Monday, December 24, 2012

Not as quick as Mo Farah over 10,000 metres

As Autumn gives way to Winter, the road race season here in NI begins to wind down and the final big 10k race of 2012 took place around Ormeau Park, Belfast on Saturday November 17th - the Seeley Cup.
The course is relatively flat and so the race always attracts a high class field; this year was no exception with over 800 entrants. My club Dromore AC was well represented with over 25 members of the club turning out.
5 weeks on from the Armagh 10 mile race and I was feeling confident having concentrated my training on speed-work, hills and an occasional long run - if you can consider 8 miles a long run?
I was determined not to make the same mistakes I made at the Laganside race a few months ago; so I ensured my contacts were sitting correctly and I lined up closer to the front. The start was a little chaotic as the organisers were having problems with the chip mat. It took a few minutes to get everything sorted and even when the gun sounded not everyone had their start time recognised by the chip mat!
My goal as I set off, was to at least get a sub-45 time and if I could get a PB that would be a bonus. My pace was good from the start although I had a minor problem with one of my knee straps before reaching the 1km mark, thankfully I was able to reach down mid-stride and pull it back across my knee. It is important to run the first couple of km's well and get yourself a good position in the pack, particularly as when you first enter the park, the paths can get very congested. I steered clear of trouble and soon hit a rhythm and pace that I thought would get me close to a 45 minute finish. Out of the park and onto the main road again, you can really stretch your legs and make up a bit of time before you hit halfway just inside the park. I crossed this point in just under 23 minutes, so I knew I was on course and I just had keep things together and run at an even pace.
The weather up to this point had been fairly kind but this all changed between 7 and 8 km, where we were greeted by strong winds and driving rain. I put my head down and drove on hoping that I wouldn't lose too many vital seconds. As had happened during the Armagh race, I found myself on the heels of a Finn Valley runner who kept me going over the next couple of km's. Back in the park and sheltered from the wind and rain, I knew I was on target, the legs were beginning to ache but my mind was focused and as I turned the last corner, I thought this is where all those sprint sessions at club can come into play; my knees lifted and I drove on with my arms and crossed the line just as my iPod registered 45 minutes. It was too early to know for sure what my official finish time was but all I knew was that I had run as well as I had hoped and despite being shattered I had enjoyed my 3rd Seeley Cup. Immediately after the race, many of the Dromore runners got together to share race stories and also pose for a few group photographs.
I didn't have to wait long for finish times to be up on the NI Athletics web-site and eerily, my finish time (as opposed to my chip time) of 44-59 was exactly the same as 2011!!. In terms of my official time, well it was 44-45 and although not quite a PB (by 1 second), I was very, very pleased. A few days later, I made the mistake of searching Seeley 2012 on You Tube and I found a couple of clips showing not only myself but plenty of other Dromore runners (Kerry, Janette, Julia, Aine, Judith, to name but a few) strutting their's very strange see what odd running styles we all seem to have.
I have no clips to show here but here is an action shot of me in the park...with thanks to Allyce for the photo.

Friday, November 2, 2012

Navan Fort - 10 miles around Armagh

Sunday 14th October
I had no time to rest after the Laganside 10k race as I had the Armagh 10 mile road race on the horizon. Over the next few weeks, my training was varied and included pyramid sessions, tempo runs, long weekend runs and speed sessions (ranging from 1500m to 5k pace).
The training had gone well and I was certainly on target to get a sub 1-20 time. In 2010, I crossed the line in 82 mins, whilst last year I had improved my time by 5 mins and finished in just over 77 mins. Could I get a course PB in 2012?
October can be a funny month when it comes to the weather and the last 2 years saw the race run under blue skies with warm Autumnal sunshine. 2012 was a little different as it was overcast and drizzly but not too cold. I arrived at Navan Fort already changed with contact lenses securely in place. As ever, my nerves were getting the better of me, so I took myself off for some gentle strides and to gather my thoughts.
In addition to the 10 mile road race, there is a 4 mile fun run which starts at the same time. This posed a few problems in the past as a lot of the children, walkers and fun-runners would position themselves at the front of the start area which meant the main runners had a lot of dodging to do over the first half mile or so. However, this year the organisers ensured the main group of runners started at the front. I was keen to start as close to the front as possible, so that I could get into my race-pace as quickly as possible.
I started well and felt I was already at goal-pace after the 1st mile and unusually for me kept this aggressive style of running going over the next few miles. Miles 3 to 7 are probably the most difficult as there a number of stiff climbs and it's difficult to get a steady rhythm going but although my pace slowed very slightly, I still felt I was on course for a PB.
By half-way I had already passed a couple of Dromore A.C. runners including Tina but this was more a sign of my confident running rather than her having a bad race. I could see Mary Mackin in the distance and knowing our race times are pretty much the same, I used her as a marker and if I kept within a minute of her, I knew was going to get a good time.
As I passed the 7 mile marker, I knew that if I kept it together over the next 2 miles and kept an even pace, I could push hard over the last mile and get that PB. One of the ways that I controlled my pace over the last third of the race was by running stride for stride with a Finn Valley A.C. runner. I still had Mary in my sights but didn't feel I was getting any closer to her, so put to the back of my mind any hope of passing her. Into the last mile and my stride started to lengthen and my pace began to quicken and round the last corner the finish arch came into view and with 200 metres to go I could see the clock closing in on 1-16. The chip-mat beeped as I crossed the line and I knew that I'd achieved another PB.
I collected up my medal, a couple of bananas and a bottle of water before catching up the other Dromore runners - we had all finished within 5 minutes of each other. (see pic below)
My finish (chip) time was confirmed as 1-16-16 however as the race had been only chipped at the end of the race, I'm going to use a bit of artistic licence and say my finish time was 1-16!! So, I hadn't quite caught Mary (she was 35 secs in front of me) and the runner from Finn Valley A.C. beat me by 25 secs but I had knocked 90 secs off last year's time and got a PB for 10 miles. Very, very pleased. Who knows, maybe next year I'll get under 75 minutes? No time to sit back and relax as I have the Seeley Cup 10k to train for in mid-November and then Dromore's X-Country race in December.

Saturday, October 20, 2012

Along the Lagan on a September afternoon

Spurred on by the Olympics and Paralympics, I had no time to rest after the Cookstown Half as I had entered my first 10km race of the year - Laganside 10km. My training mindset had to change over the next few weeks; 'long' runs had to be replaced by shorter, speedier sessions and I would need to factor in some hill repeats. The lead up to the 2nd September went smoothly and I felt confident I would be able to give a good account of myself.
Unlike the rest of the summer, the weather on the day was dry and warm and there was little wind. This resulted in quite a number of people registering on the day and took the number of entrants close to 700.
I tend to get quite nervous the hour before the start of a race, so I took myself off to a quiet part of the park to do some warming up and to run through my goals in my head. I wanted at least a course PB and if possible a sub-45 time. This meant, I needed to hit each km in four and a half minutes.
By the time I arrived at the start area, it was already very congested and I found myself much further back than usual. The starting gun sounded and within the first few minutes I realised for the first time, maybe starting at the back wasn't such a good idea. The first 2km and I was having to dodge slower runners, step up and down off kerbs and avoid clipping heels. It took 10 minutes to get into my race pace and already I was off my goal pace. I resolved not to panic and just keep focused on my stride and posture. As I headed over Queens Bridge, I felt I was back on track and the next few km's were very flat along the towpath. I was a little behind schedule at half-way and things started to go a little awry at this point too. The heat was really having an impact and sweat was dripping across my face and my contact lenses began to slip across my eyes, causing my vision to become blurred. Things didn't improve over the final 5km but I was able to shift my focus onto my pace and slowly but surely quicken up. As I reached the Ormeau Bridge for the final time, I knew that sub-45 was just out of my reach, my clock hit 42 minutes and I couldn't see myself running under 3 minutes for the last km. However, I still wanted a course PB, so I dug deep and ran as hard as I could to the entrance to the park and with a final sprint, crossed the line in around 46 minutes. This had been probably been my toughest 10km race but I had course PB (by 17 secs) under my belt as my official chip time was 45-41.
Although really pleased with my time, on reflection I could have probably have run a little quicker if I hadn't started so far at the back, my contact lenses had behaved themselves and maybe I could have trained at a slightly slower pace. What I will do, is learn from this and make sure I don't make the same mistakes come my next 10km, which will be the Seeley Cup in mid-November

Monday, September 17, 2012

2012 Half Marathon season finale - Cookstown

Sunday 29th July:

In 2011, I ran this very race in torrential rain and in the weeks leading up to the 2012 race, the weather was a mixture of rain, rain and more rain. Thankfully,on the day itself, it was clear skies, a hint of sunshine and a temperature around 16 degrees.
My training since the Lisburn Half had all gone to plan, no niggles and an average pace of around 8 minute miles. As this was going to be my 3rd Cookstown Half, I felt pretty confident that I could run a good time - I knew where all the climbs were and I knew of the flatter parts of the course, where I could pick the pace up.
There was a small but select field of Dromore AC runners including Nigel and Tina and I had one eye on Tina as her recent Half Marathon times were around the 1-43 mark and this is what I was aiming for. My goal was at least a course PB with a pace just under 8 minute miles.
The start was crowded and without a chip mat to indicate the exact start line, I made sure I positioned myself fairly close to the front. And we were off and for a change I hit a good pace early on and managed to avoid clipping heels and dodging slower runners as has been the case during most of my races. I hit 2 miles in around 15 minutes, slightly quicker than I was aiming for but the pace seemed fine, so I didn't panic and kept this sort of pace over the next few miles. Soon after, I passed Tina, which came as a bit of a shock as I knew she had been running really well over the last few months; this meant either Tina was having a bad race or I was running well.
After a few climbs, I knew mile 6 was a flatter part of the course and an opportunity to quicken up. At half-way, my time was close to 52 minutes which meant at this pace a sub 1-45 finish was on the cards. Up to this point, the weather had been kind and the rain had stayed away but at mile 8 the heavens opened - and no word of a lie, as the rain lashed, the song on my iPod was "Only Happy When it Rains" by Garbage!!
The last 5 miles take you from country lanes onto dual carriageways, into the town centre and a few more climbs. Crowds in the town spurred you on however traffic control was poor to the say the least with one or two runners having to dodge cars being directed out of side roads. Thankfully, I avoided any trouble and was soon heading out of town towards the 11 mile marker and barring any accidents I was all set to smash my 2011 time of 1-47. The last mile is a strange one as the first half is flat and you can really knuckle down and quicken up but then there's the right turn back to the finish line and it's uphill all the way. For a fraction of a second as I entered the last mile I thought maybe sub 1-40 was a possibility but the last half a mile did for me and I crossed the line around the 1-43 mark. I was thrilled to bits as I had knocked 5 minutes off last year's time and this was a Half PB by about 2 minutes. I'm not sure what it is about this Half, it's certainly not the easiest but it brings out the best in me. My official time was 1-42-48 and if I'm being pedantic, I could knock a few seconds off that, as there was no chip mat at the start! Who knows, in 2013, could I get under 1-40?
Next up, my first 10k race of 2012...and please note this entry makes no mention of Judith...

Friday, July 13, 2012

Newry to Lisburn in 2 weeks...

Since achieving my sub 4 hour marathon in Belfast, I have run 2 Half Marathon's, firstly in Newry and then in Lisburn. I had 4 weeks from the marathon, in which to recover and prepare for Newry Half. I did absolutely nothing in the week following the marathon and most of the muscle aches and pains had disappeared within a few days. There was no discomfort in my troublesome right knee, however, I had shooting pains in my left knee and found myself hobbling around for a few days. Rest, was the order of the day, yet by the time I resumed running, the left knee was still quite painful. A strap was bought and worn during the next few gentle sessions at Dromore AC and on some of my longer weekend runs. The strap seemed to be working and in the week leading up to Newry Half, all pain in the left knee had disappeared. The marathon had obviously had more of an effect than I first thought but I was glad that there seemed to be no lasting damage.

Despite my knee problems, I felt the training I had put in over the last few weeks had gone well but my major concern was the weather as the days leading up to the Half were very, very hot. Thankfully, living in Ireland, a lengthy spell of warm weather is very rare and come the day of the race, it was dull, overcast and raining.
This was my 4th Newry Half and I was feeling quietly confident of running a good race and perhaps getting a PB and a sub 1-45 time. The torrential rain that had accompanied me on the drive up had petered out by the time I lined up (with both knees strapped) shortly before 9.30am. There was light drizzle and a temperature of around 12 degrees when the gun sounded - almost ideal running conditions. I knew that if I was to achieve a PB, I had to run at 8 min mile pace and at mile 1, my pace was around the 8-15 mark. This was fine as it always takes me 2 or 3 miles to really get into a rhythm and to weave my way through the pack. As we made our way out of town on to the tow-path, my pace was steady and unlike previous years I wasn't stumbling over too many heels as I'd made more of an effort this year not to start too far back. The road leading up to Jerretspass is flat and straight and here I ran on the shoulder of an older runner who seemed to be running at my goal pace. Now, if I could stay with this guy for the next few miles, up and over the steep hill at half-way and then push on along the tow-path, maybe that PB was achievable. The climb at half-way doesn't get any easier over time but whereas some people resorted to walking, I attacked, shortened my stride and pushed hard. I relaxed on the way down, trying not to get too carried away and run too quickly. With the hill behind me and the temperature still on the cool side, I knew there was only 4-5 miles of flat tow-path to go and now was the time to quicken my pace, if only just slightly. My choice of songs on my iPod was as ever motivating me and this being Jubilee weekend, my playlist included "God Save the Queen" - Sex Pistols and "Stuff the Jubilee" - Carter USM. It's always a good sign that with a couple of miles to go, that very few people seem to be passing you and that you seem to be gaining on those in front of you. Don't do anything silly, I kept telling myself with 2 miles to go, the pace was spot on and all I had to do was keep this pace going and I would finish in under 1-45. Off the tow-path, through Merchants Quay and Buttercrane Shopping Centre was in sight...I was tired and damp but managed one last burst as the finishing arch got ever closer. The clock showed 1-45 and a few seconds but I knew my official chip-time would be quicker but by how much? The finish area was full of exhausted but happy runners, the volunteers were doing a great job placing medals over heads, handing out water and the all important Mars bars. I was very very pleased with how the run had gone, feeling it was probably the best Half I had run and both knees survived!! Official results were published the next day......1-44-17. Brilliant, a Half PB, a course PB by 4 minutes and sub 1-45. What of my next Half in Lisburn...only 2 weeks away?

With no aches and pains in the days following Newry Half, I was back out running the following weekend and spent the next 2 weeks just keeping the legs ticking over. Things went a bit awry at a club session on Thursday 14th June when on a wet and windy night, I slipped on the wet grass and landed awkwardly with my right arm thudding into my ribs. However, although my ribs were quite sore for a few days, my running wasn't affected and I was able to line up at the start of Lisburn Half on 20th June.
Dromore AC was as ever well represented in the Half, with the usual suspects jostling for a good start position - Aine, Mary, Nigel, Janette, Tina and first time Half Marathoner, Judith.
I missed the call to the start and ended up lining up right at the back with no Dromore AC runners anywhere to be seen. At least, there was no chance of me setting off too fast. My goal? Just to have a good run and at least better last year's time of 1-49. The evening was a warm one with clear blue skies and bright sunshine, which isn't ideal for running a hilly course. The klaxon sounded and we were off, I crossed the chip mat in under a minute and hit the first mile in around 8 minutes. I was taking things steady as we headed out of the city centre, passing one or two Dromore runners on the way. A left turn took us down some reasonably flat country roads and by this point I had moved through the pack and was getting a clear sight of the road ahead. 4 miles into the race and the sweat was pouring off me, thankfully I was wearing a cap and had my trusty water bottle with me. The run to half-way is a tedious climb along a dual carriageway and for some reason the organisers have chip mat at 6 miles rather than at 6.5 miles but I passed this point in just under 50 minutes so knew I was still hitting close to 8 minute miles. The next few miles take you out into the country and those dreaded hills but I find that I enjoy the challenge of a climb and as such was able to pass quite a few other runners. The temperature had cooled slightly by the time we hit Ballynahinch Road and this is where you can really stretch your legs and pick the pace up. I was beginning to think, that maybe, just maybe I could get under 1-45...but I'd forgotten about the next mile or so through the industrial estate and the final stiff climb. Although my pace wasn't slowing, I was finding it hard to pick up the pace and to get a sub 1-45 time, I was going to have to run the last km in 4 minutes...I can't even do that when running a quick 10k race. I had to stay focused and just run the best I could for the next 5 minutes. Left towards the finish line and the noise of the crowd was getting louder and this spurred me to spint the last 50m or so and cross the line in around 1-46. My first reaction was one of jubilation as although, I hadn't got under 1-45, I felt I had run really well and above all else, had enjoyed it.
Post-race and it was a chance to catch up with fellow Dromore runners and find out how their races went. The majority of the runners having finished somewhere between 1-40 and 1-50. One of the last Dromore runners to cross the line was Judith and her time of 2-15 was brilliant, in light of her recent heart problems.
It took a day or so before official results were published and my finishing time was 1-45-56 and this meant out over 1000 runners,I finished in the top 350.
I've now got just over a month to prepare for Cookstown Half and I aim to mix my training up with longer weekend runs,some speed work at club and even a bit of hill work.

Sunday, May 13, 2012

The Happiness of the Long Distance Runner


The months before...
The training began in the depths of winter at the start of January and the plan was to follow one of Hal Higdon's ( advanced Marathon training schedules. I decided early on that I would forgo one of the midweek runs and concentrate on 2 sessions at Dromore AC and 2 weekend runs, with my long run taking place on a Sunday. Thankfully, this year, January and February were fairly mild so I didn't have to contend with sub-zero temperatures, ice and snow like I did last year. As we headed into March the training was going to plan, the sessions at Dromore AC were a good mix of tempo's and quicker runs, the Sunday runs were creeping ever closer to 20 miles and I had the Larne Half Marathon to look forward to. There was a period of bizarre weather towards the end of March where temperatures rose to 20 degrees C and on the day of the Larne Half it was glorious sunshine from start to finish. I got a PB at Larne of 1-46-23 which filled me with confidence going forward. Early April and as a precaution I took a week's rest as I was beginning to get a small niggle in my left shin; this may have been a little over cautious but I just didn't want a repeat of last year where I got cellulitis in my lower left leg. The 20 milers were coming every other Sunday and all 3 were completed in just under 3 hours which put me on target for 9 minute miles and a 4 hour marathon. Then as if the last 16 weeks hadn't happened, I was on the taper, the mileage was reduced and all the doubts and worries of running a marathon plagued my mind. What did I have to worry about, the training had gone well, I was confident but still...last year's marathon and my dodgy right knee were at the forefront of my mind. I was getting great support from fellow club members and I knew deep down that I had the ability to complete the marathon in around 4 hours.

The weekend before...
All I had to do now was collect my race pack, get my kit sorted, plan a playlist for my iPod and eat plenty of carbs. I wrote out a comprehensive check-list of what I needed and top of this list was the strap that was going to keep my right knee together. For motivation, I sat down and watched "Chariots of Fire" and "The Loneliness of the Long Distance Runner" - both films, despite numerous viewings, I never tire of. I printed off a 4 hour pace-band from the Runners' World web-site, which gave me a breakdown of my mile splits and using this as a guide, I created a playlist that placed certain songs at (hopefully) points I would find myself during the race. On the Sunday I was a nervous wreck, checking and double checking my kit-bag but finally I was happy that I had everything and all I could do now was relax and get an early night.
Don't forget the vaseline....

The weather forecast for the day was for heavy rain and a temperature of around 7 degrees C, so I dressed accordingly in running tights, long sleeved top, gloves and cap - this meant the chicken hat that I had worn during my last 2 marathons didn't make an appearance this year. I arrived at City Hall with 45 mins to spare, plenty of time to drop off my kit-bag and do some gentle warming up. I decided this year to start right at the back, thus avoiding all the crowding in the main pen and this would mean I would set off at a more sedate pace. The start of the Belfast marathon, can be a bit of a lottery as not only are you starting with other marathon runners, but there are also relay runners and a stray walker or two. Before the gun set us off on our way, I reminded myself of my goals which, in order were: 1 - to finish in one piece 2 - the beat my previous best time of 4-35 3 - to finish in 4 hours.
9am and we were off, well it took me nearly 5 minutes to cross the start but I was soon running at a steady pace, weaving in and out of some of the slower runners and heading out towards East Belfast. I hit the first mile around the 9 and a half minute mark and kept at this pace for the next couple of miles. Things were going well as we headed past City Airport and on towards the first relay changeover at 6 miles. I needed to be here around the 55 minute mark and this I did with a few seconds to spare. The next few miles took us through the city centre and out into West Belfast, where the crowds were out in force despite the cold and rain. My next target was to reach relay point 2 in 1 hour and 20 minutes and although I was a couple of minutes outside this time, I was still very happy with my pace. My playlist was working its magic and keeping me motivated and then ironically as Duran Duran's "Hold Back the Rain" came on, the heavens opened!! This rain didn't relent and stayed with us for the next 2-3 hours. Just before reaching the Antrim Road, I caught a glimpse of Judith a fellow Dromore AC runner who was part of a relay team and as I passed her, I gave her a few words of encouragement. Little did I know at this point, she continued running to the end despite having completed her leg of the relay...that was around 20 miles without any real training. WELL DONE JUDITH. The steady climb up to the zoo and this is the halfway point, I was looking at a time of 2 hours for 13.1 miles and I crossed halfway in 2 hours and 9 seconds. I was chuffed to bits on how well my pacing was going but the next few miles were going to be tricky as there was the downhill stretch where my knee gave way last year to overcome. I reached the Shore Road without incident and I had by now caught up with two of the 4 hour pacers. Now, all I had to do was keep in touch with them and a 4 hour marathon was achievable. My pace though took me beyond them and as I got to relay point 3, I caught up with a third 4 hour pacer. I knew my mile splits were accurate and I was hitting 9 minute miles, so why were the 4 hour pacers not all running together? I needed to concentrate on my own pace and not worry about the pacers and I certainly needed all my concentration as the couple of miles along the coast were dreadful. Gales were blowing the rain across us from left to right and it was difficult to keep any momentum going, there was even hail at one point. Up to mile 19 and a few bushes and trees gave us a bit of shelter before we ran through the dullest part of the course, the dreaded industrial estate. Once through here, there was a final relay point and around 5 miles to go. At this point, I was still close to one of the 4 hour pacers who I overheard say to one of the runners, that they were 5 minutes ahead of schedule! 21.9 miles is the final relay point and I collided with a number of runners just wandering about aimlessly waiting for their handover, thankfully no lasting damage but this is one area that needs looking at. Not long to go now, the tow path, Ormeau Road and then the final stretch down the Ravenhill Road. I was trying to stay focused but by this point the tops of my legs were beginning to ache, the knees were a little sore and I was soaked through. My confidence was still high though as I was still hitting 9 minute miles. The jelly beans were a welcome distraction too and gave me that last bit of energy that I needed to get me home. With around 2 miles to go Rossini's "William Tell" overture started playing and the rousing finale caused me to dig a little deeper and push on and as I hit the 25 mile marker, I knew that unless a major disaster was to befall me, I was going to finish in under 4 hours. I turned the corner into the O-Zone and saw a few hundred metres away the blue arch of the finish line, the official clock was on 3-59-50 and I crossed the line as the time hit 4 hours exactly. Now that's what I call precise pacing!! I was over the moon but my elation was soon crushed as the finishing area was a complete shambles. There was nobody handing out medals, you had to fight through crowds to get to a solitary table where you were expected just to help yourself. Oh, you did get a bottle of water and 2 bags of crisps - nothing of nutritional value though. As for collecting your kit from the leisure centre, well you queued in the rain for half an hour and then once you'd got your kit, finding the changing rooms became another task you didn't really need after a 4 hour marathon. Sorry, enough of the moaning but as for my official chip-time...this came in at 3-56-23 which was a PB by 40 minutes and an improvement on last year by 85 minutes. I was really, really pleased and happy that everything had gone to plan during the race. Yes, I was little sore and some elements of the organisation left a bit to be desired but there's every possibility that I'll be back in 2013. As I have no official race photo to share, here I am a few days later, proudly wearing my medal.

Thursday, May 3, 2012

Blog Country

14th April 2012 and something I thought I'd never witness again,is happening right before my eyes. One of my all-time favourite bands BIG COUNTRY are charging about the Mandela Hall stage in the heart of Belfast. OK, it's not quite the Big Country of old as Stuart Adamson (RIP) is no longer with us, Mike Peters has taken over as lead vocalist and Bruce Watson's son Jamie is on guitar. This gig is part of the band's 30th Anniversary tour and an opportunity to see "The Crossing" performed in it's entirety. My relationship with the band goes back to 1983 when I got blown away hearing "Fields of Fire" and from that moment on I became a devoted fan. My first BC purchase was the 12" version of "Fields of Fire" (bought on the same day as "Change" 12" by Tears for Fears - strange what you remember!) and over the next few years, my record collection expanded with rare Japanese 7" singles, LP's, cassettes, limited edition 12" versions and 7" double-packs. I never got to see them "live" until December 1984 when they were promoting the "Steeltown" album - this was also my first ever gig. Myself and fellow BC obsessive Dale Martin, made the journey down to Wembley Arena where we saw pre-fame The Cult rock the arena for half an hour before the main event. Although, I don't remember too much about the BC performance, I just recall being overwhelmed with the atmosphere, the music and the singing along. If I had to pick out a track that reminds of this December night, it would have to be "Steeltown". Another BC highlight would have to be getting free tickets to a Whistle Test gig at the Hexagon in Reading. This took place on 14th April 1986 (26 years to the day from the Mandela Hall gig!) and what a night this turned out to be. The band were just beginning to promote "The Seer" so the set-list featured the likes of "Remembrance Day" and "I Walk the Hill" and they fitted right alongside classics like "Chance". It was a brilliant concert and afterwards, I was lucky enough to catch the band getting on the tour bus and managed to get their autographs. A few months later the concert was broadcast on BBC2 and I still have a copy on video. "Peace in our Time" was the last BC album that I bought and felt any attachment to and post 1990, BC drifted in and out of my life. The band were no longer selling bucket loads of albums and they could no longer sell out the likes of Wembley Arena, it was inevitable that the band would finally split. I did get one final opportunity to see them "live" and strangely enough on the same bill was The Alarm (another favourite band of mine) fronted by Mike Peters. I went to the gig with a heavy heart, as I thought this might be the last time I see 2 of the bands that had meant so much to me over the last 15 years. The fact the concert was taking place in a sports hall in the local leisure centre (Stantonbury Campus) showed how far both bands had fallen. Although, I enjoyed the concert, I couldn't help feeling that this was the end and the ignominy of playing a sports hall must have been a low-point in BC's career. December 2001 and the news filtered through that Stuart had committed suicide. This came as a total shock and this was the first time a real hero of mine had died. Of course, I did all the usual things, dusted down BC records, watched BC videos, listened to concerts I had recorded off the radio and just remembered all the great songs that Stuart had written with not just BC but also The Skids. Over time, the 3 original BC members got back together and in the last few years having recruited Mike Peters and Jamie Watson have been recording and touring. So, that leads us up to Saturday 14th April 2012 and a hot and sweaty night at Mandela Hall. The BC fan-base doesn't seem to have changed much over the last 30 years, an 80-20 split in favour of men...oh and most of the male fans seem to have a lost an awful lot of hair and gained a few inches around the middle!! The warm-up music before BC took the stage was predictably a mixture of late 70's punk/new wave and as XTC's "Making Plans for Nigel" was being played, the lights went down and the band strode onto the stage. OK at first it was a bit odd seeing Mike Peters up there rather than Stuart but as they started with 2 of my all-time faves - "Angle Park" and "East of Eden" - I soon embraced the new-look BC. One of their most recent songs "Another Country" was next up and was soon followed by the rarely played track "Balcony", if only they had played "Flag of Nations (Swimming)" that would have been the first 2 'B' sides performed within half an hour! "Restless Natives" and the awesome track "The Crossing" followed before the opening bars of "In a Big Country" leapt out of the speakers, the crowd screamed and oldish men jumped about. This was the beginning of "The Crossing" and over the next 45 minutes we were treated to Mike entering the crowd and singing along with the crowd to "Chance", an atmospheric "The Storm", a barn-storming "Harvest Home", lots of singing along to "Lost Patrol" and a rousing finale of "Porroh Man". Then they were gone, well for a few minutes at least, we clapped and cheered and not surprisingly BC returned and performed 4 encores. Jamie introduced "Tracks of my Tears" as one of Stuart's all-time fave songs, "Look Away" and "Wonderland" kept the crowd rocking and as a finale, there was a cover of "Rockin' in the Free World". It was a great evening and the references to Stuart were kept to a minimum but were well received. OK it was never going to be my best ever BC gig but it certainly exceeded my expectations. I did miss Bruce and Stuart charging around the stage during the climax of "Harvest Home" and Mike will never have the same presence as Stuart but these are only small gripes. Maybe they'll be back in 2014 to celebrate the 30th anniversary of "Steeltown"? If they do return, I'll be snapping up a ticket. STAY ALIVE

Sunday, April 8, 2012

Summer arrives early for Larne Half 2012

Larne hasn't always had the best of reputations - it used to be a town you would drive through to get onto the coast road; the graffiti "Welcome to Loyalist Larne" put a lot of people off but having run my 3rd Half Marathon through the town, I can safely say it's worth a visit. The people are very welcoming and friendly and the views across the Irish Sea and up to the Glens of Antrim are fantastic.
Sat March 24th:
This was my 3rd Larne Half and I was confident that I could achieve a course PB - my previous times were 2-01 (2010) and 1-49 (2011). My training had been going to plan, I was running twice a week with Dromore AC, a gentle Saturday run and a LSR on a Sunday. I was hopeful of a Half PB but with a weather forcast predicting bright sunshine and a temperature in the high teens, I didn't want to take anything for granted, particularly as most of my training had been done in temperatures no higher than 5 degrees.
Well, unfortunately the forecasters got it right and on the day the weather was gorgeous; if anything too nice for a Half Marathon. I arrived at registration in plenty of time as I wanted to get a closer look at the route as this year the first couple of miles was run through the town centre before heading out into the country.
Time to mentally prepare and get all my kit sorted - chip fastened, number pinned, vaseline applied, Nike+ programmed and belt attached. I headed out to the promenade for a warm-up where I met fellow Dromore runners, Aine and Mary. If I could run close to these two, I knew a time of around 1-45 was achievable.
I arrived at the start line in plenty of time as I wanted to get close to the back - a ploy I regularly use as it means I avoid setting off too quickly. The gun sounded at 11am and within a minute or so I had crossed the start line and was soon weaving in and out of some of the slower runners. After a mile or so, I was comfortable with my pace and knew that if was to get close to a 1-45 finish, I had to hit each mile in around 8 minutes. The couple of miles through the town centre weren't the best, quite a lot of bunching and a couple of side streets were very narrow, which caused my pace to slow. I was pleased to get out onto the main coast road and pick my pace up again. The only drawback being a lack of shade and with the sun beating down, it was very warm indeed - thankfully I had my water bottle with me and if all else failed I knew there were numerous water stations along the route.
Around mile 5, I spotted Tina (another Dromore runner) a little way ahead of me and I thought if I could keep pace with her, a PB was on the cards. Off the main coast road there's a steady climb of around a mile which isn't too much of a problem on a typical March day but today was a different matter, the heat was really beginning to have an effect and the climb seemed never ending. Thankfully, as with any climb, you have to at some point come back down and it was as we were heading back to the coast road that I overtook Tina. The last 5 miles are flat and usually I can pick my pace up a little and get into a really good rhythm but today faced with a head-wind and the heat, I couldn't find an extra gear. I was still hitting each mile around the 8 minute mark but I knew that I had find a little more to get that PB. I wasn't slowing as I headed onto the promenade but that final burst, the sprint finish just wasn't there but as I crossed the line and saw the clock at 1-47, there was a glimmer of hope that my chip-time would get me in around 1-46.
I gratefully accepted a bottle of water and as I began to stretch I saw Tina cross the line, soon followed by another Dromore runner - Julia. We headed off to the leisure centre where Larne AC laid on sandwiches, tea and biscuits and massage tables. Suitably refreshed we caught up with other Dromore runners and we shared our race stories and the one thing we all agreed on - it was too bloody hot!!
Finishing times were pinned up within the hour and I was pleased to see that my chip-time was 1-46-23 and I had run a negative split. Even though I didn't get under 1-45, this was a course PB by 3 mins and a Half PB by 30 secs, so I was very pleased.
So how does this Larne Half compare with the previous 2? Well, Larne AC do a fantastic job, it's the best organised Half in NI and the sandwiches at the end are a real bonus. The only negative thing, the run through the town centre didn't add anything, personally I preferred the previous route.
I'll be back in 2013 and hopefully, I'll get under 1-45. Note to self though - must remember to tape up my nipples for all future Half Marathon's!!

Wednesday, February 8, 2012

Seeley Cup 10k - to PB or not to PB?

It's hard to believe that the conditions for the 2011 Seeley Cup were so different to those faced in 2010. The race in 2010 was almost called off as we were in the depths of an almighty cold snap - ice, snow and a temperature of around minus 5. 12 months later and the temperature was in the region of a balmy 10 degrees, it was mild and dry, perfect conditions for a 10k race around Ormeau Park. My goal was sub-45 mins.
This road race is the last big 10k of the year here in NI and attracts a high class field and there's always a big turn-out from Dromore AC. As ever, I arrived with plenty of time to spare, after 3 years of serious running I still get very nervous before a race - all the adrenalin pumping through me can only be a good thing.
I meet up with a few regular faces (Mary, Janette, Ian B et al) for a gentle warm up and then there's the 5 minute call to the start line. I wanted to line up closer to the front so that I had the likes of Ernie, Aine and Mary just ahead of me - these fellow Dromore runners run 10k's around the 42 - 45 minute mark and if I was to get under 45 mins I knew I had to be on their tails.
The gun sounded and we were off along the Embankment. I kept my pace steady knowing that if I went off too quick I would suffer later. Having run last year, I knew that within the park, there would be a few bottlenecks so I was determined to get a clear run as we entered the park for the first time. I was making steady progress through the park, passing a number of Dromore runners as I did so. Back on the Embankment where it's flat and straight, I had a chance to review my position and grab a breather. My pace was quick but not lung-busting and I had the likes of Aine and Wendy in front of me, so I knew thngs were going to plan.
Could I hit half-way in 23 mins? Oh yes...all I had to do was run at the same pace over the next 4k and then really push hard over the last 1k and a sub-45 was mine.
The last lap through the park was tough but I was gradually picking off Dromore runners 1 by 1 but the elusive Mary was still ahead of me. She was now my target, if I could catch her then who knows what time I would get. I dug deep and I caught and passed Mary with around 1k to go but how was I going to keep it together with nobody ahead of me to chase? Well, I had the good fortune of running alongside 2 Letterkenny runners who pulled me through the last stretch and with one last sprint I crossed the line. My Nike+ said 44-48 which although pretty accurate could've been wrong. At this point I was over-joyed - this was a PB, it knocked 2 mins off last year's time, all that training had paid off. Grabbing a bottle of water, I cheered in fellow Dromore runners and most of the club got home in under 55 minutes.
But what of my chip-time (the official one us runners live and die by)? Well, it was 44-44
and I was ecstatic. This was a great way to end my 2011 particularly after the disaster that was the Belfast Marathon. The question is what will a realistic 10k goal be in 2012??? Another PB would be just grand.