The Berlin Marathon 2022 – what a day!

The phrase “it’s finally here” just seems like the biggest and most ridiculous understatement of all time at this precise moment. I am stood, well sat actually, between the Brandenburg Gate and the Victory Column on one of the most famous avenues in the world, the Strasse des 17 Juni, amidst a crowd of 45,000 runners, and many many times more spectators. I’ve walked up past Checkpoint Charlie and Potsdamer Platz, then assembled at the very steps of the German Reichstag, the seat of power of probably the most famous and indeed infamous ruling parties in all of history. Indeed Hitler’s Bunker is close by too, as is a square mile memorial dedicated to the Holocaust. Within a few hours I’ll have run past der Mauer, the Berlin Wall, and many more iconic places in this most incredible city. Oh and Eliud Kipchoge is here as well, amongst many other legends. This, is the 2022 Berlin Marathon. 

For me it is the culmination of a lot of effort to get here. All of my own making, as I’m a stickler for following a training schedule, and managed to pick a very thorough and hard one! I’ve run 6 days a week since May, and if there’s one thing I know full well, then that’s no matter how today goes I will not be putting either of my feet in a pair of trainers next week! 

It’s funny also (or not funny in this case!) how little things can threaten to almost derail your plans, even at the last minute. For example, despite some rather meticulous preparation to make sure I got myself here with everything I needed, yesterday two small happenings both caused consternation. 

Firstly my watch strap on my Garmin broke. “First world problem” I hear you say! But as someone who has his face literally glued to his watch on every run I do, then I literally couldn’t run a race like this without it. Both pace per mile and heart rate are crucial to whether I speed up or slow down, and probably even finish at all. Thankfully I found a shop in Berlin who stocked spare straps, and so that little hiccup was solved almost straight away. I’m just relieved it didn’t happen on the way to the start! And then potentially worse, yesterday I found myself running to the loo after breakfast with a dose of the trots.

If there’s one thing you don’t want for a marathon it is to be without energy/nutrients and also dehydrated. Thankfully it passed as quickly as it seemed to start, and after some crisps and a coke it seemed to subside. Phew! I did end up drinking rather a lot of water to make up for it, and hopefully I’ve now got rid of it all!!

Right – so I’ll update this after the run……..

So here I am, at Brandenburg Airport the following day. And overall it went great, in that I got a PB and beat my target time (whoop whoop!!) but not without some little trials and tribulations!

So firstly I just never really felt comfortable at all. I must have overdone the liquids beforehand, as despite peeing about 10 mins before the run, and not drinking after that, I felt like I needed the loo from the off! Only for a pee thankfully (I’d managed to otherwise “go” successfully beforehand for a number two, and I bet you really needed to know that!!!) but the feeling just wasn’t going to go away. I was determined not to have to stop, trying hard for a time of under 3hrs 40mins, which I knew would be tight. Every second counts! I figured then that I’d just run off the need, as perspiration and respiration took care of any excess fluids, but nope, it wasn’t going away. By mile 10 I could think of nothing else, and it wasn’t until about mile 16 that I found somewhere to go, thankfully finding some portaloos when I was fearing that I was going to have to duck into an alleyway and then get arrested by the German police! 

And then my flipbelt was just too tight. I’d swapped between two flipbelts in the weeks before the marathon (the ethos always being ‘never try anything for the first time on the day’), but I was between sizes. The medium was a tiny bit slack, and it caused a bit of bouncing and chafing when full of gels and phone etc. and chafing can be at best a terrible distraction, so I bought a small one. It was tight! I did wear it for the Great North Run, and whilst I was aware of it the whole time it was never uncomfortable. So I went with it here. I think that maybe because my bladder wasn’t empty properly it just exacerbated the tightness. I just wanted to rip the thing off, and at one point I pulled my phone out and carried it in my hand, but that was just another distraction, and I didn’t want to drop it either.  

Oh and also my shoes started to bother me at about mile 12! I wore the Vaporfly in the end, and despite these having been worn many times before, they ended up hurting my toes. I felt like I was getting a blister on my left toes early on, and then my right big toe starting aggravating me. You just don’t need or expect these things when you are doing a marathon! My toe has literally turned black afterwards, and having only lost one big toenail in my life, and heading off to Everest Base Camp in three weeks time, I really hope this one doesn’t go the same way.

I think that all of the above ultimately led to a bit more stress than I needed, and that culminated in an elevated heart rate. More of that below!

So on the plus side, despite what was a crazy long walk to the start, the rest went well! The hotel where I stayed was about two miles to the start, and I chose to walk (along with the rest of the group who were in the same hotel), so by the time I’d got through all of the backwards and forwards to get to the correct wave, I’d done almost 10,000 steps already!

I managed to pace things exactly as I wanted though. I’d set myself the target of trying to get just under 8 mins 18 seconds per mile overall, as that would beat my target of 3hrs 40mins. I knew I musn’t go off too fast, and so I’d told myself to do 8min 30s miles for the first two, and then to just very gradually make that up later on. In the end I did 8:28 and 8:21, and was pleased with that and settled into my stride. The weather was ok early on too, at about 12 degrees, and pretty much perfect conditions. I was in Wave E, so set off about half an hour or so after the fast runners.

Most of the first half of the run was pretty much straightforward, and I went through the half marathon in 1:49:18, which was pretty much exactly where I wanted to be. My heart rate up to then was at around 160 to 162, and whereas I’d preferred it lower, that was all fine and manageable. But the pressure of needing to pee, and the tight flipblet, and the sore feet, and then it started getting hot (to was 18 degrees at there end, too hot for me!) just led to escalating heart rate after that. I ended up averaging 183 over the last few miles, and touching 190, which is (obviously) just way way too high. I actually stopped twice to walk, to calm it down (it didn’t), and that just should never happen. I also had to stop for that pee! At about mile 18 it was all too much really!

So the last few miles were all really a bit too much hard work. I didn’t really bonk, but I was just hanging on for actually most of the last 10 miles. I really don’t want this to sound like a big gripefest, but I can only tell it how it is. Despite my fighting against myself, I did so much enjoy running under the Brandenburg Gate – it was all I could do to contain emotions, and the headrush was extreme.

I remember also thinking to myself on so many occasions towards the end that I was leaving everything that I had in me on the streets of Berlin. There would be no wondering about whether I could have run faster, or should have done things differently. I had given it my best, my all, and that’s all I had on the day. And that’s all I can ever ask for really.

It has been a long road to get here, and I am so glad that I did it. Marathons (for me anyway!) just take all that you have got. They take a lot of planning, of sacrifice, of dedication and motivation, and of drive and desire. I put all that I had out there, and 3 hrs 37 mins and 58 seconds later I had (and have for all time) a beautiful medal and some amazing memories to show for it.

Me producing a smile as the finish line is in sight – the Brandenburg Gate in the background.
This is pretty great too of the Brandenburg Gate – I’m in there somewhere…… 🙂
And it is finally done!!
The anticipation of 45,000 runners at the start..
…to the exultation that it is all over!
The medal in closeup, it is heavy and great quality, and Eliud Kipchoge is on the reverse side!
And here is my Garmin at the end!

So the first thing I heard as I got into the finish area in front of the German Reichstag and got to sip a (sadly non alcoholic!) beer was that Eliud Kipchoge had broken the world record – I was (albeit an infintessimally small part) of history!! His time was a completely remarkable 2:01:09, and he’d gone through the half way point in 59 min and 51 seconds apparently! That legitimate 2 hour mark remains tantalisingly close – and it is so incredible and amazing to have been there as part of (albeit a very long way behind!!!) the day that history was made for all time.

For the final records, I was apparently 392nd (out of how many I don’t know, it might have been 392!!) in the over 55s category, and 8,108th overall out of the 45,000 who started. Not that those numbers mean anything at all. The only person I was competing against after all was me, and I did all that I hoped I would, and am ultimately over the moon with the result.

Berlin is a fabulous place, and incredible marathon, and was an utterly incredible experience, which I will remember for the rest of my days. Whether I will ever do another one is a subject for another day – my immediate thoughts afterwards were “that’s it, I have nothing left to prove to anyone”.

And in any case, I have Nepal to think about now. It is coming up, I am very happy to say, very soon indeed………

Final Blog Post before the big day….. :)

And so the VERY big day is rapidly approaching now. Indeed in just two days time I will be in Berlin (or I hope I will anyway :O) getting nervously ready for the big day on Sunday. It has been a long road for sure…..

It feels a bit incredible now that I started my training plan for this event in May. Especially as we sit here now with much cooler days, the nights drawing in, and yes, I saw Christmas decorations and mince pies in the supermarket yesterday – ridiculous but true!! Since then I’ve covered approximately 700 miles, gone through two pairs of trainers (they tell you they last 350 miles and I’m a stickler for the rules!) and countless energy drinks, tabs, gels and the like.

I’ve also bought several new running vests (it is going to be about 17 degrees in Berlin and that demands being as cool as I can get), new shorts, some fancy Alphafly shoes that I may well not even wear (more on that below), and had the flight cancelled that I was supposed to be going on. But no matter, I’ll get there, by hook or by crook, and give it my best shot.

Speaking of best shots, I’ll put it down here now – I will as things stand be (only a little bit) disappointed if I don’t/can’t break (but just!) 3hrs 40 mins. That’s the target, and I’m going to everything I can to get to it. 3 hrs 39 mins and 59.9 seconds will do – that’ll have me cheering/doing metaphorical cartwheels. When I started my training, using Hanson’s Marathon Method (great book, but VERY detailed :O), I wanted to get to 3 hrs 45mins, and so that’s what I’ve trained for. That is 8m 35s miles. To put that into perspective for me, my only marathon was in New York, 3 years ago, and I did 3hrs 54mins, and I was delighted with that.

I’ve found though that as the training has gone on, despite the odd hiccup (like having to go for a colonoscopy in week 15 for example!) I’ve got generally stronger in terms of how relaxed it has all been. That doesn’t mean faster, but in terms of heartbeat. I ran today for example, for 5 miles, at an overall average of 9mins 2 secs, and my heartbeat averaged 133bpm. I think at the start of this programme that would have been about 20 beats higher. So that doesn’t necessarily mean I can do much better in terms of outcome of course, it just hopefully means I have a greater aerobic capacity to get through it. According to my Garmin watch too, my VO2 max predictor has gone up from 48 to 52 over the programme. Again, it doesn’t mean diddly squat when it comes to the day necessarily, but hopefully it at least brings confidence. After all, a lot of running is in the head too.

But what it has translated to is a faster pace per mile in training on tempo runs without getting over-exerted. My tempo (marathon pace) has gradually slightly been lowered (by me, based only on ‘feel’) to around 8 mins 20 seconds a mile, and that would equate to 3hrs 38mins and 20 seconds (precisely!). So let’s see if I can sustain 8:20 pace for 26.2 miles, and see what happens!

So the schedule is to get to Berlin (early) on Friday morning, go to the Expo (which is mandatory as you have to collect your bib etc there) in the afternoon, and then just chill as much as I can. There is a ‘shakeout’ run scheduled on the Saturday morning which I may do too though. In fact there are a couple of those – one with Sports Tours International (the company with whom I’ve booked the trip), and one with Ben Parkes and his followers. Ben is a 2:25 marathoner and esteemed YouTuber, who I follow too – he’s a bit geeky but also entertaining and informative. He unsuccessfully attempted the UTMB a few weeks ago, and I found myself absolutely crying with him even on the starting line he was that emotional.

Interestingly, in Ben’s very latest post he was deliberating on choice of shoes. He can’t decide between three different pairs, and you’d think that someone who is a 2:25 marathoner would have it nailed down with three days to go, but apparently not! That makes me feel slightly better as I can’t decide between two pairs. I have loved Nike Vaporfly since I bought them before New York, but I bought some Nike Alphafly this year, intending them for this very race. However, the Alphafly are a bit heavier and clunkier (I wore them for the Great North Run two weeks ago), as opposed to lighter and more nimble for the Vaporfly. But, most of the serious athletes (including none other than the GOAT Eliud Kipchoge who I noticed arrived in Berlin today (not that I’m stalking him or anything :O)) choose the Alphafly, and quite honestly I’ll take all of the artificial advantages I can possibly get my hands on!

I’ll take both pairs to Berlin and it might be a toss up in the morning of the run as two which go on my feet, but the Vaporfly are favourites at this point in time, probably :D. First world problems indeed!

So the run itself begins at 9:15 on Sunday morning. I will have to try very very hard to contain emotions of just being by the Brandenburg Gate, where it also finishes. The Brandenburg Gate is just such an iconic monument in history. When I saw it last time (I’ve only been to Berlin once and was fortunate enough to have a little run through it too) it was almost overwhelming then, so what it will be like with the excitement of the event I can only imagine.

When I did New York I was very lucky to have Dan and Sadi come and cheer me on and meet up at the end. And the picture below was during the post race beer (or two) we all had in some bar afterwards. I love this photo so have put it here for at least my own posterity! Unfortunately they can’t be with me this time, but they’ll be tracking me (or watching Eliud Kipchoge on TV anyway, hopefully breaking the world record, as is rumoured….). I am so thankful for all the support and cheers that I’ve got along the journey from various other people too.

Wish me luck, as I badly need it, and see you on the other side……….

In some basement bar in Manhattan, post race of course (!) 3rd November 2019.

So will I be there or not???

If there’s one thing I’ve learnt in all of my 58 years that is not to take anything for granted. Or anyone for that matter, probably even more importantly. And so also liking to be prepared (whenever I can be) I took the opportunity many months back when booking for Berlin to also book the travel over there. 

The starting line for Berlin

The package I bought to Berlin (through an International Tour Operator, practically the only way to get in and guarantee doing so) covers the hotel and the event only, so I had to make sure I got flights to coincide. So not wanting to end up being frazzled with the stress, hassle and seemingly-impossible-to-fathom baggage allowances of the budget airlines, I went for British Airways. They are ‘reassuringly expensive’, especially when you treat yourself to Business Class for the return journey!

And so fast forward to the here and now, which is week 15 of the 18 week programme, and I am in the final throes (hopefully!) of my preparations for the event on the 25th of this month. And then I get an email from British Airways, which I very nearly didn’t open as I thought it was just a general mailer. It said that due to the capacity problems at Heathrow that a number of flights had had to be cancelled, and that mine was one. They gave me a refund, thankfully, but that isn’t the issue. The issue quickly became how to find another flight!

After an extensive search, it quickly became clear that two things were true. Firstly I wasn’t going to be able to get a BA flight out of practically anywhere to Berlin. Boo boo I hear you say. But worse, every budget airline seemed to be booked too, or just not to coincide with the trip as they had multiple connections and took about 20 hours to get there, via strange and far flung places. Berlin is no doubt a popular destination (anyway) and with the marathon and also Oktoberfest in Munich seemingly taking most of the airlines’ capacity for late September, I was almost fearing I would have to drive, which from the Lake District would no doubt take two days! 

Cut a long story short I did eventually find a flight with EasyJet. It have to go to Scotland to get it, but at least it gets me there. Cost me more than BA too in the end, but by that time I didn’t care, I was glad to get a flight at all. Hopefully they don’t cancel on me too, as we are now a matter of 22 days away!!

So onto the running then. Well this week should be the highest weekly mileage of them all (58), before tapering starts. Tomorrow should be a 16 miler following a number of long runs (two 12s at pace so far for example). However my running hasn’t been good, or my heart rate hasn’t. The last two runs have seen a significantly elevated heart rate of over 13bpm more than equivalent runs the week before. Runs which should be easy have been at threshold, and that is counterproductive. A friend noticed and put onto my Strava feed “maybe you should take a rest”. Resting is however the last thing the training programme demands at this critical stage. 

So we will see. I’ll see how the day goes (more of that for another reason in another post…..) and then see what I can do tomorrow. 

My various social media feeds meanwhile fill with lots of tantalising things about the Berlin Marathon. Everyone is in the same boat as far as final running and travel preparations, getting ready for the expo, making plans for final kit. I went and bought myself a new running vest (temperatures look warm for the day as it stands), new shorts, a flipbelt and a bunch of fancy (read expensive!) gels this week – why not!!

Amongst other things this last week or so I also watched with significant and excited interest the live stream of the UTMB, the world’s most prestigious ultramarathon. It is over 170km long and has over 33,000 feet of climbing. And no, I’ll never ever be worthy of even dreaming about taking part! The race was won in a staggering 19 hours and 49 minutes, by the greatest endurance athlete of all time, Kilian Jornet. One of the athletes that I follow very closely on You Tube, Ben Parkes, himself a 2:25 marathoner and very experienced ultramarathoner too, was hoping with great excitement to finish his very first UTMB in around 40 hours, but had a bad fall and hurt his knee in the first 20 miles and had to withdraw. He was so upset after literally years of preparation and no doubt vast expense. Bummer!

The UTMB in Chamonix – one of my favourite places on the planet to!

I think I ran over 200 miles in August alone. If I can just get through the last few weeks and also have no more travel or other disruptions, then fingers crossed I’ll be at least on the starting line. 

But take nothing, anything, for granted. Just ask Ben Parkes! More next week, including hopefully of course, the Great North Run! 8 exciting days to go…….

19 days to go…..

…..until the Great North Run! I’m dedicating this post to that very occasion therefore. It’s after all the occasion in terms of any event I have ever done, or ever will do, that means the most to me. It is the first time since 2019 (and because of the pandemic) that arguably the North East’s very greatest asset and occasion will be winding its way on its full route to the seaside.

So I’ll explain here as to why it is so very special….

Can’t wait to be here – “Sea” you in September!

Well firstly (although I should say that this is in no particular order) it is the World’s biggest half marathon. Each year (and this one certainly no exception) some 60,000 eager runners take on the 13.1 miles from Newcastle to South Shields. And that’s good for me because I love the buzz. Moreover, although it is impossible to count, spectator numbers that line the route are estimated between 1/4 to 1/2 a million people, which is simply incredible. There is nothing to beat the excitement from start to finish, and it is something that I absolutely love.

Secondly it is a veritable homecoming for me. I grew up and went to school in South Shields, and although I left home now some 40 years ago now (that’s a very scary thought in itself!) – it is a true pilgrimage of the purest order. My parents still lived there until they died (My Dad the last, 8 years ago, more of that below) and so I went to see family and good friends several times a year and have done my whole life.

Then the route of the GNR itself almost follows a storyboard of my early life. It begins very close (within about 400m in fact) to where I finished my schooling, in Jesmond, Newcastle. Then goes through Gateshead and Felling, where my Dad took me to learn to swim. Then it is on to Hebburn, formerly home of one set of my grandparents, and where my Mam and Dad met. Then it is Jarrow, where I was born, and home to my other set of grandparents. And then onto South Shields itself, which was my home and where my heart still beats the most vibrantly. It literally finishes just off the beach where I would spend as much time as I could as a kid.

An overview of the route to the seaside…

The most emotional thing about the Great North Run though is that it literally passes the top of the road where I was brought up, Mitford Road. The Great North Run has been on TV since its inception (over 40 years now), and every year wherever I happened to be, my Dad would phone me up on the day of the race. He’d tell me he was going to stand on the corner of the road by the roundabout, and ‘wave at the camera’. I’d never see him of course, but did always have a look. It excited him a lot, and like so many people (and also being a former sportsman and runner himself) loved everything that it brought to the North East.

After my Dad died, and in subsequent Great North Runs which I have taken part in, I can’t help my eyes wandering to the crowds at the roundabout at the corner when I run past. I know that my Dad is there somewhere, waving at me and cheering me on.

And finally, The Great North Run is just massive for the North East. It is a weekend long party, bringing money to the hoteliers, pubs and restaurants. It also brings the Red Arrows, and a massive amount of money in donations to charities (second annually only to the London marathon I believe in terms of sponsorship monies raised). I could go on (and should, so I will) to say that this year alone we have none other than Kenenisa Bekele, Joseph Cheptegai, Selemon Barega and Jacob Kiplimo taking part. Kiplimo is the world record holder and the other three have run four of the fastest half marathons in history. That’s all a tribute to Sir Brendan Foster, champion and founder of the event, and my boyhood (and indeed adulthood) hero.

And so onto the running then, well last week I did 55.1 miles. And all thankfully passed without incident. I have to say though that it is all really hard work both mentally and physically, and I wish I hadn’t taken on such an intensive training programme now. But I’m at week 14 of 18, and am not going to stop or slow down now – plus if things like the Great North Run don’t inspire me, or indeed the thought of being in Berlin (despite BA this week cancelling my flight, more of that next time), then nothing will.

My running progression for the last 12 weeks – 55 for the week just ended!

And so finally, to end where I started (and if you thought I’d finished waxing on about the Great North Run then you’ll be disappointed, because I never will!) – my final thoughts on the GNR are this: It brings people like me home, and families together, and hope, excitement and entertainment to so many. I’ll be there every year as long as my legs will carry me. Long may that last!

Can you hear my heartbeat…..

So I said in my last blog post that I’d talk about running shoes and also heart rate next time around, and here we are. The reason for raising both is that I really hadn’t realised that they are related – oh yes! Let me explain….

Well firstly I’ve always suffered from a pretty high heart rate, under anything less than resting conditions. Tachycardia I think is the medical name. It doesn’t take even the slightest bit of angst and my heart can pound almost out of control. It gets bad when running too – if I look at any of my previous half marathon attempts, or a hard run of any significant distance (in fact even a Park Run) and my heart can average 180bpm. 

That’s not good really. And especially when the formula of ‘don’t let your heart rate go above ‘210-your age’ would have my max heart rate at 152! I have had alerts before when doing a run to say my heart rate is up at nearly 190, which is actually pretty terrifying. So the very interesting thing when doing a prolonged bout of training for a run like a marathon is the effect on your heart rate, and also shoes matter here too, and here’s what I understand of it, scientifically, as it were:

So basically our bodies have a ‘fight or flight’ reaction in many situations – it is what is called the sympathetic nervous system, something I find fascinating. An(y) increase in intensity basically produces an adrenaline surge, which means blood pressure, heart rate and breathing rate all increase.

Over time however, like a period of sustained training (which I am very much in, obviously), your body adapts to it, which decreases the burden on your cardiovascular system. As your muscles, and your heart, get stronger, they do a better job of extracting oxygen from your blood, so your heart itself doesn’t need to pump as fast to drive blood around the system. It’s all about the oxygen in the blood, which is why the key measure of fitness for example is called Vo2 max. This is the maximum amount of oxygen your body can use during exercise, and the higher the measure the fitter you are basically. 

So this all manifests itself in various ways – your heart rate gets lower for the same amount of strain (or length of run at the same pace), and also the spikes get lower too, as your heart doesn’t react so badly to that fight or flight thing. There is a key to the running too though – in that the majority of it needs to be done aerobically, at a slow and easy pace. If you did lots of running but just thrashed yourself every time then you wouldn’t improve, in short. That’s how I understand it anyway – and if anyone realises that I’ve got this all wrong then please let me know!!

And the tie in with shoes is very interesting too. So again as I understand it, the more your shoes have the likes of ‘rebound foam’, or as is the case with some shoes a carbon plate, then the less energy you need to expend for a given pace or intensity. The shoes are basically helping return some of the energy expended as downforce and basically not letting you waste it by letting you have it back. It’s a bit like being on a trampoline. This also means that for a longer distance you get less tired, and your heart has to work less. Now the differences aren’t staggering – maybe about 3 or 4bpm according to the advertising materials for the Nike Vaporfly Next% or the Alphafly, but every little helps as far as I’m concerned.

For me (and I have both of the above pairs) I think I do actually notice the difference, particularly over longer distances. In my only marathon, where I wore the Vaporfly Next%, I did my fastest mile in the last mile for example. Now adrenaline and excitement I am sure played most of the part in that, but the fact that I had enough left in my legs to do it was the main thing for me. I’ve bought a pair of Alphafly for Berlin – after all if they work for Eliud Kipchoge then who am I to say otherwise? So far I’ve taken them out on just two (slowish) runs, and the jury is still out overall as to how I like them compared to the Vaporfly (they feel a bit heavier and ‘flappier/noisier’ to me so far). I’ll keep going with them on the faster training runs and decide nearer the time whether they get the vote.

Alphafly or Vaporfly Next% – what’s a boy to wear?

And so here we are then at the end of week 12 (of 18). This week was 47 miles, a slight reduction on last week thankfully, but it was still very hard work as it has been brutally hot here – not a phrase normally heard in the Lake District! At the end of week 12 I’ve done just over 400 miles on the programme so far, and it feels every inch of it. I have four weeks of hard training to go, harder than I’ve done yet, and then two weeks of tapering towards Berlin. Having said that, both of the last two weeks are around 50 miles too, albeit at less intensity. One of those weeks includes the Great North Run, which I will be itching to run ‘properly’, but I know I can’t/shouldn’t, as it’ll take too much out of me. I’ll enjoy it nonetheless (and that’s an understatement of all time) – and I’ll talk more about the anticipation of that next time.

Oh and I’m also dreaming a bit of being in the Himalayas in the autumn (in fact I’m just dreaming of not having to run anywhere at all!). Everest Base Camp of course. That needs a lot more thought and planning too, but where there’s a will there’s a way…..

Countdown to Berlin – 42 days. Countdown to the Great North (training) Run – 28 days. Come on!!!!

The road to Berlin goes on, and on……

A long time ago, I went skiing to Andorra. I remember it quite vividly. It was all cheap bars and cheap food, lively music, and short but fairly decent ski runs. It had the sort of ski runs that if it is your first ever ski holiday they would be almost overwhelming, but if you’ve been on two or three you would avoid as being not worth the effort of getting back on the ski lift so quickly again. The reason I mention all of this is that there was a guy on the holiday who I used to work with, and let’s call him Simon (because that was actually his name). 

It was Simon’s first ever ski holiday (first time on skis full stop in fact), and despite suggestions and indeed firm instruction from those around him to book into ski school, he refused. “I’ll be alright” he said, and took the gondola up with the rest of us and decided to just ‘wing it’ back down somehow. Being of a nervous disposition, and frankly not wanting to see him hurt himself or worse, I stayed well out of the way. His closest friend Steve, who could ski well, chaperoned him to the point where he was stood, somewhat Bambi-like at first, with skis pointed vaguely at the direction of the slopes. 

“Which way do I go” was all Simon wanted to know. With a bit of a directional steer from Steve, all of a sudden Simon was off, hurtling downhill, all arms and legs, and the biggest grin on his face I’d ever seen. He crashed of course, albeit into a bit of a bank of soft snow, but got up, dusted himself down, and off he hurtled again. He hadn’t a care in the world. By the end of the week he was skiing runs that I was unsure about even for myself, and I think this was my tenth time skiing. I think that it has been said before that skiing is about 20% ability and 80% confidence – well in Simon’s case it was more like 5% of one and 95% of the other. Go Simon!

And onto the running then. Last week was the biggest week so far – 54 miles on the schedule in six runs, culminating in a 16 miler on the Sunday. That would be the longest run I had done since running the TCS New York Marathon in 2019. It’s fair to say there was a degree of trepidation on my part, not just because my last two long runs had ended slightly short. The first, a 10 miler, I stopped after 9. It was too hot. The second, a 15 miler, I stopped after 14 – I had some fairly uncomfortable chafing. With the second one, if I’m very truthful (and why shouldn’t I be, I am after all really just talking to myself here :D) I could have stopped anywhere between about 10 and 12. There’s always a reason to stop, right? 

So this week I was just determined to get to the end and see it through. All of my midweek runs have so far been going pretty much ok. The easy runs are of course, well, easy (thankfully :O) , and the intervals have been ok, if much harder work (7:30 pace in the main which is basically my top speed). It is the tempo runs which are now the test. The tempo runs are at race pace (8:30 for the marathon) and should be the real benchmark. They started in week 3 at about 4 miles and are now up to 8, plus a mile each side of warming up and cooling down. This week I did this in Nottingham as I was privileged to be asked to look after my gorgeous granddaughter Jessie, whilst my son and his partner played in the European Touch Rugby Championships. 

So the Thursday tempo run also followed a Tuesday interval run at my lowest heart rate so far (I’ll talk about heart rate and also shoes in a subsequent blog post). I was therefore confident, and set off with gusto along the banks of the Trent, a route I know well. After about two miles I knew it wasn’t good. My heart rate was pounding, up at over 160. Now 160 is ok if I’m flat out (and so is 170), but not for the start of a ten mile tempo run – it is only going to get worse from there.

And get worse it did – after mile three and four my breathing was more laboured, the effort too high. After 5 miles I stopped, drained. I did sort of jog another mile to see if I could get to a six mile total out of the intended 10. All that did was add another mile to my Strava count – it did me no good whatsoever. I was very deflated. I’m still 7 weeks from Berlin, with all of the big and toughest weeks ahead of me. Take nothing for granted, I told myself, amongst other things.

On Friday I had a shortish 6 mile easy run when I got home from Nottingham. On the Saturday it was 8 miles, again easy. Thankfully both passed without incident, and I braced myself for Sunday’s big one. A moderate (for me!!) alcohol intake on the Saturday evening gave me a decent sleep, even if I did wake early on the Sunday. I drove for my long run to Ambleside (to get some flattish ground as there is literally none by me bar a running track), my favourite place, some four miles away from where I now live, and set off with a determined air. I am very happy, and also relieved, to say that the 16 miles got ticked off without heat exhaustion, chafing, or other (reasonable or unreasonable) excuse. The week thus finished with around 50 miles completed, which I have to be pleased with. There are probably only two or three weeks in my life when I have run that far, and this programme is a test of both physical and mental resolve.

Another week over then. I don’t know how many miles I’ve run so far – it’s just been a lot. This week is 50 again, next week 56, then 54, then 57 I think – it’s a long August that’s for sure. But after that it is September – and on the 11th is the first proper Great North Run since this horrible pandemic took over (and so much worse for so many) so many lives. I can’t wait until the Great North Run – the phrase “it’ll be emotional” is the understatement of the century. More of that anticipation and excitement next time. I’m going to be blogging weekly again now. 

And so for now I will continue to believe, that Berlin will happen, and that I can do it. I’ll never have Simon’s gusto or confidence, but I am nothing if not lacking in determination. I also found out recently that none other than Eliud Kipchoge, undoubtedly the greatest distance runner of all time, and world record holder for the marathon (set in Berlin four years ago) will be running too. If I said that he’s a hero of mine that would be significantly understating my admiration for all that he has achieved in running and in life. And if that doesn’t get me motivated to ‘go like Simon’ then nothing ever will.

The one and only Eliud Kipchoge leading the way home through the Brandenburg Gate.

Oh and as more than a little footnote to all of the above, both my Son and his partner’s teams won their respective finals of the European Chamionships, and I am so very proud of them both – happy days 🙂

Week 9 already – how did that happen?

So no updates from me for a while, but that’s just because I’ve been busy with life. Very busy. In fact as I dwell and reflect on life in general, it occurred to me that I have done very little recently of the very thing that I moved to the Lake District for just over a year ago, and that is go out and walk/enjoy the fells.

I have actually only done two walks in fact since May, one a short one around my local (very small) hills, and a nice big ultra walk of 50km for an ultrachallenge, with around 4,500 feet of climbing. The latter (about a month ago now) was great fun with friends Kev and Fiona, ably supported by Helen who got us there and back again, and we were lucky with the weather for sure, as there had been a lot of rain forecast, but we escaped it all.

Nice shirt Kev!

Since then I’ve been working a lot, something I hadn’t planned really, but an interim assignment came up in Nottingham, and I said yes rather too willingly. I find myself staying away from home for half of the week, and the weekends have been made up of trying to get my home ready to become a holiday let, so there has been a lot to do. Oh yes, and there’s been some running too!

It is true that the mind seems to blank out pain from the memory bank when deciding to do something again. I won’t use the ‘like childbirth’ analogy here, as obviously being a man I haven’t experienced it (before 50% of the population shout at me!), but it is true that when doing my first marathon training there were moments ranging from “this is crazy hard and taking over my whole life” to “never again”. And here I am now at the end of Week 9 of the programme (and there is therefore the vast majority of the really hard work to come) and I am absolutely beat!

Not helped by a combination of early mornings and warmer than usual weather (and also Hanson’s Marathon Plan, which is full on to say the least), it is the case that this week’s 46 miles of running has been a killer for me. Negotiating last week’s 40 degree heat (ok well only 35 in the Lake District, but still!) was hard work logistically, involving either early morning or late evening stints was tough too. And then today was the longest run yet, of 15 miles. I managed 14.3, and stopped early as a.) I was knackered, and b.) I had some chafing in at least two uncomfortable places!

The runs are now also in full flow as far as intensity and variety. Most of the first few weeks of the programme were all about easy runs, to build up both distance and aerobic capacity. Now however there are always at least three ‘SOS’ runs each week. SOS stands for ‘something of substance’, so a specific purpose and at faster than easy run pace. Tuesdays are speed/intervals (for example 6 lots of 800m at 7:30 pace), Thursdays are tempo sessions (this week 8 miles at marathon (8:34/minute) pace, and Sunday is a ‘long’ run of (like today) 15 miles at 9:18 pace. There are then three days where I just run at easy pace, but the distance for these is increasing all the time, which gives basically no recovery time at all.

Of course the increasing intensity and distance is what marathon training is all about, and this programme is very much about cumulative fatigue. I’ll be up to close on 60 miles a week in three weeks time, with the Sunday sessions up to 16 miles too, so lets hope the weather is a bit cooler that week!

I shouldn’t admit to this but I’m already looking forward to September 26th very much, which will be the start of the week following Berlin, when I can guarantee that I will not be running at all!! Fingers crossed most of all that I stay injury free and just get there. With all that is going on still in the world right now it is nice to just have something to look forward to.

Happy running one and all!

Marathon Training – Oh Yes!!

So further to the last blog post, which was going to talk about Marathon training (but I got carried away talking about the recent ultramarathon that I walked), it is here instead, finally!

So yes, today I embark upon Week One (of 18) of Marathon training for the Berlin Marathon on 25th September. The details are as follows:

Training Plan:

I have chosen the Hanson Marathon Plan for this one, for no better reason than I have the book! Actually there is another reason, in that I used the Hanson Half Marathon Plan successfully to PB in the Great North Run. Oh and another one (!) – Hanson recommends a longest Long Run of just 16 miles in training. I remember last time when doing New York that the plan I used (from Runner’s World I think) went over 20 miles three times. I decided that was important for me at the time as I didn’t want the psychological barrier (or the dreaded wall) to hit me in the race itself. However, in reality the running of over 20 miles, taking over three hours, is absolutely knackering, and I’m sure added to too much tiredness and probably injury too. You live and learn I suppose. In fairness also, Melanie, with whom I did New York, did tell me that 20 miles in training was too much (she’d done four beforehand), but I refused to listen :). She actually also told me about the Hanson Plan, so I should add some acknowledgement/appreciation here, so I will!

Here is the plan written down:

It starts off nice and gently, thankfully….
….and then quickly gets very serious!

The plan uses a fairly typical mixture of Long Runs, Easy Runs, Tempo Runs and speed/strength runs. They all colour coded of course :).


The plan amasses some 717 miles of training, which I calculate probably means three pairs of trainers! I have of course been somewhat meticulously planning, and have bought said trainers already! I have a ‘rotation’ as they call it, of different shoes. I intend to use Nike Pegasus 39 (newly acquired this week, but I’ve used three different iterations of the Pegasus series and I love them – they just seem to fit me best in terms of comfort and running style (not that I have a style :D)) for my long/easy runs, punctuated by Nike Invincible for recovery/easier easy runs (!). Then I’ll use New Balance 1080 v11 for my tempo runs, and an old pair of Nike Vaporfly Next% (as used for the New York Marathon no less!) for my speed runs. Finally I have a newly acquired pair of minty coloured Nike Alphafly for Berlin. I’ve tried the latter ones out just once, and the jury is out as to whether I prefer them or the Next%, so we will see in due course. OK – so that’s FIVE pairs of trainers, I lied!

Nike Zoom X Alphafly – expensive but hopefully satisfying!!


So I might as well set out here that of course would love a PB! Now as I only have one marathon under my belt then it can only either be better or worse than before! For the record, I ran 3 hours 54 mins in New York, having been determined (no, absolutely possessed!!) to beat four hours, and so that’s the benchmark. This time I am aiming for 3 hours and 45 minutes, and that’s what every single minute of the training plan is aimed at. 3 hrs 45 mins is 8 mins and 34 seconds per mile. It’s not the fastest running pace, but it is for me the best I reckon I can do over the distance. I’ll be absolutely over the moon in fact if I can run under the Brandenburg Gate with 3hr 44mins and 59 seconds in my sights. You heard it here first, but there is a long long way to go before I can get properly thinking about that, although of course I am already!!


It had to be Berlin of course. Why? Well I have always had the approach that you might as well ‘go big, or go home’, and this for me is the biggest. Of the six World Marathon Majors, this is really the one for the runners too, being the flattest. It is where my idol Eliud Kipchoge set the current World Record too, over the very route that I will do, so if running in that man’s footsteps (ok, about two hours behind his, but even so!) doesn’t inspire you then nothing will. I think also just the big atmosphere and excitement gives you all of the adrenalin that you need to make sure that you give it your all, and get it done. And what better city to do it in!

Berlin of course has both the most amazing (and indeed poignant) history, and it is there on almost every corner for all to see. It doesn’t shy away from the past one bit, with the massive holocaust memorial in the centre, covering 200,000 square feet of ground. They even call it the Memorial to the Murdered Jews of Europe. Then there is the architecture, from the Reichstag, to the remnants of The Wall, to the incredible museums, and the simply unforgettable Brandenburg Gate. The Brandenburg Gate is one of the most recognisable features in Europe, if not the world, and it symbolises power, unity, glory, peace and reunification all at the same time. When I walked under it for the first time it gave me goosebumps. To think that I will (all being well) run under it as I approach the finish line in September will be nothing short of utterly overwhelming. Berlin has so much else to see too, and when I did a city tour there it was the best I’ve ever been on. – Go, if you haven’t been, is all I’ll say.


So having rekindled my blog, I’ll update it weekly or I so like I did for New York. There’s no training partner this time, so just me myself and I. But I’m not short of motivation, desire, or the excitement of all that Berlin has to offer. Tickets/flights/hotel all booked, and it is time for the hard work to properly get underway………hopefully no cartilage injuries or lost key issues this time, but with me anything is possible! Watch this space……

Ultramarathon walks, and the time is nigh for the training to start….

So here we are in May already, and I can scarcely believe it. The year itself is going so quickly I almost cannot believe it, and of course so much is happening. We started the year still with the massive impact of Covid upon us all, and then of course the ongoing horrible and shameful assault of the Russians on the Ukrainian people hit everyone hard, and here we are with something called Monkeypox taking the headlines now. Where does it end?

On a personal note, since my last blog post I have retired! Not forever, I am almost certainly sure, but I have stopped working to take a break, and am currently a man of leisure. If you knew anything about my real life in the background of course then you’d know that ‘retirement’ for me thus far is the most unsedentary (is that even a word?) thing imaginable, but that’s another story. I’m also currently trying to let out my residence, a building that used to be a B&B (technically it still is….) as a holiday let, and that is consuming more time than I even have. I have also since the last post completed my first ultramarathon, of which a bit more later, and even more importantly, this weekend is my grandaughter’s first birthday, which makes me feel both old and immensely proud and happy in almost equal measure. The happiness is the overriding one, just in case you were wondering 🙂

So the ultramarathon you are wondering, what was all that about? Well after I moved to the Lakes in the summer of 2021, one of the first things I resolved was to do some trail running. And the best way for me to do basically anything at all, is to sign up to an event and then go and train big time for it, so that’s what I (apparently) did. Only trouble is, I completely forgot all about it (I kid you not). Life and stuff just got in the way, and although I joined Ambleside Athletic Club (which is basically a lot of very enthusiastic trail runners doing a lot of competitive events, the likes of which I could just about do on my hands and knees in my dreams), I haven’t done any proper trail running at all.

So fast forward about nine or ten months, and an email lands from the organisers of The Lap, a 47 mile ultramarathon around Lake Windermere, very close to where I live, with my entry details and bib number etc. When I first saw it I seriously thought it was either a joke or a mistake. I had (and in fact still have!) zero recollection of entering, despite the fact that I apparently paid a £95 entry fee! The Lap, it turns out, is one of the UK’s premium ultramarathons, has 8,500 feet of climbing, and was at one point a qualifying or points scoring race for the Ultra Tour de Mont Blanc, the world’s most prestigious ultramarathon. I looked at the requirements (the event was in 10 days time) and thought ‘not a snowball’s chance in hell can I even walk it’, but then decided in the next moment that I wanted to do it, and set about trying to do just that.

‘Doing it’ it turned out, was just as much of a logistical nightmare as the physical one which was undoubtedly about to befall me. The compulsory kit list alone (“a compulsory kit check will be carried out before and after the event, and if you are not carrying the requisite equipment you will be immediately disqualified from the event”) was huge, and contained several items which I certainly didn’t possess. But after a few trips to a great shop in Kendal (Pete Bland Sports in case you are interested!) I got all I needed i also took the opportunity to get myself some new trail shoes too – why not!

I decided ultimately to walk the event, as trying to run event part of it would have resulted in a DNF at best, and an injury more likely, so I opted to be sensible/careful, for me at least!

i decided ultimately that I would walk the event, as trying to run even part of it without having trained would have resulted in a DNF at best, and injury more likely, so i opted to be sensible/careful, for me at least!

It was a brilliant event in the end. I did walk it, although too briskly, with the occasional half jog on some of the earlier downhill sections. My lack of training meant that after about 34 or so miles, i could have happily given up. However, a lot if determination and a well placed poo break (!) put me in better spirits, and I soldiered on until the end, in a what was a very pleasing, if very tiring 14 hours and 46 minutes.

I’d thoroughly recommend the event to anyone thinking about it. Helped albeit by amazing weather (if a little too hot, but you can’t be too picky), everything was just great, from the food and drink at feed stations, to the setup of the base camp, to the friendliness of the marshalls, the great signposting (1,600 route markers apparently), and the brilliantly efficient event staff. As an example, I’d forgotten (Ok, I didn’t read the instructions properly) to take my half way bag (we were allowed to take a bag with a change of shoes and socks in for the half way point) with me to the registration the night before the event. A wonderfully helpful guy called Tommy, upon hearing of my disappointment in myself told me to bring it the following morning instead, and he personally saw to it (at 5:30 in the morning) that it got driven to the half way point for me later that day. Fantastic and over the above service or what?

High above Windermere near the summit of Latterbarrow, gasping for air!

And finally at the finish almost 15 hours later – I wasn’t as fresh as I seem to look!!

So next let’s talk about how the marathon training is going to shape up – it is only two days away now, and I am ready, I think for whatever it throws at me……….probably!