The Ribble Valley 10k: 27th December 2016

For nearly all of my races so far, the journey to the start line was more draining than the race itself. Here, I don’t meant ‘journey’ as a metaphor for the long-term emotional toil of training- it’s not that kind of blog- I’m talking about the actual time it took to travel to the races.

There was the six-hour York-Exeter drive the day before the Devon Coastal Trail Marathon, the ten-hour Beijing-Amsterdam flight the day before the Brussels Marathon and even the one race near my home city- the Great Wall Marathon- involved a 4 hour coach ride into the countryside. Those long journeys have a way of tightening up your legs and making you feel lethargic. For each of those races, I convinced myself that it didn’t really matter but I’m quite sure that I would have run a little bit faster each time if it weren’t for the travel.

For the Ribble Valley 10k on 27th December, I left my mum’s house at 9.15am and was standing on the start line at 9.28am. I wasn’t going to be able to use travel time as an excuse this time.

There were also the weather conditions, which were perfect at about 6°c, with hardly any wind and, according to the P.A. announcer, “lots of oxygen in the air.” I warmed up for the race feeling quite good, although my legs had a little bit of marathon training heaviness in them.

The front of the race emerging from the mist. I’m five minutes back down the road at this point.

My aim for the race was to get below 39 minutes. My only other 10k race ever was the Great North 10k last June, where I ran 40.50. That race happened before I started my Brussels Marathon training and I also paced it quite badly, so I was sure I could go faster. In September I did 39.50 on the treadmill just to prove to myself that I could go below 40 minutes but I hadn’t run a fast 10k since then.

Since the race was also the UK Northern 10k Championships, there were quite a few Serious Athletes there, although the front of the field was quite different to the front marathon field. The 10k group looked younger, healthier and much less grizzled than the marathoners I’m used to seeing. I knew that the quality of the field would pull me along and my hopes of a good time were high.

When the gun went off, I realised that I had started a little too far back, which meant I had to skip around a few people in the opening stages, but it did mean I was passing people most of the way and didn’t get overtaken too many times.

The course starts at Clitheroe’s Roefield Leisure Centre it heads down a relatively steep hill to Edisford Bridge and then up a 3km climb towards Bashall Brook and back.

The downhill section had begun. Look how happy I am.

If the course starts and ends in the same place, how can it be more downhill than uphill overall? The answer is, it can’t. But it can feel like that when you’re having a good day. High on adrenaline and with fresh legs, the opening climb flew by and then it seemed like downhill for the rest of the race. In reality, the downhill sections never lasted that long, but I made the most of them by stretching out my legs and really letting go.

I was running without looking at my watch and I really think this helped because I wasn’t holding myself back. I felt good the whole way and I think I judged my effort fairly well, meaning I had enough energy to power up the final hill and pass a few people. The spectators on the home straight gave me an extra boost.

I approached the line thinking that I might just have done enough to break 39 minutes, only to look across and see the finish line clock at 36.54. I was genuinely shocked and enormously pleased. My final position of 135th shows just how many fast runners were there and how much further I can still push myself.

The time has given me extra confidence in my marathon training, which is clearly benefitting my speed as well as my endurance. It has also shown me the value of running to feel rather than a pre-determined pace or heart rate, although I’m not sure I’d be confident enough to do that for a whole marathon yet.

At the finish. “36.54!? That can’t be right.”

As an event, it was friendly, well-organised and timed perfectly to help me maintain a focus on running over Christmas. I’m sure I’ll be running it again next year.


Training Diary (09/01/17 – 16/01/17) 2 weeks to go until the Gran Canaria Marathon

Before my previous marathon, I really struggled with the tapering stage. It was partly because I took a school trip away with two weeks to go, which meant I didn’t eat well and didn’t get to run as much as I should have. I ended up feeling heavy and like I’d lost fitness by the time the marathon came around, although it was probably more psychological than anything.

This time has been much better so far. I have managed to control my eating and matched it to the amount of miles I’m doing. I have also had plenty of time to stretch after my runs. Thursday’s fast session was really enjoyable and showed that I’d made a bit more progress over Christmas. I have the odd ache and pain still lingering from Christmas but hopefully the reduced mileage next week will mean it won’t get any worse.

I was also happy with the way I felt the day after my flight from the UK. I’ll be doing a similar journey on the way to Gran Canaria in two weeks and it’s good to know that I’ll be able to get my legs feeling vaguely human less than 24 hours after the flight.

I’m really looking forward to the marathon, although still daunted by the thought of 26 miles at 6.40min/miles.

Next week I just need to keep it together and avoid illness, injury and silly food.


Monday was 8 miles general aerobic with 6x100m strides on the streets and the school playing fields- felt brilliant after double porridge and despite the jet lag. I accelerated up to marathon pace a few times to try and remember the feeling of running at that pace. Beijing feels warm after Berlin.

Tuesday was 14 miles medium run on the streets and, when it got light enough, round the playing fields. Felt a little tough towards the end but fairly happy with a 7.05 average pace.

Wednesday was 6 miles recovery on the treadmill. A little sore in the hips. It turns out yesterday took quite a bit out of me.

Thursday was 9 miles with 3 x 1 mile at 5k pace on the treadmill. Ran the mile reps at 5.45min/mile and felt about right. Good workout, enjoyable. Could have done another rep.

Friday was 7 miles general aerobic with 10x100m strides outside on the playing fields. A nice easy run under the moonlight. It’s good that the groundskeepers put orange cones on the major ditches and hollows around the school fields, otherwise I would have broken my ankle many times this winter. Felt easy and had a good stretch afterwards.

Saturday was 6 miles recovery round the block. Very nice weather in Beijing today and an enjoyable run where I felt full of energy.

Sunday was 13 miles medium run on the treadmill. I tried making this a “depletion” run (kind of- I ate porridge at 6am then nothing until I ran at 1.30). I definitely felt the effects. The last 30 minutes really did feel like the end of a marathon and I had to make an effort to keep up the pace, although I was almost up at target marathon pace. Might try more depleted running in my next training block.

Training Diary (01/01/17 – 08/01/17) 3 weeks to go until the Gran Canaria Marathon

I was lucky enough to have another holiday week this week and even luckier to spend it in Berlin. I ended my three-month running streak on Monday because we were travelling all day and, with such sore hips, I feared an injury was coming. I think it was a sensible choice but it did my motivation no good. I was surprised by the cold of Berlin and also couldn’t see any easy running route from where we were staying. For the first time in a long time, I could barely be bothered to get out the door on Tuesday and Wednesday.

Fortunately, I did, and I was glad that I’d gone within three minutes of starting each run. Things changed once I found Tempelhof airport- now one of my favourite ever run locations- and a proper session on Thursday lifted me out of my running low.

I also had a good long run on Friday with some good distance at marathon pace.

Monday was DAY OFF- the first in a couple of months. Probably needed it.

Tuesday was 10 miles general aerobic around the streets of Berlin. Freezing cold and hard to memorise a 5 mile out-and-back route as you go along. Ended up running round and round the grass in front of the Berlin Airlift memorial, almost tripping over the discarded wine bottles.

Wednesday was 7 miles recovery to Tempelhof Airport. Found a great location for a longer run. Still aching badly.

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Thursday was 10 miles with 5x600m intervals at 5k pace down the middle of the runway at Tempelhof Airport. Blasted the cobwebs away and made me feel so much better. A change of pace can change everything. My motivation is reborn.

Friday was 19 miles long run with 6 miles at marathon pace around Tempelhof Airport in the snow and -4. Water bottle froze. Marathon pace felt a little harder than I’d like but it was a little windy and there was snow on the ground.

Saturday was 7 miles recovery around the streets of Berlin. Slow and easy. A sad farewell to Tempelhof and a great running route.

Sunday was 5 miles recovery on the treadmill after the flight- very stiff and sore. Had a good stretch and a bit of a cycle afterwards and felt better.

Total mileage for the week = 58. The start of the taper but still less than it should be. Travel and New Year didn’t help. Also, I was a little injured near the start of the week and Berlin was very cold. Excuses excuses.

Training Diary (26/12/16 – 01/01/17) 4 weeks to go until the Gran Canaria Marathon

It’s an abbreviated training diary this week with just the key details, but what an up and down week it was. The real high was a massive PB in the Ribble Valley 10k. I was genuinely surprised by my time and it has given me huge confidence for the marathon in less than a month. The rest of the week was back to normal training in some lovely locations, although I can’t say I enjoyed the running all that much. I did quite a bit of travelling, I was tired from the race and I slacked off on the eating and stretching regime a bit, all of which meant that my legs were very sore by Sunday. I need to focus again next week and get back to a proper routine

Monday was 6 miles recovery Chatburn -> Downham -> Twiston and back. Windy as heck. Feeling ok for tomorrow.

Tuesday was RIBBLE VALLEY 10k! + 2 miles warm up. 36.58: a new P.B. Get in there! Race report to come.

Wednesday was 19 miles long run Chatburn -> Waddington -> Clitheroe loop x 2. Bad stomach after eating too many sugary things after the 10k. Pace a little slow but understandable after the race.

Thursday was 7 miles general aerobic around Heslington- very early run on a busy day. Took a big effort to get out of bed and going. Probably tired from the race still.

Friday was 15 miles medium run from St. Peter Port to L’ancresse, Guernsey. Enjoyable run along the Guernsey coast in beautiful, mild weather. Found a new off-road route in the north-east of the island.

December weather & a coastal run in St Peter Port, Guernsey (Image credit: mattisrunning)

Saturday was 8 miles general aerobic from St. Peter Port to Vazon Bay and back. A little bit tired again. Hip started hurting after 4 miles. Probably not enough stretching and too much bad food.

Sunday was 4 miles recovery around Beausejour playing fields. Very slow and very achy. Probably paying for neglecting the eating, stretching and strength this week.

Total mileage for the week = 67 dropped two recovery runs because I was sore and didn’t think they would help.

Training Diary (19/12/16 – 25/12/16) 5 weeks to go until the Gran Canaria Marathon

Monday was 6 miles recovery in Oxford and 4 miles recovery in York. Two easy runs with a long train journey in between. I continue to feel very tired and my legs are still sore. I’m not sure if it’s the accumulation of long mileage weeks, the cold weather or the plane journey but I’m really struggling to get my legs going at the start of runs. Still, it’s nice to be outside on every run and hopefully things will get better this week.

Tuesday was 9 miles with 5x600m intervals at 5k pace round the University of York playing fields. It was nice to be back on familiar territory for this run and I was looking forward to giving it some welly after a few frustratingly slow days post-plane journey. I measured myself 600 metres around the football pitches and then ran it five times pretty much as hard as I could. My times ranged from 2.15 to 2.25 with 200 metres rest at glacial pace. Unfortunately my fastest was the first one and my slowest was the last one. I know that this is not the way to run intervals but I’m still quite unsure about how hard 5k pace should feel. I plan to run some shorter races more often to get myself used to running fast. I enjoyed the session nevertheless and running on grass means my legs weren’t too sore afterwards.

Wednesday was 22 miles long run round Heslington, York. The big one! This was the longest run of my entire training plan and, to be honest, one that I really wasn’t looking forward to (I remember being sick after my last 22 mile training run in the Beijing summer). To make it psychologically manageable, I decided to break it down into four parts, with three parts on grass and one on the road. This did help a little and I got to about 18 miles feeling relatively fresh. Even the last four miles weren’t all that difficult and I was pleased to do the whole run on nothing but a few sips of water. It showed me that I am definitely becoming stronger and my stamina is improving. The only slight disappointment was my average time of 7.40min/miles, although I shouldn’t be disappointed with this. Building up to my previous marathon, my target pace was probably too conservative and so I was ending my long runs at that pace quite easily. This time, the target it more ambitious and so I’m not getting the confidence-boost of running at target pace that often. I need to remember that long runs such as these are meant to be run a minute slower than target pace AND that I was running on muddy grass for most of the time AND that I’m running more miles than ever at the moment. I need to tell myself these things so that I don’t become obsessed with pace and disheartened when I’m a little slower.

Thursday was 6 miles recovery AM and 4 miles recovery PM both on the old Stafford-Newport railway line. With another day comes another lovely part of the UK to run through. These two recovery runs were on a newly resurfaced part of the cycle path from Haughton towards Stafford. The soft but compact surface is runner’s dream and I would personally like to thank Stafford County Council for their sterling work. The two easy runs loosened my legs a little bit but I still feel like running slow for a few days to recover. My proudest achievement since returning to the UK so far is managing to avoid all Christmas-related sweet treats, although my resolve will be severely tested when my nana offers me some of her Christmas cake in two day’s time.

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Staffordshire railway line run (Image credit: mattisrunning)

Friday was 10 miles general aerobic around Cannock Chase. This was a really enjoyable, although very windy, out-and-back run. I set off running from the car park and picked my route quite randomly, making sure there were plenty of hills. After 3 or 4 miles, I’d gone through so many twists and turns that I was starting to doubt whether I’d be able to find my way back. I kept going and found myself on a sled dog training route (who knew they existed outside the arctic circle?) and that kept me from getting lost.

Saturday was 6 miles recovery on the old railway line, Haughton. An easy, flat run, accompanied by Lucy the dog. The run involved a few unscheduled stops when Lucy refused to go past any other dog walking in the other direction (she chose to lie on her back in the middle of the path as a sign of submission instead). She kept up quite well though and it was nice to have company.

Haughton railway line LUCY.jpg
Lucy the dog for company in Staffordshire (Image credit: mattisrunning)

Sunday was 10 miles general aerobic Chatburn -> Waddington -> Clitheroe loop. Christmas Day! I headed out the door at 7.30am with the thought that most of my (imagined) rivals would be taking today off from training. I though I’d find the streets empty, most people still asleep and that I’d be able to congratulate myself on my extraordinary dedication. As it happened, I saw at least one other runner, lots of walkers and the streets weren’t much quieter than normal. It was still a good feeling to be out on Christmas morning and it made Christmas dinner taste all the better.

Total mileage for the week = 77 – took it easy towards the end of the week with the Ribble Valley 10k in mind. Also, it was Christmas!

Training Diary (12/12/16 – 18/12/16) 6 weeks to go until the Gran Canaria Marathon

Monday was 4 miles recovery on the treadmill. This was a mini-recovery squeezed into a very busy day. It was supposed to be 6 in the morning, 4 in the evening, but I had too much to do in the morning and so I postponed that until later in the week. I didn’t even do the whole 4 miles on the treadmill because they were full up when I got to the gym, so I did the first 10 minutes on the elliptical trainer. It’s all ok because I’m still on a high from the successful marathon-paced run yesterday, and it’s the last week of term!!

Tuesday was 10 miles general aerobic and 8x100m strides outside. The pollution disappeared miraculously today, confounding the forecasters and meaning that I didn’t take my outdoor running gear to work for my normal morning run. I anxiously checked the pollution levels all day, praying for it to stay clear until the evening and it did indeed. I cycled home, put on my warm gear and ran to an 800 metre stretch of dirt road, which is the only non-tarmac surface anywhere nearby. I ran up and down there until it got too dark to avoid the potholes and finished on the road. The run felt fast, although I didn’t look at my pace or overall time. It might just have been the evening light, which can make it feel like you’re going faster.

Wednesday was 15 miles medium run outside. Another beautiful day: clear but cold. This is probably the fourth weekday, 6am, sub-zero run that I have done in the last month or so and it will probably be the last- thank God. The run isn’t really the issue (although my fingers have been getting pretty cold, even inside my thick gloves), it’s more the motivation required to get up at 5 and be at school for 5.45. Having said that, there’s no better feeling than starting work with a 15 mile run under your belt, and that was especially true today when I checked my watch at the end and found that I’d averaged 6.45min/mile, which is only 5 seconds per mile off my target marathon pace! I had no idea about the pace as I was running and I was just going by heart rate zones, so this is another sign that I’m getting fitter and all the miles are paying off. I ran that time despite having to stop at an airport hotel after 4 miles and ask the guard if I could use the toilet facilities. Thank God he said yes- no doubt reading the desperation in my eyes- or I wouldn’t have been running much further. The only down side from this run is the damage to my right big toe, which is quite sore and bruised under the nail. My hopes of having a pristine set of flip-flop-ready toenails for the summer have been dashed for yet another year. I desperately need some new running shoes.

Thursday was 5 miles AM on the treadmill and 5 miles PM on the treadmill. Two ‘easy’ runs that didn’t feel that easy, even though I was trying to take it as slow as possible. It was probably the effects of yesterday’s 15 miles catching up with me. I also broke my golden rule of refusing the treadmill when the pollution is low because it was -2c and I’d forgotten to bring my running tights to work. Also, after tomorrow, I’ve got three weeks with no treadmill running whatsoever.

Friday was 12 miles with 7 miles at threshold pace on the treadmill. Seven miles at threshold pace was quite a daunting thought after my last similar run- and only 4 miles- ended in disaster two weeks ago. This time, I chose a slightly easier pace (15.4kph) and I think I chose about right because it was hard but not too hard and my heart rate was in the 150s the whole way. I could probably have set it a little higher but I was also quite tired at the start and not feeling too ambitious. It’s my last treadmill run for a while because I’m heading back to the clean air of the UK. I’m really looking forward to getting out in mud and rain of the British winter. Hopefully the 11 hour flight won’t make my legs too tight and I’ll be able to keep the mileage up over the weekend.

Saturday was 8 miles general aerobic on the Thames Path- Oxford. This was a joyous- although extremely muddy- run along the river. After travelling for about 20 hours, I wasn’t sure how my legs would fare but I needed to avoid falling asleep until the evening and I thought it would be good to stretch them out. I aimed to take it quite easy because my legs were very stiff but I was so excited about running in fresh air and green countryside that I couldn’t help push it a bit. Also, there were incredible amounts of mud and this demonstrated the advantages and disadvantages of my ‘mudclaw’ shoes: yes, when you put your foot down, they grip on to the mud very well, but, when you pick your foot up again, they really don’t like to let go and so you end up carrying half the riverbank on the bottom of your feet.

Thames Path, Oxford (Image credit: Mattisrunning)

Sunday was 15 miles medium run on the Thames Path- Oxford. I moved my 22-mile long run to later in the week because I hadn’t had much sleep, my legs were sore and I wasn’t feeling up for it. I think it was a sensible decision because even the 15 miles felt like a real slog. Once again this was partly down to the mud. Running on a treadmill in Beijing so much has made me quite one-dimensional (you might say soft) and I’m not used to spending so much energy balancing and pushing off from a slippery surface. Despite everything, I really did enjoy myself and it will go down as one of my most memorable runs in a really pretty part of the UK. The tiredness this morning was a slight worry, since my target marathon will happen in similar circumstances after an even longer flight a month from now. I can console myself with the fact that I won’t be doing my marathon at the end of an 80-mile week and I won’t be doing 8 muddy miles the day before, so I should feel fresher.

Total mileage for the week: 74- I moved my long run and skipped a recovery run because I was flying but still a pretty good week.

Training Diary (05/11/16 – 11/12/16) 7 weeks to go until the Gran Canaria Marathon

Monday was 4 miles recovery AM on the treadmill and 6 miles recovery PM outside. Another half-polluted, half-windy day, meaning I was trapped inside in the morning but could get out around the fields in the evening. I’ve still got a tight left leg, although it might be slightly better after the two runs and two stretching sessions today. I’m going to run fairly easy again tomorrow and hope it sorts itself out.

Tuesday was 10 miles general aerobic on the treadmill. This was an enjoyable, fairly easy run before school. A hard run is coming tomorrow so I wanted to stay relaxed and also I didn’t want to aggravate any of my ‘niggles’ (I refuse to use the word ‘injury’ as a way of tricking my body into believing that there is nothing wrong). I also managed a strength half-hour and extra stretching just after school.

Wednesday was 12 miles with 5x1200m intervals at 5k pace on the treadmill. This is my first ‘VO2’ workout of the training plan. In the past, I have always struggled to get my pace right for these kinds of workouts. I either can’t get my heart rate high enough or I go too hard and can’t complete all the intervals at the same pace. Today I played it quite safe and ran them at 16.1kph, which is exactly 6min/mile pace. According to my heart rate zone calculations, my 5k pace should take me between 169 and 173 but my rate never reached more than 165 and was 161-164 most of the time. This tells me that either a) the workout was too easy or b) my heart rate zones are too high and my max heart rate is lower than I think. Since all the other heart rate zones feel about right, it must be the former. Looking back on it now, I think I probably could have pushed it a little harder, although I wouldn’t have said that at the end of the fifth interval this morning. Nevertheless, even if it was slightly too easy, it was still a good workout and it left my legs feeling tired but not in danger of injury. I’ll definitely up the pace for the next similar workout but NOT BY TOO MUCH (I write in caps when sending a message to my future self). I’ll go no faster than 5.45min/mile and that’s a promise.

Thursday was 4 miles recovery AM on the treadmill and 15 miles medium run outside. The morning run went by quite easily and it made my legs feel a bit better. The pollution was forecasting a clear evening so I knew that I’d be able to get outside to do the 15 miler, although that didn’t make me look forward to it any more. I knew that I would be tired from work, that it would be windy dark for most of the run and that I had to spend the time listening to the middle chapters of 1984 before teaching it in a lesson tomorrow (that’s not to say I don’t love the novel, but it’s sometimes nice to just concentrate on running, especially after a long day). Nevertheless, come 4pm, I laced up the trainers, donned the winter leggings and plugged in the earphones. In the end, it turned into quite a memorable run, with Orwell’s descriptions of dystopian London seeming to reflect bleak and wintery Beijing (sorry Beijing). It was definitely hard, just as much mentally as physically. It wasn’t helped by the fact that my heart rate was lower than normal – maybe a consequence of the cold weather- and so I really had to push to reach the right zones. In the end, I averaged 7min/mile for pace, which is good, but 140bpm for heart rate, which suggests I should have been pushing a bit harder. Oh well, I got through it.

Friday was 9 miles general aerobic outside. The ongoing fresh air meant I could do another run around the school fields the morning after my 15 miles and, even though my legs were like the parts in a rusty engine at first, I ended up feeling quite good and enjoying the run again. I listened to more of 1984 and realised I could probably finish a book a week if I spent all my running time listening to them, although I’m not sure I have the powers of concentration to do it. One thing I have noticed this week is how important it is not to eat too much sugar. The banana milkshake I had during break today was the first time I gave into temptation all week and it really affected me in the afternoon when I felt like falling asleep mid-class. Apart from today, I’ve spent the week feeling surprisingly sprightly, given the amount of miles I’ve done. I put it down to the lack of sugar. Down with cakes! Down with milkshakes! Down with sugar!

Saturday was 7 miles recovery outside. This was a really nice slow run around the block. I was pleasantly surprised by the lack of pollution it meant I didn’t have to travel to the gym. I took my time and managed to find a few more non-tarmac paths to save my legs.

Sunday was 17 miles with 12 miles at marathon pace on the treadmill. I had been dreading this run. In my last two ‘marathon pace’ workouts (8 and 10 miles respectively), my heart rate was way up around 160 and I really struggled to get them finished. In the one I did 5 weeks ago, I even had to reduce the gradient to get to the end (see my first training diary). Well, today I did 12 miles at that pace, my heart rate averaged 147 and I felt absolutely fine the whole way. I kept looking at the treadmill speed setting to check I hadn’t set it wrong. Ok- it wasn’t a walk in the park and I did really have to concentrate to keep going- but I was expecting much worse, especially considering it’s at the end of my longest ever mileage week. I’m not sure whether to put it down to my increased fitness, my relatively healthy food week, my extra stretching or something else. As usual, it’s probably a combination of different things that have gone well. But just as I didn’t get too disheartened by the really hard runs a few weeks ago, I’m not get carried away with this one. I need to prove that I can hold that pace in the real world and I won’t get chance to do that until after next Friday, when I’m out of the Beijing smog for a while.

Total mileage for the week: 84. My biggest ever and another complete week! Many more miles to come.