Author Archives: Danny Cartledge

Paris Marathon

As I stood upon the famous cobbles of the Champs Elysees in the early morning spring Paris sunshine I looked back to the Arc De Triomphe and the 42,000 runners eagerly anticipating the start of the 40th Paris marathon. I turned and looked down towards the Place de la Concorde and the Louvre and then all around me to the multitude of nationalities assembled eagerly anticipating the start and it made me realise how much I love being on the start line of a marathon, especially a big city marathon.
It all goes downhill from here on in!
We arrived in Paris on the Friday and tried to cram in as much sightseeing as possible without tiring the legs out too much. Mrs O’ was along for the journey as well as our 9 year old son, the elder son was quite happy to stay at his cousin’s house providing we purchased him lots of chocolates and presents, considering the Eurostar and hotel costs I thought that was a good deal all round. Also, me and the eldest had done a road trip when we lived in Australia relocating a campervan and the youngest son was not happy that his big brother was one up on the trip front, so this was an opportunity to set the record straight. I forgot all about resting the legs pretty quickly and wanted to see as much as possible. Come 5 O’clock at the weekend Mrs O is usually gagging for a beer and/or wine so I knew we would have to visit a few cafes. The beer was the same price as a soft drink and I could not bring myself to ordering a soft drink at the same price as a beer so ordered two beers and I sipped water as Mrs O downed the beers. This worked out quite well as we were back in the hotel room earlier than planned both nights as Mrs O was drinking twice as much beer/wine as usual and I managed to rest the legs and have early nights. However, there was none of the Paris romance when you have your 9 year old in the room. Right, where was I!
As the marathon starts in waves I was off at 8.47 am and then it was a staggered time start with the 4.30 plus marathon runners starting at 10.05am. This is a great way to avoid overcrowding on the course but can be a bad deal for the late starters especially as the temperature was up to 18 -19c by mid-afternoon on Sunday. At this stage I would like to have gone into a prolonged adventure story about how I fought and conquered my 19th marathon in my fastest time. However, it all went bang on plan so I will give you an abbreviated version. We left the Champs Elysees and I settled into a good pace of 4.10 per km (can’t believe I am saying I settled into 4.10 pace, is this me) and we ran out towards the Bois de Vincennes and a 10k loop around the park. Once out of the centre the crowds are very thin on the ground. There was one stage where I got quite excited as we approached a big crowd in the distance but this was the local Sunday market with people going about their business presumably buying bread, cheese and garlic – right, let’s not go down that route. There is really good support along large parts of the course and lots of bands but it is nothing like the crowds we have in Brighton and London.
After the loop of the park we hit halfway by the Place de Bastille and I crossed halfway in pretty much bang on 1.28 which was my target. I then adjusted to my new target of trying to complete the second half in under 1.30 and the plan was to maintain 4.10 until 25k and take it from there. Why 25k I hear you mutter, well at 25k you have 4 tunnels pretty much one after the other where you drop down and then climb out, one of them is about 1km long and it plays havoc with your Garmin (I managed a 1km pb of 1.43 at km 27, unfortunately, km 26 was 6.42). I reckon this section could make or break your marathon as it does take its toll on your legs, but not for me today, I’m bang on target and feeling good. I passed 32k and was still managing to complete some km’s in under 4.10. I then hit the 1km drag up into the final park. I knew this hill was waiting, I’d checked the map and it was a bit like the drag up to the marina on the Brighton half, not a killer but will slow you down slightly, especially at 35k. I reached the top and remarkably carried on going still holding a good pace with 4.09 and 4.11 for km’s 38 and 39. You would think at this stage I knew sub-3 was in the bag but as many of you know, in the marathon anything can go wrong and as with the rest of the race I was so focussed and concentrating on what lay ahead I did not even allow myself to think I had achieved my mission.
Now for the exciting bit! On the final bend out of the park and into Avenue Foch at just before 42km I suddenly had a killer cramp in my left leg, by this stage I knew sub-3 was in the bag and rather than stagger on like the hunch back of Notre Dame towards the finish line in pain, I took the sensible option of hassling some poor family by the side of the road to stretch out my leg for a while. This was my moment of sub-3 glory, I wanted to go over that line in style and I did not want to cause undue stress to Mrs O and Oliver who I knew were just round the corner waiting to cheer me on. Suitably stretched I jogged on and approached finish line with chest puffed out like King Eric (Cantona) himself and fully enjoyed my moment of glory and crossed the finish line in 2.57.34.
And that was it, after 3 serious attempts at sub-3 I finally managed it and smashed through in 2.57 (My 3 attempts were Amsterdam 2014 – who was I kidding I was nowhere near in sub-3 shape and crashed and burned in 3.08, Brighton 2015 – 3.01.50 on track until 20 miles but mentally just switched off and then 2 weeks later in London I did 3.00.50 and this was off the back of 3 full days of drinking the black stuff in Dublin on the weekend between the marathons.
What did I do differently this year?

I rested in the autumn (I usually do an autumn marathon)

I started going to a body pump class once a week (would recommend for all round strength conditioning) and did core work at home for 45 minutes once a week (planks, press ups, sit ups, stretching and rolling)

I kept the weight down over Xmas, I usually spend January and half of February trying to shed the weight I usually put on from Xmas and Xmas parties (that’s why I run so I can drink and eat what I want to).

I did more medium length runs of 9 -14 miles which meant giving up track for January and February

More marathon pace runs, one every 3 weeks

Wednesday nights I would also be freezing on my own up towards Carats café and back down to King Alfred banging out a tempo or mile repeats before meeting up with the group and doing the same again
Finally, as ever the company and camaraderie of my running buddies at Arena and the help of Bob and the rest of the team are what make this running lark all worthwhile and I really appreciate the club we have. I just need Kev to get back running again properly as I miss his moaning about his injuries and ailments! One last special mention to Steve (I’m taking it easy tonight) McNealy who has really helped me out over the last couple of years with his encouragement and support on a Monday and Wednesday nights.

What next, well Brighton and London marathons of course, I need to be back on that marathon start line!

Crawley AIM 6hr

Crawley AIM 6hr – Saturday 2 April 2016.

Round and round and round we go, where we gonna stop, nobody knows!

What an experience and probably the most fun I have had running round in circles!

Way back last year after dragging my miserable self around the South Downs Way 50 and then a near meltdown at the Arun River marathon in May, I decided I had had my fill of long distances and wasn’t actually enjoying running any more. So releasing myself from pressures of having to run, shortening the distances, getting in some quality stuff I started to run for the simple enjoyment…and actually started to see some improvement. So, what on earth possessed me to enter a 12hr track event, but enter I did. I had actually had my eye on it for two or three years but other races got in the way.

Anyway, Autumn turned to Autumn…well the temperature did ….then the rain came down, then the ground turned to mush, then I lost my appetite for slogging miles out for hours on end, so I parked the 12hr in the back of my mind and carried on enjoying. I discovered cross country for the first time in my 56 years, learnt to embrace Arena Thursday evening’s 15 hill rep sessions and concentrated on run specific strength and conditioning in the gym especially upper body stuff to help with my form when tiredness sets in..I can now bench press 26kg compared to 20kg and deadlift 40kg compared to 28kg!

Autumn part two turned to Winter, then Spring, then Winter, then while in Portugal last month I finally officially pulled out of the 12hr. done! Free to enjoy the WSFRL and the Bognor 10k ….until…the race organiser (RO) came back to me with an offer of a place in the 6hr!! So with 10 days to go I accepted the place and so began my non-existent taper! Children, don’t try this at home!

I’d been pacing the 4.30 group for Runbrighton all winter so knew I was marathon fit in terms of distance, my training had been consistent even though I wasn’t really sure what it was being consistent for and I knew my head was in the right place (not just on my shoulders), so what did I have to lose? In prep I did a 3hr run with Runbrighton on the Sunday before followed by the Lewes Easter 10k on the Monday…followed by nothing in the remaining 4 days and a lot of eating, no alcohol or caffeine.

Race day dawned, the sun came out and Michele, my dedicated lap counter, whisked me up the A23 to the K2 athletics track at Crawley. We spent a pleasant journey putting those less perfect than us to rights and I voiced my race strategy for approval! I did have butterflies in my stomach, but nowhere my usual pre-race anxiety level, it was more nervous excitement, I also enjoyed my first hit of caffeine in a week. I was actually looking forward to getting on the start line. Both of us have lap counted at a track marathon before so had an idea of what was in store for us. One last minute panic when I realised ear phones were banned. I was hoping to pass the time listening to Pop-pickers on R2 at lunch time, then I remembered Tony Blackburn had been given the push anyway and Michele told me I would just have to get on with it! I pushed away any thoughts of the entire 6 hrs ahead, just break the race down, only think about each 30 minute section at a time and breaking it down to the 25/5 ratio.

So at the K2 and I ambled off to set up my fuel station on a chair, (some experienced had small tables!) I’d packed enough gels and stuff I knew I wouldn’t eat to last me a few days, but I do like a bit of choice. This was one of the attractions for me, no need to carry loads of gear, it can all be left in one spot, impossible to get lost and I am never far from the start. The 12hr runners were already on the track and seeing them helped ease the butterflies, they were just ordinary runners, chatting as they went round at various speeds and one lady power walking. Number collected and pinned on back and front like a pro, instructions for us both…make eye contact at least on every lap, wave preferably, run in lane one or on the line and enjoy! Then we were off to join the 12hrs, 3hrs in for them, going round and round.

Having no idea where I was in terms of pace fitness I had sort of planned to start around 11min miling, thinking I was probably around 10.15 pace marathon fit. I had decided on two run/walk ratios, 25/5 and if it got too tough, 12/3, nice rounded segments to concentrate on and break the distant down. The first 25 mins clipped away quite sharpish, so much for 11min miling, I was doing 10…oh hell, slow down…no, no, keep going, it’s comfortable…you’ll suffer for it! Never listen to my own advice, I ploughed on, forcing myself into the 5 min walk section I picked up a piece of flapjack, cup of high5 and water at the communal fuel station weighted down with the usual goodies and carried on, dreaming up different types of waves to give Michele who had now been joined by two more friends, Lisa and Anne. I decided to try a thumbs up combo and perhaps a salute on the next few laps.
Lap counters

lap counters

Back into a run section and I clipped off two 9.38 miles…11min miling!? Another walk break and this time I didn’t feel so self-conscious as others were taking frequent breaks apart from the leaders and two extremely focused Swedish women. One of them was called Agnetha (our names were on our numbers, back and front) and every time I passed her or vice versa, I started singing Dancing Queen in my head, you can dance, you can run, having the time of your life here at Creepy Crawley! Gel time I decided and an opportunity to visit the facilities before the next run time kicks in. Fuelled by a lemon and mint SIS gel (not sure about the taste) it was another 9.38 followed by a 9.57…11min miling!? I clipped the half marathon point off with a 9.33 and then broke into the pineapple chunks as a treat on my next walk break, I interspersed this with little chats to my fellow runners, haven’t I seen you before, bit breezy isn’t it, nice scenery! Opps, nearly forgot to wave or was it thumbs up time? I was treated to a Mexican wave on occasions, it turned out it was every time I completed 20 laps. Round and round we go, I feel in the zone, metrognomic! This is how running used to feel, this is how I used to be consistent with my pace, I was finishing almost in the same spot after each run section, I must be consistent.

9.30 through 18 miles and we reach a point of huge excitement, time to change direction…yay! 3hours in for me and 6 hrs for the 12hr gang. The RO makes an occasion of it and I get to see the faces of other runners, they look a bit tired too, that’s good, I’m normal. Oh this is nice, a different view, tall trees rather than office windows on the bend, however, it also took me a while to orientate myself. Now I would have to take my gels to the fuel station rather than water to my fuel chair. I could also see the race clock head on rather than turning back and the leader board as well as the lap counters at a different angle. By now I had decided a jelly baby between two cheesy nibbles was the way ahead…that and pineapple chunks and I was still clipping off sub 10 min miles….11min miling!?

Until about now, 22 miles in and I hit a bit of a low patch, time to engage my mantra! From William Ernest Henley’s poem Invictus comes the lines, I am the master of my fate, I am the captain of my soul. The two lines were paraphrased by Nelson Mandela whilst he was incarcerated and brought to life again recently by my other inspiration of today, Eddie Izzard. (The poem that is, not Mandela, although Easter has just passed so it could be feasible) Come on, draw on those dreadmill sessions, all that threshold running staring at a wall, draw on that mental strength. By now another couple of friends had arrived to hurl abuse at me and take some photos of my pain. Better try to keep my form for the camera, head up, shoulders relaxed, drive those arms!

By now we were about 4 hours in, 2 hours to go and I started to feel the effort of it all, the 25 mins were taking an hour and my stomach was feeling a little queasy at times. Time to hit the coke at the fuel station, coca cola that is, not the white powder, this worked on my stomach but not on my mind, it didn’t make the 25 mins tick any faster…so time to change the combo to. 12/3. This did wonders to my head and a well caught plunge into the dark places of my mind was avoided. 90 mins to go, the back of it is broken, I’m still waving, even smiling apparently…personally it was probably a grimace..but who cares. Two walk breaks in the next 30 mins, an extra visit to the fuel station for coke, come on dig deep…I am the keeper of my soul…that’s wrong, what was that flipping quote! Money, money, money, she can dance and her coach can shout! And shout he did, something in Swedish that sounded rather rude! The girls were apparently trying to qualify for a Swedish something and he was trying to spur them on and he did laugh when she was further down the track.

Walk break, chat to a 12 hr chap who seems quite envious that my race will soon be finishing, the sun has disappeared, it’s gone chilly so I grab my arm warmers on the next fly past of the fuel chair. One hour left to go, we’re in the last hour whoop, whoop, I can do this, soon be home and able to eat the chicken thingy I had out in the pre-set oven, chicken dinner, winner, winner, come on dancing queen keep moving.

It is about now that I found Michele hanging out at my fuel chair waving a pair of gloves at me, they don’t look like the ones I packed! Are they mine? No, they’re Lisa’s, you have gone a funny colour! Green? No grey? Are you cold? A bit? Put these on, they don’t fit! Lisa must have small hands, no mine are puffy! I’ll have mine, where are they, in my rucksack…I’ll get them next time around, don’t stop me now, I’m having such a great time, I’m having a ball, that’s not Abba but who cares. Sure enough, 2 mins later or there about, my gloves await me. Walk break and it’s 30 mins to go, just a parkrun….not sure why I thought that, then I remembered thinking that at mile 23 during the 2012 Brighton marathon and then I had 30 mins to finish with a PB….which I did with some to spare. So that passed another lap, tick them off, come on shouts Jan, only 6 laps and you hit 50k, come on dig deep…I pass the race referee who gives me a marker and tells me to leave at the side of the track where I stop when the whistle goes, I spend the next lap wandering where to put it rather than clutching it…I settle for stuffing it inside my glove. The next lap is spent wondering what side of the track to place the marker and the next one if I stay with it or not, finally I caught the ref again and my thoughts were answered.

Last walk break done, it’s the home straight, I must have done the 6 laps by now? It feels like a million and six! More words of encouragement from my cheery team as they shelter from the spits of rain…are you lot alright under there? Into the last few minutes, to shouts of put the hammer down I found something deep inside and pushed on, passing the 6hr leader having a walk…come on, you can’t walk now, past dancing queen also having a walk, glad I haven’t got another 3 hours to go.

Another lap, all those threshold and interval sessions on the dread mill each week are paying off, all those 15 thousand hill reps on a Thursday have given my legs the strength to drive me forward, round I go, two minutes on the clock, I pass the woman in 3rd place who has got stronger as the race progressed but still took time to say well done each time we passed. The hammer is almost well and truly down, I wish I had shoved it down a wee bit more as when the whistle blew I was just a shade off the start/finish line…I like completeness, joined up circles and rounded miles. Hallelujah, I’m finished…how brilliant was that, how absolutely delighted am I! No need to beat myself up on the drive home, no need to wish I had gone faster or further. I had played a good part, I loved my stage today and best of all those dark demons stayed away, I really was the master of my fate….and I made it just over 50k!




Some years ago, 11, to be precise I did my first ultra, the Dartmoor Discovery, 32 miles over the roads of Dartmoor, it remains my favourite to this day. None of the commercialism of some of today’s races, just good honest running organised by good honest runners and this is what the AIM 12/6 hr event is like. Don’t expect chip timing, an overrated goodie bag full of flyers or a medal as big as your backside. But do expect and embrace the simplicity of it all, the organisation even down to fixing the dodgy timing clock, your lap counter and fellow runners for that sense of camaraderie and community, a well-stocked fuel station, a finishing bag of essential crisps, drink and chocolate bar and a medal to be well and truly proud of. For me the best of all, the sense of achievement, I had been round and round that track 120 something times, did I ever get bored, no never, what did I think about, lord knows…was it tough, yes at times, but even parkrun has it’s tough parts…well all bloody 3 miles of it actually! Will I do it again, not this year and 6 hours was probably enough…but then I said that after the 100k London to Brighton, then look what happened?

Onwards now, a little rest then back to fun and enjoyment…oh and swearing on a Thursday!

Brigitte G




BMAF 1500m – Joe Ashley

It’s 17:32. According to my ‘last hour’ timetable I need to change my shoes and do two acceleration runs before reporting to the call room before my race. I get out my race shoes and socks and the nagging doubt I’ve had all day that I’ve missed something finally hits home… I’ve brought two ‘left’ socks.I’m getting ahead of myself though. I’m in North London at the Lee Valley Athletics Centre for the British Masters Athletics Federation (BMAF) Indoor Championships. I’d heard about the BMAF last year from fellow Arena runner David McKeown-Webster. They are a federation of veterans clubs all over the Britain & Northern Ireland and host a number of national championships for anyone aged 35 and over.

I have loved competing in the local Sussex Vets league over the last two years – which had come as a huge surprise to me having had no experience of track racing before the first league meet I went to on a windy Wednesday in Eastbourne. It really surprised me how much I enjoyed it and how different it was to road racing. I would recommend any Arena runner over 35 to consider the Vets league, regardless of experience or ability.

So for 2016 I had decided to concentrate on middle distance races, specifically 1500m, with a target to be reasonably competitive (mid pack) at the BMAF outdoor championships in the summer.

Training over the winter has been ok, but an injury meant that I hadn’t competed properly for a few months. I wanted to get a sense of whether I’d progressed, despite not doing any speed work yet. That meant a competitive 1500m, and that meant indoor racing – a completely new experience in terms of track length (200m not 400m), banked corners instead of flat bends, narrower lanes compared to an outdoor track, and air conditioning instead of our gentle seafront breezes.

There were a few events on offer in Feb and March, so I quietly entered the Southern Counties Vets championship 1500m as a trial run. The race went well and I ran a new PB despite a lot of new things to take in, so I took the plunge and entered the BMAF indoor champs in March.

So here I am. I get to Lee Valley at 4 o’clock, pre-race coffee in hand. There are over 500 athletes taking part from all round the country. Lee Valley is packed with serious looking officials and lots of cheering spectators. And my race is the last one of the day at 17:58.

It’s nerve wracking but fortunately not a completely new experience after the Southern Counties champs. There are slight differences though, such as I have to register and then sign a declaration form too. The declaration may or may not be on another table or may have been taken already to another part of the stadium in which case I have to find it.. All little things but I’m paranoid about missing something that would mean I couldn’t race. So I check and double check, then triple check I’ve done the right thing before watching a few races.

I have a ‘last hour’ plan written down based on my previous experience, so that I don’t get side-tracked with so much going on.

16:50 – get changed. I decide to do the same as last time and get changed in back of car. Why not?

16:55 – warm up time. Two miles, along a main road in North London. It’s not scenic.

17:10 – back to the centre for pre race drills. There is a 100m warm up track indoors for athletes. I’ve given myself 10 minutes leeway here for a toilet break and to walk up a ramp, so I’m feeling relaxed. I get to the track to find that somehow I have tied the mother of all knots in my right shoe. I’ve triple knotted it I think. Or something even stupider. It takes me about 5 mins to get it off. I seriously consider cutting my laces. So much for any spare time.

17:20 – warm up drills, which I am still not very good at. The less said the better. My competition are there too, they look much more assured than me. I almost fall over mid lunge.

17:32 – time to change my shoes and do some final 20m/60m/20m acceleration runs to get my legs moving and heart pumping. The left sock situation comes to light. TWO LEFT SOCKS! I do have a spare pair in the car, but it is 5 mins away. I have time, but is it worth it? It would blow my plan out the window. I am only going to be racing for less than a mile. I do not believe there is any major difference between a left and a right sock that is going to break me over just 1500m. Dare I throw caution to the wind and put an L on my right foot?

At this point I also notice that my watch is 2 mins slow and actually I don’t have time. So yes, I bravely don the second left sock on my only right foot and strap on my spikes.

17:40. Time to head to the ‘call room’ to check in before the race. Two guys who have been sat at a table all day cheerfully tell me that 4 of my competitors have checked in, there is one more to come and one has withdrawn. This is the last race of a long day, but they are still smiling.

So there are only going to be 6 of us in the M35 race. Two are far faster than me, then the rest of us are reasonably similarly paced. A bronze medal is on if I stick to my plan. I’ve got a plan based on my last race: I want the first 400m to be 70s. 71secs each for the next two 400m. Kick for the last 300m for something in the low 50s. I need to not get carried away at the start trying to beat the two fast guys, and if anyone else gets off to a flyer, just believe that they will fade.

We get called to the start. I’m called third based on my PB in relation to the others. Another reminder that third is where I need to finish as a minimum.

A hush descends on the stadium and the starter calls us to our mark. The gun goes off. I am a terrible starter, always on the back foot at the start.

We hit the first corner with the usual nudges and everyone tripping over each other slightly. I know I’ve over compensated for my slow start, but want to get a clear gap to run in behind the lead two. I hit 100m in about 15seconds which is too fast. That’s faster than my 400m pace, nevermind my 1500m pace. I ease back slightly, very much in 3rd place. One lap, two laps and I complete the first 400m is 69.6 seconds – bang on.

Except suddenly I realise that while the two leaders are long gone, everyone else is stacked up behind me. I know I have run faster than them before, but only by a couple of seconds. What if they’ve improved recently too? I have a fast finish, but maybe they do too? I’d hoped to give myself a couple of seconds’ buffer. But what if I overdo the next 800m and blow up? I want the medal, not a PB. I find myself dropping off my toes and running back on my heels, slowing and slowing down.

Two more laps and I’ve run the second 400m in 74.3. That’s not good, over 3 seconds off my plan. I’m almost running at 3k pace. I’m still in third, but start to worry that the pack behind is just cruising behind me. I want to pick it up, but now I’m not sure I can. Did that first 100m take more out of me than I thought? Have I already blown this? I’m also getting confused because I’m trying to pace it like a 400m track but it’s a 200m one. And there’s a clock just around the bottom bend that I keep turning to look at even though I have no idea what it means because it’s not at any particular point of the track. What am I doing?

The next 400m are agonising. 73.5 seconds. Way off my target again, my heels are striking the ground like big foot. I can see the shadows behind me getting closer and closer. As I get toward the final 300m I can hear someone on my shoulder. I try to do the maths – I’ve run 3 seconds faster than the guys behind recently, but I’ve run the mid 800m 5.5 seconds slower than planned. If they are faster finishers than me, then I’ve lost third. I need to start running properly.

300m to go, I finally get back on my toes and stretch my legs. Somebody has dropped out, so there are three of us racing for the last medal. The guy on my shoulder moves to the right to overtake me as we hit the bend. Fortunately I know I’m good on the bends, he’s not going to get round me here!

220m to go, I’ve built a gap I’m sure. Only 0.5 seconds or so but I sense he’s a little further back. Finally it feels like I’m running properly, I’m now on my fore foot. I cross the line and get the final lap bell. 200m to go – it is now or never.

I hit the penultimate bend and it all suddenly clicks. I need to turn my legs over faster, increase my cadence asap. I fly round the bend and I know I’ve made another 0.5 secs on the guys behind. I can’t hear or sense him anymore. I just need to hold it.

I’ve no idea what’s happening ahead now, no idea where the leaders are. I’ve 100m left to get myself a British Masters championship medal on my first attempt. I am not letting this go now.

It’s an all-out sprint to the line. I’ve no idea what time I am running in. I get round the final bend and I can see the winners have finished which means the clock has stopped on the winning time, so I have no idea what my time will be. But I also know for the first time that I have got that final medal. I’ve pulled away, I know there’s a gap and as long as I can push to the line I’m driving home happy.

I cross the line and stop my watch. I’ve finished third. I have a medal! And then it gets better – one of the front two is a guest competitor and not eligible for a medal. I’ve got the silver!

Overall my time is 0.8 seconds slower than my last 1500m. Seeing as I had lost almost 6 seconds in the middle of the race I realise I have run a very fast (for me) final 300m. Leading a chasing pack was a new experience so I’m really pleased to have held them off to the end. For the first time I think at this distance, I haven’t got a new PB…but I have got the medal I came for.

Joe's first indoor competition

Joe’s first indoor competition

Tomb racer: Angkor Wat International Half Marathon

Greetings from Cambodia, and more specifically the jungle temples of Angkor Wat! Famous for being the setting of Tomb Raider, one of my favourite films of all time (for the amazing plot, acting and direction of course), the place could seem a bit of an odd location for staging an international running event. However the race has now been going for 20 years and is going from strength to strength by all accounts.
You might think it’s a hell of a long way to go to run a half marathon, but as my wife and I have been spending the last 2 months or so on an extended travelling trip around South East Asia and the Far East it turned out to be a convenient warm up race in my aim to stay marathon fit for Tokyo Marathon in February.
Staying fit has proved to be quite difficult whilst on the road (heat, humidity, long bus rides, poor roads, crazy dogs, cheap beer etc all on the list of excuses) but popping in a few races along the way has helped to focus my training a little at least. So following Jakarta Half Marathon at the end of October, Angkor Wat HM was to be the next of our warm up races, with just one more in China to come at the end of Jan.
With all that in mind my expectations for Angkor Wat was to get round in under 1:25:00 and take in the wonders of the site. Not overly ambitious goals but still enough to give me a few concerns about achieving it. Therefore the pre-sandbagging was perhaps a bit more heavier than normal despite Cat not believing a word of it!
As we arrived in Cambodia and Siem Reap late the night before the race we didn’t get to experience the race expo but the lovely owners at our guest house kindly picked up our race packs for us and laid on a TukTuk to pick us up from the airport. 
So after moderate faff both in Manila changing planes (in the nick of time to catch our second flight) and at Siem Reap airport sorting our visas we finally got to our guest house by 11pm. Just enough time for about 5 hours kip before slipping on my Lara Croft shorts (that would not be a pretty sight) and being picked up by the same TukTuk driver who dropped us off the night before (most TukTuk drivers seem to sleep in hammocks in their vehicles) and heading to the race.
Being an international race, it is pretty popular on the Asia circuit, particularly among expats who come over from Singapore, Bangkok, Kuala Lumpur etc. to take part. I’m not sure of the exact numbers but the total field was around 3,300 and I would say at least half of that number were international entrants.
Walking round the race village (which is situated right in front of the Angkor Wat and looks amazing at sunrise) we could even hear quite a lot of British accents, and I even spotted a Phoenix vest before also spotting Mark Halls in the corral. Just like being at home. Sort of. Ok, not really unless you live in a thousand year old temple.
We executed the drop off, both bags and kids at the pool, with the latter bringing home the importance of bringing toilet paper with you to Asian races (and Asian places in general) and without going in to the detail, let’s just say the water and bucket system was fully utilised.
The event actually had 3 races going on that day with the half marathoners set to head off first at 6am just after sunrise. They were then followed by the 10kers ten minutes later albeit on a slightly different route. Then ten minutes after that a 3k race headed off. This meant for a slightly confusing corral area and lots of bodies. However after taking a quick selfie with the Mrs and wishing her luck I rushed to somewhere near the front ready for the off.
I needn’t had rushed however as the Cambodians love a presentation ceremony it seems. We stood there for about 15 minutes while a couple of important looking chaps made speeches and the national anthem was played, before getting out an Olympic style torch to light a fire with! Pretty cool and certainly the Cambodians we’re loving it. Perhaps Arena should consider getting Bob to do this at the next Hove Prom 10k!?
The sun was up by now which meant that the Mercury was rising and the humidity seemingly worsening also. However there was still significant amounts of shade along the mostly tree lined route of the complex so as the gun went, everyone shot off up the road to start with a half circuit of Angkor Wat. The roads are pretty good on the site and there are many long straight sections with absolutely no hills of any note so I perhaps went out a bit too hard. 5:50 for the first mile. Woops.
Within 1 mile it became apparent that the top four were in a league of their own. A group had formed up front and they headed in to the distance only to be seen again briefly at about 4kms after a hair pin double back section. At this point I had settled in to a pretty nice rhythm and slowed my average pace down to a more manageable 6:00 min/mile. I managed to hold this for at least 8 miles and spent most of this time reeling in a couple of guys who had started quickly and were beginning to fade.
I’d like to say that as I ran through the temple complex that I became inspired by the ancient temples, achieved a Buddhist zen like state of calm and marvelled at the mystique of the ruins, with all of this helping me surge onwards. However this would be lying. What I did in fact was pretty much what I do every race. Head down, grit teeth and shuffle as quickly as my tiny little chicken legs will allow.
Thankfully the chicken legs were shuffling reasonably well and took me to 10 miles in pretty much dead on an hour. By this time I had caught one more chap and was close to another guy. I estimated top 10 and felt pretty pleased. 
At this point, I also managed to see a site! Although only because you pass directly under it. Victory gate is one of the east entrances to the Angkor Thom, which means the great city temples. For you history buffs, apparently it was the last capital of the Khmer Empire and was built by one of its most popular kings – Jayavamaran VII. He must have been a bit of a big head as his face is on loads of the statues but he built an amazing city so fair play to him, why not plaster your face everywhere!
In addition to the Angkor Thom and Angkor Wat, there are many other temples you pass by, including Ta Prohm which features heavily in Tomb Raider, and if you are looking you would also see Banteay Kdel, Ta Keo and Baksei Chamrong to name a few. No I’d never heard of them either, but they all offer something a little different and are actually a mix of Hindu and Buddhist temples in case you were wondering.
Just after passing through Victory gate the half marathons and 10k routes merge, and as it tends to be the tail enders of the 10k race running through this point the course does get a bit congested, particularly when big groups stop under an archway for a selfie and block the way. The Jakarta Half Marathon did something similar with courses merging as well and although I like the idea of holding several races at once to ensure increased participation and choice, the routes would be better segregated either spatially or races held at different times in my opinion. 
However after a little bit of weaving for a mile or so another straight section takes you the final two miles back to Angkor Wat and the finish. By this time the guy in front of me had disappeared and I just needed to get my head down and hold on. The last two miles seemed to take forever but pace wise I only dropped to around 6:10 min/miles for this part so finally the finish came in to sight and with the clock approaching 1:20 I put in a final little burst (certainly not a sprint) to dip over the line in an encouraging 1:19:44.
I headed straight for some shade and water and sat down (collapsed) ready to cheer in Mark and Cat. Ten mins later Mark came through and a further 14 minutes later Cat arrived. By this time the sun was well and truly burning so after a quick photo opp there was no hanging about and it was off to wake up our TukTuk driver from the second phase of his nights kip to head back in to town for breakfast.
Overall the race was pretty amazing and well organised. Water stops and km markers were every km and the race village was well set up (toilets discounting), and with a free technical t-shirt and nice drawstring bag in the goodie bag it’s hard to criticise it. The setting really makes it special even if you only truly experience it before and after the race. The only downsides I suppose would be the merging of the 10k and half marathon routes but that really that wasn’t too bad considering.
I would therefore highly recommend it if anyone is visiting Cambodia and fancies a different type of race. I’d get in some heat / humidity training beforehand though as you’ll need it, and don’t forget your Lara Croft hot pants!
Till next time and as I won’t see you before Happy Xmas!
The shuffle.

Chicago Marathon 

“Apologies for the delay. I have struggled to find the time to write this for one reason or another, but seeing as I am now base building for April’s London Marathon and it is 8 / 9 weeks since Chicago, I thought I best get this finished – better late than never right?!
Please forgive me for any glaring spelling and / or grammar errors, as I have been slightly lazy and not fully proof read the content.
I will try (being the operative word) to keep this section brief and summarise it in numbers. There were two ‘starts’ to the training plan – 1) 6 weeks of base training 2) 15 weeks of marathon specific training. I considered the 6 week base period necessary, as I had done limited running in the month that followed April’s Manchester Marathon. I wanted to arrive at the start of the marathon specific training in reasonable aerobic shape after: putting on 4kgs, losing most of the Manchester fitness, etc.
The Garmin numbers for the 6 weeks of base training were:
Total miles – 271.42.

Number of activities – 33.

Average weekly mileage – 45.
The Garmin numbers for the 15 weeks of marathon specific training (excluding race day itself) were:
Total miles – 1,071.06.

Number of activities – 117.

Average weekly mileage – 71.

% of steady – recovery paced (aerobic) miles – 72%.

Longest run – 27.7 miles.

Longest time on feet run – 3 hours 30 minutes.
The combined data for the 6 weeks of base training and 15 weeks marathon specific training was:
Total miles – 1,342.48.

Number of activities – 150.

Average weekly mileage – 64.
During the second half of the marathon specific training, I like to target 3 key races to gauge my progress and ensure I am on target or near to the where I need to be come marathon day, which on this occasion was to be in sub-2:45 (London Championship qualifying time) shape. The key races were a parkrun, 10k and Half Marathon – the targets and results of which were:
Parkrun – target – 17:10(ish). Actual – 17:05 – a 23 second PB.

Half Marathon – target – 1:18:30(ish). Actual – 1:16:44 – a 3 minute and 5 second PB.

10K – target – 35:40(ish). Actual – 35:23 – a 56 second PB.
All the key races were on or ahead of target, so I knew the training was going well. However, I have done a few marathons now and know that the marathon distance is a completely different animal to the distances mentioned above. Whilst the above times are a useful guide, they certainly do not guarantee x time come race day, because with a marathon, there is plenty of time for something to go wrong, both physically and mentally.
Race week
This was the usual final taper week where there was another big reduction in mileage, but it still included a couple of speed sessions, albeit reduced in volume.
Mentally, I was very calm and relaxed throughout the week. The only ‘issues’ I had were: how often I should run, what mileage I should run, whether I should stick to my time goal or aim higher. I will deal with the latter point a little later in the report. For Manchester, I ran 16.5 miles in race week, which was spread over four days. Although I set a big(ish) PB (12 minutes), I questioned if I had tapered too much. My final decision was somewhat influenced by a brief Facebook exchange with a sub-2:22 marathoner. I decided to do the same as I did for Manchester, but included another run, so the total mileage in race week was circa 21 miles, spread over 5 days.
Before I knew it, it was Thursday, which only meant one thing…carb load commenced. Basically, the carb load means I don’t stop eating or drinking ‘treats’ for three days – I thoroughly enjoy this part of marathon training.
Friday morning arrived and it was a 3:45am rise, because Kev (Martin) and I were meeting at 4:30am for the 5am National Express to Heathrow. As we were boarding the coach, the driver told us our ticket meant that we had to change at Gatwick and get a connecting coach from there. In isolation, this issue appears minor and insignificant, but it was a taster of things to come throughout the day. The ‘other issues’ were mainly down to the sports tour company we used, or the guide from the tour company would be more accurate.
Firstly, if an 8.5 hour flight, two days prior to the marathon wasn’t enough, we had to ‘unnecessarily’ wait around at the airport for a couple of hours – most of which was spent on our feet.
Secondly, when we were being transferred from the airport to our hotel, the driver was doing her tourist bit (she was a very nice lady), when she made the following comment – bear in mind everyone on the coach was from the sports tour company and doing the marathon – “I don’t know if any of you are aware, but it is the Chicago Marathon this weekend – I think it is 10 miles or it might be 20 miles” 😊.
Thirdly, when we arrived at the hotel, the sports tour guide said, we will all meet back at reception in 15 minutes and go to the Expo together. Kev and I went to our room and were back at reception within the allocated time. We waited, and waited, and waited, until we eventually decided that he and some others gone without us.
Fourthly, upon collecting my number from the Expo, Kev noticed that the name on my race packet was female (I know some of will think or say, but that could still be you). After an initial panic, I spoke to some volunteers, who checked everything and was reassured that everything was okay and that the number was in my name.
Finally, by the time we had been to the Expo, eaten (felt like the only thing that went well on that day), got back to the hotel ready to sleep, we had been awake for the best part of 24 hours – not ideal preparation with the marathon being less than 36 hours away.
Saturday morning meant my last pre-marathon run. The session was, 1k warm up, 4 x 2 minutes at 5:15(ish) pace – about a minute quicker than planned marathon pace – off two minute recoveries, 1k warm down. I like to do a short speed session a day before a marathon (and most times I race for that matter, which currently isn’t that often). I know this is not for everyone, but it generally appears to work well for me. However, on this occasion, it didn’t go to plan – I felt sluggish from the 1k warm up. Rightly or wrongly, I put this down to the following factors: fatigued legs from the flight, lack of sleep from the previous day and the warmth and humidity in Chicago. Kev was also out doing a mixture of some easy paced running and strides. There were many large groups of marathon runners, also running up and down Michigan Avenue – I could feel the excitement and buzz.
The rest of the day was pretty chilled and not a lot happened, although there was a funny moment in the evening. Whilst chilling, the plan for race day would occasionally pop into my thoughts – the internal conversation would go something like this…one part of me would say, you have trained for a sub-2:45, so stick to this. The other part of me would say, training has gone well, you are in good shape, so why not push on for a sub-2:40. I was having a battle with my sensible side and as someone ‘rudely’ pointed out on a running forum, probably my ego. Thankfully, my sensible side is prominent where running is concerned, so sub-2:45 remained the target. On to the funny evening moment. Kev and I went out for dinner and a married American couple and their two daughters were seated next to us. After a short while, the wife leant over and in a ‘cockney’ accent said, “Xcuse me luvs, where ya from?” It might be one of those ‘you had to be there moments’, but it was very funny at the time.
Race morning
After 7(ish) hours sleep, it was around 4:30am local time and time to rise. This might seem early, but as the race started at 7:30am, it gave me 3 hours to get myself together. This is plenty of time for me to wake up and go through my usual pre-race marathon routine that wouldn’t be complete without numerous visits to the ‘bathroom’. Before we left the hotel room to walk to the start line at Grant Park (about a mile from our hotel), we decided on the umpteenth weather check. To be fair to the forecasters, the forecast had not changed throughout the week – it was going to be warm and humid with wind of circa 15mph – 25mph coming out of the south west. This forecast proved to be spot on for the race.
At Chicago, they have an Event Alert System (EAS), which communicates the status of race conditions. EAS levels range from Low (Green) to Extreme (Black). This is based primarily on weather. In race week and on race day itself, the EAS level was moderate (yellow). This means that “event conditions” were “less than ideal” and the “recommended actions” were “slow down / be prepared for worsening conditions”.
We entered Grant Park and after one final toilet break, Kev and I made our way into Corral A to do our warm ups, etc. We lost each other for a bit, but when we started gathering for the start, I spotted Kev. I went over to him, wished him well and took my place ready for the off.
With only a couple of minutes to go until the start, I experienced a first…a couple of guys leisurely squatted down in front of me in the start pen, pulled their shorts to the side and started urinating. Their ran (no pun intended) into people’s running shoes, so once finished, they both stood up as if nothing out of the ordinary had happened and calmly said to those with urine running shoes, “Don’t worry guys, it’s only water”, and that was pretty much the end of that.
Race report
0 – 5km
I take my first gel and within a couple of minutes we’re off. I preset my Garmin to alert me every 31 minutes for a gel. There is nothing scientific about this time period. I like to be slightly ‘non-conformist’, which is why I opted for 31 minutes instead of 30 minutes. Yes, I am a rebel without a cause. Anyway, I digress, back to the race. To allow for Garmin error, a possibly slight fade over the last 5km – 10km and a relatively even paced run, I planned to set off at around 6:10 pace. What I learned from my first marathon (Brighton 2014) is: 1) That patience is key, and 2) To resist the urge to go too quickly in the first 20 – 22 miles.
Within 400(ish) metres, we went through a tunnel which must have been about circa 600m long and I lost signal. When I came out from the tunnel and regained signal, my average pace was showing at just over 7 minute per mile pace. Intuitively, I knew I was running quicker than that, but for some reason, I sped up to get my average time down to the target pace. I wasted unnecessary energy doing this.
Thankfully, due to the heat and humidity, there were water stations pretty much at every mile or so for the duration of the marathon, so I regularly drank water and / or poured it over myself to cool me down, even at this early stage
The the noise from the crowds during this section was something to remember. I go through the 5km marker in 18:48 / 6:03 average pace.
5 – 25km
My perfectionist and sensible sides were slightly annoyed for going too quickly through the first 5km. Although the first 5km were quicker than planned, I still felt relaxed and comfortable, but I told myself to slow down in the second 5km, which was achieved. 5km split 19:08 / 6:10 average pace – through 10km in 37:56.
From memory (which is shocking in general, but even worse when racing), the majority of first 10km was shielded from the sun and the wind and / or gusts by the many skyscrapers. This changed from around the 10k mark. I can’t recall the specifics, but the majority of the remainder of the race was exposed to the increasing temperature and the wind and / or gusts lasted for a few minutes on each occasion and were generally into a headwind, or that’s how it felt.
The next 15km were uneventful and ticked along rather nicely and swiftly – the 5km splits were: 19:22 / 6:14 average pace – through 15km in 57:18. 19:26 / 6:16 average pace – through 20km in 1:16:44. 19:19 / 6:13 average pace – through 25km in 1:36:03. In amongst the last of those 5kms was the halfway mark, which I went through in 1:21:02, so through halfway bang on the planned 6:10 pace. I had a little grin, nodded my head in acknowledgement and reinforced that it was game on for the London Championship qualifying target.
25 – 30km
From nowhere, as is generally the case, the predictable and inevitable race demon was on my shoulder. The voice was loud and strong. It was stronger than anything I had experienced in previous races. Within a matter of seconds, I had gone from running strongly and confidently and feeling mentally in control, to having a brief (a couple of seconds) slow down in preparation to walk (and feeling mentally out of control), to tuning into my stubborn, determined and self-competitive sides and pushing on. It was certainly a turbulent rollercoaster ride mentally through this phase of the race.
I was genuinely worried and knew I had to do something imminently. I looked around, saw there were big(ish) but quiet(ish) crowds and done something I had never done before…I played to the crowd, which surprisingly, but thankfully helped massively. I was lifting my hands up in the air and putting my hands to ears, encouraging the crowd to make more noise to which they obliged. Admittedly, it might be a ‘cockish’ thing to do, but at times, desperate measures call for desperate actions, and it felt like a very desperate moment. I carried this on for about km and it worked wonders. Whilst it killed the demon, it almost killed me aerobically – I was knackered.
Once the panic was over, I calmed myself down, gave myself another good talking to and from this moment on, dedicated certain parts of the race to friends and family that are no longer here. Despite struggling mentally, physically, I still felt strong, which was supported by the 5km split of 19:20 / 6:14 average pace – through 30km in 1:55:23.
30 – finish
Using the experiences and knowledge from the Amsterdam and Manchester marathons, I knew if I had paced it correctly, my patience would pay off. True to previous experiences, this is what happened. I picked off quite a lot of runners, whilst only being picked off by a handful at most. This, coupled with knowing I was still on target for the sub-2:45 gave me a welcomed mental boost. 5km split of 19:32 / 6:18 average pace – through 35km in 2:14:55.
Inevitably, my legs started to feel a little tired and the calves were tightening. I checked my form and told myself to run as relaxed as I could under the circumstances – sometimes, it is easier said than done. I done some calculations in my head and knew that I needed to run the last 7+km in 30 minutes, which in isolation would have been a stroll. However, it is a different story when the body has already done 35km.
I was hoping the calculation would give me some positive vibes, but it didn’t – in fact it had the adverse effect. The thoughts that immediately followed the calculation were, you still have about half-hour to run, which is a long long time. I had another chat with myself and the message was loud and clear…keep it in the moment and don’t worry about how long is left. It was at some point during this section that the Marathon went through Chinatown. 5km split of 19:44 / 6:21 average pace – through 40km in 2:34:39.
The expected fade was happening, but it was quite insignificant. It wasn’t anything to worry about, or not up until this stage anyway. I have learnt not to take anything for granted in the marathon. There was still plenty of time for something to go wrong, even over the closing 2+kms.
The race was getting tougher and tougher both physically and mentally, but the kms were ticking by. I saw the 400m left to go sign, looked down at my Garmin and it said late 2:41’s. Unfortunately, I didn’t have a sprint left in …

Gary McKivett

I used to be a marathon runner

I’ve been travelling a lot with work this year which has meant I’ve not trained or raced with the club as much as I’d like – though I’ve still been running as much as I can. As I have failed to write up any race reports for the website, I thought I’d reflect on the three marathons I competed in during 2015, which were both the highlight and lowlight of the year for me.The marathon is basically just a 10km race, but with a 20 mile warm up. I like that description as it sums up why I both love and hate the event. It’s 2 and a bit hours waiting for it to start, followed by 40-odd minutes wishing it was over.
The run up to Brighton Marathon was OK, but with the usual niggles and worries. On the day it was fine, and I slipped a couple of minutes under the 3-hour barrier, meaning that I (or at least my ego) joined the ranks of Kipsang, Kimetto, Gebrselassie and others as a “2 hour-something marathon runner”.

Getting things wonderfully out-of-perspective, chasing an arbitrary time had started to feel like my sole reason for existence. Once I’d done it there wasn’t really the expected elation, as I realised I had to do it at least once again, if I was to claim to my grandchildren “I ran sub-3 marathons” rather than I once ran one, which makes it sound like I just got lucky that day.

London was only 2 weeks later, so I was realistic about another PB. Instead I set out to try and run that holy grail of marathon runners – the negative split. Despite a big mental wobble passing a pub at 19 miles (“I’ve got a sub-3, this is hard, why don’t I just stop?”), I was pretty pleased to finish strongly with the second half faster than Brighton resulting in a not-quite-negative-split time of 3:01 exactly. While I was happy with the race, over the next week people commiserated me over those 60 seconds. It’s often said you are only as good as your last race, and so it would appear I was no longer a sub-3 runner.

After a long summer break with a bit of cycling and some shorter races, I was still in reasonable shape and decided to have another crack at the Beachy Head Marathon. I’d done the event the previous year and while I did OK, I was pretty certain I could go faster. With a good run on the last ever Jog Shop 20 (my favourite race) and then a solid race at the Bright10, I was feeling fairly confident.

The first 10 miles flew by. I lost a bit of ground in the middle bit, but didn’t worry too much. But by the time I got to the Seven Sisters I was feeling pretty much as drained as the previous year. I kept going, but one of the sisters (I’d lost count) took it’s toll and I suddenly cramped up and fell over. Lying on the ground I realised I probably wasn’t going to get the result I was after. After a minute or so, the cramp subsided and I managed to get up (which was an achievement in itself) and press on at a fairly pathetic rate. I passed through Birling Gap with the only motivation now being that keeping going was the quickest way to get to back to Eastbourne and end the misery.

With hindsight, it was a mistake not to just stop. About a mile further on, I was descending into a dip when cramp set in again quite badly in both legs. It was bad enough that I couldn’t actually walk up the fairly small climb in front. And nor could I manage to go back up the hill I had just come down. I laid down, but that only made things worse, so I got up again, which took a while and hurt quite a bit. As the main Beachy Head road was only about 100 (flat) metres away to the side, I decided the best option was to get there and hopefully find some help. About 50 metres later I needed to lie down again.

An elderly couple who had been bird-watching appeared and asked if I needed help. I got them to haul me up and then basically hold me upright on to me for a few minutes. They were a bit unsure of what do with somebody who seemed to have the motor skills of a jellyfish, so the husband went to see if he could find a marshal, leaving me clinging on to his wife for support. “It’s a long time since somebody’s held me like this!” she (I think) joked. I changed the subject and we discussed a nearby kestrel.

With no marshals about, the pair decided to drag me the remaining distance to the road. Luckily one of the Beachy Head Chaplaincy team was there. I don’t think I was suicidal by this stage, but he took no chances and drove me back to Birling Gap (I’ve made a donation – my conscious is clear). I spent the next hour sitting in the coastguard station, wrapped in a foil blanket while persuading a couple of coastguards to push my toes back to ease the cramp. Eventually a mini-bus transported me and a few other losers back to Eastbourne.

I’ve already started training for Brighton marathon next year. However, you are only as good as your last race. After a disastrous Beachy Head, for the time being at least, it looks like I have lost the right to call myself a marathon runner…


East Sussex Cross Country, Snape wood – 22nd November

6 mad but brave soles from Arena battled freezing 0 degrees, to race 8K through the woods of Wadhurst. With over a mile walk to the start as a warm up !! and a lovely long uphill start to look forward to, we were glad to get going to get away from Colin’s constant moaning about the cold, and his awful dress sense. After a long climb, then decent into the mud and water, it was reassuring to have spikes (wasn’t it Jim, who left them by the front door) only to face what felt like a mini mountain, so hands on knees and power walk, only to make it to face another hill…….but then it was down hill, slipping and sliding as you tried to overtake before arriving back at the start to know you had to do it all over again, horray.
So after another hard slog the finish was in sight and a final sprint pursued to overtake to get the extra places you wanted.

It was then a quick change and dash to get a minibus lift back as the legs were knackered, before the masses finished.

Well recommended, a REAL cross country race for all abilities and only £3.

One thing left me baffled though, with over 150 people in the race and 217 pictures taken, where was I, did I really do it? Only the results will tell.


British and Irish Masters International XC Sat 14 November 2015 – Santry, Dublin

British and Irish Masters International. By way of explanation Masters Athletics is for anyone aged 35 plus (in five year age bands) and the British and Irish Masters International XC comprises athletes from England, Scotland, Wales, Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland. The race is held every autumn (usually in November) in each of the competing nations and this year it was in Dublin. For the women four are picked for each age group of which three score (and there are up to three Reserves too).

It is the only British Masters competition in which you can be selected to run for your country. In order to do Masters races you have to belong to a Veterans running club – in my case Southern Counties Veterans AC (SCVAC) for which I run second claim.


I have been fortunate enough to have been selected to run for England in the past – in 2012 I was Reserve for the W45 England XC team and with a week to go was called into the team and ran at Queens University in Belfast.  

In 2013 my aim was to get straight into the W50 England team, a goal which I achieved and went on to run at Cardiff.

In 2014 I was a reserve for the W50 team and didn’t compete. Because I was heading towards the middle of the age band I was determined to try to get into the team in 2015 and my quest began in



The selection criteria state that the selectors are interested in your performance not only at XC but also at 5k, 10k and 5000 and 10,000m, at local, regional and national level and that British Masters races are taken into consideration as you will be running head to head with your peers. Your most recent form is looked at so it is important to post as good times as possible and to try to be consistent through the year, no easy task. In addition you have to try to remain well and injury free so you can train and race to the best of your ability and while not wishing harm to your rivals you hope that you will do at least as well as if not better than them! Also each age group is a constantly moving target. With relief you see a swift rival moving up into the next age category to be replaced by someone younger and faster than yourself.


With that in mind my year started with the mudfest that was the Sussex County Championships at Bexhill. Never have I seen a muddier course – ankle deep mud and clay in places which made for very heavy going. I am a plougher, the conditions suited me and I had a strong run to finish 10th overall which meant I was considered (at age 51) to run for Sussex at the Inter Counties in March. I turned this opportunity down however as my target race for March was the British Masters XC race at Ruthin (nr Wrexham).


I trained hard for Ruthin, taking in Cranleigh parkrun in late January as preparation as it is one for the few parkruns which is entirely off road so it replicates XC conditions. Unfortunately for me come the day there was a galeforce wind blowing and it was sleeting heavily and although I was 1st female I posted a poor time of 22:28 Never mind I told myself, the important thing was that Cranleigh was a preparatory race.

I did Chichester 10k in February – a race which has done well for me in the past but clocked 40 minutes dead, not the 39 something for which I was looking.


In mid March Mark and I made the long journey to Ruthin. To stand a good chance of selection you have to be prepared to travel great distances to race.

Conditions for the BMAF 6k XC race at Ruthin were benign and the course was a good one – a lead out lap around a playing field then many undulations and a ploughed field. My preparations went well and I was delighted to finish 1st W50 and was crowned British Masters W50 XC champion which upped my chances of selection into the England team later in the year.


In May I was running very well and posted a PB of 32:26 at Hastings 5 mile race and got my best parkrun time of the year – 19:27 at Horsham.

Worthing 10k in early June was my next target race. Unfortunately it was a warm day which did not suit me and I ran a disappointing 40:30


Over the summer I did various parkruns with various degrees of success. I knew I needed a 5000 on the Track so on Issy’s recommendation (that there wouldn’t be many entries so the Track would be clear) I did Sussex Vets Track at Lewes in early July in 19:44 (not the 19:30 I was seeking but it had to do) and decided to do a different 10k rather than the same old so made the trip to Romney in mid July. Unfortunately it was another sizzling day and although I was 2nd F running 41:06 I did a worse time that at Worthing so at that point I gave up on 10ks for the year.


As the year moved to September it was time for me to apply for selection for the W50 XC England team. As previously mentioned you have to log your times and apply to your Veterans club regional selector who then goes to a meeting in Birmingham in early October where a whole day is spent poring over forms and times for each age group. The selectors have a difficult and unenviable task – whatever they decide someone will always miss out.


During much of the year and particularly in early September I had been a Powerof10 and RunBritainrankings stalker to give myself an idea of who I was up against and it was scary – there were W50s on there who had posted 18:30 parkruns and 19 minute 5000 Track times – way out of my league. However that did not mean that all of them would apply for selection. Looking at the names (and particularly those who had applied in the past) I reckoned I had an outside chance of getting into the team but would definitely be a Reserve.

On October 8th THE envelope came through the post – I could hardly bear to open it –in fact I opened it a little and saw the red strip on the letterhead – a good sign as you get the full colour version if you get into the team and a photocopy if you are a reserve. I was in and time for a quick post on Faceboast to celebrate the achievement! It is a real honour to be selected to run for your country especially in the W50 age group which is very competitive.

After the initial euphoria wore off, my place confirmed, hotel reserved and flights booked, it was down to the serious business of knuckling down to a five week training plan (four weeks of graft and a week of taper). I wrote down what I would do each day then ticked off each part as I completed it. Injury and illness anxiety increased greatly during this period- I would walk up another supermarket aisle if I heard anyone so much as sneeze near me and any niggle became magnified in my mind into a more significant injury


For those who are interested my training week was designed to work on my speed but not to neglect endurance. My mileage was not high – probably no more than 25 miles or so a week taking into account that I was training for a 6k race and that I am in my 50s so I don’t bounce back from training as quickly as the youngsters. In conjunction with Bob and Mark I worked out a plan –

Monday – a mile warm up then a Bob recommended 6 x 1k flat out with 1 min 30 secs recovery hopefully more or less the same time for each rep ( run early morning in Hove park when it was light to avoid too many loose and leaping dogs, kamikaze cyclists etc.) The slowest I did the ks was 3:50 and the fastest 3:39. This session was a beast and seemed to come round very quickly – I was always glad when it was over!


Wednesday morning undulating tempo run 6 milesish up to Devil’s Dyke with a bit offroad. Wed evening 45 mins core fitness session.  

Thursday was a Bob style Hove Park Training session on my own first thing in daylight – usually in the Goldstone corner and doing 20 mins hills and sprints and 10 mins sprints.


Saturday various parkruns (used as speed sessions) including a return to Cranleigh. This time there was no wind, the course was firm and I took nearly 2 minutes off my time from January – 20:46 and the W50 course record too.

Sundays were a long slow run mainly offroad of up to an hour 10 mins- again undulating. 


My taper week (the week of the race) was 4 x1k on Monday, 4o mins temp on Wednesday and 20 mins strides on Thursday plus a pre race massage from Fiona Jamie. In my opinion taper time is VERY important – it is vital not to get to the start line tired and by race week you cannot put in what you have not already done. It is the hardest part in many ways – you are used to doing more but you have to put the brakes on.


And so the night before the trip to Dublin and the footwear dilemma – short spikes? Long spikes? Studs? Racing flats? (the lot were taken, just in case).  

Friday 13 November saw us up early and off to Gatwick for our mid morning flight to Dublin. You have to build in lots of contingency time in case you are fog bound/the plane suffers some techie difficulty etc. Steve Smythe who writes for Athletics Weekly was on our flight and I spotted a few Masters athletes milling about in the Terminal building.

We were staying in the Crowne Plaza hotel immediately opposite Santry park, race venue, which was very handy and gave us a chance to look at the ground conditions although not the course on Friday afternoon. Much standing water suggested that it was WET so I immediately thought medium spikes. Chowed down some pasta early evening Friday and left Mark chatting to Walter M75 running for Scotland while I went to the team briefing which was packed. Came out of team briefing 30 mins later and Mark was still in restaurant talking running with Walter.


Race day dawned WET. I was up just after 7am although my race was not until 11:30 at it was pouring outside. The team photo was being taken at 10:15 in the park and literally at 10:05 there was a dash from the hotel in the pouring rain and we all stood in the deluge in our team hoodies while we were papped from all angles. Mark and I then walked (or rather splashed and slid round) one lap of the three lap course. Because it was so wet and cool I adjusted my warm up – the main thing was to keep warm and not get too wet before the race itself so I emerged a little before 11am and did some strides before changing into my spikes. Correct choice (of spikes) is vital in a race like this is the wrong footwear will scupper your chances of doing well.  

The mental part is tough -the doubts were going through my head – I wasn’t good enough/I would make a fool of myself/I was out of my depth but the rational part of me said that I had prepared well, had not been ill or injured and to go out and do my best. As I lined up I felt that at any moment I would be uncovered as a fraud – that I shouldn’t be there. I tried to zone out and not be psyched out by all the very fit and determined ladies line up around me. To say I was nervous was an understatement!


I got into position – not at the front with the speedy W35s but one row back on a fairly wide start.  

Everyone wears a number on their front and back prefaced by age group so you know which age groups are ahead of you.

We were called to the line, the gun went and we were off!

I had worked out that I would be 60 -70 runners back assuming that all the W35S, 40s, 45s and a few of the 50s (plus the odd 55 and a few of the M65s who were running with us) would be ahead of me and that would be fine. My start was scrappy – I got a bit boxed in until after the first corner (which was good in that I didn’t go off too fast) then I saw some W60s ahead of me and though it was time to put the pedal down. From then on I chased down and passed lots of people who had set off too fast and were paying the price. The course cut up immediately and as with Bexhill in January I gamely ploughed on with shouts from the team manager and other spectators who knew me. During lap 2 I was on the back of Pete Witcomb M65 from Brighton and Hove – I levelled with and passed him then latched on to my fourth team member and passed her too. I knew then that I would be a scorer for my team. Even though a couple of speedy W55s passed me they were not in “my” race and with growing confidence I tackled lap 3 and finished very strongly, determined not to let anyone past me on the finishing strait. I crossed the line very muddy, feeling wibbly and totally done in. Had a quick chat to a few people then it was back to the hotel for a bath and some coffee.  

Resultwise I was 59th overall , 7thW50/20 in 24:31 and third scorer for my Gold Medal winning W50 England team beaten only by my two swifter teammates including Masters World record holder Clare Elms, World record holder Fiona Mathieson from Scotland, Irish Record holder Nimah O Sullivan, another Irish lass and a lass from Northern Ireland. (AnneMarie McGlynn from Ireland who won the race outright ran an amazing 20:57 but she is only 35!)

All the preparation, physical and mental had been worth it and I ran a good race on the day.

When you have a goal, focus on it, race well and be the best you can be there is no feeling like it and that is what drives you on through the tough training and the inevitable troughs.


The medal presentation is made at a formal dinner following the race which is a chance to meet fellow athletes and enjoy the glory. Each (winning) team is announced and photographed and we all got a medal befitting of the occasion.


Would I do it all again? Definitely but probably not immediately – you have the highest chance of selection when you are at the bottom of the age group and I am the wrong side of bottom now!


I could not have achieved any of this without my support “team” – coach Bob, Fiona and her massages, through the year my Track training group, all the wonderful Areenez for support and encouragement, my core team members from parkrun for their support, other parkruns we have visited this year, all my running pals and last but definitely not least my stalwart Mark for accompanying me to races, for keeping me calm on race days, for getting soaked to the skin at Santry park while letting me know the gap between me and rivals.


Caroline Wood