Monday, 12 December 2011


It is a blog cliché to start a long-overdue post with an apology for not posting more often, but here it is: I’m sorry. Thing is, this is a blog about running and runners, and recently I have done much of the former or felt like one of the latter.

Almost two months ago I headed out for an easy five-miler along the river, when, as so often happens in such circumstances, I ran into trouble exactly halfway through the run and, consequently, when I was as far away from home as I could possibly be. A deep, dull ache gripped around my mid-section like a vice and tightened, making every step agonising. It was as if I was wearing a cummerbund of misery and pain and gross inconvenience. I paused a moment, almost winded by the shock of the pain, and decided to walk instead. But walking was even more painful, so, with great effort, I forced myself into a pitiful, laborious trot and headed for home.

The pain lasted for days. I’ve run two marathons this year and barefoot half marathon – I know a thing or two about pain – but this was by far the worst. I ached when I walked, stairs were agony and I could barely put on a pair of socks without wincing. This was torture. I live an active lifestyle: I walk to work most days, two miles each way, and am used to putting in anything from 15 to 50 miles a week running, as well as some time on the bike, too. I am rarely still. I fidget and pace and meander. I’d sooner walk than get a bus and rather sprint than miss a train. But this new injury put paid to all of that, or rather, made all of that hurt like hell. I even stopped walking to work - the discomfort made me nauseous.

Since then the pain has never been far away. Every run has been the same; starting well but deteriorating rapidly, the dull ache growing until I couldn’t take it anymore and ran for home as fast as my confused legs could carry me. My GP had no answers but plenty of scary words, like hernia, appendicitis and ‘surgical consult’. The fact that my injury only kicks in during a run seemed to annoy her – she suggested that I run until it hurts then present myself at A&E. An absurd notion. My physio decided that my back was to blame and spent an hour systematically demolishing it, to no noticeable effect. I’m still waiting for that surgical consult, by the way.

So I’ve been running horrendous, pathetic miles. 10 miles a week. Then seven. Then five. Last week just two; the kind of miles that I am ashamed to put in my training diary. The kind of miles that make me embarrassed to look at this blog.

He looks happy.
And so we reach identity. What is a runner? To me the only criteria have always been that you run because you love it, because you know what it means to have adrenalin surging through your veins as you haul yourself uphill into driving rain, because you have no shame in beaming and whooping and laughing as you hurtle down a snowy hill, because you get to the end of a long run beaten, battered and broken and triumphantly glowing with the sense of accomplishment you deserve.

I haven’t felt any of those things for weeks.

If you’re fit and well, then please, for goodness sake, go for a run this week. Somebody should.

Jog on


2011 to date: miles: 1077, parkruns: 6, races: 6, miles biked: 159, metres swum: 1225

Monday, 14 November 2011

The disastrous hyper-evolution of running shoes

When I bought my first pair of running shoes, it was a complete revelation. Never had a pair of shoes fitted better. Ever. Never had I spent so much time carefully choosing what I would put on my feet. They were miraculous. My knees felt bouncier, my ankles felt stronger, there was no pain anywhere. It was magnificent.

But it didn’t last. I got them in December 2008, with a view to using them for the 2009 Paris Marathon. They performed wonderfully on the day, but afterwards I could feel them becoming less effective. Running shoes have a useful life of anything from 4-700 road miles, depending on who you believe. Less still if you use them on tracks or trails or for general day-to-day wear. After that they lose their bounce, the soles becoming hard and unyielding, jarring rather than dampening impact. When I wore my original shoes to climb Ben Nevis in June 2009, I knew they were knackered, and binned them shortly afterwards.

It was when I made to replace them that I learnt a ridiculous truth – it is nigh on impossible to buy the same shoes twice. Just 6 months after buying the first pair, I walked back into the same running shop, with same feet, and said that my Asics had been great and I’d like exactly the same again, please. No chance, they replied, because good news! Asics have improved them!

Well I was excited. The old ones were fantastic, so the new version would probably be extraordinary. I tried them on, went for a cursory run on the shop’s treadmill, and, fairly satisfied, paid for them. Some weeks later, when they were broken in and should be performing at their best, I decided that they were quite good but not actually as good as the old version, which was a shame. I wish they’d just left them alone.

This routine has since been played out another half dozen times. Every time I need a new pair, I am forced to experiment with something different. If I dislike them, I have to start again from scratch. If I like them, I always attempt to replace them like-for-like when they’ve reached the end of their efficacy, and every single time I am disappointed.

Out with the old...
I know what you’re thinking- when I find the right shoe I should just buy a lifetime supply, right? Well at £75-90 a pair, and me needing at least two pairs a year, you’re talking about nearly thirteen grand’s worth of shoes (assuming I’m still running marathons age 84). That’s just silly.

No, the real fault lies at the over-analysed feet of the shoemakers, ‘reinventing’ the market at regular intervals to create demand for their latest innovation in spongy plastic and something new for their franchises and high-street stockists to display.

This week, I bought new shoes. My Asics 3030s have done two marathons and a good few hundred other miles besides, and they are showing their wear and tear. But as usual neither of my three local running shops stocked them, instead offering ‘similar’ shoes which were variously uncomfortable and significantly more expensive. So screw you, running franchises. I bought a pair of 3030s online, discounted because they’re end-of-line. Victory!

Next up: becoming a full-time barefoot runner. That’ll show ‘em.

Happy running


2011 to date: miles: 1053.91, parkruns: 6, races: 6, miles biked: 155, metres swum: 1225

Thursday, 20 October 2011

History Stands

Two or three years ago, some paper-pusher in the Department for Education or some other such administrative body in charge of exams decided that it was time for another rule change. Successive UK governments like to fiddle with our exam structures every now and then to put their stamp on education, and usually I couldn’t care less. But this one was different.

In summer 2005 I collected my A-level certificates, ridiculously satisfied to have achieved the highest possible set of results: four As. My school could offer a maximum of four A-levels per student, so I chose four subjects I enjoyed and was good at, worked hard at those four and got good grades in all of them. My CV would forever proclaim this clean sweep of school-age academic testing. I may not have collected any shiny plastic trophies, but academically I was top dog.

Until that paper-pusher moved the goalposts and added an A* grade to the A-level scoring system.

Now my CV looks good, but not great. I ‘only’ got As. Hypothetically, when the current cohorts of A-level students filter into the job market, their performances could be unfairly measured against mine. I did the best I could within the rules I was given, but now the rules have changed I’m retrospectively disadvantaged. How is this fair?

It isn’t. But it doesn’t matter. I have an MA now, so my A-levels are pretty irrelevant. Hopefully anyone looking critically at my CV would have some awareness of the rule change, if they were to care at all.  But imagine if a comparable scenario was played out on an international scale, affecting achievements which are recorded in history books and have huge sums of money associated to them. Imagine the greatest athletes in history being downgraded by retrospective rule changes. Sadly, right now, we don’t have to imagine.

The IAAF, athletics’ governing body, recently changed the rules for female distance records. Essentially, world records will only be certified in women-only races, on the basis that mixed races or races with male pacemakers offer some sort of ill-defined advantage, loosely generalising that women run faster in the presence of men. Aside from the fact that this is pretty sexist and to my mind based on flawed logic, there’s an even greater injustice afoot.

Outrageously, the rule is being applied retrospectively, disqualifying Paula Radcliffe’s phenomenal marathon world record of 2:15:25, achieved in London in 2003, and establishing her merely amazing 2:17:42 in London in 2005 as the official world record. Paula ran the 2003 race with pacemakers (whom she hadn’t asked for), although consciously not running behind them (which might have been considered drafting, entirely legal but not Paula’s style), at the pace she wanted to achieve (without giving the pacemakers any instructions).

Paula ran 2:15 with her own legs, in her own way, in a world-beating and record-shattering time. She strived and sweated and worked harder than anyone else on the planet to do it. The IAAF, on the other hand, whom I imagine to be cooped up in some gleaming corporate headquarters, have ruled that her time wasn’t achieved according to some new standards they invented eight years later, and so are quite happy to wipe it from the record books, belittling the months and years of work it represents. It’s worth noting, of course, that Paula is still the world record holder, in fact she has run the three fastest female marathon times ever, including the disqualified 2:15.

Check out the 'News' section of
Looking forward, this is bad news for women’s marathoning. Relatively few women-only races or women-only starts exist, limiting the potential for faster times. Berlin is a prime example – the men’s world record has repeatedly been broken there, but it doesn’t have a women-only start. There will never be a female world record achieved on what is possibly the fastest marathon course in the world. This will create a messy two-tier system of ‘world best’ and ‘world record’ times, possibly subdivided again to exclude courses like Boston which don’t meet IAAF qualifying standards of elevation and layout. A cynic might say that this is a ploy to push up the standards of IAAF championships and the Olympics - races which are usually run for podium places, not necessarily for fast times...

Paula and Nike are mounting a campaign against this decision, with a massive groundswell of public support from the running community and beyond. I have no hesitation in adding my voice to it. 

Do you think I could convince them to have a go at the A-level thing too?

History stands.


2011 to date: miles: 1023.17, parkruns: 6, races: 6, miles biked: 155, metres swum: 1225

Monday, 17 October 2011

How I deliberately cycled 35 miles

Exactly one year ago, when the Crew Chief was away for the weekend, I packed a rucksack and fairly spontaneously ran 18 miles along theWater of Leith on my own. I don’t know where this impulse comes from, but when left to my own devices I seem to get an uncontrollable urge to go on some sort of self-supported adventure. Perhaps it’s because the Chief would point out the obvious flaws in my (lack of) planning. Or maybe just that I’d rather spend my free days with her when I can.

Whatever it is, it’s happened again.

This time there was slightly more planning, mostly because I recruited another person to join me on my frivolous jaunt – Will Wright. If Will had been born in the early eighteenth century, he would have been some sort of swashbuckling pioneer, discovering new lands and claiming them for floppy-haired Welshmen everywhere. Since he was born in the late eighties he has to make do with a lot of travel, mad business ventures and cycling all over the place instead. I also needed to make more of an equipment plan, as this was to be a cycling adventure. Since I know nothing about bike maintenance I ended up spending eleventy billion pounds getting my bike serviced before daring to use it over a significant distance. So slightly more planning, yes. But not much.

Having never cycled more than about 10 miles in one go, I didn’t really have a frame of reference about what was achievable. So instead we picked a route, the towpath that runs alongside the Union Canal, and a vague destination, the extraordinary Falkirk Wheel, planning to get the train home afterwards. The canal runs all the way from Edinburgh to Glasgow, and Falkirk is a little under two-thirds between the two. 

Ready for the off.
And so it was that at precisely 10.38 a.m. on Sunday that Will and I set off – the pedals on his mountain bike held together with duct tape and the narrow, brand new tyres on my hybrid entirely inappropriate for the varied terrain ahead. We cycled the early miles through the heavily-populated part of the canal’s path, where cheerful barges share the canal with rowers and kayakers, calm suburban gardens back onto the water and almost everyone seems to be walking a small white terrier. There was very little chance to pick up any speed, as this carefully-maintained part of the route is neatly tarmaced and often crowded with walkers, runners, cyclists and children. But no matter – it’s a lovely place to be. Once we had crossed the aqueduct over the Edinburgh bypass, we were deposited into beautiful green countryside. We were making good time and enjoying the freedom of a day on the bike, by and large, and I was waiting for some tiredness to kick in so I could get on with the ensuing endorphin surge.

We managed a little over six miles before needing a pit stop, when Will had to remove his rear mudguard to stop it angrily rubbing against the back tyre. Will is the kind of person who never goes anywhere without an adjustable spanner, a multi-tool and a roll of duct tape. He is a useful person to have around if things move when they shouldn't or don’t when they should. Five minutes later we were back on the trail, speeding though countryside.

Then more countryside.

And some more countryside.

Then, suddenly, even more countryside.

In fact, 15 miles in, we were getting a little bit bored of countryside. With the canal always on our left, a quickly-deteriorating trail under our wheels and fields spread out everywhere else, the view was beautiful but monotonous. Those few landmarks that did pop up quickly receded into the distance, leaving us to continue contemplating the fields. The trail was becoming an issue too. Perhaps when it was built by some bearded Victorians it was carefully laid down and relatively smooth, but in 2011 the majority of the path is either hard earth or broken stones, which my unforgiving tyres juddered over for miles on end. My hands slowly shook to pieces as the handlebars vibrated viciously in my grip. As I watched Will sail off into the distance, smoothly riding his mountain bike on chunky fat tyres, I conceded that I had brought the wrong tool for the job...

Two hours after setting off we arrived in Linlithgow, our nominally-designated lunch stop, and cycled into town in search of sustenance. We had covered just over 21 miles. I was utterly starving and starting to tire, with sore knees and a few other niggling complaints. Weirdly, I seem to have missed out on the endorphin surge that I would have expected from two hours of non-stop exercise. Maybe I was doing it wrong, but I know for certain that after running for two hours I am always exhausted and elated – two hours into our bike ride I was just exhausted.

After lunch, the trail got worse. Large muddy patches posed a serious skidding risk, as I frequently lost what little traction I had. In places we were cycling on what looked like a thin forest track, very far removed from the smooth, broad path we started the morning on. Weaving around puddles was turning into a dangerous activity too, as we swerved pointlessly away from the mud and water. We ended up covered in a thin layer of mud and Will’s lack of a rear mudguard made a predictable mess of his back and trousers. 

But as it deteriorated the route was getting more interesting. At one point we cycled through the most extraordinary tunnel, probably a mile long and bored directly through an enormous hill. The roof of the tunnel was lit up every 20 metres or so, showing the rough rock edges and giving the impression of some sort of underground boat ride at Disneyland, looking almost too spooky to be real. All we could do was focus on the light at the end of the tunnel, as in places it was so dark that when I looked down I lost my balance, unable to distinguish between the wall, the ground and my wheels. Veering off course here would have ended very badly indeed – specifically, in the canal, in the dark, with a bike.

The miles kept ticking along, albeit rather slower than they had earlier. We were both pretty tired, and happy to bimble along side-by-side where the path allowed, discussing the monotony of the landscape and generally putting the world to rights. Just a mile and  a half from Falkirk, Will’s duct-taped pedal finally snapped in two and he made the rest of the journey with his foot resting on its broken shaft. Closing in on the last mile we passed a lock, the first we had seen after the miles and miles of perfectly flat water, and suddenly we were cycling along a heavily developed section of canal, including going through a modern concrete (and mercifully well lit) tunnel. As we broached daylight at the end, the Falkirk Wheel popped up in front of us, an impressive and very welcome sight.

Mission accomplished. And before you shout at me, I took my helmet off for this photo.
Otherwise I wore it all day, promise.
We had a very brief look around (disappointed not to see the wheel in action) and then meandered into Falkirk in search of the train station. After having cycled over 35 miles and spending most of the day travelling under my own steam, it was quite depressing to find that my train fare home was less than £4, for a journey of just 25 minutes. Such is life.

I have concluded a few things from this cycling initiative. First, that cycling is much more efficient than running. If I was even capable of doing it, a 35 mile run would probably take me between five and six hours, and I would be struggling to walk for weeks afterwards. On the bike it took us less than 3 ½ at a leisurely, comfortable pace. Second, that my bike is really not suitable for all terrains. Third, and probably most importantly, I’ve concluded what I long suspected: that cycling, for me, lacks the magic that makes it so hard to explain the appeal of running. Cycling feels like a means to an end – just a way to get from A to B. Running isn’t about A or B, it’s about the journey. If I had run 35 miles yesterday I know I would have finished the trip forever changed by the experience. Instead I’ve just got some mud on my trainers and had a nice day out. Cycling lacks the magic.

Unless, of course, I just didn't cycle far enough...

Happy locomotion


2011 to date: miles: 1020.62, parkruns: 6, races: 6, miles biked: 155, metres swum: 1225

Thursday, 13 October 2011

Home Turf

2012, by and large, is supposed to be a money-saving year. In September the Crew Chief and I will be buying dinner for 110 of our closest friends, then jetting off on some sort of exotic holiday in pursuit of sun, sea and upgrades – so until then we will be saving.
2012 won’t be a year, therefore, in which I hop on a plane to fly halfway around the world for a marathon. In fact for a while I thought I wouldn’t be running a marathon at all, instead focussing on shorter distances and building up some core strength and speed. But after just a small amount of soul-searching, I can’t bear the thought of leaving it until 2013 to run marathon number five...
So I’ve decided to run a 26.2 that starts less than two miles from my front door: The Edinburgh Marathon.
Yes, I know, I’ve complained about it before. There’s a lot wrong with this race, some of it fundamental, and going by previous form it seems unlikely that it’s going to change any time soon. But in the spirit of austerity I’m thinking that running a race which incurs no travel costs and no accommodation costs, no time off work and no peripheral sightseeing expense is a Good Thing.
In fact the more I think about it the more I like the idea of running a ‘home’ marathon. I have seven and a half months to prepare for it, plenty of time to explore every inch of the course and learn every turn and undulation (although I’ve run the first half of this race during the relay, I’ve yet to experience what the route is like after 13 miles). The 10am start means I don’t need to be up for breakfast until 8, don’t need to leave the flat until 9.15 at the earliest. Assuming a half decent run and some post-race cunning, I could be back home with a frosty beer by mid-afternoon.
A half-decent run...
Yes, alright, my interest was piqued by the idea of running a mostly-downhill course, certified as ‘the fastest marathon in the UK’. Loch Ness and SF were wildly undulating; aggressive, spiky hills popping up at most turns for punishment on the way up and the way down in equal measure. Edinburgh starts with a gentle descent and is then overwhelmingly flat. I can’t help but imagine what might have happened if I had run Edinburgh instead of SF this year – no jetlag, no crazy early start, no mad sightseeing or cycling adventures the day before and most of all no real hills. All else being equal, how much time could I have taken off? 5 minutes? More?
The trade-off, of course, is that whilst SF was a 26.2 mile sightseeing tour of an iconic American city, Edinburgh’s course is mostly on tedious, exposed seafront and largely run in rural East Lothian. Instead of enjoying a two-week holiday in the USA I’ll be back to work the next day. Instead of finishing on a palm tree-lined boulevard with the Bay Bridge in the background I’ll be crossing the line on a random street in an anonymous suburb. But who cares? If all goes to plan, maybe I won’t be out there for long...
Put simply, I want to run for a PB in Edinburgh in May 2012. And I am going to work very, very hard to get it.
Watch this space.
Happy running

2011 to date: miles: 1008.56, parkruns: 6, races: 6, miles biked: 120.06, metres swum: 1225 

Thursday, 6 October 2011

I love the bling

I was never a sporty child.

I used to visit friends’ houses and marvel at the bedroom shelves – or sometimes the mantelpiece or even a fancy cabinet – full to bursting with trophies, ribbons and medals from football, cricket, judo, horse riding, athletics and dozens of other active youthful pursuits which resulted in gold-coloured plastic being handed out on a termly basis. Adorned with tiny plaques engraved with such banalities as ‘Runner-Up, Under-11s 1997-98 season’, they served as dust-collecting reminders of my relative (and indeed complete) lack of prowess as a sportsman. I never, ever, (to my recollection) received anything like that.

Maybe I exaggerate, but only because the instances in which I did collect such awards are so tragically comic. I do remember being given a few bizarre medals for sports participation on package holidays, which I wore with glowing pride in the full knowledge that anyone who attended any given activity twice merited such an award. Worse still, I recall being presented with a medal at the end of a friend’s birthday party, which was organised as an extended competition since the birthday boy was so sporty*. Everyone’s medal was different – the birthday boy’s a gleaming gold as he came first, mine a dull, almost grey bronze colour to indicate, I think, that I came dead last. When I got home I spray-painted it with some leftover gold Christmas paint and completely ruined it, the paint collecting in the grooves and making a sad, sticky mess. Then I threw it away.

As the years without collecting any sporting bling dragged on I decided that I probably didn’t want anything like that anyway. Let the kids play their silly games and collect their shiny mementoes if they want – I don’t need anything like that. Not while I have the smug satisfaction of the non-participant.

Paris, Brighton, San Francisco and Loch Ness Marathon medals
So it came as a bit of a surprise to me when, aged 21, I was so incredibly excited to receive a medal after my first professionally-organised run. It was the old,  now-twice-superseded Edinburgh Half Marathon, subdivided for us newbies into a 4-person relay of roughly 5k legs. We were given the same medals as people who completed the full distance, rewards which claimed we had run a half marathon each. I was utterly overjoyed.

Over the following couple of years I became a magpie for the things, delighted when my collection outgrew the successive storage and display ideas I came up with. Where the opportunity existed, and particularly for marathon medals, I had them engraved with my name and finish time. 

I became a connoisseur of medals, sometimes even choosing races based on how good I thought the bling would be. I cherished the ones that were emblazoned with the date, the distance, the name of the race and a quality logo, disparaging those which missed any of my criteria. Finally, I felt, I could look those stupid little football trophies in the eye. In a similar, though less obsessive vein, I grew infatuated with the freebie T-shirts handed out at races. Then I started carefully preserving all my race numbers. My collection of bling and stash quickly became unmanageable.

The whole ridiculous collection
I think it was after my seventh or eighth major race, however, when the shine started to come off medal-collecting. The pile of bling became weighty and unruly. It looks ridiculous to have them all out in one place.

 When I ran two Kilomathons six months apart, one in Derbyshire and the other in West Lothian, and received identical medals because the organisers decided to save themselves a few quid, I grew a little cynical about the whole concept. I finished the Meadows (half) Marathon this year and realised that they didn’t award medals, which briefly irritated me before I decided that I was quite pleased not to have to lug home another piece of commemorative metal on a ribbon. Only when the MokRun handed out beautiful, handmade and glazed pottery medals on tartan ribbons did I briefly think that there was still mileage in collecting them. But, like many of my running friends, I more or less resigned to the idea that the medals were a silly distraction for beginners and bucket list marathoners. We real runners don’t need such nonsense.

But just last week, we had some of the Crew Chief’s family to stay. Despite the fact that my medals are currently tucked away in the bottom of a cabinet in the corner of our living room, they caught the eye of one of our guests, and she asked me about them. I glowed with pride as I explained how I got them, probably looking not unlike myself as a twelve year old boy, walking proudly around a Club Med resort wearing a mad medal shaped like Poseidon which declared my low-level commitment to archery (if this seems confusing, it is). Each one is a little marker in my running career, a tiny little witness which unobtrusively says ‘I was there, and I did that’.

Alright, alright, I love the bling. I earned it, after all.

Happy running


2011 to date: miles: 991.94, parkruns: 6, races: 6, miles biked: 111.06, metres swum: 1225 

*That boy, now definitely a man, recently ran his first marathon. It was much, much slower than mine. I am in the process of building a time machine to go back and tell my eight-year old self all about it. He will be delighted.

Monday, 3 October 2011

Race Report - Loch Ness Marathon 2011

I have now run four marathons, in four countries, in the space of 2 ½ years.  And yet I never learn.

My Loch Ness Marathon started like many of my races, as a logistical conundrum. In the absence of the calm reasoning of the Crew Chief (who was heading south on a train to Birmingham), Ben and I were trusted to look after ourselves during our weekend heading north to Inverness. Risky.

The race – much like the Highlands in general – is a little bit oldschool in that it requires registration in person the day before the event. As a result we were in Inverness mid-afternoon on Saturday, having watched the rain lash down on train windows all the way up from Edinburgh. In the first incarnation of our plan, we were to spend Saturday night as guests in a large stately home surrounded by acres of wilderness. In the second, we had bunk beds in a dormitory in a naff city-centre hostel. In the third and final, we lucked out and found ourselves a comfy B&B half a mile from the race’s start line. Like Mystic Meg on holiday, we had found a happy medium. Our attempts to find some dinner were equally haphazard – I should really have anticipated that every Italian restaurant would be fully booked for the pre-race meal. We settled on a bistro/bar place which eventually served us a lasagne that was, confusingly, mostly beef and cheese. How I longed for the military precision of the Crew Chief’s itineraries...

After a night of light sleep punctuated by panicked time-checks, we found ourselves breakfasting on porridge and fruit at 6.30am on Sunday, prepared by Joyce the Landlady at the Macrae Guest House. Her entire guestbook was filled with marathon runners. We were out of the door before 7, heading over the river towards the bus pick-up point on the far side of Bught Park. The start line is, unsurprisingly, 26 miles from Inverness, but this doesn’t mean it’s actually somewhere. In fact we were to be bussed out to an arbitrary point on a single track road somewhere between Fort Augustus and Foyers. I had prepared myself for the psychological torment of being driven along the entire route in reverse, watching the miles stack up from the bus’s window and knowing that I had to cover each one of them on foot on the way back. But we were spared this. The buses took an even longer route to the start in a vast convoy (3,800 people take a lot of moving), which stopped occasionally to allow the less-prepared runners to nip out for a pee in the bushes, a truly bizarre and very, very funny sight.

Hours passed. Or at least, two of them did. Driving in the Highlands is never fast, but a convoy of 50 buses on single track roads which kept stopping for loo breaks (the busses, not the roads) is definitely not fast. But at last we were at the start line – a professional and huge marathon set-up in the middle of nowhere, a riot of colour and noise and busses and portaloos and nervous energy. We stood in the cooling drizzle and low cloud, acclimatising to the air temperature after the dry heat of the bus, and before long we were watching the local pipe band march through the crowds and declaring the race underway.

Ben and I had a plan. Based on his training runs, we reckoned that we should be sustaining comfortable 10-minute miles, and we had prepared nothing more sophisticated than a plan to stick to it no matter what.

We didn’t. At all.

Mile 1 – 8:41
Mile 2 – 9:03
Mile 3 – 8:59
Mile 4 – 8:58

These miles were fast, downhill, full of excitement and energy and banter and people-watching. We were kings among men, we were fulfilling our potential, throwing caution to the wind and spitting on those pathetic 10-minute miles. The drizzle turned to heavy rain, narrowing the road as large puddles formed on the verges, but it mattered not. As we powered on even nature gave way to our superior awesomeness and the rain turned back into drizzle before disappearing completely.

Mile 5 – 9:21

Though there was a little hill at mile 5.

Mile 6 – 9:13
Mile 7 – 8:50
Mile 8 – 9:09
Mile 9 – 9:20
Mile 10 – 8:40
Mile 11 – 9:08
Mile 12 – 9:04

Between about 6 and 12 we hit the ‘flat’ section, still gently undulating but generally quite manageable, alongside the loch and with some fleeting but fabulous views of the water. Unfortunately the road is in quite dense forest for miles and miles, so the view wasn’t quite what it could have been. But what a road – twisting, turning, hairpinning and winding through dense, ancient woodland, it’s a magnificent place to be and a privilege to run on. We went through great water and lucozade stations in the middle of nowhere staffed by wildly enthusiastic kids, and some wonderful pockets of support clustered around wee villages here and there. We kept up with some people, were overtaken by others and overtook others still, notably the seemingly ubiquitous squaddies carrying full packs and speed-marching in heavy boots. But then we stuck behind a man and a woman, too captivated by their conversation to overtake...

Mile 13 – 10:42

Yup, we should have just overtaken them. But they were flirting on the run! They exchanged names, then, for the sake of detail, exchanged surnames and even checked that they had understood the correct spelling of each others’. They chatted about their various sporting exploits, their jobs and family lives, and basically covered all the bases which might lead to a film, dinner, coffee back at mine and maybe breakfast if you play your cards right. It was hilarious. But when we realised what damage our eavesdropping was doing to our pace, we decided it was time to push on.

Mile 14 – 9:15
Mile 15 – 8:54
Mile 16 – 9:09

The hills were approaching. We knew from the elevation chart that somewhere between mile 17 and 19 we were in for a kicking, so we braced ourselves and got our heads down in preparation for some slow, sluggish miles.

Mile 17 – 8:19
Mile 18 – 8:11

Hills!? What hills? OK, there were hills, but for some reason we managed to turn in our fastest miles on what was supposed to be the toughest part of the course. Awesome.

Mile 19 – 9:39

Ah, ok, there it is. Still manageable, though.

Mile 20 – 9:30
Mile 21 – 8:58

Things are still going quite well.

Mile 22 – 10:12

Things are going less well. My feet ache in a deep and agonising way, twisted and broken from the Great North Run. My old trainers are blistering my toes and my ankles are very, very weak. My left foot lands painfully with every step, pointing outwards by 45 degrees. We slow down to a fast walk up the very last hill of the race. We sing ‘Yesterday’ mournfully and occasionally in tune.

Mile 23 – 9:01
Mile 24 – 10:20
Mile 25 – 9:45

Try as I might, I just can’t hold it together. The pain is too much and I have to slow down to an only-just-running death shuffle. Ben is still full of life and laughter, and after much persuading, I finally bully him into leaving me behind and running the strong finish he deserves. He sails off ahead, ginger mop bobbing in the distance as I drag one foot in front of the other for the last few atrocious moments.

Mile 26 – 11:01

The sun is out, the crowds have gathered and the mood is buoyant as I am back in the civilisation of Inverness. I summon the last of my meagre reserves for a proper run down the last 385 yards, returning a smile to the giant inflatable Nessie who waits at the finish chute.

Marathon – 4:04:26

I cross the line some three minutes after Ben, my former hard drinking, heavy smoking reprobate of a friend who has just beaten me in a marathon. I could not be more pleased for him. Ben’s official time – 4:01:06 – is over five minutes faster than my first race in Paris was (Paris being, by far, the easier course). This is a man capable of a very fast time in the next year or two. We change, regroup, head to the train, get the beers in and promptly fall asleep. Some hours later we are back in Edinburgh, struggling up the stairs to my flat. A long, glorious day.

A very forced smile post-race.
So I’ve got another marathon under my belt, but somehow this one feels different. I didn’t build up to this race as obsessively as I did the first three. Instead I approached it with an attitude of nonchalance, deciding that I have reached a point in my experience and fitness at which I can run a marathon without much specific preparation, at a non-ideal point in my schedule and whilst nursing some small injuries. It’s true – I can – but I suffered for it. My nonchalance made me careless, too. I forgot to tape up my nipples, which bled profusely from the friction caused by rainwater. I can’t bear to look at my official photos and see the blood running down my white shirt. Equally, I packed my bag in a hurry and brought old kit by mistake, which has chafed so badly I’m going to throw it away. Whilst my muscles are recovering relatively quickly due to my overall fitness, the acute pain in my feet and the chafing under my arms and in some other important areas will cause me a lot of pain for the next week or so. I never learn.

So perhaps the conclusions are that yes, I can run a marathon more casually than I used to. Yes, I can manage two marathons in nine weeks with an ankle-shattering half-marathon in between, and yes, I can do all this without necessitating 6 weeks of teetotal training pre-race. But a marathon is still a heck of a long way, and I need to respect the challenge as much as I ever have. Complacency could end in involuntary nipple amputation. Which would be nasty.

Congrats, Ben, and welcome to the other side.

Happy racing,


2011 to date - miles: 988.44, parkruns: 6, races: 6, miles biked: 94.42, metres swum: 1225 

P.S. I ran this race with a totally oldschool disposable camera, so when I have the dodgy photos developed I'll be sure to post a few here. 

Friday, 23 September 2011

Here we go again...

On October 2nd, as you may already know, I am planning on running my fourth marathon, this time in Loch Ness, just 9 weeks after my third. Why?

Simple. I owe the running community a debt, and I am very much looking forward to repaying it. The story goes like this:

In summer 2008, through a complicated series of events, I found myself struggling through the first (8.1 mile) leg of the Edinburgh Marathon relay. It was the furthest distance I had ever run. Wearing swimming shorts, cheap and nasty trainers and some elderly ‘sports socks’, I laboured through the distance and finished wheezing, hobbling and generally ruined. It was my first taste of participation in a marathon and I wanted more.

That night I hosted a post-race party at my flat for marathon and relay runners. My friends who had run the whole thing modestly basked in their success and I grew increasingly jealous of their new, elevated status as marathoners. But when a few of the other relay runners got together and bandied about the suggestion of doing the whole thing the following year, my stomach filled with dread. There was no way I could actually run 26.2 miles, and more than that I didn’t want others to make the transition without me, thinking that if none of us made the step up, then no-one would feel left behind. As far as I was concerned, the idea was shelved.

But as summer gave way to autumn my interest in the concept gnawed away at me. Even before the first week of my final year of University, I knew I wanted to run a marathon. I joined the Cross Country Club in the hope of finding a short-cut to success, and found no short cuts but plenty of people willing to show me the long road. With a small amount of convincing, I even found someone willing to accompany me all the way – my friend Alex agreed to come to Paris and run the marathon there with me.

More than that, Alex set the benchmark. He encouraged me to enter other races through the Cross Country Club, which he captained, and later helped me round the longer training runs. Even when he struggled and I actually found myself in the stronger role, it was him who reigned in my pace and helped me make the most of my fitness.

When it came to race day a lot of things happened. More detail is in my old race report. But suffice to say that without Alex there is no way I would have got into running in a serious way, much less become capable of completing one, let alone three or four marathons.

When I got back from Paris I was enthused and immediately determined to pass on the knowledge I had so recently been given. Just as Alex had supported me, I needed someone to support, too. After a little more convincing than Alex needed, I somehow convinced my brother to run the Dublin Marathon with me, just six months away at that point. If you’ve been reading this blog for some time, you may know that this went horribly wrong and Nick ended up running the whole bloody thing on his own.

So the way I see it, I still owe the running community this debt of guidance and support.

When Ben asked me to join him in running the Loch Ness Marathon, I knew I would be saying yes. I’m still sore from the Great North Run and the barefoot adventures, still not really recovered from 'leaving it all out there' in San Francisco, and I haven’t I got a decent pair of shoes to run in as both of mine are knackered. Regardless of the awkward timing, irrelevant of the challenges of the rest of my race schedule, this is my opportunity to finally give back, even if it is a bit hilly. Above all I get to spend 26.2  miles with a close friend whom I rarely see.

I can’t wait.


2011 to datemiles: 952, parkruns: 6, races: 5, miles biked: 83.24, metres swum: 1225 

P.S. Ben is running Loch Ness in memory of Marian Thomas, to raise money for the Women's Fund for Scotland. Read more here.

Monday, 19 September 2011

Race Report - Great North Run 2011 (aka The Ballad of Barefoot Dave part 4)

I don’t think I have ever been so nervous before a race.

The night before had put me at ease. By a strange series of events we ended up staying in the Gateshead Hilton, which (unbeknownst to us) happens to be the official race hotel. We mixed with the elite athletes at mealtimes and in the bar, the whole place seemingly given over to the event. I even had the opportunity to meet Mo Farah and bother him for a photograph. I never feel particularly comfortable interrupting celebrities when I see them in a private context, but I just couldn’t resist talking to the newly-crowned 5,000m world champ and getting him to autograph my race number. Evidence:

We swapped tips
But I woke up on race morning with ultimate fear. I’m pretty sure I would have been nervous anyway. The incredible anticipation of finally running the Great North Run, an iconic, aspirational event which I’ve watched on TV for years, was enough to make me jittery with excitement in the days and hours running up to it. But something about the barefoot plan was making me even more nervous. I felt like I had agreed to a duel but left my pistols at home, constantly troubled by that feeling of dread when you get off a train or a bus and realise you’ve left your bag on your seat. Essentially, I spent the race morning observing that to run a half marathon, you need to wear shoes, and I was definitely not...

Then again, I was wearing shoes, of sorts. I went for the Vibrams in the end, and I’m so glad I did. As we shall see.

I decided to walk from the hotel to the start line, a distance of probably about 2.5 miles once I’d got to my starting zone. I needed the time to relax, loosen up, get my head in the game and feel comfortable in the Vibrams. The short walk in the cool morning air was ideal and definitely represented the calm before the storm.

I had hoped to meet Aye Aye Jenny Mackay at the start so we could run together, but our poorly-planned rendez-vous never materialised and sadly we didn’t manage to see each other at all. The crowds were just too enormous. I don’t believe I’ve ever seen so many people, ever. With 54,000 runners, the GNR is unfathomably massive in every way, and there was simply no hope of us catching one another. Such is life. I did have the privilege of watching the elite women warm up (in what seemed like a bizarre zoo-like enclosure, athletes pacing like caged lions and us plebs peering in through the bars), and particularly pleased to see the British trio of Clitheroe, Pavey and Yamauchi. After the ubiquitous bag check, queue for the loo and hunt for my starting zone, I was in and ready for the off.

After the sad passing of Flt. Lt. Egging of the Red Arrows a few weeks ago, there had been murmurings that the team might not make an appearance at this year’s GNR. The image of the Red Arrows’ flypast over the Tyne Bridge is a huge part of the GNR’s identity, so it would have been a very sad loss if they weren't able to attend. But rather than pack it in they went one better and made an additional, early flypast over the starting line – flying in the ‘Missing Man’ formation, Red 4 (Flt Lt Egging’s position) trailing red smoke and creating an image of fond remembrance. An inspiring moment.

Ten minutes after the gun fired, I was over the line, and within half a mile I was having to consciously alter my stride to accommodate for the rough, broken road surface and try to protect my ruined ankles. Early twinges in my ankles and the balls of my feet made me nervous, but the atmosphere made it almost impossible to think of anything but utter, unconfined running joy. The runners, the crowds, the Red Arrows, the shouts of ‘Oggy Oggy Oggy’ in tunnels and the sheer scale of the whole mad shebang are indescribable. I can’t tell you – you’ll just have to run this race.

I made it onto the Tyne Bridge just before the Red Arrows got there, crossing the structure with the red, white and blue smoke streaming out overhead. The Golden Gate Bridge in San Francisco was humbling, the Forth Road Bridge during the Scotland Kilomathon was majestic, but the Tyne Bridge, with those pilots overhead, there, then, was a moment that will stay with me for a very long time indeed. I knew Linds would be stationed at the ‘third, no the second, no the third lamppost after the pillar. Or the third one after the bridge. I’ll be next to a lamppost anyway’, toting a camera and ready to snap a great picture. Unfortunately, I am a prat and was a bit overexcited by the whole experience, so I look like this:

From here it was business as usual, with the focus on keeping my poor feet from too much abuse. The miles ticked along at a relatively relaxed pace, averaging 8:45 minutes/mile, roughly the same speed as those around me. And with quite so many people around me, I had very little choice. This race is so densely-packed with runners that you would struggle to break free from the zone you started in, unless you were prepared to invest a lot of time and energy in weaving between other runners. Thank goodness there are so many others, though. The course itself is less-than inspiring for the majority of it, passing through industrial areas, motorway overpasses and repetitive housing estates for miles. However, the riot of colour, noise and passion from the runners brings this fairly drab landscape to life and makes the race all the more amazing. Setting a big race in London or Paris or San Francisco is one thing, because the scenery does most of the work. Here the race is self-affirming; it just works because it’s always been here, not because here is somewhere particularly special. What an amazing achievement.

With a vastly varied road surface I was struggling to find rhythm and comfort in the Vibrams, at some points resorting to running on the white lines in search of something a little softer than the nasty road. I struggled with everything from rough tarmac to concrete to areas where the rain had washed grit onto the road. But I was managing the pain and discomfort relatively well.

Until the heavens opened.

I’ve blogged before about how well the Vibrams work in the dry, but in the wet the thick rubber lives up to its name and rubs, viciously, all the way down to the bone and out the other side, then several inches into the road, too. It’s agony. The rain started as just a thin, welcome drizzle, then proceeded into a crescendo of massive, heavy rainfall that sent spectators scurrying to bus shelters and elicited a range of impassioned responses from runners.

I was probably 9 miles in when the rain really kicked in, and I knew that I really didn’t have far to go. Based on the time-honoured maxim that if you run faster it’s over quicker, I picked up the pace and started an overtaking campaign. There are some nasty hills in the GNR, but nothing compared to San Francisco or my months of training in Edinburgh, so I felt confident in pushing up the hills and planning to cruise down, a strategy which worked reasonably well until the very last descent to the seafront. In the wet, the Vibrams become slick and unpredictable, and I came off the crest of the last hill at full whack, only to find myself hurtling down the other side and very, very close to falling over onto my face. After some manic arm-waving I managed to slow down and take the sharp turn at the bottom without incident, but it put the fear of God into me and I took a few moments to recover.

Some distance before I reached the sea, a spectator had shouted ‘only a mile to go!’ and I had got rather excited and sped up. If pushed, I could have summoned my knowledge of the course which would have told me that the 12 mile marker was still some way off, but I wanted to believe him and allowed my feet to think about some respite. When the 12 mile point did finally arrive it really was all over bar the shouting and I joined in with a few others who had picked up the pace for the final furlong.

800 to go, 400 to go, 200 to go, finish. A last-gasp sprint for the camera to finish in 1:54:44 and then a slow, laboured walk to collect a medal, t-shirt and eventually be released back into society. Linds was waiting for me at our agreed RV where we eventually managed to meet up with Louise and swap a few war stories, me hobbling around trying to adjust to the incredible pain in my feet. I wasn’t brave enough to take off the Vibrams for some time, knowing that a combination of the ache from the impact, blisters from the sore spots and probably some skin missing from the rubbing points would be pretty awful to witness. They were better than I thought, in the end. But not much. My toes ache. My calves are very tight. My feet basically feel like I ran a half marathon barefoot yesterday...

Even with my leisurely pace I came in 9,169th place from a field of 37,491 finishers, which puts me in the top 24%. This is definitely more of an indication of the slow average finish time rather than my own impressive performance, as the race is clearly popular with beginners, and it was a shame to see so many ambulances tending to those who probably hadn’t respected the challenge they were undertaking. The drop-out rate is enormous: 54k places for 37k finishers.

Would I run another road race in the Vibrams? Probably not. But I am glad that I ran this race at a necessarily slower pace, purely to soak up the atmosphere and enjoy the company of so many other runners. And it was a pleasure and an honour to run for the Alzheimer’s Society. Thank you for your support, I am delighted to see that after a flurry of last-minute donations (possibly from people hedging their bets?) that I have reached my £500 target. You could still help me surpass it if you felt really cool and groovy – check out Thanks so much, it’s been immense.

Happy running


2011 to date - miles: 940.95, parkruns: 6, races: 5, miles biked: 83.24, metres swum: 1225 

Thursday, 8 September 2011

The Ballad of Barefoot Dave - part three

I have had blisters before. I am a runner, it comes with the territory. I’ve had huge, bulbous ones on the balls of my feet, weird tiny ones underneath my toes, nasty blood-filled ones on my insteps and bizarre pointy ones on my big and smallest toes. I’ve got rather good at managing them; I lance them without a thought, drain the nasty fluids as a matter of course and clean them up, tape them down and generally keep my feet in as good a condition as possible given the circumstances. In fact I’m so good at managing them that I almost look forward to getting them.

Until I started the barefoot challenge, which is now just ten days away...

It wasn’t until I started running barefoot that I learnt the true misery of having blisters on my heels. Huge, deep and angry blisters, sitting proud of the wide, fleshy part of the underside of both heels, slightly towards the outside and unbelievably uncomfortable. I first felt them developing on a short, 4 mile barefoot run in the Vibrams, when I thought I had a pebble lodged under my left foot. When I peeled the Vibrams off, there was no pebble. And in places, no heel either. I don’t know what Trench Foot looks like, but I suspect it’s not dissimilar to what’s currently brewing at the bottom of my legs.

In a cruel twist of fate, the barefoot adventure is otherwise going rather well. The enormous strain on my calves is reducing, and I’m very quickly improving my speed as a result. If it weren’t for the blisters, my confidence levels for Barefoot Dave’s Great North Run would be sky-high. As it is I am getting increasingly afraid...

That said, I have to admit: I am loving this challenge. It feels like I’m revisiting the early part of my running journey, learning loads and improving relatively quickly. Everything is new again and yet strangely familiar. It’s like wandering around a house you used to live in. However, I can guarantee that there’ll be no PB chalked up in South Shields. I can just about manage to maintain 9 minute miles in the Vibrams, which means there is a real chance that I might not even break two hours. And looking at these blisters, I should probably call myself lucky to finish at all.

Once the main trial in Newcastle is over, I’ll definitely be reducing my barefoot road mileage, as the strain is really too much for me at the moment and probably isn’t helping my long-term racing prospects. I was struck by this thought on my latest barefoot jaunt. I am fortunate in that I can easily remove the aggravating factor in my life and return to comfort and normality. This brings into sharp relief the fact that the opposite is true for sufferers of Alzheimer’s Disease. Whose suffering is daily, degenerative and incurable. Whose only hope for relief is high quality care for themselves and support for their loved ones. Who have no escape from the aggravating factor of their lives.

I am humbled and delighted that so many of you have put your hands in your pockets for this cause (even though most have come with an impressive supply of abuse). If you haven't already, please help me make a small difference to a big problem.  Donate even a few pounds online at

Thank you.


2011 to date - miles: 907.78, parkruns: 6, races: 4, miles biked: 83.24, metres swum: 1225 

Tuesday, 23 August 2011

Best run of the year

At less than two miles, it was the shortest run of the year. Before breakfast, barely awake, with my shoes landing lazily on the stone pavement, it was probably also one of the slowest. There was no music, no crowd, no medal, no PB, no watch and no pressure.

In six hours’ time, my brother would be getting married. The day would be hectic and wonderful and joyously good fun, with an almost unavoidable undercurrent of stress and pressure for those of us entrusted with wedding-related responsibility.

But right now, at 8am and in the warm, dappled, early morning sun, my brother and I are jogging lightly through the streets of north Oxford; chatting about this and that, pointing out interesting cars, and running.  Same as always.

It was the best run of the year.

Happy days.


2011 to date - miles: 853.49*, parkruns: 6, races: 4, miles biked: 78.47, metres swum: 1225 

*I have now surpassed my 2010 total of 851 miles. Crikey.

Wednesday, 17 August 2011

The Ballad of Barefoot Dave - part two

Ow. Why am I doing this?

I am tempted to leave this post at that. I believe it covers most of the bases.

My strategy for simultaneously approaching Barefoot Dave’s Great North Run and the Loch Ness Marathon seemed logical: my midweek miles would be relatively short and barefoot, leaving my weekend runs to be long and in shoes. This way I could build up just about enough experience to make it through the barefoot adventure whilst maintaining my distance discipline in preparation for Loch Ness. Genius.

As usual, not genius. Just as happened after I ran 1:34 in Alloa, the sheer effort of running a big PB in San Francisco has taken a lot out of me. Things just don’t seem to click when I go out running at the moment. Except my ankles, which click a lot. It’s hard to tell whether the enormous pain in my calves is due to the barefoot training or a full-body marathon hangover from SF. Or indeed due to an ordinary hangover, as I am allowing myself occasional drinks again. I went for a 5-miler in the Vibrams last week and I stepped in a huge puddle hidden from view – four steps later they began to rub excruciatingly, grating away the skin on the top of a right foot-knuckle (probably not the correct term but you get the idea). Obviously, this happened when I was furthest from home and I had several more painful miles to cover before gaining any relief. My chest is still weird, my stomach’s still weird and do I really have to go back to work every day!? I’m all over the place and rapidly running out of time. I’m starting to wonder if this challenge is a run too far.

Just yesterday, however, I realised that I’ve been seeking answers without understanding the question. I’ve been approaching this from a running perspective, which is of course trivial and egotistical. Walking home from work, in a moment of absolute clarity, I finally stumbled across the perspective that a lot of charity runners are able to gain. How stupid and callous of me to be worrying about a clicking ankle or a little ache in my muscles. How petty to be complaining that I’m finding it difficult to run nine miles at 8 minutes/mile. How insensitive to call these problems.

Dementia is a problem. An incurable, degenerative, life-altering problem. This isn’t a run too far, it’s just a tiny step in the right direction. You can help make things better for sufferers, right now.

Thanks folks, you’re the best.


2011 to date - miles: 845.28, parkruns: 6, races: 4, miles biked: 78.47, metres swum: 1225 (dangerously on track to record my first zero-mile week since January 2010! Busy busy busy!)

P.S. If you missed part one, it's here.

Monday, 15 August 2011

Reflections (3:49 and all that)

I’ve done a lot of thinking about SF. So much happened in such a short space of time that it’s taken me a while to get my head around it all, and particularly to contextualise that new PB. On a basic level, cutting such a large amount of time off my personal best in one race is unusual – it would have been much more comprehensible to have taken off 5 or maybe even 10 minutes. 15:31 is a long time when you’re waiting at a finish line.

The main reason I’m struggling to get to grips with that time is mainly that I never allowed myself to believe that it was possible. You might remember that I promised to be ecstatic with anything from 3:48 to 4:04, but a little niggle of doubt never really let me believe that I could run the lower end of that spectrum. I had my fingers burned in both Paris and Brighton, when I became so obsessed with running sub-4 that I almost forgot to enjoy the experience and ended the races a little deflated when I failed to achieve that goal. The marathon became a wily, sneaky adversary which I just couldn’t quite figure out. I allowed myself to believe that my training had been good but mitigating factors had ruined both races, often telling people (albeit truthfully) that I tripped over in Paris and had a chest infection in Brighton*, and that otherwise I would definitely have run sub-4.

I now know that this isn’t true.

The simple fact is that for my first two marathons I was only adequately prepared. Looking back over my running log from those crucial pre-race months I realise that I consistently took the route of least resistance (sometimes literally), setting myself unambitious training schedules and then failing to complete them anyway. SF was different. Perhaps the massive over-commitment of a 12,000 mile round-trip, compounded by the enormous entry fee and contextualised by the knowledge that this was a very, very hilly course made me wake up and smell the fear. On training runs this year I would actively seek out the toughest, hilliest courses Edinburgh had to offer, whereas for Paris and Brighton I meticulously planned the flattest routes I could find. 

For SF I made greater sacrifices of time and energy, pouring my all into training. I spent hours studying course maps, videos, elevation charts, weather patterns and memorising the location of aid stations. I cross-trained and took vitamin supplements and had sports massages and invested in new gear. The result is that seven months of training was focussed completely on success at that course, on that date. I could not have been more ready for SF, and I’m a little embarrassed to think of how relatively unprepared I was for my previous marathons.

All that said, and I’m struggling to type this: I know I can go faster.

Because I was so reluctant to commit to a finish time goal, I only designed a race strategy up to 20 miles, planning to ‘just hang on’ thereafter. I went through 4 miles in 34 minutes, 10 miles just under 1:26, halfway in 1:52 and 20 miles in 2:50, all absolutely according to my carefully-composed plan. But I allowed myself to ‘fly blind’ in the last and most important 6.2 miles, giving me no reason or motivation to reach particular markers at particular times, which also impaired my ability to predict finish times on the run. The result was that I just bargained with myself, struggling lamppost to lamppost on some occasions. If I had decided that I needed to be at 23 miles after 3:16, for example, I’m pretty sure I could have done it. I reckon I might have lost as much as 5 minutes as a result.

Furthermore, remove the long haul travel, jetlag, early start, non-ideal race week and some of the more aggressive hills from the equation, I’m pretty sure I could pick up probably 15 seconds a mile, which is another 6 and a half minutes over the whole thing.  Ecstatic and humbled though I am by 3:49, I guess I’m saying that sub-3:40 is realistic in the not-too-distant future.


Happy running


2011 to date - miles: 845.28, parkruns: 6, races: 4, miles biked: 78.47, metres swum: 1225

*I really was ill - when I dug out my fuel belt ahead of SF, which I last used in Brighton, I found a Dequacaine tablet in there left over from the race. Dequacaine is a super-strength cough sweet, which more or less gives your throat a local anaesthetic. I think I had it on prescription. What the hell was I thinking running a marathon in that state!?