For our penultimate stop on our grand tour of northern Britain we headed 200 miles south from the Highlands via the mostly beautiful, at times challenging, A82, and the less scenic but undeniably easier to drive M74, which magically became the M6 as we returned to England and stayed at Dalston Hall Caravan Site, where a misjudgement over the height of the barrier very nearly wrote off our caravan!
Dalston is a large village around 4 miles southwest of Carlisle. Home of a Nestle factory ‘which has been on the outskirts of the village since 1952, processing 65 million litres of milk each year, and almost one billion sachets of Nescafe Cafe Menu products’ there was also a very nice fish and chip shop which we visited on the Saturday night!
Lying north of the Lake District, there was no shortage of places to visit on our short stay. We enjoyed Wordsworth’s house in Cockermouth, which happened to have a festival on that day (Our third on our trip!).
We visited Keswick for perhaps the fifth time – we really enjoyed the Puzzling Place – a museum crammed with mind bending illusions and puzzles.
From there we headed to Moss Force and Knott Rigg on Newlands Pass near Buttermere for some enjoyable Lake District hill scrambling and challenging driving. Carlisle provided a welcome playground for the kids who were beginning to tire of daily walks and we left Carlisle thinking that we definitely need to return to the Lake District again for a longer than three night stay.
Day 16 – Friday 17th August 2018 – Into Carlisle and Out Again
After the long drive south back into England I wanted little more than a simple, uncomplicated afternoon ten mile run with perhaps the odd sight or two to enjoy. The first issue was that the road on which the Caravan Park lay, was a fairly busy, fast B-Road, with plenty of traffic heading out of Carlisle towards somewhere. I wanted to head to Carlisle itself but didn’t fancy running on the road. Thankfully the owner of the caravan park told me there was a footpath that ran to a cycle path that ran all the way to Carlisle and beyond.
Cycle paths are great for uncomplicated running I thought, so at a few minutes before 4 pm I headed off, under fairly leaden skies but, for the time being, dry. The route to the cycle path was quite a fun affair – across a golf course, down through some woodlands, along a well manicured grass path in a field, through another section of woodland before popping out on the main B Road just before Dalston, but right next to a private road which, if you headed along, through the self operated level crossing (a first for me!) headed to the long awaited cycle path. This sounds simple but required a fair amount of stopping and Google Map checking to assure myself that I was going in the right direction.
All this twisting and turning meant, at 8:02, the first mile was pretty slow, but once on the cycle path the pace naturally lowered to or just under 7 minute miles. I was though, having discovered that day there was a parkrun in Carlisle taking place on Saturday morning, taking it deliberately easy.
The path ran alongside a fairly quiet railway, at times it got very close to the railway – close enough to almost be able to touch a passing train if you were to be so stupid. I wasn’t so I carried on running. Arriving at the small village of Cummersdale I was briefly running on road before joining another path that was a little more undulating having left the path of the railway and instead copying the path of the River Caldew.
After five miles of running I was beginning to wonder if I’d ever reach Carlisle, but the welcoming sight of a signpost for Carlisle Castle assured me that I was indeed in the heart of the city.
Crossing a pedestrian bridge I stopped briefly to take a photo of the outside of the castle. Behind me was a the busy A595 which didn’t look to fun to run along so with some more Google mapping I cut into the heart of Carlisle, passing the Cathedral and through the pedestrianised shopping centre.
I then got a little lost trying to get myself on the Dalston Road which I figured may just take me back to Dalston where I was staying. Things weren’t helped by a squally shower making things decidedly unpleasant for a while before things calmed down, but didn’t exactly brighten up.
I ran along Dalston Road for a couple of miles, where in total I managed to notch up a trio of 7:11 miles. At a set of roadworks I noted that I could take a quiet road back to the small village of Cummersdale where I reckoned I could rejoin the cycle path back to the Caravan Park rather than face running on the busy main road back during the heart of a Friday evening rush hour.
Once I’d worked out that I could follow the road down to the main cycle path and ignore the foot paths across muddy fields, it was with some relief that I was back on the cycle path, where I knocked out a couple of easy six fifty something miles to bring me back to to the Caravan Park via the twists and turns of the unofficial footpath of the golf course. A ten and a third mile done with the minimum of energy expenditure followed by the plushest showers I’ve ever used at a Caravan Park! Happy Days!
Best Strava Segment Performance: Richie to pirelli lane – 36th/490
Day 17 – Saturday 18th August 2018 – Five miles then Carlisle parkrun (1st, 17:59), five miles to end it.
Unlike the Tees Barrage parkrun in Stockton that I was aware of in advance of us setting off on holiday, I genuinely wasn’t aware that there was a parkrun in Carlisle until a day or so before arriving at Dalston. I really don’t know why I didn’t think there would be a parkrun in a city, but it never crossed my mind.
Once I knew there was, there was the logistics of trying to get to it by running and not driving. Fortunately it was only three and a half miles away – as long as I ran on the busy B road from Dalston into Carlisle, a mile or so would have me running on the road. I reckoned that, at just after 8 am, the traffic would not be so bad and thankfully I was proved correct, with less than a handful of cars passing me, all able to give me plenty of space as they passed.
Considering I had to run through some back streets to make it to the park, I got to Chance’s Park, venue of Carlisle parkrun, relatively smoothly. I did double check with a pair in high-vis bibs that I was in the right place, they assured me I was and I relaxed somewhat. I chatted briefly to another pair of parkrun tourists, our paths would cross later, before heading off for a couple more miles or so working my way around the park, using the toilet facilities, and generally trying to kill half an hour or so before the 5K run began. The pre-parkrun miles were all run at a relaxed pace, the slowest 7:40, the quickest a 7 flat as I ended with a few strides to try and wake the legs.
The pre-run brief for first timers to Carlisle was far briefer than the one I enjoyed at Stockton. There was no map, no real information on where the course went other than it was three laps and we were shown where it began and finished. I had a fair idea of where we went, but I thought it would be prudent, whatever the pace, to not attempt to lead (if such a thing was possible) until the end of the opening lap. There was an intriguing aside from the marshal who pointed out that a lot of the Strava uploads from the parkrun showed the course to be 3.2 miles (5K is 3.1 miles), but was confident that the course was indeed exactly 5K. (I also overheard a couple of regulars who said the course was definitely long as it had been changed slightly from what it was originally).
At a few minutes past nine I lined up at the front of the 260 odd strong field and waited for the next pre-run biref to commence and finish. Finally at around 9:05 we were on our way. There was the usual surge of runners to the front, I was probably only just in the top ten after 300 meters, but slowly worked my way through to sit fourth at the back of a group of four.
The three lap parkrun was a twisty affair, partly run on grass, partly on footpaths, fairly constantly undulating and for today, pretty windy. It was reminiscent of a cross country course minus mud and spikes and with more tarmac – for which I was grateful. It was a good example of a parkrun in a regular kind of park. After all the definition of what constitutes a park has been stretched somewhat over the years to allow a parkrun to take place.
I stayed fourth until we reached the bottom of the park and made a hairpin bend that took us climbing back up a longish drag. I was confident I knew where the course went from here and felt the pace slow a touch so I pushed on and took the lead near the top of the hill, enjoying the immediate gradual downhill run following a hairpin which meant the pace naturally picked up. I went through a mile in 5:43, which I was pleased with given the undulating twisty nature of the course.
As I turned again sharp left to begin the second lap I tried my best to relax and enjoy the run. Halfway around the second lap before tackling the main climb again, I reckon I only had a few seconds on the second placed runner, by the time I reached the top it had pushed out to 15 or so and I knew that, barring disaster, first place was assured. The second mile was 5:35 and my legs felt great, bounding with confidence and purpose.
The final lap was much the same as the second, I was strongest of the field on the climb and extended my lead further. By now the biggest issue was back markers, of which there were many on a three lap course and on narrow pavements were tough to navigate at times. The third mile was a 5:36 and it was a very long 0.1 of a mile (as it was 0.2) of slightly uncomfortable slightly uphill running to the finish line. I finished first in 17:59, 38 seconds clear of the second placed runner. Given my splits I expected a bit quicker time but, I do believe the course was indeed a touch long.
I hung around a few minutes to clap some of the runners behind me home. The tourists I met earlier in the morning came home in a low 20 minutes, which for the girl as a 15-17 junior was very impressive – especially on her first parkrun attempt. She did however feel she was robbed of a position by another runner and I decided to leave before the argument got potentially heated.
Returning to a comfortable pace I made my way back to the Caravan Site. I reckoned the busy B road was indeed looking quite busy so I opted, as I had the day before, to take the left hand turn down to Cummersdale and the bicycle path back to Dalston. This meant that the run was as near as it can be half marathon distance by the time I’d run a lap or two of the caravan park. The average was a pleasing 6:49 and all was good, even if the legs felt pretty tired by the end. It was my third first place at parkrun in a row and I knew that, although the times suggested otherwise, there was some pleasing form arriving in the legs.
Best Strava Segment Performance: Carlisle Parkrun – 17th/1216
Day 18 – Sunday 19th August 2018 – Wet Dalston Loop
For the final run in Dalston I decided to head into Dalston itself, pick a road and see where it would take me, hopefully making a loop out of the run rather than an out and back. As it was 8:30 am on a Sunday morning I reckoned I could safely make the 200 meters or so of road without pavement before making it into Dalston. This I managed to do, running for a mile or so through the large village waiting patiently for the legs to wake up, stopping a the church to take a photo which kind of matched the vintage ones in the nearby fish and chip shop the evening before.
You may spot the pavement is wet and indeed it was raining, lightly at first and gradually intensifying during the run with heavy bursts of precipitation that eased and then returned for the entirety of the run. Fortunately it wasn’t cold, indeed the rain had apparently been blown in by the back end of a tropical storm, so it was actually almost as pleasant as running in the rain can be.
Through Dalston I spotted a sign for a footpath and cycle path so I took that, which went briefly went through park before leading to a bridge and a private road containing an old factory and then some very pleasant looking houses alongside a stream, one of which was guarded by Fred Flintstone!
I found myself popped out at the other end of Dalston. A quick look at Google Maps showed that if I went up a short hill and turned right, there was a quiet country lane that could lead to more country lanes and the possibility of a loop. I ran along this road for a couple of miles, occasionally stopping to see when this road or roads that would allow me to loop around would appear.
I stopped at some houses with a very old looking sign post that included the familiar names of Dalston, Carlisle, Penrith, and Crown Inn. How odd I thought to myself that a pub would be advertised on a road sign post. I know there are examples of this – the road known as the Cat and Fiddle is the pub on top ofhill upon which it sits upon is one that springs to mind, but still, I can’t think of many other instances where a pub is so ingrained in the landscape it merits a place on a road sign. I did though wonder, with the sign being so old, whether it still existed.
So I continued along the road for another mile and a half which took me to a set of cross roads with just one solitary building, which was The Crown Inn. It was not the most spectacular pub, looking a little tired – although most would with the weather I was running in. After a brief stop I turned left and headed towards Durdar. The pace picked up, having struggled to break 7 minute miles I was not running 6:30 and quicker. It was only when I got back and checked the elevation profile did I realise that I had been climbing ever so gently 300 feet for the opening five miles of the run, and was now doing the same but going downhill.
What struck me about this road to Durdar, although it was almost totally devoid of road traffic and had no road markings, it had the hallmarks of a road that was once much busier. Wide enough to almost be an A road with junctions here and there that suggested that this road was once much busier. Indeed around half a mile further along the road was another pub, which had clearly closed some years ago and was in a state of some disrepair. I haven’t been able to confirm it but I can only assume that, pre-M6, this road may have been a far busier, more important road taking drivers north or south – hence the sign posted pub on a crossroads in the middle of nowhere with another not far along the road, both convenient stopping points for the long distance driver. I guess once the M6 arrived this road ceased to have any vital purpose other than taking drivers from one village to the next and, perhaps, taking some slack if there is ever a drama on the nearby M6.
I made it to Durdar with eight miles on the clock and turned left at the cross roads. This road back to Dalston was just as wide as the one I was on, but was still a busy popular road judging by the volume of traffic on it. I can’t say it was the most pleasant experience running on this busy road for three miles or so, in the rain, constantly changing from one side of the road to the other to keep myself visible to traffic on the bends and hills.
It was a relief at 11 miles when I returned to the house guarded by Fred Flinstone and the footpath I’d left some miles earlier. I could relax and head back to the caravan site. I opted at the end of the run to take the unofficial footpath through the golf course once again to my caravan, to make the run a second consecutive half marathon effort. Rather eerily I clocked 13.13 miles (exactly the same as the day before) in 1:29:35, just four seconds slower than the day before. A sub 3 marathon clocked over the 24 hours!
With that run done it was farewell to Carlisle and on to the final destination of the holiday – Yorkshire!
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!
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.
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.
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!
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.
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.
The 2017 Keyworth Turkey Trot was meant to be a thrilling conclusion to the inaugural Grantham Running Club Grand Prix Championships. I had worked out that I needed 1:17:20 to secure an age grade sufficient to overhaul Series leader Rob Howbrook, assuming he wasn’t able to improve his age grade himself. After running a minute quicker than that at the Worksop Half Marathon, I was quietly confident, but after a month of injury post Rockingham Duathlon I was barely able to bring myself to attend the event let alone consider winning.
It therefore came of something of a relief when dire weather forecasts on the day before the December 10th race day forced the organisers to postpone the event. With no prospect of the race able to be rescheduled before the end of the year, it was Rob who took the club title and also the club champion title as a consequence. Although I could claim I had been denied the opportunity to win, the reality was that the hip and a recent bout of illness meant that I would have needed a miracle to win.
When it was announced just before Christmas that the Turkey Trot had been rescheduled to February 11th, I had mixed feelings. It did give me something to aim to get fit for, but on the other hand I’d not considered racing so early in the year. Once my physio’s exercises and all the other exercises I grabbed together and put into practice eased my hip woes, I planned on taking part in the Trot, albeit going in to it with the intention of it being a hard training run rather than a race to peak for. This was a different attitude to what I took for the 2017 Folksworth 15 in late January, which I used as a race to train for before beginning my marathon training.
As it was a training race I didn’t taper for it, the winding down of running coincided with a planned step back week after three weeks of increased running mileage. I worked hard on the bike in the days leading up to the race. I increasingly found myself bothered with a chest infection which, on the evening before the race, driving back from Yorkshire after visiting relatives, was threatening to explode into the full blown fever half the family was already suffering. I fully expected to wake on Sunday morning unable to move or breathe – as it was I was able move and breathe, albeit feeling just a little stiff and breathing through a slightly blocked nose and chest that did like to cough quite frequently.
I made it to Keyworth nice and early with over 90 minutes before the start of the race. With a bitter cold wind I minimised the time spent outside, just 1.5 miles for warm up before a quick trip to the toilets (not much of a queue with numbers down on usual thanks to some key fixture clashes) and more waiting inside, posing for photos and generally trying to keep composed.
I made my way to the start line with just five minutes or so to spend shivering away, despite being attired more appropriately for a cross country skier in PyeongChang than Keyworth in South Nottinghamshire. Not wanting to commit wholly to racing, I lined up a few rows back from the start, which I immediately regretted when the firing horn was sounded, as I was stuck behind some fairly slow runners for a few seconds. Up to speed I was alarmed to find myself running faster than anyone else in the field and heading towards the lead, so I eased up a touch on the downhill dash to the first uphill kick of the race.
On the kick up a small group of three or so just eased away and I found myself in the second group of four or five runners. Once at the top of the short climb we turned right and into the stiff, cold, headwind. I had two choices, either push on and commit to racing with the lead pack, or ease up and be a part of group two. I went with the latter and eased off, tucking in behind two taller runners and trying to get shelter. Whether this actually helped in the long run I’m not sure. I found myself constantly having to check my stride, possibly expounding more energy than had I just sucked up the wind and ran to my own pace.
Mile one was 5:42, as was mile two as the mostly favourable gently downhill road was tempered by the wind. I kept to the plan of tucking in as much as possible, feeling fairly comfortable, but feeling more as if I was racing than training hard. Approaching the amusingly named village of Bunny we turned sharp left and suddenly the headwind was more a cross tail wind. I took this as my call to push to the front of the group and just push the pace on a touch, knowing that this section has the first of two periods of climbing. As I went through mile three in 5:58, the road went upwards and the group fell apart. I found myself third up the first hill, with perhaps three behind me. I then caught the two ahead midway up the second climb before losing them again as the road continued upwards. 6:04 was mile 4, the Strava GAP of 5:24 feels about right as it was the hardest mile of the race.
Miles 5 and 6 I tried to relax and push on the with the plan of it being a training run. This kind of went out of the window when I caught the two runners ahead of me and was still within shouting distance of the lead group of (I think) four runners. 5:39 for mile 5 was heavily wind assisted, mile 6 was slower at 5:56, but featured another climb where I dropped one of the runners I was with but was dropped by the runner who I thought was suffering, but instead pushed on once at the top of the climb and was able to slowly but surely pull clear of me by some margin.
Miles 7 and 8 took us up to and through Willoughby on the Wolds. I didn’t feel great here and ran 5:52 and 5:57, although they were both predominantly uphill. Mile 9 is nearly all gradually downhill and normally where you can push on for a quick mile, but this year the crosswind made the going tough. At one point I was nearly blown off the road! I forced out a 5:55, but was caught by a V50 runner who was looking remarkably fresh. We chatted for much of the tenth mile, commenting on how we felt the mile markers were somewhat inaccurate. This 5:54 mile felt fairly comfortable as the wind was nearly on our backs.
This wasn’t to last as we turned sharp left to head towards Keyworth. This mile and half section is at the best of times tough with one long drag uphill, then a downhill swoosh that punishes tired quads before another steep climb before a welcome plateau. This year a block headwind made it almost unbearable. Despite this I managed to ease clear of my recently acquired running partner. It was clear I was stronger than him on the hills and he was a little quicker on the flat and downhill sections. No matter how hard it felt I needed to push on and maximise my gains on the uphill sections.
The first climb saw us battling wind and gradient, inching slowly towards welcome shelter in the form of a tall hedge roadside which, once I reached it, instantly gave me at least a one mph speed boost. I went down the hill as relaxed as possible, sensing just a little discomfort in the left hip, before pushing on again for the second hill. Mile 11 was the race’s slowest at 6:16; mile 12 as I thankfully hit the plateau was still slow at 6:13 – the wind still very much a factor, although there was now some protection from the houses as we returned into Keyworth itself.
This flat section seemed to drag on forever, far longer than it has in previous years. Finally I dropped downhill and knew the race was nearly done. There is however one last sting in the tail in the form of two final climbs in the final half mile. I felt like I was running on empty, yet Strava suggested I was second only to the winner (and only a couple of seconds slower than him) in this tough last part of the race.
The final hill done it is mercifully a short downhill dash to the finish back at the school. I clocked 1:18:06, my slowest of three Keyworth Turkey Trots but, given the wind, probably not too far off in terms of performance from the other two. I finished sixth, my best yet (I was seventh in 2016), and again I claimed the winner’s prize in the V40 category, thanks in part to the race having prizes for the top 5, of whom at least two were V40 runners as well. News broke that the traditional turkeys handed out as prizes hadn’t survived Christmas and so it was we received hampers, or more accurately, a Co-Op shopping bag with some random weird and wonderful food and hair care products. The kids liked the soup….
To summarise, I was pleased with the performance given that my training was delayed two or three weeks by injury and I went into the race with something of a chest infection. I do wonder what I could have done had I committed to going with the front group in the opening stages, which I felt I had the capacity to do, but opted in the interests of the long term goal of not doing. I think I may have been able to have gone a minute or so quicker, but ultimately didn’t have enough on the day to go much quicker. If I had done that and the race was in December I may have grabbed the club’s GP prize, but that is all conjecture and speculation!
Training for the London Marathon built upon the structure laid down for the 2016 race, which I felt was highly successful, even if illness and some injury issues culminated in a sub-optimal race performance. As with that effort and efforts of recent years, there was no rigid plan laid out, just a few key sessions that I tried to perform every week.
January was a month with base building in mind up to the Folksworth 15 on January 22nd.
not just for running but for cycling too – the Clumber Park Duathlon in March an event I was not training specifically for, but definitely had on my mind. Actually the only session missing from this month compared to later months was the lack of a marathon paced run. These are one of the two key run sessions in my weekly training – the other being the Long Run. These began in February starting with four miles at marathon pace or heart rate, depending on how I felt, and increasing week by week until I was running 8-9 miles at marathon pace in a run varying between 11-16 miles.
A difference from previous years is that the long run was long pretty much from the start of the year. Another feature of the long run was that it was always on the Saturday (I cycled on the Sunday) and it incorporated a parkrun at some point in the run at pace. I’d tinkered with this in 2015 and early 2016, but made it a regular event in late 2016 and decided to carry it through into my marathon training. The first long run in January had 8 miles, then parkrun and a three mile jog home.
By the second week of February this had increased to 13 miles, then parkrun, then eight miles to finish. This was unusually early for what is usually my longest distance when marathon training. I trumped that a month later in March when I ran 14.5 miles, then parkrun in 18:02, and then eight miles to make up a 26.6 mile run. This is the first time in training I’ve ever run the marathon (Slightly more than, mirroring the likely finishing distance on my Garmin down in London on April 23rd) distance and moreover the time taken to run a marathon was 2:51! This gave me great confidence going forward as the run felt very comfortable – I could have gone much faster if needed. Following that effort I ran twice more in excess of twenty miles – an equally important run was the last twenty miler in early April, which was 10 miles, then the Grantham Cup (a hilly, off road 10K – where I finished 6th) and a four mile jog to conclude.
In total I ran 10 ‘Long Runs’ (Runs I marked as Long on my training log) totaling 200.5 miles at an average pace of 6:40. There were numerous runs of 12-16 miles that I didn’t classify as long runs as I had run longer elsewhere in the week. Suffice to say I really rate the long run with the fast parkrun thrown in at some point.
There were no two weeks that were identical in layout, but roughly a week’s training looked a little like this:
Monday: An easy paced run in the morning (typically 10k or 10 miles) with a spinning session in the evening. When the clocks went forward I jogged to and from the spinning session (10K).
Tuesday: Most weeks I spent an hour or perhaps two on the elliptical trainer, followed by 11 easy miles in the evening while my daughter was at Brownies. Once I did a long run in the morning. There was one intervals session in March (The one and only during my marathon training) and in April I began time trialing (cycling) again in the evening.
Wednesday: The morning was usually when I ran my marathon paced run – typically 10-12 miles. In the evening I was on my Turbo Trainer. Most efforts were easy and no more than an hour.
Thursday: Most evenings saw me take a marathon paced session for Grantham Running Club, where we’d run anything from 3-8 miles usually at between 7-7:30 pace. Overall distance for myself was anything between 11-15 miles. Quite a lot of weeks saw me on the Turbo Trainer in the morning.
Friday: Most Fridays in January and February either saw me on the elliptical trainer or on the Turbo Trainer. I ran once and in late March I did a 118 mile very hilly cycle ride in anticipation of the upcoming Fred Whitton bike ride. In March and April, Fridays frequently became a rest day.
Saturday: This was usually long run day – usually with a parkrun thrown in.
Sunday: Most Sundays up to the middle of March saw me take part in the Witham Wheelers Reliability rides, which began at 32 miles and peaked at 68. I made a point of running a 5k brick after the ride. Once these ended I ran on a Sunday.
The taper began two weeks out. I kept the intensity of effort fairly high but gradually reduced the volume. The Saturday before (eight days out) I headed to Beeston to run 11 miles with a quick parkrun after 3 miles. warm up. The Sunday was a little unusual as I went on the elliptical trainer for 2 hours 40 minutes – a kind of marathon simulation if you like, but relatively easy on the legs. This had the effort of making the legs quite sore for a few days, but I still put in a 90% intensity TT on the Tuesday and then a 10 mile run on the Wednesday with 5k at marathon HR. The 5k was 17:35 which proved to me at least that I was peaking at just the right moment.
Reverting to my old ways, I decided after that effort to take three days of complete rest, save the school runs and a fair amount of stretching and strength work. Mentally this was quite hard but I think my body enjoyed the rest! By Saturday I was chomping at the bit to get out running.
I raced three times before the marathon – the Folksworth 15 in January (7th, 1:28:23), the Newton’s Fraction Half Marathon (4th – 1:18:01) and the Grantham Cup 10K (6th 40:34) There was also the Clumber Park Standard Distance Duathlon where I finished third in my Age Group, qualifying for the 2017 European Duathlon Championships.
Some things worth noting: I used the elliptical trainer a lot less than I did for training in 2016, but I did compensate somewhat by using the turbo training a fair amount compared to not at all during the marathon training of 2016.
Apart from a half-gas club pyramid session in early January and a more concerted 10×2 minutes effort in late March, there were no interval, rep, or hill sessions.
Injury wise I was very fortunate – I don’t recall having to miss nor compromise a session due to injury, whereas in 2016 I spent a good deal of the time battling niggles. However, while I didn’t suffer injury, I was plagued with colds mostly brought home by my daughter who began nursery. I reckon there was only a week in total up to around mid February where I wasn’t either suffering from a cold or feeling run down from having had a cold. This was shown starkly on the bike and elliptical trainer, where power was measurably down on previous years, and running, where I felt I was unable to maintain pace when the HR climbed high. I knew that the fitness was there though, as on the days when I was illness free, the expected watts and pace was present and correct.
There was also a suspicion at times that I was over training, which is one of the main reasons why I opted to tone down the volume of elliptical trainer sessions in particular. This meant that perhaps more than ever the emphasis was on quality rather than quantity, although there was still a fair amount of quantity and not a lot of rest days in the build up.
Part 2 – To The Start
The conclusion to my taper was three days of rest. I stretched, massaged, tried to do as little as possible. Many things remained constant to previous marathons – pasta on the Thursday and Friday; pizza the night before. I had contemplated doing the old school carb depletion but thought better of it in the end having read about how horrible it can be and no definitive consensus on whether it works. I headed to bed shortly after ten pm with a 5 am wake up call to look forward to. My wife, suffering a heavy cold along with my two daughters, generously offered to sleep in another bedroom to minimise the chance of infection and so I didn’t have to hear her coughing through the night. This martyr like behaviour paid dividends as mercifully I was asleep within minutes and I slept well – perhaps a little too well.
I woke wondering what on earth I was doing waking at 5 am before coming to my senses and remembering I had a marathon to run. I made those first tentative steps out of bed (I’m getting old, I always creak a little these days on waking up). All was well except a little tightness in the right hip – tightness I’d not been aware of in the whole of my marathon training. I put it down to having perhaps slept in a slightly odd position and tried not to think too much of it.
I made myself a strong coffee and changed into my Skins A400 compression shorts and 2XU calf sleeves. Since the bitterly cold Newton’s Fraction Half Marathon, where my quads especially suffered, I’d invested in some quality compression half tights. I first wore them for my 26.6 mile training run and loved the feeling they gave – very similar to the brick runs I often do in my cycling shorts. I find the compression in the quads somehow makes me run faster or at least give the impression of running faster. I’ve worn them numerous times and despite learning a painful lesson that some kind of wicking underwear is strongly advised on warm days – I chafed where no man wants to chafe – they have now become my turn to shorts for hard training sessions and races, so much so I have invested in four (heavily discounted) pairs of them.
I left Grantham by car with my wife and my eldest daughter at 5:45. I had planned originally to leave at 6 am but my wife looked at the train time table and noticed that the 7:20 or so train I thought I’d caught in previous years was now either a 7:03 or a 7:39 – much later than I thought it was. So I made good use of the near empty A1 to safely drive to Stevenage station with a few minutes to spare to catch the 7:03 to Kings Cross, bidding farewell to my wife who drove off to park the car.
Ticket bought I went down to platform 6 as the departures board suggested to catch the train. I noticed the platform was empty; platform 1 had a reasonable volume of nervous looking folk carrying the same Marathon baggage bags I had, so I assumed there had been a platform change. So I ran up the platform stairs, over the concourse and down to platform 1 where I heard the tannoy announcement, something along the lines of ‘Arriving now on platform 1 is possibly the 7:03 to Kings Cross which will wait at the station until the driver finds out what he is meant to do.’ Cue audible groans from 90% of the platform who sensed the passage to central London was not going to be as smooth as hoped.
The train arrived and waited for a few minutes. Another announcement ‘we are really sorry but the 7:03 has been cancelled due to over running engineering works. We are really sorry if this is going to ruin your day.’ Cue more consternation followed by another message a minute or so later ‘This train is going to leave the platform, turn around and return to platform 6 where it will be the delayed 7:03’
Cue around 100 potential passengers and marathon runners bounding up and down the platform stairs to platform 6. The train duly pulls out and returns. We get on board. We are then told ‘The train on platform 6 will be the 7:39 to Kings Cross. A train shortly arriving on platform 1 will be the delayed 7:03 to Kings Cross. We are really really sorry if this is going to ruin your day’ repeated the clearly concerned station announcer, who likely knew that this is the only early Sunday morning at Stevenage train station which sees any more than a handful of passengers and now she had the onerous task of possibly announcing to hundreds of runners their marathon plans had been ruined because someone had screwed up not screwing back up the track in time.
So we all got out of the train on platform 6 and bounded up the stairs to platform 1 where indeed a train was waiting. I got on the train and phoned my wife, who was just buying tickets, to make it down to platform 1 so she could catch the same train as I. Just as she came down she overheard another message which informed us passengers that the train on platform 1, which was to be the delayed 7:03, was now going to be the 7:39 and the train that was the 7:03 on platform 1, was cancelled, but then left to go to platform 6 to become the resurrected 7:03, only to become the 7:39, had, once again, become the delayed 7:03.
With some now literally in tears at the ridiculousness of the situation (Well one was in tears and that was because she was meant to be catching a plane to Canada) we all, once again, hot footed it off the train, up the stairs from platform 1, across the concourse, down the stairs to platform 6. A confirmation from the station guard that this would be the delayed 7:03 while the station announcer now just repeatedly apologised for ruining our day.
At around 7:25 the delayed 7:03 to Kings Cross did finally get on its way. The driver apologised 2 or 3 more times for the frankly shambolic situation and promised to try and make up as much time as possible. He kept to his word – in the end we arrived at Kings Cross at about the time I’d expected to arrive had I caught the 7:20 I imagined existed, but didn’t.
Of more concern was that my right hip, around the hip flexor, was now aching quite a bit and beginning to cramp up. I became increasingly agitated. My wife gave me optimistic vibes – such as better the cramp happens now rather than during the race. But I was not a happy bunny. As we disembarked the train we said again our farewells and I headed to the Northern Line, to catch a couple of trains to get to Charing Cross.
Exiting the station at Charing Cross there is a lengthy walk from the underground station to the mainline station. As I approached the main station itself my right hip almost locked up completely and I was reduced to a slow, limping, painful, shuffle. What on earth was going on? An almost injury free build up and now rendered almost useless by nothing more than getting a good night’s sleep!
It turned out I was a little earlier than last year, the train I caught was nearly empty when I got on, still limping heavily. One runner on the train commented ‘That doesn’t look good!’ I simply replied ‘NO IT IS NOT!‘ and with my tone he thought better than to offer any more commentary on the situation as I sat head mostly in my hands save for the two or three times I banged it against the back of the chair in front of me. The only saving grace is that no-one was particularly inclined to sit next to me as I went through a maelstrom of mental torment.
I literally began to message my wife informing her that I wouldn’t be able to start the marathon, when I pulled my self together somewhat and thought it would probably be best if I at least tried to make it to the start the marathon before deciding whether I could compete. The train journey seemed to last an interminably long time. Finally we arrived at around 9 am and I left with hundreds of others to make it to the start. Last year I was full of excitement at the prospect of my first Championship start, this year I almost wanted to be anywhere else, convinced that I would be one of the 200 or so who doesn’t manage to complete the London Marathon – possibly one of the very few who makes it to the start tent, but goes no further.
There was a glimour of hope when the pain in the hip appeared to ease somewhat as I walked across Blackheath to the Championship start. At the Championship entrance I went through the protocol of showing my race number and the club t-shirt I’d planned on using. I’d bought along a vest just in case the official insisted that a vest be worn, as per the strict definition of the rules. He seemed purely preoccupied with whether the manufacturer’s logo was not too large, and as it isn’t I was fine.
I headed straight to the changing tent, grabbed a bottle of water and made a small patch my own. With only around 40 minutes to the start and with threats already being made that the baggage lorry would leave imminently, I swiftly got changed, opting to wear the Hoka One One Clifton 2 I had mothballed since last wearing them at the Folksworth 15 back in January, then put in a deep piraformis stretch. I noticed a few friends who were also on the Championship start but my mood was dark and I was in no mood for small talk. Instead I grabbed the three gels I planned on using, tucked them in my handy back pocket on my Skins shorts, put a hole in the black bin bag I’d brought to keep me warm, left the tent to put my bag on the lorry and queued for the loos. While queuing I performed all manner of hip flexor, hip, quad and hamstring stretches. By the time my time had come to enter the Portaloo of relief, there was less than 20 minutes to the start.
There was 15 to go when I exited the slightly heavier portable toilet and made by way to the start via a short jog up and down the strip of road reserved for Championship starters. To my relief I noted that I could run relatively pain free and with no noticeable change in gait. I kept the warm up to the minimum and joined the other runners, just behind the elites at the start line. In a last attempt to rectify the hip I performed a Psoas massage (or what I considered to be the Psoas) on my stomach. This was very tender – I surmised I had found the likely cause of the problem. It appeared to give instant relief so as the final countdown began I was a little calmer and a touch more optimistic. I fully expected to hit trouble at some point, but, at least I may be able to get some miles in the bag before I did.
With seconds to go, I discarded the bin bag and took stock that weather conditions could hardly be better, light cloud that threatened sunshine (Justifying the sunglasses), the temperature around 10C and barely any wind. It wasn’t meant to get that much warmer, although the sun was expected to make more of an appearance. As the clock struck 10 and the horn was sounded by our Royal guests, I was ready to race.
Part 3 – The Marathon
As in previous marathons, no matter how worked up I got myself before the start of the race (And this year surely set some kind of record) once I crossed the start line an almost serene sense of calmness came over me, borne largely from a sense of relief that within around half a minute of running, I noticed that the right hip was neither hurting nor causing me any kind of obvious bio-mechanical disruption.
On the same start in 2016 it took me a good few minutes before the congestion eased enough for me to get into unhindered running. This year there was no such problem, indeed within a couple of minutes I was having to curb my enthusiasm to avoid getting up to full speed too early – the plan being to use the tried and tested routine of 150 bpm max for the first mile, 155 bpm max for mile two, 160 bpm for mile three then 165 bpm from miles 4-20 before letting the HR climb as high as it could muster for the final 10km. A few seconds before the official opening mile marker, the Garmin clocked the first mile at 6:28. 13 seconds faster than my opening mile in 2016 and almost certainly my fastest opening mile in a marathon. The HR was a few beats higher than planned but I think, such was my relief in even being able to run, I didn’t concern myself over a few beats discrepancy.
The slightly high HR continued for the second mile, albeit at 159 bpm average, well under my marathon max of 165 bpm. By now I was settled into my running, enjoying the already dense and enthusiastic crowd support, but doing my best not to get carried away by it. Mile 2 was clocked in 6:10, 11 seconds up on 2016.
The third mile on the London Marathon course is mostly downhill and as a result usually one of the fastest of the marathon. Coming down the long gradual downhill I felt a touch of tightness in my right IT band, quite low down near the knee. I had no doubt it was related to the tight hip before the start. It concerned me greatly but hoped that once we hit the roundabout at the end of the hill, the discomfort would ease off. Thankfully it did and the IT band would not grumble for the remainder of the race.
Something to take my mind off the IT band was the fact I’d caught up with a female runner wearing a vest adorned with Chrissie on the back. I eyed her up and down and soon realised by the cyclists’ calf muscles it was Ironman legend Chrissie Wellington. I was expecting the crowd to be shouting her name vociferously given she was probably at the time one of the leading celebrity runners, but very few seemed to recognise her. Indeed far more attention was given to the fancy dressed Viking sticking resolutely to her shoulder. I sat behind the pair of them for a few minutes as I passed passed through the third mile in 5:55 (5:58 in 2016) and through the official 5k split in 19:16, before sensing their pace was just a bit slow for me and I pressed on. Chrissie would go on to finish in 2:49:01, the Viking I’m not sure about but he is mentioned by character in Athletics Weekly, so he likely continued to do pretty well.
The run from Woolwich to Greenwich was where it all began to fall apart last year, the early onset of cramps, or myofascial pain as I’ve been instructed to call it, slowly rendering me a walking, miserable mess by 21 miles. I was very concerned I was going to go the same way given the hip scare and the IT band discomfort, but for now I was running pain free, running quite quickly and it was feeling very comfortable. Mile 4 was 5:58, (5:57 in 2016), mile 5 was 6:06 (6:07 in 2016). The HR average for mile 4 was 159, pleasingly much lower than the maximum I give myself of 165 bpm. I did though notice near the end of the mile that my HR was showing well over 170 and at one point registering 183, which would be the highest I’ve seen it since a very hard 5k a couple of years ago. These weird readings continued in miles 5 and 6 – my theoretical max of 188 was all but reached in mile five and the sixth saw my heart go into overdrive – 210 BPM! It’s never been anywhere near that high and I assumed that either I was picking up someone else’s HR or something was amiss with the strap.
It was annoying in one sense as I do like to run my marathons to HR. However I had established a pace and a perceived effort for at least one mile at (slightly less than) target HR, so could instead fall back on trying to stick to that pace and effort for the rest of the race. Somewhat old-school, it felt strangely liberating. I sporadically looked at my HR during the race. Sometimes it would look half realistic, then I’d look again and it would show something crazy like 215 BPM, It did this for the rest of the race. I assumed the strap had broken, but I’ve worn it a number of times since and had no issues – so I’ve no idea what caused this to happen.
Back to the race. Mile 6 was 6:04 (6:10 in 2016), the discrepancy in my Garmin mile splits and the real mile markers was up to 25 seconds. From past experience I knew this was going to happen and would grow over the course of the marathon. It’s not a big deal, just something to factor in when trying to calculate your likely finishing time on the fly. I passed the official 10k approaching the right turn at Greenwich in 38:19 – 19:03 for the second 5k. I was loving the enthusiasm of the crowds. Strangely though, as we passed the Cutty Sark and Greenwich itself, the crowds, although vast in quantity, were perhaps some of the quietest on the course. This suited me as it’s usually an area where it’s impossible to avoid an adrenaline surge.
I took my first of three gels at seven miles and with it the only the second water bottle of the race thus far. In every marathon since 2005 I’ve taken six gels, this year I decided to go with three, at 7, 14, and 20 miles. The reasoning was twofold – most of my long training runs are done without breakfast beforehand, let alone sustenance while running itself. Therefore I reckoned that six gels may be a bit excessive. Moreover I wondered if some of the gastro distress suffered in recent marathons may have been partly down to having to cope with digesting too many gels and the water that is needed to go with it. For the remainder of the race I pretty much stuck to taking on water at the mile where I’d taken a gel and the water station a mile later. With the weather not being particularly warm, this tactic seemed to work well. I was reasonably dehyrated at the finish, but not in a state that affected my performance.
The third 5km chunk of the race was fairly uneventful although I do remember a section with a small incline around a supermarket featuring some of the loudest crowds of the race as I coincidentally passed a runner who was walking dressed as a bricklayer. He had no number and clearly had never been running from the start of the race. Indeed en route during the race I must of seen a handful of runners who didn’t look as though they had been at the start line or spectators who appeared to be undressing in a manner that suggested they were about to take part in the race. I guess there is little that can be done to stop this. I found it more amusing than anything, a welcome distraction from worrying about how far there was to go. For the record, miles 7, 8 and 9 were 5:59, 6:03 and 6:03 (6:02, 6:08, 6:07 in 2016). I went through 15k in 19:01 – this would be the fastest proper 5k split of the race (I’ll explain why it might not be the fastest in a bit…).
The tenth mile is one of the quieter miles in terms of crowd support, but this year there was really no such thing as a quiet part of the course. It was where I caught up and eventually passed Joe Spraggins, who turned out to be the fastest of the numerous fancy dressed runners, finishing in 2:42:24. His attire was hardly restrictive however, dressed in little more than a pair of Speedos, a swim hat, goggles and snorkel. He certainly caught the attention of the crowd, who all knew his name thanks to Joe being scrawled on his bare chest!
The tenth mile split was in 6:09 (6:02 in 2016), 1:01:00 exactly on my watch for ten miles. I hadn’t yet clocked any indication as to what my final time may be, especially as the Garmin was around 40 seconds out on the official distance. More worryingly bang on 10 miles the right hip that had caused so much distress before the start of the race, now decided it was the right time to give some quite painful distress signals. Rather than massage the hip itself, I decided to prod firmly the same bit of tummy that I had done on the start line, which mercifully appeared to give some relief. I don’t know if what I was doing actually made any difference, but the pains seemed to subside whenever I did prod myself. So this I continued to do, with increasing regularity, for the remainder of the race.
Mentally that was a low point in the race. I knew that my wife, daughter, brother and his fiance, had planned to try and spectate somewhere around the 11 mile point. I gave serious consideration to dropping out when I spotted them, to save them the bother of trying to see me further along the course. Luckily at the moment when they saw me and I saw them, giving a quick wave as I passed, I wasn’t in pain so that thought quickly left my mind and it was back to hoping and waiting that the wheels wouldn’t fall off the wagon. Just after passing the family I caught long time former training partner and club mate Stuart Hopkins, who was hoping for a time similar to mine – as he has done at each of the last five or six marathons we have run in together. Sweating somewhat (he’d suffered a cold before the race) I felt cool in comparison as I greeted him on passing with the somewhat negative comment I’m waiting for my hip to give up on me as he wished me well for the rest of the race.
Pained or not, the hip wasn’t slowing me for mile 11 saw me speed up to 5:56 (6:03 in 2016) and mile 12 was a 6:04 (6:07 in 2016). I was still for the most part feeling comfortable as we turned right and took on the legendary Tower Bridge. Like Greenwich, this most famous of spectator vantage points didn’t seem to be quite as densely populated or as vociferous in it’s support than in previous years. I’m guessing that spectators are making use of the excellent official spectators guide to visit previously less well populated areas that are just as good if all you want to do is pick out your loved one.
The fourth 5k at 20km was 19:06, As we went over the other side of the bridge we soon passed 13 miles – 6:02 compared to 6:12 in 2016. For the first time I looked left at the bottom of the bridge and spotted the unmissable sight of the Tower of London, which I had managed to miss on each of my ten or so visits to the London Marathon. Barely any time had passed before another significant time check came – halfway. My watch read 1:20:30 as I hit the chip mats. This was pretty much spot on for what I could have hoped for – it gave me a sporting chance of a sub 2:40 with a negative split run, or a very good chance of a new PB – my best being 2:43:41 set at Chester in 2015.
The 14th mile is the section where one side of the road is heading out to the Isle of Dogs, the other side is heading back towards the finish at 21 miles. It’s where I usually get to see some of the lead ladies and this year was no exception, although Mary Keitany was long gone by the time I arrived. Given the opportunity to see runners twice it is now one of the the most popular places to spectate – with crowds five or six deep for the entire mile or so stretch. Two who always get there early to grab prime real estate on the 21 mile side of the road are Kenilworth Runners legends Pauline and Tom Dable. Although I’m no longer a member of that Green Army, they spotted my GRC club colours and shouted me on with enthusiasm that couldn’t help but spur me on. Pumped with adrenaline mile 14 was a 5:59, exactly the same split as in 2016 but feeling much more comfortable as I took on my second Powergel washed down with a good helping of water.
One reason for feeling more comfortable is that the 15th mile for, I think, 4 of my last 5 marathons, has been the spot where I’ve had to call in to one of the roadside portaloos for an emergency pit stop. I’m happy to report that this year, aside from the odd exhale of extra exhaust fumes there was no gastronomic distress. Whether this was down to the reduced gel intake or the switch to granola bars from soft cereal bars, I’m not sure, but I’m not complaining either way. This meant that mile 15 was comfortably faster than in 2016 – 5:54 compared to 7:20. That fastest mile of the race meant that 20 – 25 km was (if my maths is correct) the fastest of the race in 18:54.
Just into the sixteenth mile is where we head into an underpass for the first time in the race, bearing right and into the Isle of Dogs. It’s where the Garmin can go haywire (It did indeed lose satellite reception) and where the legs have failed me on numerous occasions in the past. Thankfully on both accounts I had a positive outcome – the Garmin lost no more accuracy than it already had (it was now up to around a minute out) and my legs, although still with hip aching, were feeling good, bouncy, and very comfortable, certainly better than in 2016, where the pace was comparable, but I felt terrible.
Mile 16 was a 6:04 (6:03 in 2016). Miles 17-19 – around the Isle of Dogs and Canary Wharf – used to be one of the loneliest points of the course. Nowadays the crowds are immense, intense, and with the sounds of the screams and cheers reverberating around the closely packed skyscraper walls, quite overwhelming at times. Holding it all together, blessing every minute where I didn’t come to a screeching halt, mile 17 was a 6:03, mile 18 was 6:07, and mile 19 was 6:04, compared to 6:03, 6:12, and 5:56 in 2016. It should be said though these splits should be taken with a little pinch of salt as GPS accuracy is, putting it mildly, not the best around this part of the world – the GPS trail on Google maps showing a very jagged path rather than the smooth, controlled lines I was able to hold.
One runner who could not say the same as we passed through Canary Wharf was a poor chap ahead who had begun staggering violently from one side of the road to the other, and as I closed in was clearly in some kind of delirious state, frothing profusely at the mouth and seemingly not in control of his body. One runner went into offer assistance – a noble act indeed – but one I decided that today wasn’t the right choice for me considering a PB was in the making. Instead I alerted marshals just a little way up the road that there was a runner in distress. As I turned round a few seconds later and saw the hi-viz angels running towards the afflicted runner, I felt comfortable that he was in safer hands than I would be able to offer.
With that drama out of the way I pressed on, leaving Canary Wharf. I went through 30km in 1:54:24, the 5k split being 19:07. Shortly after this split, with continued development work taking place there is a rather contrived section of the course in place where we climb up a ramp, past a hotel, I think, then down onto the A1261 looping out and back on a road closed to traffic and spectators. It was here two years ago I blew up and it was here last year where I began to really suffer. Thankfully this year, although the right hip was nagging, I passed through the 20th mile in 2:01:15, without slowing, even perhaps speeding up as the Garmin clocked a 5:56 (6:11 in 2016).
The old saying that I hold dear is a marathon is a 20 mile jog with a 10k race tagged on at the end. Part one of this had been successfully accomplished. Despite passing through 20 miles over a minute faster than I’d ever run before, I’d felt as though almost all those miles were done with little perceived effort. As I sank down my third and final Powergel I was looking forward to putting on the afterburners for the final 10K, hopefully cranking up the pace to a glorious sub-2:40 finish.
Alas, almost literally a matter of meters past 20 miles, both quads gave the ominous feelings of deep fatigue. I didn’t feel as if my pace was slowing much, but the effort to maintain the same pace was now a whole lot harder. It also felt like at any moment the legs would quit on me, as they did in 2016 in the the 21st mile, when I slowed dramatically to run a 6:56 mile. Mile 21 was a 6:11. Mile 22 was hard, but it was a case of digging in and taking heart that while I was struggling, I was passing plenty of runners who were suffering like I was last year and the year before that.
Clocking another 6:11 (It was 6:50 in 2016), the 23rd mile was the hardest of the race. It’s the mile where you have the runners on the other side of the road just starting the second half of the race to the deafening support of thousands of spectators packing both sides of the large road. On the way out the road felt perfectly flat; now the tiniest undulations felt like monster climbs to negotiate. I battled on, praying that I could keep going, bemused at the sight ahead of a giant banana apparently running at 2:41 pace. I passed him, keeping an eye out for Tom and Pauline, who I spotted, but who missed me. I wasn’t aware of them, but apparently I’d missed my family shouting my name a couple of miles back. It’s hardly surprising given the cacophony all around me – there’d been numerous shouts of Go On Matt! or Matthew! which I’d turned to acknowledge, only to realise it was for a Matt or Matthew behind me. So perhaps one of those shouts was for me and I mistakenly ignored it.
I made it through Mile 23 – it was the slowest mile thus far at 6:22, but compared to the 7:27 in 2016 it was a very successful six minutes of running. I knew that what lay ahead was perhaps the most dangerous bit of road for my failing legs – the curved descent just past Tower Hill station down onto Lower Thames Street. If there was ever a stretch of road that would overpower the quads into a painful submission it would be here – it was at this spot in 2016 that I succumbed to the inevitable – stopping, before being annoyingly urged by the crowd to keep on going, which I did, albeit very slowly.
As I began gingerly descending, fully concentrated on not succumbing to cramp, I heard over my left shoulder the loudest shouts of Go on Matt! I think I’ve ever heard. The crowds were dense and it was hard to make out all the faces, but I spotted the unmistakable figures of friends and long time work colleagues James Moy and James ‘Beaver’ Bearne. I gave them the proverbial thumbs up and carried on. Moysee certainly was making his marathon spectating debut. They were there primarily to cheer home another F1 friend Will Buxton, who was expecting to take over 5 hours to finish his first ever marathon. That they had made the effort to leave the pub to watch me pass renewed my vigour and determination to battle hard to the finish.
I made it down to the bottom of the ramp in one piece, passing through the 35km marker in 2:13:49 clocking a 19:26 5k. It’s not long after here you head under the dreaded long and lonely underpass where nothing exists except other suffering runners. It was here I decided that I’d take a bit of risk by attempting to push on through the discomfort. My rationale at the time was I reckoned that I if I could get another quick mile or two in the bag, even if I slowed horribly and clocked an 8 or 9 minute mile at the finish, I would still bag a sub 2:45 performance.
Exiting the underpass, spurred on by the crowds and loud music up the drag and onto the embankment, I drove on. Mile 24 I clocked at 6:07, and mile 25 approaching Big Ben at 6:16. They weren’t the fastest miles of the race but the fact I’d reversed the trend of slowing miles gave me a tremendous morale boost, especially as I had etched on my mind the same miles in 2016 took an agonising 8:59 and 8:26. I went through 40km in 2:33:24. The 35k to 40k split was the slowest of the race in 19:35, but I sensed that the bad patch I’d gone through was long gone, and with nearly 12 minutes in hand to run just over 2km, one of the key objectives of a sub-2:45 clocking was looking very likely.
Turning right onto Birdcage Walk I apparently missed my family cheering me once again. By now, although heavily fatigued, the adrenaline was pumping and I began a very long mile and a bit sprint to the finish. The rather excellent personalised stats on Runpix show that on the final 7.2k I passed 84 runners and was passed by just two. This is the dream runners dream of when racing a marathon, finishing strong, picking off runners and feeding off that to drive yourself on not necessarily faster and faster, but not getting slower and slower.
I passed the 800 meters to go banner and picked up the effort once more. There is no 26 mile marker on the course but my watch had clocked it some time earlier (it ended up registering 26.57 miles) as a 6:04 mile (It was 7:47 in 2016). Turning right passing Buckingham Palace it was a welcome sight to see the cones that they have out for the elite finishers still in place. Ushered into the middle lane I turned right into the Mall and saw the official clocking reading something like 2:41:00. Already running hard I summoned every last ounce of energy for the mother of all sprint finishers, According to the Strava segment I ran the last 385 yards in 56 seconds, which is 5:20 pace. I’d run the last 0.6 mile on my Garmin at 5:44 pace.
As I crossed the line I looked to the sky and thanked the running gods for seeing me to the finish line in one piece. I’d broken 2:42 on the official clock, and I knew that my chip time would be a few seconds faster. It was. My official time, already posted on the brilliant London Marathon app for all those who followed me to see, was 2:41:42! A new PB by as near as dammit two minutes! I pumped my fists and whooped in elation – something of a rarity for one who is usually fairly composed at the finish.
It was a good job I had my sunglasses on for I recall I got a little too emotional at the finish, not exactly blubbing away, but certainly the eyes got a little moist. The culmination of months, years of training, the stress at the start and the uncertainty whether I’d make it to the finish was a little overwhelming. Then reality kicked in. The legs, fueled on adrenaline to surge me nearly pain free to the finish, found themselves bereft of adrenaline and began to really hurt! Last year I found this pain utterly dejecting, this year I nothing was going to spoil my delight as I gratefully received my goodie bag and medal, posing for official photographs that I had no intention of purchasing as they are stupidly expensive.
Part 4 – The Aftermath
The first familiar face to greet me after the race was fellow club mate Rob McArdle. After the congratulations and very concise post race review, he took a post race picture to replace the one I wouldn’t purchase, and we spent a few minutes charting the progress of other GRC runners. Not long after leaving him and wearily collecting my kit bag, Stuart caught me up. He had run 2:50, not what he’d hoped for but highly commendable given his restricted preparations for the race. We chatted about the race, training, duathlons, as we wandered slowly and painfully to the K-L repatriation area, where I was enthusiastically greeted by my daughter, then my wife – who knew that this would be a more congenial afternoon than 12 months earlier.
Changing trainers proved nearly impossible, I had to call upon the services of my wife to assist. I didn’t bother with much else other than putting on my tracksuit bottoms. This meant that as we left the marathon building my medal and race number were on full view. This wasn’t a deliberate attempt to garner attention, but it is incredible how many people, even hours after the race would congratulate me on my efforts. It’s days like these when you are reminded that 99.9% of the world are good, decent folk – a shame then that it was sadly necessary for the security at the finish to be evidently ridiculously high – possibly one of most locked down places on the planet at that moment.
In previous years I have hung around the Covent Garden area after the race for a celebration / wake. This year I was calling on the local knowledge of my brother who, after we finally got on a tube train after some confusion at Charing Cross, took us to a pub in Chalk Farm, near where he and his fiance used to live. It was a bit of a trek and my weary legs didn’t thank him at first, but from the sight and smells of the giant roast dinners put in front of us it was well worth the walk. I though, as usual after a marathon, couldn’t stomach the thought of food, and was happy to have just a few chips from my daughters’ plate. I did patake in a welcome pint or two of cider as I caught up with the exploits of all the others I knew taking part in the marathon and replied to the numerous congratulatory messages on Facebook and Strava.
After the meal we walked down to Camden Town, taking in some stunning views of London en route at Primrose Hill – we could see most of the sights I had passed during the marathon a few hours earlier. A walk through Camden Town itself was a nostalgia trip from twenty years or more ago when I was a near weekly visitor to its market. The walk from Camden to Kings Cross nearly killed me and my daughter but in the long run I think the 3-4 miles walk did wonders to help ease the pain in the legs.
At Kings Cross we bid farewell to my brother and fiance and got on the first train to Stevenage, before my wife drove us home back to Grantham. Too tired to consider cooking and eating alone after my better half had basically eaten a whole chicken for lunch, I ordered a large Indian takeaway, my first in many many months. It tasted bloody good as we sat down to watch the recorded live coverage of the race. I made it to around 22 miles of the ladies race before I resigned myself to not being able to stay awake and headed to bed. All in all a most memorable day, a highly successful one. One that won’t be forgotten.