Author Archives: Tom

Chiltern Way Countdown

Chiltern Way

It’s a mere 10 days to go until the big and scary plans become big and scary actually happenings. I’m in taper now although given the last few weeks, nobody would spot much difference.

I’m already wondering if this post will be a way of getting my excuses in early.

My training, for the most part, has been okay, if a little lacking in structure. I’ve run lots – more than I did for my Lakeland 100 attempt – but this time around I’ve neglected gym work, done nothing in the way of interval training and added the odd tempo run in here and there. So mileage has (for me) been good while running with purpose, less so. That being said, most of my runs have been recces on the route itself.

Just don’t ask about the injury!
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Doing Big And Scary1


In 1960, Eleanor Roosevelt wrote

Fear has always seemed to me to be the worst stumbling block which anyone has to face. It is the great crippler.2

I am, at this very moment, crapping myself – metaphorically speaking – and I blame the late Mrs Roosevelt for this situation. You see, a couple of weeks ago, I was trying to decide which of two ultras I should enter. Both races take place on the same weekend in August; one I have run and completed before and the challenge would be to complete it faster. The other, a race I haven’t done and is only in its second year of running, seemed like it could be more of a challenge.

By challenge, I mean the very thought of it scares the absolute shit out of me.

Inevitably, that’s the race I chose to enter. Why do I blame the former First Lady for this? Because she went on to write

You must do the thing you think you cannot do.

Now my name is on the confirmed sign-up list for the 2nd Challenge Running Chiltern Way Ultra. But why does the race scare me so much?

–Because the full course is 133 miles (214km) long.
–Because there’s a 42 hour time limit.
–Because last year a mere 6 people started the race and only one solitary runner finished.
–Because there’s a very real chance I may have bitten off more than I can chew with this race.

I think that’s the appeal. The other race I was deliberating over was the 86 mile Ridgeway Challenge – my first ultra. I want to do it again after DNSing a few years ago because I want to run it quicker. I completed it the first time despite being nowhere near as fit or as experienced as I am now. I completed it even though up until two weeks before the race, I was scared I wasn’t even going to make it to the half-way point. The Chiltern Way is giving me that same fear, that same doubt. It frightens me. It is a thing I think I cannot do – and all the words Eleanor Roosevelt wrote seem relevant:

You gain strength, courage, and confidence by every experience in which you really stop to look fear in the face.

You are able to say to yourself, “I lived through this horror. I can take the next thing that comes along.”

The danger lies in refusing to face the fear, in not daring to come to grips with it. If you fail anywhere along the line it will take away your confidence. You must make yourself succeed every time. You must do the thing you think you cannot do.2

Standing up and facing that fear is why I’ve entered the race.3

Map of the Chiltern Way from the Chiltern Society

Map of the Chiltern Way from the Chiltern Society

1With apologies to Andy Mouncey for borrowing the title of this blog
2All quotes from chapter 2 of “You Learn By Living” by Eleanor Roosevelt (1960)
3I won’t lie though – it does help that the start and finish of the race is fairly local too!

My 8 Tips On Running An Awesome First 5K


Photo by Frerk Meyer

MyFitnessPal posted an article which caught my notice yesterday. It was titled “9 Keys to Rock Your 5k” and was intended to “offer some insight into the process of preparing for your first 5K”. After coaching and helping several runners prepare and complete their first 5km over the last few years, I found myself disagreeing with a lot of what was written. It’s not that they were necessarily bad tips but I believe they are more suited to someone who had run a couple of races and wanted to improve and get quicker. They just don’t seem suitable for someone aiming to complete their first one.

So, for your reading pleasure, here are my alternative tips:
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Just another brick in the wall

I need to talk about this graph because it’s troubling me. It is, as they say, problematic. The graph is my pacing from the MK Marathon and you can see where I hit the wall. That’s the metaphorical wall, by the way, and not, as I used to think when I was younger watching Peter Duncan talk about his London Marathon experience on Blue Peter, a real wall. I’ve been trying to work out what happened.

Maybe I didn’t do enough training? Sure I ran more than I’ve ever run before this year but I only did half as much mileage in the last month as I intended to and I didn’t do quite as many long runs as I had planned. I didn’t even run over 3 hours once and maybe I should have done, for mental reasons if not physical. Something paid off though because Half Marathon PB.

Did I go off too fast? I averaged something like 7:45 mins per mile for the first 16 miles – 10-15 seconds quicker than I wanted to be and found it tricky keeping my pace in check. (This was not helped by setting off with the Half Marathon runners). I don’t know if that took too much out of me because I don’t have enough datasets to plot pretty points in a line but I can’t help wondering whether I could have pushed on for longer if I had. Or maybe I need to re-read some of Stuart Mills theories about positive splits.

Course profile
Despite there being only about 180 ft between the lowest part of the course and the highest part, the MK course was deceptively hilly. It’s all those underpasses and those sharp, 15ft decents and ascents that sap the strength from your quads. Sure, from a distance they look flat but when you’re up close, they make their presence felt. Sure they start off feeling like a cute little undulation but after a while, they feel more like K2.

Mental approach
I had a target but I mostly kept it to myself. I was going for 3:30 but when people asked me, I was reluctant to tell them and gave an apologetic caveat – something about being happy with 3:45. Guess even before the race, I’d given myself permission to not have to push hard. Made it easier to accept not being able to hold the pace so I could ease up and still hit a target time. Not the time I wanted but the time I deserved or something. And yes, it was a realistic-ish target. Jack Daniels (not the drink) said so.

I either took too many gels and made myself feel sick or not enough and didn’t have enough energy. Or I got it right. I don’t know – it was the first time I’d run with them. More data needed. Didn’t feel like I lacked in energy though as it was my muscles that hurt. That sick feeling at the end needs to be sorted out though.

In conclusion
I don’t really know what went wrong – it was probably a combination of all those factors or maybe something else entirely. Enough to tweak and practice for the next time. Let’s face it, effectively this was the first marathon I’ve run with intent. I’ve read a lot of the theory but I don’t have the experience to know which bits I need to apply and which to ignore. I’m still pleased with the result – I just know there’s room for improvement.

Milton Keynes Marathon – 4th May 2015


So yes, the not very well concealed rumours are true; I ran the 4th Milton Keynes Marathon on Bank Holiday Monday last week and have been wondering what to say about it ever since. As is ever the case, I only entered the race about 5 weeks beforehand and made the decision while warming up for the Parkrun back in March. Rich “Ultra_Stew” Stewart wanted to transfer his place before the deadline (he was wussing out to do the Thames Path 100 instead) so I obliged by taking his entry. I’d be telling a fib of sorts if I said I hadn’t been preparing for it though as I had been working on a 4 month training macrocycle which quite conveniently happened to draw to a close on that weekend – almost as if it had been planned that way. As Milton Keynes is just up the road, it seemed like the obvious choice.

I probably should have written a little more about my preparation because, unlike London last year, I actually did some. Much less winging it this time! I had the course map printed out and pinned up next to my desk. I had analysed the elevation profile and made some calculations regarding the gradient of one or two of the hills and I had even planned a nutrition strategy involving the use of energy gels. Hell, I’d even practiced with gels to not only make sure I could run with them but also make sure I actually liked them. Not that it mattered as my local sports shop had a massive choice of one (SIS gels if you’re wondering). If the race was going to be a disaster, it wasn’t going to be because of piss poor planning!

Incidentally, if you’re ever thinking of driving to a race like the MK Marathon, I strongly suggest not leaving your parking arrangements until the night before.
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Two things surprise me: 1. That I haven’t yet extolled the virtues and what a great thing Parkrun is and 2. That I haven’t actually run one for myself yet. So taking the first point as read, I can tell you that today I ticked off the second point as well. Why does that warrant an entire blog post? Two letters:

P and B.

My 5km PB – sorry, my former 5km PB – was set at a Serpentine AC Last Friday 5km in Hyde Park back in 2004 so it has been 11 years since I last ran that distance for speed. Admittedly, a lot has happened in that 11 years, not least the arrival of my 2 kids, turning 40, taking up obstacle running, adventure racing, mountain marathon-ing, ultrarunning and so on but there was always, at the back of my mind, a little bit of me wondering if I could improve on that time.

I did. It hurt. I don’t know if I want to do it again.

I was at Aylesbury ParkRun this morning. It’s mostly flat with a loop, some wooden bridges and a nasty little slope in the last 400m but flat was a good thing. I definitely set off too fast but then reasoned that I might as well see how long I can hold it for. I completed the first half in a sub 20 minute pace (and, according to Strava, somewhere in that first half I managed a 70s 400m – but that’s another story). The second half was unsurprisingly slower but I finished in a lung-bursting 21:02, nearly a minute faster than my previous best, came 11th out of 139 people and finished 2nd in my age category.

I am delighted. Over the moon! I don’t think I’ll ever get results like that again! Admittedly, I had to slow to a walk with only 800m to go so I could possibly have gone under 21 minutes – but hey, it gives me something to work towards should I choose to do it again.

As an aside, I recently had a conversation about ParkRun where someone said that it wasn’t a race. I disagree: ParkRun has times, places, age and gender positions, PBs, age gradings and all the stats you could possibly want from a race. The only thing you don’t get is a medal (although if you complete enough of them, you do get t-shirts). So yeah, ParkRun is a race – don’t let anyone tell you different. 😉

Jantastic Update

Jantastic continues to prove that it’s a great motivator but I’m starting to feel the pressure a little. After my first update at the end of January, February’s training went well and it was great to finish off with a new Half Marathon PB. The challenge progressed by not only suggesting an increase in the number of weekly sessions but also in specifying a target distance for a single run each week. (The fact that it was for a single run is key – I read a tweet by someone saying that last year, they thought it was total mileage for the week and, desperately wanting to make sure that they completed the challenge for the week, found themselves unwittingly running an ultra in training to hit that target.)

So continuing on from that first post, here, slightly belatedly, are my stats for February:

Total number of runs: 16
Longest single run: 10.26 miles
Total distance run: 105.2 miles
Total time spent running: 14h55m

I’m pleased with this although I also notice in looking at my training calendar that I skipped 8 of my planned sessions – not that I’m going to regret that in anyway. I managed to get some solid miles in and finished the Jantastic month with a Half Marathon PB.

So where’s the pressure?
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Berkhamsted Half Marathon – 1st March 2015

Berko Half elevation profile

At the end of last years report about this race that I didn’t know if I’d do it again. Turns out I know myself better than I think and I did indeed have a change of heart. I still left entry until about 10 days ago but I did so because I felt confident that I was better prepared and I could give this a better shot than I did last year.

I was right.

As with last year I studied the route profile (in the image above) but this time I programmed my Garmin with a workout of laps giving the distance of each incline, decline or flat section. It meant that when I was on a hill, I could tell how much further I had to g. It was an experiment in psychological motivation but I think it paid off – I successfully managed all the hills, strongly and steadily and made up the pace on the other sections.

The result? A new pb of 1:42:44 on a challenging course, beating my target time by over 2 minutes. Unlike last year, I feel very pleased with that how the race went – which just goes to show that sometimes, it’s not the course that needs to change, it’s the runner.

Hardwick X-Stream – 15th February 2015


It’s my birthday today so I celebrated by taking part in a local off road race, one I’ve done a couple of times before in 2012 (report here) and last year (where I didn’t appear to write a report). Like last weeks XC race, the course was very, very muddy and the water in the stream crossings (hence, X-Stream – still think it’s one of the best race names out there!) was quite high. And cold.

Given that my time was the slowest I’ve ever completed the race, you might be surprised that I think this was my best attempt yet.
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Cross Country League 2015 – Round 5

Teardrop Lakes

On whim, and at bequest of one of our club team captains, I stepped up to take part in the final match of the local Cross Country league in Milton Keynes.

It. Was. Painful.

Not quite as painful as watching Wales throw away the first of the Six Nations matches last night and get beaten by England at home but painful nonetheless and in it’s own ubiquitous way.

I’m quite pleased about it really.
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