Run Tourism – Holland

Earlier in the year I ventured into the world of run tourism for the first time on a trip to Spain, I made sure to ask my wife if she minded me taking my kit and I was given the green light so off I went exploring around Albir, Althea and Benidorm.

IMG_20170818_151111Last week we went to the Duinrell holiday park in Wassenaar, Holland, when I say “we”, this wasn’t your average family holiday, this was 10 adults and 14 kids aged 3-13. I didn’t need to ask if I could take my kit this time, being in the middle of full on marathon training at the moment Catherine knew it was coming and that I’d be disappearing a couple of times to explore and get some miles in my legs.

Before travelling I put out a request on Twitter for any recommendations and the very kind Heart Runner Girl suggested a couple of possible runs for me based on her local knowledge. I managed three runs while I was there, all on different routes and all had their own particular features.

After the overnight ferry from Hull to Rotterdam we arrived at Duinrell on the Saturday, the first day was spent acclimatising and finding our way around the park and what it had to offer. I was already itching to get out though and so first thing on Sunday morning I was up and heading for the beach. It was a beautiful morning and after running down a few tree lined avenues the road turned slightly and the dunes that dominate this area of coastline began.

What I immediately noticed too was how everyone appeared to be catered for. There was the road, then a separate cycle path, a separate pavement and also a sand covered bridleway. Part way down to the beach the route forked and the road went off to the right whilst the other paths veered off left. I’m always cautious crossing roads abroad so the knowledge that I was on my own path helped me to relax and enjoy my run. After around 5k the path and road converged again at the main beach car park and then I followed the short path down to the beach itself, having taken a few photos I made the return trip and arrived back just as the rest of the family were waking up. It was a very straight forward run and clearly a popular one as I passed over 20 other runners in the 45 minutes of so that I was out. Without fail, everyone acknowledged me with a nod, a smile, a wave or said good morning (at least that’s what I think they were saying, my Dutch isn’t that great!). The knowledge gained during the run came in handy the next day when we decided on a trip to the beach. There was no way I was going to try and walk down to the beach with the kids given the distance but I knew we could park easily and having seen the bars and snack outlets I also knew that we’d be well catered for.

My second run was very much in the “make it up as you go along” category. This time I headed away from the beach and into the centre of Wassenaar, I came across a beautiful old windmill as I wended my way through the streets and then I discovered the various dykes and waterways that criss-crossed the town so I decided to follow them for a while and see where I ended up. The run was so tranquil, despite it being late afternoon and it was great to take in something so quintessentially Dutch. I did end up at a dyke that I couldn’t cross and so had to do a U-turn but that’s part of the adventure of exploring in this way. Eventually I ended up back at Duinrell after just over 10k and in time to fire up the BBQ for some well earned burgers, bratwurst and beer.

The third and final run was another early morning start this time in the direction of Den Haag. I followed the cycle path signs which indicated 10k to the city which is the official seat of Dutch government, home to the Netherlands’ monarch, parliament, ​and supreme court. The cycle path and pavement are away from the main roads and there were some gorgeous views of mist lingering across the fields as the sun came up. The cycle path signs made this a very easy route to follow and nearing the outskirts of Den Haag the signs changed to point you in the direction of various local landmarks. I decided to follow signs for the World Forum and this route took my through a beautiful park. I’d deliberately not checked my Garmin during my run but I felt like I maintained a decent pace assisted in no small part by the flat landscape which was in stark contrast to many of my normal routes. Just after 11 miles I checked my time and it looked like I could be on for an unofficial half marathon PB if I kept the pace up (I say unofficial as to me official PBs are set during races, I know people have different opinions on this but that’s my view). I felt good at this point and so I worked hard to keep going. My total distance for the run was 14.1 miles but when I saved the run I got that lovely “new record” message saying my new half marathon best time was 1:42.13, my official best time set at the Leeds Half Marathon earlier in the year is 1:44.55, let’s just say the two landscapes are rather different and I’m hoping that the flat lands around York can bring me an equally speedy time in a couple of weeks on my marathon debut.

All in all this was another great run tourism experience, I loved finding my way around a new place and taking in some of the local sights, next time you are away somewhere new why not take your kit and give it a try, don’t forget to put your feet up too though!

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What Next?

I like structure, I like organisation, I like having a plan. There’s still nine weeks of my current marathon plan to go but I have already started to look ahead and think about what I will do after Sunday 8th October. Firstly I will take the day off work and most likely eat as much as is humanly possible, I once put on 6lbs in an afternoon at a family barbeque so I have form for high level eating achievements.

In terms of running though my plans are to a certain extent up in the air. I am not Marty McFly, 

I don’t have a crystal ball and I have no idea if I will ever want to run another marathon or not. I genuinely hope that York won’t destroy me like the 2007 Great North Run did and that I will want to take the challenge of 26.2 miles on again in the future but I know that training properly takes a huge commitment in terms of time and this also has a knock on effect on the amount of time I spend with my family who mean the world to me.

I have entered the ballot for the 2018 London Marathon vlm18and if I am lucky enough to gain a place then there is no question of turning that down. I have also considered the 2018 Manchester Marathon mainly due to the various running friends having already entered and this may be a target for next spring. I would love to do the Manchester Half Marathon the Sunday after York but I think I need to be sensible as walking may still be a struggle for me at that point.

One plan that is in place is REDNovember. Having been inspired by the one and only Luke Zwalf and his REDJuly exploits, I have committed to running every day in November (REDNovember).  A group of @ukrunchat pals have also nailed their colours to the mast and we are going to run a minimum of 5k a day, whilst we won’t physically be running together the theory is that by going through the same struggles together we will be able to support and motivate each other, one of the traits I love about the running community. Towards the end of November I will turn 40 so it seemed appropriate to mark the occasion by doing something memorable.

I only currently have one race booked for next year which is the Leeds Half Marathon in May. I loved my first time at the event this year and signed up straight away to run it again. I think that half marathons will feature more for me in 2018 and there are a couple of small, challenging local events that I want to take on.

endure24A bigger challenge is the Endure 24 hour event. As a relative running newbie I wasn’t aware until earlier in the year that such events even existed and when I saw people taking this on I was in awe but it also sparked an idea in me to get together a team of like minded individuals to enter in 2018 and see what we can achieve, whether this comes off remains to be seen, I certainly won’t be running it on my own!

My major goal after the York marathon though is to step down in distance and to try and run a sub 45 minute 10k. My current 10k PB is 46:28 set earlier this year in Accrington so there is work to do and I know that will mean a different focus and style of training, I feel the need, the need for speed sessions!

There is a plethora of 10k events that I can take on both locally and further afield so there is no lack of opportunity, I have heard very positive reports about the events organised by Fylde Coast Runners, one of which I am running on August Bank Holiday Saturday and the Run For All events are very well organised in my experience and feature several which are within an hour or so of where I live so I hope to be able to take on a couple of new courses and work my way towards my target.

Whilst unpredictable, the future holds great excitement and opportunity, I want to continue to challenge myself but also to enjoy my running and hopefully inspire and encourage others to do the same, I’ll try to keep this blog going too although a change in name may be necessary, 10kbore doesn’t quite have the same ring to it though!

10 Weeks To Go

One of the main reasons for me starting this blog was to allow me to document my ymtraining for the York Marathon on 8th October and give me something to look back on in years to come. Although I have provided training updates as footnotes at the end of several posts this blog has branched out into everything from vlogs, to interviews with other runners and various commentary pieces on running related matters.

This week’s post then is very much about getting back to basics. I have now completed week 6 of my training plan and on the whole I’m pleased with how things are going. So far I have run just over 173 miles of my plan and I am now at the stage where my long run every week will be a new longest ever running distance for me which is exciting but also a touch daunting. Over time I have learned that running, and in particular distance running, is not just about physical but also mental fitness and I am keen to maintain positive mental health as it will sustain me through those inevitable bad runs, the times when I doubt my ability and those moments that I’m anticipating on the actual day when I need to look deep inside me and find some positivity.

Physically I am feeling good. I’ve had a somewhat gammy (yes that is a valid medical term) toe for the past fortnight but that now appears to be just about fully recovered and apart from an odd niggle I am able to run, and importantly, recover well. I deliberately gave myself a longer training plan so that I could increase my mileage gradually in the hope of avoiding injury and touch wood that is working. With the help of various SIS products and some homemade cakes my fuelling and refuelling is also working well and my body is comfortable with what I am giving it.

 

 

Although I have yet to absolutely nail down my race pacing I have become much more consistent in pacing myself, helped greatly by regular checking of my Garmin whilst out and about. I am developing my ability to hold myself back and ignore the urge from my legs to stretch out a bit more, people online have commented that I am quick, I am quite a self-effacing person and I genuinely don’t think I am. My aim is to pace at around an 8 minute 30 second mile, to try and avoid getting pulled along too quickly at the start and to conserve as much energy as I can by getting into a rhythm and sticking with it. Whether I can maintain that pace for the full 26.2 miles remains to be seen but I am up to 16 miles so far and that pace is manageable.

As I head into the final 10 weeks of training I do have a couple of concerns. I have tried to mix up my training in terms of adding off plan speed work and hill sessions as well as some general core fitness and this has been enjoyable but actually finding routes for long runs is proving problematic. I have a go to route that is just over 13 miles and I can then add on some extra distance to that to get me up to around 19 miles but this means running the same route time and again. I could run a couple of laps of a shorter route but I enjoy different scenery and get bored with laps, I could stretch out some of my shorter routes but that would mean running round country lanes and whilst there are some great views where I live I find that I don’t relax on these roads as I am conscious of listening out for traffic which distracts my focus from actually running. I may have to put up with the boredom as a means to an end.ym2

My other concern is an impending 8 day holiday to the Netherlands. It was planned into my training spreadsheet, and appropriately coloured in orange, but I need to factor at least a couple of 13 mile plus runs into the holiday and at the moment I have no idea how that will work out. This isn’t your average run of the mill family holiday either, this is 14 children and 10 adults descending on a holiday park for what could be absolute carnage. I need to get some research done on potential routes, I’m assuming in a rather stereotypical view that the roads will be flat which will mimic the route around York nicely but I may need to just grab time to get out when I can which means fuelling could be interesting, has anyone written a nutrition plan based on a diet of raw herring, cheese, chips with mayo and copious amounts of Amstel? Thought not!

 

 

All being well this week then should see me plod out a further 33 miles or so. I’m sure the coming weeks will bring more ups and downs but I am determined to enjoy and not just endure the journey and the big day itself. Training this much has for me been life changing and even if this is my first and last marathon I want to mark it as an occasion to remember and be proud of.

Know Your Enemy

Unless you’re part of the criminal underworld you’ll probably only have one major enemy, yourself. We all know the phrase about being our own worst enemy and I genuinely believe that to be true.

This strange relationship with self-destruction penetrates various elements of our lives; relationships, finances, health and wellbeing can all suffer when we don’t apply reasoned logic and things go wrong.

selfdI’m no Jeremy Kyle or Martin Lewis so I’ll leave relationship and financial advice to the experts but my health and wellbeing has in the past suffered from me hitting that metaphoric big red destruct button and I doubt I’m alone in that.

It isn’t that long since I didn’t even stop to think about what I was eating and why I wasn’t exercising, I’m not here to judge but if you read this and it even makes you think for a second about any part of your life I’ll be happy. Yes I still eat cake, yes I still like a drink but I balance that now with regular exercise and I have found my happy medium.

The last week though in particular has challenged my thinking in terms of when it is good to exercise and when you actually need to step back and listen to your body. I posted a couple of weeks ago about carrying on running with niggling injuries and I think most people if they are honest are not 100% fit, 100% of the time. There are levels of tolerance, there are also levels of bloody mindedness when people really should quit but are that stubborn/determined that they carry on no matter what. I get that, I admire those people but there are occasions when you have to look at the bigger picture.

In a race I did last Saturday we started on a slightly rocky path, 25 yards or so up that path as I was trying not to stumble into the runner in front of me, whilst also avoiding nettles and low hanging tree branches, I inadvertently kicked a large stone with my right foot. It smarted for a couple of seconds but after that I didn’t really give it that much thought. I enjoyed the race, no problem, the following day I went out for a 5 mile walk with my wife, dull pain, and on Monday I got in my 11 mile run as per my marathon training plan, bit more pain in the second toe on my right foot. Tuesday though was a different story, I hobbled around work in agony, a large blister had formed below the nail on the toe in question and it was sore and throbbing.

I know what many of you are thinking here and I had the same thoughts but I was also thinking that my training plan says Wednesday equals a 5 mile run at pace. I am stubborn, ask my wife, I like plans, I love running and it was just my toe. But then my rational brain kicked in, toes are pretty important to a runner, I couldn’t actually walk properly and I had 15 miles planned on Friday. This dialogue went round and round in my head for most of the next 24 hours until Wednesday evening.

IMG_20170719_165258In the end I listened to my body, no run, what would I gain in the long run by doing those 5 miles, would it guarantee me a sub 4 hour marathon in October, and then there was also the bonus that I could stay in for @ukrunchat hour and eat homemade Rocky Road??!

By Friday the toe had improved somewhat and so I dressed it and I plodded out 16 miles, my longest ever run. It’s still not 100% now but I know that giving myself that extra time without a run was beneficial and in future I won’t just carry on regardless. I know my enemy and I know how to defeat it, listen to your body, it is the most amazing thing you will ever own and you need to look after it.

And yes for those of you wondering, I am referencing Rage Against The Machine! 

Pendle Running Festival 10k – Race Review

A pile of horse manure, plenty of hills, homemade flapjack and the warmest welcome you could hope to receive, it may sound like a rather odd combination but that pretty much sums up my Saturday morning at the Pendle Running Festival 10k.

If you are looking for a big budget event with all the trimmings then this race is probably not for you. What you do get here though is a wonderful running community spirit, some spectacular scenery (albeit shrouded in mist this morning) and a course that asks you plenty of questions.

I arrived around 45 minutes before the start and headed to the registration at Barley village hall to collect my race number, the great and good of the East Lancashire running scene were already in evidence with plenty of runners from Trawden AC and Clayton Le Moors Harriers sporting their club colours. There were also a smattering of runners from other clubs and I passed on a bit of local course knowledge to a few chaps from Holcombe Harriers as they stood inspecting the course map.

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Following the signs down to the start I did wonder for a moment if I was lost, I went down a path, over some cobbles, then down another muddier, rockier path and emerged in a clearing next to a rather large pile of horse manure. I was soon joined by others though and given there was a Start sign here we figured this was it. The race organiser appeared and after a short briefing about the dangers of narrow country lanes and the promise of home baked goods and bacon butties at the finish we were off.

The festival holds a 10k and half marathon on its first day and both groups set off together, 131 runners in total, going back up the path the way we’d come was a bit tricky, thanks to the man holding the low hanging tree branch up out of everyone’s way here! We soon emerged onto the road though and fanned out down towards Roughlee.

The weather was overcast with slight drizzle, perfect in my mind for running and the first mile and a half or so went by pleasantly, we even took in a bit of local history passing the Pendle Witch statue.

 

I knew things were about to change abruptly though as we took a sharp left turn onto Stang Top Road. It felt like a scene from the Tour de France, one minute the peleton is racing along in a bunch on the flat, the next they head uphill and it splinters. Stang Top Road is tough, steep and pretty much unrelenting save for a short downhill section before the final climb, if you do the half marathon you have the pleasure of running this beast twice! Some people started to walk, others seemed to be going backwards, I kept my head down and my legs moving and put my faith in my training and the fact that I actually enjoy hills, weirdo!

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I ignored the drink station at the top and carried on, up more hills, thankfully the gradient was slightly less than vertical this time and there were a few more flat and downhill sections thrown in. What I loved was that everyone was watching out for each other, everyone talked as they passed each other, some were clearly running in pairs or threes, the roads were marshalled but still open and so whenever a car was coming the call went up and along the line of runners from back to front as a warning. I also experienced a first in running on roads with cattle grids, given the rain these were treacherous and navigated with extreme caution.

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After heading across the moor towards Pendle Hill the route took a left back towards the finish at Barley. There was another uphill section into a headwind to negotiate before the final mile or so of pure downhill. I’ve consciously been working on my downhill running and I really saw the benefit, a 6:33 mile after all the climbing my legs had done felt fantastic. I had enough in the tank for a sprint to the finish and was welcomed home by others finishers as I crossed the line in 50:01. As there was no chip timing my Garmin gave me all my times and splits but I didn’t find out until later in the day that I was actually the 17th male finisher and 20th overall in the 10k field of 63.

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I was presented with my medal and a bottle of water and remembering the briefing I went back to the village hall to pick up a brew and some lovely gooey flapjack which I enjoyed whilst cheering more runners home and seeing some of the half marathon field back out on the rest of their race.

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I can genuinely say that I really enjoyed myself. The event was well organised, well marshalled and there was a real feel good factor about everything, this was running at its basic best. Today was never going to be a PB for me, today was about trying a new event, getting more miles in my legs, taking on a challenging course and pushing myself and I ticked all those boxes and met some lovely people too, what better way is there to spend a Saturday morning? I’ll definitely be back next year, I might even give the half marathon a go, I do love them hills!

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Man With A Plan

Sunday 8th October 2017, when I look back in years to come this day will either be fondly remembered with a smile and a glowing sense of satisfaction and achievement or there’ll be a grimace, a rueful shake of the head and thoughts of what might have been.

All roads, all thoughts, all the training I have been putting in, even the majority of what I have been writing about on here, ultimately lead to the York marathon and last week I started my marathon training in earnest. I like organisation and structure and wanting to give myself the best shot of making it to the start line in good shape I have put together the obligatory training plan. I’ve seen numerous plans online, a good friend sent me a plan he previously used (65 miles in a week at its peak!), and various people have suggested plans that have worked for them. We are all unique beasts though and so the plan that I have come up with is designed to suit me in terms of my current fitness, where I need to push myself to distance wise and when I am actually able to get out and run.

My aim is to do two longer runs per week along with a shorter, faster run built in too. Depending on how I feel and what I can fit in around life, I may also add some short bits of speed work and some track or field laps too, the plan really though is to build up sensibly to around 40 miles per week which I think is manageable, will give me the chance to spend plenty of time out on my feet but won’t push me beyond what I can reasonably achieve at the moment which would then increase my risk of injury and the whole thing falling apart around my ears.

In all honesty I have probably over thought this whole experience but the memories of the Great North Run 2007 when I was woefully under prepared nag me still. I know my running, my fitness and my preparation are already so much better than they were then and if someone held a gun to my head now and told me to run a marathon I could probably do it but I want to enjoy the day and if I do then I will have the confidence to enter future marathons. The battle here is almost entirely in my own mind, as the rational thoughts are shouted down by the self-doubt and the fear of the unknown.

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Looking at the positive though marathon training week one has gone well. First of all my fantastic wife offered to bring forward my 40th birthday present by 5 months and so I have a shiny new Garmin Forerunner 35 to play with and my hope is that this will really help me to nail down my pacing and give me confidence that my legs will last the distance, I’m also a data geek so love looking at all the stats it fires out. My first run of the week was deliberately hilly as I prepare for the challenging course of the Pendle Running Festival 10k on 15th July, a solid 7 miles, followed on Wednesday by a quick 5 miler, as both runs coincided with summer (yes that was it folks, summer came and went last week, we’re on the downhill to Christmas now, if you missed it you missed out) I came home in a rather sweaty state after both. Friday’s 13 miles were a lot cooler though and felt good especially since I haven’t run more than 10 miles since the Leeds half back in mid May, looking at the myriad of stats from my Garmin my pacing was rather wonky but where I live and run is an undulating environment and so I’m never going to get it bang on.

The countdown then is now on, I love it when a plan comes together!

 

Unilite Head Torch Review

I recently saw a post on Twitter asking if any bloggers who also run would be interested in testing out the Unilite head torch; blogger tick, runner tick, lover of freebies tick tick tick.

A couple of quick emails later and the head torch arrived all securely boxed up and ready to go, the model I received is a PS-HDL2, you can find the full spec here. First off it’s well packaged and just looking at the unit you get a sense that it is a quality product which retails for around £30. In the packaging there is a clear, simple instruction guide and the reverse of the product label shows the different light settings and an approximate battery life for having the torch on each setting constantly.

 

I found it very easy to set the torch up, it runs on normal AAA batteries and three Energizer batteries were supplied with the unit, I always appreciate it when a manufacturer provides batteries along with a product so that you can use it straight away.

The torch unit I received came in high vis yellow colour and has a rotational setting so that you can angle the beam, it fits onto the headband through a clip at the back and the headband itself is fully adjustable to fit your head size and has a silicone lining running right the way around it which prevents the band from slipping during use and as it weighs in at just 88g it is super light.

 

Given the nights are rather short at the moment I delayed my evening run last Wednesday until just before 10pm so that I could give the head torch a test run. The street lights were just coming on as I set out, it was by no means pitch dark but the conditions allowed me a good understanding of what the product can do. As a runner I want to feel safe in the dark, I want to be able to see and be seen and the Unilite certainly gives you that, the beam on all settings provided ample illumination and personally I like the flashing/strobe modes as they stand out to other road and pavement users. Despite the late start time it was still rather muggy and it wasn’t long before I had worked up a decent sweat, the headband though didn’t move a millimetre. I also made sure I included both uphill and downhill sections in my route to test for any bounce on the product, again it delivered perfectly staying exactly as I had set off. By the time I got home dusk was turning to darkness and where I live looks out over a large unlit field, I stood on the step at the side of the house and with the torch on full beam I was able to see quite a distance into the trees and bushes beyond.

 

I would say overall that my impressions of the Unilite are really positive and I look forward to using it more in my running later in the year as the nights close in. It is a flexible product though and can be put to many other uses including camping, fishing, dog walking and going down to the shed in the dark to draw off a pint or two of homebrew, a favourite pastime of mine!

One thing that Unilite may want to consider is bringing out a red head torch so that people can also be seen from behind, I know this would be useful for me as a runner, whether it could also fit onto the headband without feeling too uncomfortable I don’t know but if they ever want someone to be a guinea pig and trial something like this for them then I’m the man.

 

Sitting Down Is Dangerous!

In one way, shape or form, we all do it, regardless of our personal circumstances our days tend to follow a pattern, the daily grind, the same old same old, or as the French wonderfully put it métro, boulot, dodo.

I recently wrote about breaking that cycle in terms of training and mixing it up and I’m doing my best to stick to my guns and heed my own advice. This week I’m planning on going out for a run at around 10pm, I have the ulterior motive of testing my new Unilite head torch, and I’m also going to attempt the Strava mile PB challenge, something I’m really looking forward to testing myself on.

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Since returning from holiday last week though I have noticed something that concerns me about my day to day. Since February I’ve had a niggling pain at the top of my right hamstring. It coincided with an increase in miles in my training and naturally I put it down to that. It’s never been majorly painful and hasn’t stopped me from running. I bought myself a foam roller to work on it and that provided a degree of relief. The niggle was still there though and ahead of the Leeds half marathon I went for my first ever sports massage to try and work it out, what an experience that was! I encountered uncharted levels of pain and paid £30 for the privilege, it seemed to do the trick and I got round pain free.

A couple of days later though the niggle was back and it stayed until I went on holiday. For the first two days I didn’t really give it a second thought but at the end of the second day after I’d done a 5 mile run it dawned on me that the niggle wasn’t there, it wasn’t there the day after or on any day whilst we were away despite me doing a further four runs in 26 degree heat.

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Last Tuesday I returned to work and that evening the niggle was back, I hadn’t even been out for a run. It’s there now having been sat at my desk all day and therein I think lies the problem. Whilst on holiday I was either relaxing on a sun lounger, in the pool or out running, the only time I sat down was to eat or drink cocktails! At work though I generally sit at my desk for over 7 hours a day and whilst I make a conscious effort to take breaks and go out for a leg stretch at lunchtime my job is what it is. Don’t get me wrong my employer does a lot of positive work around staff wellbeing, I’ve done my workstation assessment and I am in no way blaming this niggle on them. I think the issue is down to my posture, the way I shift around on my chair and the way that I actually rest my feet, sometimes I catch myself with my foot resting on its side and that can’t be good!

Sitting at a desk does seem a rather odd way to pick up an injury but our general posture is probably at the root of more problems than people are actually aware of and don’t forget dear readers that the former England footballer Rio Ferdinand once injured himself by straining a tendon in his knee from having his feet up on a coffee table for a couple of hours whilst watching TV, it happens to the best of us!

Be careful out there, injury is lurking everywhere in your everyday.

Run Tourism

Despite it only being three weeks since I last posted a blog it feels like forever and quite a lot of water has passed under the bridge since then. I have been officially discharged from cancer surveillance and given the all clear after 5 years, I’ve been offered a new job (both on the same day), I’ve been to Wembley and experienced the gut wrenching disappointment of playoff final defeat, I had a blog posted by the fantastic people at RUNR and I have experienced run tourism for the first time during a family holiday to the Costa Blanca.

Normally our family holidays include chasing the kids around a pool trying to make sure they are safe whilst attempting some form of sun bathing/relaxation and if we are lucky the odd bit of cultural diversity to take in some of the local sites, sounds and cuisine. This year though Isaac and Hattie are a little bit older, Isaac is already a good swimmer so as long as he stayed in view we were happy for him to go off and throw himself down slides and work on his bombing. Hattie is a little younger but the hotel we stayed at was well geared up for children of her age and so we didn’t have to follow her around 24/7. Consequently we were able to relax a bit more and I was able to take some me time to explore the delights of Albir, Altea and Benidorm with five runs in the eleven nights we were there. This exercise also helped to a degree to stave off the negative impact of chocolate doughnuts for breakfast and my evening tipple of mojitos laced with brown sugar which I became rather fond of! IMG_20170526_210424

Overall despite a few challenges, mostly of my own making, I would say my first foray into the world of run tourism was a success. Notes to self and others who fancy getting out this summer whilst away, mostly blindingly obvious but here goes:

  • Don’t forget to take water
  • If you like to run with music, remember where on earth in all your bags and suitcases you put your headphones
  • Wear a cap/visor/headband/anything to absorb the sweat and stop it running into your eyes and stinging like hell, it’s hot out there
  • Remember that in Europe they drive on the other side of the road, make sure you look the right way at junctions
  • Give any local runners you encounter a big smile, wave or thumbs up, share the love, most return it
  • Take your phone in case you get lost
  • Take a couple of sets of kit, you’ll sweat, a lot, you’ll smell

The majority of my five runs were around 45 minutes long and gave me plenty of chance to discover the local area from the delights of dodging stag and hen parties outside bars in Benidorm to the more sedate promenade that runs from Albir along to Altea with a beautiful backdrop and locals fishing and windsurfing. I surprised myself with how much I genuinely enjoyed the experience and I even had other hotel guests approaching me to ask about my running after they had seen me out and about.

Whilst my run tourism was entirely out of the make it up as you go along handbook, there is an increasing number of companies who offer guided running tours of cities around the world. I’ve no first hand experience of these tours but the feedback on social media seems favourable on the whole and the guided element takes away some of the fear of perhaps getting lost and makes sure that you see what a city or region really has to offer.

If you are due to go away then this summer, wherever that may be, take your running shoes, take your sense of adventure and go and see a bit more of the world.

 

Leeds Half Marathon – Race Review

Family, friends, Bradfordians, please forgive me for what I am about to write. On Sunday, Leeds, for a couple of hours I loved you. The cheering crowds, the kids with bowls of sweets, the ladies with orange slices, the sunshine, Leeds was the place to be and it was magnificent.

It was an early start for me as I made my way over to Leeds and arrived at around 8.15am. It had just stopped drizzling and was still somewhat overcast on the walk down from my parking spot outside the University. I’d arranged to meet up with some of Twitter’s finest and as I made my way to the portaloo I came across Luke and Tristan, it was fantastic to finally meet them in person even if wasn’t in particularly salubrious surroundings. We headed up to Millennium Square and met up with Sarah, Colin, Keith, Steve, Caterina and Alison. Even though we barely knew each other there was a great camaraderie with people exchanging stories, tips and hopes for how we’d get on over the coming 13.1 miles, this was the #ukrunchat community in full effect.

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The start was staggered and I was in the red group at 9.30am so I headed to hand in my bag, very efficient, and then made my way to the start pen to do a quick warm up. After a slight delay we shuffled forward and turned the corner onto The Headrow to pass the start line.

By this time the clouds were lifting and the sun was out. As a result of staggering the starting groups the field was well spread and with fully closed roads we were able to fan out quickly, the numbers were also thinned out as people headed off into the bushes for a quick comfort break, for next year I think it would be good if the organisers arranged more portaloos at the start.

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The first couple of miles were pretty uneventful until we turned onto Stonegate Road at mile 3 and the road took a relatively sharp climb upwards through Meanwood. The crowds at this point provided real encouragement, and bowls of Jelly Babies, and it wasn’t too far before we turned again and headed down to the ring road section.

Miles 5 and 6 were for me the dullest part of the route as the dual carriageway headed towards Weetwood. As you would expect there were few spectators in this section and the highlight was the water station at the bottom of the next hill.

Just past the 6 mile marker at the top of the hill the crowds returned and there were some great homemade placards hammered into the grass verge, my favourite was “pain is just the French word for bread”.

We wound our way through the residential streets of Weetwood for the next couple of miles and the support was superb, as you turned every corner people lined the streets to encourage complete strangers, it was genuinely heartwarming and made me proud to be a Yorkshireman. At the top of Butcher Hill there was a church choir on the grass bank singing their hearts out, there must have been at least 30 of them. I felt rather sinful as Guns N Roses were blasting through my headphones at that precise moment so I pulled one earphone out to give them a listen and applaud them back in recognition of their efforts.

A couple of hundred yards down the road was the 8 mile marker and the cue for me to take on board my SIS electrolyte gel. I’d planned my fuelling and I was feeling great at this point but knew I would need this to see me through and keep my energy levels up. Note to other runners here, if you are going to use gels please try and put the empty sachets in your pocket or the nearest bin rather than drop them all over the road for someone else to slip on, rant over.

From mile 9 the rest of the route was flat back into the city centre along Abbey Road and Kirkstall Road. My friend Catherine had arranged to cheer me at mile 10 and it was great to see her and her girls, it gave me a real lift just when I needed it, I stopped briefly for a quick hug and carried on. The sun was now high in the sky and the shade of the earlier sections of the course had given way to wide open roads with nowhere to hide. I spotted the Kirkstall Road viaduct in the distance knowing that signalled we were nearing home, it is a huge structure though and it proved to be a deceptive temptress as it felt like an age before I passed under it.

Finally I reached the bottom of The Headrow and knew the end was nigh. I pulled out both earphones here to take in the support of the crowd, having my name on the front of my top really helped, “come on Stu”, “keep going Stu”, “nearly there Stu”, unbelievable, I was really focussed on keeping my stride pattern going but made sure everyone who cheered for me got a thumbs up. The finish line was in Millennium Square so I passed the start line, turned left and there were just walls of people 4 and 5 deep on both sides for the home straight making an amazing noise, it was breathtaking.

I crossed the line in 1 hour 44 minutes and 55 seconds, I was thrilled and really proud that my training and preparation had paid off.

The organisation in the finish area was great, goody bag, medal and celebratory pint of Erdinger Alkoholfrei were collected in a flash and I sat down in the shade of the MacMillan Cancer Support tent to cool off and bask in the glory.

It wasn’t long though before I headed back down to the finish to cheer everyone else on. Runners are honestly some of the best and most supportive people I have ever met and it was nice to be able to see Alison and Sarah coming home and give them a shout. We rounded the day off with a few drinks to celebrate and it was great to share each others successes.

I can’t let this review pass without thanking everyone who has donated to my fundraising too, you are all so kind and generous and have given me extra motivation to train and run and be the best I can be.

This really was a day to remember. Yes it was hot, yes there were hills (they weren’t that big), but the event was very well organised and I have already signed up for next year. I felt great and really enjoyed my running, after my nightmare at the 2007 Great North Run my demons have been banished and I can now focus on the York marathon in October with renewed confidence. I know it will be tough but I also know that I can do it and when I need that extra boost a combination of energy gels and cheering strangers will get me through.

Thank you Leeds, it was emotional.