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.
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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.

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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

Dog Happy

Our lives are busy, and unless we take the time to evaluate what is important, they can become busier with each passing year.  When this happens we sometimes make the mistake of thinking that we’ll be happier at a given (and arbitrary) point in the future.  This futile thinking really is one of the easiest ways to sabotage our chances of being happy in the moment.

It is to this thought that I turn my attention in episode one of  The Happy Teacher Podcast.

I say, let’s keep it simple.  Let’s try and be dog-happy.

 

The Happy Teacher Podcast 

Episode one out Saturday 1 October 2016

#BeHappier

Perspective

One of the common themes that occurs in coaching conversations is that of perspective. It’s easy to see why.  When people reach out to a coach or a mentor they often want a different perspective on whichever issue they have committed to resolve.  Coaching can help clients to see things differently and a good coach is able to ask questions that facilitate this.  It’s all about perspective.

I was reminded of this last week when we took a family trip to the observatory at Jodrell Bank. The main attraction is the Lovell Telescope, an incredible feat of ingenuity and engineering.  Of course it has to incredible because, after all, it is an integral part of Manchester University’s attempt to play its part in unlocking the mysteries of the universe.  So it’s massive.  Huge.  People visit and stand before it like the monument of science, physics and astrology that it is.  I know this to be true; I did exactly that.

And it was with reverential tones that others spoke of the telescope’s size.  Children exclaimed and read aloud signs that proclaimed how many double decker buses could fit inside the giant bowl pointing at the sky.  Throughout the whole of the viewing area hushed voices delighted when the enormous structure started to turn, to move, to track who knows what however many eons away.

But of course, this is just one possible perspective.  It’s all too easy to fall into line and see what others see, or to observe what you are expected to observe, and to say the right words in the right tone of voice.  Shift your perspective and it’s plain to see how absurd the whole place is: there is a sign when you enter that asks the reader to consider the age of the universe, some 14 billion years.  In the face of such information the telescope is insignificant; it’s a speck so infinitesimally small that it is ridiculous to suggest otherwise.  Indeed, it is only by acknowledging the absurdity of a tiny metal structure pointing at the stars that the value of the work completed there is brought into focus.  The brilliance of the place lies in the fact that it reminds us all that our perspectives are human, they are fallible, sometimes broken, and often just the result of accepting things at face value.

Through coaching conversations clients have the time, space and opportunity to evaluate the things that they are  currently accepting without question.  Coaching works because it utilises the skills of the coach in bringing into a different focus whatever issue is besetting the client. Coaching works because, like the wonder that is the Lovell Telescope, the answers are less important that the willingness to ask the right questions.

If you’d like to discuss how coaching can be of benefit in your life, you can get in touch.  I’d love to hear from you.  You can click here to find out more.

 

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

A work in progress

I wrote the following in September 2002.  I was new in post as Second in English at Darwen Moorland High School (which closed in August of 2008).  I was a participant in a project that was coordinated by the Excellence in Cities initiative.  The writing was an attempt to reflect on learning, teaching, and progress in a school that, twelve months later, would be placed into Special Measures by Ofsted. 

“Yeah, it works. The plug’s a bit funny though. You might need to push it into the socket really hard.”

And with that my colleague leaves, heel-clicking his way down the ‘O Block’ corridor while happily singing a line from ‘Home On The Range’.

I look up hoping to see twenty nine faces.  Instead what meets me is an assortment of youngsters, most of whom are looking anywhere but at the front of the room; all I can see are the sides of their heads.  They look like they would rather be anywhere else but in my GCSE English class.  They aren’t misbehaving…yet.  They do look decidedly disinterested in what I am about to impart. Some chew gum; some attempt an impromptu experiment to test the strength of chair legs; some look timid, shy, embarrassed to be here; and others look like most teenagers I’ve worked with previously: a bewildering mixture of confidence, timidity, nervousness, arrogance, wit, and intelligence.

I push the plug in to the socket as hard as I can.

The TV screen is tiny. It is one of those TV/VHS combos and it represents the extent of the technology that I have to work with; oh, I also have a black marker pen.  Other than that it is going to be relationships, relationships and relationships that will get me to a position where I can teach well enough for the students to complete the five pieces of missing coursework.  At least I think that it is five.  No-one really seems to know exactly what they have completed.

I’ve devised a piece of media coursework that compares two film texts.  More specifically it aims to compare the  CGI violence in some scenes from Gladiator with the slapstick violence in There’s Something About Mary.  I think that the choice of material, alongside the focus for the assessment, will generate some interest, and by using that as a starting point I can build some momentum with a group that the Headteacher describes as ‘challenging’.  It’s little wonder.  They have had a succession of supply teachers throughout Year Ten, including one who liked to play guitar to them.  What they haven’t had is the structured opportunity to complete any of their coursework.  Now, with their final year underway, they know that they are behind.

I press play.

Someone shouts, “It’s crap, this.”

I press pause.

Problem.  The comment is loud and aimed in my direction.  I have no idea who said it though.  It is to be my first test.  But, before I can do anything about it it happens again, only this time it is accompanied by laughter.

“It’s crap, this.”

Now I’ve only been teaching for two years.  I don’t have the experience to defuse this situation with a group that I don’t know.  I do however have my marker pen. So I decide to write it out on the whiteboard.  Large, thick letters.

IT’S CRAP, THIS.

Not a sound; no-one laughs when I repeat it clearly.  I can sense the room shift slightly.  Chairs are being lowered.  Voices are hushed.  I have their attention.  It can be uncomfortable when 29 pairs of eyes stare in your direction; for a teacher it is a gift.  I take full advantage.

“What’s the problem with this statement?  Why would we not write this about the films in our coursework?” I ask.  It’s a risky question, but at this point in time it is all that I have.

A lone voice, “It’s not good English.”

“Great.  What would be a better way of phrasing this?”  I tap at the board paying particular emphasis to the very word that has unexpectedly initiated the discussion.

Some hands.  Great.  Some shouting out too; but I can live with that for now.  At least I can see their faces.

“Why don’t we write down some better ways of saying this.”

Then another voice, “But what if I like the films?” and, “We’ve not even seen the films yet.”

And so it starts.  We look at the clips; we read lines of dialogue that I’ve typed up.  Over the next few weeks they start to trust me enough to enable them show me their efforts. They are raw.  They know about films, they understand the violence, but they don’t have the language to be able to write effectively about them.  So I model phrases relentlessly.  My conversations with them are peppered with the key words that I’d like them to use eventually in their own responses.  Perhaps most importantly, I explain that what they do now, as Year 11 students, will have an impact on their final grades.  This is the purpose of coursework, I explain: you can make progress now that we can measure, and this will contribute towards your final grade.  The thoughts that you have now, the very thoughts that you write down, can help you to write pieces of work that will have an impact on your final grades.

I repeat my mantra, “Together, you can make progress.”

They say that they are enjoying the work.  I ignore them because it is still the honeymoon period where classes will often flatter you in the hope of getting you to ease off the pace later on in the year.  But at heart I know that they are enjoying it because they are starting to ask about grades.  This is a tangible benefit of coursework: you can structure it to contribute towards a purposeful working environment.  And boy do they need to be purposeful.  For most the notion of writing at length is novel and they are initially reluctant to do it; but as they start, cross out, and start again they start to see the point.  A couple of students look like they might actually be enjoying it.

Another benefit of coursework: imagination and enjoyment.  The only limits to what you can do are practical.  In a school like this, with resources as poor as outcomes, these practical considerations are real, frustrating, and serve to further the all too evident inequalities between schools.  But with a teacher’s imagination and resilience, coursework becomes the place where risks can be taken and where students can find their voice in ways that the examinations simply do not have the flexibility to accommodate.  I take every opportunity to explain that this is what writers do: think, draft, redraft, edit.

So, I’m making the most of the fact that these Year Eleven students are behind.  I’ve changed my mindset: they have five opportunities to demonstrate that their efforts will contribute towards their final grades in a meaningful way.  I enjoy the fact that students are peppering their conversations with me with references to grades, drafting, and redrafting.

Nobody has repeated that it’s crap, this.  That appears to have been edited out.

The Great Run Manchester 10K

The Great Run Manchester 10K is a race that has been on my ‘to do’ list for a while.  I think that I’ve previously avoided it as it’s a huge event which uses a number of different waves to ensure that all 40,000+ runners are able to participate safely.  In many ways it’s a series of separate events that are run one after the other.  Perhaps it’s the eye-watering £38 entry fee, which for a 10K race is bordering on the obscene.

Whatever the reason for not running previously, this year I became part of a team of colleagues that was attempting to raise money for the Christie Hospital in Manchester.  With a cause as worthwhile as this, and with the added bonus of being able to encourage colleagues that had never participated in a race before, it would have been churlish not to run.  And I’m really glad that I did.

My usual race day earliness meant that I could park my car on the free on-street parking and make my way up to Costa on Albert Square for a customary pre-race caffeine fix.  The sun was out, the air still and warm, and to watch the city slowly wake up to a perfect Sunday morning while I looked out onto the majestic town hall was an added bonus.  I’m always advocating that people arrive early to important events as I believe that it removes unnecessary stress.  The Costa slowly filled with runners, supporters, and loads of Great Run marshals who had all volunteered to ensure that the event ran smoothly.

I was running in the first wave which meant an 11:37 start.  I jogged back down to my car, left my kit there, and ran back up to the start line. By this time I felt quite warmed up and would have been happy to start racing.  However, as is the way with these mass participation events, you find yourself on the start line waiting for a long time: in this case 30 minutes.  With the sun and the crowds of people it because quite warm and it felt like waiting for a giant carnival to commence.  At the start of a marathon this is not really an issue as a slow start works to your benefit much later on in the day.  However, in a 10K it can be a distinct annoyance.  But perhaps more annoying still were the people who insisted on inching ever further towards the very front of the pen.   The rule of thumb is to try and start in a position that represents where you think you’ll finish.  That way runners spread out appropriately.  As it was, many runners started very quickly, only to tire and slow during mile two.  Given that many of these were running as groups and teams it made for a very difficult mile or so as I, and others, manoeuvred round them.  It was very warm on the carriageway that the course takes out towards Old Trafford and it would have been much better for all if more thought was given to appropriate starting positions by those taking part.  Many of those that did set off too quickly would probably have enjoyed it more too.  By mile three lots of people were shuffling along with another half of the race to go.

Mentally, iIMG_1375t was an odd run; I never really hit my stride.  Perhaps the stop/start nature of the opening accounts for this, or the heat, or simply the fact that in the midst of ultra training, 10K races are tough.  I did enjoy it though. I enjoyed the sun, the crowds, the support.  Most of all, I enjoyed the fact that runs like this do a great job of encouraging those who wouldn’t consider themselves to be runners to…well..run.  Although, my usual caveat here: parkrun does this much more effectively.  However, it is a brilliantly organised event with a great goody bag too.

But the best thing of all was to be part of a team that raised over £7500 for The Christie.  That fact alone is worth £38.

Haigh Hall Trail Race

My objective for this race: run as hard as I could.

With an opening mile of 5:41 it could be an easy mistake to think that I was running well. I wasn’t, I was running downhill.

The first mile or so of this 3.7 mile race is a sharp downhill on paths that lead from the newly refurbished playground at Haigh Hall down to Bottling Wood.  From there the course loops round before heading back uphill towards the finish.  I could feel the burn of lactic acid everywhere.  My shoulders were complaining as much as my calves.  The uphill section of the run was an exercise in willing my legs to keep moving forwards.  I’m always trying to see the bigger picture and I wanted to run this race as hard as I could as an exercise in pushing myself forward.  This race achieved exactly this objective.  I had to concentrate and run hard downhill; I had to concentrate and run hard uphill.

In the end I fnished in 24:52 for 34th place from 229 runners.

As I jogged back to my car I felt the familiar glow of achievement that comes with knowing that you have met the objective that you’ve set for yourself.  I couldn’t have put anymore in to this race and I couldn’t have got anymore out of myself.

Results