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.

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.

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.

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.

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

Curley’s Fishery 5K Trail Race (3rd of 3)

It is always pleasing to feel that you have made progress; more so when the data tells you so.  That was just one of the things that I thought about after the last in the series of Curley’s Fishery Trail Races.

I went into the race with a clear plan: to run as hard as I could.  This always presents a physical challenge, but on this course with its downhill, wet and uneven mixture of cobbles and potholes it’s a matter of concentrating hard too.

At the top of the first climb I felt like I couldn’t have worked any harder.  I had settled into twelfth place and could already feel the lactic build up in my shoulders. From the top it’s an undulating section of road and I promised myself that I’d get to the gate which marks the entrance to the woods without anyone passing.  I managed to keep this promise and felt like I couldn’t have pushed any harder.

The downhill sections through the woods are the places where, in previous races, I’ve been caught as I ponderously take my time over the rocks and tree roots.  I knew that I had a number of good descenders on my heels but the drier and more secure conditions underfoot meant that I felt more confident on such tricky paths.  I was caught by Paul and Marcus, two Burnden teammates.  There’s no shame in this as they are both superb runners, particularly off road.  But that was it.  In previous races I’d have been overtaken eight or nine times; but here I made a conscious effort to run as hard as I could wherever I could.  And it paid off.

The last section of the race sees the runners back on the uneven road section towards the start. This time it’s back uphill.  With a huge effort I managed to catch and pass the runner in front to take fourteenth place overall and second V40.  My time of 21:14 was my fastest of the three race series and a pleasing way to end this brilliant series of demanding spring trail races.

Results

Curley’s Fishery 5K Trail Race (2nd of 3)

I very nearly didn’t bother. With the second in this series of three races just a few days away from the Manchester Marathon, and with the course dusted with some freshly fallen hail, I did think twice before making the short journey over to Horwich. I’m glad I did go though. Despite being blasted by the hailstorm in the much needed warm up and despite being completely wet through before the start, it still made for an enjoyable evening race.

At first I thought that I might be one of only be a handful of people for race two. As I warmed up I passed a small fraction of the people that were jogging and stretching during the previous week. I knew it was cold. It was obviously slippy underfoot, but surely that wouldn’t put off so many runners. Would it?

I needn’t have worried. With a couple of minutes to go a large crowd made its way towards the start line: presumably they’d been seeking shelter in the dining rooms at Curley’s. And with that we were off.

I had chosen to take it steady. That last thing that I wanted was to pick up some sort of niggle just a few days out from the marathon. I did run fairly hard up hill, but I cautiously jogged the downhill sections. They were muddy, icy, and obviously slippy. With a bit of a push on the home straight I came in at 25th from 120 runners in a time of 22:40.

Again, a thoroughly enjoyable race. Well organised, supportively marshalled, and nicely competitive.

Results

Curley’s Fishery 5K Race (1st of 3)

Curley’s Fishery lies to the north of Bolton on the B6226 between Bolton and Horwich.  It was to here last Wednesday that I drove last Wednesday, on a bright spring evening, to take part in the first of three 5K trail races.

After collecting my number I had plenty of time to jog around the course.  This was easy enough to do thanks to the marshals who had used a combination of signs and tape to indicate where the route was.  And what I great route too.  After a slightly downhill sprint towardIMG_1178s the redeveloped Arcon Village, the trail rises up towards Matchmoor Lane before heading down to the brilliantly named Wilderswood.  Here the paths becomes a touch more technical with lots of uneven tree roots to help to keep things interesting.  A loop of the woods and the course subsequently takes a mixture of paths, roads and trails to head back to the start.  In short, not a course for a PB, but a great spring workout.  Brilliantly organised too!

What did I learn?

As always, on courses like this I really need to relax on the downhill sections.  I left a number of people on the uphills (where I always feel strong) only to have some of them skip past me on the downhills.  It is difficult for me to naturally disengage my brain when running quickly downhill.  So a focus of my training this summer will be to complete some downhill speedwork sessions with this specific aim in mind.

Results

22:28 (22nd from 149)

Results

Organisers