We’re nearing the end of National Blog Post Month for 2019, so my thoughts are inevitably turning to what comes next. Earlier in the month I mentioned an intention to complete some sponsored runs in aid of Alzheimers Research during 2020. To be honest, I’ve become thoroughly lazy in recent months, and the public commitment to get back out and get active is the spur that I need to start putting things right. So today I have entered the Llanelli Half Marathon on 9th February, and the Newport Half Marathon on 1st March. Of course, neither of these can be safely completed unless I do some serious training over the next 10 weeks, and so my new challenge for December is to run at least one mile every day for 31 days (including Christmas Day). This may even be the year that I actually make it to a Christmas Day parkrun! I’ll provide weekly updates on progress through December, and (who knows) I may even combine these with some more general blogging content. It’s weird, but in a strange way I am really looking forward to taking the discipline of daily blogging and applying it to something that will be good for my physical health (and hopefully raise a couple of quid for a cause that has become very important for me in recent years). I won’t publicise the sponsorship arrangements until much nearer the time, so watch this space (please!).
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!
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.
This is a red letter year for me. By the time February starts, I will have celebrated my 50th birthday. This seems odd on a number of levels. First, because I distinctly remember thinking as a 12 year old that 50 was incredibly old and a long, long way into the future. And that only seems like yesterday. And second, because I honestly don’t feel any ‘older’now than I did when I was 25, 30 or 40. True, I can’t shake off the weight in the way that I used to be able to; and I ache a bit longer after running, refereeing, or getting up out of the chair too quickly, but for the most part, I still think of myself in pretty much the same way I did when I was half my current age. For now, I’ll take solace in the apparent fact that 50 is the new 40 and leave it at that.
However, I can’t let my 50th year pass without some acknowledgement. I’ve therefore decided to set myself a personal challenge of completing 200 officially measured and verified running race miles through a series of events throughout 2016. The challenge (catchily titled 200 for 50) began with the First Mile of 2016 at Centerparcs, Longleat, and on Saturday, I completed my first Cardiff parkrun of the year. So I’m already up to 4.2 miles and we’re barely out of double figures in the year!
The first big step towards the challenge comes on 31st January in Marrakech when I will be aiming to complete the Half Marathon on my first visit to the city. In truth, this one is likely to be a sedate affair, more like a speeded up sight-seeing tour than a serious run, but it will at least set down some benchmarks against which I can measure progress (and hopefully improvement) at other half marathons later in the year.
I’ll record my progress towards the target here and on my Just Giving page here : https://www.justgiving.com/200-4-50
I’m raising money for the British Heart Foundation through the challenge, and if you feel moved to do, you can sponsor me through the Just Giving page. I’m also asking friends and family who might otherwise have thought about buying a present for my birthday to make a donation to the BHF instead.
I’ve chosen the British Heart Foundation because I am privileged to work at the University of Bristol which receives excellent financial support from the Foundation for its research into all aspects of heart disease and improvements in treatment for those diagnosed with heart problems. Again, I’ll write more about the research and the support that the BHF provides as the year goes along.
Right – back to the training!