Sunday, 27 January 2019

Southern Cross Country Champs 2019

Conditions underfoot at Parliament Hill were as dry as I’ve ever seen them for the 125thrunning of the Southern Cross Country Champs. After a relatively quiet last quarter of 2018, the Hampshire Champs and Surrey league earlier this year had been a couple of good sharpeners to get me ready for the major Cross Country Championships of the season.

As normal, the pace up to the top of the first hill was fast, and I found myself in about 30th, but more importantly not at all boxed in. The speed at the very front must have slowed once it had all settled down, and a large group of 15 runners formed which I was desperately trying to hold on to. There were no run-away leaders at this point, unlike John Gilbert at Brighton last year, and it appeared from a distance that Max Nichols was comfortable sitting on the front for much of the first lap.

At the end of the first lap, both Ryan Driscol and Ed Shepherd cruised past me, looking as though they had paced it sensibly in the early stages and not being phased by what had been going on the front. There was no way I could hold on to either of them and, midway through the second lap, I had thought Ryan Driscol had dropped out, only to see that he’d moved through to the front so quickly.

By this point, larger gaps had started to form, and I was a running slightly isolated, trying to keep a group of Ben Cole, Chris Wright and Darren Deed in catching distance.

Despite the 2ndlap being hard work, I find the extra distance of the Southern Cross plays to my strengths and I could see a few runners ahead that I would try to target. Moving past 3 others on the final lap put me in 11th, which I would then hold to the end. 

Up at the front, Henry Pearce took the win, ahead of Adam Hickey and Ed Shepherd. Tonbridge won the team prize, only marginally ahead of Aldershot (who packed all 6 in 28), with Serpentine in 3rd.
Myself, Nick Torry, Will Green, Callan Moody, Chris Wright, JP

Looking back at last years’ results, only Adam Hickey finished in the top 10 at both, so quite a different line up towards the front. It also came as quite a surprise to me, that it was 10 years ago since I ran for Winchester when we won the Southern Cross at Hillingdon - its also good to see that all of that team are still running pretty well today!
Toby lambert, Tom Payn, Gav Smith, Chris Powner, myself, Phil Killingly

Summer Races 2018

Following the London Marathon, I was riding on a decent level of fitness, and I seemed to have recovered pretty well. After the Highgate 10k, I was desperate to dip under 31 minutes for 10k, something that I had not done since 2012!

Vitality 10000 (28/05/2018)
The first opportunity for this was at the Vitality 10000m around the streets of London. Preparation the day before had been slightly disrupted, as I was making my wedding cake and had intermittent sleep until 2:30am waiting for the thing to cook!
Always a fast course, in particular with the downhill last 2ks.  Due to the way they mix men and women up at the start, I didn’t get through the first km until about 3:05, but then soon settled down in a group with JP and Chris Wright. Chris Wright was happy to push the pace, and I was happy to sit behind. We went through halfway at about 15:20, I felt good, and I felt that a sub-31 was on the cards.

As we came along The Strand, the pace upped, and I forced myself not to fall off. JP and his customary strong last 1k made sure he put in a heroic finish to put 10s into me over the last 1km, however I still managed 30:45 and absolutely thrilled with a time remotely close to my pb.

Worthing 10k (03/06/2018)
A week later, I was done on the south coast to run in the Worthing 10k. Conditions could not be more perfect: calm, sunny, no wind and a pancake flat course. It was round 3 in the Greenleaf/Westlake standings and we were currently at 1-1 for the year. After the first 2k, it became apparent that it was going be a 3-way race between Westlake, Cornish and myself. At the half waypoint, I was suffering from the early pace (along with Jonny Cornish), whilst James Westlake was cruising away and running very consistently.

At times I thought about calling it a day and easing up, but I thought I had second place to take and managed my second sub-31 of the year in 30:58, finishing a long way behind James Westlake who recorded 30:31. Definitely one for the calendar next year.

Summer Races 2018
The summer was then a mix of stag/wedding day Parkruns, 5ks, 5000m and a 3000m thrown in. As the season went on, I think I lost my initial fitness, as I was more and more distracted by my wedding. However breaking 15 minutes for 5k was a huge barrier that I have wanted to surpass for ages, and I thought that Herc 5000m would have been a great opportunity to get something in the 14:30s.

Given that I had run a 8:38 3000m just a few weeks before, and feeling very comfortable, I thought it was on the cards, but I was also fatigued by the whole season and finished in a ‘disappointing’ 14:57 – at least my standards have improved!

Assembly League 5k. Most got PBs, JP won in 14:46, I ran 14:50

Hercules Wimbledon 3000m - 8:38, 21s PB

London Marathon 2018 - report better late than never

2018 will go down as one of those years when the London Marathon was a scorcher. In fact was the hottest ever on record, with the temperature hitting a very high 23.2 Celsius, which is unseasonably hot for 22nd April.

Going into the race, my build-up could not have gone better, off the back of probably my best XC season and a half marathon pb of 67:06. All this indicated that a pb in the London Marathon was on the cards however, due to the temperature, I would need to be very careful not to go off at a crazy pace and over heat.

I decided to aim for around 5:20-5:22 per mile, with the intention to go through halfway somewhere around 70-71 minutes. This would still give me a chance of a pb, but not risk a complete detonation. At this pace, I would expect there to have been a decent group to work together with, however early on, i

t became apparent that either I would have to make a bold move to jump into with a 69 min group or otherwise it was going to be a solo run for home.

I vividly remember looking ahead of me at about 5 miles and already seeing a British contingent a good 45-60s ahead of me, and I knew inside that was where I did not need to be. Lo and behold, many of those guys came back to me later on in the race.

Once the pace had settled down, I found myself running with Bashingile Ndabili who, it turns out, competed in both the Athens and Beijing Olympics, and has a solid pb of about 2:15.  He was happy to lead, and I found myself settled in behind for a number of miles. This certainly helped ease the racing, and I went through halfway in 70:14. 

Coming off Tower Bridge

Unbeknown to me was that, about 10 seconds behind me, James Westlake was tracking me, and moving through the field with me. As is always the case, when it comes to the Isle of Dogs, I really struggle for motivation, and you suddenly feel isolated with very few people around. I was gradually overtaking others, as those that had gone off too fast were succumbing to the heat.

Having gone through Canary Wharf and out the other side, the hairpin allowed me to check where I was in relation to those runners just ahead and behind me. It was only at this point, where I realised that James Westlake was tight on my tail and, when he came along side me, it gave me the motivation to push on. In fact, I proceeded to close the gap on Tony Payne and got to with about 30s of him at one point, only for him to have a cracking last 4 miles and open the gap back up to 1:30. 

Coming in to The Mall, I was spent, dehydrated, covered in water from pouring bottles over me, hot, and ready for this to finish. I had finished in 6th place in the mass race and 21st overall with 2:23:15. 21st out of 40,000! I think the conditions played to my advantage, but I also think that they were responsible for missing a pb. I would say it was one of my best ever performances, and certainly on a par, if not better, that the 2:21 I recorded a few years back. Clearly V35 is proving to be a decent category!

Along with Tony Payne (2:21:53) and Will Green (2:27:02) Serpentine won the British Athletics Team prize – the first time in the club’s history and finally achieved it!

Sunday, 20 May 2018

Getting to the London Marathon Startline

In 2003, I completed my first London Marathon, crossing the line in 2:45:08, feeling well and truly broken. In fact, my training that year had been so haphazard through injury and lack of direction for what to do, I’d even told my parents not to come to watch as I felt I was unlikely to finish. 15 years on and another 10 marathons later, and I feel as though I have finally figured out a build up which works for me. Granted, I’m not a 20 year old anymore and, as a result, my training has had to change as recovery takes longer and my lifestyle has changed, but that hasn’t stopped me from still putting in the necessary sessions whilst remaining in one piece.

With Strava now allowing everyone to see everyone else’s training, I thought I’d summarise my build up, and what I found worked for me. If my preparation comes over as easy, that is by no means the case, and I give everything I have in training. However, for me, I don’t let the London Marathon take over everything from January to April.


This is split in to sessions and knocking out miles. The only real change in my typical weekly training is focusing on the long run, however this year I have reduced the number of hard sessions in the week.

In previous build ups, I have followed the pattern of:
  • Tuesday - quick shorter rep session (5-6 miles)
  • Thursday - MP longer rep session (12-14 miles)
  • Saturday (maybe race/parkrun)
  • Sunday (hard long run 20 miles)
If I can hold this together, then fantastic, however I have only once managed to reach the marathon start line in one piece following this schedule. It is incredibly draining, both energy and timewise, and so I decided to switch to 2-sessions per week, dropping the Thursday threshold:
  • Tuesday - quick shorter rep session (5-6 miles)
  • Saturday- Long Run (20 miles, undulating off-road. 5:50-6min miling, winding it up at the end to 5:20-5:40)
Plenty of sessions around Battersea Park with these guys

Having 3 days between each session meant I was sufficiently rested to push these hard every time. The Tuesday sessions gave top end speed, whilst the Saturday sessions gave speed endurance. My longest run was 24 miles (I don’t feel it necessary to go over distance), and I did 5 long runs averaging 20 miles (the last of which was March 11th, which was probably a little earlier than normal, but I was ill in late March so had to skip the last long run).
In between these, I was just steady running to/from work or at lunchtimes (6:15-30 miling, quicker than most may do, but it’s the easiest way to fit in the distance when time pushed).
Total distance wise, I had a few weeks at 90+ miles, but most were 65-75 miles on average per week.

Sprinting for 23rd place at National Cross
I like to race, and essentially it’s what drives me to train, however I’ve now realised that you can do to much of it. I took the decision this year to compete infrequently, but to race hard and target a big event for each month in the build up. I chose Southern XC (January. 15km cross country, big strength test), National XC (February. 12km cross country, another strength test and high quality field), Valencia Half Marathon (March. World Champs race, very good depth, indicator for where I was long-run wise), National 12-stage (week before, sharpener).

In preparation for each of these, I did a shorter/quicker session on the Tuesday before (something like 4*1 mile), then no long run that week and an easier/no session the Tuesday after. I was therefore well rested going into each, and gave myself enough time to recover afterwards. In fact, after Valencia, I had 2 weeks of easy running given I felt so tired/slightly ill. However I was not phased at all as I felt that missing a long run/session here and there was going to make no difference to the end goal.

Other things:

I feel that putting in the miles and hard sessions makes up for almost 100% of the work required. My opinions on nutrition, lifestyle and sleep may not be shared by all and potentially some may say that there are marginal gains to be had there, but equally I don’t like to let running rule everything.

In terms of diet, mine is by no means textbook: cereal for breakfast, sandwiches/crisps for lunch, meat/veg/pasta/potatoes for dinner. I’ll snack on cereal bars/chocolate/fruit and love jam sandwiches. Whilst I don’t booze too much, I’m still happy to have a couple of glasses of wine in the week and beers at the weekends. But my opinion is that as long as energy in equals energy out and I’m relatively healthy, that’s fine.
Pre-race breakfast. Simple

I try to get 8 hours sleep a night, but realistically it’s more like 7.

Strength training: 
I’ll admit, as much as I would like to, I do no strength work. This is quite contrary to what I have been doing for years where I would routinely do sit-ups/press-ups/lunges etc. 3 times a week, but with no motivation to do that at home nor finding a reasonably priced and convenient gym, that is one thing that has slipped this year. I may have been fortunate with avoiding injury this year, but I do think a couple of 30 minutes strength sessions a week is worth it.

I managed to get myself a pair of Nike Vaporflys for the London Marathon which are quite frankly amazing. They are very different from anything I’ve ever worn before and are by far the most expensive piece of running apparel I have, but feel so soft, bouncy and quick that they are totally worth it. The hype certainly got me. A week on from the marathon and my legs feel the best they ever have, and potentially the shoes contributed to that.

Next to follow is a post about the London Marathon day itself, but hopefully this provides an insight into how I built up to the race.

Monday, 26 March 2018

Valencia Half Marathon and Spanish Sun

2 years ago, I raced in the mass start of the World Half Marathon Championships in Cardiff, and thought it was a fantastic event. When someone told me the 2018 equivalent was to be held in Valencia, I jumped at the chance to to participate. Timing wise it worked perfectly, both in preparation for the London Marathon (4 weeks out), and a Saturday evening race meant the chance to be able to check out the city the following day.

The location for the race was at the the ‘City of Arts and Sciences’: a very impressive building and backdrop for the start. There were about 150 elite men and 120 elite women making up the IAAF World Champs Race, followed by 12,500 runners in the the mass participation race.

The course was pancake flat and only had a few corners, so on paper it looked fast. However the winds on the day were just ridiculously strong, which meant I’d prepared myself to tactically tuck in at times. On the plus side, the wind direction and route of the course meant that we would at least have a tailwind on the way back.

As with any big city race, we were required to warm up quite significantly before the gun, however what made this race slightly different is that the mass participation race was held back 30-40m behind the IAAF race. Whilst I fully appreciate that IAAF race needed a bit of space at the start, I certainly was not prepared for it to be quite that much! The gun went, and I’m sure that Geoffrey Kamworo led the field out at some crazy pace. Meanwhile, 40m back was a full-on tussle for a good position on the road, and also many of the mass start participants trying to latch onto the World Champs race (myself included).

I was tracking Johnny Thewlis and Jonny Cornish, and we rapidly moved through the field before settling down into a group running at just over 5 minute miles. Given the size of the group (about 20 runners), it was quite easy to tuck in. We went through 5k in about 15:45 and I was feeling comfortable, and then through 10k in just under 32 minutes. The group had shrunk quite significantly by this point and I found it very important to close down splits when the stronger runners went off the front, as we were still into a head wind at this point.

Shortly after, the course turned back towards the start/finish and it felt like the pace surged. I found myself at the front of the pack, was feeling good and happy to push on.

By this point I was checking my watch at each kilometre marker, as I knew it was going to be very tight to make my sub-67 target. I went through 18k in 57 something, went through 19k in 60 something, and got to 20k in about 63:30. My 5k split from 15k to 20k was 16:00, a relative stroll compared to the race winners 13:01! I tried to find an extra few seconds, but I’d hit top speed, and when I got to 400m to go, I needed to finish within about 70 seconds. Not even a gale force wind could push me fast enough, and I eventually crosses the line in 67:06. Slightly frustrating not to break 67, but equally a 2 second pb is still a pb, and gives plenty of confidence ahead of London.
Jack (1:35), Anna (1:35), myself (1:07), Chris (1:08)

Whilst I finished 12th in the mass race, I actually finished about 120th overall, just was the strength of the IAAF race, and that I felt made it such a unique event. Very rarely do you get the opportunity to race with that much depth, and so I have already pencilled in for Gdynia (Poland) in 2020.

Now I’m looking ahead to London and have very little preparation left to do: 1-2 more long runs, a few shorter sessions, 12-stage and a taper. 4 weeks to go......

Friday, 17 March 2017

An alternative approach for the Skechers Performance Los Angeles Marathon

LA from the Runyon Canyon

On Sunday, I'll be working my way from Downtown LA to Santa Monica, the finish line for the Los Angeles Marathon. I am fortunate to be here with Skechers, who have brought 35 runners from across the world to take part alongside the other 24,000 runners running the Skechers Performance Los Angeles marathon.

My build up to this marathon has been very different to any other marathon I've ever run, let's say the past month has brought a new level to the definition of a running 'taper'. Early in the year, things were progressing well, with a couple of good results at County and Southern Cross, and the Sunday long run was building nicely up to 18-20 miles. I was also a regular down at the Thursday Battersea session, which is probably the toughest session of the week, where I'd worked up to about 65 mins of running long reps slightly above or below marathon pace. I'd banked a number of 90+ mile weeks in January and all was on track for LA. 

Then what happened?
In early February I developed some pain in the outside of my lower leg, which I thought was from overuse of the muscle there. Following an MRI scan to rule out a stress fracture, the physio agreed with my thoughts, and since then the muscle has been needled, massaged and anti-inflammatoried as much as possible  in an effort to get me to the start line.

So what's the impact been on running? 
Significant, in that my total running mileage since 10th February has been incredibly low. However, in its place has been a combination of swimming, cycling and time on the rowing machine in order to keep my aerobic ability in a state capable of completing a marathon, whilst (hopefully) allowing my leg muscle to recover without the stresses of running. Bike rides have been anything from up to 90 miles to 5-20 minute intervals, whilst swimming and rowing has involved a steady 50-60 minute effort.

How am I feeling for Sunday?
I feel in good shape aerobically, the injury in my leg has certainly settled and hopefully it'll behave itself on the day. I have a strategy in my mind to go out comfortably, and perhaps wind things up from halfway, quite different from any other marathon I've run, as typically I'll go out hard and pay for it in the closing stages. Perhaps this might be an eye-opener for how to tackle the marathon on race day! I'm  looking forward to the event, and seeing new parts of a city through a marathon is an experience I've not had since I first ran London back in 2003.

The men's race starts at 13:55 London time and, if you fancy tracking the race, you can follow it here or #GoRunLA

Saturday, 4 February 2017

Southern XC 2017 at Parliament Hill

After the freezing conditions in southern England we've had for the past week, it was very mild on Hampstead Heath today and underfoot was the dryest I've ever known. Following Kona ironman, it's taken a while to recover properly but, after county champs, I felt in good shape to do Southern Cross some justice.

As always, the mad dash up from the Lido was rapid, and I found myself well back in 50th ish place going into the first corner. I realised I needed to work through early on in order not to get boxed in at all. Up ahead, I could already see Rich Goodman a clear distance ahead from a group of Andy Maud, Paul Martelletti and Chris Smith, with a bunch of runners separating them from me.

As the frantic initial pace settled, I was running with Steve Naylor, who I landed up racing pretty much the whole distance with. Underfoot there were a few slippery parts but, on the whole, the course was fast (for Hampstead Heath at least). At the end of the first lap I must've been in about 18th place, but felt good and the Sunday marathon paced runs certainly put me in a good place to look to work through the field.

The second and third laps I seemed to find myself surrounded by Bedford vests, or Cottage runners, and as a result could hear a very excited Phil O'Dell looking on. With only a kilometre to go, I moved in to 9th and pushed for home. Given its downhill all the way from here, so did everyone else, which made a very hard finish to the race. Coming into the last corner, I was still in 9th, but the Greenleaf sprint failed to materialise and I finished in 12th. Still, well within the top 15 I was aiming for and a great race throughout.

Andy Maud took the win from Rich Goodman, and a top result for Chris Smith to finish 3rd.