adjust their performance in light of feedback.  The value of formative assessment is the fact that it precedes summative assessments.  Their is little (if any value) to feedback if there isn’t the subsequent opportunity to make use of it.

Feedback should be consistent; the more accurate it is the better.  This means (particularly at this point in the development of the new specifications) that teams should be standardising, moderating, sharing, discussing, and focusing on how marks are being allocated.  Avoiding the inevitable “we don’t know what these grades mean” should be a priority.  We know what sophisticated reading and writing looks like; that should be the starting point for embedding consistency.

Review: Running, Ronnie O’Sullivan (Orion Books, 2013)

Perhaps Ronnie O’Sullivan’s autobiographical account of how running has anchored his life should be called Meandering.  Running seems too simple, too direct as a title for a book that, at times, descends into a disjointed series of tales about periods of his life that have been dominated by snooker, drinking, smoking, and yes, running.

I came to this book with high expectations.  I’d listened to him on marathon talk a few years back and was intrigued by how he came to run 10K in 34 minutes.  Although I know very little about snooker, I knew enough about O’Sullivan to assume that he must have seriously cleaned his life up to enable him to go from being overweight and drinking alcoholically, to someone who could knock off a 10K so robustly.  Perhaps that was wishful thinking on my part; perhaps part of my disappointment with Running is the fact that I like tales of redemption, of clearing out the wreckage of the past, and of starting afresh; this autobiography seems a tad reluctant to go beyond the acknowledging of his character flaws into a more considered and mature narrative.

However, it must be said that there are some elements of maturity within the book. O’Sullivan describes periods of his life in which he seems to want to devote his entire time and energy to running.  But there is such a lack of detail of either the physical or emotional journey that this entails that the reader is left feeling a little short changed.  There is no significant insight into how he achieves such periods of stability.  He drops a few names (the sports psychologist Professor Steve Peters is one of them) and he mentions some of the detail of how he accomplished rare periods of calm, but the issue with the book is that it not exactly meticulously or even solidly outlined.  In this respect the book lurches from one period where he seems to have it all together…to another in which he quiet clearly hasn’t.  The result is an addiction narrative with, ironically,  a lack of substance.  It’s neither a book about running, or snooker, or drugs, or life, or insight, or psychology…despite touching on all of these topics at various stages it simply meanders along.  But, and this is important, it does capture something authentic of O’Sullivan’s mindset as both he and the narrative lurch from episode to episode.  Maybe the book is masterful in the way that it’s disjointed; perhaps it’s a transparent depiction of O’Sullivan’s uneven way of understanding the world.  Perhaps.

That’s not to say the book is without strengths either.  I completely admire the honesty with which he lays bare his demons as he talks about the psychological difficulties that he still encounters.  The only way in which mental health issues are ever going to be treated with the same respect as physical difficulties is through such openness and honesty.  In this respect the autobiography succeeds as it depicts O’Sullivan as arrogant as he is frail; as masterful on the table as he is feeble; as professional as he is flawed.  It reads like a chat with a likeable human; rounded yet throughly imperfect.  It’s overwhelmingly clear how much he benefits from the cleansing discipline that running brings to his life.  I hope he continues to run more than he drinks.