5 things that make the days after a marathon harder than running the race in the first place.

Some days are predictably a bit of a let-down. One of ‘those’ days. September 1st; it’s not the summer anymore, even though the weather is still warm and light. Even worse when you’re a kid. Back to school. Then there’s December 27th; you’ve played with your new toys, eaten your selection box, and someone is going to have to go and buy some milk. For some runners, and certainly for me, one of ‘those’ days can be a couple of days after a marathon. Here is my clickbait guide to…

5 things that make the days after a marathon harder than running the race in the first place.

  1. You will be utterly knackered.

After a 5k, 10k, or even half-marathon, you’ll be fine after a few days of recovery. While it might be a couple of weeks before you have recovered properly, at least your head will be in the right place. Out of the door, and off you go. Aching, maybe, but happily aching.

A marathon is slightly different. For a start, your body takes a lot longer to recover. You might not even run for a week. And you are physically tired. You want to sleep. It can be difficult to accept that the rest of the world doesn’t want to fill in for your responsibilities, just because you did something for your own gain in the first place. What?! You expect me to go to work?!

So the first runs after a marathon can be somewhat anticlimactic. You’re fit, but your legs don’t bend. You’re in peak shape, but sound like a whoopee cushion with a sore blowing in bit when you get out of a chair. Even if you ran to a marathon PB, you might well have lost a little top end edge to your speed, as you’ve trained to run for hours. Dragging yourself out of the house to run four miles not only seems slow, but it hurts so much more than it did in the week before your race.

  1. You might want to move house to somewhere with better places to run.

It might seem slightly extreme, but you may consider moving house, to somewhere that simply isn’t near the roads you usually run on. The roads near your house suddenly seem so dull. You might have ran on them hundreds of times before, using them to lever your head into better places, and your body to new heights of athleticism, or you might already live somewhere beautiful; but that two mile radius is a mental drag.

Heaven knows how ultra runners pick themselves up again. Maybe they don’t need to, knowing as they do so many meditative ways and places to run. Yet the principle is the same; if you have trained and focused for so long, it can be different to get back to the hum-drum routine of running.

  1. Running doesn’t do what it used to do. You need something else. Now. Because you’ve thought about one thing for months, and now it’s gone.

Of course, I generalise. You might be utterly fine. I just know that, after London, I wasn’t.

I knew that work would be very busy after the race, and that I wouldn’t be running as much at that point of the year. The two events, the recovery period and extra busy workload, tessellated perfectly. But the come down from the euphoria, coupled with the extra hours and reality crash, certainly did not tessellate.

Following weeks and months of running miles away from the local streets and roads, I was back to the recovery miles. And they weren’t just a bit dull; they were boring, and I never thought I would feel like that. A Parkrun the weekend after London, in which dozens of us wore the finisher’s technical running tops we had earned the week before, alleviated the symptoms for a while. Or simply masked the problem.

For years at work, I had extolled the benefits of running, both physical and mental. Now, being knackered meant that I couldn’t enjoy the running fix in the same way. While I had completed one spring marathon before, it was part of a training plan, and was also in a holiday. My post-London downer was different. This was the first time I really couldn’t be bothered.

  1. You might lose a bit of oomph, va-va voom, or blam.

I was lost. Without running myself into the ground, literally, I was running myself into the ground metaphorically. I don’t have to be good at running. It just has to make me happy, and it wasn’t. It couldn’t. If I sat down after work, there was no way I was going to go for a run. I was going to have a cup of tea, and probably a piece of cake.

So I did lots of other things instead. Things that meant I could get the work done, and recover.

I played my guitar. I wrote a riff for the first time in ten years.

I sorted out the garage. There weren’t quite as many garage monsters as I thought there would be.

And I thought about my next running challenge. The year does not end in April. I had been so single minded about the marathon, I hadn’t given much thought to what or where I might like to run afterwards. I had avoided entering races in the six weeks following London, just in case I picked up an injury. But the next race I had entered wasn’t until August, and that is a long time to wallow in self-indulgent and pointless existential post-marathon running angst. It wasn’t like I had done something I had never done before, or that no-one else has ever accomplished. This was supposed to be fun.

Better pull myself together a bit.

  1. It’s the simple things in life that make you happy.

Truth is, not only are those exercise endorphins wonderful, but the marathon meant that, for me, they were temporarily irreplaceable. They felt different because I had slogged for them, and because of the planning in achieving them. If running around the estate would not do, then I would find my endorphins somewhere else, thank you very much.

Recovery, and a need for normality, dictated this to be so.

Tom and Lizzy suddenly became very interested in riding their bikes. They raced each other around the local park, a pursuit race that made the Olympics and my endorphin search look feeble. “DaaaaaaaD!” They hollered at the end of each lap, a Doppler Effect of excitement and mid-race exhilaration. Tom wore his Tour de France jersey, and Lizzy smiled and beamed as her extra years of strength kicked out more power than her brother. And she knew it. The competitive edge was whetted, and glinted in the spring sun.

After weeks of lethargy, I finally felt the urge to move under my own efforts again.

Something had to be done about the running. Something to shake it up a bit.


London Marathon 2018: The Hottest on Record

Sleet lashed my face. The jelly babies I had taken to eat at carefully planned points were only slightly softer than the now rock hard energy chewy blocks I wished were chips. I took off my gloves to prise the sugary treats from their reluctant packets, but chewing them was as hard work as putting my hands back into frozen, wet gloves.

I felt great. This was my final long run before the London Marathon. The London Marathon. It wasn’t until I started telling people I was running in this, a World Major, that I realised what a big deal I had jumped into. People who knew nothing about running knew about the London Marathon, and people who did, were delighted for me.

And this marathon was unusual for me in that I had not contrived to be ill, injured, or worried in the build-up. Short of a couple of frantic weeks at work, training went well, apart from the sleet, rain, snow, sub-zero temperatures, and a fall on ice that resulted in a mildly sprained wrist. This stopped me from doing press-ups for strength, but it didn’t stop the daily regime of calf raises, squats, and a plethora of moves that made me look like Kung-Fu Panda. I was, for once, ready.

I knew I was ready as two weeks before the big day, I completed a local 10k, setting a personal best. This was my Goldilocks training run; everything was just right. Chatting with Kenny, one of the lads from the running club, he reckoned that in London, your name printed on your running vest is worth hundreds of personalised cheers, and I took his advice. He should know; he had been on every highlights reel from the previous year, and he misted over as he recounted the crowds, the noise, the iconic sights. He reckoned that I would love the day, too.

Relaxing for me on a race morning means a carefully orchestrated sequence of events, each dependant on the previous. I have to brush my teeth before I put the menthol balm stuff on my legs, which means I have to have my breakfast early, and… there have been weddings with less fuss and faffing on. But I love every moment of the process, ending on dynamic stretches, ceremonially donning my race vest and club jacket, and taking to the streets.


Outside, the hairs on the back of my neck bristled with the electricity of being part of something huge. We were staying at a hotel at the twenty three mile marker, and this was where Helen was going to watch. She knew that by then, I might not look too good. My legs would be burning, the sweat on my face would be crusting around my lips, so that every bead of sweat running into my mouth was a salted stream, and every step would be adding to the throbbing ache of my feet. But walking away from the hotel and Helen, emotional as it was, saw me homing to London Bridge Station, and thousands of runners on their way to Greenwich.

The train was packed. Heaving. Everyone had a backpack, issued by the race organisers, and everyone was going to the same two stations: Greenwich, and Maze Hill. The twenty minute walk to the start loosened up my legs, and I joined a queue for the bag search, and the queue for the toilets. Both were nervously long.

Helicopters hovered above. Big screens beamed the BBC coverage. And worryingly for every runner, a pitiless sun battered runners trying to find shade. With twenty seconds to go, the Queen appeared on the giant screen, and she Royally set us on our way. Enthusiastic clapping from the crowds began, and I did not hear it end for hours.

After six miles, we ran though Greenwich, and the turn at the Cutty Sark. I had never known noise and support like this. Every name on a vest was screamed. Kenny was right. I wanted to stop and drink it in, but I accelerated, buoyed by the sheer volume. 826647_1040_0046

Fire brigade sprinklers and bottles of water cooled us down before the strengthening sun started to cook us again, and seven miles later, we swung right to see Tower Bridge only a couple of hundred metres away. The previous day, Helen and I enjoyed a walk around here, and that made the thrill now all the more personal. I dared to look behind me, and I froze a sight that looked like a poster for the race in my brain.

At around fourteen miles or so, the leaders were coming back on the other side of the carriageway following the loop around the City district. Mo Farah looked like he was tiring, and as I reached the same point, after the strange section of the race between sixteen and twenty miles, where it gradually becomes acceptable to hurt, suffer and struggle, I kindly shared his pain. If it’s OK for Mo Farah to find it hard, then it was OK for me.

Aching quads became throbbing quads, which became burning quads. I tried to relax, and occasional accelerations spread the fatigue around my body, but once I had cheered a kid in a Newcastle United shirt, and a guy had shouted ‘Toon Army’ at my Tyne Bridge Harriers vest, I admitted that this was becoming an ordeal. In two miles I would hopefully be able to see Helen at that twenty-three mile point.

I ran in the middle of the road, and for the first time, deliberately steered away from the blue line marking the shortest route, followed religiously by the elite athletes. But they aren’t trying to see their wives in a crowd of thousands. I turned my head left and right like an uncertain meerkat, and miraculously, I saw her. Her wide-eyed shouts above the roar gave me the emotional push I needed during the hottest London Marathon on record.

But twenty-four miles on my GPS watch were a wrenching few hundred metres behind the official markers. The accelerations that had helped earlier on were no longer an option; running harder just hurt even more, with no noticeable increase in pace. I decided I was going to enjoy the last two miles. This was about milking the noise from a crowd who could see that every runner was now in their pain cave.826709_1052_0034

Past the London Eye, around the Houses of Parliament, right at Buckingham Palace, and onto the quietest part of the race; the final two hundred metres. The areas either side are restricted to runners and officials, but I enjoyed this bit. I was alone with some of the thousands of runners who had shared water bottles; passed around energy drinks; offered jelly babies. Perfect.


I crossed the line calmly elated. My quads had the sympathy of my insides, and I now felt a bit sick. Medal, goody bag, backpack pick up. Like Bambi on ice, I walked on unbending legs to meet Helen at the family reunion point. To help her find me, I changed into the same finisher’s top that thousands of other runners were wearing, and lay down behind a flag for a charity I didn’t run for.

A beautiful slow walk to Victoria, with people congratulating me on my run, was followed by a chilli burger at Kings Cross. Tired, we arrived back in a Newcastle about fifteen degrees cooler than London. With the last of the race washed from my face, I knew that this was it. It was over. And for the first time in my life, I didn’t really want any jelly babies.


Health under the Hammer

Internet diagnosis of illness and ailments is not, it appears, a good idea. In attempting to assess my own knee I have been pregnant twice, and needed a head transplant. Turns out, going to a physio is a much better solution to a problem glowing red on a cut away chart of the human body than working it out for yourself.

After planning the year around a couple of key races, everything was going well. Too well. A couple of days after finding out I was part of a winning team at a big local race, I started to feel tired. The early summer weather suddenly became very warm, and after getting up very quickly in the middle of the night, I fainted in the bathroom. Bathrooms are not known for their soft landing areas for Jane Austen-esque runners who suddenly feel a bit hot and bothered, and I cracked my head on the side of the bath. The next thing I knew, Helen was trying to open the bathroom door to rescue me. My head was in the way of the door, and I lay there like a passed out draft excluder.

Deciding that the sensible thing, despite a raging pain in my head, was to go to work, I spent the next day trying to educate the youth of tomorrow. But I couldn’t finish a sentence because I didn’t know what I had said at the beginning of it. That night, the worry for Helen of bafflement from me, became too much. We decided it was time for hospital when, after asking if I would like a cup of tea, I replied, “Err… I don’t know? No, thank you. Hang on, wait… yes, please! Here’s my, err, what is it… thing you drink out of.” A few hours in A&E confirmed a concussion, though I was secretly quite pleased when my resting heart rate was marathon runner low. Veins like drain pipes, apparently, all due to running.

A week later, I felt a little better, and decided to go ahead with a race I had entered, albeit, I wasn’t going to run flat out. Turns out, I was going to shiver afterwards, and never really warmed up again. I politely declined the pie and pea supper, giving mine to my team mate Simon, who reckoned I was really missing out. It looked like I was, too, but I didn’t feel hungry. A few hours later, I discovered that was because of the norovirus that had been brewing in my system. The run had been the last straw, and my body went on strike. Well, some of it did. One system went into overdrive.

‘Phoning in sick the next morning, the kids noticed I was wearing the football jumper I only seem to wear when I’m ill. “Dad, you’re wearing your ‘Staying off work ill and lying on the sofa watching Homes under the Hammer top. Are you staying off work ill and lying on the sofa watching Homes under the Hammer?” I groaned a ‘yes’, and wished them a good day at school. Then the one part of my innards that seemed to work told me to go back to the scene of the fainting a week earlier, but not to faint.

Now, despite the fact that I had only been for a run once in the previous week, and this would usually make me feel fidgety and worried about my fitness, I simply did not care. I could barely get off the sofa. Running was not on the cards. Lying down was enough, thanks. I could hardly express my TV rage when, the next morning, I was subjected to the same episode of Homes under the Hammer again. I recognised the stained red carpet of a unique fixer-up opportunity, two up-two down in Crewe.

Meanwhile, I was missing the running club events I had wanted to try this year. There were Track and Field meets; relays; club handicap races. I had to miss the lot, although I managed to marshal at the club race. I was missing them because the response to the back to work interview question, “Are you OK now”’ was a cheerful, though inaccurate, “Yeah, I’ve just got a bit of a scratchy throat.”

The ‘bit of a scratchy throat’ turned out to be tonsillitis.


In two weeks.

My Google searches went into a frenzy of pointless hope that this was going to make no difference to my fitness. But, given that operating a tablet device while waiting for the next set of penicillin was exhausting, I knew that fitness was the last of my problems. I could only eat soft food. I embarked on a Bridget Jones soft tooth frenzy of rice pudding and ice-cream, with the odd tin of chicken soup. This was not a runner diet, but I was ravenous.

The final search was for Post Viral Fatigue Syndrome, which I haven’t got. I’ve just lost some fitness. My last race was not as fast as the same race last year, but even though I’ve hurt my hip, at least I haven’t got my Homes under the Hammer jumper out again. And I can finally look at rice pudding without being haunted.

Now, let’s see… search ‘hip pain when running’… Seems I’m pregnant. Again.


Unbelievably Ultra

Evolution: those tiny changes over millions of years, giving some animals shells; some animals shell shattering teeth; and some animals shoe designing skills, with a skinny latte to go.

Biomechanical experts reckon it won’t be too long before we, and by ‘we’ I mean the human species, evolve to reach the optimum combination of perfect leverage through muscle firing fibre type, power to weight ratios, and technique. We will be able to run distances unachievable on a tank of gas, and at speeds that would impress a cheetah wearing trainers.

When it comes to flat out speed, Usain Bolt might be the nearest to this in human history. Well, he might if he did up his laces, tucked in his top and went full whack until the end of a race, instead of waving the crowd with 15 metres to go. Until then, he’ll just have to settle on having Fonzarelli levels of cool.

Me, however… I’ve got some distance to go until I reach my zenith. My diet isn’t bad but is prone to a bag of peanut M&Ms; my biomechanics are improving, but still suffer from weak hip flexors and bum muscles (which is damning, considering how vast my posterior was before I started running); and I’ve got a full time job with a lot of sitting down, which is great for drinking lattes, but not for running. Or having a shell.

Despite this, my times are coming down, and the length of time for which I can run at a decent speed is going up. So while my mid-forties bring Darwin-esque levels of grey facial fur, I’m looking forward to actually getting faster and fitter over the next few years. And in one key event, I’ve spent a few years dreaming of crossing the finish line, with a digital clock above it to herald my completion.

It is an event in which the clock does not operate in tenths of a second. There is a good chance that the biggest number on that clock will read in slogged, aching, blister-weeping hours. Almost glacial, self-inflicted, aching hours. Digital sticks of muscle thumping, mind game cackling hours. Its athletes are examined not just by biomechanical scientists, but by sports psychologists. These athletes can run for periods longer than many of us can stay awake.

These athletes are ultra-runners. An ultra-anything is pretty extreme; an ultra-runner is extremely extreme.

I know a few people who have completed an ultra. They have two things in common: a stamp of achievement in the form of a running tops with the name of their ultra, splashed across the front; and a smile of pure accomplishment when they talk about their run. But it’s not the constant topic of conversation. It’s something they quietly just got on with. Me? I’m enthralled at every word of every check point, incline and weather report. I ask them about it quite a lot.

Take Scott. Among other events, Scott has ran two sets of thirty miles in a day, supporting other runners, with a quick kip in a car between jaunts. When I asked him about it, he just replied, “I was a bit tired.” That is stamina, with hat made of stamina. And a mental fortitude that explains why he doesn’t usually bother eating on a run of less than marathon. Anthony, too, has been there, got the t-shirt, bandana, and a host of warm tales, followed by encouragement to actually do one myself. Morag ran her first ultra last year, and when I asked her about it, smitten with the notion of this zone of contentment, she had a serene look of calm achievement. Kind of like Cain in Kung Fu but without the need to fight the bandits raiding a defenceless village, although I’m sure she could. These are some of the most unassuming, yet dedicated and helpful runners I know.

Their training sounds simple: train for a marathon- which is hard, mentally draining, and an organisational feat in itself- and add on a bit more. Run two marathons back to back, then you’re ready. Let’s get this straight: that’s run the furthest that only 1% of the population will ever run, then do it again the next day.

Something else they, and other experts, reckon an athlete should make, is an affirmation of intentions. Paula Radcliffe used to do it. Say what you want to achieve out loud; the real words float about until you consume them, and achieve their purpose. A dream becomes an intention, which becomes an action.

I’m saying it out loud because, given my injury history, it’s ridiculous. I’m saying it out loud because it’s just plain ridiculous full stop: I want to run an ultra.

So I’m putting it out there, floating.  And if I bump into you, you can ask if I’ve booked it yet, listen to some excuses, and tell me to get on with it. Tell me that biomechanical experts reckon we’re built for this. The big digital clock is ticking.

Training with the Farrahs!

“Bulldog!” Cue a lot of kids running about in roughly two directions. Some of them are running very, very quickly.

On the back of the excitement boiled up by the TV Olympic-athons, Lizzie and Tom asked if they could try running and throwing stuff. There was only one place that they could learn to do this without the apparent bad habits of someone with no idea what they are doing (me), and that would be through my new running club, at the club junior nights. So along we went, with the anticipation of doing something fun tempered by the nerves of doing something never tried before. And to start off with, they always want to play Bulldog.

It was obvious from the first time Lizzie thanked the coaches for running with her, and Tom threw himself onto the ground in mock horror at the throw he had just completed, that they both loved it. They wanted to join straight away, and a few sessions later, just to make sure it wasn’t going to be a flash in the pan (like making an army of sock puppets and calling it a day after two) we duly did; they received their club vests and could not wait to go again. The sock puppet army would wait.

Read some newspapers and they’ll have you believe that pre-teens and teenagers today are all drug-dealing car thieves, pushing cigarettes into the mouths of their several spawn to shut them up between sausage rolls. Go to a club junior session, particularly one of ours, and you’ll find a huge group of kids, hanging on the words of their coaches so that they can get fitter and faster. These kids of today say thank you after a session. They’re proud of their club.

So when I received a group e-mail asking if any of the parents could help out, I was only too pleased. Observant to the last, I had noticed the previous week that Dave, who organises the junior section and runs with the fast group, was limping. Or hobbling. Or both. Either way, he looked to be in a lot of pain, but there he was, encouraging the group. When I asked him what he had done, he revealed that he had suffered a stress fracture to his foot. And he had been running on it to help the kids.

Nervously, I turned up the next week to run with the next generation of hoodies. Morag, one of the coaches who also sorts out the senior kit orders, had a cold that would have seen me quarantined. That didn’t stop her from turning up, and she cheerily assigned me to the fast group. Gulp.

“George, you can run with The Mo Farrahs!” These future Champions are organised according to general speediness, The Mo Farrahs were the speediest group of the young runners assembled. Now, interestingly, more than one of the assembled multitude of runners young and old, smiled. Dave Rowe, Ian Walton, and Morag Kerry smiled the smiles of people who knew how fast The Mo Farrahs could shift. We were completing a session in which the young runners would be running at 80% effort, then 90%, then flat out, for a lap of the sports centre we train at. Judging effort perception is no mean feat, and it’s always a little more tricky when the ambition and pecking order of being a few months older, i.e. a lot older, are taken into consideration.

The fastest of the Farrahs, who for the sake of argument we shall call, hmm, ‘Mo’, set off like a rocket. It took me 200 metres to catch up, and then he accelerated. I checked my watch for our pace, then wished I had not. Surely, he would slow down, rather than speed up.

I checked my watch on the last corner of each of the three laps, and each time, we were going faster. Helping out had turned into working out, and it was brilliant to run with someone so enthusiastic, and then finish the session with coaches and other young runners sharing that enthusiasm. It was also brilliant that one of them gave me a drink of juice.

There’s only one way to follow up these sessions; train to be a junior coach. The training might help me stay up with Mo.

Twenty Six Times-Tables

I once heard it said that entering running races was the most expensive way to buy four safety pins at a time. We must have enough to alter the magnetic routes followed by birds above our house. I have no idea where most of them are; one day, I will put my hand in a bag, only to shred my paw on a pile of pins. And in 2015, my marathon mind had been shredded when I missed a Good for Age time by three seconds. My mile splits, the miles-per-minute ratio over a race, went ever so slightly but crucially wrong; by what became known as ‘three bloody seconds.’

And what is ‘Good For Age’? It sounds like an insult. It sounds like your memory, looks, intelligence -insert any quality that society deems to deteriorate as you get older- aren’t what they were. Well, some of the most amazing achievements in running are made by runners who have experience that means they do not give up easily, or they can fall back on the more difficult events of life as a crutch for the suffering they have found themselves in after miles of dreadful weather or a hurt foot. The young ‘uns can have this experience, too; but middle age tends to bring its benefits disguised as the big stuff. Think Nicky Spinks, and you’ll know what I mean. If you haven’t yet heard about Nicky Spinks’ staggering achievements, run her name through a search engine. You will be inspired.

A Good For Age time would come to symbolise a lot to me. It was the running world acknowledgement of a hard fought for result that is, well, actually… good. It would mean I could enter the London Marathon without the hoo-har of the lottery of the ballot. And creating my plan A to achieve this was to be the most mathematically focused I would be about a sporting outcome since 1984, when I worked out every possible score of the last five matches of the season that might affect Newcastle United’s promotion.

But if maths and a bit of educated guesswork were going to be my running companions, then I was clearly going to mess up. How did I know? Because a runner colleague at work, who also happens to be a Maths teacher and used to be an engineer in the County Durham mines, had the same problem: neither of us could complete the apparently simple task of adding two times together. We both found that, once you’re a bit knackered, so is your ability to add up.

So, I switched to plan B. Plan B was easier on my sums, but was going to be across the board tougher. It went like this: get a lot faster, a lot stronger, across every race distance, and not have to worry about the sums.

I came up with Plan B in our warm, cosy, dry living room. Outside was none of those things. But it never stopped me. I developed an almost Bear Grylls-esque attitude to weather. It was never too cold. It was never too wet (apart from the day I forgot to rub Vaseline on the inside of my thighs and I came home with my legs looking like props from Night of the Living Dead). It was never too hot (apart from the day I went out after our wedding anniversary, in the blazing afternoon sun, and arrived home shivering with heat stroke). I even tried to learn my seven minute-twenty seconds times-tables, so I could hit the split times needed to flatten my target time. But, like my other times tables, I couldn’t do them after x12.

Everything went well. Unusually well. Although I hurt my calf at the end of January, I ran an early year hilly marathon and didn’t get disastrously injured. It was exhilarating, and you can read about the star-crossed, Brian Cox narrated* story elsewhere on RunnerVT. The speed training meant I ran 10k and half-marathon races faster than I had ever ran them before. I joined a new club, the excellent Tyne Bridge Harriers. I suffered like a mathematically challenged hound, as the calm and supportive coaches shouted out the end of repetitions, completed at a pace I didn’t even know I could run at. And it all added up to a little bloke who, could run a bit faster, for a lot longer, than he had ever done before.

Finally, after tedious weeks of trying to remember where I was up to in my seven minute-twenty seconds times-tables, I could do the sums. I gave myself a mental sticker for my efforts. This was the most unexpected side effect of fitness like never before: I could add times together when my legs and head would have previously switched into mush-mode.

But mush-mode arrived early; six weeks from the race, eight miles into a long run, my right calf went bang. I hobbled for another mile before ‘phoning for assistance. I don’t usually take my phone, so I was lucky. Frustratingly, this meant that for the next six weeks, my weekly average mileage was ten miles. And that included a week when I managed twenty-seven, which still wasn’t enough. My new found maths skills weren’t needed to tell me I had missed over a hundred miles of training. On top of this, the cold I had contracted was, at best, disgusting.

Lining up at the start of the Yorkshire Marathon, with a slimy nose and temperamental leg, I had none of the focus I had earlier in the year. However, I had also removed the pressure I had placed on myself. I felt fresh; relaxed. After a few miles, a runner from Doncaster started chatting, and even though we were a few seconds per mile faster than my plan, it didn’t matter. At eighteen miles, I saw one of the lads from our club who was helping out, and his cheery shout out gave me a boost; I was soon on my own, and even though I expected my energy levels to dip and my huffy legs to pop, neither did. When my stiffening quads finally started to burn at twenty-three miles, it didn’t matter, because I could work out how many minutes of this self-inflicted ache I had left to put up with, and somehow, I wasn’t really slowing down. The fact that I could work out the sums made me feel like the entirely imaginary, parallel universe offspring of Pheidippides and Carol Vorderman.

And that was that. I crossed the line over four minutes faster than the year before. My legs immediately ceased to function as legs, refusing point blank to bend. The gunk from my nose that had found its way onto my running top was, apparently, not alluring. And when I looked in my wallet to see if we had enough cash for a pasty, I simply had no idea if the round metal things in there were enough.

Yup. Good for Age. And I’m already planning next year. Right, Tom needs help with his thirteen times-table. Hang on… don’t they just go up to twelve?


*I have never met Professor Brian Cox, but Prof, if you would like to make a podcast of my post The Time Traveller, or any of my little rambles, that’s fine by me.

Running on Emotion

Eleven years ago, just a few months after our little girl was born, I tried to go for a run. You might remember me telling you about it. It was such a pivotal point of my little running journey, it was the subject of my first post.

It was during this first ever run that I discovered that when you run, you talk to yourself. Not out loud, err, usually; but in your head there’s a conversation between your brain and your feet, legs, and at the time, my belly. Eventually the words stop forming sentences, and just create pure emotions. At the time, I was saying lots of rude words about my feet. And legs. And belly.

Fast forward eleven years, and I was running a half marathon over some of the same roads, and some new ones. The new roads would be the cause of some interesting chats with myself. They stayed in my head, though, as my throat seemed to be full of lava.

Helen, the kids, and little me arrived at Bristol Airport on the Saturday morning. Her dad picked us up, and chatting excitedly with the kids, happily told us that the weather forecast the next day was perfect for the barbecue we would have in the afternoon. It was not, however, going to be perfect for running a half marathon in the morning. It was going to be really blimmin’ hot.

And humid. Think every moan you’ve ever heard on Facebook about humidity. Think that clammy yackness that makes you want a shower, just after you’ve had a shower. Think the last thing you would want to do would be running a really, really hilly half marathon; a half marathon that would feel so hilly, even the downhill bits were hard.

Sometimes it’s good to know what is coming up. You can mentally prepare. And sometimes, it’s good to be blissfully unaware of the massive hill at eleven miles. Helen’s dad took us over the last few miles of the route. This section started with a long descent, before standing on its head to begin the long, steep climb known locally as Egford Hill. It would be known internally to me later on as The Destroyer of Legs and Slayer of Lungs. This would also be the King/Queen of the Mountain hill. Call me Mr. No-Moral-Fibre, but any race with a King/Queen of the Mountain is going to be tough.

There was a lovely atmosphere at the beginning of the race, with a 5k and 10k beginning at the same time. Absolutely no-one was thinking of a pb, unless it was their first half marathon. Places, yes, but not a fast time. Local boxer Ryan Wheeler started the race, then joined in himself. And for the first time ever in a race, I got to high-five my kids. Well, the one who was pointing the right way.

Looking at bib numbers was an indicator of which race the others were doing. Everyone followed the same route for the first few kilometres, by which time we had reassuringly passed the first water station. I was already drinking like a dog in the sun.

At 3k, the road went up past Frome railway station. I’ve ran past here loads of times, but this was different. The road seemed to be made of rice pudding. I like rice pudding, but I don’t like running through it. It didn’t stop going up for ages, by which time, I had locked into that rhythm that you know you can just about hold for the rest of the race. As long as it doesn’t keep going up.

Well, after about twenty yards of running downhill, we went up again.

The descent to Egford Hill was long enough to help me regain some juice to my legs, and to totally psych me out. As soon as the gradient went up again, I felt slow, cumbersome and a bit knackered. On the steepest section, near the top, the lady who would finish second in her category went past me with a friendly wave. The splits would show I was the slowest up this hill from the first thirty runners.

I ran into Frome, ready for the gradual, and final, leg sapping climb up to the football ground. With about 300m left, I was caught by the guy who would finish 2nd in the MV60 category. I was spent, finishing in 29th place. I tried to move faster, but I was running on the spot. Afterwards, we had a snatched chat between gasps for the utterly still, thick air. Rather than walk half a mile around the ground to find Helen’s parents and the kids, I staggered through a prickly hedge.

The people of Frome have always been warm to the fact that I talk really blimmin’ quickly, and sound like Ant or Dec. Apparently, I look like Dec. Or Ant. The support and garden hoses around the course were very welcome, and the race was  well organised, yet also friendly. One day, we’ll be back.

But the best bit was watching Helen finish. As she approached, we whipped the kids around a gap in the barrier, and she ran hand in hand with the pair of them across the line, in her home town race. Now that’s a chat with your brain you want the world to see.