And Panic Starts In…

Do you have a place in the Cambridge Half for next March? Are you panicking just a bit because you had a place last year and you don’t know how you’re going to improve on how you did then? Panic no more, because Coach Rich is here to simultaneously save the day and beast your legs until they bleed. Sort of. 

I’ve put together a training plan for runners with a bit of experience who want to get better. This is not a beginner’s plan. I can do one for you if you want, but this one is for improvers. I’ll be following it myself and we’re going to start on Monday next week, 5 November with the traditional rest day after a Sunday long run. Those of us who are members of C&C will be doing the Tuesday night training sessions and I’ve copied them out below each week so you can see what they are if you’re not a member and you want to follow along at home. 

Some items may require explanation, others are optional, such as the Wednesday easy run. I like that as a way to shake Tuesday out of my legs and get ready for Thursday. You might find it too much and need to rest. That’s fine. 

We’ll get together on a Thursday night at the track most weeks and head out onto the West Site for that session. The Thursday hills will be done either off Chesterton Road or between Cherry Hinton and Fulbourn depending on the size of the group.

Friday evenings swimming, cycling or easy spinning are entirely optional too. Again, I find them useful but you can rest, or do some yoga or stretching and rolling.

I’ve given Saturdays as rest days but you can do a parkrun if you want. The Sunday long run is not an option though and we’ll be meeting up to run together if you want. I’ve given it in time instead of distance because we’ll mostly be doing out and back along the Roman Road, Fleam Dyke or other quiet and off-road parts of the world. You might want to give yourself a set distance and I’m happy to discuss that with you if you want.

We’re going to meet for the long run at the end of the first week in the Gogs car park at 9:00am. I’ll set up a Facebook group and a weekly email if you want encouragement or support. Running a good half marathon is not an easy thing to but it can be easier with some support. We can support one another. 

Cambridge Half Training Plan

WC 5 November2018

Monday REST

Tuesday C&C Training Session

Off track: Wheel of Fartlek

Track: Long WU; 5-7x 800m w 3 minutes recovery

Wednesday 30-40 minutes easy run

Thursday Cruise Intervals 6 x 6:00 (2:00 cruising at race pace, 4:00 harder)

Friday REST or 30 minutes easy swim or indoor spin

Saturday REST

Sunday 60 minutes long run, preferably off-road and a bit hilly

WC 12 November 2018

Monday REST

Tuesday C&C Training Session

Off track: Indian Running – Jesus Green
Track: Long WU; 4-5x 1k hold and kick (800m, 200m) w slow jog

Wednesday 30-40 minutes easy run

Thursday Hill Session (venue TBA)

Friday REST or 30 minutes easy swim or indoor spin

Saturday REST

Sunday 60-70 minutes long run, preferably off-road and a bit hilly (or St Neots HM)

WC 19 November 2018

Monday REST

Tuesday C&C Training Session

Off track: Parlauf – Parker’s Piece
Track: Long WU; 3-4x 4 x 400m, w 90 secs and 3:00

Wednesday 30-40 minutes easy run

Thursday Cruise Intervals 6 x 6:00 (1:30 cruising at race pace, 4:30 harder)

Friday REST or 30 minutes easy swim or indoor spin

Saturday REST

Sunday 70 minutes long run, preferably off-road and a bit hilly

WC 26 November 2018

Monday REST

Tuesday C&C Training Session

Off track: City Fartlek
Track: Long WU; 5-7x 800m w 3:00

Wednesday 30-40 minutes easy run

Thursday Hills (venue TBA)

Friday REST or 30 minutes easy swim or indoor spin

Saturday Jingle Mile!

Sunday 70 minutes long run, preferably off-road and a bit hilly

WC 3 December 2018

Monday REST

Tuesday C&C Training Session

Off track: 5 x 1k West Site
Track: Long WU; 3-4x 1k hollow (400m, 200m, 400m) w 200m slow jog

Wednesday 30-40 minutes easy run

Thursday K Reps and Kettlebells

Friday REST or 30 minutes easy swim or indoor spin

Saturday REST

Sunday 75 minutes long run or Frostbite

WC 10 December 2018

Monday REST

Tuesday C&C Training Session

Off track: Storey’s Way 700m hills
Track: Long WU; 6-9x 600m, w 200m slow jog

Wednesday 40-45minutes easy run

Thursday Cruise Intervals 6 x 6:00 (1:00 cruising at race pace, 5:00 harder)

Friday REST or 30 minutes easy swim or indoor spin

Saturday REST

Sunday 80 minutes long run

WC 17 December 2018

Monday REST

Tuesday C&C Training Session

Off track: 5 x 1k Jesus Green
Track: Christmas special (or Long WU; 7 x 800m w 3:00)

Wednesday 45 minutes easy run

Thursday Cruise Intervals 6 x 6:00 (30s cruising at race pace, 5:30 harder)

Friday REST or 30 minutes easy swim or indoor spin

Saturday REST

Sunday 85 minutes long run

WC 24 December 2018

Christmas Eve Optional Roman Road Social Run

Christmas Day REST

Boxing Day C&C 4 or 30 minutes easy

Thursday REST

Friday 30 minutes swim or easy indoor spin

Saturday REST or parkrun

Sunday Buntingford 10 or 70 minutes easy run

WC 31 December 2018

New Years Eve Ely 10k or REST

New Years Day Optional Roman Road Social Run

Wednesday 30 minutes easy run

Thursday Hills

Friday 30 minutes swim or easy indoor spin

Saturday REST or parkrun

Sunday 70-75 minutes long run

WC 7 January 2019

Monday REST

Tuesday C&C Training Session

Off track: Paarlauf, West Site

Track: Long WU; 7 x 800m w 3:00

Wednesday 35 minutes easy run

Thursday K Reps and Kettlebells

Friday 30 minutes swim or easy indoor spin

Saturday REST

Sunday 75-80 minutes long run

WC 14 January 2019

Monday REST

Tuesday C&C Training Session

Off track: Wheel of Fartlek, West Site
Track: Long WU; 2-3 x cut downs (1k, 600m, 200m) w 200m slow jog & 200m walk

Wednesday 35 minutes easy

Thursday 30:00 tempo

Friday 30 minutes swim or easy indoor spin

Saturday REST

Sunday 80-85 minutes long run (or Folksworth 15 if you’re marathon training as well)

WC 21 January 2019

Monday REST

Tuesday C&C Training Session

Wednesday 40 minutes easy

Thursday 40:00 tempo

Friday 30 minutes swim or easy indoor spin

Saturday REST

Sunday 75-80 minutes long run

WC 28 January 2019

Monday REST

Tuesday C&C Training Session

Wednesday 35 minutes easy

Thursday 3 x 12:00 tempo

Friday swim or spin

Saturday REST

Sunday 80-85 minutes long run

WC 4 February 2019

Monday REST

Tuesday C&C Training Session

Wednesday 35 minutes easy

Thursday 4 x 13:00 tempo

Friday swim or spin

Saturday REST

Sunday 90-95 minutes long run

WC 11 February 2019

Monday REST

Tuesday C&C Training Session

Wednesday 40 minutes easy

Thursday Hills (venue TBA)

Friday swim or spin

Saturday REST

Sunday 95-100 minutes long run

WC 18 February 2019

Monday REST

Tuesday C&C Training Session

Wednesday 35 minutes easy

Thursday Cruise Intervals 6 x 7:00 (1:00 race pace, 6:00 harder)

Friday swim or spin

Saturday REST

Sunday 90 minutes long run (30 minutes easy, 30 minutes harder, 30 minutes race pace)

WC 25 February 2019 (Race Week)

Monday REST

Tuesday C&C Training Session

Wednesday REST

Thursday 30 minutes easy, with 6-8 x 50m strides

Friday swim or spin

Saturday Bike Ride recce round the course

Sunday RACE DAY

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Jingle Mile VI – The Return of the Fetchi

Cambridge University Sports Ground

Wilberforce Road

2 December 2017

Huge thanks to the timekeepers, judges, volunteers and unofficials: Diane Potter, Chris Hurcomb, Rachel Leah, Ian Williams, Kate Williams, Charlie Ritchie and anyone else who stood and cheered and yelled “Ding, ding, ding” because I forgot to get a bell again.

Results below.

Jingle Mile Round 1

Position Name Time
1 Lucas Zakrzewski 07:55
2 Amos Roney 07:56
3 Graham Boswell 07:58
4 Caroline Zakrzewski 08:11
5 Diane Card 08:15
6 Terri Sains 08:25
7 Dave Mail (Pacer) 08:27
8 Glenn Richer 08:31
9 Cheryl Boswell 08:38
10 Laura Coates 08:40
11 Ros Bodi 08:58
12 Louise Pryor 09:00
13 Bernie Shannon 09:00
DNS Sue Potts
DNS Helen Gardner
DNS Helen Johnson
DNS Pauline Blake
DNS Greg Potts

Jingle Mile Round 2

Position Name Time
1 Lucy Johnson 06:50
2 Colm Crowley 06:50
3 Anna Duch 06:55
4 Tracy Crowley 07:12
5 Rachel Morgan 07:19
6 Wayne Hargreaves 07:20
7 Andy Unsworth 07:27
8 Graham Boswell 07:31
9 Bernie Shannon 07:50
DNS Julia Sudbury

Jingle Mile Round 3

Position Name Time
1 Maria Buczak 05:53
2 Chris Poole 06:00
3 Neil Coates 06:02
4 Chris Walton 06:03
5 Cliff Weatherup 06:03
6 Ben Chamberlain 06:12
7 Isabelle Lemasson 06:17
8 Dave Mail 06:38
DNS Rachel Leah
DNS Lee Radley
DNS David Mould
DNS Scott White

Jingle Mile Round 4

Position Name Time
1 Istvan Jacso 05:00
2 Charlie Wartnaby 05:13
3 Alex Murkett 05:20
4 Ben Capper 05:29
5 Rob Moir 05:30
6 William Howling 05:36

The Turkeys’ Escape and Evasion 800m

Position Name Time
1 Ben Capper 02:39
2 Chris Poole 02:48
3 Ben Chamberlain 02:48
4 Neil Coates 02:53
5 Chris Walton 02:53
6 Cliff Wetherup 02:53
7 Isabelle Lemasson 03:04
8 Anna Duch 03:14
9 Bernie Shannon 03:19
10 Wayne Hargreaves 03:19
11 Rachel Morgan 03:21
12 Graham Boswell 03:28
13 Diane Card 03:50
14 Glenn Richer 04:00
15 Cheryl Boswell 04:14

The Hurtbox of Crackers 400m

Position Name Time
1 Alex Murkett 00:59
2 Ben Capper 01:06
3 Lucy Johnson 01:12
4 Chris Poole 01:13
5 Chris Walton 01:18
6 Ben Chamberlain 01:19
7  Isabelle Lemasson 01:20
8 Neil Coates 01:21
9 Colm Crowley 01:22
10 Anna Duch 01:24
11 Rachel Morgan 01:26
12 Bernie Shannon 01:32
13 Tracy Crowley 01:34
14 Andy Unsworth 01:39
15 Lucas Zakrzewski 01:41
16 Diane Card 01:46

4x100m Mince Pie Relay

Position Team Name Members Time
1 Chris Poole, Bernie Shannon, Maria Buczak, Rafik Jallad 01:02.6
2 Ben Capper, Alex Murkett, Amos Roney, Rob Moir 01:03.0
3 Laura Coates, Neil Coates, Chris Walton, Lucy Johnson 01:03.9
4 Tracy Crowley, Colm Crowley, Diane Card, Caroline Zakrzewski 01:12.6
5 Ben Chamberlain, Istvan Jacso, Anna Duch, Isabelle Lemasson 01:13.0
6 Graham Boswell, Cheryl Boswell, Wayne Hargreaves, Rachel Morgan 01:16.7

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Richard’s Big Book of Excuses

I haven’t been out for my long run today. It was such a lovely day too; unseasonably warm thanks to Hurricane Ophelia and little wind and no rain in spite of Hurricane Ophelia and still I didn’t go out for my long run. I do have an excuse though. Sort of. My right Achilles is a little twangy after my parkrun yesterday. I felt a wee stabby pain in the side of my foot on my cool down and the aforementioned twang started as I walked back to my car. I’d planned a run along the Roman Road this afternoon but decided to rest again because it just didn’t feel right but now I think it was an excuse to park my arse on the sofa and fart around Doing Things With Excel as I processed the results from this morning’s Cambourne 5k.

I think all athletes have excuses for when things go wrong. It’s usually best to be honest and own up to cock-ups. A period of self-reflection after a race or a training session is always a good thing and helps make the next one go better if you make the necessary changes. That is all well and good and worthy and necessary but it’s not very funny. (Nor is this, but I’m doing my best.) So with that in mind and because I feel the need here are the Top Five from Richard’s Big Book of Excuses.

In at Number 5 – The Wrong Kind of Weather.

You’ve trained for cool conditions and suddenly it’s twenty-five degrees centigrade. The sun is bouncing off the pavements just like the rain isn’t and the bastard spectators have all gone to have ice cream for breakfast. That black plastic bag you brought with you for warmth is mocking you. You want to put the fucking thing down but it keeps sticking to your hand. It. Won’t. Come. Off.

Or it’s pissing it down with rain and you have your favourite racing flats on, the really light ones with no tread whatsoever and the concrete surface you’re running on means that you’re suddenly Bambi on the iced-over pond. You want to run through the corners but you end up looking like Mr Humphries from Are You Being Served? on a boys’ night out with Dick Emery and Larry Grayson: more mince than is seen anywhere outside of a butcher’s slab.

Which brings us somewhat tangentially to Number 4: I Really Needed My Trail Shoes.

Following on from the wrong sort of weather is the wrong sort of surface. You find out just after you arrive to register that it’s rained all night and that hard-packed trail you reccied last month now has the consistency, colour and smell of nervous cow poo. Your trail shoes are at home, still drying out because you fell off the river trail and into the actual river a couple of days ago.

Or you misread the race instructions, skipping over the bit about the bog at 11 miles into Race The Train and end up leaving both shoes in said bog. I did this and the marshal wanted to know why I went back for my shoes instead of just going on. They were my fucking shoes! I liked them. I wanted them and I needed them to run the last three miles of the race. I realise that marshals are volunteers and do great things from the goodness of their hearts but sometimes you just want to give someone a good hard nipple grip.

Number 3 is of course The Wheels Fell Off.

This is usually down to neglecting the Six Pees. Proper Preparation Prevents Piss-Poor Performance. Actually none of the the excuses would be necessary if we paid closer attention to the Six Pees.

So you’re cruising along on a 10k at what feels like a strong but maintainable pace. Up comes a hill and everyone just runs away from you. Everyone. You’re left breathless and buggered by the scenery, retching into the gutter and begging passing strangers for a jelly baby. “Please give me a jelly baby. I just need one miserable sugar hit to get going again.” You have nothing left to give. You have emptied the tank too quickly, over-estimating your fitness and under-estimating the conditions. You feel miserable. You will never run again. You will go back to that bog in Wales and throw all your shoes into it. Of course, you are a complete drama queen.

Number 2: I Just Didn’t Get Enough Long Runs In

The excuse primarily of the lazy-arsed marathon runner who finds himself walking with seventeen miles still to go. Long runs are long. They are time-consuming. There are lots of things you would much rather do that may or may not involve alcohol, cake, sex, bragging on social media, cats, sofas or other soft furnishings, books, illuminated manuscripts, work (but only very occasionally), sex (again – how manly!), more alcohol, poor weather (see the above), twinges from assorted limbs and The Bad Back, and finally, rampant and terminal hypochondria. All of these get in the way of going for a long run so you can get to the start of a marathon having done quite a lot of fuck all and fretting but no actual running for more than about 90 minutes at all. That’s fine if you’ve done lots of marathons but the sort of person who needs this excuse hasn’t done lots of marathons. He’s made an awful lot of excuses.

The biggest and best excuse is Number 1: Injury And Illness Ruined My Life.

It’s entire possible to be both undertrained and over-injured. I am living, aching proof. In the last month I’ve had a week off because of man flu and the return of the twangy Achilles which plagued the start of my 2017 training. I’ve been as careful as possible about my training since March. I haven’t done too much, too quickly or too soon and I still ran a 90% effort at parkrun yesterday after a 32% warm up so now my Achilles tendons feel like one of John Cage’s prepared pianos.

On which happy note, I think I’ll leave you.

In spite of all of this, tomorrow is another day, the start of another week and maybe I’ll get through them all with no further recourse to the Big Book of Excuses. I doubt it though.

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Everything Hurts. Nothing Works.

The following was my submission for Monoblogues at the Drayton Theatre, London on 2 August. My thanks to Neil and Katie Tween and to Anne for coming down to support me. Also to Liz and Laura for the chance to get up in front of everyone and to the other contributors for being so generous with their time.

There may be pics to follow.

Everything hurts. If you’re a runner, you’ll know this. At some stage, everything is going to hurt. Your knees will hurt. Runner’s Knee is as famous as Tennis Elbow, Parson’s Nose or Politician’s Penis and it’s going to hurt at some point. Your Achilles’ tendons will hurt, one at a time or both together, whatever is going to cause you most embarrassment or inconvenience. Pains in the bum will cease to be a figure of speech and will become instead a symptom you can discuss with doctors, nurses, physios, coaches, other runners, friends, family, partners, strangers in pubs and that mad man on the train who looks at you funnily and once called you Judas. That this in turn will make you into a pain in the bum will be an irony entirely lost on you because your arse will be too sore to appreciate it.

Everything hurts. Your back is going to hurt with every step you make, every breath you take, every smile you fake and every Sting track that pops up, unwanted, onto your iPod in the middle of a long run. Your shoulders will really ache after a sprint session and when you tell a runner they’ll say “Really? Good. You must have been doing something right.” Your coach will say you need to relax your shoulders more and that if you did you would go faster. Should you mention it to anyone else, they’ll just mutter something about thinking that running was supposed to be good for you and try to get on with whatever it is they were doing. Writing your parking ticket for example. Or brain surgery. Or calling you names as you run past the pub.

Everything hurts. It hurts all day but it hurts most first thing in the morning when everything is stiff. Not like that. Above the waist, people. Runners must all go through the same waking process as everybody else. You know, that whole “Who am I? Where am I? What was I doing last night?” thing everybody does first thing in the morning. But we have an additional question and it’s “How the fuck did I hurt that?” because I can guarantee most mornings you will have an ache you didn’t have when you went to bed the night before.

Everything hurts. When you wake up in the morning and you do that odd stretching thing to check whether the bits that were hurting last night are still hurting this morning – and they are, and when you want to find out what new aches the running fairy has brought you in the night. It starts before you even swing your tired, tired legs over the side of the bed. You are off to a good start if you can do that without wincing. I can’t actually remember the last time I got out of bed without a sharp intake of breath.
How many attempts do you make to stand up? Me? At least two, most mornings. The first one is more of a grunt and a grimace followed by a collapse back onto my arse. Heaurrrrrgh. For some reason, the soles of my feet are really tender first thing in the morning. I plant each one gingerly straight down like a baby taking his first steps and no toddler ever looked quite as ridiculous heading to the potty as I do going to the loo first thing in the morning.

Everything hurts. On a wet day, or a sweaty day, your t-shirt or vest can take the top level of skin off your nipples with the same exquisite delicacy that some people pay quite a lot of money for in certain of the more esoteric dungeons under our quiet backstreets. Now, I love my club vest. I feel proud every time I pull it on because so many other fine athletes have worn the colours but… There is a seam just at nipple-destroying height. We athletes suffer for our sport in so many different ways and slightly bizarre ways.

Everything hurts so much sometimes. It’s particularly horrible standing at the top of the stairs. You have to know, you have to find out just how much it’s going to hurt to get down the stairs. You’re standing on the top step, looking down and you know that your Achilles in particular are so stiff you can’t actually bend your ankles. Every step down comes with its own little yelp of pain. “Ow. Fuck. Ow. Ow. Fuuuck. Ow. Fuck, fuck. Ow.” At some point, after going down one step at a time for a few strides, leading on one leg you try the other and it hurts even more. “Oooooooh shit. Ow. Fuck. Shit. Ow, ow, shit. Fuck.”
So, everything hurts and sometimes you have a new ache. You usually have some form of guilty memory of how you got that new twinge: one last hill rep, just one more lap of the track, the running equivalent of “a wafer-thin mint” and just like Mr Creosote, there are disastrous consequences.

But sometimes you have absolutely no idea of how the injury gremlins nobbled you. I woke one morning with a shoulder I could barely move. It got worse and worse as time passed. It was so bad after a couple of days that I couldn’t raise my arm above shoulder height. Now, that’s fine as long as you remember that you have a sore shoulder but I’m an athlete and I only have a 400m memory. That is can’t remember at the end of a 400m rep why I thought I could hold the pace I set off with at the start of it. Like a goldfish going round and round its bowl but with more sweating and heaving. Anyway, I forget that I can’t actually move my shoulder properly because it doesn’t hurt all the time. Rather awkwardly, I only remember when I’m screaming in pain. You never remember these things until a cheery wave to a friend across the street turns into a Nazi salute and a scream of “Fuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuck!”
Everything hurts and nothing works. Your legs don’t work well enough to get you up and down stairs. Your arms aren’t up to struggling with your weekly shopping so you have to choose: give up your choice of food to a loved one or buy one ready meal at a time. Incidentally, why do supermarkets stop making the nice tasty stuff you really, really like but you can still see Spam and Fray Bentos pies when nobody has bought either of them since 1983? Is it old stock? Are they just keeping it around like the most boring museum display in the world?

Sorry, nothing works. You’ve heard the evidence tonight that my attention span is completely screwed. It’s a symptom of Runner’s Brain. We can’t really concentrate for longer than it takes to complete a rep. It’s why I prefer nice simple sessions like six times three minutes or four times six minutes. I programme anything more complicated into my Garmin and then run or rest until the next bleep. That works.

So, some things work. Legs don’t. Arms don’t. Brains certainly don’t but Garmins do. There’s some kind of lesson there, I think but I’m too knackered to understand it.

You could always try cross training to reduce your chances of injury. A bit of a swim in a pool or a lake, or a spin through the countryside on your bike is lovely. The trouble with that is that you end up doing triathlons and training three times as hard as you did before. And the trouble with that is that road rash really, really hurts. Coming off your bike on a downhill gravelly bend, you can end up with more of your skin on the tarmac than on your body. I came off my bike when I was fourteen and ended up scraping my face off on the road. There is a photo of me deep in the archives of the East Lothian Courier with scabs all over my face. I was photographed playing crazy golf at a church fete. I made the front page of the paper that week but it had been a very quiet week.
Then there is the risk of drowning when you’re out in the middle of the lake and you get tangled up in weed and fishing line. I punched a buoy and hurt my knuckle a couple of weeks ago. Not that kind of boy. A B. U. O. Y. Why? I have no idea. I was swimming along and suddenly there was a buoy in the way and I punched it. It wasn’t a tiny lake and there weren’t that many obstacles in it but I managed to hit one. I hit another in my first river swim. I know I have a reputation for a certain kind of camp but I’m bloody mad about the buoys now.

Still, I don’t want anyone to think that it’s just runners that fuck themselves up. I found a story on the interwebs – so it must be true – about a man who was brought naked and unconscious into an American emergency room. This bloke had a lump on his head and scratches on his scrotum. The bump was probably the result of a fall or a blow to his head but his tortured testicles were more of a mystery. He explained what had happened when he woke up later. He had been cleaning his bath in the buff, because of course that’s what you do. He was kneeling over beside the bath when his cat saw his balls swinging in the breeze and decided to play the attack the gonads game. Your man must have screamed loudly, jerked his head with some force into the frame of the shower door and knocked himself out. One can only hope that his cat lost interest in playing with his bollocks when they stopped moving.

Everything hurts and nothing works but at least my man parts are intact. I suppose that’s got to be enough.

Thank you. Try not to fall over anything on your way out the door.

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Why I Run

The inov8 8 Weeks to Natural campaign has started me thinking about why I run. It would be easier for me to say what I don’t run for. I don’t do it for the glory or the fame. I’m a middle-aged man who is never going to be quick enough for that.

I don’t do it for money, even though The Sore Legs Tour is raising small amounts of money for Macmillan Cancer Support. (All donations gratefully accepted.)

I don’t do it for the medals but I’m proud of the ones I’ve received for completing those races, especially my first one from Cambourne 10k last year and my two marathon medals from Moray 2011 and London this year. I prefer the t-shirts, in fact. I feel especially attached to the lovely, soft cotton one from the Moray Marathon which I wear after a hard race because it’s so comfortable. It’s yellow and cheap and feels like a duster in the making but I worked hard for it for months, not just the time I spent running around Morayshire.

I don’t do it for my friends even though most of my friends now are runners. I was a bit of a lonely soul before. I enjoyed reading most and that’s pretty much the definition of a solitary pleasure. I could share my other pastimes like old cars and older music but I felt better when I went to race meetings on my own or listened to music sat quietly in a church or concert. The shared experience of music is something I left behind somehow when I stopped going to gigs. I never played or sang well enough to make much music with friends either.

Now that I run, I share my time with runners who have become my friends and that’s pulled me out of my shell. I’ll now happily spend time with people as long as I can have my me time too. Some of my friends who weren’t runners before are runners now and a few of them have come out as runners. It used to be a shameful practice, done late at night or very early in the morning, in parks or public gardens or along ill-lit back streets where few went for other purposes. They’d hide the special clothes and shoes they bought in secret from specialist shops or over the internet. Now, because they see me at it they feel empowered themselves. They’re out and they’re proud.

I still don’t do it for them.

I don’t do it for my health. I have asthma and was on the border of COPD. I was smoking and being an arse about it. I’ve written before about my love affair with cigarettes. I don’t want to go through it all again. I’ll just say this: they were wonderful for a while and then they wanted me to die and I don’t want to remember that bit. I just want to remember the good times. Pubs after hours with a beer in one hand, a fag in the other, a buzz in my head and bonhomie in my breast. That’s all gone now and I’d be lying if I said I didn’t miss it.

There are compensations. I’m now much less likely to contract lung cancer or heart disease. I’ve reduced the chances of stroke. My asthma has improved and I’m no longer in danger from COPD. I can come in and snog my wife and not worry about the smell of cigarette smoke on my breath. I no longer consume quite so many mints.

But that’s still not why I run.

I run because I feel the joy of movement. When I’m running and I feel the blood in my veins and the air in my lungs and my legs and arms drive me on. When it’s going well – and for the most part it’s been going very well since I started 8 Weeks to Natural – it feels brilliant to run. I feel very free and my movements are easy whether I’m sprinting hard up a hill or cruising along on a long run. It’s partly the training and the new techniques I’ve learned and partly it comes from my head being in a good place.

It just feels good to run.

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Unaccustomed As I Am

I’ve been in an unusual position for me recently: the front. Well, sort of. At the race on Sunday, the organisers had laid out starting pens. We were asked to segregate ourselves with the quicker towards the front and the slower towards the rear. I was going for my sub-45 so I went to the front of the 40:00-45:00 pen. There weren’t that many people in front of me. I looked behind and there was a wall of people starting at 50:00-55:00. I thought “That can’t possibly be right. There must be more people in front of me than this” I’d been at the front of a start pen before, in Edinburgh and that didn’t end well.We all moved forward for the start and when the gun went I was overtaken by a few runners but I wasn’t swamped. The race leaders were still in sight at the 2k marker and I haven’t been in that situation before. They were gone by 3k after some twists and turns and dips and climbs but it was exhilarating to have been so close to the leaders for so long. I finished in 51st place. Had I known I was that far up the order, I would have pushed just a little harder to stay ahead of the last guy.

Then yesterday evening I had a night of fartlek fun at the C&C Tuesday night training. I was in with the speedy boys (and girl) for the first time and I wasn’t completely left for dead. Yes, I was coming in at the back of the group but I wasn’t hopelessly off the pace and I would have been off the front of the slower group. I’ve noticed that I’ve been moving up the pace groups as time has gone on but this is the first time I’ve been playing with the big boys.

There is more to my step up in performance than my nice new shoes. (Sorry, inov-8.) That I’ve been working hard on becoming fitter, running with Coach B more regularly, I’m doing more core work and Helen Hall’s efficient running programme have all played their part too. It’s left me wondering how much faster I can go. If I’m another five minutes quicker at the same race next year, I’ll be knocking on the door of the top 20 and that’s where the serious people hang out. I am inspired to do well by my friends and clubmates all of whom are putting in excellent performances and setting PBs too. I just can’t just sit back when everybody else is doing so well. I feel left out.

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It’s Not That Easy, Really

I’ve had a few problems in the last week in my transition. It’s not been all bad but I’ve been struggling to reconcile my coaches’ different emphases on how to run more efficiently. Coach B (not his real name) thinks that you’ll save energy if you take fewer strides and has been encouraging his athletes to extend their stride slightly on each step. Coach Helen is firmly of the opinion that a high cadence and short strides are the most efficient way to cover the ground. I’ve been working with Coach B for almost a year and I’ve made huge progress under his tutelage. I’ve only been working with Helen since we started the 8 Weeks to Natural programme but in that time, I’ve seen the benefits of her approach too. The truth of the matter is that I’m now very confused.

I thought my form had improved markedly but some photographs and film taken at the weekend have changed that. You can see the worst of the photographs below. (Thanks to Paul Homewood for the picture.)

And I thought it was going so well. Photograph © Paul Homewood, 2012

I’m just bimbling along here. There is no pressure so I should be able to run very nicely. This photo would suggest that I’m not actually doing that. My left heel is about to touch down first. I thought that I was landing nicely on my midfoot, allowing my heel just to touch the earth, gathering the energy in my foot and feeding that energy back into the next stride. The photo would suggest that here at least I’m landing on my heel.

The film Martyn Brearley shot shows that my feet were landing better but that I’m not really moving my left arm. That feeds through to my right leg which is imbalanced as a result. There is a difference in that I’m running barefoot in the video. Most people automatically assume a better posture when they take their shoes and socks off to run. You get that light, quick step thing going easily when you don’t have rubber and plastic surrounding your foot.

In spite of my dodgy form, I managed a nice, 75 second PB at the Bourn to Run 10k yesterday and posted a sub-45:00 time for the first time ever. It felt surprisingly easy. I haven’t run at that pace for such a long time in ages. I’ve been able to cane it over 800m, 1km or a mile but the more measured but still brisk pace I hit yesterday felt a lot more relaxed than I thought it would. I had a couple of wobbles around 4km when I just wanted to step off the course and drink beer until I felt better. My mood at that point wasn’t improved by a runner whose choice of music was more than obvious to everyone within six feet of him. I hope his ears were bleeding from the over-pressure in his eardrums by the end. I dropped him between 4 and 5km only to have him overtake me just after 8km. He slowed down after he passed me so I took the place back and pressed on. I dropped him easily between there and the finishing line.

Hills weren’t a problem. I kept my stride short and my cadence up and was taking yards out of the competition on each climb. I strode out as much as I could on the way down the hill but kept my cadence high too. There was a nice downhill stretch from 8km to the finish so I was able to dispatch the noisy young man easily enough. I tried to make up another place. There was a runner about seven or eight yards ahead of me and I made ground on him until we entered the park where the finish was held. My adversary ducked through into the park only three or four strides ahead of me. I burst through to see him vanishing into the distance. I kicked as hard as I could but I wasn’t going to make up that ground in only 80m.

My 44:25 chip time is almost five minutes faster than last year. That’s the difference that working with Coach B has made. It’s why I want to reconcile the new techniques I’m learning from Helen with his approach. I’d be foolish to do anything else.

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