12 months running log….

…and finally here is my belated running log for 2013/14, possibly the least yearly mileage I have put in since my return to running/multisport in 2002. Whilst I only logged a miserly 1,228 kilometres of running, I still managed to complete the Colworth marathon, Snowdonia Marathon, Powerman Zofingen Duathlon and a World Record for 12 hours running indoors on a treadmill. So, whilst he miles were low, there was some quality stuff in there. That said, if you extract the quality effort which accounts for 420km of racing, I only trained for 808km last year…

The winning shoe, if that’s what you can call it was the Inov8 X Talon 190s. This was my third pair and I once again felt very comfortable in them although initially I found the heel tabs were too high and caused problems with my Achilles tendons. i used them to good effect throughout the year and raced in them at the worlds in Zofingen. Sadly however i have worn one of the lugs which is consistent with my current forefoot strike. In all, they have covered 232.2 of my kilometres, about 1/5th of my total running. They were however only just ahead of my Inov8 192s with 231.6 km to their name. In third were my Newton Distance with 192.4km.

In summary then, hardly a vintage year for total crop, but a fine vintage none the less with a 7th place at the worlds and my second Guinness World Record.JC 12 hour record

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The Rwanda Dash For Cash

The Roy Castle Cause For Hope Appeal

Sgt J.M. Cowell
82 Airborne Squadron

A desperate disease requires a dangerous remedy.
Guy Fawkes

Having despatched possibly the first ever batch of potential Paratroopers to have completed their Pre-Parachute Selection in Africa to the somewhat cooler training area of Catterick, Cpl ‘Woody’ Felton was straining on the leash to impose sever muscle fatigue on the unwary.
With 49 days to push, what can you do with a possible 98 sessions of altitude training? The answer, of course, was to bring the Squadron up to a peak level of fitness and then trash it in the shortest possible time. But how? Easy – simply run across Rwanda n memory of Roy Castle.
The route was obvious: north – south from the border with Uganda to the border with Burundi. But that is only 264.5 kilometres. Ok, so start from Mount Muhabura (14,500 feet) at the time just an unknown volcano on the map. So, we have to work a bit. Anything else? Yes, do it in 24 hours.
With permission granted from our CO, Lt Col Mike Wharmby, and the Roy Castle Cause for Hope Appeal, the Rwanda Dash For Cash was born. Over 600 begging letters were sent out, courtesy of the United Nations photocopier and the Operation Gabriel postal system, despatched to every sector of commerce in Britain. We were committed. Now all we had to do was recce the route to see if it could be done!
After two days, the Mount Muhabura recce team still had not reached the summit, despite walking into and out of Uganda trying to find a route up the seemingly impenetrable jungle covered steep slopes of the volcano. Constantly soaked due to the humidity and the tropical rain storms as we cut our way through the bamboo, our consolation was the brief glimpses through the trees and clouds of the plains, lakes and mountains of Rwanda, Zaire and Uganda. This was hard work, but the thought of writing 600 apologies kept us going. As darkness rapidly fell that evening, we finally cleared the bamboo and, sheltered from the wind in our UNHCR tents, we spent an uncomfortable night, except for me in my softy two feathers sleeping bag!
On the third morning we reached a cloudy, cool summit and, a little disappointed at being deprived of the reward of the ultimate view, we held the usual photo call and quickly departed. Seven hours later, after we had cut, crashed and fallen through the mud and rivers of the lower slopes, every wary of treading on a land mine and now very tired under the weight of bergans and rifles, we finally reached the pick up point. Thankfully, Sgt Al Smiles had the remaining energy to get some life out of the unreliable radio and call in the vehicles.
We were in trouble. Although we now had a route, seven hours from our allotted 24 would leave just 17 to complete the remaining 250 kilometres. A rate of 15km per hour that, even with the high calibre soldiers available to us, would be a tall order considering the seriously hilly terrain facing us.
The road recce was far simpler, as we were equipped with Magellan. Three long days were still required however to measure distances, heights, log climbs and descents and landmarks for changeovers. Armed with this information I spend many hours in the CP putting runners to legs and producing a user friendly Plan A. After two weeks of injuries, RTUs, redeployments and physical assessments we were reduced to the minimum of available manpower and I was already writing Plan Z. If that was not enough, increased political unrest continued to threaten our safety and the event was now in some doubt. Perhaps I would have to write those apologies after all.
With assistance from other agencies, despite the increased work-load as Op Gabriel wound down, sufficient manpower and equipment was made available. All runners and reserves increased their training to include more hills and running in the heat of the day and, after so many rejections (some quite amusing) we received our first donation!
The composition of the climbing team received the most attention, as obviously the speed with which the initial runners descended the volcano would dictate whether the dash would be successful or not. The final choice of Lt Matt Hing and Sgt Al Smiles was deemed to provide the best ratio of speed, agility, strength and ability to cope with the altitude. The introduction of Sgt Stevie Freeman as an additional mountain goat to take over on the foothills would also help to speed up the descent. Ably assisted by a team of ‘sherpas’ which included a medic an radio operator, they set out for Ruhengeri and the propsed 2 day climb of Mt Muhabura. Less hindered than the recce team had been, they made steady progress to the final camp, just short of the summit.
For the remainder, an early start was required and after a mad drive on the slippery roads, we arrived at the foothills just in time to hear Lt Col. Mike Wharmby officially start the Rwanda Dash for Cash over the radio at 11:00B on Remembrance Sunday, 1994.
After reaching base camp by Land Rover, I scanned the volcano using my SUSAT and, to everyone’s surprise, just over an hour later, Matt and Al were seen below the tree line. Ten minutes later, in a near state of exhaustion, they handed over having descended 6,000 feet and covered six kilometres 100 minutes ahead of schedule. Suitably motivated, Stevie continued the descent through the farms and villages and, in a little under two hours, we were on the road and going well.
All runners performed admirably throughout the day, notably former Army Cross Country Champion, S/Sgt Ray Keeney, who ran 30 kilometres through a storm, climbing the central range of hills; S/Sgt Dave Rollins, who completed two 12 kilometre climbs, just six hours apart; L/Cpl Nigel Burke, who ran his heart out over a difficult ten kilometre leg and, just six hours later, went out again and ran even quicker; and Sgt Tony Melvin, recovering from a serious injury, who agreed to run a couple of steady legs and found himself completing a more than steady climb through the night.
As darkness rapidly fell, the need for our armed escorts became even more apparent, the Rwandanese Patriotic Front had increased their roadblocks and much negotiation was required to clear these obstacles prior to the runners’ arrival.
Rwanda proved to be an exhilarating country to run through at night. A feeling of being literally on top of the world, the clear night sky, the silence created by the curfew, the distinct lack of wildlife and the war shattered ruins of towns like Gitarama all made for an eerie atmosphere. The silence was soon shattered however by the arrival of the 4 tonne lorries, as they caught up after picking up the previous runner. In the pitch-black areas their presence was often vital to light the road ahead.
Still very much ahead of schedule (the expected decrease in speed on the second legs did not materialise) and, after much insistence, all runners opted to complete a third leg. After a quick recalculation, I rearranged the final legs so that all could run a final two kilometres. This caused the whole momentum of the Dash to pick up even more speed and the final run became almost a sprint as all competed against each other to produce the quickest time. Incredibly, Cpl Andy Shoreman defied all the laws of physics to produce the quickest time.
Now very much ahead of schedule, we realised that we would be running at a rate of knots right up to the border still in darkness. This was not a wise move considering the current tension between Burundi and Rwanda. The escort once more went ahead to try to explain what we were doing to the startled border guards. As the sun began to rise over Ngozi, Woody ran up to the border, reaching Burundi at 05:23.
We had done it, 264.5km in 19 hours, 19 minutes and 56 seconds! An incredible achievement across the land of Imana. After a quick photo call we turned around to find somewhere a little safer to have breakfast. Although the Dash was videoed by L/Cpl ‘Paddy’ Hannah, I was never to see the film and he left the Army on his return from Africa. Sadly, our photographer L/Cpl ‘Jacko’ Jackson who had done much to highlight our presence in Rwanda was killed soon after.
So, back to Kigali to prepare for home. The hoped for influx of sponsorship mail never appeared and of the 100 plus replies, only a few offered us financial assistance. Their generosity however, meant that much more. But shame on those who didn’t even respond. One magazine, 220 Triathlon, publicised our event (thank you) but our saving grace was to be our families and friends at home, who, urged on by Cpl Geoff Murray, added to the several thousand pounds we raised.

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Life’s been good to me so far – Snowdonia Marathon

Life’s been good to me so far

Those of you accustomed to my coaching methods will know that I am not a fan of using mp3 players during running training in almost all situations. Distraction techniques during exercise do exactly what they say on the tin; they distract from developing the necessary skill level required to perform the process consistently well. Simply put, distraction is more likely to lead to poor running form.

That said, anydistraction would have been welcome from the mind numbing seven hours I spent in traffic whilst driving from Herts Uni to Llanberis last Friday evening. The only distraction I could find, however, was the mildly irritating and majorly sclerotic voice of Joe Walsh which kept popping up in my head as I queued up at roundabout after roundabout on the A5. After an hour I was only four miles short of the turn off to my home in Woburn and after two hours I was little more than four miles beyond it. Averaging a respectable marathon pace of just over 8 miles per hour, there should have been ample time to reflect on why I was making this journey to the Snowdonia Marathon after a 17 year break, but every time I tried to find an answer, back came Joe…

Deedle de deddle de, dum dum, dang dang
Deddle de deddle de, dum dum, dang dang
Deddle de deddle de, dum dum, dub dub
My Maserati does one-eighty-five…

I last ran a standalone marathon in 2010, posting a sub 3 hours for the first time as a vet. The previous two years had seen 3.01:38 and 3.01:40 and therefore a 2.59:00 was good enough for me. The amount of time spent training for three consecutive winters, even as a small percentage of a very hectic life, had been excessive and unsustainable and yet it was still insufficient to really do my alleged ability justice. I therefore retired from standalone marathons and vowed to try my hand at a variety of differing challenges instead. These athletic challenges have come thick and fast in recent years and, if any of them have anything in common with the whole of my athletic career, it’s that they have all been completed with the minimum of training possible. During Costa-to-Costa this was a massive drawback because I held up a group of talented cyclists during appalling weather and, although we made our main objective of riding from Whitehaven to Sunderland in a day, we missed our initial 8 hour target by a country mile. I therefore focused on individual activities and, again despite only completing a minimal amount of training, I successfully broke two world endurance records thus reinforcing my self-styled myth that minimal training is best for me. That said, my weekly average of just 27km running per week this year is less than a third I would expect to have been doing at the peak of my running years and substantially less than is sufficient for the challenge that awaited me.

Deedle de deddle de, dum dum, dang dang
Deddle de deddle de, dum dum, dang dang
Deddle de deddle de, dum dum, dub dub
They say I’m lazy but it takes all my time…

When I was 32, I challenged my office friends to do the The Great South run – by today’s standards a relatively small scale10 mile race in Portsmouth – despite no-one being particularly keen on running. One chap, Rob, finished somewhere near the back of the pack a few minutes behind Coco the Clown. Office banter being what it was, every opportunity was taken to remind him of this. Unbeknownst to us however, every morning thereafter he went out training until the following year he announced that we were going to do the Snowdonia Marathon. Always up for a challenge, of course I agreed even though I had done no training. For those unaware of the rather unique race at Snowdon, the course either has you running up hill, or down and whenever you are doing one thing you tend to wish that you were doing the other. Add in off-road trails, generally on the descents, and the usual mix of Snowdonia weather and you have a fine challenge by anyone’s standards.

On that occasion, after the initial climbs, I flew down the descent into Beddgelert and reached half way in around 1 hour and 20 minutes. What happened next is a lesson in pace management. The climb from mile 13 is steady and just enough to take the wind out of your sails. The following descent however, again not steep, simply ties your hip flexors in knots and you begin to wish you were climbing again. When that climb comes, however, it packs a punch and at 22 miles the outlook is pretty grim. Somewhere along here, Rob flew past and I was barely able to acknowledge him whilst buried in a world of pain. There would be no need for any post race banter, I had been well and truly put back into my place.

I had known for years that much of my perceived endurance was made up of a psychological strength that far outweighed my physical ability. And there it was being put to the test. When the energy levels had gone, I was able to keep turning my legs over all the way to the finish line. The final descent from 25 miles was the nail in the coffin, however and a cramped up hobble was all I was able to sustain to the line, from the line to the car, and never has someone had to suffer so much discomfort on the near 300 mile journey home.

So, what on earth was I doing returning to this place of my former undoing? Well, as part of this very unscientific study of one, the plan was to try to replicate my situation of 17 years ago and discover if I still had similar levels of endurance ability and psychological fortitude by re running this toughest of marathons. Of course the study cannot be a completely objective one, I simply cannot forget the experience of the past 17 years, nor the shell shock of having raced the event before. But I would at least have 3 hours to consider the benefits of this non-training policy, assuming that I actually made it to the start line that is.

Deedle de deddle de, dum dum, dang dang
Deddle de deddle de, dum dum, dang dang
Deddle de deddle de, dum dum, dub dub
They say I’m crazy but I have a good time…

I reached the YHA just after the closing time of 10pm but a warning call had been made and the receptionist had stayed on. The dormitory was already full of snoring males with running kit spread liberally around the room. To ease my aching muscles I took a walk back into town to register and collect my race number. The fresh air did me the world of good after such a drawn out journey but, regrettably, it re awoke me and I then spent several hours in the dorm trying to fall asleep. My room mates were not only early to bed but they were early risers also and, although I tried to blot out the noise, I eventually succumbed and got up for a pre race breakfast.

At breakfast everyone was quite chatty with the usual pre marathon nerves. I was, however, in this wonderful position of having no expectation but to run 26.2 miles as a training run. After breakfast, the chatter continued and I found out that I had roomed with a runner from Lakeside Runners, Milton Keynes. I also endured a few confused stares when I mentioned my idea of recreating the circumstances of one of the hardest runs of my life.

Before long it was time to move to the start line. This is positioned a brisk walk away from the town and, with a steady drizzle being sent sideways by a stiff breeze, I opted for an extra layer and the provided plastic ‘jacket’. The rain continued to fall and I was slightly worried that I was under dressed for the occasion having left my own jacket behind. Although everyone takes this race seriously, this is a very sociable race with no evidence of the start line nerves encountered at many marathon venues. These are ‘real’ runners and I was just breathing a very personal sigh of satisfaction at the absence of Elvis (see previous marathon reports) when I chanced upon 25% of Abba loitering near the start line. It was slightly alarming to realize that my ‘steady run’ may now turn into a race as I knew that my ego would not tolerate Agnetha Falskog beating me….especially an Agnetha sporting an early entry to Movember. I decided to focus on the rain instead.

Two minutes before the start, the start line banner blew over. It was obviously going to be one of those days. Thankfully, the starter got us underway and I could focus on my running. For such a hard marathon, the first couple of miles are very easy, being downhill, and it is difficult not to get carried away. Thankfully I started pretty much to pace – well slower than I usually go at least – and started the first climb happy with my progress. As ever, my calf muscles were not terribly happy and I had my first psychological test in balancing the benefits of the experiment I was undertaking and the risks of damaging my planned winter base training. The experiment won over and I continued to climb at my leisurely pace, taking in the view as best I could. The rain had stopped and, in the sheltered parts it was really quite warm. The breeze was behind us most of the time which was good but did not bode so well when it would be against in the latter parts the race. I was being passed left, right and centre but still enjoying myself as I went over Pen Y Pass in 37:22.

The first descent is on the road and I started to take back some of the places I had lost but was mindful of overdoing the pace too early. However, I have spent a lot of time this year working on my descending and was keen to at least take advantage of it. At the turn however the course goes from road to stony track. I continued with my progress although some of the stones were quite painful through the limited soles of my Inov8 Flite 192s and I was passed by some fell runners who were at home in this environment. The descents just keep coming in this race which highlights just how steep the climbs are. Therefore even I was beginning to tire of running downhill and my hip flexors – site of much of my recent running discomfort – were tightening.

In the final few miles to half way I fell in behind a couple of runners who were busy chatting away and I then exchanged a few words with a guy running with me. The act of talking was sufficient to slow me and an indication that I had been running just a little too fast. I did enjoy the exchange and I stayed with him to the half way point at Beddgelert. Half way in 1.38:30, some 6 minutes ahead of my planned schedule, but I thought I may need those minutes in the miles to come…and how right I was.

The noise from the crowds at Beddgelert really is something special. For such a small village, they put on a great show and it is hard not to respond to such spirit. Knowing my tank to already be running dry, I chose not to put in a little spurt for the crowds and decided to applaud them instead. The reaction was more cheers from the crowd and a positive mood as I entered into the second half.

The climb from Beddgelert does not appear to be steep however the next few miles are all uphill and I watched my former running mate slowly move away. I caught the occasional slower moving runners, but, in the main, I was losing ground to all and sundry. Apart from doing my time challenge, my secondary task was to try to regain my running form whilst under pressure. At my previous event, the World Long Distance Duathlon Championships in Zofingen, I had set myself up nicely for the final run with a PB in the first run and the bike. Sadly, I was unable to get into my running form for the final 30km and, although I still managed a PB on the day, it was not the solid performance I had wished for.

Now entering the final 15km of Snowdonia I wanted to retain my full focus on my running form but, as hard as I focused, I simply could not get the deddles, dums and dangs of Joe Walsh out of my head. Between his squeals and the rather catchy tune, I was just able to keep some semblance of good running as we again started to descend. This race really is a test of mind over muscle and even those who overtook me were not moving smoothly. At 22 miles the road turns uphill once more and it becomes a struggle to maintain forward momentum. Fortunately, despite my limited training this year, the introductory run group and I have been working on economic climbing drills and I eased my way through the early part of the final climb. I had hoped to reach 23 miles by 3 hours to give me a fighting chance of running the final 3 miles in 28 minutes but I turned the corner at 23 miles in 3.02:35 and I knew that my race was run. The next two miles are extremely hard and once again forward momentum is maintained through willpower alone. There was a Riverside runner just ahead who was walking and every time I got close to him he started to run away from me! Once again I had to battle this blessed tune and accept that my form was shot. Trying to run a marathon without having completed the necessary groundwork is unwise and, on ageing legs, I was paying the price. These were possibly the slowest 2 miles of my running career over the last 17 years, since I had last run this blessed race.

I had to again try to compensate my disappointment by taking in the views and I finally crested the climb at the 25 mile point just short of 3 hours and 28 minutes. In 17 years I had lost 1 mile. The final run downhill to the finish was excruciating last time out with cramped quads and calf muscles alternating with every step. This time, and much to my pleasant surprise, the final mile was a much more pleasurable experience and, whilst I can’t say I coasted to the finish, at least I made it without the previous tears.

I rewarded the crowd with my own cheers as I entered Llanberis and, although slower than last time, at least I could stand when I got to the finish. Home then in 3.37:11 and just one mile slower than I ran in 1997 based on similar levels of fitness. And this despite having been seriously ill and breaking my tibia and fibula during that time. All in all, not too bad from just an average of 3.5 runs per week and less than 27 km weekly mileage. Although I never seem to be happy with my fitness levels – there always seems to be more that I should be doing – this performance, on a demanding course, shows that I have hung in there pretty well since I left the army. A focus on good running form through using Natural Running Form drills, backed up with a strong nutrition plan seems to have worked out well for me. Time to get in the car, turn for home and crank up the music…

Deedle de deddle de, dum dum, dang dang
Deddle de deddle de, dum dum, dang dang
Deddle de deddle de, dum dum, dub dub
Life’s been good to me so far.

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Marauding Scots held up by the wall

Somewhere between leaving for London this year and my overdue arrival at the finish line, I was asked how many marathons I had completed and had taken this extended time to consider my answer. Prior to last year, the question had always been “Have you done THE marathon” and it had always been a thorn in my side that I had not. Obviously, the Thornborough in the side had been a reason or excuse for several years, but last year I laid that particular ghost to rest too. I had done many marathons and, at last, had done THE marathon too! This year, therefore, I had greater expectations. My running had been slightly better, although still lacking in consistency, but, more importantly, the Achilles heel which are my calf muscles had remained pretty much injury free.

A strong finish from Greg at Oakley did not dampen my enthusiasm for round 2 this year and, so confident was I, a hastily arranged footie match and brisk walk on the Beacons was an almost acceptable taper. Last year I had fussed and worried my way through the final days, this year I was relaxed and happy, despatching Dave off to collect my race number and chip and enjoying a pre race lazy day in London with mum and bbq with friends.

At 22:15 on Saturday evening I left West London and consciously started my pre race focus ready for THE marathon. I had just transferred my running kit from weekend bag to overnight bag and was mentally checking the contents. So much for my pre race focus, I had forgotten to pack my contact lenses and would be unable to literally focus on race day! Not a good start and I spent the journey wondering if I was about to pay a high price for my relaxing day.

I was! To dampen my spirits further, I arrived at close to midnight to find my hotel room ‘filled’ with a certain gentleman. The twin room turned out to be not only a double, but a double about the size of your average single. The bed was similarly scaled and, with no other room at the inn, the less than pleasant prospect of sharing became a reality. Well Mr Pepper, what’s the worst that can happen? To make sure it didn’t, I quickly laid down some ground rules. Dave however duly supplied both race number and contact lens case to allow mine to ‘rest’ for the night and therefore it seemed quite harsh to relegate him to the floor. My contact lenses were to get more sleep than I!

At best, I dozed through the night but, to be honest, I never sleep well pre race. I wasn’t about to let on though and highlighted Dave’s unfair use of 90% of the bed, his extraordinarily tuneless nightly breathing routine and, of course, his less than appealing boat race (well we were in East London) at 6am or any other time come to that. I believe that he replied similarly. We both also cursed the less than savoury odour which we had put down to each other before realising that the drains were not up to the task either. Morning greetings were made in an appropriately deep and manly voice just in case there had been any inappropriate contact in the night!

Breakfast preceded the final preparations and we both watched the elite race starts on the tv. We now had 45 minutes to reach our own start lines and bade each other farewell and good luck on the common. I finished my prep alongside the MK team and joined the queue to hand in my bag. Co worker Debs passed by and I was not long in my ‘pen’ when I heard Dee’s call. We shouted our best wishes over the hubbub and I settled down to the final 20 minutes of anxious wait.

It was already warmer than last year and so I continued to drink my electrolyte drink and ate my banana whilst trying to stay as shaded as possible. We cheered the wheelchairs away, took a final leak on the grass, threw away unwanted food and drink and allowed ourselves to be entertained by the commentator – anything to help pass the time. Time passed remarkably quickly and on the hooter I started my watch, bade my neighbours good luck and jogged over the timing mats.

The down side of the ‘good for age’ field is that we start immediately behind the ‘celebrities’ and this year they seemed more numerous than ever, one group spreading across the whole road. For the 2 hour 30 men this is really something they could do without and at least one runner was tripped whilst trying to negotiate the chaos. A few choice words were also exchanged. To redress the balance slightly I spoke to Sally Gunnell and wished her well.

I got into my stride quite quickly thereafter but tried to hold myself back. The opening miles are very fast if you allow them to be (just ask Greg) and any over use of energy systems will be paid for later on. I took pace for 3 miles with an MK runner but used a brief surge to draw alongside and have a chat with Elvis who, as per last year, was running just ahead. Now, I’ve done some research since last year’s humiliation and most reports suggest that Elvis takes drugs. A few also suggest that he is dead but I don’t believe them for this is the second year I have seen him at London! I also had to follow a huge Scot wearing the most uncomfortable looking national dress on what was already becoming an extremely hot day. I did try to chat but couldn’t understand a word he said! Our conversation was a succession of “Pardon?”, “Say again?” “Eh, what?” etc…until breathing required me to give up hope of successful communication.

The miles were slowly passing by and, encouragingly, I was on schedule but still hadn’t settled in. The prospect of seeing the girls at 9 miles stopped me from settling down and I therefore gave in on early focus, concentrating instead on using each and every water stop and consuming a gel every 4 – 5 miles. I try to discipline myself to running the blue line (shortest route) but, on approaching the pre arranged corner, I moved out from the inside and immediately spied the Olney Runners banner. The screams and high pitched squeals of delight confirmed successful observation – the girls were quite vocal too!

Encouraged by my progress (estimate 60 – 63 mins to OR corner, actual 61 mins) and delighted to see the support crew, I was now able to settle in a rhythm. Sadly, however, at exactly the same spot as last year, I felt the initial strains in my left calf muscle. Refusing to believe that it would happen twice in the same spot I concentrated on my running action and continued to do so until half way. Half way so soon? In reality the time was not passing as quickly as I would have liked but I did cross the line at 1 hour 30 mins…bang on for an even split 3 hours.

No girls at the pre arranged 14 left me a little depressed however I concentrated on upping the tempo slightly to try and get to 20 miles with a spare minute. The thought of having to do a final 10km in 40 mins was beginning to feel beyond me and as I ran into the docklands I was beginning to feel the heat. On some parts of the course the air was completely still, had already been consumed by the several hundred runners in front of me, and was still being consumed by the 100s of thousands of cheering supporters. Despite keeping my heart rate low I was struggling for breath.

Just short of 17 I saw Greg up ahead and realised just how fast he must have been out of the blocks for me to not see him until now. I quickly evaluated my options. I could sacrifice any hope of a sub 3 hour and sit comfortably behind him, confident of taking him on the sprint finish. I could keep my current pace, slowly draw passed him and he could tag on leaving me to do all the work, beating me on the sprint finish. I could cruise by and destroy any ambitions he may still have by putting in a quick 3 miles and leave him dispirited which would also leave me with just a quick 10km to get that elusive (for 18 years) sub 3. Before I could decide, a drunken bystander shouted “Come on Olney Runners” and then, as if seeing double, shouted “Come on the other Olney Runner!” Greg looked back.

Option 3 it was then, although I did ask after Greg’s welfare without hanging on for the answer! I upped my heart rate from 152 to 162 and put in not 3, but 5 miles, at least feeling as good as one can in such conditions and after such distance. As arranged, the girls were just before 22 and I took out my final gel, depositing my belt with them. Their cheers encouraged me further and, on an Olney Runners adrenaline surge, I upped my heart to 165.

This was it then and, at 22, I dug in alongside a girl with the cry “There’s a sub 3 hour to be had here!”. She answered in broad Scots and so I introduced her to tam o’shanter who was just hanging on. They conversed in a frightening concoction of gesticulations, spittle and battle cries and I viewed the muscle bound, hairy torso with some fear – she’d done well to get this far! Almost simultaneously the marauding Scots hit the wall and fell away leaving me to a final two miles of OR powered 165 before my energy levels began to falter also. Suddenly, every step became more difficult. My quads lost the power to lift my legs and I had to literally will each step out one at a time. The final two miles were going to hurt but I was determined not to put on a similar showing to last year’s dismal display. I also didn’t know where Greg was.

With 1.5 to go I tried to push again – it’s only a BFT for heaven’s sake! This was not total collapse, thankfully, but, at Big Ben, I knew I had missed the 3 hour slot. Trying to keep my eyes open in case the girls had made it to the finish, I hung on to my group and pushed for the line. 3 hours 1 minute 40 seconds. Disappointingly, 2 seconds slower than last year!

I stumbled to collect my medal and I dragged myself up the ramp for the chip removal where the girl left my lace undone. Causing a queue behind me, I stayed still until she realised that I was going nowhere until she had done it back up again. There was no chance of my reaching down for it! Last year, I collected my kit and got changed immediately but this time I realised that if I stopped I probably would not get going again – probably ever! The heat was now completely oppressive and so I staggered over to the O meeting point, hung my Olney Runners sweatshirt onto the tree and lay down with a shirt covering my baking head. I was cooked!

I was awoken after a while and bravely embraced by Sarah and Ruth. I wasn’t to find out just how filthy I was – covered in gel, drinks, dirt and a mixture of my own and the Scot’s snot – until later. Sorry guys, I hope your tetanus jabs are up to date! Other familiar people came and went but I remained partially removed from the scene, my frazzled brain left somewhere 2 or 3 miles back. An unsteady and crowded walk away led us to a welcoming pub where I found my second wind and enjoyed a few pints and great company from our fellow runners and fantastic supporters. The ritual airing of the feet took place but at least I didn’t leave half a toe in the ash tray this time!

Once again this was a fantastic experience made more enjoyable by Olney Runners’ desire to be both supportive and entertaining at the same time. Great company, captured on some great photos. The grimaces during are genuine. The smiles after are genuine too. The satisfaction complete.

Well, nearly complete. I may have one more go at the elusive sub 3 before retirement…..anyone want to join me next year for THE marathon?

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Beaten by a resurgent Elvis

Finally, after 26 years of trying, I completed the London Marathon on Sunday. In an emotional roller coaster of a day with some terrific support from Olney Runners, I limped home thereby completing what I had set out to do in 1981. Despite having trained throughout 8 winters specifically for the event, this was the first occasion I had actually got to the start line but probably also the least prepared I have been. At 17 I could have taken each of the 26 miles in my steady stride, at 42 it would have to be yard by bloody yard.

The winter’s training has been haphazard at best. Insufficient time to work on speed and quality meant that the longer endurance runs became the cornerstone rather than complimentary to the training programme. With available training time also meant to be split between running and cycling and a longer than expected recovery in the autumn from IMUK, the base period was already suffering when I lined up at the Bedford Half in early December with my usual inflamed left calf muscle. A sprint finish later and I had seen off fellow clubman Greg in a respectable 1 hour 24 mins but I had also seen off another couple of weeks of training by aggravating my calf. Never mind, I’ll start in earnest after Christmas and now had another fellow clubman, Dave Pepper, whose name came out of the Olney Runners’ Christmas Draw and Dee Bethune, an habitual London marathoner, for training company.

The training continued to be haphazard and I never quite got into the programme. Some pleasant morning runs to work (12 miles through the famous Wychwood Stud where the Devil’s Horsemen’s horses took to chasing me across their fields, Emerson Valley, Furzton Lake, Teardrop Lakes and Loughton Lakes) were too infrequent. My usual 15 mile route became a long slog and I could never quite find the time in the day to add those quality sessions. I missed out on the Watford Half and embarked on the Marie Curie 15 miler as a test of stamina – only to be found wanting once again. A seventh place finish scant consolation for a hard morning’s work.

In between, I still managed the annual masochism that is the Big Cow Winter Duathlon Series. The revised course of 4.5km, 16km, 4km has meant a reversal of the cycle loop at which I had become reasonably adept. I didn’t enjoy the new direction. The slightly longer initial run caused many a raised heart rate and those final few extra uphill metres resulted in more stressful and therefore less efficient first transitions. Battling the opposite way on the bike was never comfortable and I always found an excus to go slow – the January ice made the Zipp too twitchy on the corners and the February wind stopped me in my tracks on the modst climb. However with a less than satisfactory 10th and 7th place behind me I produced a slightly more respectable 5th place in the final round to achieve a 3rd overall in the Vets.

This was getting me no closer to a London start and so once more I lined up at the Oakley 20, the scene of at least two of my previous pre marathon downfalls. With Ironman Austria colleague Toni the only Olney representitive (Dave having hobbled out of London contention the week before) , I shared the journey with Deb Self who was training for London for the first time. With a determined plan to this time take it steady, reach the finish line and under no circumstances speak to Imogen, the cause of so may of my failures, I made my way to the start. The plan came under immediate attack for there she stood, between the briefing point and the start line. I could not be so rude as to just walk by and, by mile 6 we were still chatting. By mile 8, Imogen was chatting and I was nodding, by mile 11 I was gasping as usual.

Although Im had also planned to ‘take it easy’, she was constantly being reminded that she was the second lady and so at 12 miles she apologised (there was no need, honestly!) and off she went to pick up the pace by 30 seconds a mile. At mile 17, deja vu, well almost, this time my right calf expired and I set myslf up for yet another round of expensive physios and an anxios three weeks to see if I would make the start line of the World’s greatest marathon.

To keep me amused I had to track down some support stockings to ease the tension in my calf muscles and improve the return of my running action. Deb O was more than happy to locate said hoisiery and then laugh when they were applied, but with a feeling of just wanting on get on with it I booked a hotel in what must have been the only room at the inn, a half mile from the start line. A busy working week detained me til Saturay afternoon and, as a stress reliever, I do not recommend a last gasp dash to the London Docklands to register, especially when the outside temperature was heading toward the 30s and the temperature inside my head was reaching boiling point. The hotel receptionist discovered what they taught me to say 20 years ago in the Paras when she tried to charge me more than the exorbitant rate I had already paid on line. No little lady, that is not how you try to endear yourself to me.

Thankfully race morning was cool and I lined up 10 metres behind the celebreties, as close to the front without actually trampling on anybody. Sadly I joined the waiting ranks 45 minutes from the off, however I had food – a banana – drink, and a t shirt I could throw away with 5 mins to go. Dee came over to shout out good luck and I was joiend by Paul H- a former Para and now a guide runner for a blind Olympian marathon runner. I had no palns to stay up with them but on the off we all bade our farewells and wished each other luck.

Slight drizzle kept everyone cool through the first two or three miles and I was happy with my 6:50 pace and enjoying the early atmosphere. Miles 3 – 6 became a little more crowded as all the starts merged into one road and I watched as Elvis ran passed me looking very strong on his come back performance. I wasn’t too botherted as I thought I’d have him back before the encore. At mile 7 I met up with fellow vet Phil Redden and we chatted for the next few miles, our progress now being punctuated by the band of Olney Runners supporters who had come down to chear me on. I had feared missing them in the crowds but the shrill voices and OR banner made them instantly recognisable! They ran a back double to see me at 7 and 9 and I was basking in their support until mile 10 when I started to go backwards. Something was already wrong and I had yet to reach the midway point. Surely it was not a lack of energy, despite the difficult preceding week and I was taking a gel every 6 miles and carrying carbo drink to keep the glycogen high and drinking water at every opportunity.

At 11 my left calf muscle began to expire and Phil ran on. It’s that old medial head again and I awaited the next sighting of the OR crew so that I could pull out before I caused any more damage. Mile 13 appeared and with it the 7 minute mile pace maker came by. I had lost my early gains and no sign of the girls. I did however spy Imogen running the opposite way with the elite women and offered my usual support. Still no sign of OR so I decided to ‘get thee behind me’ 7 minute man and push on as best I could. Debs and Neil cheared me through the mid point – 1:28:30 – spot on for a sub 3.

From 13 to 18 I dug in and worked as hard as I have ever done in a race. My calf deteriorated and as I tried to alter my running action to compensate, my quads decided to join in with the complaint. The 7 min man was 10 yard ahead and I just had to keep him in sight to justify the misery. At 19 the girls returned and I briefly thought of quitting but with just 7 to go and still being on target (2:15:17 at 20 miles – a vet pb) there was no reason why I shouldn’t.

The crowds by now had become 20 deep and the noise was deafening in some places but I struggled to join in the fun as it was taking all my energy just to stay on the road. I had been looking forward to returning to the City and viewing the architecture of my childhood from this rather unusual perspective however by now I had tunnel vision and just needed now to finish. The 7 min mad was now out of sight and I had 10 minutes for the final two kms but even then I knew that the game was up. Having average 4 minute kms to date, now it took me nearly 6 and I felt myself falling backwards as dozens of runners streaked for the line. I missed the girls at 26 but by now I was rolling badly and had already satisfied that this would be an honourable finish, saluting the crowd and almost walking across the line in 3:01:38.

I met loads of people I knew after the race. Coaches collecting their prodiges and runners either delighted or disappointed in equal numbers. I rang the girls and they met me under the O tree from where we found a pub with one free stool which I quickly appropriated. All I fancied was a pint of Guinness which was duly provided and I sunk into my stool and appreciated the refreshment with much satisfaction. With the manners of a long distance runner I then took off both shoes and socks and treated my feet to Elite’s post competition freshment cream……bliss! As ever, the end of my formerly frost bitten toe came away and we suddenly found ourselves a little more space as people moved away!

Thanking the OR girls who had so diligently supported me, and now coming to terms with the satisfaction of completing London, I passed on my appreciation and noted that it must have been difficult to spot me in amongst the many thousands. The reply was as accurate as it was disappointing, “That was easy”, they responded in unison, “when Elvis came by we knew that you wouldn’t be too long. In fact, just behind the the guy in the big red heart…..and the chap in a dress………and St George towing the dragon!”

So the phoney season is over and it is now that the real racing begins. The British Duathlon Champs in Edinburgh is tomorrow and I have just finished cycling the bike course with Michelle Lee. I need a top 5 finish in my category to qualify for the Worlds which will be a tall order. Having watched Michelle today she will come in
the top 3 in the elite in this her first international as a duathlete – you heard it here first!

Cheers

JC

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Inov8 X Talon 190s 100km report

I ran the first 80 odd kilometres in these shoes during the winter and spring where the studded sole provided good mid range grip on my trail runs. As previously reported I was disappointed with the change in the heel arrangement with these and other shoes which started to put pressure on my Achilles tendon. My summer shoes – Inov8 f-lite 190s – however have caused me some serious issues and therefore I chose to return to my winter shoe in the knowledge that they were comfortable to run in. This has proven to be a wise choice. These shoes, like the previous incarnation, are extremely good shoes to run in on both the trail and the road. I like this versatility and like the way these shoes seem to encourage good running form. So, early worries aside, Inov8 have replaced probably their best shoe which was sadly let down by tears in the fabric with a worthy and more robust successor.

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Inov 8 Tri X225

DSCN1160At last an opportunity to post about these shoes. Purchased in April with a view to making these my main triathlon/duathlon shoe for 2014, as ever with Inov 8 they looked good, had useful design fetaures and were comfortable straight from the box.
I held back from posting my initial observations because, sadly, my initial reactions were not so positive. The shoes felt comfortable underfoot and the uppers were good; pleasingly Inov8 had provided elastic laces too which saves a few pounds with an inovative lace locking system. But here’s the rub….for some inexplicable reason the heel tab has been raised on this model to such an extent that it rubs the Achilles tendon.
Despite this I have been able to successfully use the shoes in all seven duathlons I’ve raced this year, covering 70 of the 80 kilometres run in the shoes.
Other than the their Achilles heel, the shoes fit well with a roomy toe box for a good natural running action. Entry and exit in transitions are very swift, especially with the lace system which works very well, a wide entry point and heel tab. The cushioning is just sufficient for a well developed footstrike and there is just enough heel cushioning for those whose form deteriorates through a race. The uppers are perfect for sockless running in triathlon and I think they will dry quickly although I am yet to use them in wet conditions.
All in all, a good pair of shoes as per nearly all the Inov8s I have used…I am just a bit disappointed by the heel and must make a decision about cutting it down.

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