Tag Archives: running

Does my bum look fast in this?

At about this time of year I am normally packing my season away in a box and thinking about what I am going to do over the winter. But this year I have extended my season, or to be more accurate, I have re-opened my season.

After I ran Race to The Stones in July I didn’t have any other events in the diary. Three ultras felt like enough, beside which my feet were in shreds. A rest was on the cards.

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Race to The Stones BBQ – missing a couple of team members

August was taken up with a variety of things. First we had to get Matilda and her friend to Pony Club Camp. Just two-girls, two ponies and a tent for a week, but it felt like a full military deployment. Then we had the all-important Race to The Stones barbecue. And of course we had our family summer holiday. This year we went to the south of Spain.

Although I kept exercising throughout, my mind was focused on other things and there was no structure or purpose to my training. The result was that my weight and my fitness went in opposite direction, both heading the wrong way.

If you allow yourself to put on weight and let your fitness ebb away slowly enough, you don’t notice the change. The realisation starts when you can’t find a T-shirt to run in that doesn’t show your spare tyre.

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One of the positives of running on holiday – I persuaded Matilda to run with me!!

But my “Road to Damasacus” moment came on a run while we were on holiday in Spain. It was hot and I was working quite hard, I would have guessed my pace was about 8.15 minute per mile, but my watch was showing my pace as 9 minutes a mile. In my state of denial I convinced myself that it was because I had an English watch and the GPS didn’t work properly in Spain. But I knew.

The evidence that sealed the case, if any were needed, came when I got on the scales after returning from holiday. If they could talk the scales would have said: “One at a time please” before showing me a number I haven’t seen for a few years. That was it. Enough! Time to take myself in hand.

So on the day after the August Bank Holiday, I declared my season open again and entered The Clarendon Half Marathon in early October. I got my bike out, dusted off my swimming gear and I went to it.

I started training six days a week with the priority being running and in particular speed training and tempo running. I swam and cycled as cross training. I find that my run fitness rockets if I swim and bike on non-running days. At the same time I seriously cleaned up my diet.

It only took a week before I noticed the early signs of improvement. As the end of September got nearer my numbers were improving and I had shed about 10 lbs. I am sure my training was paying dividends, but I am convinced that it was the weight loss that made the real difference.

I have been doing parkrun for about a year but during that time I have never been at peak running fitness. Recently I have been trying to go to parkrun every Saturday as it provides a good benchmark of progress as well as a really enjoyable social run with friends.

Going into September I had a best time of 23.26 mins. One Saturday near the end of September I forgot my watch (which was working again by now!) so just ran to feel. I didn’t think I was hammering it, but nor was I holding back. I took 20 seconds off my best time.

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The Andover Lake Run – a 10k in support of the local Foodbank

The following week I went back with my watch on with the aim of seeing what I could do if I gave it some beans. The answer, I took more than another minute of my parkrun PB which now stands at 22.05 mins. The previous week I had run a fantastic 10k in Andover in aid of the local food bank and come home in 46.30mins. (confession: I think the course was a bit short). Things were on the up.

Last weekend I ran the Clarendon Half – a hilly and muddy 13.1 miles from Broughton to Winchester. I had no real plans to chase a time until my Race to The Stones partner-in-crime, Neville, asked me on the start line what my target was. From nowhere I said:

“Two hours”.

That was based on nothing. No science, no course recce and certainly no thought. Top of the head stuff! The look on Nev’s face told me that I was being a bit ambitious given the profile of the course, but he was polite enough not to say so. And anyway, it was too late, I had said it.

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Enjoying The Clarendon Half

It actually turned out to be the best thing that happened. My pace and progress during the race was always tantalisingly close to a 2 hour run, so when I was tempted to walk the hills I thought better of it. I had to answer to Nev at the finish line!!

The most satisfying part was that moment when I thought I was dropping off the pace and I touched the accelerator and for the first time in eighteen months something actually happened! My training and weight loss had made a real difference.

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The Run-in

Always one to leave things to the last-minute, I sneaked over the finish line with 26 seconds to spare for a 1.59.34mins finish. On that course and given were I was five weeks earlier, I was thrilled.

So that, in a rather large nutshell, is why I am continuing my season. I am enjoying my training and I am especially enjoying being a slightly faster runner again and I am not ready to go into winter hibernation.

Next up is a step back in time to when I was at school. I have joined the local Athletics Club so that I can race in the Hampshire Cross Country League over the winter. For some people cross-country brings on flashbacks of cold wet torture from their schooldays. I have all kinds of great memories of running cross-country at school. It’s where I discovered my love of running, so I am quite excited to get out there.

Sods Law, the first race is at Farley Mount in Winchester which is the site of the biggest hill in the Clarendon Half. At least I should know the course!

 

 

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Race to the Stones – 16-17 July 2016

It’s 7.00am on race morning. I am at Race HQ in a field near Watlington in Oxfordshire with several thousand others. It is clear from the moment we arrived that Race to The Stones is a big deal and impeccably well organised.

I am feeling OK. I had spent the previous night in a hotel room with Nick a few miles down the road and had been woken by his version of the dawn chorus. More a trumpet chorus. No instruments needed, just an open window! A few rooms down the hall were Nev who was also running and Jacqui who was support crew for the day.

By 7.45am registration formalities are all done and we are standing in the starting funnel contemplating what was to come. The task? To run 100km (62 miles) along the Ridgeway to a finish line several counties away in Avebury near Marlborough and we had until 7.45am on Sunday morning to do it.

13709914_10154393457054337_6177639379069506213_nBy now we had been joined by club mate Paul Venus and I had already bumped into my friend Louise Cross and her partner Mark. Nick had also seen our friends Stu and Jayne Crawford. Knowing so many people racing was to play a huge part in how things unfolded much later that night.

The starter didn’t feel he was doing his job until he had asked us half a dozen times if we were ready. But eventually he fired the starting gun. We were off. It was the start of what was to be a very long day, night and a small part of the next day!

The Party Miles

For the first few minutes no-one went anywhere fast as about a thousand people headed slowly along a small country track. That fitted in perfectly with our pacing plan! Most people just relaxed and had a chat with those alongside them. Everyone was in high spirits, excited to be underway at last and trying not to think of what was to come later.

Together with about ten others, I ducked behind the first hedge we came to for an overdue call of nature. But in leaving the pack I lost touch with Nick, Nev and Paul. I wasn’t too concerned. At this pace I reckoned I could get back to them quite quickly. As things turned out I wasn’t to see Nick for another 30 miles. I didn’t see the others again all day.

No problem. I was happy to run on my own at this point and get some rhythm and there was no shortage of people to talk to. The race was interrupted a few times as we came to gates and stiles as hundreds of people negotiated them one at a time. We seemed to spend a lot of time standing around in the first fifteen miles. It wasn’t till after the second aid station at about 20km that the field really thinned out.

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My strategy so far had been to run the flat and downhills and walk uphill. It had worked well and I was feeling good. The only problem with this is that when you come to a hill that is three or four miles long, as we did coming out of Goring, you spend a long time walking and you feel as though you are letting the race tick away. But the words of advice from Enduroman stuck with me: “Play the long game”.

I got a huge lift halfway up the hill when I saw Jacqui waiting patiently at the road side. There were no fist pumping speeches, just a quiet determination to be of help.

“How are you doing? Have you got everything you need? How can I help?”

If Carslberg did support crews.

The hill eventually gave way to a long flat stretch that got me running again and took us through the marathon mark. A few miles later and I was running into aid station number 5 and the half way point. 30 miles down and although things were beginning to hurt, I felt OK.

I found Jacqui sitting on the grass reading her book, left my bag with her and headed for the big marquee which housed a restaurant. A plate of pasta was on the menu. Here I was reunited with Nick, Stu and Jayne. Nev had already left and sadly Paul had pulled out with a knee injury.

With food done, I took a moment to re-grease my feet, change my socks and shirt before Nick and I left together to tackle the second half of the race.

The Business miles

Despite a second wind after a change of clothes and a meal, leaving base camp was hard and the high spirits of the start line were long gone. Nick and I agreed to stick with the same run walk strategy, but during that leg I started to feel the first signs of wear and tear on my feet. I could feel a blister forming.

13754081_10208367543399738_6909435721558293836_nEvery aid station had a medical tent and I headed straight for it as soon as we hit aid station 6. The medic didn’t seem too concerned and wrapped a length of RockTape round my food to stop the rubbing that had started the blister. A quick feed and some water and we pressed on.

The blisters and increasing sore feet slowed us down and our runs with occasional walks now involved more walking. Morale was beginning to dip a bit. We had been on the go for nearly 12 hours and we still had over 30k ahead of us. What better time for my club mate Rob Savill to be waiting for us at aid station 7. I think he was taken aback by how pleased we were to see him. For a second time I headed straight for the medical tent with my blisters as Rob swung into action bringing me a welcome cup of tea and food. Thank you Rob. You weren’t to know it, but your appearance could not have been better timed.

As we were sorting ourselves out Stu and Jayne arrived and we had a natter with them. We didn’t discuss it but we all left together and ran on as a foursome. As we left the aid station I remember clearly having a chat with myself agreeing that this felt like the start of the race. What had gone before was the build-up, albeit a long one, but the real challenge of Race to the Stones was just starting.

Miles of RockTape

The next aid station was 10km away and although it was fairly flat, the going was getting tough. We were clinging onto our run-walk strategy but the walks were getting longer. On top of the blisters, everyone had very sore feet. Old injuries were beginning to wake up.

We knocked off the 10km to the next stop slowly but without fuss, but there was a notable deterioration in everyone’s physical state. As we went about our feeding and watering business at the aid station it was clear we were starting to struggle. My blisters were becoming an issue, Stu’s old knee injury was troubling him. Jayne had fallen earlier and bruised her knee, the cure for which would normally be rest, not finishing a 60-mile run. She was in pain and Nick’s feet were ablaze. We discussed our options matter of factly and concluded that, if needs be, we would walk. At no point was the option of stopping ever mentioned.

As we left the aid station with 20km remaining it was starting to get dark, so it was head torches on to avoid fumbling round with those after dark. As we were doing this, we met Claire. I say that like it was a significant moment. That is because it was.

Claire had been running the race with her twin brother who had dropped out with blisters. Claire didn’t want to run alone in the dark and asked if she could run with us.

We didn’t even have to think about it. Claire became the final member of our team. The team that was going to take on the hardest 20km of the race in the dark. She fitted in seamlessly and instantly.

And on we went into the night trying not to think that we still had a half marathon to cover.

By now it was almost all walking. Nick was at the front with Claire and the pace was brisk. Walking fast is not my strong point and I regularly found myself dropping back, usually with Stu or Jayne for company. As we entered the last kilometre to aid station 9 the route pointed uphill. By now it was pitch black and not only was I behind the others but the curse of the blisters was back with a vengeance. A new one right on the ball of my right foot made every step like walking on glass. That slowed me further and I lost sight of the group in the dark. I wasn’t too worried as we were about to hit an aid station but I felt myself going downhill. I hadn’t eaten much on this leg and now I couldn’t be bothered to take my pack off and get food out. My lack of motivation was not a good sign. As I approached the aid station I found it hard to walk in a straight line. With my feet and blisters screaming at me, this was the lowest point of my race.

I got to the aid station a few minutes behind the others and headed straight for the 13781719_10208374663737742_556132655178553146_nmedical tent for the third time that day. The medic said nothing but I could tell from the look on his face that it wasn’t pretty (or maybe it was the smell). More RockTape. I think Nick spotted that I was struggling and brought me over a cup of hot porridge laced with maple syrup. At that moment, in that state, it was better than sex!

I took a few minutes to let the porridge do its work. I took two Nurofen and grabbed two chocolate bars which I kept in my hands so they were always available. No repeat of the nutrition fail on this leg.

We did a quick check that everyone was OK and had all they needed and then we set off on the final leg. We were 11km from the finish. One last push.

I think as we left the aid station I knew we would all finish. In fact through all my tribulations during the day, I never thought that I wouldn’t finish. With each new blister I just resigned myself to the fact that it was going to be a little bit harder. As we headed back on to the Ridgeway I took up the conversation with myself again and was unsympathetic. Something along the lines of: “You wanted a challenge, well here it is”

I think we were all thinking the same. Everyone was near their limits, but there was a resolve about our team. Stu’s mantra of “No-one gets left behind” (expect me at the last aid station obvs!) reflected perfectly how this individual challenge had become a shared team challenge for us.

Take a group of people who joined up by chance, some of who were strangers, each of whom added an energy that made the group better and what you get is a team that is stronger than the sum of its parts.

Something magic happened on the Ridgeway in the final 20k in the early hours of Sunday morning. Left to soldier on into the night alone, I expect some of us may not have finished, but together we were never going to fail.

It took an hour or so before the lights of the finish became visible in the distance. And then in the first sign that we were heading for the finish, the route took us down off the Ridgeway. But agonisingly it took us past the finish and on into Avebury to the Stones. In their wisdom the organisers thought this was a great photo opportunity and so we went through the bizarre process of posing for photos in front of the stones of the Avebury Ring at about 1.45 in the morning.

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All that was left then was to make our way back to the finish line. Claire had a deadline. Her shuttle bus back to the start left at 2.00am. At a walking pace it would be tight, so after a quick round of goodbyes, she did what any Englishman would do, she ran for her bus. We all stood their open mouthed as she picked up a respectable pace without a single groan.

We followed at a walk retracing our steps out of Avebury, along a farm track, then a sharp left and there it was. We were 300 metres from the finish. Inspired by Claire’s example we spontaneously broke into a run all the way to the line. Even at 1.55am there was a crowd of well-wishers and several endlessly enthusiastic volunteers handing out medals.

For our part, there was no punching the air or extravagant celebrations. Just hugs and handshakes all round. As much as anything else, we were just pleased it was all over.

It is hard to generate any atmosphere at 2 in the morning when runners are arriving sporadically. Behind the finish line was a farmyard with buildings full of inert bodies curled up in sleeping bags waiting for morning. After retrieving bags and a quick cup of tea, Nick and I packed up and headed home.

I pored over the results the next day. I had assumed our official finish time of 17.56 hrs would be at the slow end of the field. So I was pleasantly surprised to see I had finished 566th of 1164. Just in the top half of the field! My team mates occupied the four places above me. But the most striking statistic was that of the 1164 competitors 208 had failed to finish for some reason – nearly 1 in 5 people. That may be due to the heat which hadn’t been in the forecast. But I think a lot of it will be because this is a big challenge.

And what of Nev, my club mate who I ran about 3 minutes of the race with? He showed us all a clean pair of heals and finished in 14.51hrs and placed 276th. Impressive.

Ultra!

There are now nine weeks to go until Race to The Stones and suddenly training has a very long feel to it. The weekend after Sid’s Morph Marathon was “only” a 20 miler! But then it was time to take a big step up in mileage.

Nick and I had entered The Marlborough Downs Challenge, a local trail race. There was a choice of a 20-mile or 33-mile route. Being cautious I wanted to enter the 20-miler. Nick doesn’t do caution, he just wanted to kick its back doors in and show it who was boss. That is how I came to be standing nervously on the start line of a 33-mile ultra-marathon. The longest race either of us had ever done!

We got our first taste of the ultra-running community at registration. No fancy runners’ goody bag or rucksack here. Just a complimentary slab of Kendal Mint Cake and a knowing look.

Ultra runners are an earnest crowd, but very friendly. As we walked from registration at Marlborough Leisure Centre to the start line in the grounds of Marlborough College they regaled us with stories of how far they could run without water or their latest 100-mile run, without a hint of triumphalism. We suddenly felt a long way out of our depth.

13237683_1144968082190799_3290903591637468250_n (2)We didn’t help ourselves. Rather than keep a low profile and blend in, we attracted lots of strange looks as we posed for a start line selfie to post on Facebook. I think these two ageing triathletes were something of an enigma to the ultra-runners.

Bang on 9.00am we were off. Somehow I never doubted that the start would be punctual.

It started with a long steady climb and within 15 minutes we were looking down on Marlborough and heading out onto the downs. We were blessed with almost perfect running conditions – blue sky, 150C and a light breeze. It was a lovely clear morning and the views out across Wiltshire were breath-taking.

13226748_1145226588831615_5609537799561219284_nOne thing you get lots of on an ultra-run is time. Nick is a countryman and so to fill the time, I was treated to a running commentary on the birds, the wild flower meadows and the state of the local crops (Nick’s speciality). It passed the time perfectly. After a long drag along the tow path of the Kennet and Avon Canal heading into Devizes, we were suddenly at half way where we celebrated with a Waitrose pork-pie. Apart from slightly aching feet, it was so far so good. But that wasn’t to last!

There was a check point roughly every four miles whose first job was to confirm you were still alive and then feed and water you. Up to Check Point 4 we had always had other runners in sight and so had paid no attention to the route. Suddenly the field had spread out and there was no-one as far as the eye could see, but we just kept running. We first discovered we had gone wrong when we came to a dead-end in some woods. For the first time all day the detailed route instructions came out – all 8 pages of them! We retraced our steps and eventually saw some other runners and were able to re-join the route having only run about an extra half mile.

The next big task was the long climb up Cherhill Down, the site of the White Cherhill_white_horseHorse. Next to the white horse is The Lansdowne Monument, a stone obelisk that you can see from miles around. All the way up Nick was grumbling that the organisers had failed to use the obelisk as a navigation feature in the directions. At no point did the alarm bells in my head ring to warn me that there was a good reason why they weren’t mentioned. Lost again!

We recovered from that small deviation and from the top of Cherhill Down we hit a big chalk path that took us down to the main A4 on the floor of the valley. We could see the A4 in the distance and so assumed we just ran until we got there and so put the directions away for a while. Bad move. We sailed past a crucial turn and got horribly lost, our best yet!

When we hit the A4 and the directions didn’t match what we were seeing, we decided to just run along the road until they did. That would have been a great 13255951_1145226638831610_40641402288940644_nplan if we had turned the right way along the main road. Instead, unbeknownst to us, we were running the wrong way and away from the race. It was only an eagle-eyed marshal spotting us as he drove past that saved our bacon. To cut a long story short we had run about a mile the wrong way which we had to retrace before we could start making progress towards the finish. After 23 miles of running, that was a heart breaker. From that point on we kept the directions in our hands and read them carefully at every turn. Motivated by sore feet, we didn’t get lost again!

We ran most of the rest of race on our own. Inevitably in 33 miles of running (or 35 in our case!) we each had a low point, but not at the same time and so we managed to keep the show on the road.

As we left the last check point we had 3 miles remaining. By now the biggest challenge was two sets of very sore feet and it became a game of picking the softest surface to run on, usually the grass verge.

13062321_10207907974830811_790650953534816030_nSlowly but surely we ticked of the last 3 miles and found our way to the finish line. By the time we got there it was literally one man – not even his dog. We had to rope a few bystanders in to give our finish line photo a bit of atmosphere. You could hear them muttering under their breath: “triathletes”.

And to round off our day in the world of the ultra-runners the final peculiarity. No finishers medal here, just a mug. But not any old mug. It is a mug which says we are now ultra-runners.

 

Big hills, bigger winds and string beans – it must be Winter Racing

It’s spring! I know it’s spring, because we have had the Spring Half Marathon Weekend, a few days when thousands of runners come out of hibernation to run on the streets of Bath, Liverpool, Silverstone and many other towns and cities around the UK in a mass celebration of spring’s arrival.

I have run on spring half marathon weekend for the last few years, but gave it a miss this year. Having taken an enforced month and a half break last summer, I didn’t have the usual off-season. Instead I kept training and competing through the winter. So I wasn’t champing at the bit to get racing come March. Instead I have signed up for a local trail run in a few weeks time.

For my main race of 2016 I have signed up for “Race to The Stones”, a 60-mile ultra-marathon in July run on The Ridgeway starting in Oxfordshire and finishing at the Avebury Ring near Marlborough in Wiltshire. So over the winter I have focused on running and where possible off-road running.

My first race of the winter was The Dorset Coastal Challenge Half Marathon at the start of December which was traumatic. I would have helped myself if I had paid attention to what I was entering. All I saw was “half marathon”. I glossed over the words “Dorset Coastal Challenge”, a clear signal from the organisers that this probably wasn’t a PB course! I also paid little attention to the organisers own rating of the race as “Extreme”. How difficult could a 13.1 mile run on a coastal path be?

The answer was brutally difficult. Firstly, in an effort by the organisers to put their own little twist on it, this half marathon was 16.5 miles long – nice touch! My heart sank when I heard that news at the race briefing (I think I was the only person who didn’t already know) but in the scheme of things it was to be the least of my worries. It was the 4,500 feet of ascent that was to keep my mind from wandering.

The race was just a series of very big hills interspersed with aid stations. As the race went on the hills got

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The hills were steep and long!!

progressively steeper until the final hill which was so long and so steep that the local council had built a set of concrete steps into the side of it – hundreds of them.

You know that the hills were extreme when it has taken me three paragraphs to mention the other major feature of this race – the wind. This was the weekend when we got the tail end of Hurricane Edna from the other side of the Atlantic. With nothing to slow it down the wind carried all the way from the North American Coast gaining energy and strength until it made landfall in the UK on – you guessed it – the Dorset Coast!!

It may be the only time I have been grateful to be running at a few pounds over race weight. Seriously. Every extra pound made it more likely that you were going to remain upright as another gust of wind in excess of 50mph came through. I ran with a German girl for about 20 minutes – a slip of a thing. You don’t like to ask what a lady weighs, besides which she would have told me in kilos and I would have been no better off, but I would guess 8 stone. I lost count of the number of times she was blown clean off her feet. I spent several miles picking her up.

12295360_10206742127645360_5342873566782179982_nSo having taken no more than ten minutes to work out that I was way out of my comfort zone, my sole focus was on reaching the finish line which I eventually did in a little under four hours. I am still debating whether I never want to see this race again or whether I want to go back and see what I could do now I know what to expect.

My next race was in February – The Wilshire 10 – a 10-mile road-race in Melksham. This time I read the organisers description slowly taking particular care to find the word “flat”.

I arrived early to make sure I could park in the town centre near the start. It was a bitterly cold day and so I sat in the car while I waited. I watched the car park fill up with car load after car load of string beans. Long lean athletes with barely an ounce of body fat between them. I wondered if I was in the right place.

I bumped into my friend James on the start line. He is a much faster runner than me and so I got my excuses in early. Just a training run for me I told him – ten nine-minute miles.

It was great event. It had a really friendly local-race feel to it and the course wound out into the Wiltshire countryside and only came back into town to finish.

I was pretty true to my promise of nine-minute miles finishing in 1.28hrs which was nine-minute miles for eight miles and then a two-mile burn up with the guy I ran the second half of the race with. The kind of burn up where you pretend you aren’t racing but neither of you wants to get beaten and you finish within seconds of each other and collapse in a heap having buried yourselves for the previous 15 minutes!

It wasn’t until the end that I learned that this race I was treating as a day’s training was doubling up as the South West of England Road Running Championships. That would explain the string bean convention in the car park.

Training for Race to The Stones has now started in earnest. It was all going well until this week when I had one of those “busy” weeks that seem to push any of idea of training to one side. I managed to get out for a 6-mile trot today. I will be back on it this coming week. Although I have a training plan of sorts, I am still trying to work out how to train for an event like this in a way that suits me. At the moment I am experimenting. I would be very grateful for any tips or ideas.

Next up for me is another local race, this time a 16-mile trail race from Coombe Gibbet to Overton in two weeks. In a complete reverse of fortune this is a race which starts at the top of a hill and for the first two-thirds is gently downhill. I think I can say with a clear conscience that I have earned a downhill race!

Hello, my name is Peter and I am a KFC addict

Today is New Year’s Eve – the last day of excess before the slate is wiped clean. It’s the day when everyone leaves the past behind and tries to change their lives for good, or at least until they try again next New Year’s Eve!!

I think I have a better claim than most people that New Year’s Eve changed my life. It was on this day 18 years ago that I met Cate in an Italian restaurant in London. Although I didn’t know it at the time, we would be engaged less than a year later and married within 18 months. Events don’t get much more life-changing than that!

Then four years ago, on New Year’s Eve 2010, I made a resolution to get off the sofa, shed the increasing amount of weight I was carrying and get myself fit. I had no idea as I made that New Year’s resolution, of the incredible journey I was about to embark on.

I had reached New Year’s Eve 2010 with my weight at an all-time high of 14st 10lbs. That doesn’t sound much if you are six feet tall, but I am not, I’m five feet seven. According to the NHS height weight chart I had strayed in obese territory. I had never thought of myself as obese, porky yes, but obese, really? But let’s not worry about the terminology – it was in danger of becoming a health issue.

Before

14st 10lbs – during the KFC years!

It was especially frustrating for me because for a large part of my life I had been very fit. I ran county level cross country and was in the county rugby squad at school. I spent five years in the Army where being fit was kind of what you did!After the Army I continued playing rugby and running into my early thirties.

WIN_20140406_133103 (2)

12 stone – KFC a distant memory

It is easy to fall back on convenient excuses for why I let myself get fat and unfit. I could blame a business career, I could blame being married to an excellent cook or even fatherhood. They would all be untrue. The fact is that I just got complacent and stopped bothering. Alongside that, I had a bad relationship with food and the two made for a toxic combination.

As a bachelor living in London, takeaways were my downfall. If I tell you that I lived near an Indian Restaurant that would bring a takeaway to your house and I was on first name terms with the delivery boy, then you get some idea of the scale of the problem.

I also like fast food. For some reason I particularly liked KFC. I liked it so much I would go out of my way to find it – I even had a KFC map in the car which untitled (8)showed every outlet in the UK, so I was never far from the Colonel’s Recipe. Where I worked, it was a Friday lunchtime ritual to send the junior person in the office off to the KFC Drive Thru to bring us back a bucket of the stuff.

In my mind, KFC is still a symbol of all that was wrong with the way I ate in the bad old days.

Then on 31 December 2010 that all changed. I threw the take away menus in the bin and took hold. My aim was to drop two stones by Easter. At the same time I tried to get myself fit. I still remember the first two-mile run. Slow and painful with several walk breaks – I found it hard to believe how far away I was from being the cross-country runner and rugby player of my younger days.

Gradually the weight came off and the runs got less painful and the walk breaks less frequent. Then the distances became longer and the rest, if not exactly history, is documented in the pages of this blog. In 2014 I even managed to race at a weight that started with the words “eleven stone”!

I haven’t been back into a KFC since that day – four years clean! I don’t think I am in quite the same position as a reformed alcoholic or smoker who doesn’t dare have one drink or cigarette for fear of opening the floodgates again. KFC feels like something I used to do then and that I don’t do now and so for the time being at least, it will stay that way. More symbolic than anything.

So on New Year’s Eve I will raise a glass to many things; a happy New Year to everyone, eighteen years with my lovely wife and four years since I took control and unknowingly started the most extraordinary journey. A journey that has taken me to places I never imagined I would go and one on which I have met, actually and virtually, lots of fantastic people many of whom I now think of as friends. That’s worth more than any medal or personal best I have gained along the way. But the best part is that it is a journey that continues with lots of new challenges and it will continue without KFC!

I wish all of you a happy, healthy and prosperous New Year. I hope 2015 brings you everything you wish for.

 

The Reading Half Marathon – 2 March 2014

Madejski Stadium

The Madejski Stadium

Spring burst into life this past weekend in the UK with no less than four of the big Spring Half Marathons taking place. I had entered The Reading Half back in December partly because it is local but also for its iconic finish inside the Madejski Stadium. I was delighted to find out that nine other members of my Tri Club had the same idea, so on Sunday we all headed over to Reading, 30 miles away, mob-handed.

The journey to the event was hard work. Early start, meet up with Lisa, Pete and Louisa; drive to Reading and park in city centre car park and then join a huge queue to get on a shuttle bus. Two and half hours after leaving Lisa’s we arrived at the venue which under normal circumstances is a forty five minute drive. Not the build up the coaching manual recommends.

Eventually I was changed, bag checked in, warmed up and heading to the start. As my start area was several zones beyond the elite start it was a bit of a hike, so I saved myself some time by hopping the fence into a zone a few in front of mine and immediately bumped into three of my club mates, most of who had done the same.

Reading start

The Reading Half start

We waited in our starting pen as we were introduced to a man doing the race with a fridge on his back, we were taken through a Zumba style warm up and then stood patiently through some “motivational” words delivered by the breakfast DJ from the local radio station – I don’t know either! Eventually the hooter sounded and we were off.

I was carried along at a 7.30 mins/mile pace by the crowd of faster runners for the first few miles and although I felt fine, I knew that it was too fast. I was brought to my senses at about the 3-mile mark when I saw the 1.30hrs pacer’s lollipop about 50 metres in front of me. One of us was in the process of getting this race spectacularly wrong and my hunch was that it was me – time to ease off. After about 4 miles of running things settled down and I was able to establish some rhythm at a cruising speed of about 7.45 mins/mile.

Once I hit my stride there was lots to enjoy on the way round. There was the fantastic band of drummers playing in the underpass on London Road, then the pub that had set up an aid station on the road serving beer to runners, the cheer leaders trying to lift spirits in the last few miles and the fantastic local support which seemed to go on from start to finish.

Apart from a bit of dip at after 8 miles I felt OK for most of the run, although I had a mini crisis of confidence when I was overtaken by an ice cream cone at 11 miles. I checked my watch and figured I was on course for something like a 1.42 finish, and he was going faster than me. I don’t know what was happening in my scrambled mind but I remember saying to myself: “That’s quick for an ice cream!!”

At around 10 miles, the Madejski Stadium came into view for the first time – the beginning of the end but there was a sting in the tail. The last few miles of the Reading Half are a heartbreaker. First a long drag down the main A33 into the wind to really test your spirit. Then as you approach the stadium the course veers away for a cheeky extra one-mile loop up and down the adjoining road. You won’t get any surprises if you keep your eye on the mile markers, but if all you focus on is the stadium, like most people did, then it is very discouraging.

With a bit of grumbling we all processed round the out and back mile and finally we were on our way into the stadium. You can hear the music blaring and crowd cheering inside as you make your approach. Then as you run through the tunnel the noise hits you.

Reading_Half_Marathon finish

Reading Half Marathon finish

At this point a sub 1.42hr time was on the cards for me if I could summon up a fleet footed finish . So I put my head down, found the outside lane round the runners waving to their loved ones in the crowd and gave it all I had. The good news is that I crossed the line in 1.41:52. The bad news is that the effort meant that the whole stadium thing, one of the highlights of the race, was completely lost on me. But I’d run a PB, so I wasn’t complaining.

As quick as we were into the stadium, we were ushered out of it again into the car park for medals and goody bags.

Post race is a story of two queues. The first one was to collect baggage which took some people 45 minutes, although somehow the lane for my number wasn’t busy. Having retrieved my bag I went to meet my team mates.

Once we had all gathered, had a cup of tea and compared notes, we headed for the second queue which was for the shuttle bus. We stood in that queue for well over an hour and a half – longer than it took me to run the race!

The Reading Half is a great event, a good interesting course, lots of entertainment and fantastic local support. I don’t know where things went awry, but the edge was taken off the day by poor logistics. Standing in a queue for 90 minutes getting cold and seizing up is not the lasting memory you want of your big day.

On a positive note I ran a half marathon PB by 3 minutes and ran with my fantastic club mates. Amongst them I should make special mention of Nick Wall who went under two hours for the first time (1.56hrs) and the fabulous Andover Tri Ladies who showed the men the way. Louisa Vere clocked 1.35hrs, Judit Leszkovich ran a PB of 1.38hrs and Lisa Hill who hadn’t trained for four weeks because of a chest infection (and a skiing holiday!) turned up and punched a half marathon straight on the nose. Well done ladies, fantastic effort. But none of us to got close to Dan Mason who ran 1.25hrs.

I should also mention Pete Holt who by his standards and his own admission had one of those days – but it was nothing a large bag of salt and vinegar crisps and a Twix in the car on the way home couldn’t put right. He was soon smiling again.

Reading medal

Medal or manhole cover?

Another positive was the great medal the Reading Half rewards you with. A proper chunky medallion worthy of the effort is how I would describe it. Cate on the other hand thought it looked more like a Borough Council manhole cover! It was definitely one of those days.

The Ghost of Christmas past

Once upon a time I was a soldier. I was a proud member of the Royal Hampshire Regiment – “The Tigers” – my local county regiment. Ninety per cent of our RHamps cap badgesoldiers were recruited from Hampshire – mainly from the county towns of Portsmouth, Gosport, Fareham, Southampton, Andover and Basingstoke. It is a regiment where generations of sons have followed in their fathers footsteps, as I did. It was a proper proud family regiment.

Although it has long since been merged with other regiments, the soul of the Regiment lives on today through friendships and reunions. The name may have gone but the spirit remains. Once a Tiger always a Tiger!

I joined the 1st Battalion in Germany in 1980 and spent a happy year there before the regiment moved lock, stock and barrel back to the UK in early 1981.

As a celebration of returning to the UK, our rugby team came back a few weeks early on a tour of Hampshire. In three weeks we played seven of the top teams in the county. We beat a lot of them and those we didn’t beat on the pitch we beat in the bar afterwards. It was a fantastic three weeks during which we were effectively professional sportsmen

Rugby aside, my abiding memory of the tour was having half my moustache shaved off (yes this was my “moustache period”!!) and being very upset when no-one noticed that I had half a moustache for three days.

Tiger rugby tourThis week on Facebook someone published pictures of the programme for the Tour and unexpectedly there I was face to face with a photo and bio of my 21-year old self. My first thought was my God I look young. There is a reason for that; I was young.

The other shock I got was reading my statistics – especially my weight. I was pretty fit at the time and at the start of the tour I weighed in at 10st 6lb 6 (146lb) – I am 5’ 7” so that is light. I don’t have any records of my weight from those days and always assumed I was about 15 lbs more than this.

This got me thinking. Firstly, on a very practical note, it got me thinking about my weight. I know that I drag too much weight around my runs and triathlons with me. There has to be some logic in “lighter being faster” and I keep promising myself that I will get down to a racing weight. The problem is that I have no reference point for what should be – until now.

There’s no way I am going to get to 10st 6lb (146lbs) from my current weight of about 12st 3lb  (170lbs). But it has given me a target to shoot at. I think I could comfortably get down to about 11st 7lb (161lb) which would mean lugging 10lbs less round the race course. So that is top of my new year’s resolutions – get to a proper racing weight. I am hoping that as I have been a good boy all year, James Duigan’s book, “Clean and Lean Diet” will be in my Christmas stocking. I can’t wait to get started!

It also got me thinking about my ambition. You could understand that as 21 year old I had a head full of sporting plans and dreams. If you had asked me then what would be in my head when I was 54 I would have said words like “pipe and slippers” and “slow jogs”. But here I am at 54 and my ambition is undimmed. If anything I think I have more to prove to myself now than I did then.

I ran my fastest half marathon time ever just two months ago and I am getting faster all the time on the bike. I also think my fastest marathon is ahead of me and next year I am going to try something longer and harder than I have ever tried (more in another post). So put that in your pipe and smoke it 21-year old Peter Whent. I may not be able to knock out 6.5 min miles like I once did, but there is life in this old dog yet and I am going to show you that 54 is the new 21!!

On that bold note, I want to wish everyone a happy Christmas. The best part of blogging is the fantastic group of likeminded friends I have made. I have really enjoyed your company in 2013 and look forward to more next year.

For us Christmas is a family affair. Presents, church and then a big lunch followed by a lot of relaxing. Whatever it is you are doing I wish you all a happy and peaceful festive season before we all get “back on it”!