Running in Colchester 

Last weekend Lorna and I headed to Colchester to spend time with her family. We got the train out of London early on Friday evening. We were picked up from Colchester station by Alex, Lorna’s older brother, to go and do some hill training. Robbie Smith and Frosty joined us; it was good to catch up with Robbie who I’d met at the Winterton training weekend with the Colchester running club last year. He is taking part in the City of London Mile on 19/06/16 and it’ll be interesting to see what time he posts as he is a short distance track runner. Frosty had done the Manchester Marathon the same year as me so we talked about how annoying it was that the course was short and how they’d altered everyone’s finishing times. Having not done any hill sessions recently and with the Zagori Marathon around the corner it was good to do a few reps. From running a decent mileage and a couple of marathons in the last few months I’m feeling quite strong at the moment.
The hill we ran up was Balkerne Hill, it was a relatively short sharp incline (approximately 35m) but it felt pretty steep as we were hitting it at pace. We then jogged down North Hill for recovery. We did 6 loops, well most of us did but Robbie snuck off, those short distance runners ey!! Ha Post hill session Al cooked us and Rob (Lorna’s younger brother) a feast, we had Chicken and Halloumi etc, good for recovery and fuelling parkrun which me and Rob were to run on the Saturday morning. After food Rob headed back to get an early night, he was on the Soda water; we knew he was going to be attempting a parkrun PB in the morning.

Like a flick of the switch Saturday morning arrived. I was looking forward to running parkrun a) because I hadn’t run one in a while b) because I like doing a bit of parkrun tourism c) because I’d heard Colchester parkrun got a good number of runners and d) because I was excited to see how Rob would get on knowing he’d been running and going to the gym lots. Rob drove us into town and then we jogged to the park. Colchester parkrun has a pretty cool setting; the park is really nice with a castle situated in it. Having run through there before with Lorna I had a good idea of the route and knew it would be a bit twisty turny and uppy downy (technical terms!).  

Photo courtesy of Neil Wray

Rob and I discussed pacing strategies just before the start and then we were ready to race (umm I mean run; I must remember parkrun is NOT a race!).

When making our way to the start line I was expecting to see just a handful of runners but what I actually saw was around 400 people. It always amazes me how many people get up early on a Saturday morning to do parkrun; I guess Colchester is a relatively big one in comparison to some in London because there are so many different parkruns in pretty close proximity. On the start line I was a couple of rows back, I didn’t know what the standard of runners was going to be like.  

After about half a kilometre two guys and I were running together at the front. One of them was breathing pretty heavy at this stage and so after another 500m or so it was just me and one other runner setting the pace. Turns out the other runner was called Paul. I found this out a couple kilometres down the path because you double back on yourself and run passed the other runners; a lot of them were cheering Paul on and wanted him to beat me. You do a U-turn around one of the marshals which is funny. On the way back towards the castle it was good to see Rob, he was looking strong and I was pretty confident he’d be close to his PB if not better it. Lorna had decided not to run because she picked up a niggle in the Hackney Half Marathon on the previous Sunday. It was really nice to have her around the course cheering me on and tell me which way to run haha. Despite the well marshalled route there were a couple of occasions where I almost went the wrong way. Because I hadn’t done one lap yet and was in the lead I had to shout back to Paul and ask whether it was straight on or a left turn, it was good of him to shout “straight on” which turned out to be true. Someone more competitive could well have sent me off track ha. The other occasion I nearly went off piste was just before the castle, I thought you went through the start/finish area as opposed to taking a left up round the castle again. With one lap done I was feeling good, despite the hills I was holding a pace around 3:20min/km. I quite enjoy routes that are a bit up and down and where there are quite a few turns to break the run up into chunks.  


 

I held a decent pace to the end and finished in 17:47. Lorna and I then cheered on Rob as he came storming through the finish.  

He smashed his PB by over a minute finishing in 22:24, well done if you’re reading this Rob. It was a great start to our Saturday. We are back in Colchester next weekend and are planning to do the parkrun again, I’m looking forward to it already especially because Phil (Lorna’s older brother) is also going to run and race Rob. It’ll be interesting to see what happens.

On the Sunday Lorna, Rob and I wanted to make the most of the nice weather so we made a trip to Alton Water to do a spot of trail running. I always enjoy getting out of the city every now and then and being able to run in some countryside.  

We ran at a steady (some might call it sexy) pace and the route totalled 12 kilometres.  

  

It took us a little longer than normal due to the obligatory selfie stops. When we are back next Lorna and I are planning to run a couple of laps in training for the Zagori Marathon. We are also scheming a group trip to do some paddle boarding which should be fun and hilarious in equal measure. Post trail run we treated ourselves to ice creams and flapjack, of which drew interest from two massive swans. We made it out of Alton Water alive and then in the afternoon Rob, Lorna’s Dad and I hit the golf driving range.

Overall it was a really nice weekend; we got a good balance of running, chilling, baking and eating great food. Post London Marathon I’m really enjoying my running again, mainly due to mixing it up with things like hill training, track, and long runs along the river. This weekend I’m doing the “Escape to Trail” run that Dean has organised for charity before heading to the Night of the 10,000 PBs. They should both be great events.

I look forward to seeing a lot of you then.

Steve

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Ealing Mile, SDW & Hackney Half Marathon

On Friday my work colleagues Nikki, James, David and I headed across London to take part in the Ealing Mile. I’d raced the mile distance three times before and knew that it was going to be a bit of a suffer fest, especially due to it being hot weather. My first mile race was the City of London Mile in 2014, I ran in the post Hackney Half Marathon wave and managed to get round in 5:40 something. I know I’m biased as I now work for Run-Fast but it was a great event, I made it in time to watch the elite and family waves, it was great seeing so many people running whether pushing themselves to their limit or having fun (or both!). Last year I ran the Westminster and City of London Miles finishing in 5:03 and 5:02 respectively, both of which were the day after doing long runs in training for Race to the Stones 100k. As I wrote in a previous blog about goals, I wanted to do sub 5 minutes in 2016 and therefore I thought this would be a good opportunity to go for it. Still recovering from the London Marathon etc I didn’t know whether I would have it in my legs but with a mile you may as well go out fast and hold on as it’s such a short distance you’ll only have to suffer for a little while.

Myself and James jogged around the route to warm up, “This seems much further than a mile” we said. It’s really deceiving how long a mile is, after doing half marathons, marathons and ultras I guess you’re always going to think of it as a really really short distance, it’s still a fair way. Legs loosened up and numbers pinned to our tops we were ready to go. The race started at 12:30, we toed the start line drawn in chalk on the path. “3,2,1, GO!” We were off! Having researched what pace I needed to run to break 5 minutes I set off around 3:05 minutes per kilometre pace. I glanced down at my watch a couple of times to check I was staying around that pace. The first section of the course was flat; you then take a left round a corner to a nice slight downhill section. After a few hundred metres I was breathing heavy but my legs were feeling good, due to the downhill probably ha. As the organisers knew the “Run City Milers” were attending the mile, they had written a couple of motivational messages on the ground; “Go Nikki!” and “#RunFast” to name a couple. 

Note: this pic wasn’t taken mid-race.

The course was marked in chalk which was good. You run passed a little playground and down into the corner of Lammas Park. As the path wasn’t closed off to public there were a few pedestrians to negotiate round. After taking the corner at the bottom there’s a tree which splits the path, I opted to go right around the tree as off the bend I was on that side of the path (not sure this was quite the racing line ha). From here you head up a slight incline. It lasts for a few hundred metres but given that the first part of the course was slightly downhill it feels like you’re climbing Everest and its taking forever. Finally there’s a left turn and a short flat section to keep pace. There was one more turn to take; I could hear another runner breathing down my neck so kept pushing. On the corner there was a couple pushing a buggy, there was a small gap to go on the inside of them but I quickly made the decision to just run around the outside. This allowed the runner behind me to close the gap, with 200 metres he edged passed me. This was the first time in the race someone had been in front of me, luckily my legs had a little kick in them, and I managed a little sprint to finish first in 4:58. Now that I’ve done sub 5 I don’t have to worry so much about my time in the City of London Mile, therefore I might do the Orion Harriers Fell Race on the 17th of June (great fun last year!) and a long run the Saturday before the event due to training for the Zagori Marathon.

  

Team Run-Fast (Run City Milers) and the Ealing team

On Saturday Lorna, Emily, Michele, David, Todor and I headed to Seaford. Post road marathons we all have a couple of trail races/events coming up so thought it would be a good idea to run on the South Downs Way (over Seven Sisters) to Eastbourne. Late last year I went on a training weekend with Run-Fast to the same location and therefore knew how steep the climbs were over Seven Sisters, I also knew just how beautiful the views were along the coast and couldn’t wait to run there again.   

   
We all ran steady and walked a few of the climbs; we were just after time on feet and some hill training. It was really nice weather, not too hot because of the breeze off the sea. It was a great 19k or so route from Seaford to Eastbourne, one which I hope to do again soon. Once we arrived in Eastbourne we found Harry Ramsdens Fish and Chip shop, it was so good. The girls then had a little dip in the sea before we got a MASSIVE ice cream and headed for the train to get back to the concrete jungle.

To end the weekend of running I took part in the Hackney Half Marathon. Initially I wasn’t going to enter, mainly due to racing the London Marathon a couple of weeks ago. However, Jon who runs with The Running Works Run Club had signed up, using it as a training run/race heading towards his Ironman later in the year. He said he wanted to run around 1:40 and I thought this would be a good pace to run post London and in the heat. It’s always boiling hot on Hackney Half race day, I’d raced it in 2014 and 2015. Another friend, Michalis, was aiming for 1:40 too and Lorna was going to pace him. 
Unfortunately before the start we got split up, I was with Lorna, Jon and Ash who ran with us. Michalis must’ve got into the start pen earlier. We were due to start at 9am but for some unknown reason we were stood waiting for about 15 minutes, not ideal in the heat, I just wanted to get running. Once over the start line we weaved are way through a few runners, we had to do this because we got in the start pen a little late and were nearer the back of the 1:30-1:45 group. To go sub 1:40 we needed to average 4:44 min/km pace, wanting to find some space and run with Ash with the tunes, we averaged closer to 4:30 through the first 5k. With it being really hot I knew we’d pay the price for going out fast in the end but as we were having fun and everyone was feeling good at this point we carried on at a quicker pace.   

After a couple of miles Lorna caught up with Michalis and went on to pace him. We were banking quite a lot of time in the first half of the race; we went through halfway in around 46 minutes, that’s a couple of minutes quicker than we wanted really. 

 It was great fun running with Ash, he supplied the tunes and at every water station he’d run ahead quickly to grab me and Jon water bottles. 

He was also taking lots of pics and selfies; screw spending £50 on finisher’s photos!! Ha As we were running we passed quite a few runners, it was funny when people heard the music, turned around and were like “Hey Ash, how’s it going!” We saw so many Advent Running, Run Dem, Nike, Victoria Park Harriers etc people and the crowds were great. We were still holding closer to 4:30min/km pace throughout most of the second half of the race.   

We got to around 19k on this pace but then the fast pace at the start and heat took its toll. When you’re running around the Olympic Park there’s very little shade and as you are nearing the end of the race it’s getting hotter and hotter. We were putting in a lot more effort to try and hold a decent pace, long gone were the moments of enjoying the music and high fiving kids. 

We got to 20k, Jon was suffering quite a lot. We had to reduced are speed drastically and just get it done, we knew we weren’t going to go sub 1:40 but could still PB. After a short walk to steady himself he got running again. We finished in 1:41:49, a shiny new PB and a good race in prep for Jons ironman. I was happy with the run, obviously it would’ve been better if we’d have gone sub 1:40 but there were a couple of reasons why we didn’t. Overall it was a fun race and I’d made it a Hackney hat-trick.  

 I hope you had a good weekend and enjoyed the sun.

See a lot of you soon

Steve

The London Marathon 2016

It’s been 8 days now since the big event; I think this has been long enough to reflect on what was an incredible day. I always wanted the London Marathon to be my first marathon, mainly because of seeing how great the atmosphere was on TV when I was younger. However, due to being unlucky (like millions of others) in the ballot I decided to take on the Manchester Marathon. It was 2014 when I ran my first marathon; those two years have absolutely flown by. Since then I’ve run 8 marathons, a couple on road and a few on trails.
My preparation for the race went well, last year I ran and raced consistently and over the first three months of the year I managed a decent mileage and went to track pretty much every week. As some of you may have read Cardiff Half Marathon went well, I was really happy to knock 3 minutes off my PB and qualify for Championship entry for London (and other races) next year. That was one of my A races, as such, and London was always going to be my marathon A race. The week after Cardiff I travelled to take part in the Paris Marathon with my girlfriend Lorna and friends. I was treating this as a B race and was there to support Lorna and try to help her get a PB, which we achieved in hot conditions.

With three weeks between Paris and London I needed to rest a lot so I barely ran. It was a combined rest post marathon and taper pre marathon. Over the last four or five weeks I feel like I’ve barely run at all despite doing three big races, I’m looking forward to being fully rested and being able to get bigger mileage and track in again. I felt like I tapered well, I only did the work run club and a couple of short runs the week leading up to the London Marathon. This included a shakeout run with Paula Radcliffe on the Saturday morning that was pretty cool.  

Photo courtesy of Alan Yan (@nikeengineer)

After the event Lorna and I headed across the city to meet my Mum, Stepdad, Sister, Auntie, Uncle and little (not so little anymore) cousin who were in the concrete jungle to support me in the marathon. We did a bit of sightseeing including taking a tour around the Tower of London, it was nice to catch up with the family and do something, it distracted me from the fact I was going to be running one of the biggest races/marathons in the world the following day. We had some really nice food and then I headed home to get an early night.

I woke up at 4:09am on Sunday morning, not ideal. With the race starting at 10 I was hoping to sleep until 6 or 7 at least but I just couldn’t get back to sleep. It was really frustrating but I just put on some music and tried to relax. Being such a big race with huge crowds and having family and friends around the course must’ve made me a bit stressed. I had some breakfast and then headed to Blackheath. On the way to my start area I gave Lorna a call, she was already near Tower Bridge helping set up KenYan Corner. She put friends on loudspeaker and it sounded like they were already having a blast (not literally, although we did wonder with the speaker set up! ha). 

 
I got to my start pen in plenty of time and dropped my bag off with ease; the organisation of the London Marathon is great. With a bit of time to kill I wandered around the green start area; it was the pen where the celebs and Guinness World Record attempt participants were situated. It’s insane what some people do to raise money for charity. Whilst waiting for the start I watched the big screen showing the wheelchair race and the elite women’s race. At the same time I tried to position myself in a sunny patch to keep warm.
5, 4, 3, 2, 1… and we were off! Being in the GFA start I was really close to the line. Having done 1:13 at the Cardiff Half I had set my target time for London at 2:45, I was hoping this would be achievable despite being 4 weeks after Cardiff and 3 weeks after Paris. I set off at around 4 min/km pace, but due to it being downhill for a fair bit of the first 5k or so I was running a bit quicker than target pace. I thought I would go with it and bank a few seconds each kilometre. I was ticking off the kilometres and was thinking about which points I would see family and friends and take gels. The crowds were amazing, I knew it was going to be busy and loud but to be running through London with crowds three deep was nuts.

At regular intervals I sipped on water and after 11k I took my first gel as planned. Things were going well, I’d gone through 10k in around 39 minutes that was a little quicker than planned but not too fast. I carried on at that pace and then at mile 9 I saw my family, it was great to have them out supporting me. Due to me living in London and them living in Devon I don’t get to see them as much as I would like. It was special to have them there to cheer me on, especially because it was with my Uncle Andrew that I ran my first race, the Ruby Run Half Marathon, with. They did really well to get to three points to see me, good work Sar (with the help of Lorna who’s done the London Marathon twice). Seeing my family gave me a real lift, I then knew within the next 4 miles I would get to see Lorna and friends at KenYan Corner. 

 Cheering looked fun! I’m hoping to do Boston Marathon next year and cheer at London. 

The approach to Tower Bridge is amazing, the crowds get bigger and bigger. Living in London and running over Tower Bridge regularly I had been imagining the experience of running over it in the middle of the road with thousands of people cheering me on for a long time. My expectations were surpassed; it was such a great moment. Just after crossing Tower Bridge I headed to the corner, not just any corner, KenYan Corner! It was great to see lots of friends out around the course, this was the best moment of the marathon for me. I was running by and they let off a confetti cannon. Due to it being KenYan corner I shouted Jambo Jambo!  

    Photos courtesy of Emily Hallett (@jemima_runs) & Michalis Vin Koutsoukos (@michalis_vin)

I had gone through halfway in 1:22, a little quicker than I had planned but I was hoping to hold on to this pace and finish in 2:45. Just after KenYan Corner (and Tower Bridge) James Poole came zooming up to run alongside me for a bit. He too was targeting 2:45 to get championship entry for London and entry to Berlin Marathon etc. After a short while I could tell he was feeling really good so he carried on whilst I settled into a pace closer to 4 minutes per kilometre. At this point I knew the second half was going to be a slog. My legs were already starting to feel tired and were seizing up slightly. When you are heading to Canary Wharf it is a little demoralising as you are A) heading in the opposite direction as the finish line and B) the crowds aren’t anywhere near as big as they have been around the rest of the course. I kept getting the kilometres done. I saw my family for the second time, this gave me another big lift and I was digging deep.

I had taken a gel at the 14-mile marker and was planning to take my 3rd and 4th gels at 20 and 23 miles. Due to feeling tired I decided to take my 3rd gel earlier, I took it at around the 18-mile point, leaving my 4th for 23 miles. I could feel my legs getting tighter and tighter, my stride getting shorter and shorter but I tried to keep going at 4 min/km pace. I passed KenYan Corner for the second time, it was great to see Lorna again, I was struggling but just wanted to get it done and still in a PB time. Along embankment the noise from the crowds was amazing. Due to being knackered I couldn’t really appreciate it fully, I just had to concentrate on putting one foot in front the other. I saw the Advent Running cheer crew, which was awesome. Whilst running along I heard “Steve Skinner!” It was Ciaran Saunders who I’d met through previously working in the London Marathon Store and because I work at The Running Works now. He caught up with me so we both ran together to the finish. As we approached Westminster my left hamstring tightened a lot. This was really frustrating as there was only 3k or so left to run but I had to stop briefly and stretch. I obviously knew at this point 2:45 was out the window but I still thought I could creep in under my PB of 2:54.

With my hamstring stretched quickly, Ciaran and I shuffled our way towards the finish on the Mall. At this point we were doing between 5 and 5:30 min/km, it was a bit of a sufferfest! We got to the finishing straight and could see the clock showing 2:53:.. We upped our pace ever so slightly to make sure we got in under our PBs. I finished in 2:54:08 shaving 48 seconds off my PB from the Thames Meander Marathon last year. I was so pleased to finish the race in a time under my PB and Sub 3 in my first marathon major. Overall I am a little disappointed to have not gone quicker but I’m really happy to have finished my first London Marathon and experience the incredible crowds. 

 Pretty decent haul in 4 weeks!

Thanks to all my family and friends for the support, you all made it such an amazing day for me!! 


Lorna (@lorns_runs) and I , thanks for the support!! 

Uncle Andrew, Auntie Hannah, my sister Sarah, me, cousin Tilly, Mum and Stepdad Steve 

I hope everyone else enjoyed the London Marathon and that you’re recovering well.

See a lot of you soon

Steve