Saturday, December 31, 2011

10k to 10 miles in 6 weeks

Thought it best that I return to all things running and review two late summer/early autumn races that I competed in.
First up and 7 weeks after the Cookstown Half, I was lining up for the Laganside 10k in Belfast. I first entered in 2009 and completed in 55 mins and then last year, I registered a time of just under 48 mins. This however, was my first competitive 10k of 2011, so although quietely confident I wasn't sure if I would get under 45 mins.
The training had gone well, with regular sessions at Dromore AC, some hill work and longish runs of around 10 miles. This 10k is a very popular one as the course is pretty flat throughout and it is run in the heart of Belfast. As ever the start is always congested but with the race being chipped, I started near the back in the hope that I wouldn't set off too quick and burn myself out after a mile. A number of other Dromore runners were lining up too and I was keen to keep an eye on the likes of Aine and Mary who were both more than capable of a time around 45 mins.
The gun sounded and we were on our way, I had no problems weaving through the pack and was soon on the heels of Jonathan(fellow Dromore runner) who I knew was capable of a 45 mins time. My pace was steady and I knew that if I kept Jonathon in sight, I would get a good time. Just before half-way we crossed the Ormeau Bridge and here there were a number of Dromore supporters urging us on. I hit half-way in around 23 mins and this gave me a lift as I knew that by keeping at this pace, 45 mins was a possibilty.
Between mile 4 & 5 things nearly went wrong as turning up past Cental Railway Station I had to take evasive action as a number of pedestrians were heading our way, the only place I could go was onto the road and thankfully there was no oncoming traffic. A few expletives came out of my mouth (why were marshalls not keeping the paths clear?) but I regained my composure and made my way along the tow-path knowing I had less that 2 miles to go. By this point I had passed Jonathon and could see in the distance a number of Dromore vests. Reaching the Ormeau Bridge for a second time, Diane from the club who was supporting not running, was pointing furiously in the distance at a Dromore vest - it was Aine. Could I catch her? The last half a mile or so is flat so I dug deep and quickened my pace slightly, all the time closing in on Aine and with 10 yards to go I passed her. I was over the moon, kanckered but over the moon. I knew I hadn't quite got under 45 mins but my time was going to be a PB. I picked up my bottle of water and headed for the Up & Running stall. This year the organisers gave all entrants a voucher for Up & Running rather than a T-shirt, which I felt was a much better idea. I stocked up on energy bars/gels which will come in useful in 2012 during my marathon training. And what of my official time? 45-58, which knocked over 2 mins off last year's time and another PB.
October 9th and 6 weeks on from the Laganside 10k and I'm down at the Navan Centre in Armagh waiting for the start of the Armagh 10 mile road race. In 2010, I completed the race in 1 hr 22 mins but I was hopeful of getting under 1 hr 20 mins particularly as there had been a lot of speedwork in my recent training. Although this event is well publicised and attracts a lot of entrants, the organisation leaves a little to be desired. This year's race wasn't chipped, no changing facilities on-site and the cotton T-shirt is exactly the same as last year's. Oh and the other thing is the "fun run" starts at the same time as the main race, so you spend the first mile dodging youngsters, walkers and pram-pushers!!
What of the race? Well, I set off way to quickly, hitting 2 miles in 15 mins...this was a pace I wasn't going to be able keep up, so I took stock and eased back slightly. The route is through quiet country roads and has a few hills so makes for a challenging run. I knew at half-way a pace of 8 minute miles would get me close to a 1hr 20 mins finish, I was feeling really positive and was able to push hard over the last couple of miles and finished in a time of 1 hr 17 mins 42 secs. Really pleased and happy to see most other Dromore runners finish in under 1hr 25 mins.
Will I run the race again in 2012? Not sure, the course is great and there aren't many 10 mile races but the organisers will need to up their game.

1 major race left in 2011, the Seeley Cup 10k at the end of November. Will I get that sub 45 time???

Sunday, December 11, 2011

Adam Ant - Vicar St, Dublin, Nov 25th 2011

This is a post with a difference, in that there is no mention of running or how my training is going. Instead, I'm going to review the Adam Ant gig that I attended on November 25th.
Before I start, just a bit of background into my 31 year obsession with all things Adam Ant. It was in 1980, that I first saw Adam & the Ants on TOTP performing (miming) "Dog Eat Dog" and from that moment I was hooked. Later that year, I bought the "Kings of the Wild Frontier" LP in Central Milton Keynes' long-gone Virgin Megastore. I wasn't allowed to go and see the "Prince Charming Revue" in 1982, apparantly I was too young at 14 to go to London,on my own! So, I had to wait until 1995 before I saw my hero in concert at the Shepherds Bush Empire, London as part of the "Wonderful" tour.
I only found out that I had a ticket for the Vicar St gig, 20 days before the event. How come? The ticket was a birthday present from my lovely wife, Louise who had apparantly booked it 6 weeks before. I was over the moon as I thought the chance of seeing Adam in concert again had passed me by.
November 25th finally came around and before I left the hotel, I 'put on a little make-up,make-up'and headed into Dublin city centre. Vicar St was only 15 minutes walk away and at 8pm I found myself jostling with lots of Antpeople at the merchandise stall. The venue itself is small and intimate and has a capacity of around 800, so the chances of getting a good spot amongst the crowd was pretty high.
Around 8.20pm, the support band Georgie Girl and Her Poussez Posse took to the stage. 4 girls with attitude all playing their own instruments, a great sight in these days of The Saturdays and other indenti-kit girl groups. The band reminded me a little of Kenickie and they seem to have the same sense of humour when they stormed through a version of "Addicted to Love". 30 minutes later they left the stage to great applause...Georgie would be back later as one of Adam's backing singers.
The next 15 minutes seemed to go on forever and with the venue nearing capacity, I positioned myself to the right of the stage and waited...
The lights went down and the first few bars of "Plastic Surgery" caused mayhem in the crowd and this was before Adam had even appeared. A minute or so later, there he was no more than a few yards in front me, jumping around the stage...I was ecstatic. I love "Plastic Surgery" so this was a great start and this song, over 30 years old is more relevant now than it ever was...the way it ridicules those who mess around with their looks..."clean your face with Mr Sheen"
Adam and the band didn't stop for breath as singles, 'B' sides and album tracks were performed with gusto including "Beat My Guest" (all time fave 'B' side), "Zerox" and "Ants Invasion". The backing singers appeared just as "Stand & Deliver" started up, following soon after, a real surprise as "Puss 'n Boots" was given a rockier edge, during which there was a bit of banter between Adam and the two backing singers.
Adam seemed to be having so much fun and was really enjoying himself. He seemed quite humble when he introduced "Kings of the Wild Frontier", the crowd felt this and gave the song a rapturous reception. In the next 30 minutes, a few early songs were performed - "Whip in my Valise", "Never Trust a Man with Egg on his Face" and "Cleopatra", oh and a new song "Vince Taylor" was squeezed in.
Hour and a half in and there was no sign of Adam wanting to stop and 4 classic punk 'B' sides blew the roof off - "Christian D'Or", "Lady", Fall In" and "Red Scab"...BUT then it was all over, or was it? Surely, there would be an encore? We all shouted Adam's name, clapped, stamped our feet and then he returned to give a punk edge to Marc Bolan's "Get It On" and "20th Century Boy". There was still time for one more song and it had to be "Physical (You're So)"...the song that seems to have ended all Adam's gigs from the year dot.
This had been one of the greatest nights of my life, it was everything that I hoped it would be and more. Can't wait for the new album in 2012 and I will jump at the chance to do this all over again in an instant.

Monday, November 7, 2011

A Summer Sunday in Co Tyrone

So here we are, 1 month on from the Lisburn Half, it's the middle of July and the sun is blazing down...unfortunately not in Cookstown, Co Tyrone where the rain is lashing and the wind is howling.
It was all very quiet at the start area, with most runners sheltering in cars or in the changing rooms. The chance of a decent warm-up was remote but 5 minutes before the start, I braved the elements and managed a few strides.
Although,the race was chipped, the start was a bit of a lottery as the organisers didn't have a chip mat, so everyone jostled to get as close to the "start" as possible. The horn sounded and we were off, I gave myself a few strides before I set my Nike+ off. I had programmed a time of 1hr 50mins, knowing I should get under this quite easily.
As always,it took a mile or so for the runners to sort themselves out but soon I was hitting a steady pace and avoiding the stragglers. If anything,it was the rain and wind that was causing me the most problems. Thankfully, I was wearing contacts, so could see clearly in front of me but that didn't stop raindrops falling across my face and soaking me right through and this was before halfway!!
The bulk of the route was country roads and there was little in the way of human support. We got some strange looks from cows and sheep who were probably wondering why so many 2 legged creatures were running around in the wind and rain. Bizarre sight at halfway when a herd of sheep and a couple of donkeys came bounding over to the edge of a field as we all passed by. Such distractions were welcome as by this point the conditions were getting worse, huge puddles were forming across the roads and feet were beginning to squelch. Despite this, I hit halfway at around 55 mins, so was on target for a sub 1-50 time.
Miles 9 - 11, were quite tough as there's a steady climb along a dual carriageway into Cookstown town centre but at least here there's a small crowd and the claps and cheers lift the spirit. As you leave the town centre, there's reprieve as the route goes slightly downhill and you know there's less than 2 miles to go. These 2 miles seemed to go on forever but head down, I knew a PB was within grasp. The entrance to the sports arena was in sight but there was still the steep climb to the finish to overcome. As I glanced up, I could see the clock ticking towards 1-47, so I pushed on and crossed the line in 1-46-55. FANTASTIC, a PB and I had knocked 5 mins off last year's time.
I was actually quite shocked that I had run so well in the dreadful conditions, maybe I should run all my races in the pouring rain!! I'll have to add "Happy When It Rains" - Jesus & Mary Chain and "Only Happy When It Rains" - Garbage to my next playlist.
So, that's 4 Half Marathon's in 2011 and all under 1-50, times got quicker as the year progressed, so who knows a sub 1-45 could be on the cards in 2012.
Next up, the Laganside 10k.

Saturday, August 20, 2011

Do You Remember the 1st Time?

Well, here we are in the middle of June and I am lining up on a warm summer's evening at the start of the Lisburn Half Marathon. This maybe my first Lisburn Half but I'm familar with the event as in the previous 3 years I had run the 10k. It's a popular event combining the Half, 10k and a Fun Run however organisation stills leaves a little to be desired. Despite major backing from Coca Cola and the local Council, the start area is a shambles. You are crammed into a narrow lane such that you have to push past the elite runners to get a decent spot plus there are usually a few stray 10k entrants and Fun Runners in the mix and don't get me started on supporters with buggies who crowd round the start mat!!
What of the Half itself? The start may have been at 6.50pm but it was warm sunny evening with only a slight breeze. This could be a tough Half and plenty of fellow runners had said that the course gets quite hilly past half way. I had trained well, I had my water bottle,jelly beans and emergency gels and already had 2 sub 1-50 Half's in the bag, so was reasonably confident.
The gun sounded and a minute later, I heard the beep of my chip as I crossed the start mat. I knew what to expect over the first 5 miles as this was the same route for the 10k. I set off at a steady pace gradually making my through the pack, taking regular sips of water as the heat started taking effect. 40 mins in and we were heading away from Lisburn on a steady climb up a dual carriageway. This is where I spotted an Eddie Stobart, however I couldn't note down it's number or name, silly me I wasn't carrying a note pad and pencil!!
Onwards to half way and I clocked around 55 mins so I was on schedule for around 1-50. From the dual carriageway, it was country roads for the next 5 miles or so,which meant running alongside hedges and trees, so there was a little shade which by this point was very welcome. The route became a little hillier and support on the side of the road had dwindled to a couple of OAP's and a dog. My water bottle was emptying at a fair rate and jelly beans were being consumed every mile or so. My i-pod was keeping me going, "Chariots of Fire" theme, "Don't Stop Believin'" and a bit of Cult and Iron Maiden. With a couple of miles to go, the beauty of the countryside was replaced with a miserable looking industrial estate. Get through here I thought and you've only a mile to go. At mile 12, I knew I could get another sub 1-50 time, there's a slight incline towards the finish but I pushed on and as turned back to the leisure centre, the crowds were cheering, the crash barriers leading to the finish line were in sight and head down I crossed the line... I didn't see the clock so was unsure of my time but my Nike+ which is pretty accurate registered 1-49. I was very pleased, particularly as I felt this was the toughest Half that I had run.
As ever, the finish area for such a large event was a little disorganised. Willing volunteers handed me my medal and bottle of water but no sign of anything of nutritional value. A banana or fruit bar wouldn't go a miss...oh there was a stand handing out crisps. Bearing in mind Coca Cola was the main sponsor, there wasn't even free coke!
The plan now was to meet up with fellow runners from Dromore AC and swap stories. There were a few runners happy with their times but equally there were a couple of people (who will remain nameless)who were very disappointed with their races.
What did I learn? Well, certainly with the heat I should have taken on additional water and now that I know the route, I would set off a little slower and maybe pick the pace up around mile 8 or 9.
And what of my official time? Well, there was some confusion,initially the results posted gave me a time of 1-51. This was a huge disappontment but wasn't convinced it was correct as my Nike+ registered sub 1-50 and I'd heard that chip times hadn't registered for the 10k runners and the Half Marathon times were being reviewed. A week later and WOO HOO my official time was 1-49-17. Brilliant, 3 Half Marathon's in 2011 and all under 1-50.
Now to train for Cookstown Half.

Wednesday, July 20, 2011

Newry Half Marathon - Part 3

Well, 4 weeks after the disaster that was the Belfast Marathon, I found myself lining up at the start of the Newry Half Marathon. This was my third successive year at the event and this year I was aiming for a sub 1-50 time. In 2009, this was my first ever Half Marathon and I considered myself at the time, nothing more than a fun runner. I completed in 2-20, which I was very pleased with. By 2010, I was taking my running a bit more seriously, having completed a full marathon and achieved Half Marathon PB of 2-01. My goals in 2010, were to get under 2-20 (very achievable) and then to finish in under 2 hours (achievable). So, when I crossed the line in 1-54, I was over the moon.
Already in 2011, I had achieved a Half Marathon PB of 1-49 at Larne, so was quietly confident of beating last year's time and then all being well getting under 1-50. A number of Dromore AC runners were lining up this year and before the gun, Mary, Janette and I did a 10 minute warm up around the leisure centre. The marathon runners set off at 9.00am and then there was the inevitable hanging about as we weren't due off until 9.30am. The weather was a little overcast, a temperature of around 13 degrees and a light wind - almost perfect running conditions. The forecast was for sunshine later but hopefully it wouldn't get too hot.
I started near the back alongside 2 fellow Dromore AC runners - Janette and Gordon and as the entrants only numbered around 2000, crossed the start chip mat fairly quickly. I wanted to set off at a steady pace and build up my speed after half way.
After a mile and half we were out on the Newry Canal tow path and as is always the case during the early stages of a race, I found myself struggling to pass some of the slower runners but we soon exited the tow path and headed out onto the open road. A flat stretch of around 2 miles lay ahead and by now I was hitting a steady pace and hitting 8 and half minute miles. The village of Jerrettspass was in the distance which meant we were close to half way and the dreaded uphill climb to mile 7. I was on target as I started to climb and climb a bit more, although the hill seems to get slightly easier with each passing year. The great thing as you reach the highest point is that you know the last 6 miles are either downhill or very flat.
It was all tow path now and with each passing mile I upped my pace just very slightly and was feeling confident as I passed more and more runners. The sun made an appearance at mile 11 and at this stage I knew running at 10 min mile pace would get me in under 1-50. With under a mile to go as you come off the tow path, you cross over a main road into the city centre and this can be tricky even with marshalls and PSNI directing the traffic. Last year, as I was pushing on and came to this junction, the PSNI seemed oblivious to the runners and decided to let traffic through, my momentum carried me forward causing me to almost collide with a car. I was furious and showed my anger by shouting a few expletives at a startled PSNI officer. In 2011, however the runners were given priority and I crossed the road without incident and as I passed the Canal Court Hotel, I could see the finish line in the distance, the crowds were out in force and cheering loudly. I looked up at the clock and I could see the time was inching towards 1-49, so finding I still had something left in the tank, I sprinted towards the line and crossed in 1-49-31. This wasn't my chip time so I was confident that my final time may even get me under 1-49. Other runners from Dromore AC, came in shortly after me including Janette and Gordon. The high point for the club, though was the fact that Julie T was the first woman home in the Half.

Lou's 30 year old Garfield modelling my number and medal
My final time? Well, it was another PB, 1-48-26.This knocked 6 mins off last year's time, so as I you can imagine I was very happy indeed. The knee was perfectly fine and all those bad memories from the marathon had been erased.

Monday, May 16, 2011

The Loneliness of the Long Distance Hobbler

Well, here it is my first attempt at writing a blog and if all goes to plan this will become a regular feature of my training schedule. Anyhow, I digress...
The build up to the 2011 Belfast Marathon began way back in the depths of winter when I started my 18 week training programme during the first week of January. I was out running 3 sessions around the village of Donaghcloney and 2 sessions at Dromore AC. All was going well, I had all my long runs under my belt and then WHAM! 3 weeks before race day, my lower left leg developed cellulitis and I was prescribed antibiotics for a week.  All I could do now was rest and I hope the antibiotics did their job. Thankfully, with a week to go, the leg was healed and I managed 2x 30 mins sessions on grass, safe in the knowledge that I had all the miles in the bank.
With only a few days to go, there were still one or two things that had to be done; there was the carb loading, picking up my race pack and most importantly putting together a playlist for my i-pod.  Sunday night came and I checked and double checked everything – chip was attached securely to my running shoe, number was pinned to my vest, chicken hat was with the rest of my kit and energy bars/gels/jelly beans were placed on my running belt.

Monday morning came around, the sun was shining brightly and it looked like it was going to be a hot one.  I got myself ready and ensured all bare flesh was coated in suncream, Vaseline was liberally applied and plasters were placed on potentially sensitive areas. I arrived in Belfast at 7.45am and then had a 10 minute walk to City Hall, which I counted as part of my warm up! I dropped my kit bag off and spent the next 20 minutes doing some gentle stretching. The butterflies had really kicked in by the time we were all called to the start area and feeling confident I lined up amongst the runners that were aiming for a 4 hour finish. As I stood there waiting, I kept playing through my mind, how I was going to pace myself, when I was going to take on water/nutrition and what my split times were. I also knew, not to set off to fast and if I could try and run in the shade.
The atmosphere by now was electric and I just wanted the gun to sound so that we could be on our way. Cheers went up which meant the wheelchair race was about to begin and shortly after the gun sounded and the 2011 Belfast Marathon was well and truly under way. It took a while to get across the start mat but once I knew my chip was registered, I hit play on my i-pod and was off BUT aaggghhhhh I didn’t want my tracks on shuffle, I needed to be listening to my marathon playlist. So, 18secs into the marathon, I had to move across to the barriers and select the correct playlist. I know this sounds quite trivial but I had split my playlist into hour long segments knowing that when I was listening to track X, I should be at mile Y on the course. Relieved that I was now listening to the right songs, I set off at a steady pace.
The first few miles took us off in the direction of East Belfast, City Airport and Titanic Quarter and I felt my pace was steady and I was due to hit the first relay changeover point (6 miles) in just under an hour. These changeover points can be a bit of a pain but managed to get through without too many problems and I was on target. Up and over the River Lagan, we ran through the city centre and out towards West Belfast with the dreaded climb up the Antrim Road ahead of us. At this point, I was still happy with my pace, my salt enriched squash was doing its job and a fair few jelly beans had been consumed. The 13 mile marker came into view as did the half way chip mat and I crossed it with 2hrs 4mins on the clock. I was maybe a minute or two behind schedule but felt confident I could make up the time in the second half if I was to get under 4hrs. The final 2 hours of my playlist should spur me on and my fuelling strategy was going to plan.
Just before you get to Belfast Zoo, you take a right and it’s a sharp downhill towards Abbey Centre and this is where my troubles began. There was discomfort around my right knee and it was causing me to shorten my stride and slow my pace. At the bottom of the hill as we turned towards Abbey Centre, the pain got so bad I had to stop and stretch in the hope this would make things better. It didn’t so I resorted to walking for 30secs or so and then picking up a gentle jog. This made things a little more bearable  and as we passed Gideon’s Green and headed onto the tow path, I knew that a 4hr marathon was out of the window but gentle jogging/walking should get me home in under 4hrs 30. Mile 19 came and went and I got to this point in 3hrs 9mins, so a 10 minute mile pace over the last 7 miles would definitely mean beating last year’s time of 4hrs 35mins.
The pain and discomfort got the better of me at mile 20 and it was at this point, I realised that trying to finish even at a gentle jog was likely to cause a long term injury. So, as the wheels came off my 2011 marathon experience, I decided to walk the remaining 6.2 miles and ENJOY the experience. I could quite easily have given up on this point but a combination of my own stubbornness, Aware Defeat Depression (the charity I was running for), people who had sponsored me and sent good luck messages and my wife Louise, kept me going. My playlist was still going and “Born to Run” came through my earphones and the lyrics hit home “The highways jammed with broken heroes...” there was no way I was going to be a broken hero on the side of a Belfast street.
Certainly having my name in bright letters on the front and back of my vest (thanks Louise), wearing a chicken hat and limping awkwardly meant I was getting lots of attention from the crowds, fellow runners and marshalls. Over the last 6.2 miles, I must have high fived every child, given a thumbs up 100’s of times and waved and waved whenever my name or Mr Chicken was called out. Up the Ormeau Road with just over 2 miles to go, two St John’s Ambulance volunteers on bikes, slowed to check on me and give me words of encouragement, at this point this is just what I needed as 2 miles seemed more like a million miles away. It must have been around 2.45pm on the Ravenhill Road when Louise called me to see how I was (“Brilliant Mind” by Furniture was playing, sample lyric “You must be out of your Brilliant Mind”), I tried to convince her I was fine as 2 bananas ran past me... Don’t forget Louise and other friends had been expecting calls/texts around 1pm which is when I had planned to finish.
As I came off the Ravenhill Road, I knew that that I only had to complete another 0.2miles and my ordeal would be over. The crowds were still cheering and willing me on and as I turned into the Ozone, there it was looming large in front of me, the large blue finish arch.  I smiled as my name got called out over the tannoy and urged on by shouts of “Go on Mr Chicken” I staggered over the finish line, arms aloft in a time of 5hrs 18mins and 12secs.
Before I had chance to collect up my medal, I was helped into the back of a St John’s ambulance, where my knee was iced and strapped. Having rested for 15 minutes, I hobbled out of ambulance, picked up my medal and headed straight to the sports hall to pick up my bag. Thankfully, half the sports hall had been given over to St John’s Ambulance volunteers and I was still in  a great deal of pain, so made my way over and sat down to get a second opinion. More ice was applied and one of the doctors prodded and poked my knee and came to the conclusion it wasn’t the knee itself, more likely to be tendons or ligaments. I was advised lots of ice, rest and ibuprofen and that’s how my 2011 Belfast marathon came to its conclusion.
So what if the last 7 miles took over 2 hours and I was in complete agony but as I crossed the line, I knew I had completed my 2nd marathon and all being well; I would be back next year. The finishing time of 5hrs 18mins 12secs didn’t matter, I had run/walked/hobbled a marathon.