‘Mablethorpe 155’ – Wednesday 27th June 2018.

The Mablethorpe 155 about at some point on the Sunday during a particularly crazy day working on the French Grand Prix. Not overly enamoured with the prospect of working eight weekends in nine weeks and pretty annoyed at a morning’s bike ride I had planned but had failed to execute thanks to the early abundance of not particularly significant images, I decided that I had to do some kind of crazy bike ride during the week that would make up for the lack of opportunities in the coming weekends.

In a matter of literally 10 minutes the route for the Mablethorpe 155 was created, checked, and signed off. I’ve long fancied the idea of riding out to the beach on the east coast – Grantham > Skegness is quite a popular route. I faniced Mablethorpe as it’s a bit nicer than Scunthorpe and also invites you to ride through the Lincolnshire Wolds, which bring some lovely views and some welcome hills when much of the surrounding fens are pancake flat. I also wanted to ride further than I’ve ever ridden before in one day, which was around 125 miles. 155 miles would beat it comfortably, so the return from Mablethorpe would see me head northwest and then back via Market Rasen, a town I was familiar with having spent a few days there with the family in 2017. And as for which roads to choose, it was a mixture of acquired knowledge of suitable roads and a bit of guesswork helped with the friend that is Google Street View that can help advise whether the A Road is too busy to consider riding on or the quiet country lane is a viable road or a track only passable with a 4×4 or perhaps a mountain bike.

With no roadside breakdown assist (the wife) available on Monday and Tuesday and the work recommencing on Thursday, Wednesday was pencilled in as the go day. A look at the weather forecast was highly favourable, highs of around 24C with a gentle breeze coming in from the East Coast, which would mean a head wind on the way out and hopefully a tail wind for much of the way back. I had to be back by 7pm so reckoned that leaving at 7 am would hopefully see me back in time and would allow a coffee stop at Mablethorpe (60 or so miles into the ride) and a lunch break at Market Rasen (at 100 miles). I ran on Monday and Tuesday, and helped marshal the Witham Wheelers TT on the Tuesday evening, so was not entirely rested ahead of the ride, but taking it relatively easy by normal standards.

Up at 6 am, which is usually a tough affair, but not so hard at this time of year when it is bright so early outside, I had pretty much everything prepared and ready to go once I’d had the obligatory porridge and rocket fuel strength coffee. I left shortly after 7 am with little in the way of fanfare: the kids were getting ready for school and are well used to seeing me disappear in the morning for some form of exercise.

The weather early doors was pleasant enough – early morning cloudy waiting to be burnt off by the sun meant that temperatures were only around 12C at the start of the ride – cool enough to warrant arm warmers. I knew that pacing myself would be crucial. I had to ride within myself for the best part of the ride even if I felt like I could go much faster – much like most endurance events. Quite quickly around 170 watts average (around 2.6 w/kg) felt like the right level of effort that I could sustain all day long.

Hills of course demand more power – the first of which was Hough on the Hill at six miles , which I am well familiar with and it’s 7% average gradient and tackled with little difficulty. The second hill  at 9.5 miles – Frieston Hill – I’d ridden once before but had not expected it on this ride. This shocked the body a little bit and numbed the legs despite it being a slightly less hard hill, averaging 6%. Thereafter though it was relatively plain sailing for the next 30 miles, with a generally downwards trajectory and nothing more than some gentle rollers that I’d normally tackle in the big ring, but today demanded a drop into the small chain ring to allow some spinning.  The biggest issue was trying to navigate myself across the busy A15 at the height of rush hour. It was hard enough for the cars with all that horsepower at their disposal, to find a big enough gap to cross, one man, a bike and clip in pedals, made it really difficult.

My friends during an early pit stop.

Not far after Bardney I finally found somewhere to make my first pit stop for the day. I found I had some attention in the form of some inquisitive sheep! With the liquid load lightened and feeling all the more comfortable for it I began the food and liquid plan for the ride. I had two bidons with electrolyte drink and had electrolyte tablets in the back pocket to replenish the bottles when refilled with water at lunch. I bought an entire malt loaf to be consumed at 10 mile intervals from 30 miles, again up until lunch time. At lunch I would take stock of how I felt and buy whatever I could and what I felt like to see me through for the rest of the ride.

When the arm warmers came off.

Back on the road, the sun had broken through the clouds and it was, aside from a little cloud on the coast, blue skies for the rest of the ride. With that came increasing temperatures. I stopped at around 36 miles to remove the arm warmers, which coincided with the road just beginning to climb upwards as I approached the Wolds. The roads were quiet, the skies were blue, the countryside could not look better and I was loving the ride!

Compared to many other parts of the country the Lincolnshire Wolds would be considered relatively flat. But in an area surrounded by near billiard flat fen land, which barely rises above sea level, the Wolds in comparison are a veritable Alps in comparison. Stage one through the Wolds was around 12 miles consisting of three climbs, Belchfield Hill which proved to be a bit of a challenge that made me thankful for a 32 on the rear cassette as the climb briefly touched around 14%. Normally this would not be an issue but I found my breathing a little on the wheezy side thanks to the very high pollen levels. The view from the top though was worth the stop for a quick photo (which doesn’t really do it justice) and a breather!

View from the top of Belchford Hill

Not long after there was a long descent from around 420 ft back down to sea level and the six or seven miles to Mablethorpe, which was made harder by the head wind which was noticeably stronger here being closer to the coast and heading into the exact forecast direction of the wind (Coming from the North East).

‘Proof’ of riding to Mablethorpe!

I arrived in Mablethorpe around the back and through a car park, which I knew from having run here while on holiday at Sutton-on-Sea a couple of years ago would take me directly to the beach and some cafes. I originally thought fish and chips would be appropriate, but I looked at the time and thought that, at just after 11 am would be a little extravagant, as would an ice cream, which like me and alcohol, does not happen before midday (unless on a plane / boat or airport terminal….). I settled instead for a scone and butter and black coffee. I’ve had better, but it was pleasant enough and did the job of keeping me alert and fuelled for the next 40 mile stint.

Elevenses!

After that brief trip to the sea side I was back on my way. With the head wind on the way out, plus the Wolds, and some crawling along a footpath to the cafe, my average speed for the ride had slipped from the 17 mph it had been up to the Wolds down to around 16.5 mph. This was not a competitive ride but I rarely do any ride without setting myself some kind of arbitrary challenge and so it was decreed at Mablethorpe I would try and average 17.0 mph or better for the Mablethorpe 155.

Once out of Mablethorpe I headed in a broadly northwesterly direction, skirting east of Louth, inching towards the Wolds and heading not too far from Grimbsby, a town I’ve never visited. I thoroughly enjoyed this 25 mile or so section. I made a point of stopping at near enough exactly 77.75 miles, the unofficial halfway point, to take a photo. This scene was typical of the roads in the area. The mostly deserted country lanes were in good condition and far more scenic than I imagined an area close to Grim-sby could be. There was also a taste of the tailwind I would enjoy for much of the final 60 miles of the ride, and even the periods of side wind were not unpleasant.

‘Halfway’ through the ‘Mablethorpe 155’

At 85 miles I crossed the A16 on the Grainsby Lane and there was a change of terrain and surrounds as I passed through what felt like a private road which was fenced off and surrounded by cows, climbing gradually upwards as the Wolds approached. Immediately after crossing the A18 I was officially in the Wolds and with Hawerby Hill one of the harder rides of the ride, although at 2/3s mile, 6% average and with a tailwind to assist, was not especially taxing.

This effort began 10 miles of undulating riding, most of it on the B1203 which was thankfully not especially busy and a pleasure to ride on with the scenic surrounds. It was here the only mapping error occurred on the ride, a path at the Church of St Martin that looked dubious when I approached and on quick inspection and the look of more dirt than road I chose to ride past and ignore. A quick check on the map showed that a right at the next junction would see me back on track and on a road I ran along when staying in Market Rasen – it passing the caravan site we stayed at, not before I enjoyed a nice long descent of Walesby Hill that brought up the 100 miles on the Garmin and a stop for lunch at Market Rasen.

Lunch at Tesco!

Aside from fish and chips we failed on holiday to find somewhere decent to eat in Market Rasen and, unless I missed something, I again failed to find that idyllic cafe to enjoy a hearty lunch before heading home. Instead I settled for Tesco, buying lunch at the petrol station so I could keep an eye on my bike and eating it outside the store, where there was the welcome benefit of shade (it had got quite warm now – approaching 25C in the sun) and a bench. I passed up on the opportunity to join others having their lunch in the sun in the car park garden.

I wasn’t the only one lunching at Tesco!

It was a simple lunch based around what I could get in the £3 meal deal, which meant a falafel and hummous wrap, a king sized Double Decker and a bottle of Lucozade (I would have had full fat Coke but the didn’t appear to stock that). Add to that I bought a 2 litre bottle of Evian to replenish the bidons and three packs of fizzy cola bottles. One pack would have sufficed but the 3 for £1 offer was just too tempting…. While it wasn’t the glamorous lunch stop I had in mind it harked back to the numerous petrol station and supermarket raids I pulled off during my Land’s End to John O’Groats trip 11 years ago. For that reason it felt somewhat appropriate that my longest ever ride to date would pay homage to those stops for Haribo and malt loaf.

Back on the road and homeward bound I soon left the main road for Cycle Route 1, At 105 miles I turned left, then immediately right onto a quiet road heading towards Buslingthorpe  I was just thinking how idyllic this ride was when BANG! A huge jolt which nearly sent me flying over the handlebars! In the shade of some trees must have been a large pot hole which I missed and rode through. I feared the worst and, sure enough, 5 seconds or so after the hit I felt the deflating noise of the front tyre rapidly losing its air pressure.

I came to a halt by a couple of houses and a white fence which was above a small stream. For a couple of minutes I worked out where best to set base to assess the situation, settling on the fence. I messaged my wife something along the lines of ‘Disaster!’ having just let her know how well the ride was going. The issue was, even if it was just a puncture, I am quite happy to admit I am shockingly bad at being able to change a punctured tyre, usually resorting to taking it to a bike shop or handing it over to my wife, who is more adept at tackling these technical issues than I.

Running out of battery on my phone (schoolboy error leaving GPS set to high accuracy…) I made sure my wife knew where I was in case I had to be picked up, which she did thanks to the Garmin live connect thingy which we had set up working properly. Having little faith in my ability (A wise call), she even gave an eta for the rescue party to arrive given the kids had to be picked up from school. I told her I would attempt to fix the puncture, although not holding out much hope. The 155 mile ride had become a mere 105 gentle jaunt, losing nearly all of its satisfaction.

I gave the wheel a quick inspection: all looked well. Having survived a similar pot hole induced puncture on a chain gang ride last year I know they can take quite a whack. I attempted to get some air into the inner tube to see where the puncture was. After Googling to see if I had a Presta or Schrader valve (It’s Presta – must remember that), any attempt to get air in with the small pump proved futile, the valve eventually snapping off, ruling out the use of the Pit Stop Sealant I had brought with me.

Removing the solitary inner tube from the saddle bag, cursing my misinformed impression I had two spare inner tubes, I knew I only had one shot at getting this right – no pinching when fitting the spare, knowing that a previous attempt at fitting a tube saw me pinch flat no less than 4 tubes before giving up and taking it to the shop…. Removing the tyre using the levers proved unusually straight forward, I usually have them pinging off across the room or wherever I happen to be standing. I removed the tube and looked for any obvious signs of damage, of which there were none, before giving the wheel a cursory internal  inspection for damage, of which there appeared none.

Knowing my stuff… I put a little air into the inner tube before attempting to place it in the wheel. Relieved that the pump did actually work, I tried that step again when it dawned on me I’d put basically no air into the tube. I slotted the valve through the hole (I’ve funked that up before) making sure it sat flush in the wheel. Then using tips read on the internet and left as a parting gift by Whattsapp message by my wife, I began working the tyre bead into the rim from the side opposite the valve. To my surprise within a minute or so I had got to the 95% on stage, with just that last difficult bit that requires a bit of brute force to snap into the rim. Given that to get to this stage usually takes 5-10 minutes, I was openly optimistic that I might just pull this off.

Attempt one. No good. Attempt two. No better. I stopped, composed myself, took a big deep breath and mustered all the power I had in my pathetically weak thumbs to prise the rubber tyre into the metal rim. POP! just like that in it went with a satisfying sound like a muffled click. It looked like a wheel with a tyre. Round with no bulges. I couldn’t quite believe it. I very carefully attached the pump to the valve, weary that the last valve snapped and I have a habit of snapping valves. I pumped, fearing that the tube would be pinched and the hard work would be in vain. Ten pumps, no bang. Twenty pumps, the tyre looked and felt quite firm. I stopped to take a picture to show the wife my efforts. I was quite proud of my work, I knew she would be too.

The ‘miracle’ tyre!

Fairly confident I’d done a good job. I began pumping the tyre. Anyone who has done this by the side of the road knows it’s not a quick affair – there’s a reason why man carry CO2 canisters to speed up the job. I must have given it 200 or so pumps before I was reasonably happy that it was nearly as hard as the rear tyre. I fitted the wheel back on the bike, tidied up, put my helmet back on, touched some wood and rode off, knowing that if something was to go wrong it would probably happen quite quickly.

The first rest came after less than 50 meters, a level crossing to negotiate. No drama! I rode another couple of miles before letting my wife know the good news that all seemed okay. She congratulated me on my surprisingly good and relatively swift repair job (Just under 30 minutes…). I put it down to the heat of the day warming the rubber and the rim of the wheel to make it just that little more malleable than in normal cooler conditions. Either that or I’d developed strength I didn’t know I possessed.

Another five or so miles later and I’d almost forgotten I’d changed the tyre. The only concession I made during the remainder of the ride was to pay more attention than ever to the ever present prevalence of pot holes, which are a national disgrace and particularly bad in Lincolnshire. My mind was back on riding home and preferably doing it as swiftly as possible and before the 6pm curfew I had set myself. No more stops for photos, just the one pit stop to relieve myself of the Lucozade and half litre of water I’d enjoyed at lunch, and a very brief stop to retrieve a Power Gel buried deep in a jersey pocket, which I consumed more for the caffeine kick than the energy it provided – thinking I needed the extra concentration powers to avoid pot holes.

The vast majority of the last 45 miles had either a tailwind or at worst a side wind. This meant that, although it was never a particularly strong breeze, it was easier to keep the speed above desired 17 mph average. Indeed with it being generally flat with just a very slight overall incline for the last 35 miles, the speed hovered nearer 20 mph. With the sight of the average speed creeping up from 17 mph to 17.5 mph, then 17.6 mph, the desire was to try and crack 18 mph. When you’ve ridden 140 odd miles any incremental increase (or decrease) takes a long time time. I found myself pushing more watts than I did when I was tackling the tail wind, my highest 20 minute average (miles 146 to 152) were 204. It was pleasing to be able to put more and more power into the pedals having been in the saddle in the heat for over eight hours.  It crept up to 17.7 mph, then that proved hard to improve upon as a change of direction at Doddington meant a head wind for much of the final miles.

On familiar roads for the last hour or so of riding, and legs seemingly no worse than at the start of the ride, I eventually came home having completed 156.45 miles in 8:45:54 moving time, averaging 17.8 mph. A frustrating 0.2 mph short of 18 mph but comfortably better than the target I had set myself earlier in the ride. There was no euphoric welcome once home – one daughter wanted to show off her new shoes, the other blissfully unaware of what I’d just done. My wife was proud of me, not just for the very long ride but the successful changing of the puncture, which for most would be a trivial matter, but for me I finally broke a 25 year voodoo of not being able to fix a puncture out on the road!

Once showered to clear the grime and sun cream off the body, the body finally realised what it had done and I could do little more than slump myself on he sofa for three hours while watching the football and reflecting on the ride I’d just done and what I could do in the future. The dream is to do LEJOG with a similar daily mileage. It seems like a tough ask but not insurmountable. One for summer 2019 I think!

 

 

 

 

Race Report – Woodhall Spa 10K – Sunday 3rd June 2018

Following on from the PB at the Lincoln 5K I went into the Woodhall Spa 10K with a sense of optimism that I could attack my 10K PB at a race that is renowned for being capable of some very quick times. The knee pain that plagued me for much of May soon disappeared – I used the Voltarol gel for a couple more runs before it was apparent that it was no longer required.

I was still training very much with running at a minimum. I waited three days before running then again two days later when I went on a 10 mile run to test the new Garmin Forerunner 935 I had treated myself to. The 910XT has served me very well but it is just starting to get a bit long in the tooth – battery life is not what it was and the repeated frustration of a very long reading at the 5K persuaded me to upgrade for a watch that will hopefully see me through another five years of running, cycling, elliptical training and, maybe, just maybe, some swimming. The watch was great, the next day I test an add on called Peter’s Race  Pacer which could be a godsend in longer races especially – more of that later.

What the watch couldn’t stop was some very sore Achilles thanks to some very tight calf muscles. Wednesday’s very wet run was made doubly miserable by the right Achilles aching constantly, as it did after Thursday evening’s post chain gang ride brick mile. I ran 10 mostly off road miles on the Friday, the right Achilles had a dull ache but seemed to be improved with some stretching of the calf muscle, which I was sure was the source of the problem.

Come Sunday morning and the right Achilles was still aching but I was willing to risk it for a stab at a quick time. Before leaving the house I optimistically set Peter’s Race Pacer for a sub-34 minute 10K, which would better my PB of 34:09 by 10 seconds if I managed to pull it off. When I stepped out of the house to get into the car I soon realised that the weather would be perhaps the major limiting factor in any such PB attempt. It was only 8am but already it was 18C+  and humidity was high, already feeling uncomfortably clammy just sitting in the car, let alone running.

I arrived at Woodhall Spa shortly after 9am. With the race not starting until 11:15am it gave plenty of time to prepare and also plenty of opportunity for conditions to heat up! The car was parked around a mile from the HQ so I changed into my kit at the car (It was already plenty warm enough to be comfortable in just a vest) and walked over to the start area. Once there there were some familiar faces from Grantham Running Club, so many in fact that by 10:15 or so we had enough to create a rather impressive group photo!

GRC at Woodhall Spa

With the photo done I ran a near 2 mile warm up, of two loops, the second mile progressively getting quicker. The right Achilles ached a bit but gave no undue cause for concern. The heat and humidity however was troubling, the sunshine, which had not been forecast, was rocketing temperatures well into the mid twenties Celsius which, coupled with high humidity, made running very unpleasant. With little that could be done about it though I set about stretching the calves as much as possible, seeking shade and timing the final toilet stop to perfection.

I made my way to the start with around five minutes to spare. I lined myself up near the front. Any thoughts of a victory were dispelled an hour or so earlier with the appearance of former winner Matt Bowser, who is one of the best runners in the region and has a sub-30 minute 10K on his palmares. I was not that fussed though about a good placing – ideally I wanted a good group of similarly paced runners who would hopefully see me through to a quick time.

The race started on time at 11:15am. As predicted Matt B and one other runner (William Strangeway) were soon disappearing far into the distance. There were around five or six other runners in front of me, the only one I recognised was RAF / Sleaford’s Iain Bailey, who I had raced against several times and had never beaten him. As he pulled 10 or seconds clear over the first mile or so this looked like it would be a repeat performance.

As mentioned earlier, I was using Peter’s Race Pacer (PRP) for the first time. The idea of this app is that you punch in a certain time for a race, e.g. 34 minutes for a 10K and it will tell you whether you are up or down on that target. That element is basically the same as Garmin’s Virtual Partner. What makes PRP pretty cool is that 1. It has all the key data fields required during a race on one page, namely elapsed time, HR, average pace for the run, instant pace, and distance run.  2. It will dynamically update what your finishing time will be. 3. the instant pace is an average of 10 seconds which takes out the discrepancies you can sometime get with instant pace – especially when a foo pod is not being worn (I was wearing one but it, wasn’t working!). 3. The potential killer feature is the ability for the predicted finish time to be adjusted by hitting the lap button when passing course mile / km markers. With half marathons and marathons especially, after a few miles a watch can often be 0.1 of a mile or more out, at the London Marathon I have been as much as 0.5 mile out once GPS has been lost / confused by underpasses and Canary Wharf buildings. Whereas I’ve relied on a little mental maths to try and approximate a finish time, PRP will adjust the distance and predicted finish time accordingly when you hit the lap button when passing a mile marker.

The only issue with testing it at a 10KM race was that the markers were in kilometres which meant I had to use KM splits, which I’m not really familiar with. The watch still showed current pace and average pace in minutes/mile, but I did miss the affirmation of a mile split. I passed the first KM in 3:18 which I carried through to run the first mile in 5:33. For the opening minute or two I was running significantly quicker – sub 34 pace, but I soon settled into a pace which looked like it would bring me in at around about 34:15 pace.

Mile 3 having just passed a couple of runners.

The second mile was 5:34 and for a while things were looking good. I had  closed on and passed a group of three runners, those in the picture above in fact, and was closing down on Iain Bailey, who I passed at around 2.5 miles, and put a few second’s gap on him.

However, not long after passing Iain, the wheels began to slowly, but inexorably, fall off. The sun was well and truly out and it was rapidly becoming very unpleasant to run in. Then there were the rather ominous twinges of tightness and discomfort running from the base of the right Achilles and ankle further up and into the calf muscle. It was not bad enough for it to particularly slow me but it was not confidence inspiring and there was the fear that, at any moment, things could go bang! and it would be game over, not just for the race but for the foreseeable future.

The third mile was a touch slower again at 5:37, going through 5K in 17:20, which was nowhere near where I wanted to be at halfway. With thoughts of a PB well and truly out of the window it was just a case of hanging on and trying to find ways to keep the concentration high and run as fast a time as possible. There was the lure of trying to get a good age grade as this was a club GP Series race where Age Grade is all important. I had a feeling I could be on for a reasonable finishing position with the possibility of being first V40. There was also the lure of claiming the scalp of Iain Bailey, which ultimately would be the driving motivator as the finish line came closer.

Mile 4 was a horrible 5:48, but I was suffering, so clearly was everybody else as those behind me weren’t passing me and those ahead were not pulling too far ahead. The course itself is not entirely flat, no real hills to speak of, but little undulations that seemed to sap the life out of you when they climbed gently upwards, yet offered little benefit when dropping down. It was too a fairly boring course, with little in the way of crowd support or stunning scenery.

By mile 5 I was really questioning why I was putting all this effort in to do something as pointless as running 10K. This is not an uncommon thought during a 10K, it’s a tough distance run very close to maximal effort for its entirety. But with the conditions on this day proving particularly harsh, the wisdom of such efforts were hard to justify. The rot was stopped with a 5:42 fifth mile, although I was getting KM splits during the race that meant little.

What I was relying on was the finish time predictor which was settling at around 34:42. With just over a mile to run I was determined to keep inside 35 minutes, which would be a satisfying return given the conditions. That last mile lasted an eternity. I could tell that Iain Bailey was closing on me, as we returned to the race HQ there were more spectators, many of them appearing to be Bailey fans willing him on to catch and pass me.

I think as we passed the 200 meters to go sign he was within a second or so of me. Determined to not let him pass I put in a sprint finish that I’ve rarely mustered and came home to eventually beat him by a relatively comfortable seven seconds. As I sunk to my knees, I looked at my watch – 34:45 was the time, not quite what I’d hoped for, but it transpired that, with 82.99% age grade, it was, statistically, my best ever race – although it most certainly did not feel like it.

With the flow of adrenaline leaving my body, the pain in the right Achilles appeared to increase. I hobbled over to a tree for shelter, removed my trainers, and spent a good ten minutes watching GRC runners come home. It took some time for me to find out I finished 5th, which I worked out guaranteed me an Age Group prize. I hung around for an eternity for the presentation only for the MC to announce that Age Category prizes would be sent out in the post! Suffice to say, the envelope sent through my door with £20 in it was not as satisfying as actually being able to receive some applause on the day itself.

Holly and me Woodhall Spa – Age Group Winners!

I hobbled back to the car and drove home. Walking the next day was not easy but I was able to cross train, and after a couple of weeks I was able to start running again, albeit still with Achilles issues that I need to get to the bottom of the root cause. Tight calves is the likely issue. Until then running is taking a bit of a back burner to cycling, hopefully I will be fit in time for my holidays!

 

Race Report – Lincoln Wellington AC 5K Series: Race 1 – Tuesday 22nd May 2018.

Immediately following the Sleaford Half Marathon, my bruised knee, which had survived the race itself, began to rear its ugly head and forced me to change my training plans. I rode for a couple of days (Including a 10 mile TT) without pain but on a 11 mile social run with Stephen Hobday (which included introducing him to Minnett’s Hill) the discomfort in the knee was sufficient for me to decide to take a week off running and try and let the knee heal.

This meant a lot of time on Zwift, with quite a few races where I was finding myself well inside the top 20 which was pleasing. A session on the elliptical trainer caused some discomfort in the knee which made me suspect that a muscle or tendon running to the kneecap may have been causing the discomfort, so I began targeting the likely suspects with some massage and strengthening exercises.

The Zwift sessions appeared to pay off at the Witham Wheelers 12 mile circuit TT, where I finished sixth in a new PB, over a minute quicker than I’d ridden previously – done on a road bike rather than the (Broken) TT bike and with clip on time trial bars rather than a proper TT cockpit, and pleasing considering I averaged 298 watts just a day after a very hard race on Zwift. The improving cycling form didn’t seem to cure the knee alas. I went for a brick 5k after a Zwift session on the Thursday morning (eight days after my last run) and the knee soon began aching again, not getting to the point where it was affecting my running (I averaged 6:01 for the 5K effort) but enough to not make running much fun. This discomfort repeated itself a day later with a mile brick run the next day.

Saturday came, three days before the Lincoln 5K, and I was in Bakewell taking part in the Brewin Dolphin Peak Tours Sportive. I may end up writing about this at another time, suffice to say it was 99 miles of hills in glorious sunshine. Enjoying a good ride and enjoying the likes of Winnats Pass, I managed to get a gold standard by just over 10 minutes having spent just over 6 hours in the saddle. With the weather still glorious on the Sunday I rode another 70 miles, this time with Witham Wheelers on one of their Sunday morning socials. I considered a brick run but with the knee still an issue when running I relucantly waited until the Monday morning before heading out early in the morning for a 10K recovery run from the rides over the weekend. While the legs benefited from the shakeout, the right knee continued to grumble, beginning to hurt a mile into the run and seemingly getting a little worse all the while the run continued. Like on the other runs though as soon as I stopped running the pain went away, which made me inclined to believe the pain wasn’t critical enough to be that much a cause for concern. This was backed up with an easy hour on Zwift in the evening, where the only issue was tired legs.

Tuesday came and the only exercise of the day prior to the race was the school run in the afternoon, where I stopped by at the chemists for a tube of Voltarol gel. I’m loathed to running with painkillers but I thought in this instance it may be worth the risk as one of the suggested remedies for a bruised kneecap was to use some anti-inflammatory painkillers, which I had, up to now, resisted using. Before I even got home I rubbed some gel into the right knee cap and also into the lower inner thigh, where I suspected any referred pain was coming from. I felt no immediate benefit, but then again I’d not expected to as the pain had not been evident when walking for a couple of weeks.

Once home I was still undecided on whether I was going to race the 5K or take part in the club TT. Like on two other instances I went out for a short half mile run close to home to assess the state of affairs with a late fitness test. To my relief I felt nothing in my knee, Both Achilles though felt quite sore so I swapped the Nike Frees for the Hoka Hoka One Clifton 3s which felt a little more comfortable on another half mile test – and once again there was no pain in the knee. I decided I would take part in the 5K. I knew that on the previous instances I’d passed a late fitness test I went onto enjoy good runs (Second place at the Newton’s Fraction and the Sleaford Half) so in a weird way I was enthused by the need to have a late fitness test.

So at 5:45pm I left for the Yarborough Leisure Center in Lincoln, arriving at 6:30pm – an hour before the start of the race. I was fully expecting to not be able to find a space to park, but I got very lucky and found a space recently vacated as I drove past. I went to the small race HQ, filled out an entry form, queued for a few minutes, paid my £5 and went to get changed. Once changed I returned to the car to drop off my bag and then put in a one mile warm up which, at 6:34 pace was a fair bit quicker than my normal relaxed mile or so before a race.

With the warm up out of the way I found a wall to shelter behind and to do some stretches before the race. The weather was not bad for racing – sunny, and at around 19C pleasant enough for a 5K without being overly warm. The issue though was the wind. A steady, bordering on the stiff, breeze meant that around half of the broadly rectangular shaped loop we would run on would be affected by a headwind. Of course what blows into you also blows you along when there is a tailwind, but the consensus is that generally you’d rather have little or no wind at all for the fastest possible conditions.

While stretching I got to ponder the possibilities of the race for a few minutes with club mate Rob McArdle. I was uncertain about whether the knee would hold, but fairly confident that if it did I could clock a good time, given the time at Sleaford in poor conditions. The unknown mitigating factor would be whether I’d fully recovered from the weekend’s cycling efforts and whether the paucity of running in the three weeks following the bike crash – only around 25 miles excluding the Sleaford Half – would be detrimental to my running fitness.

Five minutes before the start I lined up and just put in one burst of 50 meters or so at race pace. Rather pleasingly any heaviness that I’d experienced in the warm up had left the legs and they felt pretty race sharp. On the start line I bumped into young Jake Richardson, a runner I first ran against when he was a junior when I had only just moved to Grantham and had recently become more aware of his exploits having followed him on Strava and having run with him in a recent GRC training run. He expressed his hopes of a quick time, ideally sub 15 minutes. I knew that if he managed that he would become the fastest runner I’ve trained with, indeed he only had to break 15:50 or so to take that prized mantle. (In the end Jake would run 15:30 to finish second – a cracking effort!)

The race began promptly, too promptly in fact for a couple of young lads had failed to understand the starters’ instructions that we start with the firing of a horn and not the preceding whistle. With that short amusement out of the way we were off. With this being the third time I’d run a LWAC 5K I was confident of three eventualities:

  • The majority of the field would go off at a ridiculously fast pace they had no hope of maintaining.
  • The quality of the field should ensure runners at around my ability to race against.
  • My Garmin would dramatically overstate the distance of the race, perhaps by as much as a minute on my real time.

The first eventuality came to fruition just as planned, I found myself swamped by a load of runners who, once we turned the first corner around 100 meters after the start, began to inexorably slow. As in previous years I knew that this was not a huge drama as a glance at the Garmin showed we were tootling along at just over 5 minute mile pace. A bit boxed in, it took a little longer that desired to find a gap and escape the slowing runners, but within a minute of running I was on the coattails of a bunch of runners who appeared to be at a pace that suited my one goal in the race – to secure a 5K PB. My fastest two 5K times had come at this LWAC 5K race – 16:55 in 2014 and 16:57 in 2017. I’d somehow managed a 16:36 at Ferry Meadows parkrun in 2015 but I’m in the parkrun is not the same as a 5k race camp so 16:55 was the time I was looking to eclipse.

On the coattails of a bunch of five runners I’d sussed the wind direction out and knew that if I wanted to maximise the opportunity of sheltering from an imminent headwind I had to put in an effort to catch them. This I did on the corner before the finish line, just before the headwind came into full effect. If you believe the pace graph from my Garmin (And I’m more than a touch skeptical) I put my quickest effort of the race in here save the finish sprint which rewarded me with the goal of being on the back of a bunch of five runners, who all seemed willing to take the pace at the front into the headwind and not play tactics and ease up when at the front.

The short lap is just half a mile and we were then off on the first of three larger laps. I had already though seen club mate Penny drop out of the race (it transpired she had a dodgy hamstring which didn’t want to play ball on the night) and it made me aware that I couldn’t fully trust my knee would hold out. For all the while it was okay though I would make hay. Into the head wind on the first large lap I duly tucked into the group of runners, one of whom I recognised as the Lincoln Wellington runner I passed at around 4 miles in the Sleaford Half. All struggling into the headwind we were relieved when we turned the corner once to face a crosswind and then soon curved around once more so we enjoyed a tailwind. You could feel the difference in pace, confirmed by the data post race which suggests that we were slowing to around 5:30 into the head wind, and running just under 5 minute mile pace with the tailwind.

This of course is all purely subjective, for when my watch alerted me that I’d tackled the first mile in 5:08, I knew from bitter experience not to get too excited by the prospect of a 16 minute 5K. Back in 2014 the same happened and I excitedly saw 15:55 or so on my watch as 3.1 miles clicked over on the Garmin only to realise I still had at least another minute of running, finally clocking 3.3. miles. Half expecting it in 2017 I once again ran something close to 16 minutes for 5K only to find myself with plenty of the race to come. I’d half hoped that changing a setting so that the watch recorded every second would help matters, but I knew when the first mile clicked over that it was going to be a case of ignoring the splits and judging the race more or less by feel. (What makes this all the more frustrating is that it only seems to be my watch that has this inability to measure this course anywhere near accurately – I guess though it’s a good think in it’s consistency in being wrong!)

At the same time I glanced at my HR. This more reliable (although not infallible) guide to effort was reading 171 BPM at a mile, which was pleasing because this is in my upper limits for a half marathon. With this knowledge at hand and feeling as though I was a bit faster than the group I was with, I considered pushing on and attempting to leave the group, but I felt that the benefit of a shield into the headwind was arguably worth more than a few lost seconds not running at maximum possible pace.

I cannot really remember much of the second lap other than it was more of the same: sheltering and working hard into the wind and recovering while being pushed along by the wind. Mile 2 was 5:10, the HR had crept slowly but consistently up to 175bpm, which is at around 10K limits. Most importantly I was still feeling quite comfortable for the all important last mile – when the comfortable can very quickly become the unbearable as lactate build up peaks and wreaks havoc with the legs.

Things began to change on the final lap. I think we last a couple of runners in our group of five because I can only remember there being a couple in front of me. We passed young Will Tucker of Grantham AC, touted as the quickest distance runner in Grantham, which he undoubtedly will be very soon, but on this evening, I was looking like I would go a little faster. I kept behind the two left in the group for the duration of the headwind section. As soon as this became a tailwind, I let the breeze do its best to propel me on, passing the two in front of me. I knew I had just a couple of minutes left of running and had to empty the tank but this suddenly became a much easier proposition in the mind than in reality as the lactate overflowed with the HR at 178.

Mile 3 clicked over on the Garmin. A quick glance, another 5:10. A quick look at the elapsed time – 15:28. If only I had just another 0.1 mile of running to go! Alas, as in previous years, my Garmin had overstated the distance (3.26 miles to be precise), which meant I had a quarter of a mile, or around 400 meters left to run. With all thoughts of knee pain long forgotten, I pushed on as hard as I could. Thankfully one of the two guys I’d passed recently was now using me to pace themselves to the finish, which meant I had the physical impetus to keep the effort high. Heading around the final bend and with the finish funnel in sight, I put in one last effort, trying to lift the heavy legs as high and as fast and as far as they could.

I crossed the line and stopped the Garmin. I looked at the time: 16:45. I gave a rare shout of Yes! as an irrefutable 5K PB had been clocked. It would take a few days for the official results to confirm the same time. I finished 9th on the night and first V40 runner, which was a pleasant surprise, but not one I was really targeting as this race was all about the time. I had achieved the aim of a new PB and good age grade score (82.72%) for my club’s Grand Prix Series, of which this race was a round of.

A little out of breath, I declined the opportunity to collapse on the floor as many around me did, but did put hands on knees for a few moments to regain my composure. Once again this made me think that perhaps I don’t try quite as hard as those around me…. The benefit of being quickly recovered was that I was able to head back down the course to cheer each of the 14 other Grantham Running Club finishers home, eleven of whom also claimed Personal Bests on the evening.

The GRC Lincoln 5K 2018 Contingency.

Once all accounted for there was time for a rather pleasant sunset kissed group photo before heading back to the car for the journey home, very pleased with the way things turned out, not only in terms of the time but because the knee injury, which I had feared would be a potential season ending crisis, was perhaps not quite as bad as it could have been. I now had a twelve days to prepare for the next race: The Woodhall Spa 10K. 

 

 

Race Report – Sleaford Half Marathon – Sunday 6th May 2018.

With the London Marathon done and dusted attention focused on the Sleaford Half Marathon. I had two weeks to try and recover and prepare for what would likely be my first full gas race of the year after the semi-training run effort of the Keyworth Turkey Trot  and the London Marathon – which although an extremely hard race due to the heat, was ultimately less hard on the legs as it could have been if I’d run it at the pace I’d trained to run at.

Mindful of a calf injury sustained not long after the 2017 London Marathon which may well have been exacerbated by resuming running (at pace) too soon after London, I made a concerted effort to take things relatively easy. The day after London saw an easy hour on the elliptical trainer and a few minutes on my new bike smart trainer which I had treated myself to when it went on an offer that was too good to refuse. I rode the Witham Wheelers TT on the Tuesday, a moderate effort, not too hard on the legs, oddly a slight season’s best. Wednesday saw my first ride in anger on Zwift using the smart trainer and I’ve got to say I absolutely loved it. It brought a new sense of realism to the game – 8% climbs now felt like climbs rather than having to try and simulate it through gear selection, conversely, the 8% descents gave you a chance to try and recover – just as in real life.

Back to real life on the Thursday and the first run since London – eleven miles with GRC. I felt really good, averaged 7:12 but could have gone so much faster were there anyone willing to go with the pace. Friday saw more Zwift and my first training session, which brings in the erg mode element to turbo training, which makes things very interesting! Saturday saw Belton House parkrun and a 17:27 clocking (Which I’ve posted about separately). Loving the smart trainer so much I put in a catch up Tour Of Watopia stage after work in the evening, before putting in another 90 minutes on Zwift on Sunday morning, stopped only by work on the Azerbaijan GP. Monday saw a 10 mile run in the morning, no real effort and 6:37 average but tired quads gave an indication that I hadn’t fully recovered from London. My daughter’s cancelled swim session in the evening meant I got a bonus hour on Zwift. Everything was going great! Then Tuesday happened.

For reasons unknown I wasn’t feeling too fantastic Tuesday afternoon. I considered not heading to the time trial but, after a little rest on the sofa and a leftover slice of the kids’ pizza, I felt a bit better and so got myself ready to ride to the event. I can’t at the moment print exactly what happened, suffice to say that not long after leaving the house and riding to the cricket club, I was involved in an accident that left me on the floor with my bike significantly worse for wear.

After I picked myself up and went through the procedure of sorting out details for insurance reasons, I headed back home, bike unrideable and in a bit of pain with my left calf (I think I irritated the sciatic nerve with an over extension and felt nothing more after a night’s sleep) and a bruised right knee. I was full of adrenaline, so put in an hour or so easy riding on Zwift to try and calm myself down.

A restless night followed however as I mulled over and over the evening’s incident. I had planned to run with Stephen Hobday on Wednesday morning. I was able to run but the bruised right knee became progressively more sore as the run progressed, so I cut short a planned 10 mile run to 7.5 miles. Feeling no discomfort on the bike, I rode a Zwift race in the evening, memorable for it being very hilly and significantly longer than advertised, so much so that at the conclusion, nearly 90 minutes after beginning, the body was totally devoid of any energy whatsoever!

Thursday morning saw 55 minutes very easy on Zwift before a planned GRC run in the evening. Young talent Jake was a guest and it wasn’t long before he and I were off the front of the group running alone. The right knee, which had been a little sore from the off, became increasingly painful to the point where I called the run short at 9 miles in total. I knew that Sunday’s Half Marathon was in real jeopardy so it was a case of two days of nothing but rest and plenty of ice applied to the knee 3 or 4 times a day. This seemed to yield a positive result, by Saturday evening I felt nothing when walking up and down stairs, whereas before it had ached a fair amount. It was though still quite painful to touch.

With the race start at 9:45 am, I was up at 6:30 am to prepare and allow the cereal bar breakfast to digest. In scenes eerily reminiscent of the 2016 Newton’s Fraction Half Marathon (where I went in injured, but finished second) I did a short half mile run from home before setting off for nearby Sleaford by means of a fitness test on the crash damaged knee. I could feel a little tenderness but nothing that caused undue concern nor a change in running gait. What was apparent though was the weather. In an almost near mirror image of March’s Beast from the East  and it’s return a fortnight later, the very warm, sunny weather that compromised performance at the London Marathon had returned with vengeance for the Sleaford Half Marathon weekend, with the weekend in the middle frustratingly near perfect for distance racing.

I made it to Sleaford with over 90 minutes to spare, fearing a nightmare with parking that failed to transpire. Given that Sleaford is the nearest town to Grantham I should know my way around it better, but I had to rely on other runners’ knowledge to get me from the town car park to the start venue at the local football club. Pre-race preparation was a fairly standard affair but with the emphasis on trying to keep as cool as possible with temperatures already approaching 20C at 9 am. The warm up was just a mile around the football pitches with one acceleration. The knee felt fine.

The GRC entrants at the 2018 Sleaford Half Marathon. Picture c/o Kirsti Carter.

I sought shade as much as possible, somewhat reluctantly taking part in the rather impressive GRC group photo, before heading back to join a queue for the indoor toilets which killed some time and was cooler than being outside. I deliberated long and hard about what kit to wear – the club vest was a given, then I opted to wear the cap that served me so well at London. Then, at the last minute, I opted to also wear the club coloured Buff (purchased just the day before for such an eventuality) around the neck to try and keep temperatures down on a course which was largely exposed to the sun with little chance of seeking shade. In the 10-15 minutes before the start of the race, I made a point of keeping the cap and buff soaked with cold water. It was pretty cold at the time but I was confident it would help during the race itself.

The pre-race briefing told us to enjoy the lovely conditions, which I think most took to be a little tongue in cheek given we were already all baking in the sun. I had half planned to take it easy with the hot weather, but I knew from prior experience that I could probably plan to run a fairly standard race with the acceptance that the going would get increasingly tough near the end of the race, more than you’d expect if conditions were fine.

We made the short walk from the club house to the start line. We were warned about the start mat covering the entirety of the road so I placed myself dead bang in the middle of the line of the carpet so as to minimise chances of not being detected by the timing chip. We were told that we would start on the whistle and literally two or three seconds later the whistle blew. Nearly all road races have a countdown of sorts, so at first I hesitated, wondering if the whistle was to bring us to attention but, no, that was the starting whistle, and so we were off on our way.

A flat start with a slight breeze at our backs meant the start was brisk. I found myself somewhere around the top ten, before making up a space or three as we turned into a housing estate and began to run into the breeze. Leaving the estate and returning in the opposite direction back towards the start line I closed slowly on the runner in third position.

Third placed Wayne Lathwell leads in the opening mile from Ruslan Seitkalijev, who finished fifth. Picture c/o Race Organisers.

Just by following him I liked his smart approach to racing. As the leaders (and many others), shown in the picture above, stuck to the left hand side of the road, the guy in front moved to the right hand side of the road, where there was a patch of around 200 meters which was in the shade. A marginal gain perhaps over the course of 13.1 miles seeking marginally lower temperatures, but I know from experience these little things can and do add up. I went through the first mile in 5:38, which was a couple of seconds up on the A Game plan, although not as fast as my PB HM opening mile, when I ran 5:28.

The second mile took us past the finish area and off on the long loop that would take us to and through Kirkby La Thorpe, Evedon, Ewerby, Boughton, Howell, Ewerby Thorpe, Ewerby (Again), and Kirky la Thorpe (Again) before returning to the finish at the football club. The wide main road running into Sleaford and towards the A17 was closed for the morning. The rest of the roads were open but were very quiet roads – I think I only saw three or four cars and a whole load of bicycles – but more of them later.

By the end of the second mile I had closed on the third placed runner, who I thought I recognised as someone I raced with at the Thoresby 10, but some detective work reveals I didn’t. It was only after the race that he came to be known to me as Martin Dawson of North Derbyshire Running Club. Clocking a more palatable 5:46 for the second mile. Martin pulled wide to the right side of the road as he let me through to take the pace. There was a headwind at the time – just noticeable enough to be a little effort to run in and also just enough to provide a bit of welcome cooling. Martin’s extravagant pull to the side amused me quite a bit. I kept the pace honest as we passed probably the biggest climb on the course as we climbed up and over the A17.

Any thoughts that Martin was just going to sit on my tail was put to bed as he came past me, clearly willing to help with the pace. Indeed as we went through the first water station, manned by one of my local running rivals Greg Southern of Sleaford/Royal Air Force  at 2.5 miles, he kindly offered me his water bottle. As I had already discarded around 450ml over the top of my head and was feeling suitably refreshed, I declined his kind offer, but knew that this would be someone who would be a help in the race rather than a hindrance.

Martin was keen to share water bottles! Picture c/o Sara Pask.

We went through the third mile together in 5:41 and 5K in 17:42. By now the two at the front of the race who had pulled clear for the opening couple of miles were now slowly, but surely, being reeled in by the slower starting duo of Martin and myself. Lincoln AC man, who had led the race, was now second behind the young man in black, who looked bouncy and strong but who, along with the bigger Lincoln runner, showed signs of beginning to struggle with the heat, which was warm and getting warmer all the time.

Through four miles with 5:43 on the Garmin, it had been was a typical Fens running affair – an unremarkable narrow country lane on flat lands surrounded by fields of crops.  As we approached Everdon there was a rare change in elevation with a slight incline. It was here where Martin and I passed the Lincoln AC runner. The man in black was now just a few seconds up the road and it looked like a matter of when, not if, we would both pass him. This we did shortly after, sharing the lead of the race, continuing to take turns to pace one another. I was keeping an eye on my HR as it crept higher towards the maximum I’d like it to be during a HM. On a cooler day I may have let it past, but I knew with the warmth I couldn’t stretch too far into the red.

Sharing the lead of the race with Martin on the farmers’  track. Picture c/o Race Organisers.

The road had now turned into a heavily potholed gravel track – a private road used with permission from a farmer. The Sleaford Half Marathon seems to enjoy these excursions into the unusual. At its former home at RAF Cranwell there was a half mile or so through a field which, during February when the race was held, was invariably very muddy and slippery. This pot hole ridden track was less of a hindrance, especially as the ground had been baked dry by days of sun, but it demanded full attention to avoid becoming a cropper in a crater.

Former leader of the race Ruslan Seitkalijev, who went onto  finish fifth. I can just be seen in the lead of the race as we exited the farmer’s gravel path.. Picture c/o Race Organisers.

Exiting the farmers path at the beginning of the fifth mile, the Garmin clocked 5:41. As we approached halfway at Ewerby and still sharing the lead of the race, I could just sense that the heat was beginning to take its toll. Speaking to others after the race many felt the same way – that is that it was bearable to halfway, then got progressively harder with a low point around ten miles as we came back into Ewerby.

Leading the race approaching Eweby and halfway. Picture c/o Race Organisers.

The sixth mile was 5:46 and I went through 10K in 35:32. By now parched, both me and Martin were alarmed at the next water station when they appeared to be handing out cups of water. Spotting a crate of water bottles we both shouted ‘Bottles! Bottles!’ to the guys manning the water station. To their credit and perhaps hearing the desperation in our voices, bottles were hastily provided just in time. Thoughtfully once again Martin had taken two bottles in case I had been unable to grab one. Once again I declined his offer of a bottle, he handed it to a spectator to hopefully hand out to runners behind us.

Off now on a near four mile loop before returning to Ewerby, my time at the front of the race would come to an end. With the merest of a slow down, mile 7 being 5:48, it seemed Martin capitalised on this and picked up the pace, not by a huge amount, but enough to create a 20 second or so gap by the time we had run eight miles. Really feeling the heat by now as I clocked 5:48 for mile 8, all I could do was hope that Martin had risked it a little too much by increasing the pace when the body would surely be screaming to slow down. I noted that at around 8 miles, Martin took on a gel. I sensed that today that could have been a great move, especially one with added sodium and other electrolytes – the type I normally take. The possible advantage I had over him, I reckoned, was that the still soaking cap and buff around the neck would hopefully keep me cooler in the later stages, when the heat would likely really start to take its toll.

Turning left at the small village of Howell I was warned by marshals of cyclists approaching the junction. There was the King Edward Sportive taking place that day, which we had been warned about as there was a multitude of arrows at the next junction which would be confusing to a heat affected mind. With odds that must be in the 100s to 1, by pure coincidence the group that came past me was a bunch of Witham Wheelers’ riders, the same group I would have typically ridden with if I had failed the morning’s fitness test and chosen to cycle instead! With plenty of encouragement received I half jokingly instructed them to try and slow down the leader ahead. They did indeed ride up to Martin and perhaps told him to slow down. They didn’t though impede him and that was the last I saw of them as they took part in an activity far more enjoyable than running in the conditions.

That brief interlude of excitement out of the way it was back to the increasingly hard graft. Mile 9 was a 5:49 and mile 10 5:50. I remember little of this part of the race other than finding it increasingly hot and difficult to maintain pace.

Struggling along in the heat at 10 miles. Picture c/o Edina Burns.

At ten miles we rejoined the course already trodden at Ewerby and I was passing runners who would look to run around two and a bit hours for the marathon. I knew the water station would be ahead and was thankful to take a bottle. Once again I took only a small swig of water, making sure as much of the contents as possible went over the head and neck.

Miles 10 and 11 were the hardest yards of the race. At times I felt like my legs were beginning to buckle. Fearing an attack of the Callum Hawkins I made sure I could run a straight line. Thankfully, despite the suffering, I was not yet out of my mind, although I did question this when we passed a random guitarist and partnering vocalist singing Brown Eyed Girl by the side of the country road. Mile 11, despite being partially downhill, was the slowest of the race at 5:52. That I was suffering and tiring but more or less maintaining pace was pleasing. I just had to keep the concentration up. Not only was Martin in front seemingly slowing slightly (Probably an illusion), I had glanced behind on occasion and was sure a Lincoln Wellington runner was closing on me. Fear of losing second rather than the possibility of winning here drove me on.

Mile 12 saw the final water station, another cheer of encouragement from Greg Southern and the final incline of the race as we went back over the A17 and towards the finish. I was pleased to see I had increased the pace to run 5:47 for mile 12 and with less than eight minutes of running to go I put in as much effort as I could, focusing on the limited number of reference points ahead to break down the mile as much as possible and ignoring as best as possible the heat radiating off the asphalt below.

It was at 12.5 miles I looked at my elapsed time for the first time since halfway. It read under 1:12. For a few moments I thought a PB was possible, but the brain had enough processing power to realise that wasn’t possible.  I did though recognise that it could be a pretty decent time and so, despite second place being assured, I put in one final effort to make it to the finish line as quickly as possible.

Coming in to finish second. Picture c/o Race Organisers.

Crossing the line I missed the finishing clock, my Garmin suggested I had run 1:16:04 but I knew it would be officially a few seconds quicker. I forgot all about that however as, once stopped, the inevitable heat soak took over my body and I could think of nothing but to seek shade, which I found next to the Muffin Top cake stall by the baggage collection. I spent a few minutes just sitting calmly, cooling slightly, before being joined by the one-time race leader Rusian who shook hands with me before collapsing in a heap!

Being presented with the second placed trophy. Picture c/o Gav Meadows.

After five minutes or so I felt sufficiently recovered and collected my bag to change into dry clothes. For the next 45 minutes or so I stood with club mates and spectated, cheering home the 35+ Grantham Running Club members who took part in the race. Initially it was believed we had won the Team Prize until Lincoln Wellington found a runner to mean that they took the honours. I did though have the opportunity to receive the second placed trophy and a voucher worth £125 for a pair of Mizuno trainers! This prize was given to the first three finishers, which made me wonder whether the effort of maintaining second had been worth it! I was also given my official chip time of 1:15:59, which cheered me up no end!

I also had the first opportunity to talk to the race winner, who revealed that it was only his second half marathon and a three minute PB, clocking 1:15:11. He admitted that he had taken a bit of a risk in breaking clear at 7 miles and just about held on, but it was touch and go in the final miles. His win was well judged and thoroughly well deserved.

Trophy, Shoes, and Prize Trainers.

Grabbing a pair of Mizuno Wave Riders from the Lincolnshire Runner stand, I basked in the heat of the day before heading to a rather lovely barbecue at friends, then GRC’s Beer & Bling evening, where I could add the Sleaford Half Marathon medal to my London Marathon prize. It was only when I awoke in the morning that I was reminded that I had run 13.1 miles on a bruised knee. Virtually pain free during the race, it felt very similar to how it had been soon after crashing the bike. Indeed a pain blighted run a couple of days later meant I was resigned to taking at least a week off running to let everything hopefully heal. I certainly hope so because I am in good shape and have some races coming up thick and fast!

Grantham Running Club ‘Beer N Bling!’
Splits and Map of Course

Belton House parkrun fun!

Wondering what the ‘paparazzi’ is doing this morning! Me & Pasky. Picture c/o Richard Hall.

During the winter I get plenty of opportunity to take part in Belton House parkrun. I very often run it as part of a long run, so rarely get to run it full gas – at best it’s half marathon HR. I wasn’t expecting to take part in Belton House parkrun #111 as it was a Grand Prix Saturday, but Friday afternoon practice at Baku made me aware that the timetable was a little different from regular European races, meaning I had a crucial extra hour in the morning, meaning I could take get in a quick parkrun before hot footing it back home to begin work.

The weather could not be much different from six days earlier at the London Marathon – light rain, a light to steady breeze and temperatures maxing out at around 7C. It could have been near perfect for Marathon running: in around ten years I may get over the injustice of the unseasonably warm weather we were subjected to for 26.2 miles. In near full winter gear I made the very late decision to add a t-shirt to the thermal top I was already wearing – chance would have it it was the 2018 London Marathon finishers’ t-shirt I’d put in the top of my running drawer.

The shortest distance to run to parkrun for me is just over two miles, I decided to loop a bit longer making it nearer four by the time I lined up the start. More than plenty who were there, but compared to some of my long runs over the winter, where I had 15 or more miles already clocked up, I felt like I’d barely run at all.

Changing the playlist – unaware of the shock I was about to get! Picture c/o Richard Hall.

Running with music pumping into my headphones, like I regularly do, I changed from a Prince playlist (Fantastic, but trying to smash a 5:30 mile to Do Me Baby is kind of tricky!) to my running/spinning playlist, reserved for events where some pumping tunes are required to help keep a good tempo. I kept the earphones out to hear the pre-run briefing before hitting play as the short countdown commenced and we were on our way.

The start. Picture c/o Shaun Parkes.

I often find myself outside the top 15 for the opening km or so of parkrun, but the legs must have felt reasonable (Or the field was a little lethargic) as I was soon into third place, already miles behind the rapidly improving junior runner William Tucker, but closer than usual to the regular man being pulled along by dog combo, who often starts quick before fading a touch.

A swifter than usual start. Picture c/o Richard Hall.

Neither were of much concern to me – I genuinely care little what position I am in a parkrun as it’s not a race. What was concerning me was that the Tiny Tempah track that had began my parkrun had been abruptly replaced by something quite awful which I had to pause for fear of corrupting my mind. I later found to be Michael Buble, accidentally put on by my wife back at home using Spotify on Alexa. To correct this heinous mistake would have meant getting my phone out which, while running comfortably below six minute miles, was not practicable. So I had to make do with the relative sound of silence.

Persistent rain meant the gravel track out to the Lion Gates was a bit of a splash fest, although it has been worse. The same could be said for the rest of the grass 2.5km loop, which was wet, but not as slippy and muddy as it has been this winter. Leaving the gravel path and onto the grass, Chris Limmer came onto my shoulder. He is training for a 100 mile race this Saturday, but his diet of long runs seems to be paying dividends for his 5K pace, as he has had some good runs in recent weeks.

His presence must have seen me pick up the pace for we soon caught and passed man with dog as we ran alongside the golf course. Along the ‘back straight’ where the mole hills make running a bit of a nightmare. Chris pulled past me. Tucking into his slipstream I had visions of this being New Years Eve v2, where Greg Southern and I paced each other around to my course PB of 17:00.

Beginning lap 2 and feeling good – for now. Picture c/o Shaun Parkes.

Letting Chris take the pace for a minute or so I pulled back past him and just increased the pace slightly. Unfortunately for the benefit of a quicker time, Chris was just unable to stick to my tail and I eased slowly ahead. We had clocked 5:38 for the first mile, but heading off the gravel path on the second lap back towards the golf course, Garmin flashed a 5:25 mile.

The second lap – leading Chris and legs beginning to burn! Picture c/o Richard Hall.

On a good day I’d be able to maintain that pace for the rest of the parkrun. At that moment I just began to feel the marathon in my legs and also in my mind and I just had to let the pace slip a touch. It wasn’t a killer final mile but it was certainly a bit of an effort to get to the finish. 5:38 was the third mile split with barely any sprint finish to speak of. William finished first in a cracking course PB of 17:01, I came home second in 17:27, with Chris third in 17:41.

Coming into the finish – P2! Picture c/o Shaun Parkes.

I didn’t have long to recover for I had a couple of miles to run to get home so I could begin work. I was able to correct the Spotify issue and had the pumped up running tracks to help me home. The final run stats came in at 9.5 miles at 6:19 average, with the parkrun the fastest at Belton House since January 2017. So much for taking it easy after the marathon! In all seriousness, hopefully it bodes well for a good summer of racing. I think I am in fairly good shape and if I can avoid injury and illness some good things are possible.