Tag Archives: london

The London Marathon 2019

On Sunday 28th April I took part in my third London Marathon. I’m incredibly lucky to be able to qualify for the race having ran sub 75 minutes for half marathons. My previous London Marathon experiences in 2016 and 2018 were special so I couldn’t wait to do it all again and enjoy the amazing crowd support. After running the Seville Marathon in February in a PB of 2:52 I was hoping to squeeze in some specific training and shave a little more time off. Five weeks after Seville I ran the Colchester Half Marathon crossing the line in 1:13:58 so I knew I was in good shape. However, the marathon is a different ball game and I doubted I had done enough long runs near marathon pace to warrant chasing a big PB. After completing a couple of 20k+ runs it was soon time to taper again. I headed to track on Tuesday nights for a couple of weeks to sharpen up before dialling back the mileage but kept the legs ticking over. 

The race came around quickly with being busy at work and fitting in training. On the Saturday before the race Lorna and I made sure to have a relaxing day; we prioritised carb loading, meeting up with friends Hayley, Will & Jackson for brunch and having dinner with her brothers Alex and Rob who were also taking part in the marathon. Having ran 3:11 in Seville Alex was opting to go out fast and try to hold on while Rob was running his first marathon, celebrating his birthday and raising money for the charity Sense. Having to travel in to Greenwich from Chelmsford we got an early night ahead of the big day. I slept well and was feeling relaxed about the challenge.

 

Lorna and I left our flat at around 7am to begin our journey to Greenwich; we got the train to Stratford where we met up with Alex, Rob, Ben, Liv and Harrison. Ben was taking part in his first marathon while his wife Liv and son Harrison were going to cheer us around the course.

 

 

We got the jubilee line to London Bridge before going our separate ways; Lorna and I were allocated the blue start on Blackheath due to gaining our places through GFA & Championship entry. The boys headed to Maze Hill as they got in through charity places.

 

 

Once we arrived at the blue start area, I wished Lorna luck and headed to the Championship entry corner to drop my bag. It was good to see lots of familiar faces while walking to the start, I had a quick catch up with Sorrell and Claudi before the elite runners were introduced and Andy Murray got the race underway. 

My plan was to try and run an even race, I set out near 4:05min/km (2:52 marathon pace). With the first 5k or so being gradually downhill I purposefully held back to save energy as opposed to bank time, I clocked 20:08 for the opening 5k. I settled into a good rhythm, took my first Maurten gel at 7k and went through 10k in 40:25.

 

Thanks for the shouts Liv (@liv_chiv)

Having ran London twice before I know it is a good race to enjoy and appreciate the crowd support. Running around the Cutty Sark I kept my head up and soaked up the atmosphere, it was electric. I thought it may be quieter as the weather wasn’t as good as last year but if anything it was busier than ever. Despite rarely looking at my watch I was holding pace well and feeling comfortable, I ran the third 5k in 20:35 going through 15k in 1:01. 

Between the Cutty Sark and Tower Bridge I shared a few miles with Adam Lennox and Steve Hobbs (The Milestone Pursuit founder/coach); Adam was aiming for a PB and Steve was using it as training for Comrades Marathon. It was nice to catch up with them both, the miles went quickly and I was soon approaching (for me) the highlight of the race. The crowds grow and grow as you run up over Tower Bridge, it gives me goose bumps just thinking about it. It’s special to be running down the middle of the road with thousands of people cheering you on. In comparison to running London for the first time in 2016 I felt fresher and more relaxed knowing what lied ahead. My fourth 5k split was 20:23 and I went through halfway in around 1:26. I knew the hardest part of the race was to come but felt ready for the challenge. I continued to sip on water at every aid station and take a Maurten gel every 7k which worked well. 

Heading away from the crowds and towards Canary Wharf is always a little demoralising, it seems quiet after the high of running over Tower Bridge. However, I felt more present throughout the race than on previous occasions. I think because I averaged 4:05min/km pace in the Seville Marathon I was relaxed and felt more comfortable holding that pace. It allowed me to look around and spot friends in the crowd. The miles through Canary Wharf seemed to go a lot quicker thanin 2016 and 2018. I’m not sure if it was just me but I got the impression more people opted to cheer there. I was relieved to get through what is normally one of the harder sections of the route and looked forward to running past Tower Bridge and along Embankment. Plenty of the run crews had set up cheer stations roadside which always helps, especially when you’re really starting to tire. 

It was great to see so many friends along the route. Thanks for the photo Rocco (@roccoroy)

I made it along Embankment and was still feeling good. In a marathon you never quite know what pace to start at and what you can hold but I was relieved to get that far and not suffer too much. I took the right turn at Big Ben and knew I had just over a kilometre to endure. I picked the pace up a little, passing quite a few runners. Another right turn onto the mall and the finish line was in view. I hadn’t managed a PB but was happy to clock another sub 3 finish, crossing the line in 2:55:08. 

 

Iffley Road London Marathon Cambrian T-Shirt

On one hand I was disappointed not to PB but on the other I was pleased with how I executed my race plan and that I got to enjoy the London Marathon again. As the conditions were good so many friends achieved incredible times, well done to those of you that ran. It is such an inspiring day to take part in, it is definitely time for me to set some new goals and get into a good training routine again. The marathon takes a lot of specific training if you are aiming for certain times, you definitely can’t wing it. Over the next few months I’m going to focus on the shorter distances for a while and then I will build up for another marathon later in the year.

Thank you so much to those of you that sent messages of good luck &/or well-done last weekend, I really appreciate your support.

Hope the recovery is going well for those of you that raced. Catch up with a lot of you soon.

Steve

Orion Harriers Fast Friday 2017

Friday the 30th of June was not a normal Friday, it was Fast! Barny Foot and the Orion Harriers organised the event at Walthamstow Track, inviting runners to take part in the 10,000m or 5,000m. Inspired by events such as Night of the 10,000m PBs supporters were encouraged to cheer from lane 3, motivational signs were placed around the track and food stalls were nearby. Add to that, pacemakers, prizes, sports massage and beer, Barny had organised a great event.

I was taking part for the second year in a row as I had achieved a PB in 2016 thanks to a competitive race and the supportive atmosphere. Having just started training with the Suunto Training Squad I thought it would be a good race to show my coach, Andy Walling, what sort of shape I was in. Off the back of completing the Boston Marathon in April training had been going well and I was confident I was in PB shape. After the sufferfest of Night of the 10,000m PBs I wanted to prove to myself that I could pace a 10,000m well and achieve a decent time.

Heading to the track from work I was excited to see what I could do. I love racing, I really enjoy seeing what I can get out of myself on any given day. Arriving at the track I bumped into James Brewster & Jon Brombley. Jon was taking part in one of the 5,000m races, it was great to cheer him on and see him achieve a shiny new personal best alongside Anna Boniface.

Iffley Road Lancaster Night Sky Stripe Vest 
Photo courtesy of Eric Paul 

As I had completed a tough session midweek for the Suunto Training Squad I wasn’t sure how my legs would react to running around 3:30min/km pace but I decided to start there and see if I could crank it up in the second half of the race. 

Photo courtesy of Eric Paul

Initially there was a group of 8 or 9 of us around that pace but after a few laps 5 or so runners pushed on. This included friend Mark Boulton who said he was aiming for sub 35 minutes, I knew he was ahead of schedule and so planned to keep him in view and try to close up on in the second 5,000. It took me a few kilometres to get into my stride but after 4k I was feeling comfortable and relaxed.

With 3k to go I started to increase the pace. I was between 3:30 and 3:25 up until that point but was feeling good and the crowds on the home straight were spurring me on. I overheard one supporter say “oh, that’s Skinner. He “ran” at Night of the 10,000m PBs.” it reminded me of my poor showing in that race and made me want to show what I’m really capable of and push on.

 Photo courtesy of Eric Paul 

I was dropping a few of the runners that were alongside and started moving closer to Mark. I was a few hundred metres behind him with about a mile to go. I figured I’d probably left it too late to overtake him but I wanted to see how close I could get and knew I’d scrape a PB if I crossed the line just behind him.

After running the Strava Mile a few weeks prior to the 10,000m and having completed some tough track sessions I knew I could push it over the final kilometre. I clocked 3:10 for the last kilometre and crossed the line in 6th in 34:47 (three seconds quicker than last year).

 

Overall, I probably should have upped my pace a little earlier as I felt good at the line. However, I was really happy to achieve a marginal PB and have taken confidence from the fact I felt so strong. I really want to run more track races, after the London Marathon next year I think I will focus on shorter distance races for a while in a bid to improve my speed.

Well done to everyone else that achieved personal bests that night, a staggering 68% of runners did just that. Thank you to everyone that cheered me round the track and to those of you that wished me good luck. A massive thanks has to go to Barny Foot for organising such a great event. I will definitely be back next year as long as the race schedule allows it and I recommend that more of you get involved.

Here is a link to the Orion Harriers website (they host a lot of great events) and the race results: https://www.orionharriers.com/fast-friday/

See a lot of you soon

Steve

 

 

 

Fuelled by Science in Sport

In 2014 I ran my first marathon, the Manchester Marathon, with next to no nutrition strategy. It’s safe to say I hit the “WALL”. I decided to use the Science in Sport (SIS) Isotonic Gels in training and for the Brighton Marathon in 2015. Thanks to more specific training, a better taper and good nutrition I knocked 25 minutes off my time. I took a gel at kilometres: 10, 20, 30 and 37. As it was a hot day I sipped water at most aid stations, I felt good and avoided going to the pain cave.

A few months ago on the Freestak platform I saw that SIS wanted runners to test and review their new products: the Cookies & Cream Overnight Protein and GO Caffeine Shots. I decided to apply because I had a good experience with their gels and electrolyte tablets. I also thought the protein powder and caffeine shots would help with my racing and training for OCC (55k) at the end of August.

I have used the caffeine shots on numerous occasions over the last few weeks. I take them half an hour before hard track sessions and races. They have definitely helped me to be more alert and focussed. One of the first times I used a shot was before a big 1km rep session. I ran at 3:25min/km pace for 8 reps which I was happy with just two days after another hard track session.

Finishing the Westminster Mile in 4:48 (20th position in Wave 1) after taking a Tropical SIS Caffeine Shot.

I would definitely recommend the GO caffeine shots, I thought they would taste medicinal but actually the Coca Cola and Tropical flavours are great. They have definitely helped my performances; I’m excited to see what I can achieve in the races I’ve got lined up. If you want to find out why you should use caffeine here is a link to the SIS website and a piece on “The Performance Benefits of Caffeine”: http://www.scienceinsport.com/uk/our-expertise/performance-benefits-caffeine/

In training for OCC, the 55k race in the UTMB series, I have been increasing my mileage and taking part in some tough track sessions. At the end of May I ran the Bideford 10k, a 10,000m track race and did three hard track sessions within the space of 10 days. 

I thought it would be a great time to try the Cookies and Cream Overnight Protein to recover quickly and be able to run commute the next morning. I was wondering if the protein shake would actually taste like cookies and cream and was pleasantly surprised. It is hard to quantify how much the drink helped but my legs definitely felt better the next day. If you want to know which protein to take and when, there is another great piece on the SIS website: http://www.scienceinsport.com/uk/our-expertise/which-protein-when/

Overall the new Science in Sport products have been great. They’ve helped me a lot with my training and racing over the last couple of months. Good nutrition is something that I neglected in the past, it is great to have supplements so I can train hard day in day out.

Salomon Sunset Series – Box Hill, London

On Saturday the 24th of June I took part in the Salomon Sunset Series London 10k. I always keep an eye on Salomon Running on social media because their kit is great, they create some awesome videos and sponsor many of the best trail/ultra-runners. When they announced they were organising the Sunset Series a few months back I was really keen to get involved because I’d never ran around Box Hill, I knew some friends would be taking part and with OCC coming up I need to get some hills in. I was lucky enough to be offered a free place as I have reviewed some Salomon shoes in the past and I’ve recently been selected to take part in the Suunto Training Squad.

I was really looking forward to the event but knew that it would be a big challenge as I took part in the Orion Fell Race in Epping Forest on Friday night. The 5k included 900+ft elevation gain. I finished 7th in 22:20 knocking 48 seconds off the time I ran in 2015, my legs were not happy. During the day Lorna and I travelled east to have lunch with friends. It was nice to catch up with Ben and Maz and meet Will, Hayley and baby Jackson. Late afternoon I started my journey across London to Box Hill. I bumped into Mollie and Frankie on the train, it was good to have a catch up and speculate how tough the event would be.

We arrived at Box Hill an hour or so before the start meaning we could have a good chat with some of the Advent Running/Adidas Running lot, sort our race kit and drop bags. Throughout the afternoon Salomon had been putting on trail workshops and Q&As, it was cool to hear from Max Nicholls about his training, racing and goals. To loosen my legs up a bit I did a few strides before listening to the briefing and positioning myself near the front in the start pen. Knowing the 10k course included 250m+ of elevation gain I took it relatively steady off the line; I wanted to keep the lead pack in view but was confident that I would be able to move through the field once we got to the hills.

Having not taken part in many trail races recently I was excited to tackle the challenging course and I enjoyed the fact I didn’t need to look at my watch as I wasn’t aiming for a time.

Photo courtesy of @claudi8s

After 2k of running on the flat I arrived at the first hill, we gained 60m in 500m then from 3k to 3.7k we ran up another 100m. Thanks to the OH Fell Race my legs were tired but strong at the same time; I managed to overtake quite a few runners on the first couple of hills and was feeling good and enjoying the descents. From 7k to 8.5k there was a really nice smooth downhill section where I let my legs go. With more than a kilometre to go though I knew there would be another sizeable climb. There was a U-turn at the bottom of the hill to pretty much go straight back up again.

The final big hill was really demoralising as it was open, you could see the brow of the hill from the bottom and couldn’t help but long to be at the top with the click of your fingers. I could see two runners up in front and used them as motivation; with some words of encouragement from JP who was descending parallel to me I got my head down and refused to slow to a walk.

Iffley Road Cambrian River T-Shirt, Iffley Road Thompson Shorts, Stance Run OTC, Salomon S-Lab X-Series

Once at the top of the climb the last 500m or so was pretty flat. I crossed the line in 45:04, surprisingly in 3rd position.

https://www.strava.com/activities/1052324835/overview

Photo courtesy of @claudi8s

Overall the race was a lot of fun; I definitely need to run more trail races. After grabbing my wooden coaster, bottle of water and clif bar we cheered in the rest of the runners.

In the next few months I am going to try and make it a priority to run more trails and venture further out of London.

If you haven’t given trail running a try I would definitely recommend one of the Salomon Sunset events, fingers crossed they’ll be around next year and more people will get involved.

See a lot of you soon

Steve

The Strava Mile – London

A month or so ago I received an email from James Poole (Advent Running co-founder & Adidas Running Captain) inviting me to an event he was collaborating with Strava on – the Strava Mile. I’m good friends with JP, use Strava and really enjoy mile races, I was in!

Before I knew it race day arrived. After a big weekend of mileage at Endure 24 and a tough 10 x 1k track session on Tuesday night my legs were feeling a bit sorry for themselves. I opted to run the 4k or so from work to Mile End track to try and loosen the legs up. Struggling to hold a few 4 minute kilometres I wasn’t expecting to be breaking any records on #MyMile.

I was greeted at the track by Claire, Bill and Johnny from Iffley Road. They were supporting the event and providing tees to runners. As I’m a Team Iffley ambassador Claire gave me some of their lovely Thompson shorts in a new blue colourway to race in.

The event was a lot of fun; it was great to catch up with friends that I hadn’t seen in a while due to training predominantly on my own for the last few months. As the start time of 7pm neared James hit the mic to let us know the schedule, there was to be 4 mile races: Sub 9, 8, 7 & 6 and below. With my legs beaten up I was glad the final mile was sub 6 and not 5. I thought I would be left suffering at the back in a sub 5 race. It was great to watch friends flying round the track, many of them achieving personal bests. For some it was their first mile race, I suppose there aren’t that many around so it’s great for events like this to be organised.

I ran a few strides to try and get the legs ready for action. There was a large group in the sub 6 race. I positioned myself near the front but decided I would try and crank the pace up in the final two laps if the legs would allow me. With my mile PB at 4:44 I knew I wouldn’t be able to get near that but thought 5 would be a good target. In hindsight I should’ve tried to get the inside lane like James Brewster (pro!) or started a bit further up as I was forced to take a wider lane on a couple of occasions costing valuable seconds. I got into my stride and was on the right pace for sub 5, 3:06min/km.

It was great to have people to chase down, surprisingly my legs felt good after completing the first lap and going under the Strava gantry to cheers from friends.

Going through halfway I was still on pace and another sub 5 was within reach, I started to pick it up to try and bank a few more seconds and make sure I would achieve the time.

The last few laps went by in a blur; I gained ground on some of the runners in front and crossed the line in 4:55.

https://www.strava.com/activities/1036670638/overview

I was really happy and surprised with the result. It always makes me wonder what time I could achieve if I trained and tapered specifically for a mile race.

After everyone had run their miles we grabbed some tacos and beer. The event was a lot of fun, thank you James, Strava, Iffley Road, Eddie (Camden Town Brewery) etc for putting it on. I really hope there will be many more events like this in the future.

I hope everyone else that was there had as much fun as I did. See a lot of you soon.

Steve

Westminster Mile 2017

On Sunday the 28th of May I took part in the Westminster Mile. Having done it in 2015 I was looking forward to running up the Mall and crossing the finish line near Buckingham Palace again. The first time I took part in the event I didn’t know what time I would be capable of so ended up in the B race. I was in good shape and ran 5:05 which meant I lead the race from start to finish and took the tape. It was fun being at the sharp end of a race but on reflection had there been someone to chase I could well have dug a little deeper and scraped sub 5. With that lesson learnt signing up for this year I predicted I would run nearer my PB of 4:44 (achieved in the City of London Mile last year, thanks to some “pacing” from Ken Hoye) to get in the A race and have people to compete with.

With the sufferfest of Night of the 10,000m PBs still vividly in my mind I decided to take it easier in the couple of days leading up to the mile. 

I did a steady 8k run commute on Friday and swam with Lorna on Saturday morning to loosen the legs up. The A race started at 9:30am so we took the bus to get there around 9am, this gave me time to sort race kit and take an SIS GO Caffeine shot. I opted to try the Cola flavour; it tasted good and perked me up.

 

I did a few strides and then made my way to the start pen. Hugh Brasher gave a speech and there was a minute silence before the start to commemorate the victims of the Manchester attack on Monday. Something I was annoyed about was the fact that one runner had turned up late and was shuffling his way through the start pen while everyone else was observing the minutes silence. There are more important things than running, show some respect!

Hugh Brasher set us on our way. I was a couple of rows back from the start line so I was a little boxed in but was thinking “get up to speed, find some space and then push in the second 800m”. To overtake a few runners I went wider around the bend than I would’ve liked getting on to Horse Guards Road. Once I’d found some space I was feeling good, I glanced at my watch to check I was running sub 3min/km pace to finish in under 5 minutes. I passed the 800m to go sign and upped the pace; I had a few runners to chase which was good. 400m to go: my legs were burning and I was breathing HEAVY but I was on target. 

I turned the corner onto the home straight, I saw the clock showing “4:30 something”, I knew I’d gone sub 5 again. I sprinted through the finish, crossing the line in 4:48 in 20th position.


I was really happy with how the race went, especially off the back of increasing my mileage during the week. However, almost immediately after crossing the line I always wonder “how quick could I run a mile if I trained specifically for it?” and “could I have gone a few seconds quicker (PB’d) if I’d rested just that little bit more”. Maybe in the next couple of years I will set aside 6 months to a year to see how quick I can get over the mile, 5k and 10k distances. We’ll see…

After finishing the mile Lorna and I headed to Richmond Park for a steady 15k run. 

Lorna is using a coach at the moment, focusing on her form and doing easy trail runs before the mileage cranks up ahead of the Great East Run in September, I’m excited to see how much quicker she gets. It’s been really nice to run around Richmond Park the last couple of weekends, there’s no stress about the pace and it’s good to get off the roads especially with OCC coming up at the end of August.

June is going to be a pretty busy month for me. I have: Orion Forest Five, Endure 24, Strava Mile, LBH relays, Orion Fell Race, and the Orion Fast Friday (10,000m).

See a lot of you soon

Steve

Hampton Court Palace Half Marathon 2017

On Sunday the 19th of March I took part in the Hampton Court Palace Half. I signed up because Lorna, her sister Rachel, Marie (Lorna’s manager) and her husband Quentin had decided to run. As the race was organised by Run Through I knew it would be good, I was looking forward to running along the river and finishing just outside Hampton Court Palace. I didn’t really have a race plan as I knew my legs would be tired from the Escape to trail run, organised by Dean, on Saturday.

Despite the trail run I thought it would be good training to see how quickly I could get round. At the end of the day in Boston I will no doubt get to a point where my legs are feeling heavy and need to try and hold on to a decent pace.
We woke up at around 6am on Sunday morning so we could enjoy breakfast and get organised. Furthermore, we wanted to leave ours at 7am to make it to the palace in good time to park the car and walk to the race village. Lorna and Rachel were excited to see what time they could achieve. Rachel hadn’t raced since the London Marathon 14 years ago but had increased her mileage well over the few months before the race so we were all pretty confident she would run well. Ideally she wanted to beat Phil’s time of 1:43 from Colchester Half the previous weekend. We bumped into Tom (@tom.runs) and had a catch up before dropping our bags off. I headed to the start line and had a quick chat with Joe while we positioned ourselves near the front.

Off the start I went out pretty quickly, I was through the first kilometre in around 3:35 (75 minute pace) alongside Joe and a handful of others. I knew I wouldn’t be able to hold that pace for long but decided to go with it and see what happened. I stayed with the group for a couple of kilometres but then I started to open up a little gap, first place was no longer visible but I could still just about see second place. I decided I was going to try and stay in third place and keep him in view for as long as possible. My legs were already feeling pretty heavy and tight from around 5k but I could still hold a decent pace, I was around 3:40-3:45 pace at this point. I knew it was going to be a long 16k but I wanted to have to dig deep and test the legs.

As I was on my own it was tough going especially running into the wind along the river. I didn’t turn around at all to see if I was being caught but when running past big crowds I could hear how close the runners were behind me. The support along the river was great.

Going from running on concrete to running on the towpath my legs were not happy especially having been on my feet for 4 hours, running 27k the previous day. I was relieved to make it to within 5k from the finish line and knew I could suffer for just less than 20 minutes to get it done. The final few kilometres were into the wind, which wasn’t great, but I just couldn’t wait to see the finish line and the palace. With 800m or so to go someone let me know there was a runner about 30m or so behind me, I upped my pace a bit to make sure no one was going to overtake me and then I was on the home straight. I crossed the line in 1:18:55 in 3rd, job done.


I cheered Tom, Hanif, Lorna, Rachel, Marie & Quentin through the finish. Lorna and Rachel smashed it finishing in 1:42 to beat Phil’s time. We went for a nice roast and then chilled for the rest of the day.

Overall it was a great day, if you’re looking for a quick scenic half next year I’d definitely recommend considering the Palace Half. The route was scenic and relatively flat, the crowds were good and the medal was cool (as to be expected from a Run Through event).

After racing the last four weekends in a row I’m looking forward to doing a steady long run at the weekend before tapering ahead of the Boston Marathon. I hope those of you that raced or had long training runs at the weekend enjoyed it and got the results/times you wanted. I love this time of year when everyone is racing and training hard. It’s inspiring to see so many great performances every weekend.

See a lot of you soon.

Steve

The Southern XC Champs

On Saturday the 28th of January I took part in the Southern XC Championships. After watching the race in 2016 I decided I wanted to get involved, mainly because of the challenging course and standard of competition. In recent months I have been taking part in the Surrey XC League with Advent Running, it’s been a lot of fun and I’m glad I’d got a few cross-country races under my belt ahead of the 15k of mud on Parliament Hill. Having only recently started training more seriously for the Boston Marathon I knew I wouldn’t be in great shape to place highly but I wanted to race to gain some strength and enjoy the experience.

I had been looking forward to the race since signing up in December. In the week leading up to the race I was keeping a closer eye on the weather than normal, I was wondering whether the course would be super wet and muddy. On the morning of the race I got a bit of a lie in and relaxed, the few hours flew by and I was soon making the trip up to Parliament Hill.


With a few friends taking part in the women’s race I arrived at around 1:30pm that gave me time to pick up my race number and chat with the rest of Team Run-Fast. I also met up with the Advent Running group and had a quick catch up before watching the start of the women’s race. The men’s race started at 2:50pm so James Poole and I headed to the registration tent to sort our race numbers and put on our spikes. It was a shame we missed the majority of the women’s race but we did catch the sprint finish from the first four runners. Hannah Walker representing Run-Fast ran well and came third, it’s amazing how quick she is and how she can pull a result like that out the bag after not racing cross-country for a while.

James and I ran to the start line. It felt as though I had been looking forward to this race for ages and then all of a sudden it was upon us. I was really excited; it felt as though it was FA Cup final day (I used to get excited about that). I definitely prefer taking part in races with friends and having people around prior to the race to distract me from thinking about every eventuality. We positioned ourselves a couple of rows from the front knowing that there were some seriously quick club runners around us.


The gun went off and the herd of over 1,000 runners stampeded up the first big hill. There was so many people lining the course and the noise got louder as you made the climb. It is rather quiet at the beginning near the athletics track but soon the cowbells are ringing in your ears and you’re trying to listen out for familiar voices. With the first hill conquered at “start strong but pace yourself as you’ve got 15k to go pace” you take a sharp right before winding your way down through a particularly muddy section to then tackle a steady longish climb up through some trees. Due to the tough climb a lot of supporters and coaches positioned themselves there to encourage their runners. Some of the AR lot were there to cheer myself and James on and take photos.

Having not raced the southerns before I decided I was going to take it relatively steady over the first 5k and then up it if I could for the final 10k. I also figured that being three laps of 5k it would give me a chance to work out which lines were best to take and where you could push the pace and where you had to work hard up the hills. The fact that there was such a big field forced me to take it steady over the first lap; it was especially busy around the first few corners. I really enjoyed the first lap, my legs were feeling good and I was enjoying the variety of the course. 

Having raced a couple of club races I recognised quite a few faces. It was good to have some friendly competition, I knew if I could stick with them or go passed them I’d have a good race. Whilst on the first lap I was really focussing on where I was placing my feet, there were a few really muddy sections which were tricky to negotiate. Some runners would take a slightly wider route to go around the wet patches whereas other would fly straight through and trust their balance. I was still finding my feet and working out which was the best approach for each section of the course.

Despite focusing on foot placement I remember thinking “I can’t wait to see Lorna and the Advent Running guys!” They always make so much noise. The group had positioned themselves just before a downhill section to finish the 5k lap.

 Photo courtesy of Claudia (@claudi8s)

This part of the course was a lot of fun because of the support and the adrenaline from running fast downhill through the mud. It was the perfect position for supporters to be in because it acted as motivation to get round the lap quicker. As well as having the AR guys cheering there was a handful of Run-Fast runners/supporters on the first hill. It was great to have them at that point offering advice and cheering me on, they let me know I was “coasting” and that I should pump my arms and get up the hills quicker. I’m not sure I was coasting but maybe I was holding a little back for the final 5k or so.

As everyone had spread out I found the second lap a lot easier than the first. I had locked onto a good pace and could break the lap up into chunks mentally; I worked harder up the hills and let the legs do the work on the nice downhill sections. I was moving up through the field and started to pin point certain runners to catch. This is what cross-country is all about, there is no point wasting energy/time worrying about the pace or distance you need to knuckle down and race the course and try to finish as highly as possible. After completing the second 5k I was still feeling strong and ready to chase people down. I was making small gains on the climbs but slipped back on some of the downhills. One of the runners I was tracking down was Neil from VPH; we have finished close together on a few occasions. He is really strong in cross-country/fell races in particular and has run the Comrades Marathon on numerous occasions. I knew if I could finish near him or pass him I’d had a decent run. There was a bit of toing and froing as I went passed him on a couple of the hills and he flew passed me on one of the downhill boggy sections. With 2k or so to go I started to increase my pace and then passed Neil with about 1k left, knowing the final section was downhill and then on the flat to the finish I opened up my stride and sprinted to the line overtaking a couple of other runners in the process.


I managed to finish in 58:20 in 235th place, which I am happy with. Hopefully over the next few years I can take part in more cross-country races and improve, I think some specific hill training and more trail running is required. After crossing the finish line I caught up with Lorna and the AR crew and put on some warm clothes.

 

Thank you so much for the support everyone, you made my race really enjoyable. Over the next couple of weeks I’m going to be back running on the road the majority of the time in training for Boston; however I do have the last Surrey XC League fixture on the 11th which I’m really looking forward to.

I hope those of you that ran the Southerns enjoyed it as much as I did and I hope everyone’s training is going well for the busy race season ahead.

See a lot of you soon 

Steve

Third Cross-country fixture: flat as a pancake

On Saturday the 14th of January I took part in the third Surrey Cross-country league fixture. It was held at Cranford Park, not too far from Heathrow. As the race start time was 2:30pm I had the morning to relax and I travelled with Lorna to Blackfriars to meet the girls before they headed to Lloyds Park for their race starting at 12 o’clock. I killed some time by grabbing food and reading some of Like the Wind mag issue 11.

I travelled to Paddington to meet a fair few of the lads, this included Dean and Alan, they were taking part in their first cross-country fixture with the AR team. It just so happened they’d done the Run Through Victoria Park 10k & Half Marathon respectively, so they were well warmed up. Initially when I found out the race was at Cranford Park I thought it would be a mission to get to, but it turned out to be a 15 minute train journey to Hayes & Harlington followed by a mile walk. The walk took us over part of the route; it was good to see what the terrain was like.

I always get excited about cross-country races. I look forward to seeing what the course will be like, will there be really muddy/boggy sections, and large hills etc to contend with. Simon Hazel had done some research for the team; he ran the route a couple of days prior to the race so we knew the route was flat as a pancake. We all sorted our race vests and numbers and then jogged part of the route to loosen our legs. I was feeling in good shape, I had completed a good track session on Tuesday, a quick ten mile tempo on Thursday evening and a good shakeout run commute on Friday morning in the lead up to the race. After the warm up we de-layered and made our way to the start line for the pre-race briefing.

With the knowledge of the course being flat and having finished highly in the previous two fixtures Martin Harris and I positioned ourselves on the start line with the rest of the team just behind us. Despite knowing there was a section that was firm and included stones through some trees I opted to test out my new Brooks Mach spikes as I am planning to wear them for the Southern Cross-country champs at Parliament Hill on the 28th of January.

Luckily the majority of the course was soft so I could test them properly. The route ran around the outside of Cranford Park, there were a couple of long straights before the winding section through the trees near the end of each lap. The 8k course was over three and a bit laps.

We were sent on our way; I started off at around 3:30min/km pace following Martin and Paul Piper (a friend, running for West 4 Harriers in Division 3). Immediately I was finding that my spikes were giving me good traction especially compared to other runners in trail shoes along one of the long straights which was boggy and included a large puddle. It was funny seeing each runner negotiate the puddle; some would skirt around it but most went straight through. Having seen other runners go through it and not sink I ploughed straight through. With soaking feet I pushed on along the west side of the park before heading into the trees. At this point I was still following Martin and Paul, this was the only section where I regretted having spikes on. Every now and then I would land on a stone and could feel a spike pushing up into my foot, not ideal but bearable for about 1km. Once out of the trees I knew I could pick up the pace on the grass along the straights and so passed Martin and Paul heading into the second lap.

Once I’d run one lap I knew which sections to push on and where I’d have to take it steady. I went through the puddle for the second time with no issues and held a good pace through the trees, trying to surge around the corners so if anyone was behind me I would be further away when they turned the corner. It’s all about the racing tactics ha. I finished my second lap and got cheers from Tony To (unfortunately had to drop out due to cramp) and Emily (Deans girlfriend). I was feeling really good at this point and knew I could maintain my pace for another 2.5k or so, I was really enjoying the run. With some energy left in the tank I picked up the pace on the home straight, I managed to finish 2nd in Division 4 in 27:45.

Shortly after I crossed the line Paul and Martin came through the line, they both ran good times and scored well.

I caught up with Tony and Emily; we cheered the rest of the lads through the finish and watched some great sprint finishes. We were keeping an eye on how many of our runners crossed the line as opposed to Woking (our nearest rivals in the league). There were a lot more black and green vests finishing before orange and green so we knew we’d extended our lead at the top of the league. Job done.

Here’s the team results:

Our top 10 scorers

2nd: me

3rd: Martin Harris

5th: Mark Parry

8th: Ben Rajan

12th: Adam Lennox

15th: Nic Wuthrich

25th Alan Gardiner

28th Simon Phillips

31st: Matt Hanson

33rd: Rory Campbell

A massive well done to the girls team over at Lloyds Park in the snow. They smashed it! Lorna had a great run and really enjoyed it, she finished as the second AR runner behind Claudi.



Note: Emma Wallace = Lorna
It was a great day for Team AR XC on the whole! I can’t wait for the final fixture now.

See a lot of you soon

Steve

Advent Running 2016

Those of you that follow me on Instagram or Twitter will be aware that throughout December I have been taking part in Advent Running.

The AR #runforsprouts & #runfromsprouts tees 

Advent Running is the brainchild of James Poole & Claudia Schroegel; it’s a free and simple challenge that aims to keep people active throughout the busy month of December. The aim is to do 30 minutes of exercise each day whether that is running, swimming, cycling, yoga etc – it doesn’t matter. As I’m predominantly a runner I chose to run for 30 minutes every day, this is my second year taking part as I really enjoyed the run streak in 2015.

Running isn’t just for Christmas, James and Claudia lead runs and coach sessions throughout the whole year. They take a track session on Tuesday nights at Mile End Stadium, starting at 7pm. If running around in circles isn’t necessarily your thing you could join the group on a Thursday morning bright and early to run for bagels. They meet outside Beigel Bake on Brick Lane at 6.45am for a 10kish run around London, taking in the sunrise and city sights. If that wasn’t enough, you can get your long run in with AR, generally a lot of the group train for marathons and so they share the miles together on a Sunday. They meet at 10:30 in the London Marathon Store.

Claudia leading the group over Millenium bridge on the Christmas jumper bagel run

As well as continuing their normal running schedule/structure James, Claudia & the AR elves put on some extra special events in December.

 

DJ JP (photo courtesy of Michael Koball)

There is always a big launch party, escape the city trail runs, run for pizza events and they put a festive spin on the track sessions (#TrackCheeseday) and the bagel run (run in Christmas jumpers, run for trees etc).

Obligatory jazz hands…

 … and jumps! 

These events definitely help me get in the festive spirit, normally I only really feel like it’s Christmas on the day and that’s it. The run streak gets me into a good routine and makes me realise how you can get miles in around work etc. 

This year’s Advent Running has been a little different to 2015 due to the formation of Adidas Runners. They put on sessions on Monday evenings (normally 6:30pm at London Bridge with James, Noel & Olivia) and Friday mornings (normally 7am at Workshop Coffee with JP & Claudi). Due to it being the off season and there being lots of promotional activities in London, Adidas have been able to invite special guests along to many of the sessions. This has included the likes of Tom Daley, Jo Pavey, The Brownlee Brothers and Jessica Ennis-Hill. I have been incredibly fortunate to get places for a few of the events; this has meant I’ve been able to chase Jonny Brownlee in a Friday morning Fartlek session and learn some drills from Jessica Ennis-Hill at Battersea Track. 

Due to working for Run-Fast/at The Running Works I was also really lucky to have a great chat with Jo Pavey over brunch in The Secret Frog Coffee Shop. She’s incredibly inspiring and ridiculously humble.

The Run-Fast/The Running Works Team and Jo Pavey

Those of us taking part in the Advent Running streak are on the home stretch, it’s these last couple of days that are the most challenging but I hope everyone can get their 30 minutes in. Advent Running is one of the biggest reasons I decide to run on Christmas Day. I recently wrote a blog for Iffley Road about “the virtues of the Christmas Day run” you can read it here: https://www.iffleyroad.com/blogs/journal/the-virtues-of-the-christmas-day-run. I apologise for writing this blog now if you’re only just finding out about Advent Running, there’s always next year I guess and I’m sure it’ll be even bigger and better (if that’s possible) than ever. If you’re reading this James & Claudi, thank you for thinking of and organising such a great initiative. I’m glad you’re sharing your passion for running with everyone and it’s great to see so many people getting involved.

Good luck for the rest of the run streak everyone and I hope more people will get involved next year.

Happy Christmas!

Steve