Keeping things in perspective – I will be back

Disappointed. Crestfallen. Downcast. Despondent. Miffed. Gutted. All words I have used to describe how I have been feeling since an easy run last Thursday.

Yes, after 17 weeks of great training I managed to injure myself with only ten days to go before the London Marathon. Today, after a week of trying to remedy it, I gave up all hope of making the start-line in Greenwich and deferred my place until 2017.

My initial reaction was to be annoyed, deflated. I was being silly. It is only a marathon after all. Yes, it is frustrating to have so many weeks of good training done and dusted and not to use the resulting fitness in a target race, but it’s hardly a big deal when you look at some of the issues others in society face.

As I headed to the London Marathon Expo earlier to check out how brands were activating within the running community for work, I was struck by how fortunate runners are. The thousands at London Excel looked healthy, well off and very happy. They were smiling, chatting freely with others about their race expectations and how their training had gone.

In a word that seems to have gone crazy in recent years, not everyone is as lucky as we runners are. So when things go bad for us, it is important to keep it in perspective. At the end of the day, it is only a race.

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That doesn’t mean I am happy about it. Far from it. I would much rather be lining up in the Red Start on Sunday morning and attempting to bash out 26.2miles at 6.40minutes per mile pace or thereabouts. But it won’t be happening, so why fret over it? One of the key deliverables in a marathon training cycle is making it to the start of your race. I have failed to do that and should simply take it as a learning for next time.

There are plenty of other marathons I can run when back fit, and no one can take the training mileage cycle away from me or the enjoyment derived from it. I was already entered into Belfast City Marathon on 2nd May, with the intention to run it for fun. However, if I can get the leg fixed in time (and that is far from a given), I will race there.

I ran my first sub three-hour marathon in Belfast last year and love it. It is smaller than London and that works for me as I prefer races without the hassle that goes with really big mass participation events. Despite a hillier and slower course than London, it is a lot of fun to compete in.

If I don’t make Belfast, I will have to wait until autumn to run a decent marathon. And until that point I will focus on getting faster over the shorter distances, hopefully using the mileage stored up from marathon training to achieve some personal best times. I may be out for now, but I will be back. Of that you can be sure.

If you are running London, enjoy it. Don’t go off too fast, and don’t finish too slow. By making it to the start-line, you have already done half the job. It is now time to deliver on your hopes and dreams by ensuring your mind stays focused when the going gets tough. Have fun out there!

The parochial economics of Stoke Gifford Parish Council

Parish Councillors are not used to publicity. They do their job in their local communities quietly, representing their electorate and providing access to facilities, such as parks.

This week, however, Stoke Gifford Parish Council in South Gloucestershire managed to gain coverage on every major media outlet as they told parkrun that they could not use Little Stoke park to run their weekly free timed 5k runs.

No big deal, you might say. Are they not merely representing the views of the locality? Well, this is a big deal, and it is questionable whether they really are representing the views of their electorate.

Two years ago this group of 9 individuals seemed delighted to have a local parkrun. The Parish Council supported the event and the benefit it provided for the local community. In a country facing terrible rising obesity levels and a breakdown in community relations, it is not hard to work out why a volunteer organised parkrun that encourages everyone (from children, to mums, to the elderly) to run 5km in a friendly, non threatening environment is a good thing.

Yesterday, they dramatically changed their mind because the park needed maintenance as a result of people using it (is that not what parks are for!?). They clearly have a gap in their budget, and wish to have a not for profit community running event fill it for them. And instead of asking volunteers to help through giving of time to help maintain the park, they have instead insisted on being paid.

The Stoke Gifford Parish Council is practising parochial economics. They talk about maintaining a low council tax, yet they completely ignored the economic benefit gained from having hundreds of people come together to exercise in their community. The savings for local health services are evidenced in parts of the country who actually care about these things, as are the upsides for local shops and cafes with increased trade from those coming from outside the immediate area to the parkrun.

It’s an ill thought through position by the Parish Council and sets a dangerous precedent. Anyone that cares should be encouraging the UK Government, Opposition parties and media all to come out and condemn the dogmatic and ill advised decision as soon as possible.

Parkrun has been one of the best and most exciting examples of how to increase participation and encourage people into exercise in a positive environment. Millions have been attracted to running as a result. How can that be a bad thing? If anything, Stoke Gifford Parish Council should be paying the parkrun volunteers for the work they are doing to help their local community.

So, please, Stoke Gifford Parish Council, see the big picture, stop practicing parochial economics, and start embracing this amazing local community service you are getting free of charge.

Nearly at Greenwich

Some hate marathon training. They see it as a slog. Mile after mile run in the cold and dark of early mornings or late nights.

With just over two weeks to go before the London Marathon, I can sincerely say that I have enjoyed my training cycle and have run more than ever since Christmas.

Most of the miles have been run on my own instead of with club-mates at Guildford & Godalming A.C. While I have missed the company of good friends and have done very little speed-work in this build-up, the solitary action of running in the dark has been something I have revelled in.

Before the clocks went forward, I found running early in the morning or at night amazingly refreshing. The freedom was awe inspiring. And the weather didn’t matter as the darkness enveloped me, protecting against everything else.

I repeatedly found myself lost in thoughts about life and work while running alongside nature. It’s a time to solve problems, create ideas and avoid boisterous foxes prowling in the dark. It is also a time to learn and laugh, listening to Podcasts such as the Elis James and John Robins show, The Rob Watson Show, Running Commentary or the brilliant Marathon Talk.

The only downside of running on country roads is the frequent use of full beam lights by car drivers who don’t seem to comprehend that a runner with a small head-torch is actually blinded by their lights. If a fellow driver struggles to see when you direct them at their car, what do they think the impact is on a runner!?

That aside, it has been a great experience. Unlike last year, when I ran a lot of double day sessions as part of my commute to and from work, I have focused on longer single day workouts. They haven’t been quick, but I will have run well over fifty runs of 10miles or more in length by marathon day. The hope is that this will add more efficiency to my gait and put more endurance in my legs. Let’s hope it works.

You can check out my full training schedule on Strava here. As you will see, I have run 1,023miles, with only 17 days left before London Marathon. At this stage last year, as I prepared for my 2hr 59min 17sec in Belfast, I had run 907.2miles. My mileage is up, has been much more consistent and I am feeling good – though a slight knee issue has arisen in the last few days.

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As I start to think about the start in Greenwich and my race strategy, including target pace and time, I know I should be proud of this training cycle and should take confidence from it. Yet I also look forward to it being over and getting back down to Guildford & Godalming A.C. to enjoy Spring runs with my club-mates. But before that I need to deliver on race day. And how hard can that be!?

Hoppers Hands – not the end of the run

For the last week I have been lucky enough to have been working in San Francisco. I have managed to get out every day for an early morning run. My final run took me to the Golden Gate Bridge just in time to see the sunrise over the city.
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Immediately under the bridge is a fence with a sign on it containing two hands. It reads “Hoppers Hands” in honour of a bridge worker who managed to talk a significant number of people out of committing suicide from the bridge, sadly the world’s number one suicide spot.
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When reaching the sign runners have nowhere else to go. However, before turning back they press their palms agains those on display. It is said to symbolise that the bridge is not the end, but a turning point in life. A nice thought as you run back towards your destination and the rest of your life. And, as I leave this beautiful city to head home.

A Golden parkrun

Crissy Field could well be the most perfect parkrun location on earth. Situated alongside the Bay in San Francisco, it has a backdrop of the Golden Gate and Alcatraz. Absolutely beautiful.

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I was lucky to run it on Saturday while in the city. The Race Director is a welcoming chap called Dale. He made a point of introducing himself to all the first-timers in attendance, many of whom were from the UK.

Warming up with another Brit – Kevin Jones from Cardiff – I heard of how he had travelled the world to take part in parkruns, and was celebrating his fiftieth birthday by visiting California. He is the ultimate parkrun tourist.

The number of participants is usually small at Crissy Field, which is odd considering the hundreds of runners using the same paths as the run is held on. The United States clearly needs to wake up to the parkrun phenomenon.

Those who do come out are a friendly bunch, all waiting for the last finisher to complete their run before heading to a nearby beach hut for some post parkrun refreshments.

I was delighted to be first finisher, just ahead of the aforementioned Kevin. It was a golden start to the weekend by the Bay and I hope it won’t be the last time I run the amazing Crissy Field parkrun.

Injecting some miles into my training

I am now six weeks into my marathon training block. This period focuses on getting the miles in and building up an endurance base. As I have been busy with work and life, it has meant a lot of early or late runs to fit the mileage in. And, unlike last year, I have been trying to get as many nine to eleven mile runs in as possible rather than double up on five or six mile runs a day. That seems to be working well, although I have been suffering from a few niggles around my ankles, but nothing too dramatic.

A few niggles can’t dampen the positive outcomes of getting the miles in though. As a Type One (insulin dependent) Diabetic, there comes an amazing moment in training for a marathon when my body becomes dramatically more efficient. This has a stark change in how I feel and leads to me injecting less insulin as it works better in a fitter body. To be specific, a month ago I would have been injecting 14 to 16 units of slow acting night insulin before bed, but now I am injecting 10 to 12 units. I have experienced a similar decrease in my fast-acting daytime insulin (injected every time I eat) too. The only change is that I am running consistently, and my fitness is increasing. All good.

I am now focused on maintaining a weekly mileage of between 60 and 75 miles per week until a fortnight before the London Marathon. I will start to run quicker too, aiming to use parkruns, 10kms and half marathons to get the body used to running at speeds faster than my marathon pace. And then, on the 24th April in London, let’s see what this more efficient and effective body delivers.

Seeing other clubs

I need to confess; I have been cheating on my running club. The truth is, when I am in Northern Ireland, I run with another club. It wasn’t serious at first, it merely started with a few training runs. That led to the paying of a membership fee, and then the ultimate sin, purchasing a vest and pulling it on for a race. Oh, Guildford and Godalming AC, please don’t judge me…

Yes, I have joined North Down A.C. The club local to where I grew up in Bangor, County Down. I have been taking my children home to see their grandparents as much as possible and when I am there have been enjoying running with one of my oldest and best friends, Keith Gilmore. Keith has been getting into his running in the last couple of years, becoming a regular at the local parkrun. And then he got more serious, joining North Down A.C., and putting the idea into my head to do the same. At nearly forty you think you are too old to be led by my friends, but maybe not.

And thank goodness he did, as it has been absolutely brilliant. When I am back in Bangor I now have the chance to join an amazingly friendly group of runners whenever I want to run. Popping down to Ward Park for the parkrun on a Saturday morning is more than just turning up to run, it’s a chance to say hello to clubmates. I have raced twice for the club, at the Seely Cup 10k before Christmas (coming back from a period out I ran slowly, but loved it) and the Cultra 10k last weekend (despite backing off on the second lap of this very hilly race, I came a respectful 8th). Both have been fun occasions, and I look forward to pulling on my new yellow and blue vest for many more races in the future.

This doesn’t at all mean that I am done with my home club, Guildford & Godalming A.C., far from it. I am still proud to pull on the hallowed green vest when competing outside of Northern Ireland. It just means that I can enjoy my running in my two favourite places with like minded people. It really is true, runners are the most welcoming people you can ever meet. So, wherever you are, join your local running club and meet fellow runners who will only help you to get fitter and faster. Or even better, join two.

Open letter to Mo Farah

Dear Mo,

You are a fabulous runner who delivers repeatedly exceptional performances. I admire the way you represent our country; espousing a can do attitude and happy demeanour. You have made running interesting again to the media and the mass population – my kids love screaming “go Mo” when you compete on the TV. Thank you.

However, there is an odd thing that happens when I talk to other club runners – the sort of hardy knowledgable people who run most days and always go long at weekends. The truth is, they don’t identify with you any more. They cite the Great North Run ‘win’, the Twitter war with Andy Vernon and a general no show for cross country events in the UK. The recent accusations against your coach Alberto Salazar have provided a new and much more damaging excuse for them to dismiss your achievements.

At the heart of this problem is the fact that you have a reputation gap between your brand identity and what your team advises you to do. Everyone has a reputation gap, but the bigger it is the less likely you can protect your reputation when a crisis occurs. To read that you have hired crisis experts to help protect you on the Salazar allegations is worrying. Yes, you need a short term quick fix, but please don’t ignore the reality that you also need to think long term and find a way to reconnect with your base in the UK; everyday runners. You must not allow your team to forget one of the key rules for anyone in the public eye; ‘never lose your base’.

Now, don’t get me wrong, I don’t think people are being fair. You and your team have been successfully building a global brand and at times that means doing what is best to achieve that goal. But, I do think you need to do something about it if you want to maintain the support you deserve from runners in the UK, particularly given the ferocity of recent media attacks on you. Here are some suggestions of how you might do that:

Firstly, please take part in a press conference or interview where you answer every single question journalists have for you on the Salazar allegations. I don’t care how long the press conference goes on, you shouldn’t leave until every question has been answered. You should have done this when the news of missed drug tests broke, or when you wrote on Facebook that you were staying with Alberto. It’s a shame that you were instead advised to release a statement that lacked personality (something you have bundles of). When you did speak to the media ahead of the Birmingham Diamond League event you came across really well in difficult circumstances; transparent, angry with the claims and, most importantly, honest.

Let a hungry pack of journalists press you on the detail, and make it clear that once you have finished you won’t be providing a running commentary on the ongoing claims likely to come out about the Nike Oregon Project during the coming weeks and months.

Secondly, please write a weekly blog or newspaper article about your training, outlining your ongoing highs and lows. Runners, and the wider public, want to know how you are getting on and learn from your training regime. It’s great you are on Facebook and Twitter, but we want something more meaty than pictures of you running round tracks looking speedy. Letting people inside your head ensures they feel connected with you and understand your motivations and drive. It engages then with compelling content and knowledge – ideally helping them get better too.

Thirdly, and controversial I know, please engineer a race against Andy Vernon on the track in the UK. Other than doping accusations or world records, running doesn’t get much media interest these days. Athletic reporters are disappearing quicker than you do from the pack in a race. You tend to be the exception to this and command interest whatever you do. Running must harness that if we are to create better and more competitive fields. We all laughed along as you and Andy bashed each other on Twitter. It showed you are both human and care. Nothing wrong with that. But please use the interest it garnered to help running by having a smack down with Andy as soon as possible (possibly in aid of a charity such as Comic Relief or even your own Foundation). Clearly, you will win, but let’s play it up to the media like a boxing fight, with you being pictured squaring up to each other. And hugging and moving on when it’s over. I reckon you could gain at least two weeks coverage for one race if this was handled right. That would be good for running in the UK.

Finally, please run the national cross country championships in 2016 at Donnington Park on 27th February. As I ‘ran’ this year’s race, through the quagmire of mud at Parliament Hills,I wondered how top runners like you would get on. All the best British runners have competed in this Championship at their prime. You have run it before. Yet, it gets zero coverage these days. The runners of Britain love cross country and these championships, and I heard many asking why you don’t run it, and how you might get on if you did. Please come and give our sport the recognition it deserves. If you ran, television cameras would be there and the sport would be broadcast to millions, instead of the several hundred brave souls who turn out to support on the day. And other top UK based runners might decide to compete instead of coming up with excuses for not doing so.This is one of the world’s great running events, it would be fantastic to see our best endurance athlete ever competing in it.

These things are not big asks and I don’t believe they dilute your existing brand strategy or response to the Salazar allegations. You have the power to make people sit up and listen, and pay respect to our sport – which is now under attack. Your brand is strong, but it will only become stronger if you fill your reputation gap and leave a legacy of more people running more often, and preferably competing at a higher level. Put simply, we need more Mo Farahs coming through the ranks. Please do all you can to do that, and thus reconnect with club runners up and down the country.

Yours,

Gavin

#GoJo; Vote for a true sporting personality

Let me tell you story about a lady called Jo. She lives in Devon with her husband Gavin. They met at an athletics club twenty six years ago. They are self employed, not rich, and both work hard at what they do. She turned 41 this year, and gave birth to her second child in 2013. Heart warming, but pretty unremarkable, yes?

Well, let me tell you more. In 2014, less than 10 months after giving birth to her daughter, this lady smashed the world record over 5,000m by a female over 40 years of age and then won a bronze medal in the Commonwealth Games, finishing behind a pair of young Kenyans in a world-class race. Ten days later she headed to the European Championships and won her first major championship title, conquering a talented field a little more than a month before turning 41. In doing so, she became the oldest female (by three years) to win a gold medal in the history of the championships.

This women is a running superstar who has made wearing long white compression socks cool. She is the remarkable Jo Pavey. She finished seventh, and first European, in London 2012 in both the 5000m and 10,000m, but her form in 2014 has been nothing short of extraordinary. She is defying the normal physiological rules of running, getting even better with age, and despite unselfishly changing her training regime to a more relaxed “kids first” approach.

Competing in a qualifying race earlier this year she found herself wearing the same club vest she wore as a junior as she ran to victory against competitors born when she was at university. In a “want it now” consumer society, she is an inspiration for those who believe in working hard to achieve success, and not rushing things.

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Sadly, her performance doesn’t get the recognition deserved. She no longer recieves Lottery funding from UK Athletics (she doesn’t have “podium potential” for the Rio Olympics apparently) and is doing it all on a shoestring. If she was a footballer, everyone would know her name and brands would be queuing up to sponsor her. As she is a female runner, that hasn’t happened. Crazy, but that’s sport.

What is not crazy is that, despite everything, there is the very real prospect that she could win the prestigious BBC Sports Personality of the Year in the Award Ceremony in Glasgow on the 14th December. And this is were we can give something back to someone who gives us so much hope that we too can improve with age and experience.

Jo has been shortlisted against the likes of Rory McIlroy and Lewis Hamilton – who get loads column inches and substantially more profile on television. They are household names, while Jo Pavey spends most of her days looking after her family and home.

McIlroy and Hamilton have a huge quantum of armchair fans. However, what Jo has is a dedicated group of runners who I am confident will do the work to ensure she gets the credit she deserves. And I always back runners to get off their ar@ses and do something worthwhile…

So, let’s make it an early Christmas present for Jo as we start a campaign to get her trending in the minds of those voting on the 14th. Please share your encouragement with family and friends via Twitter, Facebook and other social media channels, for them to back Jo, and vote when the lines open during the live show on BBC One.

Specifically, please share repeatedly on social media on the 12th, 13th, and 14th December. Ideally, you would do this at least three times per day. Please up the tempo of your activity as the show approaches and starts at 8pm on the 14th; we want the campaign to come to a crescendo ahead of voting finishing. We aim to create a burst of social media activity that ensures those who get why Jo deserves to win will do something about it.

Please use #GoJo and #BBCSPOTY in all activity.

Suggested tweets:

Heard about the 41yr old mum of two who can beat Rory McIlroy & Lewis Hamilton with your help? #GoJo #BBCSPOTY http://www.runhabit.com

Don’t miss the opportunity to vote for a true personality to win #SPOTY. #GoJo http://www.runhabit.com

#GoJo Vote for a true sports personality in #BBCSPOTY this year. Read her story here: http://www.runhabit.com

I’m voting for the amazing Jo Pavey in #BBCSPOTY. Here is why you should do the same: http://www.runhabit.com #GoJo

She’s 41, a mum of two and could be this year’s #BBCSPOTY winner. Find out why http://www.runhabit.com. #GoJo.

There have been a number of articles written about Jo that you may prefer to link to in your social media sharing. I have included some below to help:

http://www.dailymail.co.uk/sport/othersports/article-2855274/Wonder-woman-Jo-Pavey-aims-gold-Rio-without-lottery-funding-two-kids.html

http://sport.bt.com/more-sport-hub/women-in-sport/the-best-year-of-my-life-jo-pavey-on-her-remarkable-2014-S11363943889917

http://www.radiotimes.com/news/2014-11-24/sports-personality-of-the-year-2014-jo-pavey

http://www.bbc.com/sport/0/athletics/29682009

Finally, if in any doubt about why you should be voting for this running legend, listen to her interview on Marathon Talk with Liz Yelling a few months a go. What a grounded yet inspirational star. Now, let’s get her the recognition she deserves. Get sharing and voting.

UPDATE: This video from the BBC is great content to add to tweets and social media sharing: http://m.bbc.co.uk/sport/sports-personality/30314184

UPDATE 2: Jo Pavey made the podium. Amazing. Well done to her and all who voted. Read more here.

Letting my inner dog loose

Post-boxes, hydrants and lampposts are much loved by dogs. For an evening last week, I let my inner dog loose and spent one hour running around suburbia looking for the aforementioned street furniture as part of a Street-O event.

A week ago, I hadn’t heard of Street-O when my friend and coach Marc Woodall suggested I join him for an event in Stoneleigh, hosted by the Mole Valley Orienteering Club. “Meet in a pub next to the station”, he said. Sounds informal, I thought, and it is. Turning up at the pub I was met by two guys sat in the corner, pints on the table, distributing maps. Informal is a complement by the way, not a criticism – and the welcome could not have been friendlier to a newcomer.

Once we had paid the £3 fee and had our map, we were off. Marc kindly let me join him for my inaugural event as a Street-O virgin. Turns out it’s akin to an urban orienteering race. The map you are given is of the local area, but without street names or other helpful information. You run with the aim of getting to specific locations (“controls”) on the map, generally under street lights. On the other side of the map you will be given a list of controls with numbers as stated on the map overleaf. There will be clues, such as “hydrant (lower number)”, with the objective to identify the correct hydrant and thus write down the said lower number on the sheet.

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The controls are divided up into three point values – 10s, 20s and 30s. So, ideally, you would spend a few minutes identifying the smartest route to get the highest score achievable. Needless to say, as runners Marc and I simply ran off in one direction towards a plethora of controls on the map – probably a common tactic by organisers to flummox competitors.  It was clearly a mistake and limited our scoring potential.

You have one hour to score as many points as possible, and need to judge how far you are away from ‘home’ (the pub) to ensure you don’t go over the time limit and get penalised points. As Marc and I had headed off on a sub optimal route (with me failing to add any strategic value throughout), we settled for our lot with several minutes left on the stopwatch as we knew we wouldn’t get to the next control and back on time. Instead, we had a quick pint while awaiting our results. It was at this time I realised the genius in hosting such events at a pub!

I was quite pleased to have finished in joint 7th for my first time at such an event. I will definitely do more of these and continue my dog impressions in suburbia. Not only is it a strategic challenge, but it’s fabulous interval training because you have to stop to write down an answer, before speeding off towards the next control. While moving, we averaged 6.49min pace for the 6.5miles we covered, so we were not hanging around.

The biggest lesson I took away was the need to try new things. If Marc hadn’t mentioned it to me there is no way I would have been at a random pub on a cold November evening having great fun on what is essentially a treasure hunt for grown-ups who like to run.

If you want more information on Street-O, please check out http://www.mvoc.org/ and http://slow.org.uk/about/streeto/.