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.

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