RUNdown February & March 2023

Introduction

I hope you enjoy reading this February and March bumper issue of the Striders’ RUNdown. These wintry months saw well supported team events such the NECAA Royal Signals Road Relays, several Strider Grand Prix races and the culmination of the North Eastern Harrier League cross country season. There were numerous individual achievements. One to highlight is the participation of Liam Huntington and Anna McLeod in the 2023 Europe Duathlon age-group Championships in Venice-Caorle, with Liam finishing in 3rd place and Anna coming in 6th place. Also, Stephen Soulsby qualified for an England Masters Vest!

For our Strider Chat feature Roz Layton and Mike Elliott tell us about their running. Roz and Mike are long-standing members of our club and have some good advice and interesting tales to tell!

At the moment a significant number of you are training for spring road marathons. Corrine Whaling has written a brilliant feature on all things road marathon training. Additionally, Louise Collins, Lindsay McEwan, Jo Robertson, Michael Littlewood and Karen Byng share their experience derived advice for ‘on the day’ of the road marathon and for recovery straight afterwards.

I would like to mention the Striders’ Running Through the Menopause group. This is in the capable hands of Penny Browell and is going from strength to strength. Penny has organised several well received speakers in the past few months, most recently a talk by personal trainer Victoria Duke. Thanks Penny for running this group and doing an excellent job.

I hope you enjoy this issue. As always, to be sure of a mention in the RUNdown, please contact me with the race details. All the best to you all in running,

Tamsin

Strider Shout-out!

Cod Beck Canter Fell Race

Nina Mason, Nigel Heppell and Camilla Lauren-Maatta took on this beautiful race in the Esk Valley Fell Series. They were blessed with blue skies and sunshine. The route was a pretty 16km taking the steep slopes and woods on the North York Moors escarpment. Congratulations to Nina for coming first in her age category.

Maybeck 3 Crosses Fell Race

This was the next race in the Esk Valley Fell Series. Nina Mason enjoyed 7.5 miles of bog and heather and came first in her age category. She won some more wine to add to her growing collection! Well done.

Run Newcastle Valentines Half Marathon and 10k Races

Lynne Waugh and Andrew Davies ran well in this swift 10k around the Newcastle Town Moor. Andrew came 3rd in his age category. Anthony Paul took on the half with a fast time of 2:06.

Saltburn 10k, Hardmoors Series.

Well done to Rich Bielby who ran in this 10k from Saltburn, along the dene of the Skelton Beck to the coasts and then up the humongous cliff to the south of Saltburn and back. He did well too coming 20th.

X Border 10k

This is a flat road race across the border from Carlisle to Gretna. Mike Elliott took part and surprised himself by coming 3rd in his age group in a time of 1:26.

NECAA Royal Signals Road Relays 2023

Congratulations to the seven teams of Striders who raced the 2.2 mile leg at these very competitive NE Championship Road Relays. The MV40 team came second! That’s an amazing achievement so well done to Michael Littlewood, Lindsay McEwan, Mark Kearney, Dave Milligan, Iain Gibson and Graeme Watt. Well done to everyone who took part, there was some really strong running.

Great North West Half Marathon

This fast road marathon took place along the coastal front of Blackpool. The weather on the day was mild. Bryan Potts ran hard and gained a PB of 1:16:27 and came third place. Brilliant!

Inov-8 High Cup Nick Fell Race

Nick Latham ran in this race around High Cup Nick. High Cup Nick is an impressive perfectly U-shaped valley shaped by glaciers in times past, in the Pennines. The race starts and finishes in Dufton village and is about 15km with some height. It is a very popular race owing to the beauty of the area. Well Done Nick.

After Anna said she would be obliged to enter if it was called High Cup Anna, obviously I found myself on Google looking up to see if there are any geographical features named after Anna. (It would be rude not to since there are 7 Anna’s in the club.) Well, there is a River Annas in Cumbria, an Annaside in Cumbria, and a (sadly industrial) Anna Valley near Basingstoke, although I shouldn’t slate industrial estates as they can be useful quiet tarmac areas for road runners to do speed-work. Unfortunately I couldn’t find any races near these places. (As an aside, from this aside, I looked up my own name and found there is an Imber marathon, near Imber in Wiltshire!)

Derwent Reservoir 5 Mile and 10 Mile Trail Runs

Three Striders ran the picturesque 10 mile race around Derwent Reservoir in Northumberland. Stephen Souslby did incredibly well running it in a time of 1:07, coming 7th place and first in his age category. Claire Austin and Nicola Down also ran really well getting a sub-two hours in at 1:57. Well done!

North Lincolnshire Half Marathon

Stephen Soulsby ran this half marathon and did so well! He came 2nd in his age category (only 11 seconds behind the guy who came first) in an incredible time that most of us will never run let alone when we are V60 (1:23:30) which resulted in him qualifying for a Masters England Vest! Congratulations from the club!

Mark Kearney also flew round in an awesome 1:13:40! He came 19th overall and 4th in his age category! Karen Byng did amazing running it in 1:40:47 and coming 7th in her age category. Jo Robertson ran 1:41:37, Anna Mason 1:54:12 and Louise Collins 1:54:13 which are all brilliant times.

Saturn ‘Runs N Roses’ Running Event in Durham

Well done to the Striders who took part in this, whether as a race or supported distance run. Oei Chi and Sarah Fawcett ran impressive distances, 21.8 miles and 20 miles respectively. Tim Matthews, Vics Jackson, Nicola Down and Karen Wilson all ran a half. Eric Green, Marc Watson, Megan Hogan, Andy Stobbart, Steve Inglis and Paul Wilkinson also enjoyed some Saturn running. (Sorry if I have missed anyone, the results would not let me filter according to club).

Dalesrunner 20, Fremlington Frenzy (both organised by DalesRunner) and Stanhope Trail Races (organised by Greener Miles Running)

This weekend was the weekend following the snow fall. These races were all postponed due to accumulated snowdrifts and difficult parking situations. There were a few Striders signed up, so I hope you get to run these later in the year.

Dentdale Run

This is a popular race with Striders and the longer event (14.2 miles) is on our Grand Prix. A large group of Striders attended. It is organised by Dent Church of England Primary School to raise funds for the school. It is a road race along undulating country roads in the beautiful Dent and Sedburgh area of the Yorkshire Dales. As last year, Striders took a large number of the prizes! Congratulations to all of you who ran though. Starting with the 7.9 mile race, prize winners were Roz Layton (1st F70), Stephen Soulsby (6th overall and first in age category), Phil Ray (4th overall and first in age category), Bryan Potts (3rd overall). Lotti Collier and Theresa Rugman-Jones also flew round. In the 14.2 mile race the Striders won both male and female team prizes (male team Michael Littlewood, Lindsay McEwan and Allan Renwick and female team Nina Bojadzic, Anna Basu and Emma McCabe). Michael Littlewood came 3rd overall, Lindsay McEwan came 6th and Allan Renwick 11th. Nina Bojadzic was first lady (whoop whoop!) and Anna Basu came 2nd lady (zoooom!) and Heather Raistrick came first in her age category. Sarah Fawcett, Mark Foster, David Browbank, Peter Hart, Kim Bennet also ran brilliantly.

‘At the Double’ Fell Race Organised by Esk Valley Fell Runners

Nina Mason and Penny Browell took part in this pretty 6.8 mile coastal run, which basically starts at sea level in Skinningrove and goes up a huge cliff and back. They both came first in their age categories, Penny also came 3rd lady and they won prizes, well done both.

Thirsk 10

A swift and tough 10 mile road race in the Thirsk area. Mark Kearney and Matt Archer ran their socks off finishing in eye watering times. Mark came 16th, ran it in 56:05 which means an average pace of 5.36 minute miles! Matt ran it in 1:05:28, running on average 6.53 minute miles!

Bilsdale Fell Race

This is one of my favourite races. There is just something about the joy of yomping about off piste in the North York Moors on a sunny Spring day! Also, there is always a small ‘yomp-loving’ group of Striders who attend. Also in both years I have ran, Easter eggs have featured. This year, myself, Nina Mason, Emma McCabe and Graeme Watt took part. The air was thin, sunny and cool, with no rain. Perfect conditions. The fun of this event is that you have to get to 10 check points but can go any route you want. Although there is a most obvious way there a few places where the quickest or best way is debatable and maybe depends on your strengths. However, I am sure we Striders have found a quicker way between check points 2 and 3, (and I can share this with you if you fancy trying this event!) Both times I have run it, I have taken our ‘sneaky Strider route’ and found myself ‘popping out’ ahead of runners I had been overtaken by a little earlier on one of the descents, much to their surprise and my delight!

Results wise, Striders did well. We three ladies were the winning Ladies team! Also Graeme came 13th , which is a brilliant result given that there were some much younger university runners there and a faster field overall (the course record was broken). He was also first VM40. This equated to more chocolate and some very nice pottery. I was pleased to come 4th lady (first VF45) and Nina Mason came second VF45. Emma also ran well.

Trail Outlaws Kielder Dark Skies Races

These races take place in the trails around Kielder Water in Northumberland. There are three races which take place over a weekend. The intention is to allow running at night to experience the beautiful starry skies in this area which has been awarded gold tier dark sky park status by the International Dark Skies Association. When the moon is shining bright, the reflections in the water are seen. The marathon, which may be the most popular, is a lap of the Kielder reservoir. The 14 mile route follows the trail along the northern shore. The 10 mile route goes along the shore then circles around the Bull Crag peninsular before returning. All races start mid-evening when its just getting dark. Each race runs on a different evening, so there is the option to run in one or more events. The website says that running in all three classifies as ‘platinum level’ and you get a bespoke award!

This year two striders, Paul Anthony and Karen Wilson took on all three races! Huge congratulations both! This must have taken some good pacing strategy and mental strength. Mick Davis ran the 10 mile race and came 8th in his age category. Heather Raistrick and Theresa Rugman-Jones ran the 14 mile race and came 3rd and 4th in their age categories respectively. Jane Dowsett ran the marathon and had a strong run coming 12th in her age category. Congratulations all of you.

2023 Europe Duathlon Championships Venice-Caorle

Following qualification earlier in the year to run for Britain, Liam Huntington and Anna McLeod took part in these masters age group races. How exciting! Each race was a 5km run, 20km bike ride and then a 2.5km run. They both did amazing! Liam came 3rd in his age group and Anna came 6th in her age group. Huge well done!

Spring Canal Canter

Tracey Scott entered this 20 mile race as part of her marathon training, and describes her experience here.

I’d always fancied trying a ‘It’s Grim Up North’ run, so finding marathon training solo hard, I entered the 20 miler Spring Canal Canter hoping it would show where I stood getting close to 23rd April. Set off 7:30 am for a 10 am start for the 20 milers was a quiet drive down. I arrived with the sun shining and a very good atmosphere for registration to pick up number. Most of the runners had started off for most of the distances on offer that day, with the marathoners and ultras getting a good send off as I arrived. Plenty of toilets and a coffee van at the start/finish made for a good start to the day. The differing distances had different routes and for me it was an out and back, turnaround at 10 miles,. A ‘no plastic’ event meant we had to carry our own cups (on sale on the day if needed). This meant having to stop briefly for water but worked really well. Water stations were at miles 3, 6, 10 and of course same points for return. You could pick up water and juice as well as sweets etc at all stations with ‘boost’ drinks available at 6 and 14 miles. Such a pretty run sharing the canal side with others and the weather was kind too. Run wise for me, I tried not to go off too fast and fighting my own demons thought at 5k I could just turn back, had a brief chat with 2 runners from Hull at first water point and carried on, I kept them always in my sight. Deciding I wasn’t ‘fit enough’ for London I decided just to get the miles in and settled at that always keeping the two Hull runners in sight. Last water station was the point I managed to get ahead and stayed focussed to not let them overtake me to the finish line. Success! And I came in about 10 secs per mile slower than my target marathon pace, and was happy with that given the water stop chats and trying to keep steady pace. At the finish was a medal, a hot dog, can of pop, and a visit to their sweet shop which was fun with a ‘pick your own’ bag. All in all a very friendly event. Some runners had arrived late for their start times but no questions asked, just set them off. I certainly would go back to do ‘It’s Grim Up North’ event. Next time I may pick a run rated at more than 1 welly boot, all runs advertised by ‘how grim it is’ to how many matched wellies.

Coledale Horseshoe Fell Race

Graeme Watt and Nina Mason took on this Lakeland fell race involving 8.5 miles of very steep climbs and descents (total elevation is 3002ft). The weather was not the best – rain, hail, wind and mist. Well done both of you!

Coniston 14

This is a popular 14 mile road race which starts and finishes at John Ruskin School in Coniston and circles around Coniston water. Prizes are generous and cake is plentiful. Congrats to Jean Bradley, Stephen Soulsby, Alan Smith, Anna Basu and Michael Littlewood for winning age group prizes. Well done to Rory Whaling and Lindsay McEwan who also ran well.

parkrun

Congratulations to Tim Butler for running his 200th parkrun in February at Durham. Thanks from everyone to Tim for his volunteering at parkrun, for checking out this parkrun course before the parkrun each week. Also congratulations to Andrew Davies who ran his 400th parkrun in March.

We had a purple parkrun at Riverside on a very grey day with a biting wind. Despite this there was a big turn out. The riverside parkrun is a three lap course on a tarmac surface path around the park. My jumper stayed on for laps 1 and 2. The Striders ran well on the day and Wendy ran super-fast getting a 90 second PB! In March we had a well attended purple parkrun at Cotsford Fields. This was a great occasion with some Strider first timers trying out this pretty coastal parkrun.

New Zealand Races

Malcolm Sygrove has been away in New Zealand. He took part in some exciting looking races whilst he was there. These include the X Terra Wellington Festival half marathon. This was a beautiful trail route along beaches, across sand dunes and through the Queen Elizabeth Park. He also ran in the Miners Trail Race which goes up into the hills from Arrowtown near Otago. This was a hard 10 miles, but with the promise of free beer at the end. He also enjoyed parkruns in Queenstown and along the Kapiti coast. They all sound amazing and you can read more about it in his recent race report.

Cross Country Races
NEMAA Open Cross Country Championships

This took place at Croft Circuit near Darlington. Some fierce and hardy Striders took part, they were Nina Bojadzic, Fiona Shenton, Susan Davis, Jan Young, Phil Ray, Michael Littlewood, Lindsay McEwan, Geoff Davis and Conrad White. Everyone ran really well. Kudos to the women’s team for coming second place. Also well done to Michael for coming 7th (and 2nd in his age category), Conrad for coming 11th, Geoff for coming 3rd in his age category and Nina B for coming 4th.

2023 Saucony English National Cross Country Championships at Bolesworth Castle

Well done to Phil Ray, Michael Littlewood and Lewis Littlewood for taking part. You all ran really well.

Start Fitness Northeast Harrier league

The cross country community is fabulous what with the camaraderie and cake. The final fixtures of this league happened at Thornley Farm and Alnwick. At Thornley we were blessed with sunshine and an unusually dry course, with a very rutted cow field at the top. At Alnwick we had grassy fields, long pulls and a stony track in the woods with ‘trip you up sticks’ to navigate. Both were very tough courses so well done to everyone who took on the challenge. Over all it’s been quite a non-muddy year, maybe next time! Running wise, you all did really well! A large number of Striders also did well in the individual listings. This is where you are scored out of your best 4 performances in the season. One result which sticks out at me is the fact that Phil Ray came 6th in the individual listings for the whole season performances. That’s out of 713 vet men! Congratulations Phil!

British Masters Cross Country championships

This exciting race took place at the Rising Sun sports ground in north Newcastle. It was organised by NEMAA and hosted by Heaton Harriers. A strong group of Striders attended, comprising Geoff Davis, Ian Butler, Phil Ray, Graeme Watt, Michael Littlewood, Lindsay McEwan, Heather Raistrick, Fiona Shenton and Susan Davis. All ran well. The woman’s team: Heather, Fiona and Susan were the winning female team in their age group!

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Trying Something Different

Elvet Strider Jenny Search is a strong runner, most commonly seen at cross country. As many of you know, she is an even stronger swimmer. Her main focus for many years has been sea swimming and open water swim or swim-run events. For example, she has swum the English Channel as part of a team, and has enjoyed the Llanberis paired swim-run events many years running. Recently she decided to try something a little different. She entered and trained for a masters swimming gala. She says she has not done competitive pool swimming for 30 years. The gala she entered was the Billingham Masters Gala. She swam in 5 events and got a gold medal for the 200m backstroke. She says it was a fun and new challenge! Well done Jenny!

Nutrition Talk

Thanks to Anna Basu for organising the sports nutrition talk by Dr Richard Allison, a Performance Nutritionist and Clinical Dietician at the Institute of Sport, Exercise and Health (ISEH). If you did not attend this talk is definitely worth viewing the recording. Strider members can find the video and slides on the Facebook group or TeamApp.

Strider Chat: Interviews with Roz Layton and Mike Elliot

This month I spoke to two of our older club members to find out more about their running journeys. This also revealed some more of the history of our club and past members. Roz and Mike have different motivations and approaches to running, both of which were interesting to hear. They both have some impressive running achievements. On behalf of Striders, thanks so much for sharing.

Roz Layton

When did you start running and why?

I started running when I was working in Social Services in the same office as David Shipman. My family and I had lived in Australia for 7 years because of my husband’s career from soon after we got married to 1980 and went back for a few months in 1988. I loved being out of doors so when we got back to UK I felt I had an excess of energy. As we all know David was a really good runner but also the boss, Roger, was training for the London Marathon. I was so envious of them as one or the other went for a run over lunchtime, coming back sweaty and relaxed. I can’t imagine anyone having time to do that now. I started running round Maiden Castle and just assumed that what people do was to sign up to ‘Do the Great North Run’. David advised me to try a few shorter distances before taking on a half marathon. He said when you can run 3k comfortably I will introduce you to Elvet Striders, it’s a running club… David introduced me to Allan Seheult in the Half Moon one Saturday. Before long Allan was coaching me as well as a string of others, all different ages and abilities. Wednesday evenings became the highlight of the week: running hard or long with friends, many of whom are still Striders, a shower at Maiden Castle before heading to the Rose Tree where it was standing room only. Loads of people will be familiar with that High – the feeling you don’t know your limits to how far or fast you may yet run.

You might not call it training but I do still enjoy a run with Jan Young and Christine Farnsworth, Barry Bird and David.

I trained and ran with Striders, coached by Allan, for many years, enjoying all the local races, several Great North Runs, three London marathons and Dublin marathon where I got my best time, 3:28. At 10k I managed 41:24.

What has been your best running experience?

Probably the Dublin marathon as everything went so well. Allan did all the planning for me for the training and logistics so I didn’t have to think of anything. With my daughter and a friend in support we made the most of the event itself, ready to holiday afterwards. I was absolutely ecstatic after the race as it went exactly as planned and I really thought I could not have got more out of myself. I’m sure I can remember the taste of that first Dublin Guinness, even though it didn’t touch the sides.

And the joy is returning. Not just taking part but winning the Allan Seheult Memorial Mile with its massive cup, surrounded by friends and Allan’s family was an experience I couldn’t hope to better.

When did you start triathlon?

In 2002 I was turning 50 and Allan was turning 60. We were ready for something different. I knew I couldn’t improve my running times much as I was getting older, and as it was I was training 6 days a week. I think the idea – ‘Why not triathlon?’ occurred to our friend Donna James, Allan and me simultaneously. There was much less chance of getting injured with three disciplines not one and there were certainly new skills to learn! Donna was really ambitious from the beginning. We went to an Introduction to triathlon weekend. We had to fill in a survey about what we would hope for from the course. I can remember that in answer to the question -‘How much time are you prepared to give to this?’ she wrote ‘Lots!’ She became really good at triathlon. We all worked with the same coach but after a while Donna became my coach and Allan had responsibility for the running element. It worked a dream for quite a few years and I think we got the best out of ourselves.

Competing for England in Triathlon

We joined the Durham Triathlon club and were able to do swimming and cycling training with them, and the running track sessions with Elvet Striders. The aim was three sessions of each activity per week, so suddenly we were training at lunchtimes and in the evenings! You just need a coach to organise it all! We had some wonderful training holidays in Sardinia and Mallorca with our coach, working really hard, focussing on the sport and relaxing. Cycling is my weakest element, much as I enjoy it. I reckon I would be a slightly better cyclist if I didn’t have church on a Sunday morning, because all the long cycle rides with friends were on Sunday mornings! I did a fair amount of bike training on my own, but it’s not the same as training with others.

We began with Standard Distance triathlons, and progressed to qualifying as age-groupers to represent England. There are designated races you have to do well at to be able to qualify. The first international we did was in Lausanne in Switzerland. The swim was in the lake there, and the run and cycle on hilly looped routes around the lake. It all takes at least 4 days as you have to arrive in time to familiarise yourself with the route and the climate. There are companies which will organise the whole thing for you at huge expense so you don’t have so much responsibility in getting there with all your kit.

Compared with running, requiring just a pair of shoes, triathlon is an expensive sport – kit, travel, beautiful bike, a car that will transport your bike safely. It’s also noticeable that most competitors are white and middle class. It’s a sport for people that love ‘stuff’ too. The triathlon club members teased Allan, as I did, for his buying habit, but I was quite self-indulgent too.

The tight age-grouping system in competition worked in my favour as an older woman, as your category changes every 5 years, so although I wasn’t a great athlete I did relatively well in competition and have lots of trophies to show for it!

Once Covid hit, public pools closed, training and competition stopped – and so did I. I can only claim to be a runner now, but how lucky am I to be fit and healthy enough to continue to get lots of fun from being outside, about in my trainers.

What is a sporting situation which you found hard?

Persisting with training when you aren’t achieving the times you think you should – how glad am I that those days are gone! The tricky part about about juggling your time with other responsibilities is a situation familiar to all of us. In my opinion it’s easier when you’re working as the day is already structured.

What pieces of advice would you have for other runners?

Make your own goals and don’t do much you don’t enjoy. Sometimes you do have to do things you don’t want to, to achieve the bigger goal. I have really loved road running recently, the Brampton-Carlisle and the Brass Monkey races.

I have been really lucky with injuries. I think this might be luck, the fact that I have done regular Pilates in the last three years and also as I changed to triathlon when I was 50 years old. I think the cross training has allowed me to continue running for longer.

I think a large part of running is about getting to know people, learning what makes people tick while running beside them or more realistically in the pub or tea shop afterwards has given me great satisfaction. The training routine, the effort, the thrills, the enjoyment of other people’s achievements too. My life would have been completely different if it hadn’t been for running. I really appreciate all these kind, generous, compassionate people. Perhaps running brings out the best in us.

Mike Elliott

When did you start running and why?

School sports day. Winning 100 and 200 yards on a few occasions and playing five a side football winning the league several times for the house team. I would say that I was a canny all-rounder. I heard of Durham City Harriers but after exhaustive efforts the only information I received was they used to meet here, there and everywhere but nowhere definite. The only transport available was the bus so no point getting the wrong bus. Then, cycling, followed by European camping adventures took over.

After that, I was into refereeing school football matches eventually helping the Headmaster coach the team as well as officiating in the local Saturday afternoon, Sunday morning and the Wearside League. After 8 seasons I retired from refereeing to concentrate on family commitments.

As a fit young lad I decided to do the Great NorthRun. Starting by running a short distance, three miles and then built it up from there, in 5 minutes spells or by a ½ mile at a time, based on how I felt, after hard shifts working as an electrical maintenance engineer with the National Coal Board, Coates Vyella, finally at St. Chad’s College. Being on a 20 min, 5 mile response call out whilst working at Coates did affect training. I had done a couple of Great North Runs training on my own but then picked up an injury and went to see a lad I had known who was a physio. Whilst there got talking to a lass who was a Strider and she suggested that I come down to the club and I have been there ever since. Striders weekly runs done via distances which could detour by as much as a couple of miles not like now where you run by minutes/ mile. Then it was always the pub for pizza and a pint then the craic. Do you fancy doing this race? Then before you knew it you were roped into doing the said race, and 6, 10 and half marathons were the order of the day.

I did the Edinburgh Half Marathon on a very hot day. You finished at Musselburgh race course at the finish post. They had laid our rubber mats for the finish it was like running on sponge. Bloody awful knocking my rhythm all to hell. Finished completely knackered. Temperature kept on rising for runners behind, even worse for the marathoners behind them. the reward was a T-shirt and a banana.

I thought maybe I can run a full one, if you’re daft enough to enter. I filled in the London Marathon form by pen, next thing I got through the letter box was the magazine, ‘You are in’ I thought ‘Oh, get training!’ So training started courtesy of a plan in Runners World. Broompark railway lines was a good place to train even when it was 1ft of snow with the sun out that is shorts and T shirt weather. Anyway London was completed in just over 4 ¾ hrs. Don’t think about doing a repeat I said to myself, but once you have done one and then you are bitten by the bug.

Running is pub related, that’s where all the best ideas come from, then afterwards you think ‘why the hell did I enter that’ People in the pub said ‘why don’t we do a marathon abroad?’ Like the Medoc in France? I agreed to that. As did John Hutchinson (poor lad’s not running any more but you see him marshalling at parkrun.) The crazies in no particular order were Angela Proctor, John Greathead, Emma Batey, John Hutchinson, Sue Jennings, Alister and Jacquie Robson, Greta Jones, Bill and Jill Ford. On the Friday night before the event there was a rather large party for the runners in a big tent, 4 course meal with plenty wine on the table and when that was finished there was 2 tun barrels to be emptied.

A nice cool sunny start to the day with everyone dressed in sci-fi costumes. 42k to go and the first wine stop after 2k. First tasting was brilliant the second awful might as well go down the drain. Toilet facilities consisted of the many rows of vines. As it turned out there were another 15 wine stops before the finish. The last 5k along tarmac roads includes stalls of oysters, beef sandwiches and choc ices all gratefully accepted. First home was John Hutchinson followed by Angela Procter then Mike Elliott in 5hrs 15, the rest trailed in the worse for wear just before the cut off in 6hr. The goodie bag consisted of a bottle of wine in a presentation case, T-shirt and a freshly cut rose. Sandwiches, yoghurt and fresh fruit available in the marquees.

At night there was another feast laid on and the sky was lit up by fireworks. The following day there was a 10k walk around 6 more vineyards, with obligatory tasting and more snacks. So considering what you get at Foster’s North Run, a bottle of water a T-shirt and a packet of crisps, Medoc was an experience for all participants. Would I do something like this again? Absolutely.

Great North Run has a good atmosphere; I have done 20 last one being the 25th anniversary and you still got a bottle of water, medal and a T-shirt. I will not do it anymore because of the astronomical price he charges.

Whilst working at St. Chad’s College it was often a student’s ambition to do the North Run. I made a video to help them along the way. I do not coach people; I support them in their endeavours. Even offering to take them out on a run around the city in preparation for their big day. My final statement to them was and to anybody ‘Go out and enjoy it and I want you to finish the race in the same condition as you started, but knackered, I want you back in one piece’. They followed the advice. That’s all you can ask.

One of the students at college said her father was into running, and talking to him one year, he says we’ll run it next year together, but he brought along his mate who was a BBC cameraman with a camera, which I hadn’t expected! We had a decent run.

I got roped in to help one of my daughter’s friends with her first 10k race. Rule 1, she dictates that pace that that is comfortable. I can quite happily keep going, but come on, she is the one who has asked for help, so help, don’t kill her. During the race I says, ‘right we’ve got 1 1/2 mile to go.’ ‘See that bloke about 300 yards ahead? The idea is to catch him just before the finish. Strategy, let’s say you could increase your stride by half an inch each time and so you don’t have to burst a gut to achieve your goal’. Sure enough we caught and overtook him with 400 yards to the finish. She was obviously over the moon, and has gone onto run greater distances.

One North Run which I really enjoyed was when I had only done three miles of training beforehand. The temperature in the morning was only three degrees! I had a really good run in 2hrs 5mins. So, ‘Is too much or too little training a good or bad preparation?’ Only you can decide.

A North Run Laugh: At the 8 mile mark a lass had a notice on her back the question. DOES MY BACKSIDE LOOK BIG? As I passed her I said ‘By the way the answer to your question is Yes’ she appeared not be amused. Why!

There were two Striders called Jill and Jean. I used to frequently use them as pacers in races. I used to keep them in sight and then aim to pass them in the last mile. They threw very friendly curses as I passed them again. Tactics again.

Once at the Northumberland coastal run as you know it can be a bit windy and the last bit along the beach there was a strong headwind so I caught up two lasses who were busy chatting and were running side by side, I tucked in behind them for shelter. Good plan. If they moved right, I moved right, if they moved left, I moved left, and I completely pissed them off. Passing them, ‘why are you following us’ My comment ‘Well, you do what you do, to get shelter’. That completely pissed them off so I left them behind. Stick to the tactics that work.

A young lass called Greta Jones joined the Striders and we would go out training together with me dragging/encouraging her along at the pace that was comfortable in the Pier to Pier and several others. Then going on to complete Sunderland half and full marathons. I suggested the two of us train together. This training helped her to go on to greater heights to complete the entire 7 world major marathons and 3 Comrades’ marathons [55 miles] in South Africa. We still go along the lines on a Sunday with another young lad we brought along, YP (Yorkshire Paul, Paul Beal), GB runner Jackie McKenna, young Karen Jones.

Over a few weeks pacing for Elaine Jennings new to running had a target to complete the run from Duke of Welly, and return in one effort via Cock Of The North, New Inn, [easy part], then the hard part up Potters Bank in stages increasing by 2 lamp posts per week and then eventually without stopping hard, finally back to the Duke of Welly for well-deserved bait and a pint. Well done Elaine.

What is your most memorable race?

All runs are memorable for whatever reason.

Maybe you shouldn’t make promises when you go running, either to beat your time or a particular runner. Listen to your body, Do your best on the day.

I had an uncle who was in a Somerset hospital with cancer and we made a deal, you get better and I’ll do the half marathon in less than two hours. Unfortunately it didn’t work out in the time period, but I kept promise, at the time Redcar Half was an out and back course. I was running with Greta who said she was not feeling too good at 5 miles but insisted I continued on my own and latched onto a group from Burnham on Sea in Somerset and we plodded along quite nicely overtaking each other now and then, then in the last mile I looked at my watch saw I had 15 minutes to do the last mile, I couldn’t believe it, so I kept going and finished in 1.58. That medal went onto the tree where my uncle’s ashes are scattered.

So, good things and bad things, but I was over the moon with that time.

2022, taking part in the Allan Seheult’s timed mile and being encouraged by the faster lads helping me finish in 12min 30. Here’s to next year.

What has been your most challenging race?

All races are challenging because you put your body through HELL sometimes.

I tried the Dent Dale race but it went completely pear shaped, I ran, just after the start came across some every undulating road which upset my rhythm, then walked, eventually then retiring gracefully at half way. Not my day.

Brampton to Carlisle parts of the back roads knee deep in water. Runners trying to skirt the edges next to hawthorn hedges so has not to get their trainers wet. Much easier to walk through the 20 yard puddles it cooled you down, got your shoes washed and dried whilst making your way to the finish.

RAF Spadeadam Half. The home of Blue Streak missile — passport required for entry. A little breeze at the start on tarmac which soon turned to rough gravel track for the long climb where we were promised was shelter by a long row of trees acting as a wind break. Found the said trees, but some bugger had cut them down. Of course the wind was picking up. Reached the top where the wind strength had increased considerably. Greeted by the RAF lads sheltering in a Land Rover offering you a bottle of water or a lift back for the last 3 miles downhill. Back to the Officers’ Mess for some top notch bait. The Commanding Officer finished the race after me but cursing the 40 knot wind that was blowing at the top. He also cursed his secretary who had entered him but only told him about it 2 days previously. Turned out the RAF were on a normal exercise the same day so there were some bonny sparks flying about.

Blaydon Race. Chucking it down, at Armstrong’s factory with the road 2” deep in water for 20 yards several women stopped wondering how to get around this obstacle without getting their shoes wet. Guess they were trying to solve the problem illogically.

National Cross Country at Herrington Country Park Geoff and Susan Davis were the persuaders. Knee deep mud was the order of the day—completed 1 lap then called it a day with both shoes attached to the feet. Stop twisting, mud is meant to be good for the skin, so I am informed.

Tell me about your involvement with parkrun

Striders were sceptical about this type of run, look at the Purple Posse today. Many parkrunners have since joined Striders.

Apparently I’ve done a few.

Strider, George Nicholson “I’ve done one at Sunderland, Young’un. We will enjoy this”, he says, it’s only 3 miles and timed. The beginning of a long journey. Something to do on a Saturday morning which means you get out of bed, you go and run, finished by 10 o’clock and you have the whole of the day to yourself.

In the beginning at Sunderland there would be 30 or 40 runners, but it was treated more as a social run, with a little competitiveness thrown in. You always tried to beat your time; occasionally you did but if not there was always another Saturday.

At Sunderland everybody hated the two hills at the end. But if you planned it right after the first one it levels off a bit before the second one, so you can catch your breath and then be away for the second hill. Surprising the number of people I beat on the second part.

I heard that David Ardill at County Hall had the idea of setting up a Durham parkrun. Alister Robson, Colin Everson and Stuart Herkes and myself helped get it up and running. I have been at Durham ever since. The route has changed quite a lot over the years. It was very nice to start and finish at Maiden Castle then go for a coffee and a bacon sandwich at a reduced rate, not like the prices they charge there now.

David left due to work commitments and Alister took over and eventually took on the role as North East Ambassador. He asked if I could help him step up and measure courses as I had a surveyors wheel, [1] Chester-le-Street, Riverside [flat course]. [2] Gibside,[hilly] [3] Hackworth at Shildon and the famous zigzag through the kids play area followed by a steep uphill then gentle windy downhill followed by a long finish straight. The only way we could fit in 5k, [4] Hartlepool seafront [flat].

We worked on the principal that all routes being 5k plus 30m so no one could say the courses were short according to their watches. All courses were measured 3 times to ensure the land owners had not put any obstacles in the way. I took my best mate with me on these occasions, [a] to keep me company, [b] at the end would ask her if she was satisfied with the route. My mate answered by a smiley face said ‘Yes’ or a shake of the head said ‘No’. Why? She was Holly the Collie with too many brains. So check again if required.

That is why all parkrun courses are 5k but different due to the kinds of terrain.

Along came the RED T-shirt for 50 runs and times took second place to the BLACK 100 T-shirt and waterproof , GREEN at 250 [then I was one of 800 in the country to reach this milestone].

December 2022 I became the first Strider to reach the milestone number of 500 and claim the ROYAL BLUE T-shirt. Have looked at the results throughout the country and have found out that I have still got a long way to go to catch up with some that have done over 800 parkruns.

Best time at any of the parkrun is 26.42 way back in 2012. Will I get any quicker? Debatable.

parkrun is very popular worldwide. In 2014, Founder Paul Sinton- Hewitt received a CBE for ‘services to grassroots sport participation’ from the late Queen Elizabeth II.

Durham parkrun 250-400 people per week. I have been down to run Bushy parkrun where it all started, and that is now up to 1,000 runners per week. It’s still friendly as it’s meant to be, but with a competitive edge.

Going back to the Comrades Marathon South Africa [run on a Sunday] that Greta did, about 4,000 turn up the day before to do parkrun, it’s just a nice little jaunt and warm up for the gruelling day ahead.

I persuaded a family member that she could do parkrun; the reply came back “I cannot run’”

“Of course you can, I will take you round a couple of time see how it goes”. She has gone on to do greater event such as 24 hr Run to the Sun and Hardmoors 50 miler. You have not forgiven me for the gentle introduction to running. She has now worn out more pairs of trainers than I have had hot dinners. Haven’t you Jane Dowsett?

Another first timer at parkrun was Striders excellent coach the late Allan Seheult. He tried to get me to run cross country for a long time. I said, “No, not for me” but eventually I gave in and I ran Alnwick. In exchange he said he would try parkrun, and I helped him with that. Fair shares for all. He helps me, I help him, parkrun wasn’t his cup of tea but we ran together. He could always be seen at Noisy Bridge encouraging everyone.

Will I still keep doing parkrun? Yes, it becomes an obsession, with holidays planned around this great event. I would recommend parkrun to anyone. You don’t have to run it, you can run and walk. If people want to get into parkrun, a walk-run strategy is a good idea. I would suggest they come along with someone who is a runner to help them. If they keep at it and run a little further each time, in the end they will be able to run 3 miles.

Tell me about running in your family

Going way back, my Heather [little young’un/ bairn], she was into sports, netball and the odd run. I helped her with school netball. [I knew nothing about netball but I did know the rules of 5 a side football so I used that experience]. Her school teacher who was into running organised a 1 ½ m school run. So I went and joined the kids along with other parents. She ended up coming 3 and 1st girl and I finished as 3rd parent. She wasn’t that keen on running as a teenager. I did get her to enter Blaydon one year. We ran it together. It was a nice sunny night, with me carrying the water for the bairn. After about 4 miles I could hear her struggling a little bit I says “Do you want some water?”. “No.” Further on, “Do you want some? You are struggling a little bit.” I took the top off the bottle and tipped some over her head as Dads do. She was not amused. Don’t know why. We finished together to enjoy the beer and food in that order. She then moved away to Uni, then took up rowing and became a cox for Salford Uni.

Son-in-law Matt is well into running after being introduced to it at the Manchester 10k and has completed in various distances and terrains, including Edinburgh to Glasgow 50 miler. Next up is the London Marathon followed by a marathon around a game reserve in South Africa with a school mate who is game ranger at the reserve.

Heather is back into running and has joined Ramsbottom RunningClub along with the whole family and a friend from Uni [bitten by the running bug]. Who else would be there but David Ardill and his brother Rowan who works for parkrun?

My intention is to go down and make a guest appearance in their Summer Mile, as did Paul Sinton-Hewitt parkrun founder, did a couple of yours ago.

So the parkrun clock has come full circle.

My bairn has done one Great North Run, which was the restructured course a few years ago. She finished, in the same condition as she started, but knackered. I didn’t think she would take up running but it looks like the bug has bitten.

My two granddaughters have also shown an interest in running. They are aged 8 and 10 years. They both ran the mini North Run. Greta was volunteered as chaperone to 10 year old. At the sound of the hooter Olivia was off leaving Greta 20 yards behind, finally catching up for a 100 yard sprint finish. [Greta keeps reminding me of that moment]. Elizabeth stayed with me until the Blinking Eye bridge then she was off like a greyhound out the traps.

Well done little ‘uns.

Olivia has a time of just over 7mins at Ramsbottom junior parkrun, as well as one of the fastest juniors at Heaton Park 5k with a time of 23 min, even Dad has a struggle to keep up with her. Elizabeth’s fastest junior parkrun is 11 min and big parkrun is 32 min.

Tell me about your recent running

Cross Border 10k. Carlisle to Gretna. First completed 4 year ago in wind, sun, rain, sleet snow and finally sun. Time – cannot remember.

February 2023 and the Cross Border race from Carlisle to Gretna again. Minus 1 at the start after a mile it was sunny and blue skies all the way . It was a nice flat 10k. I have not run a 10k in four years, but my idea was run and walk it. Parkrun takes me 42-45 minutes these days. A 10k is only two parkruns, so this should be an hour and a half, and I managed 1:26 and I was third in my age category. The run-walk strategy got me through.

Although it was flat there were a few little slopes, so you just drop your arms on the downhills to control your speed and catch your breath, then carry on and repeat.

It’s the same as what we were taught years ago, Scouts pace, which goes back to Baden Powell, and the Boer War who got local tribes people to take messages by foot from one place to another, throughout the campaign. They used this strategy covering the maximum distances with the most economical effort in case they had to take back a reply. Use the tactic if it works.

Time to pull on the purple vest for the Pier to Pier then Blaydon.

What advice would you have for other runners?

In no particular order:

  • I learnt this strategy from a colleague who was a pathfinder in the Paras arriving in the second glider to prepare for the D-Day landings. His advice for people doing their first half marathon, at the first water station pick up a bottle – drink some whilst walking the length of the station — keep some till next station discard bottle — get new one and repeat to the finish.
  • Don’t bite off more than you can chew.
  • Take your time if things are not going well. Remember you have to get home.
  • If you start running you’re not gonna be able to complete a half or marathon in the first six months of your adventure. Pace yourself.
  • Don’t be suckered into the pub conversation, ‘Oo I’ll do that!’ Take it easy in stages, build up.
  • Don’t be tempted to go into race pace the first time you come back from a big injury.
  • You want to finish, in the same condition started, but knackered.
  • Humour can help get you to the end of the race; it has with this marathon of words.

Good Running, Mike

Strider to Strider Experience-based Advice: The Road Marathon

I asked for Striders to come forward to offer marathon advice for those who have entered road marathons this spring, and you didn’t disappoint. As follows are some thoughts for race day and recovery. Following that is brilliant piece written by Corrine Whaling which covers the marathon in full. Of course it is important to note that what works for one person might not work for the other. Marathon training and what works on the day and afterwards can be very individual.

Thanks for all your contributions. 

Race Day Advice

Louise Collins says, “On the day of a road marathon I have the biggest breakfast ever. Porridge with raspberries and blueberries (a massive bowl). The day before I make sure I eat really well. Three days before I start drinking loads and loads of water; Fiona Jones always says it’s what you do in the run up, on the day’s too late”.

Lindsay McEwan also says he “eats for the run the day before, then just has something light on the morning of the race”. Lindsay says “I got up early giving plenty of time for coffee, light breakfast, going to the loo, twice, packing my kit, checking and rechecking my kit. I had plenty of time to get to the start line and get there with plenty of time to spare and got the warm up done early. Also, a note of caution, don’t do as I saw a nameless person do… don’t leave your gels in your bag then check that bag onto the baggage truck!”

Michael Littlewood has run many big road marathons and shares his pre-race routine. He says that on the day before the marathon he does a parkrun, running the first 4k slow and the last 1km fast. On the day before if there is an Expo, he is as quick as he can there and doesn’t look at every stall. He says if his family comes with him, he suggests they go out for the day as his nerves will make him grumpy. He says “Don’t over-hydrate”. He likes to have a pint of beer or glass of wine before bedtime to ease the nerves. He advises don’t panic if you can’t sleep, he has ran a PB on three hours of sleep before. On the morning of the race he has coffee then his normal long run breakfast which is porridge with fruit, nuts, jam and loads of honey. He often has little appetite but gets it down. He drinks one pint of water and no more. He also takes 200mg caffeine before the start. He uses anti-friction cream everywhere. He then does a mile warm up with strides. During the race he uses 7 gels four of which have caffeine in them. At the start line he thinks about his saying which is that “he has got to be able to put himself in harms way to achieve great things”. Once the race has started he checks his pace after half a mile or 1km. He warns that 5 seconds too fast and you will be toast!

Jo Robertson notes, “During the race when you cross the timing mats think of them as a connection to all your friends and family wishing you well. In a big marathon it’s a way of getting a message to them to let them know you are okay and also to feel connected knowing they are cheering you on.” She also says, “When it gets really hard and you’re getting to the end, then go ‘fishing’. Reel in people in front of you one at a time and focus on just catching that next person. Lots are slowing down by this point so it doesn’t even mean speeding up but just keeping going.”

Although I (Tamsin) am more of an off-road runner, I have run 7 road marathons in the past. I have found that it is important for me to pace myself well. I have found if my pacing is even or negative splits then I still ‘hit the wall’ at around mile 20, but the wall comes on imperceptibly… as in, it creeps up on me and I suddenly notice I am in post-wall territory, but I can still keep running. Whereas when I have set off too fast I hit the wall hard and suddenly, which I find harder to deal with mentally and physically.

Post-race and Recovery

Karen Byng suggests that after you have crossed the finish line to keep moving, even if it’s slowly! She says eat something soon with salt, carbs and protein, chips with ketchup and mayonnaise always work for me. Drink sips of water from the finish line and I always go for full sugar Coca Cola to settle my tummy. I think the sugar counteracts any nausea. Ashley’s Jordi is my hero who brought me one after the coastal run when I was a bit low!

I (Tamsin) also eat and drink as soon as I can after crossing the finish line, my ‘go to’ food being hot salty chips with shed loads of ketchup and vinegar and a multiple cups of tea. I then eat huge amounts for the next few days after the race. Jo Robertson says, “For me the first cup of tea post a race is like heaven. Louise and I are known to take flasks with us so we don’t have to wait past getting out bags, and then of course all those good recovery drinks, but tea is the best!”

Karen says, “Make sure you have arranged a meet up point with your loved ones who’re collecting you from the finish line. Your brain will be too addled to deal with logistics at the end. If it’s a big event the phone network usually crashes so you can’t get into contact with people easily. I ended up doing 34 miles when I did Manchester because I couldn’t find my kids to meet and walk back to the hotel, I gave up in the end and ran back!”

After the marathon Karen says, “I take paracetamol if my legs ache. I stretch gently, foam roll gently and keep mobile gently for the next few days. I don’t run for about a week but that’s my preference, even if I feel I could. And make sure to rehydrate and eat properly, also sleep is a good restorer!” Louise Collins finds what works well for her is to have the day after as a rest day and then just ease herself back into my normal routine but start with easy 5k’s. I (Tamsin) tend to not run for a week after a road marathon, then start with gentle walks and swims, then short easy runs, then build slowly back up as my body is ready. Sometimes I have gone for a run too soon and it has turned into a walk. When that happens I go back to doing walks, then try an easy run a few days later. Karen Byng recommends, “Don’t enter any events straight away! That’s a big temptation when the euphoria has settled.”

Michael Littlewood says he likes a pint after a marathon, especially as he has abstained from beer for 13 weeks of training, but recommends that if this is you too, rehydrate before hitting the pub. After race day he says he walks just one mile for two days post-marathon. Then on the next Wednesday club night he does a very slow 5k run to see how his legs are and to get lots of praise. Following that he does no more running until 10 days post-marathon, and definitely no hard efforts until three weeks afterwards. He says if you have ran a good marathon you will be buzzing and on a massive high and should tell everyone! Following that the post-race blues can hit you and he says he can feel depressed for the next week or so, but he knows this is part of the process. [Tamsin: I think Michael raises a good point here. I think a post-race low after the post-race high is very common. It can be after any race or event that you have worked hard for and spent a lot of energy focussing on. It will pass.] Finally, Michael says his marathon mantra is “When I was close to defeat, I rose to my feet.”

Road Marathon Training by Corrine Whaling

I’d caveat everything I am about to write by saying that this reflects my experiences and my preferences. I hope that a lot of these are universally applicable, however my top tip of all would be to know your own body and work out what is right for you. That won’t be the same for everyone as we are all unique individuals, with unique bodies and unique lives outside of our running. Part of the reason that I love marathon running is that it requires a tremendous amount of focus, which I have learned that I thrive on. However, the downside of that is that it does for a certain amount of time tend to take over your entire life! Before committing to and embarking on any marathon you need to be prepared for this, and you need those important to you, at work and at home, to be prepared for this and ideally to be able and willing to support you in doing so. That leads onto the other reason I love marathon running and training – it’s very much a team effort. You will end up doing a lot of your training on your own, however for long runs and hard sessions you are going to benefit from having a training partner or group. You are going to need people to bounce ideas off, people to push you forward and people to tell you when you need to hold back. It becomes a team sport, even if the end result is an individual effort.

Consider your “Why”

You don’t have to run a marathon. There seems at times to be a perception that all roads in running lead to a marathon – this doesn’t have to be the case. You might be a better short distance runner, in which case perhaps focusing on improving your 5k/10k times may be a better option for you than running a marathon just because that’s what you see other people doing.

Before considering a marathon you really need to have been running consistently for at least a year, and to feel confident running a half marathon. Jumping straight into a marathon without this base of training is highly likely to lead to injury. It definitely is a case of a slow steady build up.

Marathon training is hard. It’s physically and mentally tough, so it is important to have an idea of why you are doing it, and what your goal is. You are going to need to remind yourself of these frequently in order to push you on and get you to that start line. The why will be different for each of us and may vary from one marathon to another. It might be to see what your body can do, it might be to raise money for charity, it might be to instil structure into a training plan, or any other number of reasons. What is important is that that reason really matters to you.

In terms of goals if this is to be your first marathon, the goal should be to finish. Imagine how awful it would be to train hard, only to be disappointed by your efforts because you didn’t meet an arbitrary time goal you set yourself (which we usually pick because it’s a nice round number rather than because it in any way reflects our actual fitness or ability).

Once you know what your body is capable of, setting a time goal for future marathons can be highly motivating. You may be able to adjust that goal during training depending on how well or otherwise the block is going. To get an idea of your capabilities you can do a shorter race before the start of your block, and then plug that number into VDot which will give you an estimated marathon time and times for training. Stick to these. Don’t try to train at the pace you want to run at, train at the pace you are at and then you will see improvements. You don’t want to run your race in training. Bear in mind that the time VDot gives you is the time you can hope to achieve if you train specifically for that event. It’s not the time you could run right now if you walked out of your front door and ran.

From a personal perspective my goal in my first marathon was to finish. I did so in 4h 37mins (Stirling, 2017). My why at that time was to achieve something difficult and stick to a training plan – I’d done several half marathons but always lacked the motivation to stick to a plan – life would get in the way, and I knew I could wing a half marathon! Over time these goals have changed, my current long-standing goal being to run each of the World Majors with a time qualifying place. I’m a third of the way there, having ticked off London and Boston. My goal in each of these has been to run a good time but more importantly to enjoy the experience and take in the sights and atmosphere.

Pick your Marathon

There are hundreds and thousands of marathons out there. The World Majors are amazing, but they are difficult to get into and an expensive option at times! There are other incredible marathons out there that have smaller crowds, less pressure to enjoy the experience in the knowledge you can come back another year and have another go, different terrains… the possibilities are multiple.

Picking your marathon comes down to thinking about your why. If you want a fast time, you are going to want to pick a fast flat course (think Manchester, Valencia, Berlin). If you want scenic then you are going to be looking at a different range of options (Kielder, Boston, Loch Ness). Consider the time of year – mostly marathons are held in the spring and autumn. Pick a spring marathon and you are going to be doing the bulk of your training over winter. That’s going to mean lots of runs in the cold and dark, and access to a treadmill is going to really help on those icy treacherous days (or in the case of Manchester 2018 when the Beast from the East derailed a lot of us and meant that long runs on the treadmill were the only way of managing unless you fancied running in foot deep snow!). Conversely if you pick an autumn marathon you are going to be doing a lot of your hard running in the summer. This potentially impacts on your family holiday plans, and in reality, means doing your hard sessions early in the day (yes, even in the UK!). An alternative is a winter marathon in a warmer climate – Valencia and Malaga are both in December meaning that you train throughout the autumn, definitely worth considering (disclaimer – I love Valencia!)

Once you have decided on your marathon, book it and book your accommodation. The closer you get to the marathon the more expensive the accommodation is going to become. You want to pick something close to either the start or the finish. I prefer a marathon where I can walk to the start thereby avoiding any public transport nightmares! You may want to consider booking an apartment instead of hotel as managing your nutrition in the lead up to the event are easier if you are doing your own catering. Other people however prefer to have the stress of cooking and shopping taken out of the equation and opt for a hotel.

Write a Training Plan

I’ve deliberately used the adjective “write” rather than “find”. I cannot state enough that we are unique, and following something generic is highly unlikely to be the best fit for you. By all means use a generic plan as a starting point, but please please tweak it to make it right for you. For some people having a coach write a plan for you can be helpful, for others they may prefer to self-coach.

You are going to need to be able to run somewhere between 4-6 days per week. In addition, you are going to benefit from doing some strength and conditioning work, and / or some cross training (swimming, cycling, rowing). You need to consider how much time you can have available to this realistically and write a plan that you can commit to and achieve. Be realistic when you are doing this – it’s awful to write an aspirational plan only for it predictably not to be manageable within the framework of the rest of your life. From a personal perspective the time I can devote to marathon training has changed over the years. I ran 3-4 times a week and that was it for my first few marathons – that was all I had time for and to be fair, it did me well in the early days. As my aspirations increased the time I needed to spend training increased, and this happily coincided with my children reaching a point where they didn’t need me around all the time (in fact I now have to try to persuade them to spend any time with me!). This meant that for my last couple of marathons I have been running 6 times a week, strength training once, conditioning twice, yoga once, and doing some cross training alongside this, meaning that most days are double days (one workout a run, the other strength and conditioning or cross training).

When you are writing your plan make sure that you build your mileage sensibly – a good rule of thumb is increases of 10% per week. Depending on your usual running volume this might mean that you need to give yourself enough time to build up your mileage slowly over a number of months. Bigger jumps in mileage are likely to result in injury and fatigue. Make sure that you have some training races in your plan – these can help you to reflect on how your training is going and to adjust your sessions and goals if needed. Don’t however go into these races expecting to perform amazingly. You need to think of these races as B or C events – you are training for a marathon, not for a 5k or 10k or half. You may find that your increased fitness produces a PB depending on how much you were running before marathon training, but you may alternatively find that you are running on tired legs, and you can’t hit the paces you’d hoped for. That’s fine, it’s all about perspective and understanding why you are doing a specific race.

I’d say the same for training sessions – it really helps if you can understand the purpose of each run in your training plan, as that helps you to stay true and focused on that session. That’s equally applicable to slow runs. The purpose of your long slow runs is to build time on your feet, to enhance your endurance, and to enable your body to clear lactate. Run these too quickly and you are going to build lactate and leave yourself too tired for the long run or hard session.

Make sure that your training plan includes a long run and a hard session or two each week. Try to mix up your terrains – some hilly, some grassy, some flat tarmac or track. Hard sessions might be speed work (yes, you do need this in marathon training!), tempo runs or hill work. Long runs are generally run easy conversational pace, but once you have a few marathons under your belt you may want to include some sections of the run at race pace. This helps you get used to what marathon pace feels like, and gets your body used to running at this pace on tired legs. Make sure you practise your nutrition on these long runs – you are going to need to train your body to take on fuel if you are going to beat the dreaded wall (more of that later!). Another game changer in the marathon is the midweek long – not as long as your weekend long, but longer than your usual midweek efforts. I used to do this on a Wednesday by lengthening the warm up and cool down around a hard session, or on a Thursday after a hard Wednesday – this again gets your body used to carrying on when your legs have had enough!

You also need rest. Your body adapts to the training you have done during rest – if you don’t get this you are going to grind yourself down and fail to progress. If you spot this happening, it’s time to rest and adjust your schedule.

Establish a Training Group

The hard sessions and long runs are much more enjoyable if you can do them with a group or with a training partner. Ideally this will be someone running at roughly the same pace as you, but also has to be someone who you are going to enjoy spending a lot of time with every week! You are going to get to know everything about each other very quickly and are going to see the best and worst of each other. It might be that you work with different people or groups for different runs – Captain’s recovery run may be a recovery run for some, but a tempo training session for others. Alternatively, it can be helpful to organise a training session at a looped venue (Rainton being my personal favourite). This allows runners of different paces to enjoy company during the same training session whilst still working towards their own goals.

The flip side of this is to accept that most of your easy runs are going to be done on your own. Most of us will end up having to do early morning or late evening runs in order to fit running into life, and setting off from your own doorstep is the most time efficient way to do this. In this scenario it can be helpful to have some good headphones and playlists or podcasts. Don’t however get dependent on this to run – on race day headphones may be banned, and I certainly prefer to experience the sights and sounds of the occasion rather than running with headphones on race day.

Be Prepared to be Flexible

See your training plan as a template to be rejigged as needed. Don’t become a slave to it (been there, done that, got the injuries to prove it). You must remember that you or someone else wrote this plan weeks or months ago, whilst not being in receipt of all the necessary information to know whether it was feasible or not by virtue of not having a crystal ball. What can seem feasible at the outset might not be manageable as the plan progresses as the unexpected has a habit of happening. It might be that you pick up a niggle or an illness, it might be that some other aspect of life throws you a curve ball. You need to be able to adjust the plan accordingly, and the knowledge that a few days of rest or easy running are not going to do any damage and may actually be very helpful is key.

This is also where having a training group or coach comes into its own. Other people might be quicker to spot you getting into difficulties than you are.

In addition, you are likely to need to adjust sessions to fit in with life. You might need to shift your long run day if you are going away for a weekend, or else be prepared to eat a stale bagel at 5:30am in a hotel bedroom in the dark then get up and run long before your family wake up – speaking from experience. This is possible for a long slow run, but not for anything requiring any effort. There is also the strong possibility that after the initial smugness at getting your long run done before anyone else is out of bed passes, you find yourself exhausted, hungry and snappy for the rest of the day whilst everyone else is well slept and ready for a long day of sightseeing (can you tell I’ve done this?!). Whilst a long run after work on a Thursday isn’t greatly appealing it does get it over and done with on weeks when a weekend long isn’t going to be possible. I have at times used a bit of annual leave to get a long run done, or even a couple of hours of early finish or late start can make the difference to getting the run done whilst still having a life.

Prepare to be Obsessed

You are going to become a marathon bore. Might as well accept his now, and any jibing from friends and family that is going to come about because of this. You sort of have to be obsessed to complete a marathon, so embrace it and go with it!

Tell people about your marathon (this increases your commitment), read marathon books, watch races, immerse yourself in it. For a while, this is going to become your life!

Consider Recovery and Nutrition

You need to think about the times spent not running with as much importance as the time spent running. You need to think about how you recover from the last run, and how you prepare your body for the next. With that in mind you need to factor in that your long run doesn’t just take the 2-3 hours you are running – it takes all day! You need to be up 1-2 hours before you run to eat, after you finish you need to stretch and eat. Then you need to spend the rest of the day refuelling, possibly foam rolling, and definitely having a nap… this can alienate family members if they are not expecting this and if you don’t potentially plan for this beforehand and have got your jobs and childcare points in beforehand (top tip – slow cooker is amazing – in the time between eating breakfast and going for a run, put the dinner in the slow cooker then it’s ready for later when you are exhausted).

You are going to need to sleep more as you increase your mileage, which means an earlier bedtime than perhaps you are used to. You can’t burn the candle at both ends, and this becomes particularly important if you are doing early morning runs.

As for nutrition you need to be adequately fuelling your body for running and for recovery. You are highly unlikely to lose weight during a well planned marathon training block – if you do then you are unlikely to be running at your best, and you will increase your risk of injury if your body doesn’t have sufficient fuel to repair the micro-damage you will do during training. You need a good balance of all the different food groups – carbs are going to be particularly key prior to training sessions to ensure that your body has enough glycogen to run long and/or hard. Protein and carbs are key post-session to ensure muscle recovery and to replace the glycogen you have depleted in preparation for your next run.

You are also going to need to practise taking on fuel during runs. Your body can only carry enough glycogen to get you to around 2 hours of running. At that point without additional fuel, it will switch to fat for energy, which is far less efficient meaning you will have to run at a slower pace. This is what happens when runners ‘hit the wall’ or ‘bonk’. You therefore need to be taking on board additional carbohydrates during the run to prevent this from happening. You need to start before you think you need to! You need to practise this during training to find out what works for you, and to train your gut to accept more fuel whilst you are working hard. Ideally you are going to start taking on fuel within the first 30-40 minutes of the marathon, and to continue at regular intervals. If you wait until you feel tired, it’s too late – you can’t play catch up. Experiment with different fuelling methods – carb drinks, gels, real food. But bear in mind that whatever you chose you are going to have to carry on race day. For that reason, most people will choose gels as these are easily transportable and light weight. They are best absorbed with water, so you need to know where the water stations are on the course. In my earlier marathons I ran with water in a vest or belt – this is helpful in that you don’t have to wait for a fuel station but makes it harder work in that you are carrying additional weight. I now run with gels and take water at the water stations. This requires an element of planning and practising beforehand, but I find the trade-off worthwhile as it eliminates the water weight I’d otherwise be carrying. You also need to know how the water will be presented – sounds silly but I think one of the reasons I didn’t PB at Boston was that I hadn’t practised drinking from paper cups whilst running – I meant to but I hate paper cups, so I put it off then didn’t do it. Key is – practise the things you hate!! I didn’t take on enough water (poured most of it down my front) and it was a hotter than expected day, and I think that dehydration probably played a part in not achieving the time I’d hoped for (that said, I had the most amazing day – as I mentioned previously, the goal isn’t always about the time).

Top tips Leading up to Marathon Day

The Taper

  • Gradually reduce your mileage but maintain intensity.
  • Find something else to do with your time – read a book, watch a TV series.
  • Trust the process – you look forward to the taper, then it feels weird! Bear in mind that the purpose of this is to maintain fitness at the current level whilst allowing the body relative rest in preparation for marathon day. You are not going to gain any fitness now, you are allowing your body to adapt to the training you have already done. Discipline during this time is key to ensuring you don’t peak too soon. You don’t want your best sessions to be done in training, so take this time to allow your body to be in the best possible shape for marathon day.

Carb Loading

  • 2-3 days out you are going to start your carb load – this ensures your muscles are as packed as they can possibly be with glycogen on marathon day, which is going to reduce your chances of hitting the wall.
  • You can be as relaxed or a scientific as you like about this. Some people advocate each snack and meal as being 80% carbs in the 2 days prior to the marathon – you can eyeball this rather than calculating. Other people prefer a scientific approach working out grams of carbs/kg body weight. I am a planner – I like the scientific approach.
  • It’s a lot of carbs whichever way you look at it! Carb drinks can be helpful to get the quantities in without feeling overly full. I tend to go with real foods for meals, and carb drinks for snacks during this period, seems to work for me.

The Day Before Marathon Day

  • Rest is key – do as little as is humanly possible.
  • Lie on a bed, read, watch TV, eat (see above!).
  • If you have to pick your number up from the expo, try to do this 2 days out from the marathon if possible.

Marathon Day

  • Layer up before travelling to the start (top tip is to buy a full set of outer clothing from a charity shop, then leave it on the start line to re-gift).
  • Soak up the atmosphere, talk to other runners, enjoy the experience.
  • You don’t need to do much of a warm up – the walk to the start will possibly do it. Maybe do 5-10 mins jog and a few drills if you are anywhere that you can get some space. Don’t worry if you can’t – you are setting off at a pace you can maintain for a long time, it doesn’t really need a warm up.
  • DON’T SET OFF TOO FAST (x100).
  • It should feel ridiculously easy at the start – if it doesn’t then you’re going too fast. Don’t allow yourself to get caught up in the crowds – maintain your own pace. No race day goal creep – stick to what you’d planned. If it feels easy at 10 miles hold yourself back. If it feels easy at 16 miles hold yourself back. At 20 miles it will hurt – this is when you need to push on. The marathon is essentially a 20 mile warm up for a 10k race.
  • Run the first 10 miles with your head, the second ten miles trusting your training, then the last 10k with your heart.

After the marathon

  • Try to keep moving, if you can walk for 10 mins afterwards you are going to thank yourself later.
  • Change clothes as soon as possible (a full change is required– it is possible to achieve this with the help of a foil blanket in the middle of London without being arrested for indecency!). Put on a hat and gloves – you are going to get cold quickly (unless you are in Valencia – see above). Put on compression socks and flip-flops – this is a time not to care about how you look.
  • Get protein and carb recovery drinks into you, and some salty food.
  • Show off your medal (although the weight of it will feel like a physical effort in itself).
  • Be prepared not to be able to walk up or down stairs, so make sure that any restaurant or bar that you pick has toilets on the ground floor.
  • Be prepared for random parts of your body to hurt – my right bicep seems particularly prone to DOMS after a marathon.
  • Don’t plan any exuberant post race celebrations – you are going to find it hard to stomach food, and you will be exhausted. Celebrate a few days afterwards when your body has had time to adjust.
  • Despite the exhaustion be prepared not to sleep! Your muscles twitch, you feel hot, you are still running through the various ups and downs of the day in your head.
  • If you can, take a couple of days off work afterwards to recover.
  • Bask in your glory – you will talk to anyone and everyone about the fact that you just ran a marathon.
  • Have 1-2 weeks off running, and don’t commit to any new races or goals until after the cooling off period has passed.
  • Take on new challenges in other areas of your life – the confidence you get from having run 26.2 miles is so helpful away from running. When times are tough you can remind yourself that you can run a marathon – you can do things that are tough.
  • Seriously consider only one marathon per year – they are addictive. I think it’s possible to run 2 per year if one is for fun and the other is a concerted effort. Bear in mind that for each marathon you are looking at a base period of training, a 12 week build up, and a 2 week recovery. You can then start running again but building back up gradually to previous mileage. If you do 2 marathons a year, there is literally no time left to train for anything else. And life is not just about marathons – but they do make your life immeasurably better in so many different ways!
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