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Friday, 31 December 2010

Training targets for 2011

In 2010 I have seen my mileage increase from my previous highest of 400 miles last year (2009) to well over 600 miles this year. My target for next year is to get up nearer to 800 miles. Injuries permitting this should be achievable by running the same kind of distances as I do each week at the moment. This year I only started running in April, so 800 miles should be about right for a full year.

I started my running in 2010 at 1 or 2 times a week. I would hope to average closer to 3 times a week throughout 2011.

Personal best for a Single Lap of the perimeter of the park (1.75 miles):
In 2009 my personal best for a single lap of the park was 10:37.
In 2010 I have improved this time to 9:45 (just over 2 weeks ago!).
In 2011 my target is to improve this to below 9:30 and possibly even down to 9:20, but I think that is a really tough target.

Personal best for 3 Laps of the perimeter of the park (5.25 miles):
In 2009 my personal best was 33:26.
In 2010 I have improved this time on 5 occasions resulting in my current best of 31:22. I now run each lap far faster than my previous best for a single lap prior to this year.
In 2011 my target is to improve this time to under 31 minutes. I think this will be tough.

Freedom parkruns:
My current PB for a freedom parkrun is 18:54, only 40 seconds outside my current parkrun PB.
I would like to get this down below 18:30 in 2011.

My training challenges for this year are:
- Single park lap: 9:30
- Three park laps: 31:00
- Freedom parkrun: 18:30

Thursday, 30 December 2010

parkrun targets for 2011

2010 has been my first year of taking part in parkrun events and I actually didn't start until April. During this year I have taken over 2 minutes (2:04) off my first parkrun time, spread across 8 PBs and resulting in my current PB of 18:14. I have run a total of 23 parkrun events finishing in the top 10 on 18 occasions and I have finished as high as 2nd on three occasions. I also finished the year in 7th position in the male points table.

So how can I improve on this and what are my aims at parkrun events in 2011?

I would like to:
- Complete 50 parkruns in total and get the 50 parkruns t-shirt, a real parkrun status symbol!
- Run at least 30 Coventry parkrun events in the year, but hopefully nearer to 40 if possible.
- Achieve at least 5 new PBs.
- Win my first parkrun event. This will depend on a weaker field of competitors rather than me improving!
- Perhaps I might even do my first parkrun at another location. Fingers crossed an event appears somewhere suitable to help make this happen.

From these general aims I have come up with the following targets, or lets call them challenges for myself for the coming year. I must:
- Get a new PB before the end of February.
- Take my PB below 18 minutes before the end of April.
- Take my PB below 17:45 before the end of 2011.
- Finish in the top 5 of the male points table.
- Finish in the top 10 in at least 75% of events attended.

Those are my big 5 personal challenges, I wonder how I will do? I think the two PB targets of below 18 minutes and 17:45 will prove to be the toughest of the 5. I think the other three are within my capabilities. I'll try to remember to look back at these aims and challenges throughout the year, hopefully to tick them off as I achieve them.

Wednesday, 29 December 2010

Review of my running year 2010

All my running has revolved entirely around parkrun this year.

I first heard about parkrun in late February, however due to other weekend commitments, I wasn't able to make my debut until mid April. That first run was a fairly tentative effort, finishing in 17th place with a time of 20:18. But the main thing was that I loved it and I had caught the parkrun bug!

I have run about 70% of the weekend parkruns since, only missing a couple through injury, one when volunteering and the rest due to being away. One thing is for sure, I really long for parkrun when I have to miss an event.

My second parkrun saw a massive 60 seconds improvement. Since that run, the pattern has tended to be a couple of weeks getting close to my PB and then beating it again. Over the rest of my parkruns since that second run I have only managed to knock a further 64 seconds off my PB, resulting in my current PB of 18:14.

In total I have managed 8 parkrun PBs this year from my 22 runs, but none since 23rd October. I would have had a good go at my PB over the last few weeks had it not been for the snow and ice lying on the course.

In mid September I heard about the freedom run concept. A freedom run is basically a parkrun on the parkrun course but at your own convenience and on a non-event day or at a different time. Since hearing about this I have averaged roughly 2 freedom runs a week, now having completed 24 in total. I wonder how many people have run and recorded this many freedom runs on the parkrun website. I wouldn't be at all surprised if I had recorded the most! I enjoy it that much!

The one big blip on my times for parkrun run this year was my 20:43 in mid-August. This was the week I learned a valuable lesson. Drinking heavily the night before a parkrun is not a good idea!

Position wise I have been gradually moving up the field over the course of the last few months. In my last 19 runs I have only finished outside the top 10 on 2 occasions, with one of those being due to an exceptionally fast race with a higher number of really decent runners compared to usual. My best position being second place on 3 occasions, including my last two runs, although there were only 63 and 85 participants at each of these last two parkrun events due to the wintry weather. My very last parkrun of the year was the Santa run in which I came second by roughly 2 inches. I was so close to winning for the first time, but at least I still have that target saved up for next year.

I did notice one strange occurrence in my times during the year. Two runs in a row I finished in what was then my PB time of 18:27. The first of these saw me finish in 2nd position, the second saw me placed 16th. This shows the week-on-week fluctuation in quality and quantity of runners at parkrun events.

The biggest thing that parkrun has done for me is that it has turned me into a regular runner. I have never really been one for going out running whatever the weather in the past, but I am now. Thank you parkrun!

I did take part in one other run this year that being the Coventry fun run. This took place in late June. I have run it a few times in the past with mixed results. My previous best finish had been a 20th place way back sometime around 2001. I had since dropped down to 50th place one time and on another occasion I was too far down the field to be placed. But this year was my best ever, finishing in 5th place and knocking a couple of minutes off my previous best time. This was very pleasing and was certainly as a result of all my efforts at (and training for) parkrun.

So that's my running review of 2010. I'll soon post about my aims for 2011.

Wednesday, 22 December 2010

Another Freedom run in the snow (23:45)

Another very enjoyable freedom parkrun in the snow this lunchtime.

Plenty of snow on the ground and light snow falling gave this freedom run a very Christmassy feel. My brother Andy joined me for the run today. We both wore Santa hats to add to the festive fun, but it wasn't quite as well received as the Santa outfits at the weekend, which went down really well, both in the park and along the road on the way home.

We did a nice gentle warm up lap taking in the scenery and discussing our plans for Christmas and for runs that we may want to do next year. No firm plans made for next years runs, but we will "think" about doing something longer than the parkrun 5km at some point. We shall have to wait and see.

The lack of traction meant that we only set ourselves as sensible target of 24 minutes today. At the halfway point that was looking a bit optimistic as we reached it in 12:43. We realised an 11:17 or better would be needed and without much discussion we picked up the pace. Neither of us like the thought of missing a target, no matter how insignificant that target may be.

The faster pace was much slower than normal, but with the lack of traction and the fact we both gave blood at the weekend, it actually felt much harder than it should have. Anyway, our pace remained much higher for the second lap as we completed it in 11:02. Andy was actually disappointed that we missed the 11 minute mark!

All in all yet another very enjoyable Freedom parkrun. That's 22 in total for me now, only 1 less than my official parkrun event total of 23.

We are already a planning a Christmas eve lunchtime freedom run in Santa outfits to finish the year off in style. Or is that lacking in style? Either way, we will enjoy it and hopefully put some smiles on a few face in the process.

Sunday, 19 December 2010

Santa parkrun

The first Coventry Santa parkrun took place yesterday. The conditions weren't ideal for speed, but were pretty good for Santas. There was some remains of the snow and ice from Friday on the ground at the start of the parkrun and during the parkrun the snow started falling.

Of the 85 or so  parkrunners most were in some form of fancy dress with at least 30 in full Santa, Mrs Claus or Reindeer costumes and most of the rest with Santa hats at least. Yet again it was a fantastic atmosphere and everyone was clearly intent on enjoying their run.

I was one of the runners in the full Santa outfit. The beard was incredibly annoying, the trousers far too big in all dimensions (probably too big for Santa himself) and with the whole outfit (including the hat) made from felt I knew I was going to get hot very quickly. I really didn't expect to be able to run very fast at all.

I set off very steadily at first, but soon realised that I was able to run close to full pace and only my breathing (through the beard) was really affected. The rest of the suit actually served well in keeping me warm on another cold parkrun morning. After half a lap I was in about 7th or 8th place and looking ahead I could see that the lead runners were probably only 100 yards in front of me. I recognised most of the runners ahead and at this stage I really fancied my chances of a high finish.

At half way I was in about 5th place and grouped with my brother Andy and Paul Slatford. I completed the first lap in 9:37, not one of my fastest laps by any means, but certainly respectable considering the ridiculous Santa outfit. I was still around 100 yards behind the leaders and counted their lead over me at just over 20 seconds. I could see that one of the leaders had started to move clear of the others at this point.

About 40 seconds into the second lap I decided that I felt good and had to give it a go at catching the leaders. I said to Paul Slatford that "we can catch them and win this if we want to" and that is when I went for it. I upped the pace just a touch but enough to make me think I could catch the leaders within half a lap. I didn't look back, but Paul didn't come with me.

I gradually caught and went past most of the runners ahead of me until, with a little over half a lap remaining, I found myself in second place, about 50+ yards behind the leader. At this point I really didn't fancy my chances of catching the leader, but I knew i would regret it if I didn't give it a good go. Remember, this was in a full Santa outfit. The leader was in normal running gear by the way!

Around 2 minutes from the finish line I was still at least 30 yards behind the leader. At this point there is a bit of an incline and I decided that I would not look at the leader but instead look down at the ground and simply go as fast as I could. I decided I wouldn't look up until I reached the top of the hill, where there would be less than a minute to the finish. When I looked up I had closed the gap to 15 yards and I realised I could catch him and win my first parkrun! I couldn't miss this chance.

I thought that if I caught him too early he would respond and go away from me again, so I planned to steal the lead in the last 30 yards or so. With 100 yards to go he had a lead of 5 to 10 yards and then I went for it. All the time thinking "how much do I want this!". I think it was probably his Dad that called out to him at this point to tell him I was coming back at him. I don't think he knew I was there until this point. I had the momentum and was on his shoulder before he got up to my speed. The last 40 yards or so we were neck an neck, completely level with each other. Into the funnel and the last 5 yards and still neck and neck, until right on the line he grabbed the win by maybe 2 inches at most. It was very close, but I knew he had it. We offered each other congratulations on a fantastic effort.

(I'm the Santa on the left!)

It was a great finish to a really fun race, but at this point my legs had completely gone. I haven't put that much effort into a parkrun lap for quite a while. Looking at the other blokes face, he was trying quite hard too! I pushed myself right to the limit at the end there and actually did my fastest every parkrun lap at 8:58 (fastest by about 3 seconds). I think my 3rd fastest lap is at least 10 seconds slower thatn that. Very pleasing given the ice in places around the course, a bit of off tarmac running (due to the work going on around the memorial) and of course the hindrance of the Santa suit. All in all a very pleasing effort and finish time of 18:35.

I was a little disappointed with coming so close to winning my first parkrun event and failing right at the very end, but at least I still have that target for next year. I just hope that this doesn't end up being my one great chance.

The atmosphere at the finish was even better than at the start. Jason and Joy (the main organisers of Coventry parkrun) had laid on plenty of mince pies, a Christmas cake, chocolate crispy cakes, orange juice and hot drinks. All greatly appreciated! Lots of people were chatting about the fun and madness of the run and plenty were looking forward to doing it all again next week. Unfortunately, being at 9am on Christmas morning I won't be able to make that parkrun or the following one at 9am on New Years day so this was my last parkrun for at least 3 weeks. I look forward to my next parkrun in the new year and am sure that in this case absence will certainly make the heart grow fonder!

After the run the snow really started falling quite hard. Andy and I ran back towards my house, both in full Santa outfits, and cars started beeping at us. Each time we responded with a wave and this continued as we went along the main road. Now this is very self indulgent, but we decided not to go home but to carry on along main roads. The beeping and waving continued. We must have run and extra 3 or 4 miles and close to half an hour extra in the end. We certainly put a lot of smiles on faces. It was amazing how many women and men on their own were beeping at waving. It was great to see the big kid in so many people coming out. That certainly made us smile too. If I go for any runs in the snow in the next week, I think I might just have to wear my Santa outfit again!

Friday, 17 December 2010

Freedom run with Coventry parkrun Race Director Jason Douglas

I was very fortunate to bump into Coventry parkrun Race Director, Jason Douglas, and join him for a very enjoyable freedom run today.

A light splattering of snow had covered all the paths a few hours earlier, which made for a very picturesque look to War Memorial Park in Coventry today. I did my normal warm up lap of the park with the intention of taking it very easy on my Freedom run. Just as I was approaching the start of the parkrun course I saw a fellow runner following the parkrun route. My first thought was that "he must be as mad as me!". I very quickly realised it was Coventry parkrun Race Director, Jason Douglas. I recognised Jason immediately and asked if I could join him on his run, to which he didn't object. He was about half a lap into his first lap of two.

We took it steadily which suited us both perfectly. There were a few icy patches and I slipped a couple of times during the run, but sensible running was not at all risky. Jason is recovering from knee problems and is only just feeling his way back into running. Hopefully, if his recovery goes to plan, we'll see him taking part in a parkrun event within the next 6 to 8 weeks. We chatted about all things parkrun and other running, fitness and injury related topics.

One of our topics of discussion was tomorrow's impending Santa Run. I for one am very much looking forward to that. I have no real aims whatsoever and it will be nice to go into a parkrun event knowing that I cannot possibly do well. My Santa Suit really isn't optimised for running speed and I can see the thickness of the felt making me very warm indeed. Choking on the beard is also a real concern. I expect to be bringing up fur balls for a few days after the event! The trousers are big enough to fit the real Santa in with me, and the belt is going to be little or no use. Have you ever seen the running tights that Santa wears under his suit before? Well you are very likely to tomorrow when my Santa trousers fall down!

At the end of my first lap and a half Jason had completed his freedom run, but he decided to join me for another lap to complete my freedom run and as a warm down for him. I completed my freedom run in a comfortable 26:26, but more importantly than time I had really enjoyed my run. We then went our separate ways.

That's 21 freedom runs now completed.

It was nice to run with someone different and it was great to get to know Jason a little better during our run today. He is always so busy before and during a parkrun event so its difficult to exchange anything more than a few words each week. He has done such a lot for the Coventry parkrun, not least deciding to bring parkrun to Coventry in the first place and managing the event each week. I hope he knows how grateful we all are for all his efforts. I look forward to seeing Jason take part in a few parkrun events when his knee allows.

Thursday, 16 December 2010

parkrun Sweatshop Monthly Prize

Every month, at each different parkrun event, a prize is awarded to the most deserving parkrunner at the event during the preceding month.

Sweatshop sponsors these monthly prizes, giving the lucky winner the chance to go to their nearest Sweatshop store to be fitted for a pair of new trainers for free!

When I heard about this I could not believe that there wasn't a catch. But there truly isn't.

parkrun is growing at a tremendous rate, so this sponsorship may not continue forever, but it is (currently) yet another good incentive to attend parkrun events.

I am not entirely sure how the prize winner is selected each month, but I do know that it is relative to previous performance. What I mean by this is that it is not down to how many times you have won, or how fast you go, but it is how you have done this month relatively to previous months. I can only guess that this calculation must include the number of runs attended, and the time taken and position in each of those runs. It may also include the number of times volunteered and perhaps even the number of freedom runs run. What I do know is that runners towards the back of the field are just as likely to win the prize as those in the middle or at the front. Perhaps even more so. I think this is as it should be for parkrun. I read, a while back, that (as far as the organisers are aware) the monthly prize has never been given to a race winner.

Currently standing at 54 parkrun events and 12 monthly prizes, Sweatshop are currently giving away trainers at the rate of 648 per year. This is a fantastic bonus for parkrunners, thank you Sweatshop.

Now I for one can say that I don't need this kind of incentive, but if it works for some and turns occasional runners into parkrun regulars then this has to be great news for both the individual and for parkrun itself.

I was lucky enough to be the recipient of the Coventry monthly prize a few months back, but I'll make that the subject of another post some day soon.

Wednesday, 15 December 2010

My achilles heel: not a weakness after all!

A very enjoyable run today, my first since last Friday.

I had to miss parkrun at the weekend due to being away. And can you believe it, there wasn't a parkrun event near to where I was! Not that I would have been in a fit state to run anyway.

Since my parkrun Freedom run last Friday I have been suffering with a sore Achilles tendon on my right foot. I was still limping up to and including Monday, so I wasn't even convinced I should be running today. The soreness and limp had gone but I still wasn't 100% sure that it was a good idea. The fact I had missed running and was desperate to get back out there proved enough to convince me to go.

My brother, Andy, was supposed to be joining me for the run today, but unfortunately he had to pull out at the last minute. This meant I could do my own thing.

I decided to drop the parkrun freedom runs for today and instead went back to my old favourite of 3 perimeter laps of the park at 1.75 miles each. A comfortable pace for me around this route is 12 minutes per lap, I could run that speed all day (ish), that works out at about 6:50 per mile. Today I decided to have a go at 2 laps at that pace, followed by 1 lap flat out. With the Achilles soreness I decided that I would go easy on myself if I didn't feel up to the fast lap after the first two. But I knew I really wanted to have a go.

Ultimately I was hoping to get as close as possible to my PB for the perimeter of the park. That currently stands at 9:48 which equates to 5:36 per mile. I have considered this to by a hard ask since setting that time in early November. Today was to be my first attempt at this PB since then. At the start of this year, my PB for a single lap (always recorded after 2 slower laps) was 10:37. Over the course of this year, coinciding with becoming a regular parkrunner, I have gradually brought that time down.

I set of at a very comfortable pace and easily set times of 11:52 and 11:50 for the first 2 laps, pretty much what I was aiming for and I hadn't even broken into a sweat really. The Achilles tendon was worrying me a bit at this stage, but not enough to make we want to stop.

At the start of the third lap I picked the pace up noticeably, but to be honest, it didn't really feel as fast as I have been running when setting single lap PBs earlier in the year. At my first time check point around the lap I realised that I was actually going very well, even though the pace felt pretty comfortable. At the second time check and at the half way point I realised that I was actually a couple of seconds up on my previous PB. I carried on still without really pushing the pace too much, but also making sure I would give myself the chance of a PB in the final few hundred yards if I fancied it.

The final few hundred yards came and I was amazed to feel so good and still be at a time where I knew I could beat my PB. I wasn't going to miss this chance and raised the pace for a quick finish. I completed the lap in 9:45, at 5:34 per mile, knocking 3 seconds off my previous best in the process. The Achilles tendon actually loosened up completely on that last lap, so hopefully I haven't done any damage at all.

I have set a few PBs training at this distance this year and although this is of course the fastest, I would say that this was also the easiest. In fact, this was my 10th PB for a single lap of the park this year. I'm actually very pleased with myself about that. This just goes to show how much I have improved this year and that is all due to parkrun. Running at parkrun events and training for them has seen huge improvements in my fitness and speed this year. Lets hope this continues into next year! Who knows what times I should be aiming for next year.

Saturday, 11 December 2010

parkrun...what is a Freedom parkrun?

A Freedom parkrun is a parkrun run at your own convenience.

Freedom runs could be run on a non event day (i.e. not a Saturday) or at a different time, the point is that its not an organised parkrun event, but it is run on any parkrun course.

Freedom runs can be run on your own or with others. As long as its run on a parkrun course and is timed it can be recorded as a Freedom run on the parkrun website.

Freedom runs can be treated as training, fun or whatever you like. I often find it hard not to set myself some kind of target when doing a freedom run, but that's just me. I urge every parkrunner to get out there and do a few freedom runs, especially if a Saturday parkrun event is your only weekly run. I'm sure serious runners don't need parkrun to get them out running, but most of the rest of us probably do. I have found that an extra run or two a week (particularly freedom runs) have helped improve my parkrun PB significantly.

One thing that I have found with parkrun is that it is far, far harder to do a fast time when doing a freedom run. Having other runners with and around you at a Saturday parkrun event makes it much easier (relatively speaking) to push yourself towards a PB. I have never managed to get closer than 40 seconds away from my parkrun PB on a Freedom run.

Personally, I have now run 20 freedom parkruns. I have run them both on my own and with my brother Andy. Both are fun, but running with someone else tends to make it just a little bit easier if you decide to push the pace, as I tend to!

Freedom parkrun PB (18:54)

A very pleasing freedom parkrun effort today. It had been 6 days since my last run of any kind, at last weeks parkrun in Coventry, and I was very keen to get back into it.

I set myself a goal of a freedom run PB, to beat my previous best of 18:59, but also told myself I would be happy with 19:30, even though I knew I wouldn't really be happy with that. With all the snow and ice over the last couple of weeks it had been a while since I had tried to run near full pace.

The first lap went very well. There was a brief excursion on the mud around the memorial monument, where work is currently being carried out, and this slowed me to almost walking pace for about 30 yards. But this didn't cause my pace too many problems. I finished the first lap in 9:33. I knew that this meant I could get my freedom run PB so I had to give it a go.

I ran the second lap in a comfortable 9:21 for an overall time of 18:54. I had knocked 5 seconds off my previous freedom PB and this time was only 40 seconds outside my parkrun PB.

All in all a very pleasing effort and great to be out running again. I rewarded myself with an extra lap of the park as was enjoying my run so much.

Thursday, 9 December 2010

parkrun news - new parkruns!

Fantastic news in the parkrun weekly newsletter today, "the mayor of London has granted a pot of money for us to start another 20 parkruns across all London boroughs". This is truly brilliant news.

I actually heard this news on Monday after seeing a tweet from Rebecca Hall on Twitter. She can take a great deal of credit for starting the ball rolling, by first making the suggestion on the Westminster City Council website. The more of us that take this kind of approach and lobby the local councils and decision makers, the more parkruns we are bound to get as a result. And that has to be good news for everyone, not just existing parkrunners, but those out there that haven't even heard of parkrun yet. Lets get a parkrun in every community that wants one if we can!

I'm sure many people will be thinking, "but why more in London?". I believe that this is the wrong question to be asking. The fact remains that this is great news for parkrun. The fact that we (the parkrun community) are getting more parkruns in London is down (at least in part) to some forward thinking decision makers in London. Well done Boris! Obviously, it also has plenty to do with the fact that parkrun is such a wonderful concept and is so successful. Well done Paul Sinton-Hewitt (and all involved)!

parkrun is not just a weekly event, it is also an organisation, but as parkrun founder Paul Sinton-Hewitt says himself, parkrun events are community owned events. The local communities must take ownership of parkrun events once they have started, so why not take ownership to get them started in the first place. What we really need are more dedicated individuals (or teams) and more forward thinking councils to get new events set up, plus some decent funding of course.

parkrun started in London and is growing most rapidly in London. Many of us will want to see more events around the country and each of us hopes for them to appear close to home. I for one can't wait for the day when you can find a parkrun somewhere nearby wherever you find yourself on a Saturday morning. That situation is fast approaching now in London. Lets hope the rest of the country can catch up over the next few years. I'd place a big bet that it will.

The growth of parkrun has been pretty organic. As far as I am aware, there isn't a huge advertising push behind parkrun. Word spreads naturally through running circles and and between friends and eventually the people with the drive (or power) to get new events started become involved. What better way to spread the word nationwide, and even globally, than by making parkrun so visible in London, our capital and biggest city.

Personally I can only see parkrun growing and going from strength to strength. Admittedly funding is necessary for this to happen, but if this avenue in gaining funding from local government catches hold across the country, who knows how fast parkrun could grow.

Well done and a massive thank you to all involved. You are doing a great job, parkrun is brilliant!

And adapting a well known seasonal message, "Let it grow! Let it grow! Let it grow!".

Wednesday, 8 December 2010

My Santa suit has arrived!

My Santa suit has arrived ready for the fancy dress Coventry parkrun event on the 18th December.

I've tried it on and its a little on the big side (a lot on the big side actually) and very warm, so it might impede my running just a touch. The beard is particularly annoying. I could easily see myself choking on cotton wool by the end of the run. The trousers are a one size fits all kind of size. I am sure I could fit someone else in there with me if I had to. I am not certain, but to me felt does not seem quite as breathable as the running clothing I tend to wear each week!

I can't make the parkrun this weekend so the fancy dress run will be my next parkrun event and is highly likely to be my last of the year. I just hope that we get a good turn out that week and that most people (runners and volunteers) go to the trouble of dressing up. I am hoping to bring the kids along to watch and I am sure they would love to see 50 or 100 Santas (or more) running around the park. That would be some sight to see I think. I'm sure it will be a lot of fun.

I'm looking forward to it already!

My Great North Run Incident 2004 (Part 3)

I finished Part 2 of this account with the decision having been made that I needed to be taken to hospital due to my inability to keep any liquid in my system.

I was put on a ward with a few other Great North Run participants who were suffering ill effects as I was. I remember the nurses telling me that the ward had been set aside specifically for dealing with Great North Run participants. Apparently all the nurses working that ward on that afternoon and into the evening were all volunteers and would not be paid for their time. Aren't some people truly amazing! I believe they said the same went for all the doctors and nurses in the tented hospital near to the finish area.

If I remember rightly, the ward consisted of two rooms, each capable of housing up to 6 patients. I think I was in a room with 2 other men and I can only assume that the other room had a similar number of patients. I do remember being told that there were others in a far worse state elsewhere on the ward.

Whilst I was on that ward I was finally able to speak to my wife, Charlotte, for the first time since the run. I think this contact was the first time that she had any confidence that I was going to be ok. Up until then, I suppose having not heard from me directly could only be seen as a bad sign.

Eventually I stopped being sick and the drip started doing its job of rehydrating me. I believe it was sometime around 9pm that I was finally released from the ward.I think I was the last to be released from the room of the ward that I had been in. We then faced the long journey home, through which I think I sleep most of the way.

I slept most of the next day too. I was in no fit state to go to work. At that stage I was about 8 years into my working life and had only taken a handful of days off sick at most. It certainly had a significant effect on me for a few days.

A day or two later I remember finding out that a couple of participants had actually died as a result of the run. I don't know whether they died on the course or at the hospital sometime later, but it certainly put things into perspective for me. Things could have ended very differently and I suppose I was one of the lucky ones even though it hadn't felt that way at the time.

From that day forward, Charlotte was very much against me ever running that kind of distance again. It even took 5 years for me to fancy a half marathon again. Finally, in 2009, I managed to persuade both Charlotte and myself that I needed to have a go at another half marathon to banish my Great North Run demons.

Our agreement was based on me doing the Coventry Half Marathon, which is almost on our doorstep. This allowed Charlotte to attend the race and I think went some way to easing her stress levels on the day.

I managed a very pleasing 1 hour 33 minutes and 37 seconds at the 2009 Coventry Half Marathon, finishing in 120th place and finally put to bed the feeling of not having properly completed a half marathon.

One day I may even consider having another go at the Great North Run itself, though to be honest, that thought still feels me with fear. But its a challenge I think I want to attempt again one day!

Monday, 6 December 2010

My Great North Run Incident 2004 (Part 2)

I ended part 1 of my account of my Great North Run experience in 2004 with a group of blokes from the army helping my brother (Andy) get my over the finish line. As I said I have no memory of this at all.

I am told (by Andy) that I was carried over the finish line and straight into the medical tent. I'm guessing that this must have been sometime around midday. I don't really know what happened immediately after this as I was unconscious. Andy doesn't really know either, as I was whisked away out of sight. I don't think Andy or my sister Helen, who was the designated driver for the weekend and who had been waiting for us at the finish, were told very much for the first hour or two.

I understand that Andy and Helen made contact with my wife Charlotte back at home in Coventry. We had a 1 month old baby son and Charlotte had stayed at home with him rather than suffer all the travelling and waiting around for the weekend. I think Charlotte was very scared during this early period. Andy and Helen were quite vague about my condition (as they didn't know anything really) and I think Charlotte even feared the worst at one point. She has since said that she half expected them to show up at our door a few hours later with really bad news.

My memory of the next couple of hours is absolutely blank. I must have been unconscious for a while, but I don't know how long for. My first memory was looking around and wondering where I was and how I had come to be there. A quick look around and seeing that I was in a large tent and then seeing all the medical equipment told me that it was a makeshift hospital. A doctor came over to me and asked me a few questions. I think they were very basic and were an attempt to find out what I remembered.

At this stage, the last thing I could remember was seeing the cameraman just before coming down the slope to the seafront. I certainly couldn't remember finishing the race. My first fear was that I had fallen unconscious and fallen flat on my face. I touched my face and felt no pain. I think I even asked a nurse if I had smashed my face in. I think she may have even laughed at me, but said "No!". Around this time I realised that I had been undressed and that I had a drip in my arm to rehydrate me. I didn't remember any of that happening.

The first question I remember a doctor asking me was, "do you recognise me?". I had never met her before in my life, so answered quite abruptly, "No, I have never seen you before in my life!". Her reply scared me, "That is about the fifth time you have said that to me!". Apparently she had been asking me every few minutes for the previous half hour and I kept on giving the same answer. So it must have been at least the sixth time that she asked me the same question when I finally remembered her. As I said, this frightened me, how could I not remember anything?

Dehydration is a very strange experience. That was what I was suffering from, severe dehydration. To this day I can't understand why. I drank so much during the build up to the race, but somehow it wasn't enough. I probably should have drunk more on the way round the course. I don't even think it was that warm on the day. Apparently the thing that suffers most through dehydration is the short term memory. The brain, being the clever thing it is, shuts down the least important functions, short term memory being one of those.

One of the questions which I struggled with the most was, "Is this your watch?". They had obviously taken my watch off when they were first dealing with me. It was a watch that I had only had for a few weeks before the run, so this apparently was short-term memory. I stared at the watch for ages and just could not decide whether or not it was mine. But it was my watch.

Throughout the afternoon I was constantly being physically sick. It seemed that any liquid they were getting into me through the drip was coming straight back out again. Apparently this was of some significant concern to the doctors.

As we reached the time where everyone had finished the race and most of the walking wounded were being allowed to leave the makeshift hospital, it became clear that they didn't want to let me go just yet. I think they wanted a period of a good couple of hours at least, without me being sick, before they would let me leave.

I was one of a handful of runners who had to be transferred to the main hospital nearby. I was taken to the hospital by ambulance which seemed ridiculous and was quite embarrassing for something self inflicted through running.

Andy and Helen had been allowed to spend time with me later on in the afternoon and had reported mostly positive news back to Charlotte. However, when they told her that I was now being moved to the main hospital I believe she became very scared about how serious it must be. If I put myself in her position I can understand that.

I'll finish off this account of my Great North Run experience in another blog post very soon.

Sunday, 5 December 2010

My Great North Run Incident 2004 (Part 1)

I think its about time that I write about my terrible experience at the Great North Run back in 2004. After all, it was the biggest race of my life and certainly had a big impact on me.

I do have to say it wasn't all bad. Most of the weekend was a fantastic experience. It was really just the way the run ended for me that took the shine off the weekend. This experience was enough to put me off running almost completely for the next couple of years!

The Great North Run 2004 was to be my first half marathon. I had never even run a 10km at that time. My brother Andy and I registered many months before the race date, as you tend to have to for most big running events these days. I paid the distance plenty of respect, putting in many miles of training over the course of the preceding months. Right from the start our aim was to run as close under 1 hour 30 minutes as possible. We measured out our training run distance and during all our training sessions we always aimed to run at or faster than our target race pace for the half marathon. This was always a fairly comfortable pace at lower distances and even as we raised our training run distance, it still felt just about the right target pace for us.

The race weekend finally came with us both feeling very confident that we could achieve our target time. The day before the run we both made sure we ate the right things and drank plenty of water. The morning of the race we had a good breakfast and continued to make hydration a priority, drinking a few pints (if not litres) of water. We joined the masses waiting behind the start line with about 2 hours still to go until the start. We were pretty close to the start line in the area marked out for target times of 1:30 to 1:45. We continued to drink as much as we could, but inevitably by this stage, more was coming out than going in. I think I had to jump over the fence for a comfort break at least 3 or 4 times before the start. And by this stage I had run out of water.

The race started and within about 2 minutes we were across the line and starting to jog. It quickly became very clear that it was going to take a while for the field to spread out enough to run at our target pace. This is where we made our first mistake. Rather than hold position and save some energy until we could run at full speed, we instead started to dodge and weave our way through the runners ahead of us. Often sprinting through small gaps or along kerbs and zig-zagging all over the place, we must have run a few hundred yards extra in the first mile and most of it in a sprint-jog-sprint fashion.

After about a mile and a half we finally found ourselves with some space to run at our own pace, but I could already feel that we had gone off to fast. By three miles we were already back on our target race pace time, even given the 2 minutes to get over the start line and the zig-zagging of the first mile or two. By then I knew we were certainly going too fast. We aimed to slow down for a while but somehow still managed to run faster than our target pace. By the half way point we were on for a finish time of around 1 hour 26 minutes, which seemed far too fast given all our training for 1 hour 30 minutes. Everything considered, I think it would be fair to say I had enjoyed my Great North Run experience up to this stage, but that was about to change.

I remember commenting on how hilly the course seemed to be. There must have been as much downhill as up, as the race ends on the sea front, but the uphill sections seemed to go on for miles at a time. That is one of my strongest lasting memories.

By about the 8 mile marker I could feel that I was in trouble. All the early sprinting and high pace was really starting to take its toll. At this point I told Andy I had to slow. Andy was a far stronger runner than me back in 2004 and he obviously still felt good, as he urged me to carry on and convinced me we could maintain our pace. By this time I was starting to become desperate for water.

By about the 10 mile mark we were noticeably slowing and runners were starting to stream past us. Andy was still strong, but thankfully he refused to leave me even tho. ugh I demanded that he run his own race. Somewhere around the 11 mile mark there was a water point with stacked bottles of water on offer. I was totally exhausted and desperate for water, but it was on the other side of the road and I literally couldn't face changing direction, so I sent Andy for water for me. Unfortunately this water stop came too late, the damage had been done.

I struggled on. I remember seeing a cameraman on a raised platform just before heading down the famous steep slope to the road along the seafront. I may even have managed a smile. This was just before the 12 mile point. I don't remember coming down that hill to the seafront, but I know I must have done. I do remember it feeling a very long way from the 12 mile marker to the 800 yards to go marker. And I do remember sitting at the side of the road next to the "800 yards to go" sign for 8 to 10 minutes (so Andy told me). After that I have no memory. I am told that I made one last big effort to get to the last 100 yards and then Andy and some unknown saintly runner offered their shoulders and helped me towards the line. I would have fallen short had it not been for their help.

I'm told that just before the finish line some kind blokes from the army dashed out to help Andy get me across the line. I have no memory of this whatsoever. As far as I am aware I never saw the finish area of the Great North Run, which to this day leaves me thinking I never really completed the race. I certainly didn't under my own steam.

I'll finish off this account of my Great North Run experience in my next blog post.

Saturday, 4 December 2010

Coventry parkrun on ice (04/12/2010)

No, its not the next reality TV show on Channel 4, although I wouldn't put it past them. To be honest, if it was on, I'd probably watch it. I'm that into parkrun at the moment.

Sixty-three brave souls took on the course today. In patches it was certainly more ice-rink than tarmac. Luckily the council hadn't seen it necessary to cancel. And even more luckily Coventry parkrun is blessed with a race director (Jason Douglas) with amazing dedication to the parkrun cause and a fantastic group of volunteers, who two weeks running have shown that they are not to be deterred by the snow. A massive thank you to all of them.

I have been desperate to do a fast run for a couple of weeks now, but conditions really haven't allowed me to even think about having a go. My aim for today was simply to go sub 19 minutes. A tough ask in these icy conditions with some of the corners needing to be taken closer to walking pace than running. I fully expected that with the reduced numbers this would mean a mostly solo effort to achieve that time.

Before the start it was nice to see Danny Mc, who I met a year or two ago at a mutual friends stag do. Danny is a keen runner and parkrunner and he has attended a handful of Coventry parkruns in the last few months. It was good to catch up. Well run Dan!

I set off steadily to get used to the conditions. Within a few hundred yards I could see that I was likely to finish high up the field. Clark Roberts flew off into the distance, never to be seen again, until the finish of course, but I thought 2nd place was up for grabs. I settled into 5th position for the first half lap or so as we ran along th most icy paths. All of a sudden we reached a stretch completely clear of snow and ice. I decided to make the most of this section and instantly picked up the pace and went from 5th to 3rd and headed off towards Ian Gower in 2nd place, 50 yards or so ahead. I caught Ian within about 30 seconds, which clearly shows my change of pace. I settled in behind Ian for the next half lap before using the next patch of clear path to pick up the pace again. I finished the first lap in 9:36 and knew I needed to raise the pace to beat my 19 minute target.

On the second lap I was completely on my own. I picked up the pace as best I could in the conditions, taking it very steadily on the icy patches and making the most of any clear patches. The volunteers were in particularly good form today, offering plenty of encouragement. As always this was greatly appreciated, thank you. I finished the second lap strongly with a 9:21 lap time, giving me an overall time of 18:57 and finishing in 2nd place for my 2nd time. Both the time and position were very pleasing given the circumstances.

I think 63 runners is a pretty good attendance for a cold and icy Saturday morning. Hopefully that is about the lowest point we will get to during these winter months and then the numbers should build up again come the spring. I think I'll make an early prediction that we will get at least one attendance of over 200 before the end of April next year.

I'm hoping that the snow and ice clears over the next few days before my next training session on Wednesday. Either that, or a bucket load more snow - I am still a big kid at heart!

Friday, 3 December 2010

Interrupted freedom run #19 (22:33)

Well it was an interesting freedom parkrun today to say the least.

Just before I set off, something told me that I should take my mobile phone with me today. I have only ever taken my mobile with me on a run once before and that was on Wednesday earlier this week. On both occasions it was due to the snow and ice and was just in case I had a nasty fall. However, today it came in handy for a very different reason.

I had met up with my brother Andy for what is now becoming our regular Friday freedom parkrun. We had done a warm up lap, done a bit of stretching and set off at a steady pace aiming for sub 25 minutes. We didn't want to push it with the icy ground conditions and with parkrun tomorrow morning.

About 3 minutes into the freedom run itself my phone started to ring. I've never talked on the phone whilst running before. This was a strange experience in itself. It was my wife, Charlotte. She had taken the wrong set of keys out with her to collect our daughter from pre-school and now she couldn't get into the house. Could I go and let them in as I had the key she needed. I had to of course. Luckily I was at the very closest point on the parkrun course to our house. I split my lap time on my watch and set off as fast as I could for home. I told Andy I would aim to meet him in the same spot on his second lap.

I sped home at top speed, trying not to slip or fall on the black ice. At home I quickly opened the door for Charlotte and our daughter, said a very quick hello and goodbye and was then back on my way to the park. When I reached the park I realised that I had done the round trip to home and back in about 7 minutes. It would normally take me 5 minutes each way at warm-up and warm-down pace, so I hadn't hung around.

I ran backwards around the course and finally met up with Andy at the end of the first straight on his second lap. When we reached the point I had left hm on the previous lap I restarted my watch. It had basically been about an 11 minute sprint in the middle of my freedom run. There were a couple more interruptions as I stopped to take photos of the snow covered park. I couldn't resist!

I completed Andy's second lap and my first in 11:57. I decided to carry on and complete my freedom run as Andy headed back to work. I didn't like the thought of not registering a run. I picked up the pace a little on the second lap for a 10:36 and an overall time of 22:33, yet again well inside our target.

The parkrun course was particularly icy in places today. There were large stretches completely free from snow and ice, but there were a few tricky sections where everyone will need to be extremely careful in the morning. Certainly worse than at parkrun last week when the snow was fresh.

I have a feeling that I am going to be hard pushed to make parkrun in the morning. Charlotte has to go out early in the morning and will be cutting it very fine to get back in time for me to make the start. But, I am so committed to the cause, that I have even said that if she makes it back by 9:10, I'll probably sprint up there and run anyway. I'll probably challenge myself to catch up with at least one person if that's what happens. Either way I'm sure I'll enjoy trying. Fingers crossed I somehow make it up there in time for the start.

Thursday, 2 December 2010

Predictions for other distances

Since I started running at parkrun events in April 2010 I have not run in any other events. All my training has been aimed totally at improving at parkrun. Excluding the Coventry Fun Run which I have only just remembered (I think I came 5th in that actually).

In the past I have run the odd event and I really do mean the odd event. I did the Great North Run in 2004, the Manchester Great Run in 2007 and the Coventry Half Marathon in 2009. Other than that its just been a handful of Coventry Fun Runs prior to parkrun. As I have said before, I have always considered myself a footballer and never a runner. Until now that is, thank you parkrun!

Recently I have been wondering how I would do at distances other than the parkrun 5km. I have been running so regularly over the last 7 or so months that my feeling is that I must be fitter (for running) than I ever have been before. I therefore suspect that I should be able to get some new PBs at other distances.

Today I decided to try and find some method for predicting times at other distances, based on my current parkrun PB. A quick google search lead me to this: RunnersWorld calculator

I entered my parkrun PB of 18:14 into the calculator and came up with the following predictions:
10km: 38:00 (significantly faster than my Great Manchester Run 10km PB of 39:58).
Half Marathon: 1:23:47 (nearly 10 minutes faster than my Coventry Half Marathon PB of 1:33:37).

Somehow I don't think I'll ever do that half marathon time. I'm not sure my body is up to a half marathon and surely not pushing it to that degree. That prediction would require running a 6:23 per mile pace. That sounds too fast for me.

But I think the 10km time of 38 minutes sounds like a realistic target. Perhaps it might be nice to have another target other than parkrun. Don't get me wrong, parkrun will still be my main focus, but a run or two at other distances would be a good challenge for next year I think. I think I'll blog my targets for next year towards the end of the month.

Incidentally, I didn't bother looking at the prediction for a marathon time. That's a lie actually. I did look, but it is so meaningless to me, as I could never consider doing a marathon with my dodgy hips (another blog topic to cover). The prediction was 2:54:42, which is totally inaccurate as it doesn't have a figure in the days column!

Even for parkrun training I tend to run around the 10km mark, so it is not an unfamiliar distance to me and feels about my ideal distance for any run. So with those targets in mind I better get training. Here's hoping the paths are clear of snow and ice for a fast freedom run tomorrow. Although, with the weekly parkrun event on Saturday is it wise to push my freedom run tomorrow? Probably not. Shame, as it feels like its been ages since I really pushed myself. I'm sure Andy will be there to keep my aims for tomorrow relatively sensible.

Wednesday, 1 December 2010

Snowy freedom run in Coventry (21:43)

I must be mad! Running in the snow for the second time in 5 days. But what great fun!

There is no way that today was an ideal day for running. There was a good inch or so of fresh snow covering a layer of ice pretty much all round the parkrun course in War Memorial park in Coventry today. It was treacherous in many places, but that didn't deter Andy and I from either doing or enjoying our freedom run.

The park was a lovely sight, covered in a thin blanket of snow. There weren't very many people about, most of the walkers must have been put off by the snow, but there were still a few. There were probably as many runners as walkers to be honest. All the runners had smiles on their faces, were clearly having a good time and taking it pretty easily. I would say that the conditions almost made it easier to run than to walk.

We decided that it was probably not a good idea to even try for Andy's PB on our freedom parkrun today. The conditions wouldn't have allowed us to get anywhere near it to be honest. Traction was difficult to find on much of the course. We instead agreed to aim for a sub 22 minute run, which we thought was achievable.

We took it steadily enough to be able to talk the whole way round the course. There were a couple of icy patches which nearly caught us out, but we made it safely round the first lap in 11:02. During the second lap we had a bit more confidence as we knew where the tricky stretches were. We picked up the pace and completed the second lap in 10:41 to give an overall time of 21:43. Another run target achieved fairly easily.

It was a pretty comfortable pace today, but I would not have liked to have gone any faster. For once I was able to be happy with just being out running rather than having to push myself like I normally would.

Another freedom run on Friday hopefully, again subject to the weather. Fingers crossed!