Saturday, 1 December 2012

Seb Coe book review and another bike crash

What is with me and falling off bikes? Yes, this week I had another accident on my bike. Someone who'd had a few drinks decided to cross the road without looking just as I was cycling past and I had nowhere to go but straight into them (they came off fine). A trip to A&E, 5 stitches on my chin, a bashed calf muscle and a few other grazes has sidelined me for the week, but I'm hoping to be running again in the next 7-10 days.

I'd just come back from warm weather training in a resort called Las Playitas in the Canary Islands. Its a really good set up with some great running trails, gym, sportshall and 50m pool, and it alowed me to put in a solid week's trainign along with a load of sleep and relaxing. While I was there I read Seb Coe's autobiography 'Running my Life' and here is a short review of what I thought of the book:

From setting 3 world records in the space of 41 days to being one of the key figures to deliver the 2012 London Olympics, Seb Coe has some significant achievements to his name. Unlike many celebrities, Seb Coe started to achieve big from a relatively young age; he was just 22 when he broke his first world record. This makes his autobiography a thrilling read based upon his achievements from the past 30 years.

The book is essentially split into 3 main sections: his life as an athlete, his life as a politician and his role in the run up to the 2012 games. It provides an insight into what is required of a full time athlete, his relationship with his father (who was also his coach) and the influences of others within athletics to make the early 80's possibly the most competitive period for middle distance athletics.

We read about his time as an MP and the difficulties he has in balancing both work and family commitments. For me, this was a part of his life that I was most unfamiliar with. However, from reading the book, it is clear that the skills he learnt during this period were instrumental in helping him deliver the London 2012 Olympics.

And finally we are reminded of his role at the Games, how the bid was won in Singapore in 2005 to the closing ceremony of the Paralympics. It's fascinating stuff, and also brings back memories of a great summer of sport. There is still a gap for somebody (such as Paul Deighton, CEO of LOCOG) to do a complete analysis of the games, however it's quite right that Seb Coe does not go into this great detail here.

Likewise there is limited controversy in the book, and I would not expect it to appear in an autobiography for somebody with potentially so much high level exposure ahead I them. However, it does recognise events that have indeed challenged the author and leaves the reader to research further on them if required. As a runner, there were large parts of the book that I could directly relate to, but I would think that a non-runner following sport and sporting achievments would find it just as interesting.

Who knows what else he might achieve? President of the IOC is possibly up there but, even at the age of 55, this book still describes a very interesting life so far and is definitely worth a read.

I'll leave you with a clip showing some of the battles between him and Steve Ovett from 1980:

Saturday, 24 November 2012

Duathlon Racing

It was after the first Met League XC when I was in the pub with Rich Phillips and he mentioned to me that he'd entered the Ballbuster duathlon. I'd never actually done a duathlon before and the prospect of 16 miles running and 24 miles cycling was pushing the sort of endurance required for a marathon; certainly not the focus of my current training. Having been convinced the course favoured runners and followed the same stunning route that the Olympic Road Race took around Box Hill, my name was down for it. I then convinced my Winchester club-mate, Alan Murchison, who has been trying to get me to race a duathlon all year, to sign up as well; he too was equally apprehensive about the 16 mile run.

The previous week Rich and I had gone to recce the bike course. It was a filthy wet Sunday, the road was covered in leaves and, if it was like this the following week, coming off the bike could be quite likely. It was good to get an understanding of the course, where you could push it on the bike, where you needed to hold back and the magnitude of Box Hill.

Roll on a week and we were fortunate to have a stunning November morning. Temperatures were only just above freezing, but it was clear, dry and the organisers had done a good job of clearing the debris from the road. With the race starting at 8am, my alarm had gone off at 4:30am to give sufficient time to arrive on the start line fairly relaxed.

Having to prepare for both 16 miles running and 24 miles cycling meant getting the right clothing was key: too many layers and you'd overheat on the run, too few and the wind chill on the bike could bring your core temperature down and consequently impact performance. I went for a long sleeve t-shirt, arm warmers and a tri-suit.

We set off towards Headley Common on the first of the five 8-mile laps. This was a race that was going to last well over 2.5 hours, so I held back on the fast pace set by the early leaders and sat in at 6-minute miling. After a couple of miles, the pace at the front slowed and Rich and I pushed through and started to put some distance between us and the rest of the field. It was important to capitalise on our running strength given that there are invariably always competitors who are very strong cyclists, and they can easily take minutes out of you whilst on the bike discipline. I was also a little concerned that Rich is both stronger than me on the bike and normally (although not necessarily on this occasion) very efficient in transition, so feeling good, I pushed on the pace going up Box Hill and started to form a reasonable lead.

Transition was fine and I was out on the bike keeping a steady 20mph and working hard to make sure I stayed warm. The bike discipline has always been my weakest when it comes to triathlon and, with my only cycling miles since September having been done commuting the 6 miles to/from work on a 30 year old racer, preparation for the Ballbuster had been limited. The upside of this is that when I switch to my 'proper' racing bike it feels like it weighs nothing.

I thought that as long as no one over took me within the first 1.5 laps of the 3 lap bike course, I'd be able to catch them on the second run. It came as a bit of a blow when Hugh MacKensie overtook me half way up the Box Hill climb on the first lap. This didn't deter me from holding back and I wanted to make sure I lost as little ground as possible on the new leader. The added complexity on the second and third laps was the other cyclists on their first and second laps respectively, and having to yell out that a faster rider was coming through on the right.

After 3 laps, I ditched the bike and got out on the second run. Someone yelled out to me that I was 2 minutes behind the leader; not an unreasonable gap to catch up, but one that would require a big effort. As a novice duathlete, running off the bike is not something I've practiced and it took a couple of miles before my body had adjusted itself between the two disciplines. I couldn't see the leader, nor could I see who was behind me in 3rd, so dug in and simply aimed for a decent second run-split. Some 4 miles into the second run, someone yelled out that I was only 90 seconds behind, so I was catching but not quick enough. However only a few minutes later I took the lead, passing a tired leader. I felt good and was actually looking forward to the final ascent up Box Hill.

I took first place in 2:37.59, with Rich clocking 2:41.15 for 2nd and Alan 4th in 2:44.30.
I still have quite a bit to learn when it comes to duathlon: transition, bike technique, running off the bike and nutrition are some things to work on, but I definitely plan to take part in a couple of events in 2013.

Sunday, 23 September 2012

Napoli Cycle Trip

For the past few years, I’ve taken a week long cycling trip with a group of friends to various places around Southern Europe and North Africa. The concept of these trips is simple: find an airport where British Airways flies to (as BA take bikes for free) and is likely to have some good weather, book the first and last night’s accommodation there (so that we can store our bike boxes for the week), and then cycle a 5/6 day ride around the region. This year we chose to go to Naples and explore a route heading east passing through the Monte Picentini and Gallipoli Cognato National Parks before heading back to the Amalfi Coast.

Given that Naples sprawls for miles and miles, we took a train out to Salerno to avoid having to deal with the city traffic and started the cycling from there. The region by the coast is dominated by Mount Vesuvius that, in AD 79, erupted and famously engulfed the cities of Pompeii and Herculaneum. The volcano has now been dormant for almost 70 years and remains an impressive backdrop to the area.

Leaving Salerno and heading towards Melfi, we were soon at well over 700m on the quiet roads through the Monte Picentini National Park. Being day 1 and feeling fresh, we were able to climb these hills with relative ease and arrived in the town of Acerno for lunch. One thing we have refined over the years is the amount of luggage we take; quite simply a pair of trainers, change of clothing, toiletries and some tools is adequate for a 5 day trip. We each manage to fit all this into a small rucksack or panniers attcahed to the seat post, and pick up any food and water en-route; this leaves the bike light and easy to control that is particularly beneficial when you’re climbing and out of the saddle.

Having left the tranquillity of the National Park, we joined a main road that took us towards Melfi, keeping a steady 20 mph for couple of hours as we capitalised on the gradual descent that we had earned from the morning’s climb.

It seems that every town we visited in Italy was on a hilltop, with Melfi being no exception (c. 500m). This meant that the first 10 miles of day 2 were dispatched fairly quickly, before climbing for the next 40 miles towards our lunch stop at Tolve. Having refuelled, we were ready to take on the 3 significant climbs planned for the afternoon, which involved about 1400m of ascent and 45 miles of cycling.

We’d planned our route online in advance ( and had downloaded it on to a Garmin. This meant minimal time was spent looking at the map and deliberating over which direction to go and this proved to be a great asset to the trip. However it can mean that you rely too much on technology and loose sight of where you actually heading. Having just lost about 300m and clocked up a decent 35+mph in the process, we realised the route we’d planned had us on a motorway and the only option was to return to the top of the hill and take a different route. You can always trust the map though.

We finished the day at Pierterpertosa just as it was starting to get dark, shattered but also slightly apprehensive about tomorrow’s epic cycle.

It was naive to assume that staying overnight at 900m meant a downhill start, quite the contrary. Over the course of the next hour we hit the high point for the trip at 1200m as we cycled on small roads that wound their way through the trees in the Gallipoli Cognato National Parks. This was cycle scenery at its best. Although, being on quiet roads comes with two issues: firstly, pot holes occasionally appearing and needing to dodge; and secondly, dogs guarding their owner’s property, again occasionally appearing and needing to dodge.

The hills were relentless, not once over the course of the morning were we on flat road. Instead the roads wound through tunnels at most 500m long, through more hilltop villages and we were finally beaten when the gradient hit 1:3 and had to dismount. When we stopped for lunch at about 3pm, we exhausted the bar of all their pizza, and demolished a load crisps, chocolate and coke, a staple diet of amateur cyclists!

The day finished with a 30 mile descent from 1100m down to the town of Sapri, taking in the sunset whilst trying our best to keep up with the speed of the cars. 3 days down, 280 miles and 7000m of ascent had certainly taken a lot out of us. It puts a perspective on how impressive the tour riders are who complete, on average, about 110 miles per day and ascend up to almost 3000m in a day over a 3 week period (see some of the 2012 TdF stage climbs here).

In Sapri it was far busier than in the hills and also a couple of degrees warmer. The appetite for cycling had diminished a little by day 4 and, when we realised that once again the planned route had us going down a motorway, we were happy to jump on a train that took us 40 miles up the coast. After a relatively leisurely day of cycling, we arrived in the B&B well before sunset.

The final day took us along the Amalfi coast. All we’d heard about this road was that it was very impressive but also dangerous for cyclists. Ironically, it was the place where we saw the most cyclists of the whole trip and, as long as you don’t mind the numerous coach loads of tourists passing you every now and then, you’ll be fine. The views were amazing and certainly lived up to expectations; much of the road is cut into the side of the cliffs, so it means there are sharp drops down towards the sea as it winds along the coastline. Words don’t really do it justice, check out the pictures and essentially that is what its like for 25 miles.

We completed the trip in Sorrento and then caught a boat across the bay back to Naples. I’m not sure of exact stats for the trip but it was just under 400 miles and about 8000m of ascent; the only mechanical was one puncture between the 5 of us. I can definitely recommend heading to this part of Italy for some cycling, but prepare yourself for some hills!

Summary of the Summer

It’s been a while since my last blog, mostly because I’ve been taking the running relatively easy over the summer and have not had much to report on. Only in the last 3-4 weeks have I felt as though I’m over almost all the niggles left over from the London Marathon and my bike crash. Given it’s taken so long to recover form the London Marathon for the past couple of years, I may not run it in 2013 so that I could give myself a shot at the track next summer. But that is a long way off, so I’m not making any decisions until December at the earliest.

The A-Bot
I’ve had a few low-key races over the summer: a couple of corporate races in London and a 10k in the south of France that I ran whilst on holiday there. At the end of the France race, I was interviewed in front of the crowd at the presentation where my French stretched as far as “Yes, it was very hot. And yes, I enjoyed watching the Olympics - Christophe Lemaitre is very good”. It did make me think that perhaps a post-race interview could be something to introduce at presentations at races in the UK, where perhaps the male and female winner could be interviewed about how their race went.

The cross-country season will soon be upon us and I’m planning on racing as many of the Met League and Hampshire Leagues as possible. With the odd road race thrown in too, it should be a fairly busy autumn.

Tuesday, 24 July 2012

Countdown to London 2012

My first post on this blog highlighted the commitment and dedication required by athletes to get themselves to the top of their sport and to earn themselves a place to compete at the Olympic Games. Now, with just 3 days left until London 2012 starts, the athletes are in the final stages of preparation for the Games, there is a buzz in London that something very special is about to happen and everyone is looking forward to witnessing one of the greatest sporting events in UK history.

I plan to watch a lot of the action - the BBC is streaming 2,500 hours of sport on 24 channels over the whole 17 days and there are a number of opportunities to watch the free events such as the marathons and cycle racing. However there are a few events that I am particularly looking forward to.

Men’s Cycling Road Race - Saturday July 28th
Following Bradley Wiggins’ great victory in the Tour de France last week, members of Team Sky will be switching into team GB kit and will be joined by David Miller and Ian Stannard to help give Mark Cavendish the best opportunity to win Gold. The GB cycling team will need to work together to chase down any breakaways during the 9 laps on Box Hill and will need to assemble a lead out train that will launch Cavendish to glory on the Mall after 250km of riding. Australia will be trying to help Matt Goss sprint for the line, whilst Peter Sagan and Andre Greipel, both fresh from Tour de France stage victories, will be challenging for the gold……and that’s assuming there’ll be no breakaways.

Women’s 100m Hurdles - Tuesday August 7th
Up until last week, Sally Pearson was undefeated in 2012 and was odds on favourite for Olympic Gold. However, an in form Kellie Wells took victory at the Diamond Grand Prix in London, clocking 12.57 compared to Pearson’s 12.59. I still do not doubt that Pearson will win Gold, she is world lead this year, showed the potential at Deagu last year that she could challenge the world record and it would be great if she could achieve that in London on August 7th.

Men's Triathlon - Tuesday August 7th
Triathlon is a relatively new Olympic sport, having been introduced into the programme in Sydney 2000. This year in London, there will be some significant sibling rivalry as Alistair and Johnny Brownlee take on the rest of the world, as well as each other. Johny goes to the Olympics off the back of a number of ITU victories, while Ali has been training his way back from injury with only one race (and victory over his brother) under his belt. And training to be the best at triathlon takes a lot of time: apparently the Brownlee brothers train 35 hours a week across running, swimming and cycling.

Men’s 5,000m - Saturday August 11th
The growth in the depth of 5,000m in the last 10 years is staggering; 18 out of the top 25 times have been set in since 2003, and 230 out of the 300 sub 13 minute times have been set since 2000. Britain's best hope of Gold lies with Mo Farah who, with a pb of 12:53 set in Monaco last year, goes in to the race as one of the favourites. The 5,000m can be run tactically and can result in a burn up over the last 800-1200m or can be won from the front. Mo has proved that he is capable of winning whichever way the race goes however, with Bernard Lagat, Tariku Bekele (Kenenisa’s younger brother) and Dejen Gebremeskel in the line up, expect a competitive run from the gun. 

Of course I’ll be interested in a whole load of other action: 
- Will Michael Phelps become the most decorated Olympian ever if he wins his 19th gold medal?
- Will Usain Bolt retain his 100m and 200m titles?
- Will the in form Christophe Lemaitre cause a shock in the 200m?
- Will Paula Radcliffe capture the only medal that eludes her?
- Will David Rudisha set a new World Record in the 800m?
- Will Rebecca Adlington win both the women's 400m and 800m freestyle?
- Will Gabon beat South Korea in Group B of the football?……..

The list goes on, but its certainly going to be a great 2 weeks.

Monday, 2 July 2012

Looking back on the Ironman

Two years ago this week, five friends and I took on the challenge of the Ironman. This was the culmination of 5 years of training: starting with a cycle ride from Kings Lynn to Winchester where we averaged about 60 miles a day, and finishing with all 6 of us completing the 2.4 mile swim, 112 mile bike and 26.2 mile run of the Nice Ironman.

It terms of proudest achievements, this takes a top 3 spot. In terms of toughest things I’ve done, this definitely takes number 1 spot. I used to think that I’d ‘hit the wall’ in the marathon when my split times for the final few miles dropped by 30 seconds per mile – certainly not. Me ‘hitting the wall’ was the inability to run more than 500m at a time, take on any fuel and still have 6 miles of an Ironman marathon to run.

Despite the pain at the time, it was totally worth it and, looking back on the race, there is a small part of me that says there is still some unfinished business with the 10 hour barrier being so close.

If you want to read more about the build up to the event, we kept a log of it all here, and below is a video of the Ironman day itself.

Saturday, 26 May 2012


After 5 weeks of not running, I’d built myself up for my post-marathon return on Sunday 27th May. The rowing, cycling and swimming I’ve been doing has helped keep a good level of fitness and that, combined with a bit of speed work, should have got me back to running more or less full speed by July.

As I mentioned in the previous post, I’d been hitting Regents Park this week on the bike, and Wednesday was no exception. There were loads of cyclists out there that evening and, at one point, the group I was in had got up to 8 people (that is a lot for week night in Regents Park). Anyway, riders had come and gone, and I was in a group of 3 keeping a fair pace. We’d been averaging well over 20mph and it was my turn on the front.

There’s a part of each lap that is gently downhill and the group of us were cycling at 25+mph down this section. In a split second, I remember 3 distinct events: firstly, a car suddenly appearing in my way and me having the realisation that I was heading straight into it; secondly, smashing into the car, being thrown into the air an thinking to myself ‘please don’t land badly’; and thirdly, that impact on the ground, with my immediate reaction to check, and so thankfully feel, that my arms and legs were still able to move.

I was in a lot a pain and my body pretty beaten up, but surprisingly had very few cuts.  I had however left a massive dent in the car I’d hit (I’d love to get a picture of that to see just what impact I made), and I can only think that that the car had taken away most of my speed so that when I actually hit the ground, I was hardly moving forward and hence avoided any abrasion on the road.

The reaction of the public was amazing. Within the space of a couple of minutes, a doctor was checking my breathing, an anaesthetist was making sure my body was completely rigid and was holding my head in a firm position (a major concern about these types of crashes is the impact on the neck/spine from any movement, even after the event), I’d had a load of clothes and blankets thrown over me, my family had been contacted and the ambulance was on its way.

The paramedics arrived, took over, gave me a neck brace, put me on a board (this is a completely rigid stretcher which prevents the body from moving) and took me off to University College Hospital. I had loads of checks on my back, neck and stomach, and remained on the board for hours until the x-ray results had come back and the doctors were sure that there were no spinal problems.

I was discharged from hospital the following day with a suspected broken wrist and very inflamed right quad and glute. Running is back off again and round 2 of the post London Marathon rehab is underway. At least that gives me 4 months until the cross-country season starts!

I am so grateful to everyone that helped me: the guys who I was cycling with (who I’d never met before) that got in touch with my family, looked after my bike and checked how I was doing the following day, the anaesthetist who refused to stop holding my head in one place until the paramedics arrived, the off-call doctor who did a first assessment of my injuries, my sister who came to A&E to hang out with me until I went up to the ward, and all of the people from the emergency services.

Don’t let this deter you from cycling, just be careful and always wear a helmet. I’m certainly going to be back on the bike as soon possible.

This is my front wheel. And below is the car damage

Friday, 25 May 2012

London Marathon Recovery and Regents Park Cycling

I started writing this blog post last week, however due to something that has happened in the last in the last couple of days, I’ve decided to split it in to two. (This will become apparent in the next post).

It’s been a while since my last update; the main reason for this is that the Virgin London Marathon has left me in pieces and hence there has not been much running to report on.

From past experiences, I knew that the marathon would take a lot out of me, yet I was still optimistic that, 5 weeks on, I’d be capable of racing the Bupa London 10,000m on May 27th. In reality, things have turned out slightly different and I’ve not run a step since the marathon due to a tight back and hamstring.

Okay, if I’d not run London, I’d probably be running again by now, but I don’t regret racing the marathon at all, nor do I regret racing any of the 20+ races I took part in from September 2011 – April 2012. Every single one had a purpose and overall they have given me a huge amount of confidence in understanding what I can achieve.

So its meant that the month of May has been a period to let my body recover from running, do some cross training, cycling and concentrate on stretching and gradually build myself up to be able to run again.

With the fantastic weather the UK has had over the last week, I’ve been able to get out on the bike on several occasions, heading out to Box Hill where the Olympic cycle race is taking place, or riding around Hampshire, or heading up to Regents Park in London after work.

Last summer, again while not able to run due to injury, I spent a large number of evenings cycling around the 3 mile Regents Park loop. Groups of cyclists, strangers to one another, tend to form there either when you stop at a red light or simply pick up other cyclists as the ‘peleton’ goes by.

Cycling in a group is a lot of fun and, through taking it in turns to ride on the front, you can switch between pushing hard and taking it relatively easy. In fact, by drafting the person in front, cyclists can save up to 40% of the energy used compared to cycling alone. This really helps you to appreciate why Mark Cavendish is not ‘launched’ off the front of the peloton until exactly the right moment. As a result your average speed is significantly faster that if you were riding solo.

However riding in a group is not as straight forward as it sounds and does take a bit of practice. In order to benefit the most from drafting the person in front, you need to stay as close as is safely possible to their back wheel, while also be aware of any quick changes in pace or positioning in the road. Therefore cyclists have certain arm signals to illustrate to the rider behind whether the group is slowing, for example if there is an obstacle in the road to avoid, or if there is a drain/pothole/poor piece of road surface.

All this works fine and crashes are rare, but its impossible to prepare for completely unpredictable scenarios……

Sunday, 29 April 2012

High-5's at the Virgin London Marathon

My lead up to the 2012 Virgin London Marathon had been perfect up to three weeks ago, having felt as though I’d put the right sessions in, got my long run up to 22 miles and felt good racing over 10k and half marathon distances. However picking up a virus and some niggles in my legs during those final three weeks made me feel a little apprehensive about achieving my target time or even running the race.

I decided to go for it anyway and was fairly confident that, once started, I’d complete the 26.2 miles. Lining up so close behind world record holder Patrick Makau and reigning London Marathon Champ Emmanuel Mutai was a little dangerous, as it can be so easy to go off with the pack and go through the first couple of miles far quicker than your race pace. OK, I was not going to keep up with the super elites, but there are often club runners who you can easily be dragged along with and I really didn't want to go off too fast.

I stopped myself from joining a group that looked to be targeting 2:18ish and early on tried to settle into my target 5:20 miling pace as best as possible. At 4 miles, the course turned straight in to the wind, just as Dean Lacy came through and formed a small group along with Ian Leitch and myself. Dean seemed to be happy to take the brunt of the wind and looked very comfortable, while I was finding it a little difficult and even debated dropping off the back of the group.  However I stuck with it, thinking that running in isolation would in fact be far harder.

The crowds through east London were amazing. At about 6 miles, there was an amazing drumming group under one of the bridges where the sound reverberated around and gave me an extra kick at least temporarily, and from the Cutty Sark to Canada Water the road was lined with people practically the whole way, all cheering and supporting. And at this point, I still felt relatively fresh, so could really appreciate everybody’s enthusiasm.

From 4 to 7 miles, we were clocking 5:25 miles, but the pace was upped for mile 8 with a 5:14. At this point I had the choice of going with the group, or running more comfortably and dropping back to a 5:25 pace. I think that through my experience of knowing how painful the final miles of a marathon can be having going out too quick, I chose the latter.

I was now in the rhythm of chipping away each mile and was happy running without feeling pressured to run in a group. I began to run my own race, follow my own watch, and I was now not going to let myself be pulled along at a speed I did not feel comfortable with.
From miles 12 to 19, I began to move through the field, despite my pace gradually dropping from 5:25 to 5:35 miling. I wasn’t overly concerned about this as I continued to feel relatively strong and the main thing was to get to 20 miles feeling good. This year, I made a couple of adjusts to my fuelling strategy during the race: I limited my fluid intake and choose not to take on gels. While gels may replace electrolytes and provide a temporary boost in sugar levels, personally I feel the benefits are relatively small and I find they do not settle in my stomach well. Besides, I’d never taken anything like this during my long training runs in the build up, so why try something new in the main race when your body is not used to?
At 20 miles the course passes from the buzz and mass cheering at Canary Wharf to the relatively quiet Poplar High Street. Running in isolation, hitting the wind and general fatigue, this marks the start of what I found was the toughest part of the race. Richie Gardiner and Erwin McRae of Belgrave were about 30 metres ahead of me and I told myself, at best, to catch them and, at worst, not to let them get any further away from me over the closing stages. I had to settle for the latter as I felt myself gradually becoming more and more depleted of energy running along the Embankment, but I made sure that the gap never got more than 30 metres.
At 25.5 miles the course goes past Big Ben and turns on to Birdcage Walk. Just at this point, I saw my family cheering and gave my sister a massive high-5! Not the most serious thing to do during a marathon, but it at least temporarily distracted me from the pain and gave me a bit of a boost for the home straight.
With the signposts saying 800m to go…600m…400m…200m, it was a case of hanging on as best as possible. I know a sub 2:23 was never going to be on the cards, but with a push I’d hit sub-2:24, and so I pulled out the stops and crossed the line in 2:23:52
I was massively pleased with the time and felt as though I’d run sensibly and this was probably the best result I could have asked for. I know there is still a better time in me, but I feel that with each marathon I run, I understand more about the preparation, pacing, nutrition and just the shear punishment your body has to cope with. The month of May will be time for some proper rest before getting back on it and hopefully hitting a half marathon later in the year.
Mile Time Cumulative time
1 5:15.68 5:15.68
25:18.88 10:34.56
35:09.49 15:44.05
45:27.45 21:11.50
55:23.47 26:34.97
65:25.69 32:00.66
75:25.07 37:25.73
85:14.39 42:40.12
95:25.44 48:05.56
105:18.08 53:23.64
115:20.18 58:43.82
125:29.34 1:04:13.16
135:31.94 1:09:45.10
145:18.04 1:15:03.14
155:13.70 1:20:16.84
165:32.80 1:25:49.64
175:29.75 1:31:19.39
185:31.58 1:36:50.97
195:35.84 1:42:26.81
205:36.03 1:48:02.84
215:44.75 1:53:47.59
225:41.13 1:59:28.72
235:43.14 2:05:11.86
245:36.77 2:10:48.63
255:58.62 2:16:47.25
265:52.35 2:22:39.60
26.241:12.89 2:23.52.49

Thursday, 12 April 2012


In my lead up to the London Marathon, I have averaged 70 miles per week, have double run less than 5 times and have not had a day off exercise between 1st January an 6th April. My weekly mileage may seem a little low for your average runner aiming to get a low 2:20’s marathon time, and not having had a day off could be seen as not giving my body sufficient recovery; however there is an element of my training that provides the rational for this: 40% of my time spent training is swimming.

This seems unconventional for a runner, but as someone who finds running first thing in the morning tricky, believes in active recovery and is susceptible to injury when the mileage is ramped up, I feel that swimming provides an equivalent cardio workout without my legs having to suffer on the road or country.

Having learnt to swim when I less than 5, I took a long break from it before taking it up again when I moved to London 6 years ago. Picking up the technique when I was much younger has been extremely beneficial and is something that you never seem to loose, however it has taken several years for my lungs and upper body to adjust gradually and allow me cover about 4km each morning. I always think of the morning swim as equivalent to a steady 5 mile run, but without the pounding on the pavement.

One question I was asked recently was how I avoid bulking out too much on my upper body, given that swimming is so reliant on arm strength. One reason I believe is my approach to the swim session. I never do sets or allow my body to become fatigued with lactic acid; instead I swim non-stop and at a continuous pace for an hour. This way I can burn a significant amount of energy and hence prevent any significant muscle development. It does provide my upper body with strength and conditioning, but without having to lift weights, something that could indeed build excessive muscle mass.

I appreciate this approach to swimming may not get me any faster in the pool, but swimming is not my main interest, and I feel its important that any swim session must not detract from the quality of any other run I may be doing that day. It is simply to allow me to achieve more cardio workouts, adheres to my approach of active recovery through maintaining a good flow of blood to the legs and can allow me to continue to train and maintain a reasonable level of fitness even when I may be carrying a leg injury.

I imagine that post London I’ll hit the pool pretty frequently until my legs fully recover, after which I’ll revert back to my typical training schedule.

I appreciate that swimming may not be for everyone, but if you find your legs are hurting, or you feel you need a little more strength in your upper body, then why not give it a go.

Sunday, 1 April 2012

Eastleigh 10k

Along with the Southern and National XC, the Eastleigh 10k was a major target for spring 2012 and a significant fixture in my pre-London build up. It is also a fixture in the Hampshire Road Race League (a series of road races held throughout the county), and completing the race would see me having participated in 7 (out of 12) fixtures and therefore be eligible for an individual placing.

While in Lanzarote, I did an 8*1km session, averaging about 3 minutes per repetition, and that, along with my marathon specific training, provided me with the confidence to realistically challenge a 10k time close to 30 minutes. With very little wind and not too warm, conditions were perfect on the day and certainly good for setting a personal best.

The gun went and I led a large group up to about 2k, after which 3 of us (Tommy Davies, Matthew Dunigan and myself) broke away and put some distance between the main pack and us. There is a small hill in the third kilometre which resulted in a ‘slow’ 3:15 split however, despite clocking 2:56 for the 4th kilometre and the equivalent downhill section, that time was never recovered. I upped the pace very slightly at 6k and started to edge away from the second placed athlete.

The local support was great and that, coupled with the boost from being out in the front, helped me maintain the 3 min/kilometre pace up to 8k. Essentially it was me against the watch for the final 4k, and I knew that I’d have to put in some 2:55 kilometres in order to go sub-30.

It wasn’t going to happen this time, partly due to loosing focus over the last couple of kilometres, and also for not putting the time in early on to compensate for the hill. However, I still managed a 19 second pb and I’m sure a sub-30 10k is not too far away….perhaps at the Bupa 10,000m in May.

There is a video of the race here

Friday, 16 March 2012

Some warm weather training in Lanzarote

I have just returned from 10 days warm weather training at Club La Santa on the island of Lanzarote. I was part of a group of 100 members of the Serpentine Running Club who'd gone to Lanzarote for some swim, bike and run training. We take club coaches across each discipline and this helps encourage everybody to train together, adds structure to the week and can provide athletes with various training techniques/sessions that they can bring back to the UK.

My personal aim for the week was not to use the additional time to pack in significantly more mileage, but to allow my body to recover completely after each session. This is something that I find difficult to include in London; trying to juggle 70 miles running, 20 kilometres swimming and some long hours, it often means that its the recovery/sleep gets the chop.

Below is the training that I completed in the last 7 days. In particular, the sessions and long Sunday went well, and I feel its given me the confidence to be able to realise my goal for the London Marathon. These have been:

The total run distance for the week was 81.5 miles and the total swim distance was 19.4k. While not too dissimilar to the sessions I have been doing in London, I have been able to supplement these with a fair amount of strength and conditioning work. I have a 30 minute routine that involves planks, lunges, squats, press-ups, sit-ups etc. with each exercise taking between 3-5 minutes. The load on each exercise is small, and I feel that the benefit from conditioning these relatively low utilised muscles is invaluable and a contributing factor to preventing injury.

Despite it being a relatively tough week, I am returning to the UK feeling refreshed and in a good mindset, first for the Eastleigh 10k on Sunday, then probably for a marathon paced effort at Reading Half, before hitting the taper into the London Marathon.

Saturday, 3 March 2012

Hyde Park Relays - Greenleaf family tradition since 1963....

Ten years ago I ran in my first Hyde Park Relays as a 1st year student for Nottingham University. That year we came 7th overall and the picture on the right shows me handing over to Ed Jackson, who ran the 3rd fastest time that day. Since then, I have tried to compete in the race as frequently as possible as it’s always a great event from the Uni Relay calendar.

My parents often come to watch the race, and my Dad always has had a particular interest in the event as he competed in the winning team in 1963. That year Ron Hill helped lead their Manchester Team to victory and a course record. He writes an interesting perspective about the race in his book “The Long Hard Road - Part One: Nearly To The Top”

I also found the article about the race from the Imperial College internal newspaper:

In addition to Ron Hill, the Hyde Park Relays has seen several other famous running names compete over the years, including Herb Elliott, Seb Coe, Richard Nerurkar and John Mayock.

In 2012, I was running in a team for my company, Capco. With about 300 employees in the UK, we have 29 different sports teams, including one for running. These sports teams provide a great way to get to know your colleagues away from the office and allow us take part in events where everyone shares a common interest.

The good weather brought loads of people out into Hyde Park, so there were a fair few dogs and people to dodge on the 3.2 mile loop. I think Cambridge won the race overall, with Glen Watts clocking the fastest time in 15:38. Frustratingly for me, that was just 3 seconds faster than my time, but I had no idea this was the case as I was running leg 1 and he was running leg 5.

High fives to the Alan Hall and his team of Imperial College for putting on a great event!

National Cross Country 2012

Conditions at Parliament Hill could not have been better to draw the crowds to watch over 4,500 runners competing the National Cross Country, some contrast to the mud and bog at Alton Towers last year. This fixture in the cross-country calendar provides runners of all abilities, from novices to Olympians, to compete alongside one another in the same race.

I first ran the National as a senior in 2005, where I finished in 218th; I came 78th last year; and I was hoping for some further improvement this year. Given there were almost 1700 competitors in the Senior Men’s race, it was important to make a fast start to prevent being boxed in, as the width of the course narrows significantly after just 400m.

It took most of the first lap before everyone settled down into their position as fast starters faded and slower starters move gradually through the field. After 6km, I found myself in a group of runners including Darren Deed, Dave Norman, Chris Smith and Phil Hinch; all very good club runners whom, until this year, I was nowhere near being able to compete against.

Running within a group means that you constantly feel under pressure to stick with the pace and any lost concentration can see you rapidly fall off the back. While physically very demanding, it’s likely you will maintain your place in the field, or even move to a higher position. I managed to stick with the group until about 10km before the fatigue started to build in my legs and I knew full well that I was struggling to keep up. However, I refused to give in and the gap hardly widened all the way to the finish. There was no respite all the way to the end either, as other runners were packing in close behind and any loss of focus would easily have seen me drop 5 places.

I came 31st overall in a field of 1689. There are great videos of all the races at……certainly some inspiration for racing in 2013.

Sunday, 12 February 2012

Cross country smackdowns and the psychology of winning

Six weekends into 2012, and seven races already completed, has meant it’s been a busy start to the year. Two races in the last few weeks have really made me think about my approach to racing and my desire to win, these being the Southern Cross Country (Stamner Park, Brighton) and the Met League (Perivale).

I'll start by congratulating Highgate Harriers on a fantastic win at the Southern Cross. Their squad always shows a great team spirit, and they have fielded a competitive side at all major club races during this 2011/2012 season. They are a team that certainly deserved to raise the Frank Wynn Challenge Cup.

Keeping with Highgate theme, I had my first of two battles with Shaun Dixon at Stamner Park. The course provided a good mix of hills, woodland, mud and fast descents, so it meant staying focused throughout the entire 15km to ensure any attack by a competitor was reacted to immediately.

The race saw a large group of 10+ athletes pull away from the rest of field and establish a 50m gap soon into the first lap. I was happy to sit back in the 20's with the plan to work through the field as the race evolved. I soon found myself running with Shaun, who seemed to be following a similar strategy, and it was good to work together and chase down the fast starters.

By the start of the second lap, the field had thinned, and the target was to catch Darren Deed and Steve Naylor of Bedford. Continually pushing one another, we eventually caught them with about 2km to go. At this point, the race turned from one where we were working together to one where we were fighting for position. Going into the finishing straight, I was sitting in 9th; crossing the line, I was in 11th. Both Shaun and Darren had got me in a sprint finish and I appreciate that is an area that I need to work on. Was it that I simply could not physically achieve that 9th place, or had I made a conscious decision to settle for defeat?

The next race was the Met League at Perivale. OK, this is not of quite the same prominence as the Southern Cross, but the principle of racing for the win was the same. After the first lap, Shaun and I had put 25 metres into the rest of field (a gap that would more or less stay the same throughout the race). I knew that Shaun had a strong finish and I spent much of the race questioning how best I could achieve the win. I decided that I had to push the pace from 800m out, but that simply was not good enough and, with 50 metres to the line, I was pushed into second; again failing in a sprint finish. Again I find myself questioning whether I had subconsciously settled for 2nd place early on in the race, based upon my knowledge of competitors finishing ability.

So this brings me to the physcology of winning and a topic discussed in Tim Noake’s ‘Lore of Running’ called the ‘Central Governor Theory’. Take this statement with a pinch of salt, but I believe that I could have won the Met League had I focused my mind properly.

Tim Noakes claims that it is not your body that determines whether you win, but your brain. As a human, our brains are programmed to obtain success and evolution has brought us to push ourselves physically as hard as possible without killing ourselves. The brain is simply a regulator to prevent us from inflicting too much damage on ourselves, and this is our Central Governor. Some people genetically have a greater tolerance to pain, and therefore a greater Central Governor. However your Central Governor is also impacted by your will to win, or your self-motivation or how important the race is. So perhaps the greater I wanted the win, the greater the level of discomfort I could take through the of fatigue my muscles.

Related to this is a level of self-belief, whereby humans will generally respond in the same positive or negative way if faced with the same situation again. OK, I have now lost out in a sprint finish to the same person in the last two races. However what I must not loose is my positive self-belief, whereby if faced with the same situation again, I must learn to react differently and realise my full potential. Roll on the National!