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Another year in the books.

 

2,665 miles at a weekly average of 51. A touch less than last year (2015 2,728mi) and a touch more than the year before that (2014 2,596mi).

If nothing else a pattern is clearly emerging around the typical weekly mileage I can consistently sustain in my current routine.

 

2016 had a rocky start, being injured from the end of January until late May, with training only getting going in June.

 

I ran 17 races in the year. 8 on the road, 7 on the track, and 2 cross country outings to bookend the year (county champs in January and division 1 league race in December).

 

Onto the highlights. Two moments stand head and shoulders above the others.

 

  1. 15:37
  2. 72:33

 

I’ve blogged about these particular runs already and they can be found here and here. I won’t revisit them in this summary. Suffice to say these two runs turned an otherwise fairly humdrum running year into a truly memorable one. You should never say never but the fact is if I never improve those PB’s I will be quite happy.

 

I now have three PB’s that I can stick up on my running wall, point to and say, I have no unfinished business at those distances.

 

5km 15:37 (2016)
10km 32:44 (2014)
Half Marathon 72:33 (2016)

 

The clear omission is the marathon. 2017 may be the year I make some inroads on that one, but who knows. I learned a long time taking any expectations into a marathon is a risky business. Do the training, get to the start line in the best possible shape, put it all out there and hope the marathon gods are smiling on you. That’s why we love that damn distance right? Getting it right is one of the most difficult undertakings in our sport.

 

So what did I learn in 2016?

 

I learnt in no uncertain terms what works for me in race prep, which is, drum roll, races. In the 4 weeks before the 15:37 I ran no less than 5 races, a 10k, a 3k, and then 3 successive 5k’s on the track. It sharpened me up, and more importantly conditioned me to a level I’ve never experienced before. I could tell the subtle difference between a 3:07 kay and a 3:10 kay and my body learned how to run fast even after starting fast (which is the tricky bit of course). I remember lining up for the 15:37 supremely confident that a big one was on the cards. Anyway I’m rambling here which I said I wouldn’t do. Read the other blog post on it, it’s all in there.

 

Another interesting take away from 2016 was the continually-refined understanding of the cumulative effect of training.

I ran some of my fastest times this year and guess how many speed sessions I did? 9. And 6 of those were before mid-Feb (and the injury).

So from March to December I ran 3 speed sessions. The staple run of my training week for many years and I all but threw it away this year. And the effect? Virtually nothing. I didn’t lose any speed, I ran my fastest 5k and HM by some margin.

Speedwork is important, don’t misunderstand me. The point of this point is that the more you bag the training, and the longer you bag the training, the less you need to bag every single element of the training.

I look at Bernard Lagat as he approached his 40’s and still ran absolutely world class times (27min 10kays for Pete’s sake). He is famous for running 60 miles a week and 6 times a week. No double days and no mad mileage. But you can be sure when he was cutting his teeth in his early 20s and forging a path, he was running a lot more quantity and quality. He has built his engine and now he is maintaining it. I think there is truth to that.

 

But who knows, next year I might hit the trackwork again, run well, and be blogging from an entirely different perspective in 2017 summary…. That’s why we love it.

 

Thanks for reading and supporting. See y’all on the roads.

 

RIP Dad, love you always.

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Frankfurt Marathon 2016

Somewhat delayed and somewhat trivial in light of recent events, here it is anyway. (Typed up shortly after the race)

 

Not only the good ones.

 

30 October 2016

 

It wasn’t my day today. In spite of all the noise and little things making a difference here and there, “could I have done this differently” “ did that make a difference” “too much” “too little” and so on, the fact is underneath it all I just didn’t have the legs. Most likely reason is the all-out effort in the Birmingham half marathon, two weeks earlier, still remnant in the legs.

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The Frankfurt start was a mess. None of the London precision in big event hosting. Frankfurt had one pen for everyone under 3:15 and no enforcing going on anyway so it was rammed. I squeezed in, sardined amongst hundreds of others runners, 100+m back from the start line. I had lost the others in the mayhem and assumed they were ahead of me.

 

The gun went…. And nothing happened… then we slowly started shuffling forwards which became a slow jog which became a faster jog and then eventually we were running. People everywhere so no chance of running: 1. At pace or 2. In straight lines. It was zig zag all over the pace as I passed streams of runners, trying to get to the clear space. I heard someone call me and lo and behold Dan and Chris were actually behind me at the start. We formed an orderly queue, and made our way single file through the throngs of runners. Chris got away and soon Dan did too. I wasn’t worried. I figured I would get to space eventually and be able to run at the right speed and maybe even latch back on and run with Dan for a while. How wrong I was.

 

I had my watch in kays and the number in my head was 3:45 per kay. That works out to a 2hr38 marathon which I felt was a reasonable target. First kay was well over 4 with all the people then a bit of space and a bit too quick 3:25. Then slower. Then quicker. It was haphazard pacing at best. Got to 5k in 19:30 and was now already 45 seconds down on my target. I thought I could make it up and still didn’t panic. It took 2 more 5k chunks until I was on 3:45 pace. But something wasn’t right. I wasn’t struggling per se, but I certainly wasn’t floating along. It’s a feeling I’ve had many times in the past in marathons, but not recently. Deep down I knew what it meant but I was in denial. You *will* feel ok. Keep on pace and it *will* come right. It didn’t come right. At about 20k the writing was on the wall. Halfway in 79 so the number looked right, a little slow in fact, but that was all that was right. My legs were disappearing quickly and there was nothing to be done. The kays slowed from 3:40 to 3:50. Then to 4, then to 4:10. This is always the toughest part of a “bad day”, the part when you face the realisation that you’re not going to achieve your goal and your race is going to be one of those bad ones. The ones where you are just trying to get to the finish.

 

25k marker and I was really struggling. At the 26 / 27k point I was seriously considering walking, I was that broken. Suddenly out of the blue I heard Dan’s voice. “Come on Mark!” he was on the other side of the road and I remembered the loop we identified on the course map at 27k. Hearing and seeing him and suddenly remembering where I was on the course helped immensely at that exact moment, and I had a little spurt of motivation and got myself running again. Don’t get me wrong, the 3:45s were long gone but I settled into a steady 4-4:15 pace. Every step was agony and my muscles started spasming shortly after this too. Not to the point I couldn’t run, but just adding to the shorter and shorter strides I was taking.

 

At 32k the roadside clock said 2:02. I started working out what I might get to the finish line in. 10k in 40min would be 2:42. I knew I couldn’t run a 40min 10k in this condition so that was out. Even the 48min needed for breaking 2:50 seemed a stretch the way I was feeling.

 

The rest of the race was really just a conveyor belt of pain and shuffling and counting down the kilometres. I tried to take in the scenery as best I could and remember the course and landmarks of the city we were running past. As we approached the final 5k or so it took a winding route back through the city centre and gave me another opportunity to see Chris and Dan flying along on the other side of the road. I shouted at them both.

 

40k mark. Noted in my fatigue fog that the time was 2:38, a nice finish time, but I had 2.2 bloody kays still to go!

 

The indoor finish is truly something unique. It was spectacular and I savoured every second.

 

2:46:47 over the line.

 

I have no complaints about the course, it was brilliant. Knowing the start for next time will help. Frankfurt, I’ll be back.

 

Chris smashed it with a 2:30. Dan smashed it with a 2:32. Grog was painstakingly close to his sub3:15 GFA with 3:15:33 and Jamie adopted a run walk strategy to protect his knees for a 4:02. Dan’s friend Ally had a similar experience to me. We live to fight another day.

 

 

 

 

 

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16 October 2016

An interesting race weekend. Curry and beer on Friday night, Dad’s taxi all day Saturday (sleepover, gymnastics, birthday party #1, birthday party #2), interspersed with an outstanding sports massage, care of my better half, and a bowl (ok two bowls…) of pre-race pasta. Who knew all of that would add up to a great race on Sunday.

 

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Race morning. Met up with Ed and Dan before the start and we agreed on 3:30 per kay as a good pace to set off at. Dan was in the elite start and I was in the sub-elite start about 20m back. I needed to close the gap asap after the gun.

 

 

Soon it was go time and we poured over the line. I tried to stay relaxed and get into my running, not going too quickly or too slowly. Both easily achievable mistakes I make at the start of a race. I’m rubbish with pacing from the off, but once I find a pace, I can settle into it and run fairly even.

 

Dan was about 50m ahead of me in a pack of 5 with Peter, Joe, Orlando and Richard White. First kay clicked off in 3:21. I wasn’t concerned about them being ahead because the first kay has a decent downhill so figures are skewed. I just kept with what I was doing. Second kay in 3:24 and I was no closer to them. This was more of a concern because I was running solo and had to make a decision to put my foot down and catch them, but in doing so risk going too fast too early, or run my current pace effectively on my own with 19 of the 21 kays remaining. If I settled into the 3:30s as planned there was no way I would catch them, so in a snap decision, based on my legs feeling ok, I stuck in 2 further kays of 3:21 and 3:21.

 

This pulled me up to the group just as we were hitting the first water point around 3 miles, manned by the BRATs, and shortly after that the spot my support crew were waiting to cheer me on. The thought of seeing them gave me a little boost and without noticing it I edged to the front the group and led them through the next few minutes. Seeing Cath, Lal, Zac, Talullah and Abby was awesome. I gave Abs a high five as I passed. I was feeling good, I was in a tight group, we were running quick, things were going well.

 

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At this point the route turns off Pershore road to take in a small triangle consisting of an incline out and then a downhill return to Pershore. Going up the hill, with the excitement of seeing the family now passed, the pace immediately felt too quick. Fact is it was too quick. I was digging in more than I should to stay with the group. I drifted off the back to reassess. Dan slowed to pull alongside me and said let’s just relax until we get to Bournville. I agreed and said the pack was moving too quick now anyway. Orlando, Joe, Peter and Richard pulled away from us and Dan and I ran side by side for the next few miles.

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We kept things under control and turned at the uphill next to Rowheath Pavilion to begin the journey back towards the city centre. As we passed the 6 mile mark the route was starting to flatten out with a slight downhill toward Pershore. I was feeling good, being sensible for those few miles had paid off, and subconsciously I pressed the accelerator a bit. Dan told me to go if I wanted to press on, as he was struggling with his breathing.

 

I pulled away and set off after the group which was still in sight but a fair way ahead. Orlando had drifted off the back but was still running well and the rest of them, now down to a trio, were tightly grouped and looking strong.

 

Running down the other side of Pershore road is a great part of the course. You’re heading back towards town, it’s a slight downhill and there is lots of support on both sides of the road. I saw my crew shouting at me again at around the 7-8 mile mark. I was feeling good and let them know with some waving and hand gestures. Then I settled into the business of trying to bridge the gap to Orlando. I pulled alongside him as we hit the last bit of Pershore and turned towards the Edgbaston Cricket ground.

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A crazy loop around the grandstands of the cricket ground and then out and into cannon hill park. Running through the cricket ground was a strange affair. The last time I ran the race this wasn’t in it, so it was my first taste. Usually when I’m here I’m a few pints to the good on a lazy summer afternoon soaking up some cricket, beer and burger in hand. Now I was trying to maintain pace, 8 and a half miles into a half marathon, and starting to suffer. Talk about mixed messages.

 

I found myself a few strides ahead of Orlando as we headed into cannon hill park. I figured it was all or nothing. There was no-one left to chase, the guys ahead were out of sight, and the only people I would see would be any passing me, so may as well empty the tank. Ran through Cannon Hill park, got a cheer from Hannah England on her bike, and headed out of the top gate. 10 miles came and went and still the kays were ticking by at 3:20 or thereabouts. I was hurting, but needed to maintain the pace until The Hill.

 

The Hill was looming and I had nothing in my legs. I had worked flat out to this point and had time on my side. I figured I would lose time but as long as I had more in the bank than I lost climbing this monster, it was all gravy. I hit the bastard and started climbing.

 

Leaning into it, just trying to keep the legs turning over. It was heavy going. I looked up the hill and saw the pack of three had finally been undone. Explosions on the hill. Richard was coming back to me. I didn’t know if there was enough time left in the race to reach him. I couldn’t work anything out at this point and just put my foot down when we hit Hagley road in the final mile. Whatever is in the tank gets used now.

 

I did catch Rich and passed him and mumbled something about digging in. Then I pinned my ears back and just went for it as hard as I could down the hill through the Fiveways underpass out and up the other side. The 400m to go sign board came and went, then the 200m board which seemed impossibly far away. I could see the finish line and the clock. It was 1hr12 something. Couldn’t make out the seconds. Let it be a low number I thought as I still had about 20 seconds to go. Sprinted across the line and stopped my watch.

 

1:12:33.

 

A PB by 56 seconds. 15th overall and 1st V40. I couldn’t be happier, but right now was too tired to think of anything.

 

I collected my bag and got reunited with the crew, who had just missed me over the line in their mad rush back from the 7 mile mark. Guys you were fantastic – it was so awesome seeing you on the road. Thank you.

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Dan, Orlando, Richard, Peter. We worked hard out there. Job done. Well done all.

 

 

Ps Old Father Time – you will have to wait for another race to catch me…. my legs aren’t done yet :-).

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Fifteen Thirty Seven

 

Front of the start line this time. I wasn’t getting caught like DanR and I did last time. We had a previous sub16 attempt go wrong at this race getting boxed in around the 400m lap of the track that the race takes before heading out onto the walkways and roads of Wythenshawe Park.

 

The gun went I took off. Don’t get boxed in, don’t get boxed in. 300m into the race and I realised I wasn’t going to get boxed in – I was tucked in right behind the leaders. A pack of about 10. Whoa tiger, being in the company of quality runners like Jonny Mellor was not on the program and was a sure way to ruin my race. But I felt good, so no need to panic. I felt smooth, I focused on not being stupid in either direction pace-wise. This was quick and that was fine.

 

 

the finish line

 

 

We turned out of the stadium and set off on the first of the two big loops. The group ahead was gone but a thinner group of runners was all around me. What a change from my recent 5000 track exploits (pre-amble below refers) where not only was I at the back of the field but I was separated within the first km, effectively time trialling the rest of the way in last place. Humbling but a damn good way to condition yourself. Not tonight Josephine. There were runners with me and they were moving quickly. I latched onto one who seemed controlled at speed. Hang onto him for another km and see.

 

First kay marker loomed large. I looked at my watch. 3:07. Excellent. Not suicidal but not giving myself loads to do later on. Anything under 3:12 would get me close enough to do what was needed in the final km. The first km is always for free so I knew the second split meant a lot more.

 

Second kay marker. 6:18. A 3:11 km. Worrying. But I still had lots of running in me. Use it now I told myself. Don’t wait for the final km and find you have tons left. Another runner passed me and my unofficial pacer. In a snap decision I moved wide and followed him. We moved smoothly past the pacer. Now it felt fast. It felt like I was burning matches here. This would cost me later on. But fuck it I wasn’t going to be fucked by the middle kilometres of a 5k yet again.

 

We barrelled through the 3km marker in 9:22. Haysus. That was a 3:04. Now this shit was real. I had in the palm of my hand not only a sub16 but something significantly quicker. Don’t spew this opportunity all over the place you big sissy. The guy I was hanging onto was moving too quickly now. Don’t let him go yet. Get another km, fuck, half a km, whatever you can.

 

We hurtled back into the park now, deep into the second lap. Lapping people I noticed Cath up ahead. I was catching her earlier than I normally do on this route. It confirmed I was running quick because I suspected she was on a good one too (she was – 27:56 for her first sub28 since the accident. Well done babe!). I heard her shout encouragement as we passed. It gave me a boost. Don’t lose this guy while she can still see me I thought, how embarrassing.

 

We hit 4k in 12:34. 34! I had 26 seconds to spare going into the final km to get under 16 minutes. 16 was a done deal. Could I break 15:50? Shit could I break 15:40?? I know this final kilometre backwards. I know when to open the throttle, when to conserve the tiniest bit. I was going to do this. But things were also getting tough now. Really tough. My pacer was too strong, a gap was appearing. I couldn’t close it but we were catching a group of 3 or 4 who were tying up. I got a boost passing them, my guy was long gone. Now back into the stadium and onto the track for the final 200m. I heard someone closing me down, I picked up my pace. Hurting like fuck we hit the final 100, I could see the clock. Jeez it was in the 15:teens, then 15:20’s. I had less than a hundred to go. The guy behind was closing, I told myself he was an M40 too and was about to pass me for the win. That was all I needed to kick even harder and hold him off. Turns out the M40 winner was 3 seconds ahead of both of us, but hey ho, needs must to get a sprint out of the legs.

 

Threw myself over the line at full pelt, forgetting momentarily to stop my watch. When I did it said 15:41.

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I knew the official time would be quicker but this was enough. I had done it. not only done it but destroyed it.

 

Fifteen Thirty Seven

 

 

 

Without a shadow of doubt the best performance of my life. It still hasn’t sunk in yet.

 

Official Results

 

 

The pre-amble. Aka Where did this run come from?

 

No one likes a pre amble when you’re waiting to get to the good stuff so I’ve moved it down here for anyone who still wants to read. So where did this race come from? I want to jot down some thoughts, most especially for my own benefit when years from now I’m thinking how exactly did I get into that shape…?

First thing – injuries.

Not an obvious training tool I’ll grant you, but bear with me. If you do come back it can mean fresh legs.

I was out for a good chunk of early 2016. February, March and April were right-offs with a piriformis injury on my left side (caused by drastically sidestepping to avoid smashing into the back of a youngster who stopped dead during a track session in late Jan or early Feb).

All those weeks of no running (probably 10 of them) gave my body a chance to recover from years and years of fairly continuous training.

I’ve been lucky with injuries most of my career, i.e. not having many, which of course means not too many long layoffs. Now I was having one and my body was taking full advantage. Unbeknownst to me at the time obviously.

Injuries are unbelievably frustrating and tough to deal with psychologically, emotionally, in every way basically. So it’s good to understand with hindsight that, at least physically, there were some gains happening.

Training.

A far more obvious way to run well. But this was not a normal return to training once the hip (and subsequent back) issues had cleared.

For one thing I was in no hurry to get back to track work. This was partly psychological as I really didn’t want to risk agitating the injury with interval work, but also because I had lost a fair bit of fitness and our track group is a high level (for me). I need to be on my game to get the gains from running in the group. When I turn up in bad shape I’m running solo anyway. So I didn’t want that.

So I had a few weeks of just jogging. Getting the body used to the routine again. I remember how damn good it felt to be able to run again and I didn’t want to jeopardise that in any way.

After a few weeks of that, I felt like I could use a hard aerobic effort, like a parkrun or similar. So I did a few of those types of runs. Hard on the lungs but not murder on the legs.

I added another element to my training shortly after this, which was the marathon-pace run. Tried to do it at least once a week, sometimes failed but most weeks fitted it in there. Running 6 to 10 miles at 6-minute pace was a new kind of training to me. Introduced in part by running buddy Karl and his infamous TMR sessions, which he used to great effect to smash the Manchester marathon in 2015. And in part by another running buddy, Simon, who believes you should run a quarter of your target race distance at target race pace each week. Between 6 and 7 miles at 6-minute pace in my case.

I’ve not done these before and I think they probably brought my aerobic engine on in leaps and bounds. Not to mention some mental toughness, banging out that pace on my own, or mostly on my own, on a Sunday morning.

This was also helping the weekly mileage and I hit a sequence of 5+ weeks where I had averaged as much as I ever had (70+). That sequence is more like 10 weeks and counting now.

Races.

Around the same time, mid-June, I made a conscious decision to use races to get back to fitness rather than speedwork. The reasons are mostly outlined in the previous point.

I also had in my head the story about our former university club mate – warning: name drop ahead – Hendrick Ramaala – not doing any trackwork leading into the season he broke the SA 10,000m record, choosing instead to race the European cross country circuit as conditioning. There are other stories like this too, and it felt like it fitted my needs quite well. If it works for elites it should be ok for the rest of us.

I’m not advocating ditching trackwork completely. Definitely not. In fact over the years it is probably the single biggest reason for my improved running. But a short-term sabbatical when it feels right, and replacing it with steady to hard continuous runs, is no bad thing.

So I lined up a relatively gentle return to racing. Gentle in terms of the quality of the track meeting and competition (a midlands veterans league) rather than the race itself, which was quite a sharp return, a 1500m. I ran 4:28 in the race, very happy to break 4:30 at that stage, and it felt good to race again.

The following week I raced a 3000m (9:28) and a 10k on the road (34:11). They certainly weren’t barnstorming performances but they were fulfilling the objective nicely.

We headed into July and I kept the races coming. Another 3000 (9:32), disappointing time, but feeling a lot more comfortable at that speed. The race quality ramped up at this point as I entered a BMC Grand Prix 5000m. I had no business trying to get into the race. The automatic standard is 14:55 and even the slow race at this meeting has guys all capable of sub 15:30. But I needed races, this was local (Solihull) and anyway it seemed quite exciting to be in a race of that calibre. The race went off and sure enough I was on my own, 100m behind second last from about a lap in. No need to bore you with splits, I ended with 16:22 which I was happy enough with.

Ten days later I had another BMC 5000m. This was where I got the first indication that the training was working. I was hoping to improve on the 16:22 but didn’t know by how much. Something in the 16:teens would do. Off we went and I was last (again) and separated from the pack (again). But this time I hung onto to my own pace better and ran 16:01. I was genuinely surprised. The race conditions were less than ideal. 29 degrees and a 9pm start time. It showed me that, given a more suitable field and better conditions, I could probably take a chunk off it.

But of course you never really know. Beauty of running and all that. Inspired by the 16:01, I travelled to Oxford 4 days later for another BMC 5000. This proved too soon after the previous one, was also in the heat, worse heat this time, and the field was even stronger. Before we had completed a single lap I was well behind second last. I grafted my way around in 16:21. Disappointing time but again I knew I had banked some invaluable training.

My ability to grind out 3:15 per kay had never been better. I could do it on my own and in the heat. Roll on a proper race. Proper inasmuch I would have people to race. The Sale Sizzler, in Manchester, provided that. In addition it was a course I knew well, and a ratified course used for the Northern Road 5km championships.

As mentioned above I had tried previously with DanR to break 16 (running 16:03 that day after being horrendously boxed in on the first km). I knew I was fitter now than I was that day, and I figured if I didn’t get boxed in, the rest would take care of itself. Cue the start of this post above… the rest is history.

Weight.

Time to come clean. My name is Mark Ince and I use MyFitnessPal. The guy I sit next to at work talked me into it. A sporty youngster who plays football and rugby to a relatively high level, and also goes to gym and runs occasionally. He convinced me to download the app. I was fed up with the weight I had gained from the time off and was looking to get back to racing weight as soon as I could. This seemed like a useful tool for doing that. And it was.

The weight soon came off from when I started in early June, and over the next few weeks I got back to a good weight. I found that I was paying more attention to what I was eating (an obvious objective of the app) and was getting a better idea of what was good nutrition and what wasn’t. You’d think after all these years I would know these things…… ok let’s move on. So some more weight came off. And then a bit more. The change wasn’t enough to be noticeable to the eye but was definitely helping the running.

 

I’ll ramble no more.

In summary, I ran more, ran more at a good pace, ran lots of hard races, and weigh less.

 

Mince out

 

 

 

 

 

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2015 precis

As the dust settles on 2015 it is time for the annual midpack slacker running year review.

 

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Comrades 2015 – pre-race bravado

 

 

 

Starting with the usual roundup of numbers.

 

Total mileage for the year was 2,728, at an average of 52.5 miles per week (or 84.4km).

 

How does that stack up against recent years?

Looking back over the last 5 years sees 2015 is sitting mid-table. Two years I’ve run more (11 and 13) and two years I’ve run less (12 and 14).

Year Mileage
11 3178
13 3016
15 2728
12 2708
14 2596

 

What to make of this? Not much I think. I’ve had my two best years, 2013 and 2014 on either side of this year’s mileage. And 2011, in spite of being the biggest mileage by some way, didn’t really produce the best performances. I think the message is, just keep running. The actual numbers don’t mean much in isolation, it is consistency and year-on-year training that push performances on.

 

For most of 2015 I didn’t really feel like I was hitting my straps. I always seemed to be coming back from something or other. For sure there have been good pockets of fitness, firstly around April/May (from the London build-up) and reflected in London itself and the Master Road relays (3mi hilly 15:37), and then a second pocket in July and early August for summer road and track. The second patch had a premature end as I got injured (Psoas Bursitis) just as I was getting into some good shape for a sub16 5k attempt (the week before I got injured I ran 16:04 on the track).

 

 

I think I will look on 2015 as being high on experiences and less high on out-and-out performances. And I’m very comfortable with that. Must be old age.

 

So, the best runs of the year in terms of out-and-out performance are probably the 12 stage long leg (29:38) and BMAF 5000m champs 4th place in 16:04.

 

One step behind them, London marathon (2:43 something) and the BMAF road relays (3mi 15:37).

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Experience-wise it has been an amazing year. Turning 40 and celebrating by running Comrades (a 54 mile race in South Africa) was undoubtedly the pinnacle. E03B2BC3-F5EC-4080-BD50-1E121E6DFDE7A fantastic present organised (as a surprise) by the amazing Catherine, Dan, Anna and Riaan and the Joburg and Durban running crew. The run itself was tough going, in as much as I was not well on the day. These things happen. Finishing that race however, is and always will be the prime element of any Comrades attempt. As fellow “tough day out there” finisher Dan said “it is probably the only race where you say I just want to get around – and honestly mean it”. Digging in for the second half of the race (44km) when my legs were already spent, and involved getting to the finish through a combination of painful shuffling in between walks, was an achievement I will savour with some satisfaction for years to come.

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Fast forward to October and Dublin Marathon. It was great. Any chance to race it had gone out the window after losing all of August and a good chunk of September through injury. I became the pacemaker for a legendary 4some of sub3 attempters, all of which were successful. And one of whom I offered virtually no pace making to a5368711A-CEB2-4F71-A97A-AD34E5E7FA44s he insisted on running 50 meters ahead of us (Riaan!). Seeing the SA gang again and being involved in that momentous (and successful) attempt was very special. The beers afterwards and the celebrations that continued long into the night and for the rest of the trip will stay with me forever. A detailed report on the day can be found here.

 

In terms of fitness, I was the fittest this year at the end of August, just after a series of summer races (5k’s in 16:20-30 zone and then a 16:04). I was geared up for a big attempt on a sub16 on the road when Psoas Bursitis struck. The worst injury I’ve ever experienced by some margin. Six weeks of no running, and then a gentle return with a few attempts on a stationary bike (bloody hard work). I got back into regular running after Dublin at the end of October but didn’t really get my teeth into it and didn’t enter any races.

 

To end the year I did a succession of fairly hard parkruns, to see if I could continue my trend of increasing the number of sub17 5k’s achieved each year since 2012. I managed it by 1! (it took a 16:49 boxing Day effort at CHP – cutting it fine). There were some near misses in those final 6 weeks too though, a 17:00 at CHP and a 17:02 at Cambridge parkrun.

 

Total per year Grand Total
2008 2009 2010 2011 2012 2013 2014 2015  
3 2 2 8 6 16 17 18  72

 

The sub17 challenge gave me a reason to put in race efforts even though I wasn’t 100% race fit. There will probably be more of these kinds of side-tracked goals as the years tick by 🙂 :-). I’ll need to do 19 in 2016 to keep it going… gulp.

What will 2016 bring? I don’t know, I may PB I may not. But I do know I will continue training, racing, and getting runs done as and where I can fit them in. That’s what this sport is all about and I love it.

Roll on Spring marathon build-up.

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26 October 2015

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Injury, hello psoas my old friend, had put paid to my marathon preparation. Nuff said about that. With racing aspirations out the window, my Dublin goal became simple and in a way, more special. I was going to run 4:10 per km for the sub3 gang for as long as I could and as evenly as the course would allow, and hope that Barrow, Barnyard, Bron and Boy would stick with me for as long as possible, ideally all the way.

 

I was in the elite pen (whoop whoop pretentious knob) so separated from the others on race morning and lined up under the start banner. Rubbing shoulders with Kiptoo and Sonia o Sullivan in the separate warm up area was a very cool experience. Starting this high up the field meant the first few kays would be jogging while the gang latched on. Standing on the start line was an interesting mix of emotions. I was among the serious boys and felt frustrated that I wasn’t going to be racing. I said out loud, at one point “I wish I was racing this” to no one in particular. But the other emotion was relaxation. Something I don’t associate with the start of marathons. I could really soak it up and enjoy the final 10 minutes to the gun. The guys around me were fidgety and nervous.

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The gun went and we were off. I moved to the left of the road as per the plan agreed with Barrow. First kay in about 4:30. No sign of them. Second kay and suddenly some recognisable voices! I looked over my shoulder and there they were. The gang was altogether. We exchanged pleasantries and got on with the business.

 

We lost Riaan as he got a short way ahead of us after the first water point. We didn’t know that would be the last we saw of him for a long long way into the race. The first 5k came and went in 20:59. A touch slow but fine. The road was crowded and finding room for the 4 of us to get a groove on was tricky. I called each kay split as we went through. Next 5k in 20:40. Perfect. Somewhere around this point we caught and passed the 3 hour pacers with balloons. Once we got ahead of them the road got a bit clearer and our pace edged up slightly. The course also had some sweeping downs through the back of the awesome Phoenix Park. Next 5k included this and was 19:59. Touch too fast, even with the downs. So I tried to take the foot off the gas slightly. Still calling every split out and the group of Boy, Bron, Barrow and me were running nicely now. Next 5k in 20:40. Bang on. Somewhere in that 5k there was a bit of an incline, the first inkling that there was work to be done today. First 20 kay done.

 

As we approached halfway the wind and rain came down more heavily and we tucked into a tight formation. Bron was stride for stride next to me and every time I looked over my shoulder barrow was clipping my heels. All good. We saw our support crew at halfway and Snowy gave boy his fat shake or whatever it was. I guess Riaan was about 200m ahead at this point. We could sometimes make him out when the road straightened. Within the first kay after halfway during a standard shoulder check I noticed Barrow wasn’t there, he was 5m back. Oh no. A few minutes later 20m back. The next split in 4:07. I said to Bron, let’s keep running the pace and give them a chance to latch back on. Next time I looked around I couldn’t see them. I was gutted. All the work Barrow had done to get into this shape and his race (I assumed) was now going to be a painful shuffle to the finish somewhere outside 3 hours. I didn’t know what to do for a while. Bron had no watch and was relying on me for pace and wind break and encouragement. And she was sticking to the task with such determination as I have never seen. I couldn’t peel off now to find Phil and leave her solo, watchless and metric in a mile world. It was getting really windy now and Bron asked if she could tuck in behind me for a while. Truth be told I thought she was very close to being spent. And yet. And yet. And yet. Somehow the kays continued to tick past in 4:07-4:11. This girl was tough. Something you all know obviously but I was finding out.

 

My plan became to get her as deep into the race, on pace, as possible, so hopefully when she did blow we would have some cushion. Kudos to R and Barrow for deciding all those months ago that 2:55 was the target, not sub3. On a windy rainy day like today, that 5min cushion was the difference.

 

We were closing on Riaan now but he was staying tantalising out of reach and the final 50m to catch him took us over 10km. We caught up with him at about 37k. “5k to go guys”, I said to them. “you’ve done the hard work, now bring it home”. Another kay passed but it was suddenly catching up with us. I had worked out that even if the 4:10s became 4:50s we would still get under 3 and told as much as Bron. “Don’t worry about the blow” I said, “we are going to do this either way”.

 

At 40k Riaan the flipping ox had trotted off ahead of us again, after all that time trying to close him down, simply by maintaining his pace. We were slowing and there was nothing I or Bron could do. The 2 kays from 39k-41k were 4:25 and 4:29. I said to her if she wanted to chase him down in the final 2k she should go for it. But she wasn’t having it. we were purely in survival mode now. “Tell me when it is 1k exactly to go” she said. So I did. The finish was great, a long straight road right past the front of our hotel.

 

About 600m from home we saw Cheryl and she was screaming “go on Phil”. My first thought was oh no she doesn’t know he isn’t with us. Then I looked over my shoulder and the bugger was right there!! I have never been so surprised and so happy in a race in my life! I actually threw an arm around him and hugged him, which in hindsight could have ended badly on 41k legs. He moved alongside Bron and the 2 of them crossed the line hand in hand with me a step or 2 behind, with tears of happiness (and fatigue – three weeks of training after 6 weeks off meant this was a long long way on the legs).

 

R was about 20 seconds ahead of us, and Boy, the wildcard of the sub3 group, only went and did it too! With pure guts and stubbornness the diesel engine yet again punched above his training weight. Well done Boy.

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Well done everyone on the day – Mashudu making a 3:11 look ridiculously easy and Jamie relatively happy with his comeback of 3:23. Martin had a tough day in the wind, his 2:25 target ended with a still mind-boggling fast 2:32.

 

We retired to the hotel for a shower, dry clothes, and lots of Guinness in the hotel bar. A great great GREAT day. 🙂

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And to dwarf all of this into insignificance, Adam only went and became a dad that day!

 

Lekker boet.

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WMM trophyYep it is. Sorry about that.

Last year I had a very sporadic build up to London, not many miles and almost no long runs (one). On the day I ran out of my skin. Felt like I was running on a cloud for 2:43. This year I had a text book build-up, lots of good miles, lots of long runs, and I had a very mediocre day out for…  2:43.

What conclusions can be drawn from this? Clearly training is a waste of time. But let’s move on.

Expo

One thing seems obvious – going in with fresh legs is very important. I don’t mean final week tapering. Taper Schmaper ™. I mean building light weeks into the final 8 to 10 weeks of training. Seems obvious, but I’ve never paid any attention to it before.

Two miles into this year’s race I was feeling flat and heavy legged. Whilst my legs were strong, they weren’t feeling

light and full of running. My fitness was good though, and allowed me to tick off the kays in metronomic fashion in a newly formed window of safety between 3:48 and 3:56 per km. Nothing faster than that was possible it see

Ezekial Kemboi warmup routine

Ezekial Kemboi warmup

med, with a few exceptions here and there. I had hoped and expected for low 3:40’s but couldn’t get there. I knew early on that a 2:30something goal was out, and shortly after that that 2:40 was out as well. The added seconds each kay were accumulating and had become a couple of minutes by 15k. At 20k my split was 77:37, a number which the night before Dan and I had discussed as a possible halfway target. Now here I was a full kilometre behind schedule. Nothing for it but to keep on keeping on.

Halfway in 81:51. I wasn’t disappointed. The writing had been on the wall from a few miles in and the disappointing realisation of the day I was on had settled back then and mostly dissipated by now. So 81:51 was just what it was. I had verbalised my 2:45 adjusted target to someone who recognised the vest and asked me what I was aiming for. Each 5k timing mate was ticking over in 19:15-19:30 when what I had hoped for pre-race was 18:45. I imagined what my mates following the splits would be thinking. “Why doesn’t he get onto pace?” “Is he saving it for a big second half” “if he is really struggling surely he’d be slower”. Stuff like that.

why doesn't he get on pace?

why doesn’t he get on pace?

As it was I just clicking even paced miles off, one after the other, trying to coax my legs through with minimal damage. I settled in as part of a trio of guys who were visibly strong enough to keep the pace honest without any of us needing to shoulder all pacing the work. We took turns at the front and it worked pretty well. At about 20 miles I said to them, we’ve worked well up to this point guys. Let’s keep it going and bag the sub2:45. I had realised from their race numbers they were both Fast-Good-for-age entries which meant they hadn’t run under 2:45 before (or they’d have been in the championship start with different numbers etc.) so this was unchartered territory. We banked a few more miles in the zone, and as we drew into the final few miles I started picking it up, conscious that I really didn’t want to mess up the pacing now and not get inside 2:45. One of them came with me and one dropped off.

The final stretch is always tough and always memorable. Running alongside the Thames, and over the 40k timing mat. The end is almost in sight and the crowds who had been bonkers all race anyway, seem even louder. A wall of noise. Right hander past Big Ben, then Birdcage Walk, Buckingham Palace and the mall. What a location to finish. Like Tower Bridge, the novelty of running in these locations never wears off.mid race?

I turned into the home straight and saw the clock on 2:43. Phew the 2:45 was safe. It was only a good while after I’d crossed the line that I realised I had just missed a PB. How on earth I never thought of that during the race escapes me. I can only think my focus was so much on the 2:40 pace that once the splits were outside that I hadn’t considered any middle ground.

Some post-race thoughts. Disappointing not to achieve what I’d hoped. But these things can seldom be planned with any degree of confidence.

refuelingPositives I take are that I now know I can run 2:43 when I’m not having a particularly good day, and that’s reassuring. I also learnt a bit more about what I need to do in the weeks leading into the race. This is never an exact science but small building blocks of knowledge gained from each outing.

Last year it took an outstanding day for me to run 2:43. This year it took a very average day to run 2:43. Surely that’s progress of a sort.

Some shout outs to friends. Martin – you absolutely smashed it buddy. Your marathon class is unrivalled. Breaking 2:30 (again, after 6 years) is amazing. Dan – thanks for the pacing, sorry I couldn’t make better (or any) use of it. Next time it’ll be different (that’s never been said before). Nick – well done on the championship qualifier, so pleased for you. Kevin – 2:48 – brilliant. Well deserved. Long run training partner Ed – 2:52. Great PB and more to come I have no doubt. To Cath and Anna supporting us like stars around the course, thanks guys. To the Hajj in SA (and Cambridge) – we have a special group, lets never take it for granted.

Onwards to bigger (and longer) things.

5 weeks to Comrades. Watch this space.

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Official results here

first half 81:51, second half 81:54

Kilometre splits

Projected finish
1 00:03:55 02:45:17
2 00:03:49 02:43:10
3 00:03:50 02:42:42
4 00:03:51 02:42:39
5 00:03:45 02:41:46
6 00:03:46 02:41:18
7 00:03:49 02:41:16
8 00:03:56 02:41:51
9 00:03:54 02:42:09
10 00:03:56 02:42:32
11 00:03:55 02:42:47
12 00:03:56 02:43:03
13 00:03:52 02:43:04
14 00:03:53 02:43:07
15 00:03:57 02:43:22
16 00:03:54 02:43:26
17 00:03:54 02:43:30
18 00:03:52 02:43:29
19 00:03:53 02:43:30
20 00:03:59 02:43:44
21 00:03:59 02:43:57
22 00:03:52 02:43:55
23 00:03:54 02:43:56
24 00:03:49 02:43:49
25 00:03:59 02:43:59
26 00:03:54 02:44:01
27 00:03:47 02:43:51
28 00:04:01 02:44:03
29 00:03:49 02:43:57
30 00:03:59 02:44:05
31 00:03:46 02:43:55
32 00:03:42 02:43:41
33 00:03:58 02:43:47
34 00:03:54 02:43:49
35 00:03:52 02:43:48
36 00:03:49 02:43:43
37 00:03:54 02:43:45
38 00:03:59 02:43:51
39 00:03:45 02:43:43
40 00:03:57 02:43:47
41 00:03:59 02:43:54
42 00:03:44 02:43:45
42.2 00:00:47 02:43:45
Total 2:43:45
Ave/km 0:03:53
Ave/mi 0:06:15

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