Leeds Half Marathon – Race Review

Many parts of this review could be a cut and paste job from my review of last year’s race. The crowds were fantastic, the weather was glorious, I met some amazing runners etc etc. But there was one difference in my race this year, it wasn’t about me, it was about my running friend Laura.

Without giving away too much I am part of a fantastic group of runners who formed a bond during the Marathon In A Day event last year and who have stuck together through personal highs and lows ever since. Laura is an integral part of that group and this year she is pushing herself way out of her comfort zone to raise money for St James’ Hospital liver transplant fund. Laura’s mum received a liver transplant last year and this is her way of saying thank you and giving something back, you can find out more on her Just Giving page. Anyway, Laura was due to run at Leeds with another member of our group, Brett, but unfortunately due to illness he had to pull out, in the true spirit of our friendship though Brett still came down to the start to pass on some words of wisdom and wish us all good luck. Late last week then once Brett’s absence was confirmed I offered to run with Laura and pace her around and so I arrived outside Leeds Civic Hall for the start feeling very relaxed and looking forward to a new experience.

Laura and I had a chat before the start and she was concerned about the couple of hills in the first half of the course, I reassured her that they weren’t as bad as they were made out to be but as she trains in a very flat area even the minor incline up the Headrow at the start was described by Laura as a hill!! The forecast rain and cloud had not materialised and as we set off the morning was quickly warming up with hardly a cloud in the sky. We decided we’d aim for sub 2 hours and just see how we went on, no pressure.

Ordinarily I train and race alone, the majority of the time with earphones in and so to run with someone and chat along the way was very novel for me and I was surprised by how much I enjoyed it. I tried to use my experience from last year and knowledge of the course to help and prime Laura for what to expect. We negotiated the first couple of miles with relative ease before the quick twist and turn that leads onto Stonegate Road. I remembered this was the steepest part of the course so about half a mile in advance I made sure Laura knew what was coming and how best to keep her legs going despite the sharp elevation. I slowed the pace to compensate and Laura kept stride with me all the way.

The crowds on this section provided great support and really lifted all the runners. Having my name on my running top really helped and there were countless shouts of “Go Stu!”, “great running Stu!” etc. Never has someone from Bradford been so popular in Leeds!

With Meanwood ticked off we enjoyed the downhill section on the ring road before the second long climb of the route up to Weetwood. Whilst not as steep this climb drags and I actually lied to Laura as I told her we were at the top when I had forgotten that even though the road starts to level slightly there is still a push up to the roundabout at the top, ooops, my bad. We were still keeping a good pace at this point and the 2 hour pacers were well in our sights.

Going through the residential streets of Weetwood was fantastic, more big crowds, more cheers, bands and very happy and supportive marshals all lined the route, there were plenty of sweets, oranges and hose pipes too to help runners out. At around mile 8 the route headed downhill and brought us out onto Kirkstall Road, the long stretch for home started. I knew from here on it was pretty much flat out to the finish and I started to push but with a quick shout Laura reigned me in and I maintained a more consistent pace. The sun was high in the sky by this point and this wide open road offers little shade, that said it did offer more outstanding support and outside Kirkstall Abbey I got some great cheers from the Macmillan Cancer Support cheer point, thanks! I also caught up with a runner from Trawden AC, a club local to me, and we had a nice chat as we went along for half a mile or so.

With a mile left I looked at Laura and knew she didn’t have much left in the tank. From looking at my watch though I knew we would be close to her half marathon PB and so with some gentle words of encouragement interspersed with the odd expletive we headed to the finish. On the corner of the Headrow where the route turns up to the finish line I spotted some more running mates and they shouted some final words of encouragement. You can see me just after 40 seconds of the clip below.

At this point Laura told me to go and sprint but there was no way I was running 13 miles only to abandon her and so she stayed on my shoulder up to the line.

We quickly stopped watches and waited to see if that all important PB message popped up, within seconds it was time to celebrate as Laura had indeed managed a new PB of 1 hour 53 minutes 41 seconds. Laura being her usual self she was quick to heap the praise on me but this was her day, yes I supported her but she ran that time and hopefully proved to herself what a great runner she is.

After collecting the obligatory goody bag and medal we walked back down to the Headrow and met up with our friends who had already finished to share stories and successes of the morning. All agreed it had been a fantastic event and by the end of the day I had already signed up for my third go at the race in 2019.

Thanks once again to everyone involved in the event. The Run For All organisers really know how to put on a top race and the people of Leeds and West Yorkshire really know how to get out and get behind the runners.

Given this blog is pretty much all about Laura the final word has to be about her, Laura is a real inspiration, she is challenging herself and supporting a fantastic cause and in doing so I hope she realises the amazing things she is achieving. If you want to support her then please use the earlier link to her Just Giving page and give her a follow on Twitter to see how she gets on throughout the year via @liver_running 

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Running Dads

Not content with just writing my own blog, I have recently written a guest piece for the fantastic Running Dads site.

Running Dads has been set up by Anthony Turner as a community of running-loving dads, promoting health, fitness and achievement to our children through our running exploits.

Everything about Anthony and this community rings true with me and it was a pleasure to write a piece for his website.

You can read my guest blog here.

You can also get involved with Running Dads on Twitter @dads_running  and on Facebook here.

Darwen Heritage Half Marathon – Race Review

Despite running countless half marathons in training I realised late last week that this was going to be only the third attempt I’d made at this distance in an actual race. The contrast between my previous two half marathons couldn’t have been more stark, the first was a disaster, the second felt like redemption, what lay ahead this time?

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I’ll tell you what lay ahead, hills, hills, bloody hills everywhere!!! Now don’t get me wrong, I like a hill or two, I knew that the course fell into the category of, “challenging yet scenic”, when I signed up and I had scoped out the route profile in advance but boy was this tough!

The race started outside Darwen Aldridge Community Academy and the school’s Sport Centre hosted the race HQ. I arrived around 8.45am for a 9.30am start and there were two long, snaking lines split alphabetically to collect your bib, timing chip and souvenir t-shirt. As at the previous two events I have run this year there was plenty of representation from local clubs with Blackburn Road Runners and Ramsbottom Running Club seeming to have the largest contingents. The sports hall provided warm shelter on what was a bright yet chilly morning and I stayed inside to get myself sorted and use the facilities, my one gripe of the day was that there weren’t many cubicles in the gents and one that I found free upstairs had the door missing! I made my excuses and went in the ladies!

The start of the race set the tone, you guessed it, uphill start, in fact the first two and a half miles or so were all pretty much uphill as we headed out of Darwen into the rolling countryside. The first section was on closed roads but once we hit the A666 towards Bolton, runners were on the pavement and open roads. Just after three miles the route turned off the main road and we picked up the country lanes that are the backbone of the course. The weather was fine and I took time to take in some of the fantastic scenery and views that the route had to offer. Even out in the sticks there were plenty of supporters on the roadside and I realised later as faces reappeared that several people were taking the opportunity of an open course to drive around and cheer friends, family and club mates at various points on the course, one chap who was running around the same pace as me from Blackburn Road Runners seemed very popular and got plenty of encouragement around almost every corner.

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Just before mile 5 the route headed downhill, having seen the profile I knew this was temporary and so I held my legs back whilst others overtook me at speed. Once we hit the village of Edgworth the climbing started again almost instantly and it was steep, I tried to hold my pace and passed several runners who had overtaken me on the downhill section beforehand. Coming through Edgworth I spotted the local vicar and some of his congregation at the side of the road, it felt for a second or two like the York marathon and the high fiving vicar all over again but this time sadly not. They must have been on some sort of parade, a marshal was holding the group back to cross the road at an opportune moment between runners and although there were some shouts of encouragement a high five didn’t materialise, maybe next year he’ll receive a command from on high to follow his colleague!

Pushing on through Edgworth the incline was almost relentless. At around 8.5 miles the road peaked and I glanced to my right to see runners in the distance heading down a steep slope before an equally vicious ascent, joy! Although relatively short this part was probably the toughest and numerous people were slowing to a walk as the gradient bit hard. Again I tried to maintain a steady pace and pushed on up. There was some brief respite at the top of this climb but it was short lived as the road continued onwards and upwards for another mile and a half. One nasty little section to the final summit remained to be conquered and the cheers of the large group from Blackburn Road Runners here really helped to push me and others on. At last there was nothing above but blue sky, all 1,244ft of elevation was behind me and looking down to my left at around 10.5 miles I caught sight of the school down in the valley below. It was time to let the hand brake off and open my legs for a fast finish, in fact my final mile of running at 6 minutes 55 seconds was easily my quickest of the whole race.

My wife and children were going to be at the finish to see me home and my parents had also come to stay over for the weekend and this was the first time they had been to one of my races so it was great to see them all cheering and waving. I made it back in 95th place, not sure how many finished but 500 entered so I was happy with that along with my time of 1.42:04.

 

Once over the line I received my medal and souvenir bottle of beer which had been brewed especially for the race. The medal is a beast of a size and it also has a section cut out so that it doubles as a bottle opener, nice!!!

Overall I really enjoyed the race, it was testing on the legs but a great challenge. Darwen Dashers who organised the race deserve great credit, the route was very well marshalled, the entry fee proved excellent value for money and by using the school as the base for the event all the facilities needed were on hand. A mention too for all the supporters out on the course and again those there primarily to back runners from the Blackburn and Ramsbottom clubs, they still made noise for every runner and I loved the clanging of the cow bells they’d brought along, very apt for what felt like some Alpine hills!!

This highlights video I think provides a great summary of the day too and gives you a flavour of the terrain and local scenery.

NB – If you have found the link to this blog via Twitter, I am still on my hiatus for Lent, I’ll be back soon, the link is set up as an auto post so feel free to retweet and @ tag any of the clubs I’ve mentioned above to share this.

Happy Blog-iversary

Ok, ok, in the words of Monica in my favourite ever episode of Friends, “that’s not even a word!!!”, but today marks one year since I started writing this blog. I read my first post back a few days ago and it was interesting to see how things have changed over the last 12 months.

At the time of first writing I defined myself as an “advanced jogger”, I was already a year into my running adventure but I had very little confidence and knew nothing about what lay ahead, except that I had just signed up to run a marathon and I hadn’t got a clue what I was doing.

 

I decided to start the blog as a way of expressing myself and creating a sort of diary of my training building up to my first marathon in York in October. Initially, I was prolific, writing a couple of posts per week, that wasn’t sustainable but I have tried to blog most weeks and have diversified into race reviewsinterviews with other runners, product reviews and vlogs. This is my 49th post and at the time of writing I have had 5,874 views and 3,851 visitors from all over the world, including such diverse locations as Brunei, The Cayman Islands and Chile. I know that in comparison to some, those numbers are tiny but I am really proud of what I have created and how it has engaged people.

I have hugely enjoyed the experience of writing this blog, I am a frustrated writer, only last week I had a comment from a former colleague who I haven’t seen for nine months which referenced a post I wrote last April about motivational music I listen to when running. The mere fact he recalled a particular song I had mentioned staggered me and gave me a really positive feeling. Good luck Phil for London, you will smash it!

Through writing my blog and running I have found a whole new community of people. I wasn’t sure if anyone would ever read my ramblings but I have been overwhelmed by the feedback and support from people who were complete strangers. Some of those people have had a really positive impact on my life, they have become genuine friends and although I haven’t met everyone their advice and encouragement has sustained me, we have shared recipes, running tips and some of life’s highs and lows. You know who you are, thank you from the bottom of my heart.

In terms of support my family have also been immense. Whilst running started for me as a way of getting up and active it has become much more than that, my wife Catherine has given me the freedom to run when I want to/need to and having that backing is fantastic. My children have also been to see me run a couple of times and I love having them there, hopefully they are inspired in some way.

 

During the last year I have pushed myself way beyond what I ever thought possible, running a marathon, running every day for a month (amassing a total of over 205 miles in that month), numerous personal bests and simply sustaining a level of fitness and enjoyment that not so long ago seemed unimaginable.

 

The coming year has lots of exciting times ahead which I will no doubt document on this page. Whoever you are, wherever you are reading this, I hope you enjoy it, thank you for being part of my journey, it’s just getting started.

Blackburn Road Runners Winter Warmer 10k – Race Review

The phrase “winter warmer” for most people conjures up images of cosy log fires and hearty bowls of steaming hot, homemade soup but for me last Sunday it was all about taking on a challenging 10k course around the outskirts of Blackburn in anything but warm conditions.

This was my first attempt at the Blackburn Road Runners Winter Warmer 10k and so I wasn’t entirely sure what to expect other than the dreaded uphill test that is Buncer Lane. The race started at 11am and as I arrived at Witton Park at 10.15am the junior 2k race was just finishing. The facilities on offer were fantastic. Registration took place inside the Witton Park Arena building, within a minute of arrival I had collected my bib and timing chip and was chatting to other runners about what lay ahead and how long and steep Buncer Lane actually was.

Although there were over 600 runners, plus marshals, spectators, masseurs, the local mayor and a significant cake stall the indoor hall was spacious and allowed plenty of room to get yourself ready, drop off your bag and even do a few warm up sprints if you really wanted. Inside and out there were also plenty of toilets for those last minute pit stops, it has to be said though that some people still preferred a nearby bush, maybe they take the phrase “a call of nature” too literally. By gun time the sun had just managed to break through but it was far from warm and I was glad I’d opted for the long sleeve top and trusty runr snood.

The race started with a lap of the Witton Park athletics track which gave everyone a chance to fan out a little, listen to the band who were playing on the first bend and get warmed up properly before the real work started. Having completed the lap we exited the track out into the park itself and within 20 metres we were already running uphill. A word of recognition at this point should go out to the race organisers who had been out early and given the freezing conditions had gritted at various points on the course where it was sheltered and likely to be treacherous. The first hill led us out of the park and was a mere aperitif for the fun that lay ahead as we turned left onto the infamous Buncer Lane. I found a steady pace that I was comfortable with and kept my legs turning, some runners in front were already struggling and seemed like they were going backwards. I assume as a little tease part way up the lane the course took a left turn down a side street before a sharp incline, another side street and back onto Buncer Lane a little further up. At this point the gradient really went steep for what felt like an eternity but was probably more like 100 metres or so. We weren’t quite done with the climbing yet though as the road again rose up in front of us and so as I crested the next uphill section I asked a handily placed marshal if that was it for the climbing, he laughed and nodded to confirm I was out of my misery. Don’t get me wrong I like a test and I knew it was coming but I’d already done pretty much 3k of uphill running and my legs and lungs were starting to fall out with me.

The next part of the route was fast, straight and largely downhill through some lovely countryside, after enjoying myself along this section and letting the legs go there was a nasty sting as the course kicked up again around a sharp bend for a short burst near the 4 mile mark. I got the legs going and we then turned again and headed into the far end of Witton Park. The paths here were perfect to build up to a fast finish and even a short section over a field wasn’t too muddy as the overnight frost had kept the grass quite firm. I’d managed to keep the same group of runners in sight throughout most of the race and was determined to finish as close to the 45 minute pacer as possible. Having checked my watch he was just ahead of time but given the nature of the course it was impossible to keep an even pace throughout.

The closer the finish came the louder I could hear the race host/commentator calling out names as finishers came through. The Arena building finally came into view and I heard my wife and children calling my name as they stood waiting by the side of the track, we looped back round through the gate we had earlier passed through and ran a final lap of the athletics track in reverse to finish off.

The support from the crowd was fantastic, most of them were probably high on cake from the stall inside, but it gave all us runners that last boost as we took the final strides to the finish line.

The organisation at the finish was first class. The track had been divided in two to filter those running the last lap and those who had already come home. Finishers were able to catch their breath down the back straight and then collect the mightily impressive goody bag and medal. The bag, which was a quality fabric drawstring bag itself, included a banana, water, porridge bowl, SIS gel, trolley token and a commemorative mug, the medal too was a really nice bit of bling, all for a bargain entry fee of £15. Some of the larger races who charge an arm and a leg for entry fees could learn a thing or two here. An added bonus too is that nearly 3,000 photos have been shared via the race’s Facebook page, some of which I have included in this post, given the price for some race photo packages I think this is brilliant and I’ve loved scrolling through them and seeing the joy (and at times pain) on everyone’s faces as they went round. There was a also a club member I overtook early on who was running with a Go Pro so I am looking forward to seeing his footage. Before going home I also popped inside to bag myself a cake and it went down a treat that afternoon with my first brew in the new mug.

I didn’t actually check my time across the line until I reached my family as I was busy chatting to other runners about how much they had enjoyed the race. The 45 minute pacer slowed slightly as he came onto the track and I managed to pass him with around 300 metres to go so I knew I would be around that time, in fact I finished in 44 minutes 21 seconds, my fastest 10k race time ever. I was really chuffed with that given the nature of the course and the fact that I’d done a 15 mile training run on Friday night as well. A sub 45 minute 10k race had been an aim for 2018 and I have now achieved it twice already, I’m not far off a sub 44 minute time and realistically if I maintain my fitness and the race conditions fall into place I think I can reasonably hit that time before the end of the year.

Overall Sunday’s event left a fantastic impression on me, and from reading some Race Check reviews I wasn’t the only runner to have a great morning. Thanks once again to everyone at Blackburn Road Runners and their army of volunteers who worked tirelessly to make this event happen, when can I sign up for next year?

Blackburn Road Runners – Winter Warmer 10k Preview

As I mentioned before in a previous blog one of my main aims for the year is to run more local races. Having really enjoyed the buzz of the East Lancashire Hospice 10k a couple of weeks ago, I signed up the following day for the Winter Warmer 10k organised by the Blackburn Road Runners club.

This will be another new race for me and I’m really looking forward to Sunday for a number of reasons.

Firstly the race starts and ends on the running track in Witton Park, I haven’t run on an actual proper track since I was at school, that’s over 20 years ago! Secondly the race is sold out apart from a handful of places the club have saved for on the day entries. I am starting to get to know some of the local running “faces” and despite not being affiliated to any club it is good to feel part of this community, hopefully one or two people I know will be there too to catch up with. The next reason for my pre-race excitement is the challenge the race will present. I have run numerous 10k races on various routes but I have never experienced anything like the infamous Buncer Lane. Blackburn Road Runners handily shared with me a shot of the route profile just so I know what I’m in for, yes it’s that bit below that looks like it’s vertical!!! The course is also on various terrain which again excites me.

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Finally I am excited about the finish, if the weather holds then there should be a decent crowd to cheer us home around the track, then there is the promise of cake stalls (say no more!) and last but not least the goody bag looks immense. Nice bag itself, fancy bling, porridge bowl and a commemorative mug, what more can you ask for?!

My only other decisions are around kit. At this time of year I like to wear long sleeve tops with shorts but I tend to train at night when it is colder anyway. I wore a short sleeve top for my last race and it was rather parky hanging around at the start but once I got going I was glad I didn’t have long sleeves on as it prevented a bit of overheating, I’ll take a check on Sunday morning and see what feels best.

Sunday will also see the retirement from competitive action of my first proper pair of running trainers. My faithful Nike Pegasus 33s have seen plenty of action in the last 12 months including my first marathon but I can’t ignore the fact that the sole has pretty much worn through at the front of them and they need to go to the great trainer retirement home in the sky (or at least be stashed in the loft just in case!). Not to worry I managed to bag myself another pair, albeit in different colours, in the January sales so I just need to start wearing them in.

Given the route profile I doubt a PB attempt is realistic on Sunday but all being well I’ll push as hard as I can and see what my legs have got, I’ll post a review early next week to let you know how I get on and if the beast that is Buncer Lane, the cake and goody bag live up to my expectations!

East Lancashire Hospice 10k – Race Review

I’ve set myself various running goals for 2018, some are time related, some are little personal milestones and another is to run more local events. I spotted an advert on social media for this race in aid of a local charity a couple of weeks ago and it ticked plenty of boxes for me so I decided to make it my first race of the year, in fact it was my first non-virtual race since completing the Yorkshire marathon last October.

I hadn’t entered this race before so used a couple of contacts and read a few reviews to find out what to expect. Everything people said was positive, nice course, pretty flat, finisher’s shirt, medal, well organised and so I was looking forward to it.

I arrived in good time and headed over to Gaskell Motor Bodies to collect my bib, this car workshop was actually where the finish line was and on a cold morning it provided some decent shelter, I’d opted for short sleeves, optimistic maybe but not as optimistic as the chap I saw running in what looked to be sunglasses; in January; in East Lancashire. There were plenty of people around as well as brews and bacon sandwiches for spectators.

As the runners gathered I opted to start about halfway back in the pack and I was surrounded by runners from various local clubs who had turned out in force. The first mile or so took us out of the industrial estate and onto a cycle path, this provided some space for the field to fan out before the route narrowed onto a single file trail. It was muddy and passing was possible but you had to very much go off line and dodge some bushes. We crossed over the canal and started on up a wider farm track which presented the opportunity for some overtaking. Part way up the hill the front end of the field came racing back down and it was nice to see Ben who I used to work with was well up there, he eventually finished 5th. Following a quick circuit of a local park it was my turn to start downhill and then hit the canal tow path.

With just over a mile left the route joined back onto the original cycle path and I managed to chase down a couple of runners in front of me. The small hill at the started provided a nice chance to let the legs go towards the finish before a short uphill spurt to the line. Thanks here to David Belshaw for his action snaps at the finish, he’s a great supporter of local races and raises lots of money for charity.

My finish time was quickly confirmed as 44:28, my second fastest 10k and my fastest race time, overall I was 74th out of over 600 finishers which I was thrilled with. Having collected my finisher’s t-shirt when I picked up my bib I looked around for the medal, call me a bling magpie, but only the children who had completed a 2k race had any medals. After a quick enquiry with one of the organisers it transpired that there had been some sort of printing error and despite guarantees the medals hadn’t arrived. A slight disappointment but beyond the control of the organisers and I was assured that they will be posted out when ready.

All in all I really enjoyed the race. The mixture of terrain was a good challenge as I run pretty much exclusively on roads and paths. It was great to see and hear the camaraderie among the club runners, well done to whoever brought along the cow bell, and a special mention to the runners and supporters from Ramsbottom (Rammy) Running Club who were out in force and really got behind their team mates and everyone else.

Whilst the big budget races are good, I am developing a liking for smaller local events and I will certainly be entering more throughout 2018, watch this space.

 

#REDDecember – Review

If you have read any of my blog over the last month or so then you will be up to speed with my challenge of running every day (RED) in December.

The last update I posted was with 10 days to go. As it is now 3rd January you will be pleased to know that I completed the challenge, I even added a bonus day by running on 1st January to start the New Year on a positive note and because I don’t really like odd numbers and so wanted to end my streak on 32 days.

The final 10 days as predicted were challenging not only because of fatigue setting in but because of the many events happening in my life which meant that the majority of runs were early morning so that I had the rest of the day free. Day 29 also saw the return of snow and ice which made for tricky conditions under foot.

I have never run on Christmas Day before but I have to say that I really enjoyed it. After opening presents with my wife and children and the now traditional bacon and sausage butties with the in-laws I donned my Santa T-shirt and hat and headed out. It was a pleasant day and there were plenty of people out and about, many of whom smiled, laughed, waved and tooted at me, it was nice to help put a smile on people’s faces and the run set me up well for the rest of the day. The Christmas Day run was the last day of the Run Up To Christmas virtual race and along with my team mate Laura we clocked up over 350km for the event, I’m now eagerly awaiting the medal dropping onto the doormat.

The other run of real note as the month drew to a close was on day 30. I had picked up the RED baton from Brian Shaw who had completed his own #REDNovember and finished on a high with his longest run of the month on the last day. With friends coming to stay and the house to get ready for New Year’s Eve I knew that day 31 was going to be a quick get out, get it done kind of run but I wanted to finish the month with a bang and so I decided to attempt a 5km personal best run on day 30. I drove down to a local park where there is a nice flat cycle track, it was dead, I had the track to myself and after a slow sighting lap to warm up I opened up my legs and went for it. The track is an oval of just over 1km length with a couple of dog leg loops at either end, it was raining and a bit blustery so the run down the home stretch was into a head wind which I could have done without. That said I pushed hard and probably ran the first mile a touch fast, my PB was 21:23 and so I needed to keep the pace up, after just under 5 laps I stopped the clock, I knew I had run well and was delighted with a new PB of 20:12, my second PB of the month after a new 10km PB on day 12.

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Excluding my bonus January trot I ended #REDDecember having run 205.1 miles (at the end of my last run the total was actually 204.9 miles which was wholly unsatisfactory and so I had to do a quick few laps of my garden to get rid of the .9!!). For those of you who run in kilometres that converts to just over 330km for the month. My aim at the start was a minimum of 5km per day but to finish with a daily average of 10.6km was way beyond my expectations and something I’m actually really proud of.

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This experience has taught me that I am actually stronger and fitter than I thought, both physically and mentally. Whilst the challenge was tough I embraced it rather than dreaded it and simply running a different route every day helped my focus and kept my motivation up. Run streaking is not easy, the physical demands are obvious but if you are going to attempt one then you need to plan well, you need to be flexible and you need support from everyone around you. Good luck to everyone attempting #REDJanuary and whatever your plans for 2018 I hope you enjoy your running, cheers!

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REDDecember – The Preview

RED (Run Every Day) or run streaking was a concept that I first came across this summer when one of my running pals Luke Zwalf announced that he was attempting REDJuly. I’ve met Luke a couple of times and he is a top guy so I was keen to support him in this testing challenge.

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Despite some struggles early on Luke got into the zone and saw the month through with plenty of encouragement from the running community. Sheer grit and determination got him over the line, which in his case was actually in northern France, and he celebrated in style by running part of the last day with his family. You can read more about his efforts here.

Inspired by Luke, and others, I decided I wanted to take on this challenge myself. Having recovered from my marathon exploits I needed a new challenge and this seemed like the perfect way to end an amazing year for me and my running.

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Friday 1st December will therefore see the start of my 31 day RED efforts. I have set myself the target of running a minimum of 5k per day and every step will go towards my other December test, the Run Up To Christmas virtual race. Despite running plenty of miles my longest ever run streak is 4 days so I’ll quickly be in uncharted territory.

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I genuinely can’t wait to get started and to pick up the virtual baton from Brian Shaw who has been smashing REDNovember in various outfits (see photo below). I have a couple of new routes planned to make sure I keep things fresh and there will be some festive running gear worn along the way to get in the mood.

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I’ll be posting a weekly update which hopefully will give you an insight into my progress, my mindset and maybe even some inspiration to take something similar on yourself.

A quick reminder that if you enjoy my blog you can vote for me in the 2018 Running Awards, just click here to register and find Marathonbore in the blogs section, if you vote in 5 different categories you’ll receive a 10% discount with the top Online Running Retailer of 2017! Voting closes soon so please use your vote as soon as possible.

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The loneliness of the long distance runner

Last week I posted about taking part in the fantastic Marathon In A Day event which supported Mind and I commented on the importance of people feeling able to talk about any mental health issues they may have. Having read my post back I started to think about mental health and how unique running, and in particular long distance running, is when it comes to having a lot of time to yourself to think.

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I have played team sports in the past (yes one of those handsome young men is me 20 years ago!!) and they are generally pretty fast and furious, you react largely to what is happening around you and you are utterly immersed in the game. Likewise there are individual sports where you compete against someone but your focus is the game in hand. Running is a different beast though. Most people train on their own and even during a race unless you are super fast and chasing a podium you are only really competing against yourself and the clock. This leaves you with a lot of time to think and how you fill that time is I believe really important to keep your mind healthy.

For some people thinking time is fine, you take in the view, a nice hill, some wildlife, maybe the odd dual carriageway or industrial estate but on the whole you switch off and just run. Others, and I include myself to a degree here, need some form of distraction and for most that is listening to music or perhaps a podcast or talking book, these distractions help to pass the time and some people also use them as a means to increase motivation. There are also runners though who use their time on the highways and byways as thinking time and again I fall into this category. Running helps me to clear my head, I work in a school and last Monday was the first day of term, it was hectic to say the least and I came home with what can best be described as head fog. I knew that I needed to run, I spent the first few miles or so going through the events of the day in my head and rationalising them, I then banked that in my brain, the fog cleared and I gave over my thoughts to more pressing matters, what was I having for tea, how would my daughter get on with her first day at primary school the following day and how many chat group messages with goat gifs would I return home to? This run was less than two hours but as I have progressed in my marathon training I have been running for over five hours in total most weeks and so I have a lot of time to think.

On some longer runs when a mixture of delirium and pain set in, mental fatigue can take over and the need to dig deep and find something from within I find really tests my mind. I know I have it in me to push on but sometimes the legs aren’t always as willing, I have used various techniques to overcome this, as I said above the distraction of music is one and a favourite of mine especially in races is to have the names of my wife and children written on my arm along with other motivators so they are right there clear in front of me. I smile, I think of funny things and I do everything I can to keep my mental state as positive as possible, the worst thing I can do is to get down, think negatively and beat myself up.

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Taking my own advice was essential on Sunday when I completed my first ever run of over 20 miles, ok it was only 20.03 miles as I lapped the cul de sac to edge the distance over the .00, but for me it was a real milestone in my marathon training. It was a tough three hours, it wasn’t pretty at times but I used all of the above to stay positive as the wind howled, the rain soaked me and my calf muscles screamed at me to stop.

If you are reading this and struggling have a think about what I have written, use your running time as head space time, gain some clarity in whatever way suits you and if you need to, never be afraid to share with someone else.