Race Report – Nottingham 5K Winter Series, Race 2 – Thursday December 6th 2018

This Thursday evening 5K race on Victoria Embankment was very much entered on a whim a week or so before the race took place. There was no real need to run it other than I fancied taking a look at a fairly new 5K race that had been established in the summer and was continuing with a four round winter series taking place monthly from November through to February. There were also a fair few runners from Grantham Running Club taking part that were looking to get an end of year quick time to try and boost their best age grade performance of the year either for our GP Series or for our race standard certificates that are handed out in February at a Presentation Evening.

I arrived with club mate Penny around 45 minutes before the start, far less than I’d normally allow for a race, but sufficient in this instance for an event that I was approaching with less vigour than a parkrun on any given Saturday. Being a small race I was able to park pretty much at the start line where the registration desk was to collect our number and timing chip. After clarifying where the course went I commenced pretty swiftly on a 2 3/4 mile warm up which basically consisted of running the majority of the course.

Although pancake flat it was soon evident that the limiting factor for blazing quick times was the requirement to negotiate three U turns on a footpath not that wide, which would cost several seconds each. There was also a large volume of detritus in the form of leaves and more concerning twigs and branches courtesy of some hefty winds sweeping through the area. I actually stopped several times to stop and clear the worst of the debris from the course, not particularly wanting to turn my ankle on an errant stick, which were none too visible with the street lighting set to economy barely lit romantic. The low lux levels also meant that the numerous tree roots that were lifting the pavement in places were hard to spot, all in all making the desire to run full pelt unattractive. A saving grace was that the breezy conditions were as a result of some mild air blowing in, making the December race feel more like a September evening run, albeit with the constant threat of rain with the ominous looking clouds covering the sky.

Once the warm up was done there was a short briefing which mainly appealed to those taking part to be aware that runners would be heading along the course in both directions and to stick to the right hand side of the path. We lined up and with the minimum of fanfare was set off on our way. Despite not going full gas from the gun I found myself in the lead and within a couple of hundred metres had just two sitting on my tail.

Less than half a mile into the race we made the first U turn and headed back towards the start line. Things got a little hairy here for a fair few of the 100 or so racing had clearly not heard or decided not to heed the advice to stay on the right side of the path and I had to get a bit animated to implore them to move out of the way or risk a head on collision…. Once past the start line this became less of an issue, although we did have regular pedestrians and non racing runners to contend with at times.

I went through the opening mile in 5:31 and made the second U turn to head back past the start line and further out along Victoria Embankment (As far as you can go before needing to cross a road). By now even though we were only a third of the way through the race it was very much a two horse affair. It was abundantly clear that my shadow Patrick Townsend was totally unwilling to help with the pace and was quite happy to stick right behind me. At another race on a different day I  may well have employed some classic tactics to encourage my opponent to share the load – slowing down, speeding up, weaving from side to side, coming to a stop (this happened to me once!) verbal abuse encouragement etc.  I did consider this but given that the path was narrow, the conditions underfoot were not great, and I wasn’t actually that bothered about the outcome of the race, I decided to suck it and lead the race out, giving Patrick a free ride in my slipstream.

The second mile was a bit slower (5:36) partly due to it being mostly into the wind. It wasn’t long before we made our final U turn and headed for the near mile long drag to the finish. I was spurred on somewhat by passing club mates coming in the other direction, offering encouragement aware that I was leading the race. I continued to lead the race until there was around 300 meters to go when Patrick meekly moved out from my backside and onto my shoulder.

He accelerated hard and he disappeared into the distance. I offered absolutely no resistance – I had no interest in sprinting hard for victory, especially as I was running the Keyworth Turkey Trot in under 72 hours time. I just about saw him cross the finish line, arms aloft in 17:01. I came in fifteen seconds later having run 5:34 for the final mile, content with second place and a reasonable finishing time.

I quickly went back to the course to cheer home all the GRC finishers. I eschewed the warm down for the picking up of two bottles of wine at the presentation of prizes – the first for finishing second and the other for winning the team competition. We also received some of the most ridiculously oversized medals in relation to the size of race we had just taken part in. It makes my London Marathon medal look tiny in comparison!

GRC Bring Home The Wine!

With that it was time to drive home, happy to have raced and finished second, not overly disappointed that I hadn’t signed up to take part in the remaining two races in the series.

Race number 12 of the year done, just one more to go!



Race Report – Robin Hood Half Marathon, Nottingham, Sunday 24th September 2017

This report comes over a month after the event. This is because I only recently found out where I finished…. More of that later. The reality too is that the race was less interesting than the training that preceded it, so forgive me if this is a little heavy on preparation and a little light on race action.

Mentally enthused after success at Thorney in August, I visioned a good month of training before the end of September race in Nottingham. I had no races planned, other than the club handicap 10K which, on a lumpy course, I ran at marathon heart rate in 36 and a half minutes. Although there were the odd exceptions, the training focused on big efforts over the weekend with easier paced running and cycling during the week. The Saturday in particular became the focal point of the week – the first two of them of them I competed a ten mile ‘straight outta bed’ run which averaged something pretty close to sub six minute miles. The  following week I ran Melton Mowbray parkrun in a slightly disappointing 17:28, but the following Saturday, straight out of bed once again, I kicked off with some Stravalek intense effort before running around six minute miles until seven miles, when I ran Belton House parkrun in 17:30, closing the run with five K in something close to 18 minutes again. It all felt very easy as I ran a half marathon with minimal interruption and effort in 1 hour 19 minutes.

What made me even more enthused is that for all the straight outta bed runs on the Saturday I backed that up with a run of at least 13 miles at 6:40 pace or quicker. I felt like I was running into the sort of form I had when I bagged the 1:14 at the Grunty Fen Half Marathon at the same time of year two years previous.

And then just like two years ago and last year, four or five days before the half marathon I came down with the first of the winter colds the kids brought home with them from school. To feeling fantastic to feeling lousy in no time at all. Just like last year the worst of the cold had past come race day but I wasn’t feeling by any means fantastic.

As I’d been burnt before by the pre-race traffic jams, like last year I arrived over two hours before the start of the race to ensure a good easy parking slot. I took a little walk around the race village, laughed at the insanely high prices of goods on Sale at the Sweatshop tent, used the toilets a couple of times and went for a one and a half mile warm up along the Trent which was wholly unremarkable except for a very pleasant calf stretch which rid me of the niggly Achilles discomfort for the entirety of the race.

Grantham Running Club members taking part in the Robin Hood Half and Full Marathon . Photo courtesy of Stuart Cresswell.

A little fortuitously I bumped into my fellow GRC runners who were having a pre-race photo, and I was able to dive in for one last pic. With that done I returned to my car to have one last swill of drink before making my way to the start. I lined up just behind the elites, of which there appeared to be just two or three – a little disappointing for a race which has the subtitle of the British Half Marathon Championships. I didn’t spot upon the eventual race winner Chris Thompson, who brought a bit of quality to the race as a bonafide worthy recipient of National Half Marathon Champion.

The start was the usual affair of some trying to go off at a steady but brisk pace while those around me either shot off and all around at a pace that would never be sustainable or went so slowly as to strongly suggest they had no place standing so close to the start. The opening few hundred meters are in the heavy shade of tree cover on the Victoria Embankment, it wasn’t long before we turned left onto a wide main road and I could assess the race situation and settle into the run.

In the first mile I closed on and passed the eventual women’s winner Emily Waugh, who looked serene running at 1:16 pace. The Dubai based runner (I soon followed her on Strava) was running with her Rugby & Northampton AC team mate, who shortly after the opening mile (5:42) cruised alongside and past me, wishing me well as he did. He would be the only runner who passed me.

The opening mile and a half is pleasant enough, but as in 2016 it wasn’t long before we were sent off the path of the old course and up past the castle. By no means a savage climb it is nevertheless steep enough to undo all the good work in the opening mile. The second mile was a 5:57 (5:38 on Strava GAP). The next mile and a bit must rank as some of the least satisfying in city marathon history. Of all the comments I read on Strava they all described this section in less than complimentary tones. Rhythm sapping is the most polite I can call it, something like a road based version of a twisty, hilly cross country course, as we tackled numerous short sharp climbs punctuated with sharp descents and tight bends. The course was the same as last year, I had blocked out how bad it is. That said, I fared better than others and picked off a fair few runners en route to a 6:03 mile (5:33 GAP) and an 18:27 first 5K.

As if to apologise for the twists and hills of the past mile and a half, the fourth mile is a mostly flat, fast downhill drop to the University campus. I pulled up to another runner and sat briefly in his shelter before pulling past and clear as the road flattened. A 5:30 fourth mile was followed by a 5:42 fifth mile as the field really thinned out and all I had for company were the odd runner somewhere far in the distance and, it must be said, really good crowd support as they enjoyed the great weather conditions for spectating.

The sixth mile (5:50) was literally a long drag, somewhat spirit crushing as I made my way to and into Wollaton Park and the big hill that I had managed to forget about running last year. I went to take a drink from the pouches handed out, cursing loudly at the uselessness of them as I battled in vain to get any more than a dribble from them. The hill comes after a tight left hand bend, the crowd that lined either side of the climb very reminiscent of cycle fans clamouring to see the suffering on a tough climb. I dug in deep and made my way to the top, happy in the knowledge that, for the most part, the course is much easier in the second half. What was less happy was my stomach, which was rueing the too long queues for the portaloos before the start of the race and beginning to send some ominous distress signals.

I went through 10K in 36:14, laughing again at how the gates for the park exit had again not been opened, forcing us off the path and over some heavily rutted ground thanks to an abundance of tree roots. At least the seventh mile marker was somewhere near accurate – once again the fifth and sixth mile markers were so far out as to be totally useless. For a big city race to not correct on obvious mistakes from the previous year is not acceptable really.

Back on the open road and the seventh mile covered in 5:52, I tried to push on like I did last year. It was made tougher because of the dodgy tummy and the lack of runners to run with (Last year – I got into several useful trains which helped keep the pace ticking). I was though closing and passing runners which kept the incentive to keep pushing high. Mile 8 was 5:37 and now we were running alongside runners heading in the other direction, which I always find inspiring. Mile 9, back through the University and an awkward out and back via a tight hairpin, was a 5:44. I passed a Strava ‘friend’ Craig Taylor, who beat me at the Rockingham Duathlon last year. He would go on to run just under 1:18. Interestingly at the Great Eastern Half a couple of weeks later, he ran 1:14:30 or so. Food for thought as to how slow this course is and what I could do on a quicker course.

The tenth mile has the penultimate drag of the race, I survived that with a 5:45. The last comes when we rejoin the old course. My stomach was at its worse and I went through a little bad patch, but managed to drag out a 5:50. I don’t remember this section last year, but we were pulled off the main road down some quite residential streets to make our way back to Victoria Embankment. Passing another couple of runners as we continued to twist and turn, the twelfth mile was a pleasing 5:36.

The first half of the final mile saw me being inadvertently paced by a car that had found itself on the closed roads (I think it was being guided by an official car out of harms way). I found myself almost on its bumper before it thankfully pulled off the road I was on. Coming into the final stages, like last year, I was reeling in another runner. With the memory that last year I passed the moved up into the third V40 spot with my final overtake, I kept pushing. The last mile was slow at 5:50, but the lure of another position saw me run the final stage of the race (0.3 mile on my Garmin) at 5:15 pace. I left it late but a sprint on the final straight saw me pass the runner who put up no resistance.

I finished in 1:16:43. This is 13 seconds down on 2016,but given the paucity of runners to race with, in many ways it felt a better performance. I rushed through the post race medal and goody bag collection as quickly as possible to find the nearest portaloo. With the relief of a calm tummy I managed a mile warm down. The legs felt good, a sign that perhaps, with less of a tummy issue especially I could have gone quicker.

Knowing that the traffic out of the race can be a nightmare, I didn’t hang around and left not long after my warm down. Later that evening provisional results were posted on the Nottingham Post website. Pleasingly I was twelfth, much higher than in 2016 with a slightly slower time. My suspicions that plenty had shunned the race, either due to the new course, or because no details of any prizes had been forthcoming, were borne out.

A day or two later the provisional results were posted on the website. It confirmed me as twelfth and had me as second V40. I was happy with this, one place better than last year. I also noted that the first V40, Alastair Watson, not only finished over eight minutes ahead of me, he finished the race third overall. I know my races well enough these days that normally if Vet runner finishes in an overall prize giving position, the Vet place rolls down to the next runner. I looked forward to receiving my prize!

Three weeks later and with no confirmation of any prize, I emailed the organisers to clarify the prize structure (Still not made available) and the prize winners. I was swiftly emailed back to be told the results were hopefully going to be made official in the next few days due to issues. A week later the official results were finally posted in Athletics Weekly, complete with fairly damning criticism of the time taken to produce results for a race which was called the National Half Marathon Championships, and a race which still had no team results.

Another week later and I was beginning to give up hope of seeing any prize, when an anonymous looking envelope appeared in the post. Thinking it may be a race number, I opened it immediately to find a letter from the Robin Hood Half Marathon explaining I’d received a prize, with a hand written 1st, V40, scrawled unceremoniously on it. Attached to the letter was a cheque, made out to me for £100! So the longest wait for a prize was kind of worth it as it was the most I’ve received for my efforts.

That said, my patience with the Robin Hood race I think has worn a little too thin. I don’t like the course, it’s not quick, and the length of time to produce results is not good enough (Plus the lack of any details of what the prizes would be). Chances are though, depending on my calendar, I will probably be back to defend my dubious title of National V40 Half Marathon winner!

Race Report – Jack Walters Memorial Notts 10 Mile Road Race, Holme Pierrepont, Friday 16th June 2017.

A couple of weeks after the nearly disastrous Lincoln 5K, I was putting the body back on the line at Holme Pirrepont for the Jack Walters Memorial Notts 10 Mile Road Race. A week or so of not running, a good massage session and not racing the Woodhall Spa 10K meant that I was reasonably confident that the calf muscle was well healed. Indeed running had been going pretty well, the only dodgy run was just a couple of days before this race when 15 miles in hot conditions took its toll, inducing some kind of migraine that left me unwell for the remainder of the day.

The weather driving to the race at the National Water Sports Centre on the at Holme Pierrepont (On the outskirts of Nottingham) was pleasant for driving with the sunroof open and the windows down – mid twenties celsius, sunny, with a steady to stiff breeze. These conditions were not exactly ideal for racing though.

I arrived in very good time for the evening race, allowing a long drawn out warm up. The mile and a half of jogging masquerading as a warm up revealed little other than both Achilles still aching a fair amount – my calf stretching routine partially working in minimising the discomfort but not yet wholly so. It was this aching which made me opt to wear my Hoka Clifton 2s rather than my Nike Frees for the race.

Conditions were still warm at 7:15 for the start, so much so that I made a point of trying to seek shade wherever possible. I did though have to line up for the start with hundreds of others. We had a moving speech from the son of Jack Walters, an stalwart of the sport who had passed away and was having this raced dedicated in his memory for the next few years. After a minute’s applause and a pre-race briefing we were ready to begin, all stood behind the line of flour that constituted the start line.

I made a brisk but controlled start, got a bit caught up in among some runners who stormed off then slowed dramatically, but within a few minutes I was comfortably into my running. The course took us out of the rowing arena itself and on a adjacent road (Adbolton Lane) before taking a mostly gravelly path that took us back midway along the 2km long rowing basin. We ran an anticlockwise loop of the basin before leaving arena again to cross the start line to complete another full lap, before running another half lap, only this time taking a left where we had previously turned right at the rowing basin to run a KM or so to the finish line.

We were aided by the tailwind for much of the opening two and a half miles. I went through the first mile in 5:40, the second mile in a quicker 5:29. As we took in a small rise before a descent onto the rowing basin, I was in a small group who looked as though we could catch another group in front of us. On the rowing basin path I knew there was only a couple of minutes of running before we would turn and face a strong headwind. I pushed on the pace to make a concerted effort to catch the group ahead of us.

I managed to bring the two groups together. The group ahead had contained Strava friend and Holme Pierrepont Running Club member David Greenwood, who I know is of a similar ability to myself. Playing the tactical game I tucked in behind him and stuck resolutely to his slipstream as we began the near 2km long stretch into the headwind on the regatta lake. This meant the pace slowed a bit – back to 5:39 for the third mile and 5:46 for the fourth mile, but I was happy to be conserving my energy, trying also to keep cool in the still warm conditions.

Approaching the end of the rowing basin a young runner who had caught our group pushed on and ahead of David. Sensing an opportunity to grab a good tow I followed his tail and we pulled clear of the group as we left the regatta lake via a small incline. I sat behind him for a few minutes before I sensed his pace slowing. Having now begun the second lap and enjoying again a tailwind I was happy to help with the pace. After around 90 seconds of leading my new running buddy pushed on and set the pace again. And so this continued for almost exactly one lap. The fifth mile was a 5:43, the sixth quicker at 5:36, the seventh 5:40 as we began again to hit a tailwind and the eighth my slowest of the race at 5:49 as we ran a total headwind mile.

Our pace sharing had meant we passed a fair few runners on Adbolton Lane and began to slowly but inexorably close down on a group of three runners ahead, including the second placed woman. We caught them on the final ascent of the small ramp out of the rowing basin. It was here I pulled clear of my young running friend who began to wilt. Indeed by now the heat was beginning to take its toll on the field, running along the Adbolton Lane for the third and final time I passed several runners for whom the temperatures were just too high to continue running at pace.

I was suffering too, I was beginning to shiver – a tell tale sign in the heat of dehydration, but I dug in, helping myself a touch at the final water station by ignoring drinking from the cup of water pouring it straight over my head! The ninth mile was a 5:44, the final mile saw us back onto the rowing basin for the long run into a headwind to the finish. I had two runners ahead of me who I could target and managed to pass. The tenth mile was a 5:43, my Garmin was as unreliable as ever and so had a good fifth of a mile left to run, which saw me muster something of a sprint as I came home to cross the finish line seventeenth overall in 57:41.

Coming into the finish. Picture c/o Andrew Pask.

This was a result I was very pleased with. My 10 mile PB is 57:20, ran on a cool December morning. This race was run in less than ideal conditions and aside from some aches in the Achilles I ran it free of any issues. Indeed the body felt pretty fresh after the race, I felt the limiting factor to my pace in the race was the heat. This was partly borne out the following morning at Belton House parkrun when I wound up easily finishing first in similarly warm conditions. If my body had been shot on the Friday, there was no way I could have run on the Saturday morning.

This confidence boosting race done and dusted, attentions were focused to my running club’s flagship race – the Summer Solstice 10K.

Enjoying the warm setting sun with fellow club members at the end of the race.

Race Report – Ikano Robin Hood Half Marathon – Sunday 25th September 2016

Certainly my biggest frustration of 2016 has been my lack of racing – mostly though lack of opportunities through clashes with work / holidays etc.. I had been targeting an autumn half marathon ever since March. Ideally I wanted a fast flat race but all the tempting ones clashed with Formula One races, and I was basically left with the Robin Hood Half Marathon.

If the race was held on the 2012-14 course, I would have had no qualms over entering. The course was fast and, save for a couple of minor rises, pretty flat too. The issue for the organisers, so they claim, is that the race wasn’t pretty enough. Runners, it seemed, weren’t enamoured with navigating their way through Boots HQ so, for 2015, the course was changed so, you were led to believe, to bring runners more of the sights of Nottingham.

Apparently those sights were also not that well received, for in 2016 it was announced the course would be changed again. The 2015 course didn’t go down too well, from what I heard, because the fast, flat course had been replaced with a slower, hillier one. Ominously the organisers didn’t promise a faster, flatter course for 2016, just more sights for the runner to enjoy. A quick scan of the course and it was clear to see that the hills remained – especially in the opening few miles. At the end of the day though, if I wanted to enter an autumn half marathon, this basically had to be it. Plus the race had its benefits: it’s close to home; it was awarded the status of being the British Athletics National Half Marathon Championships; and being the fifth time I’ve entered the race, it is now my second most visited half marathon (only Reading, with six appearances, is more popular).

I trained for this race, but didn’t really train in a structured manner for it. I used the three weeks of holiday runs to get some solid mileage in – there was no interval or hill sessions, but there was a fair amount of quicker running and in some parts of the country, certainly some hills to be run up and down. On my return from holiday I shared the running with plenty of cycling, partly out of enjoyment, but also because my left Achilles was beginning to ache during every run. I’m fairly sure it was a legacy of the blistering that occurred during the holidays. I could run through the discomfort, but was aware that it was, in classic Achilles style, just getting a little bit worse with every run.

I had no pre-Robin Hood races to gauge my fitness, but I had the impression I was in pretty good shape. There was a ‘Straight outta bed’ run on a Saturday morning after a hard spin session the evening before, which was ten and a half miles covered in 65 minutes, with the final six miles run at comfortably under six minutes per mile. There was a club 20 minute distance trial where I ran a part solo 17:17 5k on a canal trail path before getting quicker for the final three minutes, and there was the cycling efforts that showed I was doing well in that discipline. There was though a mediocre parkrun where the Achilles pain was too much to extend the run after, and the unavoidable truth that I had to miss ten days of running after the parkrun in the immediate buildup to the race to rest the Achilles. It was only a late fitness test that made me comfortable that I could race with the Achilles aching, in the knowledge I would have to rest and fix it after.

Another slight issue was a little bit of illness in the three days up to the race. It wasn’t enough to see me retire to my sick bed, but enough to fell a little sub-par and reluctant to want to exercise (Which is usually a sign of being ill in my books….) I did consider scratching from the race, but I decided to go along and give it a go, happy in the knowledge I could jog if things felt bad, or even pull out if necessary.

The morning was wet after heavy overnight rain, but by the time I reached Nottingham – over two hours before the start of the race, it was dry, but overcast. With time to kill I had a little walk around the race village, before stretching and heading out on a 1 1/2 mile warm up. Warm ups aren’t always the best indicator of how a race is going to go, but this raised a few alarms: the Achilles was pretty good – just a little ache for a minute before disappearing – but the heart rate was high, and the legs felt heavy, especially when I tried to pick up the pace.

With just over an hour to the start, I made a trip to the Portaloo, then found some Grantham Running Club friends, some who were taking part in the half and in the full marathon. We posed for a photo at 8:45 before I got changed into my race kit and headed to another Portaloo queue. Thankfully this trip was just a nice to have visit rather than a dire necessity, because after 20 minutes of queuing it was obvious I wasn’t going to make it to the start in time if I hung around much longer.

Me, Nick, Andy, and Paul, before the start of the race. Robin Hood Half Marathon, Nottingham, Sunday 25th September 2016.
Me, Nick, Andy, and Paul, before the start of the race.

I jogged over to the start – vaulting the barriers somewhere near the start line to be just behind the elite runners. I had no qualms in doing this – the organisers had made the elite field sub 70 minutes (There weren’t that many of them) then made the next pen 74 minutes to 1 hour 40 minutes. I knew that if I started at the back of that pen any chances of a good result would be over, especially as positions for the championship race were to be based on gun position, rather than chip.

It was a long eight minute wait before the start but, on time at 9:30, the horn was fired and we were off. Happily it didn’t take long to get up to speed and dodge the few runners who had no right to be so close to the front. Sadly after less than a minute I knew that my legs were not going to have the best possible day – they were heavy and felt lifeless. Moreover the heart rate was showing some alarmingly erratic figures, some were very high, but not so high as to assume it was a dodgy reading. In hindsight, I think it was just a case of dry, slightly loose strap, as it gave more assuring figures after a couple of miles, but as I went into the race with concerns over carrying a virus of some sorts, it didn’t inspire me with any confidence to want to go out and race hard.

So with less than a mile covered I made the decision I wasn’t going to race flat out. I was to race conservatively and see how I felt later in the race as to whether I would push on. The start of the race was familiar to years past as we skirted the city center. Mile 1 was clocked at 5:46. The second mile saw us leave the course of yesteryear and it degenerated rapidly. We endured a hefty climb containing some wet, slippery, cobblestones where, I’m guessing, we were meant to be enjoying the sight of a castle which couldn’t be seen. The second mile was clocked at 6:04, although Strava GAP states it was worth a 5:44, so steady effort was maintained.

The third mile was quite possibly one of the strangest I’ve ever raced in – certainly in a ‘big city’ race. It was entirely run on residential roads, twisting and turning what felt constantly with no real direction nor purpose. It also did a fair amount of climbing, which dispirited me somewhat, and I know quite a few others too. By now I was past caring what time I was going to run and was just focusing on staying steady and relaxed. The good news was that there was no left Achilles ache at all and the heavy legs were no less or more heavy than when we started. Garmin clicked over through the third mile at a slow 6:12; when Strava adjusts it, it was worth 5:33, so quietly I was working a little harder than I thought.

Mile 4, and at least we were back on wider open roads. We swept mostly downhill in a not particularly pleasing way for someone who was concerned for his Achilles, but still all was good. What wasn’t good was the water that was handed out. The organisers have persisted with the pouches rather than tried and tested water bottles. I think they are next to useless. They are really hard to get any water out of and impossible to pour over your head / wrists / legs etc.. They were lucky it wasn’t especially hot. If Jonny Brownlee were given these at the recent Mexico triathlon rather than water bottles, I fear he may not be around to tell his tale. At the next stop I squeezed the bottle hard to try and increase the flow – it exploded in my hand! Thankfully the runner I was with offered me his.

Mile 4 was a rapid 5:34 (But only 6:01 on GAP). Mile 5 had us running through a university campus and it became apparent we would be running back down the other side of the road in a few miles time. The course was beginning to smack of attempting to minimise the number of roads closed and to use quieter roads whenever possible. This is fine, but when you are paying a premium price to enter a race and it is declared the National Championships, I kind of hope and expect for something a little better, and more interesting.

What also wasn’t good for such a large race was that, had I gone by official splits rather than using my Garmin, I would have covered the fifth mile in a shade under four minutes! When the sixth mile also had us over a third of a mile short, I literally began to question with other runners whether we were taking on a short course. I’d overheard officials before the start stating the course had only just received its measurement certificate and I did wonder with all the twists and turns whether we had been inadvertently sent the wrong way at some point. All this didn’t really help with the concentrating on the race at hand. On my Garmin mile 5 was a 5:42 and mile 6 was a 5:58, but this featured a nice little climb through Wollaton park, which really was pleasant as we were lined by cheering spectators all the way up – cycle race style. The lack of crowd support was a feature of the race, which was a shame, because where there were pockets of supporters, they were loud and appreciated greatly.

I had run the past two miles with just one other runner who was happy to sit on my tail for the most part. We had one more distinctive course feature to navigate in the form of some gates on a path in the park which were locked and we were forced to take to the grass to circumnavigate. Coupled with some low tree branches tree routes, these were obstacles we could have done without, but they were safely passed. The seventh mile saw us leave the park and, thankfully, the official mile splits tallied again with the Garmin, clocking a 5:50. Our group of two caught another group of two and then one more runner so we formed a group of five.

Here I went into full race mode rather than chase a time mode so, when the wind was in our faces I slowed and slipped to the back to take shelter, when we had a tailwind I moved to the front to show that I was helping with the work. Mile 8 was a 5:39, but with mile 9 mostly into a headwind and also with a tight U-turn to tackle, the pace slowed to 5:47. It was here my left Achilles began to ache a bit. It wasn’t enough to slow me, and at times I felt nothing at all. The massage and stretching I’d done since a fairly painful run on the Thursday had done wonders to see no pain at all for 8 miles.

I sat in with the group, running well within myself, the heart rate suggested I was generally around 4-5 bpm below what I’d try and run a full gas half marathon at. Completing the tenth mile (another 5:47) we had another tight hairpin to negotiate.  It was here we could see runners ahead and behind us. I wasn’t surprised to see Adam Holland (Newton’s Fraction half winner (among many other achievements, one of which the Hull Marathon a week before Robin Hood) around two minutes ahead of me. I couldn’t work out if he was running the half or full marathon – it turned out he was running the full marathon, which he won. I spotted a familiar face a minute or so behind me – it was the runner I pipped to second position at the Newton’s Fraction.This actually gave me some encouragement that I wasn’t racing too badly.

What also spurred me on was that, as we began to gently climb, I recognised the new course rejoining the old one. With some mental maths and a little guesswork, I figured that the course would remain the same as it used to, albeit with the loop on the Victoria Embankment cut out. This was confirmed when we hit the top of the rise, ran down a little hill to a familiar roundabout and took a right down Castle Boulevard. Although this mile was actually slightly slower than the past two (5:48), it was sufficient to see me edge away slightly from the rest of the group.

As we took a right into Wilford Street we were hit with another little rise and a headwind. I also had two runners ahead who I was catching. Feeling strong I pushed on again, passing them and setting my sights on some more ahead. Thankfully we quickly turned left after the bridge so we lost the headwind. The twelfth mile was a 5:32, the fastest of the race and what I think was an indicator of the kind of pace I may have been able to maintain had I felt 100% and if the course was fast and flat.

The final full mile saw me pass one more runner early in the mile then it went a bit quiet as we headed back towards Victoria Embankment. As we were guided right to not take the full marathon course I closed on one more runner. He looked a little older than me. I passed him and put some distance on him. I closed on one of the lead female athletes as we turned right onto the grass finish. Mile 13 was 5:45. Happy I wasn’t going to be passed by any runner behind, I held station as we crossed the finish line. I glanced at my watch – 1:16:33. Not my quickest, but as I felt barely out of breath, especially with those who finished around me, I quickly concluded it was probably my easiest sub 1:18 half marathon to date.

My immediate post race thoughts were that I was content with the performance but frustrated with the hilly, twisty course, and not feeling great – especially in the opening miles. I think had these factors been different, a PB could have been on the cards. As it was I quickly returned to my car to partly change, before heading back to the finish to see home my GRC colleagues in the half marathon.

(L to R): Me with Nick and Andy after the race.
(L to R): Me with Nick and Andy after the race.

And with that photo taken I headed home, glad to be missing the traffic out of Victoria Embankment. There was no news of any results until later that evening when the Nottingham Post produced some results – I was apparently 32nd. A little lower than in previous years, but to be expected given it was a championship race.

The next morning and I was just preparing a little piece for the club to send to the local paper. I looked at the official website for the provisional results and they were there. Gun position was an improvement – I was now 29th. Age category: third! That was a complete surprise! I checked the full results to confirm it. The first V40 had run 1:09, the second 1:13. The guy I had passed in the final half mile – he was a V45 and would, I think, have taken my place as third V40 had I not passed him. This made the effort of catching him particularly satisfying! The £50 of vouchers should also be satisfying, if and when I get them!

Future plans? A break from running, likely to be three weeks, to let the Achilles sort itself out. I hope to do at least one Duathlon this autumn and then I’ve entered the Turkey Trot Half Marathon in December. Hopefully I can find one or two other races too, but this is all dependent on fixing the old heel…





Grantham Running Club parkrun Tourist Trip #1 – Gedling parkrun #47, Saturday 7th May 2016.

This has been written entirely in the third person for reasons I’m not entirely sure about. This is a true story, but some scenes have been made up embellished for dramatic purpose.

The inaugural Grantham Running Club parkrun tourist trip began with a short forty minute trip up the A52 and A6097 towards Nottingham and the 47th edition of the Gedling Country Park parkrun. Whether it was the rumour of hills aplenty, it being a bit too far away for just a parkrun, or I’ve got Belton House parkrun on my doorstop it turned out that the GRC group trip became just a couple’s getaway as Messrs Limmer and Kingston-Lee (MKL) set off on a fine late Spring morning to the former colliery, closed as recently as 1991.

Where there is a colliery there are usually hills and the transformation from coal pit to parkland has not reduced the abundance of (quite severe) elevation. MKL in stipulating the T&C of the tourist trip demanded a three mile warm up before parkrun itself, so Limmer duly obliged in parking at the secondary car park around a twenty minute walk from the start. Limmer thought about wearing his GRC vest on this tourist trip, but decided that breeze was a bit too chilly and thought better of it. MKL, staunch believer in not wearing club kit in anything other than a race, reminded himself and no one else that a parkrun is not a race but a ‘free-to-enter-timed 5k run’ and so went for the debut outing of the voluminous 2016 London Marathon finishers’ t-shirt.

A little stiff in the legs following Ben Smith’s marathon #247 in Grantham on the Wednesday and a couple of bike rides in between, MKL soon regretted the notion of an extended warm up as he staggered up the first 10% plus hill less than three minutes into the run. A mile or so later and the ascent of an even steeper, longer climb, he declared it a good time to stop and stretch. Feeling better for the five minute rest  stretching routine, the intrepid duo headed to the start line via a couple of wrong turns and in so doing a couple more hills. Keen to let his GPS click over to 3 miles, thus having accurate mile splits for the parkrun without need to reset his Garmin, MKL made Limmer run back and forth somewhat aimlessly for a bit before the third mile was hit.

At the start, a good 20 minutes before the off, MKL was most relieved to see the promise on the Gedling parkrun website of there being no toilets was in fact a lie, for there were two Portaloos at the start line. Having feared an alfresco trip following a hefty portion of fish and chips the night before, this was as welcome a sight as water is to a man who has not had water nor a drink of any kind in a very long time.

Five minutes before the off and there was the usual playing down of expectations: Matthew ‘I ran two marathons in less than two weeks and had a stinking cold’ Kingston-Lee went for a happy to finish prediction; Chris ‘I’m running the Bosworth Half Marathon tomorrow’ plumped for happy to ‘jog’ around in 22 minutes’.  they headed to the first timers and tourists briefing. The course was a single lap figure of eight which essentially circumnavigated a pair of large mounds with, for want of a better description, a cleavage to dive down. Twice. There were two main climbs on each mound, the marshal gleefully announced. The first is known locally as the Beast, the second is known as the Cobra!’ With that expectations were down graded accordingly to let’s see how it goes and 23-24 minutes will be fine.

The start came moments after the main briefing (Another Race Director having a Freudian slip, wishing everyone a good race, before hastily retracting and using the correct protocol of have a good free-to-enter timed 5k run). The opening 400 meters or so was all downhill and off shooting into the lead was Erdinger tri-suit man, who Limmer and MKL, using their well tuned who is the competition? eyes, correctly assessed was the man most likely to head to victory  a first place finish.

The path was mostly gravel but it was in immaculate condition – not a rut nor pothole to worry losing your footing on. So it was that Erdinger Man (Later revealed to be Tom Vickery of Cambridge and Coleridge AC, taking part in his first ever parkrun) who covered the first half mile or so in what looked like sub 4 minute mile pace, already miles ahead of man being dragged along with manically over-excited canine assistance; man in yellow vest; man in orange vest; someone else, and MKL in sixth as the field turned sharp left to take in the Beast.

The Beast was pretty tough, twice as long as the hill at Melton and about as steep, far harder than anything at Newark, and certainly something to bring your average pace back down to reality after the lightning fast start. MKL loves a good hill almost as much as Limmer does, so it was no surprise, despite weary legs for the double barreled one to quickly take fifth and close in on the fourth placed runner. It was less of a surprise for MKL to turn round and see Mr ’22 minutes Bosworth etc..‘ close behind and patently not going to run 22 minutes, as the first mile was covered in 5:54. Once at the top of the hill there was pretty much the only section of flat on the course which was tempered by the stiff and somewhat chilly breeze. It was here that MKL took fourth place, which quickly became third when the over enthused dog lost all appetite for running when it spotted a small stream it could have a paddle in.

Parkun isn’t and never will be a race, but there was definitely no way MKL was going to let Limmer beat him at another parkrun following the let’s run together and then bugger off into the distance controversy of the Belton parkrun they both ran at back in the wintertime. So it was something close to full gas for MKL as the pair plunged back down the cleavage and traversed across the second mound. The second mile split came somewhere near the start of the second hill, a 5:42 for MKL showed the pair weren’t exactly hanging around.

The second hill was at least twice as long as the first hill, it began on a bearable ramp, then kicked up to around 12% for around 100 meters before briefly hitting a plateau. Normally you’d expect this would be the end of the hill but, around the corner, came another ramp up then, just when the legs were begging for mercy, there was a final short sharp climb. MKL was hanging by a thread but was relieved to maintain the gap on Limmer. The second placed runner was someway in the distance, Erdinger man had long since gone. He’d probably finished by now, happily quaffing away on his 0%, so you can drink it guilt free at 9 am, beverage.

So the final half mile was a case of letting gravity take over and falling down the hill, past the start line and to the finish, which nestled nicely at the top of the cleavage. MKL came home third in a time of 18:38, which is not that remarkable but is the 20th fastest ever time over the course. Limmer came home fourth in 18:57 (27th fastest ever). Erdinger Man, on his parkrun debut, lest we forget, ran 17:02 – the second fastest ever time at Gedling parkrun. Wait until he finds a flat course and sub 16 awaits! The second placed runner was just the wrong side of 18 minutes, the fact he ran 2:48 at London and was looking for a 2:38 performance shows this parkrun is no Ferry Meadows.

As is customary at the end of parkun there was chat among strangers, united in nothing more than having just spent no money at a timed 5k run. It turns out that Gedling parkrun, despite the very scenic surrounds and surface that is good underfoot all year round, rarely attracts that many runners as it just a little too hilly. Locals prefer to run at Colwick, which is just over a parkrun’s distance away and is apparently fast and flat – when it is not underwater.

With at least five minutes spent reflecting on the increasingly popular pastime among runners of where is the fastest parkrun? Limmer and MKL headed off for their warm down, which Matthew Kingston-Lee had stipulated, in writing, should be no less than four miles, so as to make the trip worthwhile. However the hills had taken their toll and Limmer was happy to call it a day with 2.3 miles covered. MKL was more bloody minded and ran around in circles around a field, then around a football pitch, then around a small car park before his Garmin told him that exactly 15km had been run in total. Less than the planned amount, but a special clause was invoked to declare it exactly the right amount for the training plan he had in mind.


Gedling parkrun is comfortably the hardest parkrun MKL and Limmer have ever run. Those who moan that Newark is too hilly need to head to Gedling and see what a hill really is. That said, it was arguably the most enjoyable parkrun for the GRC pair who both have a sadistic passion for steep gradients. The park is a joy to run at and the Gedling parkrun would be particularly recommended if you were training for a hilly race or just fancied a hard workout.


Course type: single lap, figure of 8.

Surface: Mostly wide gravel paths, some concrete path.

Toilets: Officially no. There were two Portaloos at the start.

Cafe: No. There is one nearby apparently.

Parking: No problem. If double the number turned up then it may become one.

Ratings (Out of 5): 

Scenery: 4

PB Potential: 2

Accuracy: 3 (Limmer measured it as 3.2 miles) MKL declined to measure the course.

Flatness: 1

Congestion: 1 (Single lap course – 115 runners, happy days, no need to get the elbows out).

Beginner Friendly: 2 (Because it’s a tough course, not because the parkrun hosts aren’t friendly).

Overall: 4 (A must do parkrun for those who like a little challenge at a scenic location and also relish the opportunity to clock some hard pre and post parkrun miles).