A break does me some good plus reflections on the year that was

I’m sitting on a train traveling North as I compose this, the last time I was on this train I was on my way up to Manchester in April for the marathon. I remember writing this piece which discussed expectations and me trying to deal with nerves.

This feels like an apt point to catch up on the last month; look back at the year; and look forward a little to 2020 …

The last post I wrote after Gosport did a pretty good job of suming up where I was at: getting no enjoyment from chasing arbitrary time goals on the roads; burnt out both physically and mentally; and in need of a break. I received a lot of supportive feedback on social media about the post which was fantastic, both from runners and non-runners. I’m always amazed and grateful that people take the time to read my (way too long) rambles; to everyone reading this, thank you, you’re all awesome-sauce!

So take a break I did, in the three weeks after Gosport I only ran three times which is incredibly little for me. Once was at a friend’s 250th Parkrun on a great local muddy course, I probably ran too hard but I didn’t care, it was great fun. I’ve enjoyed the time off, I didn’t really miss it too much either which I think is validation that a break was needed. I very much enjoyed supporting Katie recently in her first race in Joggers colours. I’ve also tried to obsess about running less, the build up to Christmas is a good distraction, plus I’ve cut back on things like Strava (Strava friends I love all the running you’re doing, apologies for the lack of kudos recently).

I’m slowly starting to run a bit more but with little structure. If I run twice a week or four times a week it’s no bother. We were down in Cornwall last weekend and I had a great time blasting round Eden Project Parkrun with a few members of my family then running a rambling twelve miler round the town where I grew up. Keeping it fun is definitely the order of the day at the moment.

Looking back obviously Manchester marathon and my (just) successful sub-3 attempt dominates the year. To this day I still can’t quite believe I did it (it still feels like an out of body expensive where I went to Manchester to watch someone else run it, not myself). I read back my review a few weeks ago and it brings back wonderful memories of the day. I’m glad I put the work in beforehand, the training was tough but it did work, those marathon pace blocks at the end of those long runs were so important.

I’ve been pretty lucky with picking up pacing gigs this year. Southampton 10k, Reigate Half, Ageas 10k and pacing at Parkrun were all great experiences which I thoroughly enjoyed. I’ve found helping others achieve their goals is a very rewarding way to put something back into the sport. I’m not sure how 2020 will play out pacing wise but it’s definitely something I’d like to do more of in future.

Volunteering on one of the water stations at the Great South run was also a fantastic experience this year which I think I’d like to repeat in 2020. It was a chaotic but adrenaline filled couple of hours and a fun way to see the race from the other side of things.

The summer was spent on the trails, training for and then running the Serpent Trail 50k. I can honestly say that the evening recce runs were some of my absolute favourite runs of the year. We had a lovely little group of us from club and I loved that we ran it from start to finish the way we set out to, as a group. It was tough on the day, 50k is a pretty long way, I think we all struggled at times, but having the support of others around us helped immensely.

The less said about the Autumn the better: PB’s were set at 10 miles and Half, my Power of 10 page looks a bit better (not that anyone other than me cares), but I didn’t enjoy it. The positive I take from it is that (I think) I’ve made the right decision going forward to focus on the trails. Given how the autumn went I couldn’t imagine facing the prospect of a spring road marathon right now. Thank god I didn’t book one!

So overall it’s been a great year of running: the Spring and Summer were fantastic; there’s been PB’s at most distances; I’ve run more miles than ever before; and most importantly I’ve stayed fairly injury free (*touches head & all the fake wood I can find on the train).

2020 had a single focus at the moment, the North Downs Way 50 mile race in May. Pushing my body much further than I’ve ever gone before. There is a training plan in place (to no one’s surprise), which has kind of started already although I’m not 100% on it until the New Year. I’m looking forward to the long training runs out in the countryside and all the hill work, plus I’ve finally found some trail shoes that I like (hooray!)

After that, who knows, I’m looking forward to the journey. Thanks again for reading my rambles this year, I really do appreciate it. I wish you all a Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year xx

Until next time …

Gosport Half Review (17/11/19) – When the fun stops, stop!

Gosport Road Runners do an excellent job putting on the Gosport Half. It’s a fairly large local race, catering for c. 1,700 runners who are attracted by a flat, fast two lap course along the seafront at Lee-on-the-Solent, which heads out along cycle-paths and pavement returning along the Esplanade.

Honestly I can’t praise the volunteers enough, seemingly the whole club is involved in one way or the other. The many marshals out on the route are endlessly encouraging with shouts of support or noisemakers. Number pick-up and bag-drop is also a fairly seamless operation at race HQ (Bay House School).

I’ve run the race in the previous two years, PB’ing on both occasions. I’ve been lucky with the weather both times, I’ve heard stories from club mates of Gosport Half’s in years past in driving wind and rain which sounds much less enjoyable. We were lucky with the weather for the third year in a row: clear blue skies; a chill in the air; and light winds. Perfect really.

Coming off a ten mile PB just two week’s previously at Hayling, my form was obviously good and I knew that there was every chance I’d PB at Gosport. The race also doubled as my club’s long course championship event, which added a little extra flavour to proceedings. I had vague hopes of a time starting 82:XX but this was definitely a push given I’d have to run as fast as Hayling for longer.

I exchanged pleasantries with a few club mates beforehand and we stayed in the warmth of the school HQ until the last possible moment before heading over to the start.

#teamPJC © Kiernan Easton

Looking back I have no idea where my head was before and during the race. There weren’t any real negative thoughts (or positive thoughts for that matter), it was just a numb, empty kind of feeling. Katie asked me a couple of times after I got home whether I enjoyed myself during the race, sadly I couldn’t say yes.

On the face of it the race went well, but inside it was a bit of a different story.

A better picture of Ian than me just after the start, but I’m in the middle of the pack (the shoes give me away) © Jacky Chlebowski (via Flickr)

Off the line I let Ian (a fellow Jogger and the absolute favourite for the club championship) go, he tends to go off faster than me and I hoped my planned even pacing would reel him in later on in the race. The couple of early quicker miles settled down and everything felt ok body wise. I was just about on pace for the first lap, although I knew the mile splits and average pace was starting to slip (no way is 82:XX happening today!). Around the turn around point ending lap one I could see the gap to Ian (probably 200m) which would be difficult to bridge, plus I saw others friends and club mates a similar distance behind me.

Half of me towards the end of lap one © Jacky Chleboeski (via Flickr)

The nice thing about the turn point given the nature of the course is that you get to see club mates throughout the field and can exchange a quick wave or shout of support as you pass. Genuinely every little bit of support does help and that mile was back on target pace.

Lap two was a bit of a sufferfest, it was completely just hold-on, hold-on territory. The 6:20 pace per mile I was targeting to run turned into 6:30+, I just didn’t have the legs. That being said I wasn’t really going backwards, others around me were suffering too, I used them for motivation, picking them off as I went, a Hedge End runner here, a Winchester & District runner there. The miles ticked by quickly, really soon we were coming off the promenade and hitting the twelve mile marker, one to go!

It was only a mile, one more mile before the arbitrary PB chasing madness could stop. I pushed as hard as I could: 400 meters to go; 200 meters to go; finishing straight, push, push, push.

Over the line the overwhelming feeling is relief, it’s over, I can stop. I ran 84:15 (a near four minute PB), came second Jogger, but sadly felt no joy.

Ian’s there waiting for me, he’s come in about a minute in front, we basically ran the same race pace-wise judging by our Strava splits. I’m really pleased for him, he’s a great runner and absolutely deserves to be club long-course champion. Another friend James comes in and the three of us trade war stories whilst we’re presented with medals/goody bags and attempt a little rehydration.

Posing with the champ

I’m looking to make a quick getaway to miss some of the traffic so Ian and I head back to race HQ to grab our bags. Walking back to the car I realise the underside of my left foot is hurting, I’m not parked far away but by the time I get to it I’m in full on limp mode. I don’t really know what happened, my feet were a little uncomfortable during the race and I thought it might be my socks not being quite right, but I don’t know. Maybe just one of those stress injury’s I think, from pushing hard over distance, whatever it was hurt a lot on the day but luckily quickly subsided.

I’ve run only once in the ten days since the race, I’m not really missing it either. I was always a bit sceptical when I heard people had lost their running ‘mojo’, but honestly I think that’s where I am. I think both my body and mind need a bit of a break from running, I’ve run a lot this year, more than ever before: spring marathon training was really tough (but rewarding); going longer in the summer was tons of fun; and I’ve realised that PB chasing in the autumn might just have been a mistake.

The positive I can take is that I think I know what motivates me now: pushing myself way out of my comfort zone and challenging myself to see what I’m capable of. What started this year as being about a magical sub-3 barrier is now not at all about arbitrary time goals. I’m looking forward to slowing everything down for my ultra-training, enjoying the beautiful countryside and it not being about pace at all.

Writing about this does help. I’m hoping this is just a slight speedbump in the journey and I’ll be back loving my running soon.

Until next time …

Hayling 10 Review (03/11/19) – PB chasing to what end?

My targets for autumn 2019 are fairly simple: get a couple of decent months of training in and then attempt to eeek out PB’s over 10 miles and Half Marathon distances before I turn my focus away from the roads in 2020.

Hayling 10 has been a happy hunting ground for me previously PB wise: in 2016 when I was just starting out on my running journey I ran 75:06, and then a year later I managed to run 65:50.

From the Havant AC website:

“The Hayling 10 is a fast, flat 10 mile road race that winds its way around the roads at the southern tip of Hayling Island. Starting in Bacon Lane, it winds its way through West Town, turning north into West Lane for a mile or so then turns south onto the old Hayling Billy railway line for a fast 1.5 miles of well-made footpath. At around 4 miles the course returns to the roads where it heads for the water station at the Ferry Boat pub, then turns again, all the way along the sea front to Eaststoke, then back to the playing fields at Bacon Lane and the community centre for the finish and possibly your fastest 10 mile time of the year”

Training had gone pretty well in September and October: I’d hit decent and consistent mileage numbers for both months (140+); sprinkled in speedwork each week; managed to get to Parkrun much more regularly (mid-19’s turned into mid-18’s – very promisingly right on my PB); however I couldn’t quite put together a longer session consistently hitting my target 10 mile pace (6:18/mile), which was of concern.

Race day arrived and with it good weather: blue skies; single figure temperatures; and only a slight breeze. We were incredibly lucky with this given the day before it had been 70+mph winds and lashing down with rain! So no excuses for not running a decent time.

By the time I got to the community centre HQ it was about 45 minutes before the off, the main hall was teeming with runners (the race is part of the Hampshire Road Race League so was a sell-out) and there was a decent contingent of fellow Portsmouth Joggers present. Number pick-up was quick and simple. Once kitted up, there was time for a quick toilet trip, a Joggers team photo and a brief warm up.

#teamPJC – photo © Kiernan Easton

Going into the race my 10 mile PB was 65:01 set at the Salisbury 10 in 2018. I was determined to take a chunk off this.

Standing on the start-line fairly near the front, Steve (a Jogger from year’s past who’s recently returned to club) asked what my pace goals were. Simply:
a) Try to hang onto 6:17/mile average pace for as long as possible (to attempt to hit a 62:xx time)
b) If that ticked by then try to hold something close to 6:20/mile average (resulting in a 63:xx)
c) Pray that the wheels didn’t come off and I slipped over the 6:30/mile average (and no PB!)

The 9:30 start time ticked round and with a bang of a starter’s pistol the race was underway. Of course my Garmin picked that exact moment to deactivate GPS so it was a few seconds of panic before I could get it going. Steve thundered off the line and quickly gapped me, I tried to take it reasonably gently and not get carried along with the field, at that stage I’ve learnt you just need to let people go. But saying that mile one was quick (and by far my quickest mile of the race) but a 6:03 wasn’t too crazy in the grand scheme of things.

Photo © Sandy Jerrim

With the first mile out of the way things settled down considerably: the field had spread out; my legs were nice and warm; and it was just a case of getting into a rhythm and holding the pace. I had a little group around me from various clubs and we stuck together for the next three miles or so as we travelled first north on the road and then back south along the Billy trail with its many puddles. (6:15, 6:16, 6:23 – not too bad).

On the Billy – photo © Sandy Jerrim

Just after getting back onto the road again I had a few moments of negativity sweep through my mind … “this is hard, why don’t you just stop?” … “you don’t really need to run a 62:xx do you?” It was a rare moment of doubt for me, and it might just have been one of those things that goes through your head when the going gets tough. However, I think it related to a blog by John Tierney I read recently which really struck a chord with me.

The blog (which I highly recommend you read) was about potentially replacing the momentary happiness running a sub-blah, blah time gives you with more structured goals which are varied in nature. It absolutely 100% applies to me right now.

Of course that being said, let’s get back to my quest for an arbitrary meaningless time goal 🤣

Miles 5 and 6 are an out and back to the Ferry Boat pub and the only water station on the course, I pushed on a little bit from the group and tried to start to pick off runners ahead. Given it’s an out and back it’s great to see club-mates and give each other shouts of encouragement, one of the lovely things about being part of a running club and honestly does give me a little lift. I saw Steve just before I reached the turn point coming back the other way, the gap between us wasn’t quite as big as I thought it might be and certainly wasn’t extending. (6:21, 6:22 – can’t hit sub-6:20, but my average pace is still clinging onto 6:17!).

Miles 7 and 8 snake back along the seafront road past the arcades, things are unsurprisingly starting to feel tough, it’s only a Parkrun to go, but a Parkrun on tiring legs. A quick shout from Donna Langley on the side-lines helps, and I’m trying to concentrate on keeping my running form strong, but I simply can’t hit sub-6:20 pace and it means any chance of sub-63 is slipping through my fingers. (6:23, 6:26)

Absolutely love this photo of me – © Sandy Jerrim

The gel I took back at mile five is probably kicking in now and heading along the pavement towards the final turnaround point I need it as I’m struggling to hold things together. It’s been a fairly solitary run for a few miles but I am starting to be passed occasionally and I try to hang onto whoever passes even just for a few meters. I’m also having moments where my heart races and means I need to just take my foot of the gas slightly, I’ve had it before when I’ve been really pushing (Stubby 10k this year) and it’s definitely not the most fun thing to happen late in a race.

I get passed by a guy from Andover A.C. just before the turn point, I really dig in and stick on his shoulder, we’re reeling in a guy I know from Parkrun from Denmead Striders who’s a really good runner (hmmm maybe things are going better than they’re feeling). We hit the nine mile mark (6:27) and I suddenly feel a bit better, I look up the road and there’s Steve only 20 or meters ahead, I hadn’t thought about him at all since the water station turn and now I think I can probably catch him. This gives me a little boost, I push on past the Andover and Denmead runners and in hindsight I probably pushed a tiny bit too much to catch up to Steve.

I finally catch Steve at the nine & a half mile mark and sail struggle past silently, Steve gives me a friendly tap on the back and a couple of words along the lines of ‘I’ve been expecting you to show up for a while’. I’m now at the point of holding on with everything I can muster, it’s not much. The Andover and Denmead runners repass and there’s nothing I can do to react to them and a couple of others. There’s a quick couple of right turns back past where the race started, I know the finish is really close, I daren’t look behind me to see where Steve is. My watch buzzes for mile ten (6:20). I bury myself, ignoring every complaint of pain from my body and take the left turn onto the path containing the finish, try to break into some kind of sprint and just pip an Alton runner on the line.

63:24, 47th place and 1st Jogger … I’ll definitely take that.

Steve comes in a couple of seconds behind me (he’s a great runner so I’m pleased to have just got the better of him), we head through the finishing funnel, get presented with medals, grab some much needed water and a free pair of more miles socks (they’re actually fairly decent and a nice alternative to t-shirts). Then there’s a little bit of quick dissection of how our respective races have gone as a few fellow Joggers and running friends come in.

Overall I’m pleased, 90 seconds is a decent chunk to take off my PB. Saying that it was incredibly hard work, and given how hard I’d found longer race pace sections in training I’m amazed I managed to hold on in the tough miles. My pacing was okay, it was always going to be a positive split, maybe I could have gone out a bit slower but I honestly think that would have led to 64:xx instead.

I can tell my real focus is away from the roads though, the buzz a big road PB used to give me wasn’t there at the end. It was much more of goal achieved? … YES/NO … move on, which is in no way sustainable for the long term. That being said I have got Gosport Half at the weekend which is my last road race potentially for quite some time so I need to make sure I’m up for that, the fact it’s my clubs championship long race certainly adds some extra spice (engages competitive runners brain!).

Until next time …

Great South Run 2019 – A volunteer’s eye view

It was something a little different for me this Sunday as instead of running I volunteered at one of the water stations on the ten mile Great South Run race route.

I’ve run the Portsmouth based race numerous times in the past and it holds special memories given it was my first sub-80 minute ten mile and also my first sub-70. I’m focussing on other local events this autumn so volunteering was a nice way of supporting the event and putting something back.

Portsmouth Joggers Club (who I run for) have supplied the volunteers for the water and gel stations along the route for many years, a call for volunteers came out a couple of months back so myself and my wife Katie (a fellow Jogger) responded in the positive and were added to the list.

We were stationed on the Winston Churchill Avenue water station which is the first on the course at around the 3.75 mile mark. Reporting for duty at the allotted time (8:45 – which gave around an hour and a half for set-up before the race began), we were issued with our very attractive ‘Happy to Help’ tabards, a safety box cutter, our Greggs packed lunch and a Great South Run long-sleeve volunteer’s technical top.

The Taylor’s ready for duty

It was our first time doing this but there were many among the 35 (or so) volunteers who had done this many times before. There was a quick team briefing by husband and wife team Ian and Davina (who were in charge of the station) just covering what was going to happen in the next few hours and then it was time to get on with set-up.

There’s a bit of logistics involved in the set-up of a water station much of it surrounding road-closures and when they’ll be implemented. We benefitted from some early road closures. The water station was located just after a roundabout on a section of dual carriageway and consisted of rows of tables along the left hand side of the road and the central reservation.

Mid set-up

There was a big TNT lorry parked up nearby containing the two essential elements (tables and lots of water) which needed emptying. Once the tables had been unloaded they were setup in their respective rows and then the palettes of water were broken down and each 30 bottle pack was stacked on the tables. This year the organisers had reduced the size of the water bottles to 250ml, that coupled with the elimination of a third drinks station led to a big reduction in plastic use. It’s not a perfect scenario environment wise but at least it’s a step in the right direction. With everything quickly in place we had some time to relax and grab a very early lunch before the masses descended.

Don’t mess with a women, her box cutter and thousands of bottles of water!

The Great South Run is a big race with getting on for 20,000 participants so I knew it’d be busy at the water stations, although I’m not sure I quite knew how busy it would get. Running through a water station, grabbing a bottle and running off again is a completely different experience to handing out hundreds and hundreds of bottles. All the volunteer’s had our pick of the tables, of course myself and Katie picked the sharp end the first table the runners would get to and ended up third and fourth in line to hand out bottles.

The elite women started at 10:15 and reached us just after 20 minutes later. Eilish McColgan already had a big lead over the field less than four miles in and gracefully sailed past us (she ended up winning in a super quick 51:38 more than three minutes ahead of second place). The process of handing out bottles was a simple one: hold it out with an extended arm into the road by the neck (leaving the runner to grab the main body of the bottle) and try to make brief eye contact with the runner to ensure a clean hand-off, relay baton style.

Once the elite women were through (very few needed water) there was a break before the elite men and the rest of the masses (in their three separate waves) arrived. Once they did it kicked off big style.

I’m not kidding when I say the next hour went by in a flash: grab four or five bottles from your right hand side; give out as quickly as you can to grateful runners whilst giving as much encouragement as possible; rinse; repeat. It was a complete production line with others behind the tables moving packs of water in place so that you could just grab bottles and keep the water bottle supply going and not hold up runners.

The club had many members taking part in the race and it was wonderful to give them big cheers and even give a bottle to some of them as they passed through the station. I think it gives a big lift to club members taking part, and that bonus support might be that extra 1% which spurs them onto a PB. It was also fantastic to also see quite a few friends who took part, some of who made a beeline for myself and Katie to say hello.

Our table got completely hammered, it’s always the case, runners will always make a beeline for the first water they see, even though there were 15 people behind us all with bottles ready to give them (plus all the rest of the tables on the central reservation). Once we handed out all of the water on our table, we folded it away and I shifted behind the remaining tables to make sure everyone else had open packs of water in place behind them, plus tried to keep the area generally clean of packaging and bottle debris. I quite like things like this, just mucking in with whatever jobs need doing and making sure things are flowing well.

Once most of the three main field waves had gone through it got a lot quieter, there were a couple of charity challenges that came through: a couple of navy guys who were lugging really heavy dummies who stopped for a drink and a team from the police who were pulling a squad car along the course. Then that was it, like a swarm of thirsty locusts the runners had picked the water station (almost) dry.

We didn’t quite use all of the water allocated to us, we had most of a reserve pallet untouched which could be loaded back onto the lorry for future use. We cleared away the tables and generally tidied up, although there was a clean-up crew from the council who were stationed just round the corner. They came through and quickly swept the road clean of the thousands of discarded water bottles and bottle tops.

By 12:45 our job was complete, a whirlwind four hours which both I and Katie thoroughly enjoyed. Katie was so inspired she signed straight up for the 2020 race which will be her first ten miler. It was also a real pleasure to meet fellow volunteers who we wouldn’t ordinarily chat to on club nights.

The whole WCA water station team in their glory

Continuing to put something back into running is really important to me, whether its water station volunteering, the odd marshalling or timekeeping roles at Parkrun or my more usual race pacing exploits. I even picked up a couple of other ideas, more on those in due course.

Until next time …

Ageas 10k Review (29/09/19) – Pacing on the edge

Back at the end of May I was full of the post-sub-3 marathon joys of spring, so when the call for volunteers came for the Ageas 10k idiot-face here typed the immortal line ’45 to 55 minute pace range (No need for 40 minute pacers?)’.

Turns out 40 minute was a possibility so David (the pacers organiser) asked me ‘could I run a 40 min if required?’ At that point yes definitely I could (my PB set back in January is 38:36) so I responded in the positive and I was locked into my pacing slot.

Flash-forward four months, and with a 50k Ultra under my belt plus a three week summer holiday with little running meant that I had spent September searching for pace. A couple of parkrun’s and speed sessions had been positive, but a 10k practise run had turned into a 41 minute sufferfest just a week out. Could I hold it together for 40 minutes? Or had I bitten off more than I could chew?

The Ageas 10k held its inaugural event in 2018 and is an out and back from the Ageas bowl the iconic home of Hampshire cricket which concludes with a lap of the outfield. There was a field of just over a thousand runners for the 2019 event with pacers from 40 to 70 minutes. This was the fourth time I’d formally paced at an event.

Waking up it wasn’t a particularly pleasant Sunday morning, rain and gusty winds meant it would be challenging conditions for the race. Parking was easy in the car parks adjacent to the ground and I made my way to the central atrium where the pacers would be based. We took over one of the upstairs suites which meant we had a nice area where we could change and sort out our pacing kit. I said a quick hello to David and we caught up on the past few months since we’d seen each other at the Southampton half/10k event.

Most of the pacing team for the race

I was introduced to my pacing partner for the morning; Ian a Hamwic Harrier, who had paced 40 minutes for the 10k the year before and had come in dead on time (no pressure to perform then!). We took a warm up jog together and checked out the start plus the opening half lap of the concourse which contained a few tight and twisty turns. We exchanged 10k PB’s and Ian (being a sub-36 runner!) eased my concerns that I might struggle to come in on time. It’s after all “only” two back-to-back twenty minute parkrun’s.

With the 9am start fast approaching we took our place in the start funnel. There were a lot of runners who wanted a quick chat: some questioning how we’d be pacing, would we negative split the race? Or adjust for the elevation changes in the first and second halves? (answer: we were attempting dead flat 4 minute k’s for the entire route, this equates to 6:26/mile in old money); others wanted some reassurance based on their PB’s that a sub-40 was possible; others just exchanged a bit of banter that they wanted to keep me and Ian in their rear view mirrors for the duration of the race.

We were given a quick countdown and then were underway. By this point the rain and drizzle had almost stopped, and conditions although damp underfoot were actually fairly muggy. We quickly got into our stride and before we knew it the first km buzzed up on my watch at 3:57, that’ll do nicely. The course, which was on fully closed roads turned out to be less flat than I’d expected/been told: the first half undulates downhill away from the Ageas which meant that the second half of course undulated back up.

I was full of beans for the first 5k: running strong; shouting out splits; and giving the odd word of encouragement to those around me. We went through 5k in 19:52 so bang on target. Ian was complaining of a painful calf and given I knew I’d be borderline for 40 minutes I was praying he didn’t have to pull out, fortunately it didn’t get any worse and he continued.

I knew I’d start to struggle to hold the required pace in the second half and this proved to be the case. Around the 7k mark the route climbs gently for around 2k back up to where the Ageas bowl is, it didn’t feel like we descended that much on the way out but on tiring legs with a decent headwind I felt it on the way back up. Around this point I was given a shout/general abuse by Jonny Langley a fellow Portsmouth Jogger who was marshalling which gave me a little boost.

By the 8.5k mark I was starting to drop a few meters off Ian and I was really concerned that I wouldn’t be able to get back to him, he was running strong and keeping the exact required pace up. I was more worried that runners would be following me and would miss their target time if I failed to get back onto pace.

Making the right turn back into the Ageas bowl complex I dug deep and pushed up the road to the ground making inroads into the gap between myself and Ian. By the time we entered the ground proper I was back on his shoulder and very thankful that he was sticking on pace. We did another half lap of the concourse followed by a lap of the very soggy outfield of the pitch. We had a couple of seconds in hand to take it slightly easier around the outfield and encourage those near us to put in one final effort. We crossed the line together and I could not have been happier to see my watch showing 39:59.4, almost perfect!!

Think we’ll take that as a 40 minute pacing team

Nice splits

Across the line we shook hands on a job well done and we were presented with medals/water/bananas (technical t’s were picked up prior to the race). In the finishing funnel I had a number of runners thanking me for pacing and helping towards their goals, whether they be a first sub-40 or taking chunks off their PB. It wasn’t easy conditions so anyone setting a PB did incredibly well. Helping others achieve their goals is what pacing is all about, I love being able to put a little something back into the sport I love.

Who’s got two thumbs and paced to time?? … this guy!

I can now see why the advice is to pace a few minutes above your PB, 45 minutes for 10k is very comfortable for me (and it’s what I’ve successfully paced before), 40 minutes much less so. I thought given my PB I’d be ok, and I was just about, but I’m not sure I helped those around me as much in the second half of the race as I could have done if I was running at a more comfortable pace.

It was a real pleasure to be a part of one of David’s pacing teams again, I’d love to be a part of one again in 2020, fingers crossed!

It’s also interesting to see where I am fitness wise, there’s still a hell of a lot of work to do if I’ve got any chance of setting PB’s at ten mile and half distances in November. We shall see what the next month brings.

Until next time …

Run Reigate Half Review (15/09/19) – A pacers eye view

I’ve been wanting to pace for Xempo for some time so I was delighted when I found out a few weeks back that I was selected to pace the 1 hour 50 minute group for them at the Run Reigate Half. This was the third time I’d formally paced at an event.

The Run Reigate event is in its sixth year and this year offered Half Marathon, 10k, 5k and Kids Race options. The event village is based in Priory Park in the middle of the town with all of the races starting and finishing there in front of the pretty Reigate Priory Junior School building.

It was a chilly start to the day (of course I forgot my tracksuit bottoms!), but the weather was forecast to warm up considerably as the morning progressed. I parked easily in the middle of the town, the event organisers had encouraged many local businesses to open up their car parks to ease parking for participants.

I made my way to the Xempo tent in the event village which was adorned with flags and advertising banners. Xempo provide pacers for a number of races in the South East, they had over 350 responses to their appeal for pacers for a number of events in the autumn, so I consider myself fairly lucky to be picked for one of their pacing teams. I introduced myself to Dan who runs the Xempo show and picked up my race number. Various pacers were there already and we chit-chatted as we sorted kit and put on our backpacks and timing flags. I met my pacing partner for the day Tony who was an experienced pacer for Xempo and we had a quick chat about how we’d approach pacing the race.

Tony my fellow 1:50 pacer

We had time for a quick warmup, then had a short pacer briefing about the course and Dan snapped a few photos of the team. The 10k was due to go off at 9am with the half following at 9:15. There was a small delay to the 10k start due to a deflating finishing arch, but it was soon rectified. The pacing team spread out throughout the 1,400 half runners (there were pacers from 1:30 to 2:30), I had a few nervous runners querying what pace we’d be running and even whether their results would be based on chip or gun time, it’s nice be to be able to put minds at ease and hopefully calm some pre-race nerves.

The Xempo pacing team for Run Reigate – © Xempo

The route is fairly flat but does start and end with hills, so we knew we’d have to account for these in the pacing. Straight out of the park the first hill started and given congestion off the starting line we had a little bit of work to do to get onto 1:50 target pace, but after descending the other side we were right where we needed to be. At this point we settled down and locked in the 8:20/mile pace which Tony and I agreed we’d run to give ourselves a little buffer for the hill near the end.

Just two little hills

Those around us were in good spirits at this point, lots of runners stories being shared, it’s amazing the people you meet: I was chatting to a guy who was doing Marathon de Sables next year but was just coming back from injury; Tony was chatting to a girl who was stepping up to the half distance for the first time and was trying to finish close to her Dad; there was a guy in cape who’d raised thousands of pounds for charity over the years; and then there were the people who were trying to improve times from last year. It’s great to hear people’s stories of why they were running and their varying goals.

The half course was on winding closed country roads which was perfect, this meant we could spread out and there were no real pinch points on the route. There were water stations approximately every 3 miles therefore it was easy for all the runners to stay hydrated. By this point the sun was beaming down and it was getting hot which meant some of the runners around us were starting to suffer from going off too fast. As a pacer there’s not too much we can do at times like this, we just have to continue on our way at the designated pace whilst giving encouragement to the runners as we pass.

At mile six there was turn around at the southern point of the course. At that point we passed one of the bands out on the route, there were a few spread throughout which is always a nice touch, varying styles from drumlines to country to rock. I always like a drumline, the rhythm helping keep my cadence high. Tony and I kept churning out the miles always around the target pace, we had a great time chatting about all sorts of things (he’d done NDW50 so was giving me plenty of tips for next year) and bantering with each other, the fellow runners and the spectators (who’s lack of applause always led to playful jesting from Tony).

We were now getting to the tough miles for those around us, although Tony & I were chatting away the group that we had with us were in the zone, they were so quiet sometimes it felt like they weren’t there, but a quick look over the shoulder confirmed that they were and were working hard. We made sure we were calling out mile splits as we went and reassured everyone that we were on pace for a 1:50 finish, whilst also making sure people knew that we had a little bit of time in hand to give back up the final hill.

The final hill was around the 11 mile mark and was about a mile and a half long, but it was very much a stepped climb with varying amounts of gradient (it certainly wasn’t as steep as I’d expected). We adjusted our pace and gave back a few of the seconds we’d been banking along the route. We passed a number of runners on the hill, but did keep a few going to the crest of the hill. Once over the top we knew it was pretty much a mile descent to the line, so we could take it steady down the hill and other runners we’d dropped could catch us back up.

We made a right turn back into Priory Park and were into the final few hundred meters and the barriered finishing straight, knowing we were bang on pace we could high 5 a few kids, but also keep our wits about us as the pacing flags were in danger of being taken out by low hanging tree branches! We were encouraging fast finishing runners behind us that they could still catch and pass us and a few managed this just before the line.

My only real complaint about the race was that it wasn’t completely clear where the start/finish line was. There was an inflatable arch, but there were timing mats just after this, so I think we probably started our watches a few meters early and then ended at the right point. This meant that both Tony and I had just missed 1:50 on our watches, I had 1:50:01 (and a 13.16 distance). Fortunately our chip time was just under, mine showed 1:49:58 which I’ll definitely take!

Decent splits

Through the finishing funnel we were given medals, t-shirts and various foodstuffs (no plastic bags, big tick!). There were handshakes and thank you’s from grateful runners who we’d helped along the way to achieve their goals, this is absolutely one of the best things about pacing. I dropped off my pacing kit back at the Xempo tent and swapped stories of the race with a few of the other pacers. Dan informed us of our chip times and thanked us for our efforts.

Overall it was a very well organised event with over 4,000 participants across the four distances on offer. Marshalls and aid stations volunteers were great and the event village was well laid out with plenty of facilities on offer. Definitely a good prep race for an autumn marathon.

It was a real pleasure to be able to pace for Xempo and fingers crossed that I’ll be selected to pace for them again in the future.

Until next time …

Autumn Plans

Post my Ultra debut at the beginning of July my mileage has been way down on its usual levels. A combination of much needed recovery plus summer holidays means that I’m in a place where fitness wise it feels like I’m almost starting again.

I ran a little bit when we were away in Vietnam and Cambodia (probably more than I actually thought I would) but it was a few miles snatched here or there on hotel treadmills or early in the morning to try to escape the worst of the heat and humidity (and tourists). So when I ventured out for a ten miler the day after we got back to the UK it was a real shock to the system.

My legs felt absolutely horrendous which I think was a combination of it being the furthest I’ve run since the Ultra and coming off 14 hours spent cramped up in planes the day before. It certainly showed me that I wouldn’t be able to just jump straight back in where I was post spring-marathon and pre-Serpent Trail.

Of course going back to club and into a mile rep speed session wasn’t the most sensible next step but we’ve got to start somewhere I guess. Me being me, I couldn’t phone it in even on legs that hurt before the session began. I’m all in when it comes to speed sessions, so when someone says go the competitive streak in me comes out bigtime. I’m quite proud that I gutted it out and managed three good reps (5:55, 5:54 & 6:00) before the wheels slightly came off for reps four and five (6:11, 6:16). I haven’t got to club much this year and certainly not many speed sessions so it was nice to meet a few new speedy folk who pulled me along. The fact that I struggled to get up the stairs when I got home says it all!

Since then I’ve tried to start to get back into building some form of consistent training. Consistency is key for me. I need miles in my legs to build my base (no massive weekly mileage, just mid-30’s), PB’s for me come off building consistent mileage throughout a training block sprinkled with a bit of speed work.

The autumn for me is focussed on a couple of PB shots, specifically my 10 mile and Half Marathon PB’s. There’s nothing crazy long booked in (this year) so the focus is on getting in a really good training block in September and October to get me ready for my goal races in November (Hayling 10 mile and Gosport Half).

I’m not entirely sure where my running journey is going to take me next year after going longer in the spring (50 mile Ultra, eeeek!) so I’m really trying to see what else I can squeeze out of my body pace wise this autumn. My PB’s: 1:05:03 and 1:28:08 are by no means bad, but given I’ve (just) run a sub-3 marathon this year they really should (in my mind) be better. As far as specific time targets I’ll need to see how the training goes, but in my longer runs I’m planning to run blocks of goal time to get my legs used to the required pace/cadence, this worked really well for me in marathon training.

I’ve also got a couple of pacing gigs booked in for September which I’m going to use as training runs. I love pacing and helping others achieve their goals so I was delighted to be given the opportunity to pace at the Reigate Half (1:50 pace group) and at the Ageas 10k (40 minutes which is fairly sharp for me!). I’m hoping these lead to further pacing opportunities going forward.

I’m also looking to get back to Parkrun regularly and use this as a weekly fitness checkpoint. Since I’ve been back from holiday I’ve run a couple, 19:31 (nicely paced, slightly progressive, in control) and 19:27 (went out too fast, horrible feeling miles 2 and 3, not at all in control). My plan is to go most weeks and try to keep knocking about 10 seconds a week off my time so that by the time Hayling rolls around in early November I’m roughly in 5k PB shape (officially 18:29, unofficially 18:11).

In other unsurprising news I didn’t get a Good for Age (GFA) place for London in 2020. Absolutely no surprise that only nine seconds under the GFA mark wasn’t enough and it turns out I’d have needed to run 2:57:20 to get in. But I’m actually completely fine with it, it would have been nice but London (and road marathons in general) isn’t really a focus at the moment, funny how goals shift. Maybe this will change in time, we’ll see.

So there’s the plan, a couple of 140+ mile months with some speed work sprinkled in will hopefully equal a couple of well-earned autumn PB’s and a happy racing snake … fingers crossed!!

Until next time …