I am pleased to report that my knee is recovering really well from the recent minor operation to tidy up the cartilage. The bag of bolts that had become lodged behind my knee cap has disappeared and I’m completely pain free for the first time in a year. I’m not getting ahead of myself and I know that it will take a while to get back up to full fitness, but I am really optimistic now that I’ll be back at parkrun by Christmas. In fact, such is my confidence, that I’ve just entered four 10k races in South Wales between March and August next year. All things being equal I’ll be pounding the streets of Cardiff in March, and then Newport, Porthcawl and Barry Island as the weather warms up. This will be part of a phased build-up to the half marathon double header of Bristol and Cardiff in late September and early October of 2019.
The race is on!
Having gone through a bit of a lean spell, I am pleased to report that my mojo has returned. With the help and encouragement of you, dear reader, I am running again! A gentle reintroduction in the beauty of Bute Park last Sunday, was followed up with a couple of runs around The Downs in Bristol during the week, and a Blackweir parkrun yesterday. However, the reason why I know I’m back on it is because this morning I set out on what was planned as a gentle 7.5 mile run to Roath Park lake and back. The sun was shining in a sky of unbroken, azure blue, the roads and paths were quiet, Roath Park was its usual jewel-like self, and well – to cut a long story short – I got carried away and ended up running 10 miles at more or less 2.15 half marathon pace. This is the first time that I’ve run more than 6 miles since the Llanelli Half Marathon in March, and whilst I am aching a bit at the moment, it felt good! I am now much more confident that the Bristol : Cardiff half marathon double header in September/October is achievable.
The motivation provided by a number of regular runners who happen to read this stuff occasionally, and who continue to inspire me with their performances in half marathons, marathons and trail runs (thanks Kev, Sarah, Tom, Bob in particular) has been complemented by Vassos Alexander’s book “Don’t Stop me Now!”. It is a fascinating compendium of insights and advice from a whole range of elite athletes, coaches and scientists, woven around an account of the 26.2 miles that Alexander ran as the final leg of an Iron Man event. It’s a highly accessible book and is a great reminder of all the benefits that come from simply putting your trainers on and getting out there. I highly recommend it, and I will be keeping it really close to my bedside to act as a kind of reminder of all the good things about running when I get up occasionally and the rain is falling and my whole being is screaming for me to stay under the duvet!
I’ve fallen off the wagon. I haven’t so much as put my running shoes on for over a month, and my motivation has flat-lined. Coming on the back of a first half of the year that went so well, it’s hard to explain why my running mojo has – well – run off. But it has. So here’s the deal. I’m asking for your help to get me back on track. I’m committing to getting back on the road from tomorrow morning, and I’ll post weekly updates on my progress as I build towards half marathons in Bristol and Cardiff in September and October. If you could help me out by demanding to know how things are going if the updates don’t appear, I’d be really grateful. Shame and embarrassment are great incentivisers for me!
In the meantime, I’ll also try to put into practise the 12 habits of regular runners here.
My 200 mile challenge is complete. I didn’t hit my deadline of 31st December 2016, and an injury in New York meant that I couldn’t do the final miles in Central Park either; but approximately half way up ‘the hill’ at Ashton Court parkrun on Saturday 6th May, the 200th mile was achieved. For good measure, I then completed the Great Bristol 10k in a new PB for the distance on Sunday – but that was just showing off!
Thanks to the incredible generosity of all my sponsors, £632.50 has been raised for the British Heart Foundation. That this great charity, supporting life-saving research into the UK’s biggest killer, has benefited from the challenge, is something that I am particularly pleased about. I am fortunate in my job to work with some of the researchers who receive BHF funding to push back the boundaries of knowledge about how the cardiovascular system works, and how we can better treat people with heart disease. Its a bonus that my own heart health has improved as result of the running. I can now run longer, faster and require less recovery time than at any time in the past 25 years. I have no intention of stopping running any time soon.
As well as the financial and health benefits of the challenge, I’ve also learned something else since starting running regularly. There’s an amazingly supportive community of people out there who are happy to share their time and knowledge to help complete strangers to improve their running. I had feared that entering club 10k runs would be an intimidating experience, with a load of super-fit individuals haring off and looking disdainfully at my plodding efforts. Nothing could have been further from the truth. In essence, most runners are really not that concerned about where they finish vis a vis other runners; instead, they are running against themselves – to improve their PB; or increase their distance; or simply to get to the finish and feel really good about it. If you are thinking about running but are worried that you’ll be sneered at, or won’t look good, or will finish last and be humiliated, then put all those negative thoughts to one side and get out to your local parkrun tomorrow morning. You are guaranteed not to finish last (there’s always a designated tail-runner whose job it is to bring up the rear), and I promise that you will find a community of people who are amongst the most supportive, least judgemental, and frankly happiest, that you could ever wish to meet! And if you are at Ashton Court in Bristol at 9am tomorrow, I’ll see you on ‘the hill’!
It’s now thirteen months since I embarked on a personal challenge to run 200 officially timed race miles before my 51st birthday. Despite a great start and being well ahead of target at the midpoint of 2016, a major change in my life circumstances in August brought an abrupt end to my running. Having lived in Cardiff all my life, and having reached the stage where I thought it unlikely that I’d ever leave, I was presented with an opportunity to take on a new role as the Pastoral Team Leader for two halls of residence at the University of Bristol. The role comes with accommodation, and so in September last year, Charlotte and I packed up some key essentials and moved our home to the southern side of the Severn Estuary. As if that wasn’t upheaval enough, we also then fell in love with a house in a new development that was being built not far away from ours in Cardiff, so promptly put our existing property on the market, sold it, and are now waiting for the new one to be completed in May of this year!
Whilst all this was going on, I was left with the guilt of knowing that many people had sponsored me to complete the 200 mile challenge, and that I was still some 60 miles short of the target. And so, on the first Saturday of January, I found myself once more lining up for a parkrun – this time in the beautiful (though foggy that day) surroundings of the Ashton Court Estate on the edge of Bristol. What they don’t tell you about the Ashton Court parkrun until you arrive for the pre-run briefing, is that it’s run up the side of a very steep hill. This makes for extremely asymmetric mile times – typically, in my experience, the third mile (on the way back down) takes about 4 minutes less to complete than the first one! Nevertheless, you do get used to it with practice, and I am now back to completing the 3.1 miles (5 km) in under 30 minutes, and I hope to make further improvements in the coming months. Just for a change, I’m actually going to be visiting the Llanelli parkrun this coming weekend, and I am reliably informed that this is as flat as it gets. I can’t wait.
In terms of the challenge, I estimate that (with weekly parkruns and some 10k races booked in at the start of March and April), I will complete the 200 miles in time for the Easter holiday. Just to be on the safe side, I’m also going to be running the Great Bristol and Great Manchester 10k races in May. The challenge will eventually be complete, but my running habit is hopefully here to stay now.
March has been an odd sort of a month in many ways. Unseasonable weather a lot of the time (but pleasantly warm and dry on every occasion when I was running); a major breakthrough in my Cardiff parkrun career; an incredibly painful half marathon; and a 10k run that involved six laps of a one mile circuit. Oh! and 25.7 miles in total achieved towards my target of 200 miles by the end of the calendar year (a new monthly record). I am now ahead of schedule, having clocked up 64.6 miles in total since completing my first run at Centerparcs Longleat on 1st January 2016.
The highlights this month were setting a new parkrun personal best of 28:52 on 5th March, my first time below 29 minutes for the 5k run. For different reasons, the Llanelli Half Marathon on 13th March was run along a beautiful sea-front course in almost perfect weather conditions : cloudless blue sky, gentle breeze, and temperatures of around 6 to 10 degrees C. My performance over the first 6 miles of the run matched the conditions, but unfortunately, thereafter it was a long and painful slog to the finish.
The Sport Relief 10k in Cardiff’s Bute Park on 20th March was as much a trial of mental strength as physical. What I hadn’t bargained for when booking my place and selecting the 10k option was that this would involve completing 6 laps of a one mile circuit around Cooper’s Field and out to the edge of Blackweir. Completing the first three laps was ok, but even with my new approach to mindful running (trying to take in the surroundings and appreciate everything happening around me), the second three laps were incredibly boring. I stuck with it and finished the 6 laps (actually clocking up a total of 6.4 miles overall – there was a couple of hundred metres between the start and finish points of the one mile ‘lap’!).
Training has once again proved difficult to fit in around work and other commitments in March, although thankfully, football is back after the long break for the winter monsoon, so I’ve managed to do some ‘interval training’ while refereeing on Saturday afternoons. The early arrival of Easter has meant that I’ve got three runs in this week already, and preparations are now building for my third half marathon of the year at Haverhill, Cambridgeshire on Sunday 10th April. Hopefully this one will see me running to the finish…
Thanks to everybody who has already sponsored me on my justgiving page, with a particular mention this month to colleagues from the University of Bristol who have bolstered the sponsor fund significantly and inspired me to press on with the challenge.
After the cosmopolitan glamour of January’s Marrakech Half Marathon, February’s progress towards the 200 mile target has been altogether more down and dirty. Running in Cardiff during a very soggy and altogether quite gloomy month has been a struggle, particularly when coupled with a frantically busy time in work. To be honest, the training has fallen away significantly in the past four weeks, but I have managed to complete three Cardiff parkruns and the St David’s Day 10k on 28th February, taking my total, official race miles for the year up to 38.9.
The St David’s Day 10k was the highlight of the month, completed on a rare, bright and sunny morning in the Welsh Capital, in a time of 1 hour and 5 minutes (which I was delighted with given the lack of training this month). The course meanders through the city’s Bute Park starting in the shadow of Cardiff Castle before moving out around the Swalec Stadium (home of Glamorgan CCC) and along the banks of the river Taff as far as Llandaff before returning the starting point in Cooper’s Field. It’s amazing to think that the whole course takes place within beautiful parkland and that you are never more than a brisk 20 minute walk from the central commercial district around Queen Street and St Mary Street at the heart of the city. I’ve written quite a lot on this blog about my good fortune in having had the opportunity to visit some beautiful places around the world, but I never forget how lucky I am to have spent the first 50 years’ of my life in Cardiff.
Looking ahead, I need to get my training mojo back quick sharp now, because March is a busy month in the 200 mile challenge. The 13th will see me completing my second half marathon of the year at Llanelli; and the following week, I’ll be taking part in the Sport Relief 10k back in Cardiff’s wonderful Bute Park. Oh! And I’ll be completing another 3 parkruns on 5th, 19th and 26th!
You can follow my progress week by week on my justgiving page and if you’d like to sponsor me while you’re there, well – that would be really appreciated!
Looking fresh and enjoying the sunshine at the start of the St David’s Day 10k