And so it has come to this…

Wednesday 8th February 2017, for most a pretty unremarkable day, for me it was the day that I signed up for the York Marathon, a day that has shaped the last 8 months of my life, dominated my thoughts and inspired me to write this blog.

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At that time I considered myself an “advanced jogger”, I wanted to give my training a focus and during a run the previous Friday night I had started to think about what to do next, a marathon seemed like a logical aim but the how and when was the quandary. Initially I had the idea of running from my home in East Lancashire to West Yorkshire, and more particularly to Valley Parade, home of my team Bradford City and handily just over 26 miles away. I casually floated this idea to my wife that weekend, thankfully she quickly talked me out of it, doing an unsupported first marathon distance was really not a good idea, although it is still an ambition I harbour. I searched for northern marathons on Google but all the Spring ones came up and there was no way I’d be ready.  The following day though good old internet cookies played a blinder and an advert popped up on my Facebook feed for the York Marathon 2017. Yorkshire tick, scenic flat course tick, time to train tick, booked it, packed it, trained my arse off.

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The rest is history, well recent history, which if you have been keeping up I have detailed in my posts up to now. And now the big day is nearly here. “Are you ready?”; “how are you feeling?” and “when is your run again?”, questions which have pretty much been in every conversation over the last couple of weeks. For the record, yes I am; nervously excited and it’s a fricking marathon it’s not a run! (that’s the answer in my head), it’s Sunday 8th October thanks for asking, is the polite response.

I genuinely can’t wait for Sunday for so many reasons. I am really looking forward to running past the iconic York Minster, high fiving a vicar and hopefully the Archbishop of York en route, if there isn’t enough divine intervention there for me then I really have been a bad boy!

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The course itself is pretty circular starting and ending at the University. There are a couple of out and back sections in the second half of the race and the sentiment from those who have entered the race previously is that mentally they are the hardest part. The finish has also been described as a hill, now I run hills all the time and can handle them but I’m hoping the finish line is on an incline as I’m not sure my calf muscles will ever forgive me if I try to push them up a hill after 26 miles!!

I have done the hard miles, I have prepared myself as well as I can, I know that I need to relax physically and mentally and let the race take care of itself, easier said than done but by this time next week I hope, no I am determined, to be part of the 1% club.

I’ll see you on the other side.

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Shameless

I’ll apologise up front that this week’s blog isn’t up to my usual standard and actually it is pretty much going to be a series of thank yous and shameless plugs, feel free to dip out now if you want, normal service will resume next week with a preview of a certain race that you might have heard me wittering on about.

Firstly, a massive thank you to every single one of you who has supported my fundraising efforts. At the point of writing this I have received 52 donations totaling over £600 for my two charities, Macmillan Cancer Support and the Plastic Surgery & Burns Research Unit in Bradford. Donations have been received from family, friends, colleagues, former colleagues and complete strangers. You are all wonderful and I cannot thank you enough. If you would like to donate all the details are on my Sponsorship page.

Secondly, I love writing this blog, thank you to everyone who has ever read even a single word of it. I started it as a bit of a diary for myself but it has quickly become much more than that and something I’m really proud of and hope to maintain in the future, it is a labour of love and an opportunity to express myself. If you have enjoyed anything you have read then please can I ask that you take a minute to vote for me in the 2018 Running Awards.

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Finally, there are many, many people to thank for getting me to this stage in my running journey. The York Marathon will most certainly not be the final stage, if anything it might just be the prologue. I am not going to name check everyone here, mainly because I am likely to forget and miss someone out! From simple words of encouragement, to ridiculous banter, to creating time and space for me to actually get out and run, you have all been amazing, you know who you are and you will all be with me either in person or in spirit in 13 days’ time, particularly when my mind and body are asking me what the hell I am doing!

Thank you for indulging me.

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Taper Time

Tick tock, tick tock, countdown is progressing. It’s now under three weeks until my first marathon and over the weekend I completed my last long slow run (LSR) and now it is time for the taper.

As I have progressed along this literal and figurative road towards York I have experienced new things, met some amazing people, pushed myself to new limits and started to talk a different language. If you’d asked me 9 months ago what a taper was I would have thought it was something to do with the foot end of your trousers or those animals with the long noses!

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Tapir Not Taper

In April I blogged about running terminology and back then my uneducated summary of tapering read as follows, “kind of guilt free putting your feet up and doing not very much in the knowledge that you’re not going to become a sloth and you will soon be getting yourself back in gear to do something amazing”. When that blog was posted I received feeback from those more experienced than me that there was nothing guilt free about it and that the period between your last LSR and the marathon start gun was a time of tantrums, self doubt and the dreaded maranoia.

IMG_20170918_183336I am currently only on my third day of tapering and I am already understanding what they mean. I’ve meticulously built up my training to this point and I’m now already sitting here typing this and almost feeling the fitness oozing out of my muscles and the devil on my shoulder jabbing me and telling me to get out and run some more miles.

Rationally I know the reality is very different. In the 6 days up to and including my last LSR I ran just shy of 55 miles. I stopped writing this then for a second to let that sink in as for me that is an achievement in itself. I have a friend, Rick, who I’ve mentioned before who is a seasoned runner. He ran at school under the guidance of Mr Kingham, “who’s he?”, I hear you ask, he’s the man who trained the Brownlee brothers when they attended the same school, that’s who! When I was fathoming out my marathon training plan Rick sent me one he used previously and towards the end of his plan he ran a 62 mile week. I scoffed that I would never get anywhere near that and my mind boggled at just how you would actually get that mileage in and yet a couple of months later and I was just 7 miles short of matching him.Screenshot_20170915-193831

What I am trying to say is that I have put the work in, people have said to me, “you’re marathon ready”, and mentally and physically I think I am. I’ve still got some miles on my plan to get through to keep my legs ticking over but the bulk of my work here is done, I just need to survive now until I reach the start line and if I bite your head off between now and then please forgive me, it’s not me it’s the taper.

 

 

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 Preview

As part of my marathon training I wanted to build in a few races to set myself small targets along the road to York and keep up with running in actual events with other runners rather than just training by myself as I do week in, week out.

This Saturday then it’s the Pendle Running Festival 10k for me. The race makes up one quarter of the festival which also features a half marathon, trail race and orienteering event all based out of the village of Barley at the foot of Pendle Hill. It is a relatively small local event which I chose because it is on my doorstep and it can challenge me.

Pendle Hill is an iconic local landmark and many people will have heard of it in relation to the Pendle Witch Trials of 1612, I also see it every morning when I open my bedroom curtains and it dominates the horizon in East Lancashire. I love the photo below I took a couple of weeks ago with the hill rising out of the surrounding landscape.

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Sunset over Pendle Hill

So as not to deter runners the race organisers describe the course as, “challenging yet scenic”. While the 10k is a road race and doesn’t take us up the hill itself, the route has over 800ft of ascent!!! Now I am a self-proclaimed lover of hills but I may have taken things one step too far this time. I’ll let you know if I agree with the organiser’s description or if I use some less flattering adjectives in next week’s review.

In all seriousness though I am looking forward to running. My marathon plan has on the whole started well and I’m banking some good miles but this shorter race with its testing course will give me the opportunity to push my limits and see what my legs can give me when called upon. The early forecast indicates a cool and overcast morning so hopefully it will come down to a test of man v course, rather than man v course v steaming hot weather.

If the weather does pick up though then I can always refresh and refuel myself post race with a new found favourite, gin and tonic cake, with a G&T on the side! I found the recipe on a friend’s blog, thanks Sophie, and I can highly endorse it, as can my wife and her friend, and my mother-in-law, who all sampled the cake and gave it a resounding thumbs up. The recipe is very simple to follow and the cake was super moist and really tasty.

Fingers crossed then that I survive Saturday, that I enjoy rather than endure the race and that the hills don’t get the better of me. One of the aforementioned Pendle Witches, Elizabeth Southerns, had a son, Christopher Holgate, and Holgate happens to be my wife’s maiden name, maybe I can ask to borrow her broomstick to fly up the climbs!