I love it when a plan comes together.

I love it when a plan comes together.

I love it even more when I can see evidence of a dream coming true.

Yesterday I ran the Liverpool Half Marathon. It’s a while since I’ve run a big City race with many thousands taking part and there is something really special about the atmosphere of these events. This gathering of people of all shapes, ages and ambitions to celebrate health and fitness, to enjoy being alive, filling bodies with fresh air, cheered on by loved ones is an example of humanity at its best. If you haven’t been along to support or participate in one of these great events then you really must. With 6500 people in the field yesterday, there were 6500 different stories and probably 6500 different reasons for taking part. What a fantastically inspiring way to start a Sunday.

For me, the reason for taking part was to test out my run form.

A year earlier I’d run a more low key half marathon near Wrexham with only around 10% of the field size and I had stunned myself by running a new Personal Best of 1 hour 26 mins and 59 seconds. I’d gone into that race hoping to run under 90 minutes and I chose that word “hope” very deliberately, because for years I’d felt that I had the potential to run under the 90 minute barrier but had never succeeded. I knew I’d trained well leading into that race, but proving I could do it created an uncertainty, a doubt about whether I had what it takes to convert potential into performance. Not only did I go under 90 mins ( I’d have been overjoyed with 89:59 ) but I truly smashed it by going more than 3 minutes under my target time.

So I’d done once, but could I do it again? Another year had gone by. I’d trained really well. Consistency has been excellent. I’ve not missed many sessions and I’ve completed them all in line with Coach Annie’s plan. I was ready to test out where I’m at ahead of another big season where I’ll be running many more half marathons, but just to make them a bit more of a challenge, they’ll be at the end of Middle Distance triathlon races.

Conditions were ideal. It was cool, bright and just a gentle breeze. Just before race began I got a message from Coach Annie. “Smash it” read the message. “Better do as I’m told”, thought I.

The race began at 9am sharp and runners filtered slowly across the start line. I took the first couple of miles easy as I had not been able to warm up ( 20 minute queues for the loo had put paid to that) and then at around 3 miles I caught up with the 90 minute pacer who was accompanied by a huge group of runners. As I approached them I was deciding whether to tuck in alongside them for a few miles as I was clearly going more quickly than might be sensible or go past straight away. My own pace felt comfortable and so I went past and didn’t give them another thought for the rest of the race.

We then entered Sefton Park and for the next 4 miles I enjoyed discovering what a beautiful public space this is. At 8 miles I decided it was time to take a gel. Last week in the duathlon I’d made the mistake of forgetting to have one with me and so this week I was better prepared. Fatigue was just beginning to kick in as a few little things were starting to bother me. The running surface suddenly seemed more uneven, the odd runner was now getting in my way( they weren’t it was just my interpretation ) the heavy “breathers” sounded louder in my head. I was mentally tired and starting to get irritated. It’s interesting though that physically I was still knocking out the miles as consistently as earlier. This tells me that I get mentally fatigued way before I get physically fatigued and my brain can easily trick me into slowing down if I let it.

Fortunately this didn’t happen. The gel worked its magic over the next mile or two and as I entered the last 3 miles I was once again sharp and focused on maintaining form to the finish. This was actually the trickiest part of the course. The riverfront promenade was twisting and turning with long sections of cobbles to deal with. It was definitely beginning to hurt but I was thinking straight and knew that I was heading for a special finishing time and so I just kept it going. I didn’t once try to calculate what my time might be. This felt unnecessary. I had the mindset that if I just focused on what I was doing which was staying relaxed, ensuring that I safely navigated each of the twists and turns, then the result would take care of itself. This worked as the last 5k was my fastest of the race. I entered the finishing straight and saw the clock had only just passed 1 hour 25 minutes.

One hour 25 minutes and 3 seconds was my finishing time. I was so happy. I’d well and truly smashed it! Kathy came rushing over to the finish and she knew straight away that I’d done something special. I could see in her eyes that she was delighted for me.

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Once again I’ve set a new personal best. I thought 1:27 was pretty good, but to take a further 2 mins off and set a new best of 1:25 is really exciting. Who knows where my limit will be? I’m just really enjoying the process of discovery and putting into practice my belief that we can be faster after 50.

I don’t know which part of the brain confidence comes from but the tap inside me is definitely wide open right now and confidence is flooding my body. Knowing that I am going faster than ever is such a powerful sensation. Hard evidence that proves that at 56 years of age I’m running faster that at any other moment in my life gives me such a boost of belief to keep chasing that dream of winning at Kona one day.

This race has been so important for reinforcing the power of benchmarking progress to build confidence that I know will help me as I prepare for my “A” races this season.

I’d better get back to training then!

 

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“It’s that back to school feeling again”

No matter how much older I become or how much more experience of racing that I accumulate, the start of a new season seems to always feel like the start of a new school term. That magical cocktail of stomach twisting nerves combined with the excitement of what might be around the corner is a feeling that I never want to lose.

I occasionally wonder to myself how much longer I will want to continue doing all this and the easy answers are to say never or to say that I’ll stop when I begin to decline, but I think that the key trigger for moving on will be if and when I no longer have that start of new term feeling.

During the days leading up to Sunday 6th March that feeling was well and truly building up inside and I processed this as a sign that I was ready to start racing again.

The race at Oulton Park is one that I’ve done for a number years now and so it provides a familiar environment to test myself without any pressure. I chose to do the sprint this year for two reasons. Firstly for fun as the new drafting format is so different and I find the bike leg to be a huge buzz, where you need to keep your wit’s about you and your concentration sharp at all times to ensure that split second decisions are being made about positioning on the road, awareness of others and intensity of effort required to get yourself back into transition as quickly as possible whilst preserving as much energy as possible for the final run. The second reason for choosing the sprint was the time of year with a risk of being cold, I didn’t want to be racing for too long, especially on the bike. At 0830 stood in the car park with snow coming down this felt like an inspired decision!

By 10am when the race was starting the snow had stopped and the sun was out and I began with gloves, arm warmers, calf guards but no hat. This was the correct combination for me and I managed to stay warm without overheating throughout the race. With this race being a World Champs qualifier there was a large and high quality field in all age groups and over 300 honed athletes stood on the start line focused on their own goals.

For me, this meant testing out my levels of fitness, sharpening my race craft and most importantly staying safe. With the snow that had just fallen I agreed with Coach Annie that I was not going to take any silly risks on the bike as this was not an important race in my year and to treat it as a hard training session. I didn’t need to worry about qualification as I’m not aiming at any Sprint Championships this year and my place on the start line for the World standard race is already assured.

The first run went exactly to plan. I set off strongly and then settled into my own rhythm as the field began to sort itself out. No matter how many times I run around the Oulton Park circuit it never gets any easier and the back side of the track is pretty challenging with two punchy hills to deal with. I was encouraged by how quickly I recovered from the second and steeper of the two hills and ran strongly over the last kilometer into the first transition to record my fastest single lap yet, even though I didn’t know it at the time. Good start.

Transition to the bike was smooth and I was out onto the circuit chasing down a small group that had formed up the road and it took about half a lap to get in amongst them and recover from this hard effort. I prefer to be up near the front of the group so that I can mark any attacks that might be made to try and get away and also because I feel a bit safer with fewer wheels in front of me. As a result I probably do more than my fair share of the work, but as this was principally a hard training session for me this didn’t really matter. The five bike laps were soon complete and I was leading a group of about ten riders back into T2.JON26093

A little issue getting my left foot into my run shoe delayed me by a few seconds and one of my 55-59 competitors was in and out ahead of me. My legs dealt with the transition into running really well and apart from the shoe that was still not sitting correctly on my left foot all was well. I was confident that this would resolve itself as I got into my running and so did not need to stop to make any further adjustment. However, unconsciously I allowed my focus to switch to this shoe and lost concentration about the important matter which was this other competitor disappearing down the road. By the time I was relaxed in the knowledge that the shoe was now sitting right I realised that my rival was already 200 yards ahead and I just couldn’t catch him. I described after the race how I’d fallen asleep over the first 1500 metres of this 2nd run and during this period I’d been consumed by the shoe and whether it would cause an ankle blister rather than focusing on the run mechanics that help me to maintain form and pace in a fatigued state. (I’d forgotten to take a gel out on the bike to give me a little boost for the 2nd run so was probably more mentally fatigued than I should have been).

My second run split was down by almost a minute on the 1st run which I was instinctively disappointed about but I think I need to get things into perspective. This is very early in the year and the last time I did this race was just two weeks before the world champs last year when I was flying and in peak fitness and then I cracked out two identical run splits. This time I’ve gone even faster on the first run so need to believe that the indications are really bright for yet more performance gains as the season progresses.

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The final result was a 3rd place AG finish in a solid time. I finished feeling strong and as always when I’m beaten, gave myself an additional shot of determination to apply myself even more in training, in recovery and in preparation.

As for my race goals, well I’m really happy with where my fitness levels are, I scored 10/10 for staying safe and I learned a few important lessons about race craft.

Lets get back to training for the next four weeks before the next race at Windsor.