Tuesday, 31 May 2016

The Marathon

This is going to be a race review and a rant... I should apologise for the rant, but it happens almost every run I go on, and I'm grumpy about it...

The Rock and Roll Marathon was hot; 20 degrees of heat, 26.2 miles with the added fun of the humidity of a couple of parks.

The first half was a dream, I deliberately (because of the heat), ran well within myself, sticking to the 5:15 pacer like glue up out of town, around Goodison and Anfield and up the terror of St Domingo's.  Coming down back into town I had to allow my legs to run themselves, to run slower than felt comfortable would've have been harder and more likely to get me tripping over myself than the risks of being over exuberant. However, one eye was on the Garmin and I was still clocking 30s a KM slower than normal on the downhill, the flat was fine and took in the front, a couple of awesome bands and the Chinese Arch (complete with Chinese drumming group) and the second really nasty climb up Upper Parliament Street was fine - apparently I was sweating rather a lot, but that's to be expected.

Princes Road, and I was chugging along, still slower than training pace, but still well ahead of PB territory, a quick shimmy into Princes Park, and the humidity started to have an effect, I slowed a little more... Still on target, but beginning to feel it.

Through Princes Park, and the unpleasant little hill of Ullet Road, and the wheels started coming off...  Instead of slowing a bit, I walked a bit... and then Sefton Park happened... I tried structuring the walking into 200m blocks, followed by 800m run... which lasted all of four miles... because at mile 20, on Penny Lane, I was reduced to walking.

Six miles of walking... with a sprint finish...

As ever the Rock and Roll organisers and volunteers deserve medals for their efforts.  Every water station was well stocked, every fuel station well stocked - but even with taking on 4l of fluid I stopped sweating, and I know at that point to slow and take it steady.

Which moves me on to my rant... I said, and texted, and post on social media the same simple message - Well I can train well, I can hydrate as much as I can but I can't beat the heat - 5:49:43... And I hurt!

Those runners out there commiserated with me, those who know me best told me not to beat myself up, because no one can beat the weather.  All congratulated me on finishing what is beyond most runners, and most wished me well on my next adventure... Which if they didn't know I had one planned, they had assumed there would be.

So, why am I grumpy... Because about 10 people, have asked variants of "you alright?", "was it too hard for you?" or in one really irritating case "Should you tell your cardiologist you had a bad run?".

Now I know these are all, I hope, coming from a place of caring about me... But this is a marathon... I've done more than a few of them, I am as I often say tongue in cheek, but now in deadly earnest - I am a recreational endurance athlete.  I'm one of those people who enjoys pushing his body beyond what most people would consider normal.  I'm jealous of friends who spent the weekend doing a 145 mile ultra marathon, because I know its beyond me.  Some will be shaking their head at that, and considering me mad - but its true.  A normal day for me has a minimum of 14,000 steps (as counted by my fitbit), that's roughly 10k of walking in a day.  My baseline, e.g. walking to work, pottering around the office and back is about 4k... so it's 5 miles extra walking a day.  My average for the year, so far, 19,300 (give or take a bit of rounding).

So, think of the questions from my perspective - I avoid being the inspirational disabled person in the inspiration porn context as much as possible, if people are inspired by me to get up and do something then great. But I have never done a race, a run, or any of my other activities with the first thought of "if I do this, then I'll be inspirational".  I do events because I want to, because they challenge me and give me some headroom with what I can eat.  And above all other things because they are fun, and I enjoy them!

So, what do the questions focused on my health relay to me - they bring back all of the crap I've had to deal with in my own head.  Am I alright to do this, I know I am - I've been tested every way that the best in science can do, and more, more than that I know my body.  I've not run because I've felt crap, had colds etc.  I've pulled out of challenges with injuries and often get asked advice by others on how to do things... or not do things.

So, am I alright? Yes - I ache, I've done a marathon, if I didn't I'd be more worried.  Was it too hard for me? No - I've done harder, further and hotter.  Should I tell my cardiologist I had a bad run - Yes, he will know I ran a marathon, and it was hot, and he will, probably, ask for a photo of him beside me wearing my medals...

So, think on this if its inspiration porn to eulogise on a disabled person doing normal stuff, what is it when you focus on the health of a disabled person doing, what they think of as, normal stuff?  I can't think of a term, but there should be one...

So, I ran a marathon.  It was hot.  I ache.  I'll run another one in a bit.



Saturday, 7 May 2016


I've said before that I don't know where this streak has come from, and I'm desperate not to jinx it... But the runs are flowing and the PBs are falling.

Last weekend was the Spring 5K & 10k in Sefton Park - good runs, well organised, flat and enjoyable.  I did the 5k as Ironman, so went out with no expectations...


No expectations...

That'll be 74s off a PB that has lasted since 2012, on a busy field, on a distance I hate - its far too short, I don't get into my stride, never feel warm, never feel comfortable.  Add in a mild panic attack as there was a thumping in my chest... that'll be the arc reactor I was wearing...

Yup, that thing was bouncing on my sternum... and I forgot about it... Until hammering around the course, it bounced and those demons of living with a dicky ticker came back for the merest of seconds to disappear in an amused instance... 

And then there was the 10k, I'd come so close to dropping below the hour that I knew it was possible.   I applied that brain cell of mine, and though fast runners may be amused by this I ran more tactically than I knew I could.  My basic plan, 3k steady, to warm up.  Then 3k harder, moving to 3k at max... which leaves 1k, which would be blood, guts and gory. 

As ever, the plan almost came off the rails before the start when someone stood on my heel, and passing the club secretary with a cheery Happy Birthday, the first K was slow with the crowds and the inevitable shoelace requiring retying... 

And I sort of stuck with the plan, with additions... The course is flat, but has inclines, and there were points where people slowed to go up them, and I accelerated to go past them, and more oddly to me they slowed on the downward incline - which is when my love of hills comes in and I just unleash the power of gravity... 

The additions, I should apologise - if you were wearing a charity top I recognised or a club top I was trying to run you down, target, after target, that mentality pulling me around the course.  And the approach worked, I hit the last KM with enough time that I could've slowed down and taken it easy... and my legs were telling me I should... So I didn't. A final push, and through the gun time in less than a hour, and a 57:18 PB for a 10k - 3:30 off the one set the other week, and 5:40 off the one from 2012... 

The conditions were perfect for me - mild and wet... 

And how do you celebrate two more PBs... You go and run 5 miles... because in running the 10k's you know you went quicker than your PB.  So on a warm Thursday evening, I got caught by traffic crossing the road, I dodged trucks (big ones) pulling out of entrances to the dock road, a lunatic cyclist and it being a tad warmer... And the PB fell, by almost 3 minutes.  

So, I'm entering the final stages of the training, the last scarily long training run - 20 miles - is tomorrow... Just as the heat wave hits, and the toxic smog comes over... So, the PB stretch may end tomorrow.  And if it does it does... It does. Running this well consistently is unusual for me, and looking back I've done it only twice before, both times ending in a marathon PB.  

It's far too early to start thinking about that, I have my acceptable, good and dream zone targets for the end of the month... and they haven't changed since February when I strapped my shoes back on. 

So, as you have your BBQs, or dodge the thunderstorms, tomorrow think of me, pounding the streets for 20 miles, one foot in front of the other... 



Saturday, 23 April 2016

The Hour

No, this is not a new direction for the blog - Virginia Woolf is not high on my reading list....

So the hour...

It's another arbitrary target, another random point in time that is utterly meaningless... and means everything... And I'm very conscious this is a running thing... and probably a me running thing.

Ten kilometres... 6.2 miles... in an hour.  Ten sub-6 minute kilometres, one after the other.  No let up, no easy kilometres in the middle, no real time to warm up - at least not for me.

And the hour has sat there, its something that's been discussed with my running mates, the fast ones giving hints and tips, the others commiserate and wonder if they'll ever get near too.

I'd all but given up, that elusive hour seemed to be slipping away... And I'm marathon training, so the mid-week runs are meant to be looseners, gentle plods that help the legs recover....

Apart from something didn't quite go to plan on Thursday, the first couple of k's were normal even down to having to stop to retie my shoe laces... The route is quiet, but bobs across enough roads that its inevitable that I'll be pausing to get across a road at some point, it doesn't quite get into the touristy bits of Liverpool, but I get close enough to the Liver Building that a few confused tourists need to be stepped around.

And then back along the Dock Road, up and down the countless kerbs...

I'm not sure when the legs started moving faster than normal - the first five k are good for me, for a training run very good and then I'm not sure what happened... the next two seemed quick, and then the turbo-charger came from nowhere... Three k, sequentially faster, each below 6min... finishing with a 5:34... This from someone whose 5km PB is 29:15... And this at the end of a 10k...

So, the hour.. Not quite... 45s are all that's left.  That's a two minute PB.  The previous PB was 2012... four years and bang two minutes off.

Forty-five seconds... I've two 10ks, proper races, to come in the run up to the Marathon.  Both favourite runs - the Liverpool Spring 10k around Sefton Park and then the Manchester Great Run.  I don't know if I'll get those 45s, because the long runs will take their tool... but I do know I can...

Which is, in one of my more reflective moments, why I run - to find out what this battered old body can do.  Like many with dicky-tickers I spent a lot of years believing what I'd been told I could do, rather than finding out what I could do... This year is very odd, the PBs I'm getting are huge, and I'm not sure why, and if this is me running at my limits then so be it.

Which takes me back to the hour, 46 seconds is what I need to do... That's it.  To get the hour.  A target, arbitrary, meaningless, and just there, tantalisingly close now.  Something I didn't believe I could do... Now I know I can...  



Sunday, 17 April 2016


It's been a funny old week (insert old cultural reference here); the mental push to get an OU essay in, the fear gnawing that my run of good runs was over, bad news and good news in almost equal measure, irritations from work (yes I know that's my fault for turning the blackberry on) and then the run itself.

The guts settled down about Wednesday, but I felt drained and was conscious that I'd not eaten a lot for more than a  few days.  A night out with old friends; a decent steak and a share of a decent bottle of red seemed to cure that, if not leave me in much position to tag a training run in on Friday morning.

For those not used to marathon training plans, they have two main components - the LSR, the long slow runs that systematically break your body down a little bit more than the last one, just enough to build the muscle during the recovery week.  And the recovery runs, for me two are planned each week, and in a good week I do the two... Most weeks I concentrate on the longer one of the recovery runs and walk enough the rest of the week to do the recovery thing...

So, since my exercise test a couple of weeks ago, I've had one bad run, as in only one run - 10 miles. That was last Sunday. Its done, its over, it was 10 miles.

Mentally doing that is a lot harder than typing it, and for too much of last week I was over analysing what had gone wrong, and whether I should do anything different before the next run... And in the end I did very little different.

As normal I prevaricated before getting going; that's unfair, I chose to answer an email that deserved my attention.  I followed the two poo rule, I ate my now staple small bowl of porridge and went out the door.  After the usual faff of getting the lock on the satellites and I was off.

In my head, this was a repeat of the 16 miler, just go out there and get back to where I was.  Nothing too scary to risk the dreaded injury...

And I flew... The 10 miles of pain were gone, my starting hill was over quickly, everything just worked, and kept working - according to Strava it was my fastest ascent of St Domingo's relentless rise - not by much, but importantly 20s and a lot of good feeling better than the week before.

Dropping down to the city centre, I bobbed and weaved betwixt and between the shoppers and then faced that second monstrosity of a hill - Upper Parliament Street... No Personal Record, in Strava-speak, for that hill - nor surprising as I got caught at every single crossing by cars wanting to get through.... Up along Princess Road, down and then up Princess Park and then around Sefton Park - copying as much of the course as I can cram in and finish in a sensible place to get home.

Through to Otterspool and more stopping for traffic (how rude of them ;-)) and onto the Prom.

Anyone who has run a half or a full marathon in Liverpool knows the Prom, you know you've only got 5km to go, the ground is flat, if hard on the feet, its a case of keeping the Mersey on your left, bolting down your last gel and going for it with whatever is left.  At least it is when the wind is with you, in the headwind its a raw battle, you can feel your strength sap, your legs getting heavier, every step becoming a masterpiece in determination.

And on race day it will only be that 5km... By this point my brain had said 16 miles wasn't enough when I was feeling that good that I trusted my brain- never trust your brain for important decisions, why not take it out to 30km - you know your PB for that is about 3:50 - go get it...

So, that headwind was my friend, my constant companion for 10k.. From Otterspool to Bootle I battled, so focused that I forgot my 20km gel, the marina turned into the Arena, the Arena gave way to the Albert Dock, past the Three Graces, along the docks and onto the Dock Road - uneven paths, constant curbs of the numerous ways into the docks.  The Dock Wall (architectural side bar - a fabulous piece of construction, so go see it) provided no apparent shelter from the wind, past the Captain America shoot location, and on I ground.  By now I wasn't probably a pretty sight of a runner, and some would question if I was running, or staggering, but I was moving and not walking.

At some point I looked at my watch and realised two things - 1) I ballsed up the laps, must have done it when I took my wind shirt off when I got warm, no matter just don't run to the beep 2) I knew that a dream time of sub 3:30 was going to be agonisingly just out of reach.

Now in the past, knowing I'd not make a target would put me in a spiral of defeatism... and I confess the shoulders slumped, but then got shook... A small bit of visualisation - if on race day I got to this point in this time at this distance then I'd have two hours to jog out 12k and still get a PB....    Doesn't mean it will happen, doesn't mean that I'll be able to do it, but it was all I needed...

Three hours, thirty three minutes for thirty K - has a nice ring to it.  And was a 16 min PB.

So what did I learn? I must remember to take my gels, I shouldn't listen to my brain, and sometimes a PB is just too big to sink in on the day (though my friends who were texted/emailed/facebooked got it long before I did).

Why are the gels so important? Its a me thing, I ran 30km on two gels.  That means I probably ripped into my glycogen levels in a way that isn't good.  When I started running long distances the DOMS (delayed onset muscle soreness) was agony - I tried sports drinks, I tried sports massages, and it turned out that if I take slightly more gels than a type II diabetic should, but less than the books say I should I get around and I don't get that much pain.

So what's next?  I took my legs for a walk, and a "climb", I did easy stuff to try and loosen the legs off and in the main it worked. This week there will be a 10k one morning, and the weekend is a genuine 16 miler...

My job now is to keep going, I've six weeks until the 26.2... In the meantime plenty of my friends will be doing London, and yes Liverpool is the same length ;-)



Tuesday, 12 April 2016

In every training plan...

There will be three things...

1) the cold
2) the injury scare
3) the bug...

Until Sunday my training had been subject to 1) for a week of a head cold and then immaculate, perfection personified.  It was too good to last, and this Sunday my stomach decided it didn't want to play - yes I may have had a bad week at work and with other stuff, and then a busy day on Saturday but it was a very good day.  Yes I had a drink, but I've run further on more...

Eighteen miles was the plan, and it didn't happen. Ten grumpy miles did, however ten that included the two hills from hell on my training route and on the run itself, and was the sixth fastest 10 miles I've run.

It's easy to overanalyse and get yourself into analysis paralysis (trust me, I'm an analyst I can put myself in spirals over data at any time and if I'm being mean can sucessfully argue that night is day and day is night with other analysts), however it was 3) the bug... I know it was a bug because I still had it 24h later, haven't been hungry, and only now 48h later am beginning to feel more like I should.

So, the analyst is at work - next weekend is now the 18 miles, the rest of the plan stays as it is... It means I'm only going out to 20 miles once, but I've normally only managed that (1, 2 or 3) have seen to that.

It's a risk, but life is... And at the end of the day, it's only 26.2 miles... I know I can run them, slowly, if needed with plenty of walking.  But that's the contingency not the plan... The plan is to run as much as I can.

Next up is a 10k either tomorrow or Thursday morning... oh, and an essay...



Saturday, 2 April 2016

Not a patient information leaflet - The Exercise Test

Ok, as with the MDT blog I wrote a little while ago, this is not a patient information leaflet – but as I’ve never been sent one it might help some people.

So, the dreaded exercise test, the test that some of those in the congenital heart defect community hate more than any other.

The letter comes, in my case without a patient leaflet, and suggests you dress for exercise… Not the most helpful statement in the world – for those who don’t do a lot of exercise, or for me, who has a range of “outfits” for exercise, ranging from skimpy shorts through to full on winter walking gear (complete with crampons & ice axe) – think of me as a cheap rate Action Man figure…

So, based on having done these tests twice – shorts, or not too baggy leggings, and trainers.  If you’re male don’t worry too much about the top half, ladies a comfy bra – they’ll be attaching a 12-lead ECG to you.  In my case they shave the bits they want to attach the electrodes to, and just for fun abrade it for better connectivity (yes, they sandpaper my chest).

They’ll measure your face – so they get a mask that is the right fit – it looks like a gas mask, with a tube coming out of it, it’s strapped on tight and you’ll be asked to breathe in and out with the end closed (it's a simple way of checking the seal).

In my case it's a bike test, so there’ll be the usual faff of trying to get the seat at the right height, it's about making it as comfortable as possible for you do what you need to do – which is pedal.

They’ll attach a pulse oximetry gizmo to either your finger or your ear, and you’ll sit there for a couple of minutes as they get baseline figures, and then you start pedalling, at 60rpm.

And stay at 60rpm…

The resistance in the system will slowly but constantly increase, like cycling up a long slow hill that gets steeper and steeper (more and more resistance).  The point of the test is make you fail (with the emergency exit of if they see something dodgy on the ECG or pulse-ox they will stop you).  Failure isn’t a nice end point, but it's meant to take you to your maximal output which is as good a diagnostic end point as they’ve found as a measure of fitness.

You’ll still be pedalling at 60rpm, and the team in the room will be encouraging you all the time, keeping you going as the resistance first gets noticeable, begins to get tough and then gets hard.

And you keep going, as long as you can… And then as you’re about to fail, they let you rip – cycling faster than the 60rpm in a sprint finish – 30s of hammering it as hard as you can, at the end of a never ending hill…

They might be able to give you some feedback there and then, especially if you’ve had a recent test… They may need to go and look at the details.

So, the me bit…

I know I’m fitter than last year – in total last year I ran three half-marathons, I’ve been close to, or through, half marathon distance in the last three weeks.  I’m running better than ever, to the point that my bank balance is moaning about my PB protocol.

Not having long to prep for the exercise test was probably a good thing, I got one short session in the gym this week, but it meant that it was a good reading of my fitness levels rather than my ability but to ride a bike.  I did skip the short runs during the week, so the legs were fresh (also while I’ll run in most weathers, hail I do not do) and I did sneak some pre-exercise sugar into the system.

So, they set me up and let me go… 60rpm is painfully slow, especially when there’s no load on the system.  The team were telling me how well I was doing, and noted when I went through last years numbers, which was pleasingly before I hit the sprint section… As you’d expect I did ask how I did… When you’re told that you’re close to what they’d expect for age, weight and gender without the heart condition you can’t be anything other than chuffed.

There may be something in the gas exchange, or the detailed look at the ECG to give the experts some concern, but I’ll take that result as at least case-study level evidence that doing reasonable, structured exercise is beneficial – that’s the only difference between last year and this.  I may be unique, but we all are.

So, the marathon training continues – short rest run this weekend (10k) and then back out to long distances next weekend.

Failure was the end point, but as I said a couple of weekends ago – sometimes you have to fail to succeed.



Monday, 28 March 2016

Self-Limiting Beliefs...

This is one of those messy blogs that will dart around; part of it is a conversation I need to have with someone, so if they (and I doubt they will) read this they should know that this is the Willgoss-lite version... Part of it is the first part of a new adventure and the other bits are the running and climbing, and hopefully something will pop out of the wittering that makes sense.

So in my traditional way - I'll start in the middle, I've recently become one of a fairly small group - a member of a small cohort of around 300 people on the Civil Service's Levelling the Playing Field Positive Action Pathway - a year long development scheme, that is intended to give me, and the others, the skills and confidence to progress to the next level in the civil service.

The only way to get the best out of these things is to challenge yourself, to get external challenge and to add to that with information, details about yourself you may not like or want to know, but that you need to know if you can (to use Maslow https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Maslow%27s_hierarchy_of_needs) reach the point of self-actualisation.

One of the tools we'll be using to help us on the journey, is Myers-Briggs a psychometric test that many have done, and puts you in one of 16 boxes or Types.  Some people are, in my humble opinion, lucky they're close to the middle they can switch between extrovert and introvert sources of energy, they can find that balance.  I'm beyond two standard deviations from that point, I max out the extrovert score.  That's not a boast, trust me.  I absorb energy from the external world, not like a vampire (though at my worst I can be), but from what I see, hear, eat - any sensation will do.  There are gradations in the sensations - a meaningful conversation can fill my energy banks for weeks at a time, a transaction at a shop is like fast food... Fast food is like fast food, a decent meal is quality sensation.

There are plenty of books out there telling introverts how to survive in a world of extroverts, but very few telling extroverts how to live in a world of introverts - and when you're out where I am anything would help because almost everyone is an introvert to me.  I'm still alive which means I've learned somethings in the last 44 years, because at my worst I would probably get killed in minutes by most people.

Which brings me to my self-limiting beliefs - I will say, and have said, that I'm not organised - which when I think about it is bollocks - I'm messy, I may appear chaotic, but I juggle a full-time job, charity commitments, marathon training, climbing, an OU degree and sometimes a social life.  I couldn't do what I do without being organised, brutally organised.

The next is I have no self-control... No, I have more self-control than I ever thought possible.  If I didn't then I'd be the worst of me, getting my energy by provoking it, taking the easy way... And maybe when I was younger I did some of that, maybe when stressed, burnt out, I flirt with the edges of that. But having seen the dark side of myself is a great thing, because it means I can make the choice not to use it.

I don't do planning - Ha! Again it's not traditional, but overlaying my type (ENFP - http://www.quistic.com/personality-type/enfp ) is my years of actually making things happen.  A normal conversation for me, is that a plan is a communication tool and that delivery come from within.  Having been around others for long enough means I know that doesn't work for anyone.  For me, a plan has to be target based - and orientated to something tangible.  I've followed enough marathon training plans to know that it has to be written down for me to believe in it, and I follow it.

I don't run long distances.  Oh I hear the laughter, but I can count the number of times I've run a whole half marathon from start to finish with no walking on the fingers of one hand... or could until recently.  I'm not sure when this year I decided to try and run through longer distances, but it wasn't planned (see above), it was however a conscious decision.  The training plan is a runners world smart coach one, and I've run through each of the LSRs.  The PBs have tumbled, 10 min for 14 miles, over 13 min for 16.  I'm faster through half marathon distance that I was running a half marathon all of last year.

To quote one of my favourite podcasts, a segway has occurred - I ran 16 miles yesterday, 26km 13 min faster than I've ever done before, on a course with more hills on than the old course.  Which is impressive to me (it's the target driven thing), however the most impressive thing about that run, for me... The way I took the last three KM.  The PB was in the bag, I could've walked the last three km and still been a good PB.  However, the three hour mark was there, three fast (for me) kms and I'd bring it under three hours... So at the end of 26km, I ran my three fastest KM of the day, and they were consistent 6:25, 6:27 & 6:27... and 2:58:55 is what the watch stopped at. A meaningless point in time, but one that has made me feel more confident about my running than I have done in a couple of years...

And confidence breeds confidence, and training works. which is where the climbing is at the moment... There is a strength issue, and a specific technique issue (how to deal with the chest muscles) and then there is the general stuff - how to move, and how not to move, as in holding the body rigid when only moving one part... And the "plan" is working, I'm getting more routes of higher grades than I've ever done, I'm making moves I wouldn't have done a couple of months ago... A drop-knee move up and out over a lip is not a traditional me move!

Where do I go from here; I'm working out what to do with the opportunity the development programme offers, and I have support from those one in a billion people on the planet who know me best, as well as the official support from work - and that's a frightening combination - my inner sanctum will keep my worst excesses at bay - and help me with the reflection thing I find so difficult to do... I'm following the training plan for the marathon, who knows where that will end... This week is a light week - a 10k, an eight k and a 10k - a rest week.  The climbing, that I continue to find the stillness in movement and movement in stillness, and instead of climbing reactively I will try and think my way through things...

For some the following is a curse, for me its how I get the energy I need - I live in interesting times!



Saturday, 19 March 2016

Fail to succeed...

Two sporty things are reaching the point of me needing to move to the next stage...

The marathon training is easiest to explain, and what I'm most comfortable with...

Tomorrow is when it gets real, I know I can blag a half marathon, I did it at least twice last year... Just go out and run-walk a half marathon on minimal training, injured, full of cold... been there, done that.

Now it's real - 14 miles, 23 km, beyond the half, into the known unknowns.  I've been on belting form, three PBs in 5 weeks all on long slow runs, all on a course much hillier than the routes the last PBs were run on.

The course tomorrow throws me another hill, being my home marathon has a great advantage I can run the course - which is why St Domingo Road is becoming a Sunday fixed point in space and time - the first absolute sod of a hill of the marathon course, followed by a too steep for fun run down to the town centre.

Then, comes my personal hell - Upper Parliament Street - the steep rise over 800m from the end of the docks, past the brewery, and up past the Cathedral and still up to Princes Road... It sounds easy when I type it, but I know I've never run up in one go, without walking... Will I be able to do it with 7 miles in my legs tomorrow, I don't know, but up it I will get and then carry on along Prince Road, to Princes Park and drop down to the river and head back to Bootle.

14 miles... 23 km - the changes come, pasta for my tea tonight, gels go in the waist pack, hydration juice in the bottles... Proper running...

And then there's the climbing... I've snarled and grumbled enough at myself, the only way I'm going to get better is by applying what I know about myself to the climbing.  Target driven, high pain threshold, endurance efforts work...

So, I've thrown myself at the wall, if I've got an hour after work before the other stuff kicks in, I've gone. And I've fallen off, time and time again.  Bit by bit the falls have come at a higher height, from a different set of holds... I've mainly bouldered, working to address the issue I have with pulling through and up.  The surgery has meant that my chest muscles aren't joined to each other and are slightly misaligned.  Or I'm just weak and feeble... Either way, attacking a series of bouldering problems where I go up and out backwards, so the main upper body muscles I'm using are the ones I have problems with...

And its working... Slow, surely, I'm getting stronger, doing routes a month ago I couldn't.  Today I climbed like a muppet without a hand up it's arse, not focused, generally crap.  And still I knocked off a 6a+ (okay, even I think its a 6a... but the setter is always right;-))  I know the easy improvements have been done, now it comes down to bring to improve skills and strengths in tandem.  And yes I have a couple of targets - a V2 bouldering problem in the cave, which is everything I hate about using that muscle set and requires (for me) nifty footwork... One move separates me from that route being done, and under the new regime becoming part of my warm up.

The second is a project for Easter... long, hard and pushes my grades again. And I will fail, and I will fall, and I will get another cup of tea, tape up the strained fingers and I will try again.

I've said before that marathon running takes you being selfish and obsessional, and my climbing is going the same way.  With both I know I'm never going to be the fastest or the best, but that doesn't stop me pushing until I fail, but fail well and with a smile.

So, the kit needs to be laid out, the tech charged, for tomorrow I run...



Sunday, 28 February 2016

What's your secret?

I posted my second PB in three weeks up on Facebook this morning, which means I also ran a PB this morning. At which point I was asked what my secret is...

Three minutes off my 10 mile run is not insignificant, 12s a kilometre may not sound a lot to non-runners it is.  For me, it was the first time I've averaged under 7min a KM for 10 miles, its faster than I ran in that glorious period of running up to the London Marathon two years ago.

Hell, it's only the fourth time I've gone under two hours.

It was also the morning after an almost five mile run, in the dark, where I didn't do bad - 57min.

So, in the grand tradition its time to split the infinitive and boldly go into that odd mode I'm surprisingly good at...

Analysis Mr Spock

Three minutes is not insignificant, which suggests that something significant is different.

1) Route - my training for London was flat, one hill to go down at the end, and one to come back at the end.  Short sharp hills (for those who know Bootle, Breeze Hill).  This training is out along to Goodison, up to Anfield and then the relentless rise of St Domingo Road, before a steep downhill section, interrupted by roads.

2) Diet - Nope scotch any ideas I'm a lot lighter than two years ago, at best I'm the same.  I've also not reached the point where I'm taking carboloading seriously (last night's tea was a butty and a bag of crisps).

3) Strength Training - again not yet, my vague plan is to start next week (I may need to roll my legs out this week, or throw in an extra climb).

4) Kit - nope same or equivalent gear, and not significantly lighter.

5) Mental approach - a glimmering of an idea. London was the marathon I applied for six times, back in the day it had automatic entry.  I cared a lot about about doing well... I care about this marathon, but I know I can get around, I know the RnR people are great about the back of the packers, so am I being less cautious?

6) Training approach - Quality, rather than pure quantity are my watchwords this time.  I pushed myself out three times a week religiously when I trained for London, were they all quality miles - No.   last week was busy at work (and I'd done a lot the weekend before), between the time constraints and the banging headaches I took the call that running wouldn't be a good idea (aided by the thought of a 5 miler the evening before the 10 miler). A possibility?

7) Resilience - someone has suggest this rather than stubbornness... Point 6) applies, but if I'm not groggy and I'm not working to the max then I run - never an easy route, and whatever the weather.  Last weekend was brutal, could I be reaping the benefits?

8) Belief - I had a crap year last year, between viral infections, injuries, colds, infected elbows and generally feeling crap I was a long way off my best.  Throw in the inevitable worry of being put through the wringer about my dodgy valve and its perhaps not surprising that somewhere deep inside I didn't believe...

9) Targets - I've done it all. There's nothing I've really wanted to do running that I haven't done, I've challenged every pre-conception I've had about myself, and changed the paradigm.  The last bits in the jigsaw are a 24h event and a fully run marathon... Have I subconsciously started to attack the second?

10) Role models - I've shifted, four years ago I wouldn't have looked for a running role model - how could I compare my warped and whacked out heart and glucose metabolism with anyone else - no two heart conditions are the same, and Fallots with type II diabetes is rare enough before you throw in the long-distance endurance running.  Now, I'm looking at my running friends, and other sporting friends, and asking why not... Working out what I can borrow and what I decide to leave on the side, not consciously until I've thought about it.

11) Challenge - those who know me best know that you don't let me get bored, and that I am target driven, but normally only competitive with myself (and Kieran, when he's running well but that's personal ;-)) ... have I self-limited my targets by not setting myself challenges? Possibly, has that germ of an idea of running all of a marathon become a challenge that has started driving me?

12) Am I odd (the answer is yes, but bear with me) - when I was training for my multi-day ultra I did many strange things... Including running half marathons on consecutive days, most of those weekends I ran the second run faster than the first.  Also the one good run last year, the Liverpool Half, had a 5k the day before... Do my legs just work better when a little tired?

13) All of the above... There's no single factor, there's no golden bullet.  There's just a 44 year old bloke whose enjoying his running again.

So, I'm not entirely sure what my secret is... but I know I'm going to enjoy it while it lasts!



Sunday, 21 February 2016

We Live...

This is based on a post I put in a closed group for us dicky ticker folk... Some said it helped with the loss of one of our own.  Unfortunately, as is the way on Facebook, it got deleted... As this weekend's antics (to mainly be told of in another post) gave a practical example, I thought I'd share...

This is my way of dealing with things, it's not intended as the best way or the only way, its just my way...

A friend has died, whether we were Facebook only friends, or the sort that we would talk to for hours down the pub.  We don't know, can't know, what happened.  All we can do is mourn them, each in our way, each in our own time.  And above all we live.

We may never know the details of their death, and if we're in groups run by our medical teams they can't tell us the details.  The medical legal world doesn't let them.  We shouldn't ask the family, they'll be deep in mourning themselves, and unless are family friends then All we can do is mourn, and live.  We can't live the lives they would have had, all we can do is live our lives as best we can... We live...

The hurt of the mourning doesn't go away, but over time it does fade to manageable levels but never goes - and as we live we will do things they would have enjoyed, and we should smile and remember them as we live.

And that brings me to this weekend, a long time ago I led a walking group in North Wales - a group of GUCHs and family and it rained, and it was windy, and it was bloody awful weather... Of that group two are not here to walk any more; but we all made it to the top of the Great Orme, not the planned walk, but the walk we did.  As I walked around the spit of land, my heart smiled at the memories... Not just of that weekend, but of other times, other places where we smiled and joked, and sometimes where we cried because life isn't all fun, sometimes its bloody hard work.  They'd have loved and hated the weekend in equal measure, and that would have been great... but they weren't there and could never be there agin, so I mourned.

And I lived.