A couple of nights ago I ran a 5k race. I ran well and strongly, finished more or less where I expected in a good field, 36th out of 54, being by far the oldest runner on the evening. My time was 24.24, pretty good by my historical standards. Only trouble was I ran 23.54 last July over the same course and it felt like, on the night, I’d run sub-24 again.
Immediate reaction? Disappointed. But then I reconsidered. I’d enjoyed the run, I’d clocked a decent time. It is illogical to expect to continually improve one’s time – at age 9 perhaps, at age 69 next month, no.
So that’s my resolution for 2022. I’ll continue to race hard, to the best of my ability. Then I’ll be satisfied with whatever the watch tells me. That way I save myself the grief.
At last a year which I can look back upon with a lot of satisfaction. In almost 20 years of running I think it’s the first one with few, if any, low points. And the reasons for that have been clear.
Weight loss Since I entered my 30s I’ve always been on the heavy side, no doubt about it. It became a natural state of things. I’ve generally felt fine and healthy, I’ve done plenty of running and other sport. I’ve always been aware that maybe I’d improve if I shifted a bit of weight but I’ve never been motivated to do so. After all, I was never going to win races no matter what weight I was, so why bother?
In September of 2020 my daughter Emma announced that she’d lost a good bit of weight and, as a result, she was running very well. At that time she’d never beaten me over any distance. Maybe I was spurred on by the realisation that this boast was under threat and, on her recommendation, I trotted along to Kit Chamier, Sports Nutritionist. He weighed me, I was 99kg (218lb), very overweight indeed by any standards. Kit set out a dietary regime designed to lose weight steadily and – crucially – I was held accountable to send in my food diary on a weekly basis. Weigh-ins were infrequent, no jumping on the scales every day.
By 25th January I was 86.1kg, by 27th May 81.6kg. I stopped there and have maintained that weight ever since. I’ll talk a little more about that in my next post, but onto the running.
My running year My target for the year? To beat my record year of 1,333 miles, back in 2010. (I have always kept a diary.) So nearly 26 miles per week. In practical terms this means running 4 – 5 times a week. I have ‘go-to’ circuits from my apartment of 4.3 and 5.5 miles, each with a serious hill included to give extra training value to the run. A few of those and a longer run usually make up the distance.
Most of my running is done solo. In June I stepped back from running with Jersey Joggers, the group I started back in 2013. They’re still going strong but without me. I’m still happy to meet up and run with others now and again, including the Slackers & Skivers on a Friday morning 😃
And the races! I love race day. Pin a number on me and I’m happy. As Covid receded the races returned. Here are a few highlights. (Bear in mind, when looking at my times, that the proper runners are waaaay faster and finish long before I do.)
New Year’s Day 2021. By this time the weight loss had become very evident and I was enjoying my running. I resolved to make 2021 a good one. To this end I was up early on 1st January to tackle Rozel Valley. It’s a beautiful valley in the north-east of the island but it is long and steep, a full kilometre from the Rozel Bay Inn to the old mill at the top. I’d never before managed to run it without stopping. That day I did. That was the signal that things would turn out well.
10th Jan – At the height of lockdown, permitted exercise, a fun 5k time trial dodging families, dogs, buggies etc. on the cycle track at Les Quennevais, 25.06. Enjoyed that one. (For context, my PB from 2015 is 22.51).
11th May – 5k race 24.35.
22nd May – Durrell Challenge – 8.1miles (hilly), 1:14.25. My daughter beat me handsomely, first time ever.
8th June – 5k race 24.18
19th June – A regular time-trial of 6.5 miles out to Gorey Harbour, 56.30, my fastest in a long time.
26th June – Headway 10k, 50.42. Very happy with this, and rubbing shoulders with one or two local legends. (Again for context, my 10k PB remains at 47.54 from 2010.)
6th July – 5k race 23.54 (delighted with sub-24).
22nd July – Spartan 10k (actually 9.8k) 52.07.
25th July – Delighted to meet up with an old Jersey Jogger. Doctor Ella Corrick is now living and working in Scotland and, on a short visit, it was great to run a few miles with her.
31st July – 10-mile race 86.00.
14th August – Jayson Lee 10k 50.17.
10th October – Autumn 10k 50.29
23rd October – Hospice Half-Marathon 1:55.31, my first Half in a long time and pleased and relieved to get inside two hours.
6th November – Spartan 10k 51.02
14th November – Cannacord Half 1:59.18, tough uphill finish.
4th December – Durrell Dasher 12k (approx) 62.00.
18th December – Bouley Bay Hill Climb 9.44, a fiendish event, just under a mile.
26th December – Boxing Day 10k 48.48 (I’ve adjusted to 49.15 for a slightly short course.) The undoubted highlight of the year, I’ll never run as fast again. After a few near-misses I really wanted a sub-50 to finish the year. The only way I was going to do this was by starting quicker than I was comfortable with and trying to hold that faster pace. This I did, getting among the slightly better runners which kept me going. The danger was that I’d die a death in the final stretch but I managed to keep it together. Insanely pleased.
Total miles run in 2021 – 1,418.
Oh, and I also led a 9-week Couch to 5k programme for Spartans in the autumn, and I’ll be doing another starting mid-Jan.
That’s it then, on to 2022, targets not yet decided. One definite target is to keep running well until my 70th birthday in Feb 2023 at which point I’d be confident of getting a few age-group victories 😃
I love race day. I love 10ks. Sunday morning dawned cool, damp and still. I generally like to race in either my Jersey Spartan singlet or that of my Irish club Crusaders, but this is most often worn over another t-shirt. Today it would be just the Crusaders singlet.
Headway is the local branch of the head injury charity and the race is sponsored by Jacksons the car dealer. The race director is Bryce Alford and he’s put together a well organised race. We start on the cycle track at Les Quennevais and this has the effect of stringing the field out a little before we head out onto the main road towards the airport. I’m feeling ok though my quads are still feeling the effects of Thursday’s sand dunes even though I had a good run the day after. Still, it’s only a dull ache and nothing to worry about.
So down towards the airport, turning right past Strive, the new health and fitness centre most recently used by the British and Irish Lions during their training camp, past the rugby club, diving left past St Peter’s football club and across the main Route de Beaumont into the lanes by St George’s Prep. I’m running pretty well, keeping up a decent pace, feeling strong. At half way now and I glance at my watch – just under 26 minutes so on course for 52 with which I’d be pretty happy.
The field is, of course, well spread out by this time and the fast men up front will be approaching the finish. Out of the lanes, back across the main road, behind St Peter’s Village and we connect with the path around the airport perimeter. Always I have the runners ahead of me as targets and I’m never satisfied unless I can nibble away at the gap and perhaps pass them out. But what’s this – John Cunningham onto my shoulder? We exchange a few words. John’s a legend of local running having completed the Comrades Marathon (in fact it’s 89 kilometres) in South Africa on a number of occasions. However he’s no spring chicken and has a heart problem so he’s taking it easy. Still, I’m honoured to be alongside him in a race. Now into the last 2k and trying to latch onto John’s heels keeps me from fading, still pushing for a decent time.
And, into the last kilometre, ahead of John is Sue Le Ruez, another legend and a good friend of mine. I’ve never even come close to Sue in a race and here’s my chance. But no. I can’t find another gear and Sue, then John pass over the line but I’m amazed to be so close to both of them. My watch says 50.42, quicker than I’ve run for many a long year.
So, not fast by the standards of the ‘proper’ runners – the race was won by George Rice in 32.01 with Katelyn Ridgway first woman in 37.04. Still, 89th out of 175 finishers ain’t so shabby.
I thought I’d reinvigorate this occasional blog by recording bits about my running – training, races etc. I’ll start off with a race report from yesterday evening.
One of Spartans’ long-established events is the Sunset Trophy. Originally, this was two circuits of the sand dunes which climb from sea level at Le Braye up to the high ground of Les Quennevais – the playing fields, the golf course and the Les Ormes resort. The course has has since been modified so that the climb takes place only the once (small mercies) and the runners are then decanted off the dunes and onto the playing fields, along the Railway Walk, down La Pulente Hill and back along the road to complete the circuit. Only 3.2 miles but still a bit of a challenge.
23 of us lined up at the car park, amongst them Paul Holley who we don’t see much of these days but who immediately became the pre-race favourite. The first objective as we set off though was to avoid breaking an ankle in one of the many rabbit holes. Then there’s the matter of choosing the best course up the dunes. The choices are many and, having made brave but wrong decisions previously, this time I dutifully followed the majority.
There is a reason that athletes and other sports players train on the sand dunes – it is a trial of strength as you slip back one step in three and fight for grip to maintain upward momentum. Still, I made the gate off the dunes with a few runners behind me and settled in for the two remaining flat/downhill miles.
Bernie Arthur is a class runner but he’s now 73 to my 68, and also struggling a little with injury. He came up onto my shoulder and threatened to pull away. OK, I was in a race. I like that. It brings out a bit of my competitive instinct and raises my game. I concentrated on keeping the gap manageable and with the last flat mile to go I was on Bernie’s shoulder again. I felt I had a bit left and thought I might test out his injury, see if he could respond. (Sorry Bernie.) I pressed on the gas a little, no response. And so I opened the gap and finished in 13th place out of 23 in a time of 28.14. Paul Holley had duly won in 19.22.
GOAL is a humanitarian charity established in Ireland some 40 years ago. Each Christmas Day, one of their fundraisers is the GOAL Mile. Held on athletics tracks throughout Ireland, the concept is simple – pay an entry fee, run a mile (a distance rarely raced in competition nowadays), and everybody wins.
By Christmas 2008 I’d been in Dublin for a year and had embedded myself in the life of Crusaders AC who have their track and clubhouse at Irishtown on the eastern edge of the city. Crusaders host one of these GOAL miles. This year – 2020 – it’s a virtual event for well understood reasons, but in 2008 I was there on Christmas morning to do my bit.
Fortunately it wasn’t just one mad race that morning as Dublin has some seriously good athletes. I jumped into one race in which I stood a chance of not being embarrassed. On the whistle, off we set, two or three of us in running gear plus a couple of Mums pushing prams and trailing slightly older infants. It was a bit surreal, not many spectators as we headed past the clubhouse, down the back straight, around the final turn from where you can see the big cargo boats at Dublin Port and down the home straight to complete the lap. Unfair obstruction as I had to weave between and past scampering children and buggies but my complaints went unheard as they’d paid their entry fee as well.
Fair play to myself, I pushed my body hard if not fast. As I passed the finishing line for the last time I heard the time – 6.58 – which remains my PB to this day.
It might have been short-lived and long ago but I still treasure those days with the Crusaders and still I still wear the club vest whenever possible.
Tradition dictates that, at this time of year, I summarise how my running’s gone recently. I first started to take running seriously in early 2003, as I approached my 50th birthday. Getting involved in admin and coaching at Jersey Spartan AC was the main driver in this. The energy of the kids at the track was infectious and I started to contemplate my own comparative lack of fitness. And I’d also got slightly annoyed at one or two of the road runners challenging me to come and race. Well, since then I have got huge enjoyment as well as physical and mental benefits from this slightly crazy hobby.
But, as any runner will tell you, it’s a sport with more than its share of ups and downs. If you don’t have a bit of mental fortitude and ‘bouncebackability’ you had better take up something else.
2020 was no different. The simple fact of the matter was, as the year commenced, I was carrying too much weight. Again. How often have I been there? Two years previously I was fit and flying, now I was huffing and puffing, everything a big effort. On 1st March I ran a hopeless 58.30 10k in what turned out to be the last race before Covid struck. Falling and bashing my ribs didn’t help for a week or two either.
Lockdown, and what did I do? With genuine good intentions, instead of frequenting the fresh food aisles of the supermarket I decided to support the local corner shop in these troubled times. What the corner shop sells is convenient but rarely conducive to healthy living. I continued running after a fashion but it was now becoming something I wasn’t looking forward to. Walk breaks during runs had become the rule rather the exception.
Meanwhile my daughter Emma (who has yet to beat me in a race) had lost weight after consulting a local sports nutritionist Kit Chamier. She was flying as a result. The penny dropped. I went to see Kit and it was comedy gold as I wondered aloud to him where I was going wrong, talked him through my general diet, and watched him rolling around on the carpet, helpless with laughter. The scales told the horrible truth. He sent me away with simple, strict instructions and a weekly spreadsheet to fill in and send back to him.
And, Dear Reader, I am now finishing up Week 15. Plenty of weight lost, plenty to go. And (amazingly) I’m running pretty well again and always eager to get my shoes on. In spite of everything I’ve completed 800+ miles and – much more importantly – maybe I now have a lifetime template for healthy eating and enjoyable running. We’ll see. Check back this time next year by which time, surely, we’ll be back racing again.
Are readers of this blog still connected with their alma mater, the school you attended before going on to tertiary education? Certainly I’ve paid my subscription to the Old Philipians’ Association these last 50 years, and I follow, with mild interest, their Facebook group. Recently a conversation on the Facebook group caught my eye. It concerned cross-country running. During the winter us boys used to be sent off on a designated course around the streets of west Birmingham, or perhaps on several laps of the school’s playing field. No coaching, no advice, just do it. Meanwhile the masters in charge would sit and chat, drink tea.
This was OK by me. I enjoyed any sports we were made to do, though I never excelled at any. But it’s only now I realise how much outdoor sports in general, cross-country in particular, was hated by so many. They would try to avoid running with every excuse under the sun. Unable to avoid it they’d drag their feet, share a fag, risking the approbation of the sports masters.
The result? The vast majority left school with no intention of continuing to run, either in competition or to keep fit. What was the mindset of those trained sports teachers who used running as some type of punishment? Surely their role was to teach sport, not to inflict it. Those of us who continued with sport in later years did so in the form of team sports – soccer, rugby, cricket with your mates.
This wasn’t just my school. It was all boys’ schools. And after a miserable couple of hours in the mud and rain it was compulsory communal showers, excruciatingly embarrassing for many boys, especially with the odd creepy master peering in to make sure no one was dodging.
And the girls’ schools? I don’t know. They were the mysterious St Paul’s girls up the road in their neat grey uniforms, noses in the air, chaperoned by scowling nuns. But I do know from anecdotal evidence that many girls equally hated sports as delivered by their schools. We see so many women, now in middle age, taking up running for the first time and amazing themselves by enjoying the experience.
I’d love to speak to those old sports teachers about their approach back in those days (1960s) and I’d also like to know how that approach compares to today. Surely our schools are teaching children sport, starting with first principles and developing skills on a programmed basis. Aren’t they?
NB: Long post, no pictures, a bit of self-indulgence.
Something just led me to look up my August 2008 blog on this matter and, guess what? There wasn’t a blog post at all. It seems like there was a nine-month hiatus in my blogging after I moved to Ireland in early 2008. So, almost 12 years later, here’s what I recall of my very first marathon finish.
You’ll note it wasn’t actually my first marathon, or even my second. Just the first I finished. So I’ll deal with those bad ones first. In 2006 or 2007 I entered my first full marathon, in Cork. I ran badly, didn’t get much beyond half way. I was puzzled and disappointed, but put it down to inexperience. Then, in June 2008, I entered Cork again. This time I’d trained like a demon with training runs up to 20 miles and beyond. Inexplicably I failed again, worse than the previous occasion. There seemed to be no reason for this abject failure – I’d run plenty of half-marathons at this stage so to not get beyond 13 – 14 miles was inexplicable.
What was I to do? I couldn’t just give up on marathons. What I did was enter another one, seven or eight weeks later, at Longford in the Irish Midlands. Instead of training even harder I cut back my mileage and added in a bit of gym work – resistance, lifting, rowing machine. I headed down to Longford on the evening before the race. A good start to race weekend – the hotel couldn’t find my booking so I had to head out miles into the countryside to find a room. However, the next morning, it was cool, breezy and damp. Just the conditions I like. Off we went.
Even at the outset I felt better, more confident that this was to be my day. I took it steady as we headed out of town, into the country. I passed a couple of chaps with ‘100 Marathon Club’ on their vests and started to feel even more confident.
Then, suddenly the half-marathoners who had started at the same time split off to the right and the race took on a different complexion. Into the lovely Longford lanes we went, not many of us. At times it seemed that I was running alone. There were very few marshals and only the occasional sign to assure me I was still on course. And then, a bit of fun with a wheelchair competitor. I’d trot by him on the little climbs as he toiled, pushing his wheels around. Then a little later, on the downs, he’d come flying by me, ‘Wheee!’
17, 18 miles, way further than I’d managed in Cork, and feeling relatively comfortable. 20 miles, and I found what they say is true. The last six miles is where a marathon starts. Out now on the hard shoulder of the N5, the Longford bypass. Remember those two ‘100 Club’ runners? They trotted by me, still chatting away together. When your resources are gone, your body has nothing left to give, you have to find ways and means of continuing. Unlike in Cork though I could sniff the finish – so much of endurance running is mental. I tried a trick – for each of those last six miles, concentrate on a person special to you and they’ll get you home. Whether or not it was that, I somehow found myself on the outskirts of Longford Town, still virtually alone. And then, like a vision, the finishing line on Main Street. Sunday lunchtime and a couple of dear old ladies kindly clapped me over the line. Someone handed me a medal.
Happily the nearby Longford Arms had made room for me on this Sunday evening and I tottered up to my room, collapsed on the bed, legs and everything quivering and cramping. I finally found the strength to get to the shower…it wasn’t working. The hotel agreed to change my room to one with a working shower, but this was further pain. Finally I showered and managed a somewhat tortured rest.
But by 7pm I was right as rain. Medal around my neck I headed off on a pub crawl, gleefully downing a pint at each and moving on to the next on that quiet Sunday evening. After about seven pubs and seven pints, waving my medal at disinterested bar staff at each one, I happily weaved my way back to my hotel.
I won’t forget that day anyway, but now it’s recorded here. Thank you for reading.
Somewhere in space floats a piece I wrote many years ago. It mused away upon the subject of knowing when one has attained his/her peak. My best example was the Cuban high-jumper Javier Sotomayor. In 1993, in Salamanca, Spain, Sotomayor broke the world high-jump record, setting a new mark of 2.45m (8ft ½in for you ‘Muricans). Here he is, 27 years ago.
That record still stands. No one has seriously threatened it.
My question is, as the bar wobbled and settled, the crowd erupting, did Sotomayor know, in his heart, that he had reached the limit of his powers? Or did he believe that the next day, or the next week, he would break the record again?
Sir Roger Bannister ran 3:59.4 for the mile in 1954, breaking the mythical 4-minute mile barrier. A few months later he ran even faster, then decided to retire to concentrate on medicine. I’m sure he knew he could never again equal those times.
And so, after running a lousy 58.34 for 10k last Sunday, should I do a Bannister and pack in the running? Or at least the racing? Having just turned 67, and with a dodgy knee, I’m not going to improve by much. Another marathon is way out of my reach, and I’m beginning to think a half-marathon might be as well.
Arm action needs attention
I’ve had a good 16 years at it, having started aged 50. I was never a natural runner but I like to think I at least attained ‘respectability’ as regards race times. Three marathon finishes, maybe 20 half-marathons, innumerable shorter races. I’ve loved race days, pinning on a number, chatting with like-minded souls before, during and after races.
Taking up running certainly saved me from sliding into an unhealthy, overweight mid-life. Time to pack it in though. Just go out for enjoyable little spins with the Jersey Joggers. Forget racing.
Nope. I’m not finishing on a lousy 58.34. These new babies, £120 worth, will soon have me flying again 👍 😃
It’s been a funny old running year. For much of it I just couldn’t get going. It was a struggle. On two successive Sundays I bailed out of my long runs and got the bus back home. I felt sluggish.
Our glorious west coast
Everything hurt. Although I continued to lead groups on Saturday morning, and Wednesday evenings during the summer I stopped enjoying it so much. I didn’t feel up to entering races. In fact I entered four half-marathons (Southampton, Winchester, two in Jersey) but didn’t make the starting line in any of them.
I started wondering if it was time to pack it in altogether.
Fishermen’s Church, La Rocque
At Radier Farm
At which time I considered my diet again. Not for the first time in my life. I dusted off the juicer, hit the fruit and vegetable shelves, started following my own preaching about avoiding processed foods.
At Queen’s Valley Reservoir
And what a difference it made, almost immediately. My body reacted joyously, I felt loose again, less achy, a spring in my legs. The enjoyment came back.
Once more I started to look forward to running. Early morning runs before work became a habit. The miles built up. I happily ran in the last few races of the year, the highlight being a 52-minute Autumn 10k, the age-equivalent of my best time set eight years ago. I hit my 1,000 mile target which, at one time, was looking hopeless.
Overlooking sand dunes
Harbour, St Brelade’s Bay
Neolithic passage chamber, St Ouen
Misty evening on the dunes
Super Slow run, St Lawrence
View up to Portelet Common from Ouaisné
Old Smugglers Inn
Railway bridge, St Clement
Site of former Mont Mado quarry
St Martin’s Churchyard
St Catherine’s Woods
Windmill, St Mary
Dappled sunlight, Grantez
A break from jogging the trails at Grantez
One more of our west coast
So looking towards a good 2019 with renewed enthusiasm.