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Yes I know it’s almost February, but here is my wrap up of 2013.

It will not be a year I forget in a hurry.

There are many things that shape our lives, some good some bad. And as we stumble through these things and find the paths we need, we get hurt and we get knocked down. But we develop strength and resilience. And most importantly, we always always learn along the way.

So onto my running headlines for the year.

Where do I start with the year I’ve just had? In any other year each of the following items would be head and shoulders above everything else. In no particular order here they are.

Friends

“Lame” I hear you say. Too bad. The support from my running friends has been overwhelming and unwavering. I’ve lent on so many of you so many times. So many to thank, you know who you are.

There are some standout moments. Running London with Barrow (more on that later) the older brother I never had (and did I mention older? ), the flexibility afforded to me in training times – people being willing to adjust their schedules to suit my higgledy piggledy new regime. Dan doing everything in his power to get me to run the Coventry 5000. “I just really want you to have a go mate”. Offering many lifts, sacrificing his car for the entire week if needs be leading up to the race to help me get on the start line. Simone and Gracie, both rocks in so many ways, there for me, providing hands to drag me from the brink of some of the darkest blackest holes I’ve had the displeasure of looking in to. I will never be able to fully express my gratitude guys. Looking back on how the year started is like looking at a movie of someone else’s life. I’ve come so far since then and it seems surreal that I was ever in that place. The foundation created by those first few months was the platform on which my running year was built, but it could have been so different without the help of all my friends. Thank you each and every one.

15:51

ABMC 1551h the infamous Coventry 5000. Probably the single  most significant race of the year. An earlier blog post covers it in full detail. Click the image for a link to the post.

Summary: I broke a long standing PB from 1994 as well as getting under 16 minutes for the first time.

18:55

2013 6StgNational Six Stage Road Champs. First time under 19 minutes and first (and possibly last) time I’ve beaten the class of Dan R, Chris A and Tim C in the same race. This race is an unusual distance (5.85km), so it is difficult to relate it to the other race distances but the powerof10 website ranked it higher than all my other races save the 33:06 Telford 10k in December.

73:49

Bristol Half Marathon. After the 15:51 this is probably the next big breakthrough I had. I went in with a PB of 77:26 and aspirations of breaking that time and possibly sneaking under 75 for a UK Marathon championship qualifier if it went well. It went very well. I ran fairly even splits to about halfway or just after and then dropped the hammer over the final 3-4 miles for a big negative split and even bigger PB.

33:06

I had the pleasure of running this exact time twice in two months. First in the Leeds 10k in November and then in the Telford 10k in December. My previous PB was 35:00 so I was chomping at the bit to get under the 35 minute mark. Leeds goes down as the big breakthrough simply because it was first. Similar to Bristol I ran a negative split although not as marked. Halves of 16:42 and 16:24. I was over the moon. The whole race felt good, never in too much trouble. The next month at the Telford 10 I put no pressure on myself, thinking that the 33:06 was out of reach. As it turned out I had had another great day and was on pace for a PB and even a sub33 through halfway in 16:29. I tied up a bit on the second half and the final slight inclines from 7-9k did me in.

Mileage 3018

My mileage for the year topped out at 3018 or 4855km. This works out to 58 miles or 93km per week. Not my biggest year, in 2011 I ran 100 miles more overall, but I feel this year the quality of the running was much better and I was able to tap into some of the strength I’ve been accumulating over the past 4 or 5 years of reasonable miles.

108 miles in one week

Prior to 2013 I had never run a 100 mile week or even a 90 mile week. In the summer my training was a bit sporadic on a week-by-week basis depending on the childcare situation. One of the weeks when I wasn’t seeing them at all a colleague asked what I intended to do with my free time. “I’ll probably just run” was my response. The week didn’t even start off that impressively and I didn’t start thinking about what it might total until the Wednesday. I felt great all week, probably because the novelty of the mileage was overriding the general fatigue I must have been carrying. Two weeks after the 108, I ran a 91 mile week. I look back on those two August weeks and really believe they kicked my form on for the rest of the summer.

VLM

2013 vlmA fantastic race weekend with Gracie, Barrow and I and a very personal shared race experience. One of my favourite people in the world and lifetime mate Barrow, who like a fine wine gets better with age, came over from SA to run London with me this year, and to try and break 3 hours. We ran every step together, and although we never quite hit the sub3, ending with a 3:04, it was one of the running highlights of my life.

Iffley Road Stadium Mile

A chance to run on the fabled Iffley track, surely the most famous running track in the world. And better still to run the distance it became famous f2013 Iffley02or, the fabulous mile. Travelled down with Dan and Tim, partners in crime. Dan and I were drawn in the same heat and quickly moved to the front of the race when it became obvious the others weren’t keen on the 70 second laps we wanted. I took over from about 500 or 600 metres in and kept the gas pedal pressed hard, Dan stuck to my shoulder all the way through the bell. I felt him wanting to come past and I pressed again determined not to let the pace slide. Going around the final bend into the finishing straight he eased wide and came past me. I kicked to stay in touch but he was too strong and I ended a second or two behind him in 4:41.62 for second place.2013 Iffley01

Roon the Watter

Going into any race as defending champion is pretty cool and I loved turning up at Roon and getting a mention on the start line. Jon and Teri were there as always. Teri looking after the girls while Jon, Bec and I ran. I had run 34:50 something to win the 6 mile race the previous year and was hoping for quicker. I didn’t know my road form but had been racing a lot on the track which I hoped would have me race sharp at least. I won it in 33:12 and have a full report on the blog already here.

Why?

So that was 2013. In a nutshell the best running year I’ve ever had. All-time personal bests on the track over the mile and 5000m and on the road at 5k, 10k, half marathon and marathon. Where did it come from? I’m not entirely sure but there are a few factors this year that have almost certainly had a big part in it. It would be remiss of me not to mention the weight loss. I lost half a stone early in the year and decided to tighten up my diet and ensure it stayed off. I cut out a lot of fizzy drinks and crisps, and my personal Achilles heel, late night snacking.

Nutrition aside, I joined Bud Baldaro’s training group in January and it is surely no coincidence my running curved steadily upwards once the Tuesday sessions with Bud’s group started bedding in. I couldn’t be more grateful to Bud, Johnny Cullen – who talked me into joining them – and the Tuesday night gang. Thanks guys.

The only PB’s I still have outstanding from my uni days (or first career as Jamie calls it) are 800, 1500 and 3000. Let’s see how 2014 goes.

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Maybe I’m prone to hyperbole, but I think this might go down as the best race I’ve ever run. How do you define best? That is the question. I’ve certainly run more interesting races, races I’ve enjoyed more, races I’ve suffered more, races in more scenic surroundings and so on. But when you pare it down to the bare bones of performance-based assessment, this one must be right up there.

 

Back in 1994, Nelson Mandela was poised to become the new president of South Africa. The Springboks had yet to win their first world cup. OJ Simpson was being chased down the highway by the police, and Ayrton Senna and Kurt Cobain were still alive.

 

Also at that time a group of Wits Athletics Club university runners ran a 5000m race in Durban in the now defunct SAU’s. I was in that group and ran 16:13 in a memorable “additional compromise 5000” which deserves a blog entry of its own. Team mate Hendrick (Ramaala) won the A race that day in 14:31. Also a story for another time.

 

That 16:13 PB stood from back then until Saturday 24 August 2013. 19 years.

 

During the period immediately after that 1994 race I was confident I would get under 16 minutes. Young and keen and on an upward curve, it was surely simply a matter of time. But it never happened. Months then years passed, I got close with a few sub 16:20’s but that was all. When I left Wits I gave up running (temporarily). My time to break 16 minutes had come and gone.

 

Fast forward to the early noughties. Back to running regularly in the new millennium, a new country and a new family. I stuck with the running, it became once again a way of life. Week in week out, month after month year after year.

 

So we arrive in 2013. This track season has been a good one.  I’ve run decent times in all the distances I’ve raced and was hoping it would culminate in Saturday’s 5000. I was confident of a good time but not of breaking 16 minutes. That was out of range. Inside 16:20 for the first time since the 90’s and I would go home very happy.

 

BMC 1551

Not sure why BMC were using numbers from 2007…

Time to Race.

 

We did a three mile warm-up where Ed showed us his old stomping ground around the Warwick University campus. The pace felt disconcertingly hard for a warm-up, but I pushed the negative thoughts aside and reminded myself that I was fit and that nine times out of ten it was fitness that determined how well you race, not how you feel on the warm-up.

 

A group of five runners, Ed, Dan, Tim, Chris and Sarah (superfast friend of Tim’s) were targeting 76 seconds a lap for kilometre splits of 3:10 and a finish time of 15:50. Ed, being capable of comfortably quicker than this, had volunteered to pace the group from gun to tape. Which he went on to do admirably.

 

My plan was not to commit to running with this group for the whole race but to try and stick with them for the first km. I thought I was capable of 16:15 and was happy to get there with a blow if necessary. Hence a first km of 3:10 suited me perfectly. After that I could run my own race, assessing how I felt as it went.

 

Showtime.

 

The gun went and we were off. Even though there is no entry standard for a BMC regional race, it does not attract all-comers. It tends to draw in the serious athletes who know their way around a track. So it was that when I tagged myself onto the back of Ed’s group, I was also at the back of the race.

 

After two laps our group swallowed up a pair of runners who popped straight out the back and I was no longer in last place.

 

The first km split was 3:11.

 

So far so good. It hadn’t felt particularly easy but it was manageable. I carried on. I focussed on maintaining as small as possible a gap to the back of the group so that I never felt disconnected. Once a gap appeared I knew I would struggle to close it.

 

2km in 6:20.

 

This was a good split. It meant I had run the second km in 3:09. It hadn’t felt any tougher than the first. Keep it going. More of the same. Keep calm and concentrate. I wanted to get to 3km before I lost touch.

 

The 3km mark came in 9:31.

 

A 3:11 for that one. At this point I worked out that even if I bombed to 3:20’s for the final 2km I would still run a 16:10. That gave me encouragement as I knew it was a time I would be happy with. So anything under that became a bonus. I pressed on. Things were getting tough now. The girl I had been running behind dropped off the group and I suddenly found a gap appearing between us and the group. I made a snap decision and went around her and surged to close the gap back to the group. It was hurting a lot now. Every lap that I could stay with them was bonus material. Ed was shouting out encouragement and splits to all of us, he had been doing it all race like a legend, but now it was all becoming blurry. My head was fuzzy with the pain and the concentration. I was determined not to tie up. The group was pulling away. I could not stay with them but we were only 3 laps from the end. I had stuck to them for 9 laps.

 

I hit the 4km mark in 12:46.

 

A 3:15 for that km, my slowest of the race. I knew I needed a 3:14 to get 16-flat. I was hurting so much I couldn’t think any more than that. I got to the start/finish line with two laps to go. I was totally on my own now. The group had splintered as Dan finally cut loose and Tim, Chris and Sarah stretched out behind him. Ed was still shepherding us but it was each to his own.

 

Two laps to go. Come on Mark. When will you ever get a chance to be in this position again?

 

I don’t know what my penultimate lap split was but I hit the bell in 14:38.

 

I needed an 82 second final 400 to do it. I didn’t feel confident. I kept waiting for the blow but I also kept pushing as hard as I could. Down the back straight. The timekeeper at the 200m mark had been calling times each lap. I heard him calmly announce 15:14 as I ran past him. I had 46 seconds to run the final 200m. Damn I was going to do this! I knew it was in my grasp now and I kicked as hard as I could down the home straight. The number I feared was 16:00. To be that close and miss it would be hard to take. I sprinted down the home straight and over the line. I looked down at my watch.

 

15:51.

I had done it.

 

The next few minutes were a blur.

 

Dan (15:39), Tim (15:42), Sarah (15:45) and Chris (15:51) had all finished ahead of me. That meant every single one of us had achieved the sub16. We all stood around in mild disbelief. What just happened?

 

A magic day.

 

I want to end with an awesome paragraph from Ed’s blog on the race.

 

Everyone in our training group has been training really well this summer so it was satisfying to see it all come together for them. Moments like that are rare, and in an individual sport like athletics, feeling like part of a team effort is unusual but very enjoyable. My personal highlight was seeing my good friend Mark holding his arms aloft in disbelief after breaking a PB that had stood since his teenage years in 1994. It was inspirational to see him run the perfect race after training so hard this summer, and to see him not give up on running a time he ran half a lifetime ago. I will bear that in mind next time I complain about having PBs that are more than one year old.

 

See his full post here. Definitely worth a read. Mate you were a pacing rock for us all to lean on that night. Thank you.

 

Our club website also reported on the race.

 

Official Results:

BMC results

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Official results are yet to appear but before this race becomes a distant memory here are some thoughts.

rtw map

Jon, Bec and I headed back to Gatehouse of Fleet on Tuesday 30 July to run the Roon the Watter 6 mile race for the second year in a row. My second year at any rate – Jon’s fifth (?).  Teri, Jode and Abs accompanied us to provide moral support, cheerleading and photo-taking duties.

Having won the previous year (in 34:52) I was looking forward to trying to defend my title. A year is a long time and a lot of things have changed since this time last year, but I felt I was in as good or better shape. Fitness-wise at least the same, race sharpness was better having run more track races this season than last, and not insignificantly, being a few pounds lighter.

The weather was variable leading up to the 6:30pm start time. Nice and sunny most of the day, then the heavens opened about two hours before the start, and then all but stopped just as the starting horn sounded.

It was race organiser Mac McNamara’s final year of organising the race. After 30+ years in charge he was handing over the reins to Galloway Harriers, who are sure to do as fantastic a job with the race in years to come.

There were some brief announcements at the start, an emotional round of applause for Mac, a mention that the defending champions in both the men’s and women’s race were present, which was nice. And then we were off.

rtw profile

I tagged onto the back of the lead group over the first half mile or so, to see if there were any classy guys about to blast out of sight. I edged to the front of the group without really meaning to and found myself leading the pack of 4 through the first mile in 5:20. The second mile has a fair amount of climbing in it and I wasn’t surprised when we to see we had run a 5:47 to the second mile. At this point one of the 4 had been dropped and I started feeling more confident about the race. I figured if there was real class in the field he wouldn’t have let the second mile slow like that, even up the hill. I pushed on a bit in the next mile, putting my foot down in 10 or 15 second bursts and then easing up to see if anyone had come with me. Covering the mile in this way I dropped first one and then the other runner so that I reached halfway on my own, covering the third mile in 5:29 for a halfway split of 16:36. I realised at this point that I had a chance of breaking 34 minutes if I held it together, which was more than I thought possible at the start.

The fourth mile continued the up-and-down terrain. Running more evenly I managed a 5:31 for this mile. I couldn’t hear any footsteps behind me by now and knew I must have a reasonable lead. I still didn’t feel confident that someone wouldn’t come back to me though and kept a bit in reserve in case someone did catch me. The fifth mile was 5:44. Once I got into the final mile and was feeling more confident about my chances I cut loose a bit and stretched my legs. It felt great running the final mile which is down the high street with lots of support. This mile is also downhill and I savoured just putting whatever was left in the tank onto the road. I ran 5:12 for that mile and crossed the finish line in 33:12.

Roon2013

I was really happy to defend my title and was in equal part pleased and surprised with the time. More than I could have hoped for.

1 00:05:20
2 00:05:47
3 00:05:29
4 00:05:31
5 00:05:44
6 00:05:12
00:00:09
0:33:12

I’m not sure about the extra 9 seconds at the end. I guess my Garmin measured the course as a bit longer than 6.0 miles. Put that down to me not running the best racing line around the corners!

The local paper, the Galloway Gazette, covered the race with a headline article and a full report on the race including selected results.

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2012, that’s a wrap

Getting the numbers out the way first:

In 2012 I ran 2712 miles.

This works out at a weekly average of a fraction over 52 miles (84km).

(For comparison in 2011 I managed 3183 miles for an average of 61 mpw).

The lower mileage this year was not a conscious decision, but one that was made vaguely early on and stored in the back of my mind.

 

Running is not a linear progression consisting of more miles and faster times year on year. It is more like a series of efforts interspersed with rests. This applies on a micro level, day by day, and scales up nicely to apply to week on week, month on month and year on year.

 

After 2011, which had been a big jump from 2010 (47 to 61 mpw), I felt consolidation was needed in 2013, rather than trying to continue to forge ahead. I decided to focus on improving the quality of the mileage rather than pushing out big numbers for the sake of a nicely shaped graph. In a sense I guess you could say 2012 was a recovery year after 2011.

 

Did I achieve this? I feel like I did and I am satisfied with the year. In terms of cold, hard, reportable facts I don’t have a glut of personal bests to show for 2012.

 

The synchronization between fitness and races wasn’t quite aligned this year for whatever reason, and I had periods of top fitness with no race results to show for it. Conversely I had lots of races where I arrived, again, for a variety of reasons in less than ideal shape. Some would say that is how running goes. And they’d be right. This is one of the many unique aspects that make our sport great. Getting yourself into shape at the right time is a combination of science, art, and experience. I intend to work on that in 2013. An easy first step would be to schedule in more frequent racing, which I plan on doing.

 

IMG_6643

 

 

Races

I recorded two Personal Bests in 2012.

Both PBs were in the first quarter of the year. The first was the Droitwich Half Marathon, where I had no intention of chasing a time but was aiming for a controlled hard effort. Funny how these things work out. Anyway I felt great and managed to take 10 seconds off my PB with a 77:26.

 

The second PB came in April where, in unseasonable conditions (cold and rainy); I ran 4hr14 at the Two Oceans Ultramarathon (56km) in Cape Town. I was targeting a silver medal (given to all finishers under 4 hours) and was on course for the first third of the race. I went through halfway in 1hr56 which may sound right for a 4hr00 target but the second half of the race is incredibly hilly and more time is needed in the bag before hitting the big climbs. Still, I’m pleased with the 4hr14 which takes 3 minutes off my time from 2011.

 

That was it as far as personal bests went in 2012. The best times I achieved in each race distance for the year are below.

 

2012 Best times:-

Distance

Time

Date

Race

Notes

1500m

4:35

30 May

BMC 1500m

 

3000m

9:43

11 July

Birmingham Uni Open

 

5km

16:41

15 September

Cannon Hill parkrun

 

10km

36:34

9 September

Lichfield 10k

Total Rubbish! I ran 35 minutes a number of times in solo time trials. But races are what count.

13.1 miles

1:17:26

4 March

Droitwich Half Marathon

PB by 10 seconds

20 miles

2:09:10

18 March

Ashby 20 Mile Road Race

Not a race effort. Trying to practice target marathon pace.

56km

4:14:26

7 April

Two Oceans Ultramarathon

PB by 3 minutes

Non Standard Distances

3 miles

16:39

12 May

National Masters Road Relays

 

5.1km

16:54

13 October

National Six Stage Road Relays

 

6 miles

34:52

31 July

Roon the Watter, Scotland

Won the race 🙂

         

 

The most surprising result was the half because, as mentioned above, I hadn’t gone in with the intention of racing.

 

The best race performance was probably the National Six Stage. 16:54 for 5.1k is pretty much as fast as it gets for me and was one of the few occasions this year when my fitness aligned with a race.

 

Thanks to everyone who was around to support (and share) the racing and training experiences. Many miles, many hours logged on the road, track and mud, and much nonsense talked.

 

As always, a special mention to my incredible better half, Bec, and our two girls who support me 100%.

 

Ok. With that, 2012 is out of the way. Enjoy all 2013 brings.

 

Keep running dudes.

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 There has been a niggling feeling lurking around the murky depths of the running community for the past couple of months (possibly years). The whispering that goes on behind closed marathon doors. People only want to watch fast races and see fast times, the whisperers are saying. The perception that time is king and the actual racing is secondary. 

Are we so obsessed with time we cannot enjoy a race unless it is fast? No. This opinion undermines the intelligence of running fans. Everyone wants to see an exciting race. And what is more exciting than two or more people burying themselves late in a race in an attempt to get rid of their competitors? Nothing.

But running fast is also exciting. I don’t think fast running deserves the bad rap it seems to be getting from the learned running media.ryan hall finishing houston half

It is not, as many people would seem to have us believe, an on-or-off situation. Actually you can have your cake and eat it. If you love the racing you don’t have to hate the time. And if you love world record attempts you don’t have to hate racing. When you think about it, that is a ridiculous proposal anyway. But that is the choice we are told we are making.

Well I reject that choice. Distance fans are smart enough to appreciate a race and a course for what it is. No-one would say an elite marathoner who wins a race has run badly in that race because he was five or ten minutes slower than his Personal Best. Those guys run races to win. Fast times are secondary. In the choice between a fast time trial and a tough attritional battle between gladiators, as a spectator it is a no brainer. And for the competitors it is win first, time second. If you can win in a fast time, well that’s just dandy. But just as the two concepts aren’t mutually exclusive, they aren’t joined at the hip either.

What needs to be remembered is that writing off time as being pointless is just as foolish as saying it is all that matters. Sure you want a close race, but it has to be reasonably fast, by default. What does reasonably fast mean? That is the question. Not because we want it fast, but because if it is not reasonably fast you will have dozens of contenders for the win. We might not care as spectators but you can be sure the elite runners in the field will care. The top half dozen runners don’t want a bunch of guys they don’t know hanging around the lead pack waiting to show off their unheralded kicks. Fact is it has to be some form of fast. Fast doesn’t relate to an absolute pace. Fast in Berlin might be 2:03, but fast in New York might be 2:05, and fast in Honolulu might be 2:11. Fast in Mumbai might be 2:15. In road racing terms, speed is a relative thing.

In cross country, pace is completely arbitrary. Yet there again you know the pace is “fast”. You know this because top quality runners are being burned off left and right. Guys who have run 27 minutes for 10k on the track, which is fast by anyone’s definition, are barely in shot as the camera follows the lead pack. So you know it’s quick. More than that it doesn’t matter. It is all about the race.

 

sprint finish Pure racing taken to the extreme is just as bad as solo time trialling. In more 1500m and mile races than I care to remember, I have seen the group go out at a pace barely above crawling. They creep around for 3 laps and then blast the last lap. There are plenty of people in contention but I wouldn’t call it exciting. I don’t want to watch a bunch of 1500 guys trying to decide who the quickest 400 guy is. An honest hard pace for 3 laps and THEN a kick. That’s when the final lap split counts. Who has the quickest 400 once when your legs are full of lactic and your lungs are burning and you can taste blood in your mouth. That’s compelling racing and has both a time and a race element.

Let’s summarise if possible.

Two competitors repeatedly attacking each other over the final miles of a race IS incredibly exciting.

Mass sprint finishes CAN be exciting.

Solo races against the clock CAN be exciting.

I don’t see the need to write off races based on a pre-conception of “how races like this go”.

There is one rule that applies across the board. Racing must come first. But really this is the default position anyway. When Haile Gebrselassie was chasing marathon world records in time-trial fashion a few years ago, he went out hard with the clock and pacemakers as predetermined company. However when he hadn’t shaken off a competitor or a couple of competitors by the 20 mile mark he made that his priority. Win first, time second.  And he would state it afterwards. “once I saw I hadn’t shaken off x or y, I knew I had to forget about the world record and go for the win”. That’s not a direct quote but it is generally words to that effect. All professional athletes have this understanding.

I can say that with certainty even though I am far from a professional athlete myself. It is clear that winning trumps a fast time, every time. Moses Mosop ran 2:03:06 in Boston last year, second to Geoffrey Mutai in 2:03:02. Geoffrey took the bulk of the limelight but Mosop ran an incredibly fast time. If you have offered Mosop the win but said it would be in 2:04:06, a minute slower than he ran, what do you think his response would be? I know what I think. Winning is the thing. Bill Rodgers won Boston four times and New York four times. An amazing marathoner. A hero. Probably a lot of hard-core marathon fans know the times Bill ran, but outside of them, people tend to remember the winning. Grete Waitz, who held the world record for a while in the marathon, is remembered primarily for one outstanding achievement: Grete won the New York Marathon NINE times. Nine times! That achievement surpasses any of the quick times she managed, and she was quick.

 

 Road cycling teaches us this lesson in unequivocal terms.  One-day classics or individual stage wins in a three-week grand tour. It’s the winning that matters. When Mark Cavendish wins a sprint finish no-one cares about the time. It has no meaning. A great post which goes into far more depth on this, and on the odd occasion where people do pay attention to times in road cycling, can be found here, on the incomparable inrng website. Long breakaways or bunch sprints, the underlying principle remains: it’s the racing not the time.

However, while this is a good lesson, it is not one that running can swallow hook, line and sinker. Because running is intrinsically different. Track racing is track racing, and cycling has track too, so for sensible comparisons we will ignore the track elements of both sports.

Marathons are a very precise distance. 26 miles and 385 yards. Because of this standardised length, times are unavoidably compared. Courses are different and this is accounted for in winning times anyway. Every running fan can appreciate that a 2:04 marathon, no matter where it takes place, is incredibly impressive. But it doesn’t have to work the other way, i.e. that a 2:12 is NOT impressive. There are always factors on the day that have a major influence on time.

Then, on certain occasions you get great racing and great times. Sammy Wanjiru in Beijing is a great example of this. Dog-eat-dog racing with scant regard for race conditions, AND a three minute improvement on the Olympic Marathon Record.  The outcome was a very special event that people identified straight away as being something we will remember for a long time.

This shows that there are certain occasions, when the planets are aligned and the stars are shining brightly, when we can be treated to great racing which we get to watch unfold at record speeds.

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Today saw the second running of the world famous Christmas Mile. Numbers were up on last year with four hardy souls toeing the line. The weather played along by being cold, miserable and wet.

22 December 2012 10:15am University of Birmingham Athletics Track.

Results:
1. Ed Banks 4:39
2. Martin Matthews 4:55
3. Mark Ince 5:04
4. Kevin McMillan 5:30

(Kevin had run a hard 5k immediately before the mile, solid pre-race preparation in anyone’s book.)

A few laps cool down and we were off.

That was that. The conditions minimised any pre or post race banter. The mile was short, sweet and to the point. And so is this report.

Same time next year chaps.

20121222-181015.jpg

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This will be the final in the series. We could get carried away here and I want to wrap it up.

I am bending the rules slightly by including two memorable moments in this post. A double whammy to finish it off.

 

11 March 2012

Bernard Lagat’s indoor Gold medal in the 3000m.

Bernard_Lagat_Istanbul_2012 from wikipedia

This happened early in the year, in March. Lagat is one of the all-time greats and deserves a full report on his career at the very least at some point in the future. For now, suffice to say that a man who has been winning races for well over a decade, and is now in his late 30s, who still has the drive and physical ability to compete with the youngsters on the track, is very impressive. Winning the 3000m indoor world title was a fitting way to acknowledge this. Bernard knows how to run a race tactically and how to turn it to his best advantage. To encourage the race to play into his hand. Add to that he has a sniper-like ability of timing his kick to perfection and of ensuring he is in the right place to execute the kick in the first instance. His all-round approach to racing is something all distance runners could learn from. Turning back the clock on a regular basis is another of his many admirable talents. We may not see another sub 3:30 from him over 1500m (his PB is a mind boggling 3:26.34) but I certainly believe we have at least another season or two of top flight entertainment from this top flight competitor.

Results.

Pos Athlete Country Time
1 Bernard Lagat USA 7:41.44
2 Augustine Choge Kenya 7:41.77
3 Edwin Soi Kenya 7:41.78

 

Footnote: How about the race for silver. 0.01 seconds separating 2nd and 3rd. Augustine Choge is another classy competitor, consistently producing high level performances over many years. (Who can forget Choge knocking Craig Mottram into 2nd at the Commonwealth Games in Melbourne in 2006. Mottram was in top shape at the time having won a bronze medal in the World Champs 5000m the previous year, and now on home turf. But Choge with the middle distance pedigree, had the kick to comfortably take care of business on the bell lap. Choge’s winning time was an incredible 12:56 , with Mottram running 12:58 for second!)

 

6 October 2012

Zersenay Tadese’s World Half Marathon gold.

Zersenay Tadese 20th IAAF WHM from zimbio.com

In many ways the things to like about Zersenay are similar to the things to like about Lagat. They are both consistent at the highest level and almost always win their specialist event. They also both possess the wherewithal to do everything in their power to shape the race to suit their strengths. Zersenay is not a sit-and-kick kind of guy. But he is a winner. This combination means that in any race he runs he will at some point show up in the front, driving the pace on, attempting to to ride competitors off his wheel, cycling style. Relentless grinding to make sure no-one is left, and if they are, they have nothing left to kick with. A great tactic that has served him well in all formats of distance running, road, cross country and track.

 

He has been less successful on the track due to its tendency to favour kickers, on top of which, a certain Kenenisa Bekele was on the scene at this peak during many of Tadese’s bigger track races. Olympics, World Champs etc. The ominous Bekele and at least one of his compatriots were able to live with whatever Tadese dished out, knowing with certainty that if they could withstand the beating Tadese was administering, they would be able to kick past once the bell sounded.

 

But transfer those same skills to road running and suddenly Zersenay is in pole position. Road racing encourages and rewards hard running. And Tadese has shown time and again he is up for the challenge. Marathons are not his thing. Something in the chemistry is wrong. It may not be righted before he retires, but it shouldn’t blemish his road racing ability over the half marathon distance. If ever there was a marriage between an athlete and a distance, you would need to look hard to find a couple more suited than Zersenay Tadese and 13.1 miles. (Paula and the full distance jumps to mind, but she has not achieved the repetitive championship success Tadese has enjoyed).

 

This year’s race in Bulgaria was Zersenay’s FIFTH world title in the previous SIX editions of the event. (In 2006 the IAAF decided to make it a 20km event instead of 21.1, bless them. Tadese still won of course and thankfully the distance was returned to the standard half marathon the following year). Last year, 2011, was the year he didn’t win. He ran hard and fast, fighting to the end, and he lost in the final few hundred yards to Wilson Kiprop. If you watched the race you will remember that once he crossed the line he could barely walk. He limped off with assistance, and carried that injury for months after that. He had effectively raced the world half champs with the injury, and nearly secured the win regardless. Such was his determination and also such was his affinity with the event.

 

Zersenay Tadese is already a great in the running world, his World Cross Country Title alone ensures that status. But with the five world road racing titles to his name he is an all-time great. I would love to see him add a few more to that tally. Each year it seems more unlikely but each year he delivers regardless. So here’s hoping he can hold off the challengers, fierce as they are, for another couple of years.

 

 

Footnote: He also has six team silvers to his name from the World Half Marathon Champs

 

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