Sunday, 23 December 2012

World Trophy 50km reflections

This post seems to have taken an age to come together. The race took place as long ago as 20th October and it didn't go according to plan with a problem in my right vastus lateralis getting progressively worse until I had to stop at 36km, frustrated and disappointed.

So one of the reasons it has taken me so long to pull some thoughts together was I that I very quickly wanted to move on from what had happened and focus on enjoying a good break and getting myself healthy again to resume training later in the year.

So a few reflections on the event. The heat. It was a hot day on the Italian coast with temperatures in the high 20s and no shade from the sun which was burning down for much of the race and reflecting off the sea. I was surprised to see people dropping out even in the first 10k as they struggled with the conditions which brings me back to the topic of heat acclimatisation which i've written about before.

If there is a possibility of a warm day then prepare for the conditions ! I'm still amazed at how many runners leave this aspect of their preparation to chance and hope they can cope - they invariably can't. I did my most comprehensive heat acclimatisation so far with regular treadmill runs wearing a hat and gloves and not surprisingly I felt relatively comfortable on what was a hot day.

All the photos here are of me running with team mate Dave Mitchinson. We spent the whole race running together and it really helped to have some company and a bit of moral support when things were feeling a bit tough. We hatched a plan early on to start steady and work our way through. In the early stages we were outside the top 10 and by the time I had to step off the road we up to 5th and 6th with 4th place in sight. Once again I was reminded of the value of setting out a realistic pace for the course/conditions. In the marathon or 50k you have a long way to hang on if you go out too hard and there were some of the early leaders who were hanging on for a long time!

With hindsight I had an inkling of trouble in my right leg when out for a jog the day before the race. There was some discomfort although it eased off fairly quickly. Knowing what I know now I would have spent a lot more time self treating that evening and on race day morning though whether that would have prevented the problem from flaring up who knows.

In such a long race drinks are critical and in ultra races you can have a support crew handing you bottles within the designated technical areas. We had our own drinks on a table (left middle) but some quick thinking from Team Leader Andy Smith ensured that he also got across the course to give us bottles of water in the second technical area to help us keep cool (left bottom). Thats the kind of experience in the team that really makes a difference.

And finally winner Steve Way deserves a mention for how he ran the race. With an out and back 6km loop along the seafront we could see the race unfolding and Steve dropping off the lead group a couple of times. He never gave up and get running his race. Even when I walking back in it was clear that although in third place he was looking the best of the leaders though I not sure he believed it given by the look he gave me when I yelled at him that he could win the race with 10km to go ! He only took the lead with 5km left and the size of gaps he opened up tells you just how badly 2nd and 3rd place blew up.

Winter Marathon Preparation events

The Somerset Athletics Network is putting on two marathon preparation events this winter. First up will be an evening masterclass at Frome Rugby Club on Friday 25th Jan at 7pm. This will focus on the main training components for the marathon and how to put together a 12 week build up for your spring marathon.

Then a few weeks later on Sunday 17th Feb we have a practical training morning at Yeovil Arena with the focus on race day and race pace preparation.

Places are limited to 25 for each event and members of Somerset Clubs can email me directly to register.

Saturday, 1 December 2012

Somerset Psychology Workshop cancelled

Unfortunately sunday's psychology workshop has had to be cancelled as our workshop leader is ill. Sorry for the short notice cancellation. Hopefully we can re-arrange for the New Year.


Friday, 26 October 2012

Jungfrau Marathon 2012

The last couple of months have seen the focus of my training shift to going long and going up as I had the double goals or running for England in the World Long Distance Mountain Running Championship in September then backing that up with the 50km World Trophy Final in Italy 6 weeks later.

The races couldn't have been more of a contrast both in terms of profile and outcome ! Lets start with the Jungfrau Marathon. One look at the course profile is enough to make strong men (and even stronger women) tremble in their trainers.

After a first half which sees a steady climb to Lauterbrunnen the course turns right and heads steeply up to Wengen before somewhat levelling off for the next 10km. And then the killer 2km stretch from Wixi up to the ridge at the foot of the Eiger Glacier (top left) is the icing on the cake. And and just when you are looking forward to a rest the last km is a cramp inducing downhill to the finish.

So how to prepare for a race like that ? Run uphill of course. Which is easier said than done in rural somerset which is where the treadmill came in. I'm not a big fan of the treadmill, why run indoors when you can run as nature intended ? One of the great things about modern treadmills is being able to mimic the course profile by adjusting the gradient quickly and easily which is exactly what I did. The first couple of efforts were pretty tough but it got easier to the point where I was able to do one of my 37km runs with 2 hours hilly outdoors then jumping on to the treadmill for 30mins as fast as I could run up a steep hill. That was pretty tough !

Come race day the trick in Jungfrau is to pace the first half right. Too slow and you can't make up the time on the steep second half, too fast and you are heading for a very ugly last hour as you contend with the gradient and low energy. I went through halfway with a large group in just over 82mins and picked up places steadily through the second half to come home 32nd in 3hours 18min 59 secs (left). On balance I was probably too conservative in the first half but better that than the fate that awaited a few of the over ambitious !

What else can I say about the experience ? Simply the most stunning race course I've run, organised with Swiss precision and definitely a must do race for any serious long distance runner. There is a brilliant slideshow from Andy Mettler that gives you a flavour for the event. The uphill training has also given me some fresh persepctives on developing threshold without the impact stresses of running fast on the level, you certainly recover a lot faster after an uphill effort than the equivalent on the flat.

1. Markus Hohenwarter (Aut)
2. Mitja Kosovelj (Slo)
3. Hosea Tuei (Ken)
32. Adrian Marriott (Eng)

Full Results

Race Website

Monday, 3 September 2012

Oscar Pistorius beaten - was it the blades or his mind ?

Who would have thought that debating the technical merits of various prosthetic legs would be front page news and top of the TV and radio bulletins ? But that's exactly what has happened following Oscar Pistorius's defeat last night in the T44 200m and his subsequent outburst. I will come back to the merits of his complaint later but first of all a different perspective on the result which hasn't been discussed much and may be of real relevance to athletes in all sports.

Was it the blades or his mind ?

In the semi-final Pistorius ran a world record 21.30 seconds, looking comfortable and under no pressure from fellow competitors. Come the final and he only ran a 21.52 while gold medallist Alan Oliveira clocked 21.45. So if Oscar had simply reproduced his semi-final performance he would be the champion and the length of Oliveira's blades wouldn't be such a hot topic. Which begs the question what happened between semi and final ?

Assuming that the conditions were similar its possible that Oscar simply wasn't fit enough to recover and produce another top physical performance. I've no idea whether this is the case but I have observed a number of times when he has struggled to back up outstanding performances with another one the next day. Indeed at the Olympics he was significanlty slower than in his first round. It will be interesting to see how his week progresses at this meet. Even sprinters need good endurance to handle multiple races at a high level during the course of a championship. Michael Johnson was well known for developing his endurance in winter with repeat 800m runs on grass so that he could cope with 200m, 400m and relay in a week.

Back to the mind and its role in performance. In the last 50m you can see Pistorius starting to tighten and lose that running freedom he had in his semi. You can almost hear his mind saying "Oliveira is coming, its not fair". And herein lies the challenge for all athetes. The blades debate isn't a new one, Pistorius has been involved in arguments about his advantage (or not) against able bodied athletes and also this debate about blade length for paralympic athletes for some time now. And this latest battle must have been on his mind.
We've all experienced that little voice in the run up to a race which nags away telling us why the competion is better and we can't win. Make that voice get reinforced by your worst fear coming true and guess what - you tighten up in the last 50m and get beaten. The emotional outburst after the race just reinforces the likelyhood of that sort of internal conversation taking place before and during the race.

By contrast swimmer Ellie Simmonds has dealt brilliantly with her equivalent crisis. Having lost her world record earlier in the year and then facing the uncertainty of whether her biggest competitor (and favourite) was going to race against her or be reclassified Ellie could have gone into meltdown by focusing all her energies on these external factors. Instead she focused only on what she had control of, namely her performance. Come race day and with her competitor out then back in Ellie proceeded to swim a new world record to win the gold in the final length.

Which begs the question what can you do when your mind starts playing games ? The first step is to recognise when it is happening and this is where your coach or training partner can really help by 'noticing' what is going on and gently reminding you, or even giving you a not so gentle reminder if that is what it takes ! You then need to talk it out, preferably aloud with someone listening non-judgementally. And keep talking it out until the voice is tired and quiet. Just telling it to 'shut up' or 'go away' doesn't work ! Once you've exhausted those feelings you can start to re-focus on yourself, the things you are good at, what you need to do to perform at your best in the upcoming competition. You've then a got much better chance of executing your usual pre-competition routine and performing up to your potential.

For a discussion on the technical issues surrounding the blades take a look at the excellent Science in Sport website.

Tuesday, 19 June 2012

The Salazar tempo run as warm down

Last week I tried something a bit different after racing a local 5k road event. The race went well with a second place in 15.10 after I had taken the pace out early and tried to drop the field.

Anyway the plan was to try out the 'Salazar warm-down after the race. The basic idea is that to get the most out of a hard day you need to make it hard. So after racing, Alberto Salazar often has his athletes jump into some kind of tempo effort to get some extra volume of quality aerobic work in. In recent times the likes of Mo Farah and Galen Rupp have been seen doing 15mins or so at sub 5 min miling after track races. A while back I often used to run a 3k in 10mins flat (2.20 marathon pace) after a track workout to get the feel for marathon pacing so the idea is not entirely new to me, but still, going for a longer effort straight after a race is.

Back to wednesday and after crossing the line a couple of seconds behind winner Shaun Antell and getting my breath back I jogged a few minutes back to the car, had some water and then changed shoes and top before running the opposite way round the course in 16.40 and this was a kind of crescendo effort with the first km being more like 3.35 and the last nearer 3.15 with the middle portion being about 3.20. It seemed to work out quite well and though I had to focus a bit the last km it was a surprisingly comfortable effort. With a couple of kms of quality running in the warm up that made for a 12km workout around a 5k race which I guess is the whole point of doing the workout like this rather than trying to come back the next day and run a 20min tempo on tired and sore legs.

Next morning my legs felt surprisingly good - which is about as scientific as saying fried chicken is super food because I once had a good race after eating it - but still, they felt pretty good. Its an experiment I plan to repeat after my other short races this summer.

Tuesday, 12 June 2012

Andriy Shevchenko and the joy of sport

Its rare that i'm minded to write about something other than athletics but watching a bit of last nights Ukraine v Sweden football match gave much food for thought. And in particular watching Andriy Shevchenko playing for host nation Ukraine.

Here is a guy who has had a stellar career by any measure, scoring goals for fun, winning championships across Europe and making a pile of cash into the bargain. He made his international debut as an 18 year old and in recent years as age has blunted his strikers knife he often cut a frustrated figure in club and national colours.

And then there was last night. An early miss that he would have buried in his pomp left you wondering whether he was in the line up just to please the supporters and paymasters. But it didn't seem to affect him, he kept making runs, getting into position and played with a smile on his face. You got the sense that being on the pitch, in Ukraine, playing for Ukraine was reward enough and he was going to enjoy the moment for all it was. And as runners we know that when you go into a race with that mindset, just intent on having a blast, then anything can happen.

For Shevchenko the miracles started to happen in the second half as he scored two goals (which the experts tell me were a master class in 'movement') and the sheer joy on his face as he celebrated with his team mates and supporters was something to behold. There is a lesson in there for all sportsmen and not just the highly paid stars who choose to 'retire' from international football. The journey is more important than the destination, so enjoy every minute of it and who knows how high you will fly.

Thursday, 31 May 2012

Brigels Berglauf

The Alpine mountain racing season is well underway now and after a 2nd place a few weeks ago in the Zugerberg Classic I tested my form again on monday at the Tavanasa-Brigels Berglauf deep in Graubunden.

Its a fantastic race starting starting under the old bridge in Tavanasa and then after a gentle first 3km the race takes a sharp turn into the forest and climbs steeply for the next 5km. Indeed most of the 780m of ascent comes during this middle phase of the race and the steep forest paths are briefly interspersed with sections of flat or downhill running on very narrow and twisty tracks. Definitely one where some local knowledge comes in handy if you are to stay on the path and avoid the sharp drop !

After a steady start I got into a nice rythmn and passed Swiss cross country skiier Toni Livers at 2 km and then finally caught the leader and last years winner Florian Suter bfore the 4km mark. It was then a game of cat and mouse through the forest as Florian was able to open a gap on the flat and downhill sections and I was able to catch up again on the steep climbs. Emerging from the forest at 7km we were greeted with a final climb through a typical grassy Swiss Alpine meadow with loads of spectators cheering you on. This was where I decided to make my move as I really didn't fancy a last kilometre burn up through the streets of Brigels (top left). By the top of the climb I had a gap but not a yet a winning one. Fortunately the climb had taken less out of my legs than Florian's and I was able to hammer the last undulating kilometer through town in 3 mins to cross the line in 42mins and 8 secs.

One of the great things about these events are the kids races that are put on, often after the grown ups have finished. So we all got to stand out in the square and cheer on the aspiring olympians as they raced like lunatics round the village. Best of all was the youngest age group who got to do an out and back round the fountain (about 150m in total) chasing a guy with a cuddly toy strapped to his back (left). Look at the angle the kids are leaning over at as they sprint round the corner.

The day was finished off with risotto and the presentations where during my podium interview I succeeded in mangling some of my german. much to the amusement of the audience, and then redeemed myself by mustering a few words of Rumansch to end the interview which went down well in this Rumansch speaking village.

Saucony Hampshire Grand Prix - 18th July

The first Saucony Hampshire Grand Prix will take place at the recently refurbished Down Grange Athletics Track in Basingstoke on Wed 18th July and will offer a high quality open competition for all age groups from Under 11s to Masters covering a range of track and field events.

The U11 Quad Kids event starts at 4.30pm with the last race around 9.30pm. For timetable, online entry and full details go to the meeting website

Tuesday, 22 May 2012

Olympic Torch in Yeovil !

Ilchester Road
What a fantastic half hour this morning. Just as I was starting to get jaded by the Olympic circus and in particular the selling of relay torches on eBay I got a reminder as to what a powerful symbol the games can be and how it motivates people.

Amy Williams
At 7.30 this morning there were thousands of people lining the streets of Yeovil to welcome the Olympic Torch and its relay team of torchbearers including Yeovil Town Road Running Club's Malcolm Maxted.

Young and old took advantage of the early morning sunshine to watch the torch pass through town and be carried on its final few hundred metres up Ilchester Road by Olympic skeleton bob champion Amy Williams (right).

Its still a source of immense frustration that we haven't really capitalised on the Olympics to totally transform sport in our schools though there has definitely been an increase in awareness and sports like ours are starting to become cool again. And who knows, if Lawrence Okoye or Sophie Hitchon produce a big throw we could be overwhelmed with aspiring discus and hammer throwers come august ! Lets be hoping. 

Monday, 21 May 2012

Crewkerne 10k 2012

Yesterday was the first edition of the Crewkerne 10km road race which replaced the long standing 9 miles after 30 years. Its an event that has a special place in my memories having first run the 4.5 mile 'fun run' here back in the mid 80's when age was no barrier to running road races ! And then in 2009 I broke the course record for the 9 on what was known as one of the toughest road race courses in this part of the country.

In recent years dwindling numbers in the 9 miles have forced a bit of a re-think and host club Crewkerne Running Club decided to relauch the event as a 10k, include it in the Somerset Race series and bring it forward a couple of weeks in the calendar. The first week in June has produced some horribly hot races in the past and those narrow country lanes can get pretty stuffy so a mid-May date was welcome. And they did a great job with their new event.

The new course out to Merriott and back through Hinton is still a stinker with the massive climbs in the first and last 2.5km still there and with an added 3km drag up out of Merriott to knock the stuffing out of your legs before the final assault.
photo: Tracy Symes

A nice innovation this year has been to add a 'King of the Hill' prize at the top of the first climb. This is something that the Yeovil Half Marathon have included half way round (based on fastest ascent rather than first to the top) and it works brilliantly - adding some much needed spice.

I was happy to let the cavalry charge up the hill have its 3 minutes of fame and then pick off the winners in the subsequent mile as their legs swam in hydrogen ions. Clear of the pack at the 3km mark I was able to run comfortably hard all the way to Hinton before putting my foot down at the 6km mark and running the closing stretch as hard as I could in attempt to get under 33 minutes. In the end I came up a bit short but for 12 months at least I will be the owner of both course records :-)


Wednesday, 16 May 2012

Saucony Kinvara 3 review

The newly launched Saucony Kinvara 3 is an update on the successful Kinvara and Kinvara 2 shoes which have done much to popularise the minimal trend in recent years. The original Kinvara's were a hard shoe for me to fall in love with as the ride was on the soft side for my liking and also had a fairly high level of outsole wear if running on tarmac.

So jumping into the Kinvara 3 I noticed straight away what felt like a firmer, more solid ride while maintaining flexibility. Perhaps this is down to a thicker and wider midsole which manages to combine a minimal 4mm heel to toe drop with a nice stable platform to run on.

photo by adrian royle
These really needed no breaking in and the second time out I wore them in a 5k road race (left) with good results. The 218g weight puts them on a par with most racing shoes (certainly for the longer distances) and they felt fine in the 5k with no calf muscle soreness the next day.

The outsole looks like it is going to wear better than previous models and the one watch out for is the toe box and overall sizing. I've got quite a broad forefoot and the toe box on this shoe is very wide. Indeed the overall size of the UK8.5 was quite generous and I may even be better off in a UK8 which would be surprising give the consistency of Saucony sizing over the years. So definitely one to try before you buy to make sure you get the right fit

The uppers are available in a range of colours and the design is really slick, both in look and feel. You hardly notice that the upper is there and the colours really do get you noticed !

Sunday, 22 April 2012

London Marathon Results and Runner Tracking

If you are looking for real time results for the 2012 London Marathon then they are available here.

This year the BBC has also got coverage of the Women's and Men's races live on the BBC website. The mens feed has got Richard Nerurkar providing the analysis while the womens feed is spending a lot of time watching the british battle for the third Olympic team spot. Definitely better than listening to Brendan blathering on !

A couple of shout outs for friends running this year. Gerry, Rich and Alex from Running Forever along with all the group who came to our March training morning. Nick Somerville from Wells who is running better than ever at 50, Steve Bernard running his second London 22 years after his first (fundraising page here).

Sunday, 25 March 2012

Yeovil Half Marathon Results 2012

If you are looking for the full results from todays Yeovil Half Marathon they are here.

Shaun Antell's winning time of 70.35 was a very good effort on that course.

Hope everyone had a great day out in Yeovil and will be back for more in 2013.

Next up is the Easter Bunny 10k and the first Yeovilton Summer Series 5k, both on the superfast Podimore course.

Monday, 19 March 2012

Somerset Boys on top in ESAA Cross Country

What a fantastic saturday afternoon at Ilton in Somerset watching the English Schools Cross Country Championships. Its a long time since I've been to one of these events, 25 years to be precise when as an Intermediate boy I slogged my way round some fields in Preston to finish somewhere about 160th. Any idea where I can get a copy of the results from ?!

So 100,000 km of running later I was back to where it all began for me (sort of). There was some terrific racing at the front and the usual tales of agony and ectasy on the deceptively tough course round Merryfield airbase.

One of the highlights was seeing the Somerset boys (left) win the aggregate team competition for Group C Counties (less than 60,000 pupils) with a points total that also beat all the Group B and half the Group A Counties.

It was particularly satisfying as a good number of them are from the Taunton AC and Wells City Harriers clubs and have been training together with regular Saturday morning hill sessions in Street while some of the older Wells lads have been giving me a hard time on Tuesday evenings !

Full English Schools Results on

Adidas Adios 2 review

The original Adios racing shoe made its name as the shoe to break world marathon records in and the Adios 2 took up where the 'Haile shoe' left off by carrying Patrick Makau to a new WR in Berlin last September.

I've had a pair for a couple of months now and have been wearing them alongside the Asics DS Racer 9 as a comparison so this is my view of them.

The changes to the Adios 2 are several with the addition of Continental rubber to the outsole and a little bit more medial stability being the headlines, along with a fractionally reduced weight. I've used a pair of the orginal Adios for a while and immediately noticed the additional stability. Its not a huge change but for the runner that does benefit from a bit of stability its a welcome addition.

This shoe is still quite low in the heel and I find that my calf muscles need a good stretch after wearing them. That said they feel very responsive, more so that the DS 9 which I reviewed a few months ago. The forefoot just feels firmer and more dynamic for my liking.

So what about this highly touted outsole ? I used the shoes in a 10k race last weekend in Schaffhausen and the tarmac was wet and the corners looked particularly slippery (left). The traction from the Continental rubber was as good as promised and I was able to charge into the corners with total confidence, not something I could do in many of the racers I have owned.

The wear rate looks like its going to be very good as well which is a welcome sign as many modern racers seem to wear out their lightweight blow carbon outsoles way before the midsole has worn out.

Would I wear them for a marathon ? Absolutely, to my mind the best marathon shoe I've had since my old Adizero CS that carried me to a 2.18 in Toronto. For 5-10k races I prefer something even lighter so may be tempted to try out the Adizero Pro or anything else that readers can recommend.

Buy here from Running Home

Also take a look at the Saucony Kinvara 3 review.

Tuesday, 6 March 2012

Feel that rythmn

The last two sunday's i've been lucky enough to work with two groups of runners in Somerset who are preparing for a spring half marathon or full marathon. The focus of both training days has been specific preparation so both groups spent a good amount of time on the track learning to feel their race pace and what I noticed and learned is well worth sharing.

We know, because we have either seen it or experienced it, that if you go out too fast for your fitness level then the later stages of a race are going to be ugly and you can lose loads of time. And equally we know that as runners we tend to overestimate our fitness. So if we are relying on the thinking part of our brain to determine our race pace and then just jump in and do it on race day the odds are strong that we are going to get it wrong !

So practicing race pace becomes really important. Many people don't do it, certainly not to the point where it is second nature. What we did these past weekends was start the athletes at the race pace their under distance times suggested were realistic (Daniels VDOT tables help to do this). Now clearly predicting marathon pace from a 5k race time can be tricky so use the closest recent under distance performance to find the pace.

Using an out and back format on the track the runners were able to run one rep getting feedback on their pacing from a trackside coach and then for the return rep they were on their own with the idea being to see how close to the start line they could get.

So what did we see. Not surprisingly some folks were better than others at first for a variety of reasons but generally the early reps with quite variable. And over time the runners got better and better and judging their pace. Self awareness also started to develop along the lines of 'this pace feels fine but not for a full marathon so i'm going to run a bit slower'.

After 40 minutes of running at race pace almost everyone was really getting the feel for their pace to the point where we could mess things up by putting in a few short reps at a significantly faster pace and then have the athletes drop straight back into race pace.

So if you are doing a long race this spring take some time to practice running at your race rythmn. There are big gains to be had from just a few workouts like this.

Tuesday, 21 February 2012

Marathon Training Morning in Taunton on Sun 4th March

Last year's hugely successful 'Marathon Training Morning' will take place again this year on Sunday 4th March in Taunton.

After a short talk on marathon training and some injury prevention work there will be a long training session focused on learning to feel marathon race speed as one of the biggest causes of disappointment in marathon races is athletes going to fast early on. We will also have things set up to practice drinking on the run. After training there will be a Q&A to deal with all those questions that make a difference to your race day performance.

For more details and to register email me.

Monday, 23 January 2012

50k debut in Gloucester

Yesterday I dipped my toe (well jumped with both feet actually) into the deep waters of ultra marathon running by racing the Gloucester 50km race, part of the IAU series.

Expecting a low key debut I had travelled up on the morning and was happily stretching out some tight muscles from the journey when I spotted fellow sub 2.20 marathon runner Steve Way, so much for a low key race ! With the marathoners setting off at 10.30am we had a short wait before the 40 odd runners in the 50k got underway with previous winner Julian Rendell showing early on (left).

My pre-race plan had been a bit affected by the weather which was blowing a stiff westerly. Having seen the havoc strong winds can create in Toronto I decided to go a bit slower than my 3:30/km target pace and after a gentle opening kilometre I quickly settled into a nice rythmn which was averaging out at 3:34 with the hills.

After a short flat loop in town we headed out into the countryside for 4 laps of a 10.5km circuit. Laps like this are a mental battle as much as physical and the first couple felt pretty comfortable, though with hindsight I should perhaps have backed off a little going up the hills and into the wind but I was fully committed and going for it as hard as felt was possible.

Lap 3 was when it started to get hard (left). Having passed 25km in around 1.29 I was still feeling pretty good and at 30km I actually started to pick the pace up, a move that would cost me dear later on. A couple of 3:30s and a 3:25 took me well past 20 miles, the point at which you really start to race in the marathon. And then it dawned on me that there was still another 10 miles to go and there was no way I was going to hold the increased pace to the finish.

With the effect of the hills (especially the downs) starting to tell on my quads I hit 40km still cranking out solid kilometres and wondering how long it would be before the elephant jumped on me. At 45km the last big climb started, well actually 2 climbs with a short downhill over the course of 2km). And then the elephant jumped out from behind a tree and climbed on my back. I was down to 6min miling and into survival mode - a feeling many marathoners will have experienced before !

Focusing on getting to the top of the hill knowing that the last couple of kilometres would be down/flat I was able to haul myself to the top though I could sense the holy grail of a sub 3 hour clocking slipping through my fingers.

Unfortunately going downhill on trashed legs wasnt much easier than going up and the last mile felt as long as in the 2006 London Marathon. Going round each bend I imagined Frank yelling "faster, faster!" but it wasn't doing me much good with a knee lift now measured in microns rather than centimetres.

Getting to the line brought as much relief as I have felt for a while at the end of a race (left) though my time of 3 hours and 47 seconds was good enough to go seventh on the UK all time lists which on that course and in those conditions was very satisfying.
So all in all a very solid debut at 50k. I'm pleased that I fully committed myself to running as fast as I could when it would have been easy to sit back in the pack and have an easier run.


Thursday, 19 January 2012

Olympic Marathon Trial reflections

With just over 6 months to go until the London Olympic Games the American team is selected following their trials last weekend and Kenya took the first step towards finalising its line up by naming a provisional squad with 5 runners.

Every time the games come round the debate kicks off as to whether a trial race is the best way to select a marathon team or not and even the Kenyans have been toying with the idea. Traditionally the US has had a sudden death first 3 past the post system and when you have strength in depth this can be a terrific way to select a team.

Going into last weeks trials in Houston the US had well over 100 qualified athletes for their trial race (as opposed to the couple of dozen with the Olympic standard) which enabled them to put on a special race the day before the main Houston Marathon. While many commentators predicted a cagey opening half Ryan Hall had other ideas and opened up with a 63min half which challenged the rest of the field to follow or sign over one of the spots to him. A few took up the challenge and Meb Keflezighi came through to run his second PR in 2 months and win the trial from Hall and Abdi Abdirahaman. With 4 guys under 2.10 for the first time since the famous Boston Race of 1983 ? the American team promises to be strong. The women are arguably even better placed for medals with Shalane Flanagan, Desi Davila and Kara Goucher following teh form bok to take the top 3 slots.

One of the things I love about this sort of trial event is the build up and buzz that it creates. Back in 2004 in the UK were using the Flora London Marathon as the official trial and with an Olympic Qualifying time of 2:15 there were plenty of us who fancied a crack at making the team. I had punched my ticket for the trial with a 2.22 debut the previous autumn in Amsterdam and training had gone pretty well during the winter though not well enough to suggest that I had a 2.15 in me. Not that it was going to deter me from having a go.

Come the race just about all the contenders lined up including Jon Brown who would go on to place 4th in Athens for the second games in succession. A decent sized group of men went through half way in 66 high and things sorted themselves out from there. Brown qualified along with Dan Robinson who had his breakthrough race and Chris Cariss (left tracking Jon Bown) had the heartbreak of missing the standard by 8 seconds. While for the women Tracey Morris had a breakthrough to join Liz Yelling and Paula in the team.

If you look at the results of that mens race I was 15th Brit in 2.21(2 seconds ahead of Matt Smith after a frantic 'dash' down the Mall) and we had 13 runners sub 2.20 (compared with the US's 50 this year- though interestingly on a per head of population basis thats roughly equivalent). 10 of the 15 ran personal bests and several of those efforts haven't been bettered since. We haven't had a trial race again and we havent produced that strength in depth in a single race either and arguably men's marathoning in the UK is no stronger now than it was 8 years ago which feels like a missed opportunity.

Hopefully for the 2016 Olympics, if not before for the Worlds, we will return to a good old spring shootout for Great Britain marathon team spots.

Wednesday, 18 January 2012

How to train for the Yeovil Half Marathon

With entries approaching the 500 mark for the second Yeovil Half Marathon on Sunday 25th March 2012 its no wonder i've been getting a few questions about how to go about preparing for the race, especially from first timers. So here are a few thoughts:

Find a training partner
We know that it is much easier to get out training when its cold and dark when you have a training partner to share your goals and plans with. You are far more likely to do that extra midweek run when you know your buddy is waiting for you ! Even the top elites have regular run partners that they can call on for support when they are tired and not really feeling like it. So go on, phone a friend and make a commitment to run together.

Good running shoes
The No1 cause of injury (and hence frustration, anger, resentment etc !) is worn out running shoes. You dont want to do a really good couple of months of training just to miss out on the race because you got hurt. And looks can be deceptive, those 3 year old sneakers may look fine on the outside but the shock absorbing mid-sole will have had the life crushed out of it and in return will provide little protection to your feet and legs as several times your body weight lands with each stride (and keep in mind you will do about 15,000 strides in the half marathon alone !).

SPECIAL OFFER Tri UK in Yeovil (Lyde Rd, BA21 5DW) have an offer on for Yeovil Half Marathon entrants. Take a copy of your proof of entry to the store and get a 20% discount on your running shoes and a free treadmill gait analysis (usually £10) to help find the right pair of running shoes for you.

Train at the right speeds
There is a temptation to measure your fitness by making every training run into a time trial with success being to cover the same route faster than last week. Unfortunately running fitness doesn't work like that ! You need to run a variety of different speeds and mix hard training with easy. So if you are targetting 2 hours for the half (9 minutes a mile) then you need to be thinking in terms of three speeds.

Easy will be 11 mins a mile - this increases your aerobic fitness and gives you the stamina to survive the race. In training you should aim to build up to over 2 hours at this pace.

Race pace will be 9 minutes a mile - this gets you used to what a big effort feels like on race day. In training, once you are warmed up, run for a few minutes at race pace and then revert to easy. Keep alternating race pace and easy pace initially. Once you have got the feel for race pace after a few weeks you can make the race pace segments longer, up to 15 mins. A really good workout 3 weeks before the half marathon would be a longer run including 3 x 15 minutes at your race pace. If you can't manage that pace then you probably need to adjust your goals for race day.

Speed training will be 8 minutes a mile or faster - this teaches your body to move efficiently at fast speeds so that race pace will start to feel easy. This type of training needs to be done in small chunks otherwise it becomes too hard. So after a good warm up run 1 min at faster than race pace. Then run Easy for 2 mins. Repeat. Over a number of week build up to 10x1min fast then you can think about increasing the duration of each faster effort to 2 mins. Beware not to overdo this type training, its the icing on the cake (see below on balance).

Get the balance right
So you have got your running partner, new running shoes and 3 different speeds. How do you put it all together ? A good ratio would be one speed run and one race pace run for every 4 or 5 easy runs that you do. And make one of those easy runs longer than the others.

Its a big myth that training makes you fit, it doesn't. Training makes you tired and breaks your body down. Recovering from training makes you fitter. So getting this bit right is very important. What are the key elements of recovery ?

  1. Firstly food - you need to eat within an hour of finishing training to help your body start the repair process.
  2. Secondly hydration - many of us are dehydrated from working indoors and drinking tea/coffee. So start sipping water through the day.
  3. Thirdly sleep - the good news is that a new training regime with better eating and drinking will generally lead to better sleep. And a bit extra sleep will help you adapt to the training.
  4. Finally Hard/Easy - after a hard training day take one or two days easy. This will be different from for different people. It might mean a day off completely, or a swim or just an easy run.
  5. And at some point between now and end Feb plan a very easy week to consolidate your training.
The last 2 weeks are reserved for what marathon runners call the taper and its equally applicable to a half marathon though you will only need two weeks instead of three. More on this nearer the time.

Thursday, 5 January 2012

Nos Galan 5k 2011

This year I finally got to race at Nos Galan, one of those 'must do' events that has been on my list for ages. Regular readers will know that i'm a big fan of town centre multi-lap road races so this was my kind of race - 3 laps of the village including a couple of tight turns and a short climb.

With good size crowds around the start finish area and Tim Hutchings calling the race the atmosphere built through the kids races early in the evening before a great little fireworks display signalled the start of the elite race. Its a narrow start so there was a bit of a charge despite the wet road and a lead group of about 9 quickly got away. One of the benefits of these lap courses is you can see the race unfold even if you arent in the lead group. There was a second group of half a dozen runners then a few stregglers including myself just unable to get on the back of the groups.

The first lap I was struggling for pace but gradually got better and was particularly pleased with how I was going up the hill, picking up a couple of places on each of the last 2 laps as I worked my way up to 14th place by the end. Considering I had a 25km marathon pace run in my legs from wednesday 15:15 was a good performance and didnt leave me too breathless.

After the elites had done their stuff the mass run took to the course and 600 plus runners threaded their way through the streets to round off the evening. A brisk jog back to the park and ride served as a warm down before we hot footed it down the dual carriageway to Cardiff for a night out in the Welsh capital.

A terrific event, well worth fitting in to your schedule one year.

Full Results

Pos No Time Forename Surname M/F Cat Club
1 37 00:14:40 Richard Peters M
Bristol & West AC
2 49 00:14:42 Steve Davies M
Belgrave Harriers
3 174 00:14:44 Chris Gowell M
Swansea Harriers
4 121 00:14:45 Adam Bitchell M
Cardiff AAC
5 123 00:14:49 Carwyn Jones M
Cardiff AAC
6 140 00:14:51 Rob Bugden M
Bristol & West AC
7 93 00:14:52 Michael Johnson M
Bristol & West AC
8 120 00:14:56 James Thie M
Cardiff AAC
9 122 00:14:57 Phil Matthews M
Swansea Harriers
10 196 00:15:09 Richard Gardiner M
Aberdare Valley AAC
11 165 00:15:09 Chris Busaileh M
Herne Hill Harriers
12 130 00:15:11 Dave Norman M
Altringham AC
13 129 00:15:13 Ben Riddell M
Salford Harriers
14 172 00:15:15 Adrian Marriott M
Wells City
15 178 00:15:18 Sam Mitchell M

Monday, 2 January 2012

Frank J. Horwill M.B.E 19 June 1927 - 1 January 2012

We lost a very special person yesterday. Frank brought happiness to every life he touched with his generosity and passion for our sport. I've got so many memories from the last 20 years, not least the day in Lanzarote in 1999 he made me believe utterly and completely that I could take down the marathon world record holder at the time, crazy I know but that was his special gift - making you feel a champion to the bottom of your spikes. We will miss you Frank.

Everyone's got a Frank Horwill story (or ten) so here are a couple of mine. One tuesday evening over the xmas period (I think) in the late nineties a group of athletes had pitched up at Battersea Park for a session to find the track closed. We were busy debating the merits of grass or road when Frank arrived. A couple of brief curses later from Frank and his well worn black kit bag disappeared over the perimeter fence. He them uttered something like "bloody hell, how did that happen ? I'm going to have to get it back". Then quick as a flash he was pulling himself up on top of the fence and and down the other side. We quickly followed and made damn sure we ran our legs off on the track that night !

Climbing over the fence became a bit of routine at the refurbished Battersea Park track after that. A few years ago Frank broke his leg (falling over the curb coming out of a pub if I remember correctly) and I remember seeing him limping towards the track in his rehab phase and climbing over as pre-injury. On challenging him about the risks of jumping down onto a recently broken leg he replied that a bit of impact stress would help promote new bone growth whereas walking the long way round just made him tired !