My running week – a home run

Bit late on my weekly update this week. Apologies for any emotional and spiritual trauma caused. After the program we will announce a help line to offer support to those affected,

I’m now fully into this pre-dawn running scene. The only hard part is rolling out of bed, but all you have to do is think “if I can do this – if I can just roll – I’ll get my run for the day. Nothing else that happens in the day can take that away. OK it’s dark, cold, you’re knackered and it’s probably pissing down, but just GET UP, YOU BASTARD”. That usually works.

Once up, my legs are OK pretty much straight out the door. No stretching, no jumping up and down and slapping my face. Just breathe that night air and slot into those natural rhythms. But don’t forget to turn on your head torch, or you will be hit by a car and die.

I got a new head torch, BTW. It’s an Alpkit Gamma. Main beam not as powerful as my cheapo Taiwanese non-branded one but the power unit is way lighter. And get this – IT HAS A REAR LIGHT. A RED ONE. AND YOU CAN MAKE IT FLASH ON AND OFF. So all good.

I did my local (Worcester) Parkrun on Saturday. Don’t usually like doing them on consecutive Sats but I fancied finding out if my Solihull sub 20 form from last week would carry through to home turf (and mud). (To those not from these parts, I should tell you that Worcester is a trail course, while Solihull is tarmac (therefore faster)). My PB at Worcester is 20.26, set about a month ago. Surely I could beat it? But could I do the big one and go 19.xx?

I got a good starting position at the front but didn’t react to the gun fast enough, and a couple of waves went past me. (Silly Runneratthegatesofdawn! You correct that next time!) This meant I couldn’t attempt to hang onto the leading guys because they were gone, and I was stuck with the fast-starters-but-inevitable-faders. Bit of dodgery-sprintery and I found myself in the gap in front of them, chugging away behind a blue shirt. First K – 4:00. On target but nowt to spare.

It’s a hilly bit after that. Also the doubts creep in – can I hack this? Should I be doing this running thing at all? Wouldn’t it be better sitting in a nice armchair at home with a cup of tea and a slice of cake? (Cake! Why do I always think of cake when I have the doubts during a race?) But me and my blue shirted friend plod on. Next K – 4:19.

Shit! We are way off schedule!

Luckily help is at hand – in the form of an Ipodded fitness runner from Worcester Boxing Club and a beanie-hatted guy whose running style suggests a lot of hidden reserves. We four run as a tight pack for a while, surging around the undergrowth like an elite SAS unit in search of terrorists. But we don’t find any. And then boxer elbows me and cuts me up at a corner. Third K – 3.59.

OK, so we need to thin this thing out a bit. Beanie makes a break just before a short tarmac stretch after a long hill and I go after him, fairly sprinting down that gloriously hard and civilised surface. (TIP: Always go full tilt down hills, even if you’re knackered from the hill you have just toiled up.) So it’s down to me and him. Both feeling it, both determined to finish in front of the other. 4th K – 4.18.

Aaargh! Damn those long hills! And we are on yet another one. I actually sigh aloud near the peak of the final ascent, such is my effort to stay in touch with beanie. We round the bend of destiny and tear down the final tarmac straight towards the finish stretch, Beanie in front, me a couple of metres behind. But what’s this! Back markers! Children on the tracks? “Sorry! Thanks!” I grunt to a little one and her mum as I scorch a trail between them. I think she says something disapproving after me but never mind – no one was hurt and this is LIFE AND DEATH. BEANIE IS GETTING AWAY.

“Go on lads,” says the marshal at the last bend into the grassy finish straight. Don’t worry – I’m going! But Beanie is ahead of me, he’s going to finish first! He’s just too… what’s this? Some spare speed? How come I’m able to…? I’m overtaking him! I am going past him and…

“There you go,” she says, handing me my bar code tag. “Sixth place.”

The five demigods who finished ahead of me are on the hill, basking in their glory. (OK they’re sitting around and having a chat, but let’s keep this melodramatic narrative style going a bit longer.) I think about joining them but no, my place is with my comrades – Beanie, Boxer and Blue. I wait for them all to come in, shake their hands and move on. My work here is done.

</melodramatic narrative style>

Two hours later, watching my offspring playing rugby, I get an email with my time in it – 20:03.

Aaargh! It’s a good time, though. I’m happy with it. But…

Next time sub 20.


My running week – fog and tourism

A good week was had. Four days of crankin’ out dem miles pre-dawn on weekdays, then a Saturday spot as a parkrun “tourist” and a Sunday long run gone mental.

And boy was it foggy on those dark, early pre-work runs. But no biggy because I was taking them easy, building up a bit of nervous energy in prep for Saturday’s main event. After doing 6 parkruns in Worcester, which is off-road, I wanted to try out something flatter and faster. I had heard that Brueton Park in Solihull was just such a venue, so I stopped by Sat AM after dropping someone off at the nearby airport.

They have “pens” at Brueton so you can line up according to your expected finish time. This is a great idea and I think they should do that everywhere. My problem was that, although I had ambitions of dropping sub-20 if I was lucky, I’m too honest for my own good. My best so far has been 20:26, so I lined up in the 2nd pen – for 20 to 24 mins. Boy, was that sub-20 pen packed. 40 in there? Strange how only 25 dipped below 20. But fret not – all I lost was a couple of seconds at the start and a first KM slower than I wanted.

Cutting a long one short, I followed some guy all the way round, teetering on the edge of mental and physical meltdown most of the way, and then overtook him with a KM to go. Here are my splits:

3.54, 4.04, 3.58, 4.08, 3.48

Gifted mathematicians among you will have noticed that YES, I NAILED THE SUB 20! THAT’S A 19:52, BABY!


So I went out earlyish this AM for a long run. I had planned a long (for me) recoveryish run of 10 miles. It was foggy as hell so I had to do the first bit swift to get off the main road and avoid getting killed by a speeding motor vehicle, but when I turned into quieter farm territory I found I wanted to keep that pace. I ended up winding it up relentlessly and did the 2nd half at 7:16 min/miles (marathon pace). I guess you’re not meant to do a hard one like that after a race effort, but what the hey – no one’s watching. It felt pretty good.

I’m thinking that next up for me might be a 10k. I love 5ks but they are some mental effort, and I want something longer and more about endurance than barmy pace. Maybe today was a subliminal way of gearing up for that, trying my legs out at a sustained clip. Maybe the subconscious knows what we’re going to do all along, and prepares us all accordingly. Maybe we are all just biological batteries in a huge machine, illusions of conscious reality pumped into our brains by a vast computer while aliens feed from us.

Miles for the week: 35.5.

(Or is it?)

My running week – more darkness, more pain

I’m starting to worry myself. These pre-dawn runs were supposed to be a trial, right? Something I had to endure until the seasons swap around again and I get more light. But, shit, damned if I’m not starting to prefer them! Weekends are supposed to be a time of leisure. Plenty of free time to do what I want – inc. trotting. But I actually CHOSE to go out for my long (10 mile) run this AM pre-7:30. And enjoyed it! I am starting to see the light, folks.

In the midst of darkness, I am seeing the light!

Yesterday I did the session from hell. A 7-ish mile run with a 3*1mile@5k in the middle. No stopping, no walks, only 2 min jog recoveries between each of those hellish chunks. But I timed the recoveries wrong and denied myself 25 precious seconds. Hence the “session from hell” tag. I ran up 18:47 for the three giving a pace of 6:16. This was a benchmark session for me a month ago and signposted the pace I went on to do a parkrun at the following week, but I can’t see me running 19:30 next Saturday. Not with those hills! I would be happy with any kind of approaching 20:00 at all (current PB is 20:26).

I’m developing a close relationship with pain. It’s not quite at the stage where this guy is visiting my brain when I’m pushing the pace hard, but not far off. But I find I can endure it, despite the… well, pain. The past few parkruns and sessions I have slotted into the pain zone from about halfway. Three quarters in, I really am starting to feel like my soul might fly apart at any moment, and that parkrunners around me will be momentarily stunned by an intense flash of light as my bodily existence spontaneously implodes. But that doesn’t happen. I tough that mother out.

Is this what it all comes down to? Is the fastest runner the one who can suffer the most? Is this what lies ahead of me if I am to get down to my old times: a world of pain?

To put it another way, are runners masochists?

I never really thought so. For myself, I appreciate comfort as much as the next man. I love the good life! But I seem to hanker for something more, and I wonder if that’s why I’ve slotted back into the running and “racing” so easily. Maybe it’s a way of feeling a bit more alive. A bit more of a human. A bit more of an animal.

I hurt myself today. To see if I still feel

Trent Reznor

In which the Runner at the Gates of Dawn gets philosophical

I guess for most normal folks the week ends on Sunday (hence my Sunday updates), but for

me it’s Thursday. Friday is my day off from running, so it seems natural to use that as the break point for totting up weekly mileage totals. I did about 39 this week, which is pretty much where I was at in the old days. The one time I tried pushing for 50 (by doubling up), I got injured. Looking at an old post I did in rec.running it seems I had patellar tendonitis, although I don’t recall that. Maybe it’s something I don’t want to remember. Probably it’s something I should.

Talking of rec.running… for those who don’t know, it’s an old skool Usenet newsgroup with a running theme. Back in the early wild west days of the Internet, Usenet was where you shot the shit with like-minded folks about whatever, and on r.r I shot a lot of shit and learned a lot of running lore. Unsurprisingly most of the denizens were Americans, but there were a few Brits, one of whom I came across on Facebook yesterday. This was a guy who was at about the same level as me – similar times, a bit younger, learning the ropes. His profile pic suggested he was still a runner, so I did a bit of research. He had indeed carried on running. Not only that but the times he had achieved and continued to achieve were phenomenal. We are talking sub-2:30 marathon, very low 30s 10k – all the hallmarks of elite. Here is a guy who, through his own sheer doggedness, willpower and intelligent self-marshalling, has become, in running terms, awesome.

Which makes me think, shit, why the hell did I give up? Why couldn’t I have just carried on?

But let’s not go there. I did give up, and spent the subsequent years doing something else and getting some kind of satisfaction and self-realisation out of it. Which is what we do with running, isn’t it? Don’t we feel extra alive when it’s going well? And we endure the harder times because is makes us feel good to get it done?

Or is there something more we want from it? Are we searching for some kind of answer? Are we running away from something? These complicated, futile structures of civilisation we have been born into perhaps? Or is the reverse true, and we are seeking sanctuary from a world of relentless purpose in a sweaty futility of our own making? Or are we just trying to be awesome?

Who cares. It’s my rest day tomorrow.

Me running

Me running

My running week – darkness, mud and pain (but good pain)

OK so let’s start doing weekly round-ups and calling them “Running Week #whatever”.

This week was a good ‘un. Prob the best week of running I have had since I started again. Today I did my longest run – 10.4 miles. Plus I got sick of plodding and ramped it at a (still sedate, admittedly) 8.45 min/mile. Yesterday I had my best session – 6@.5mile@[as fast as I can consistently bang them out]. Managed the lot in 18.14, which equates to an 18something 5k. I can’t run that sort of 5k yet, but it shows I am at least capable of the speeds (although that last one stung like a big wasp). Plus earlier in the week I went out way pre-dawn and got the (muddy) miles in in the dark – not perfect training conditions but it’s making me more hardy. Probably. Or just stupider. About 38 miles total for the week – another post-comeback best. Sure my legs are a bit weary, but they ain’t hurtin’.

Although my training is still aimed at 5k I’ll be turning it to 10k soon. This is because I have identified a 10k on Dec 14, and I don’t want to suck to much at it. Evetrything has beern 5k so far but it’s time to branch out and experience a different kind of pain.

10k is probably the softest of all my old PBs at 38:10. I set it after less than a year of running, while the others saw further stabs right up until my “retirement”. Not that 38:10 seems “soft”, but you know what I mean. A better target to aim for first would be my first ever 10k, which was 41:14. That was at Luton in 1997. Maybe I won’t better it in 2014, but we’ll see in ’15.

First things first – one more parkrun at the end of Nov. Can I get a sub 20?

Sun – 9 “easy”. And another parkrun PB

So I went out for 9 and a bit easy, which for me usually turns out to be 9 to 10 min/mile. After only a mile I got bored a kicked it for half a mile. It was hard to get the pace back down to where it belonged after that and I did in another faster bit at about 6 miles, culminating in less time on my feet than intended and a fully knackered me. I need to decide what to do with these long runs. If they’re just for the time on feet, keep them easy. If I want to work in speed, do it right and do less speed elsewhere.

One reason for knackeredness is that I slipped in a cheeky parkrun yesterday. The course was muddy and it was raining, but the upside was that fewer of the fast guys and girls turned up so I managed to finish 12th out of 390, making myself look better than I am. Time was 20:26 – a PB by 9 secs. Let them PBs keep a-comin’.

Know what? I’m thinking of abandoning the local parkrun for a while and going in search of new treasure: at 10k. Out of my old PBs the 10k is weakest at 38:10. Obviously I won’t be getting near that any time soon, but I want to make a start. Maybe next month

Fri – 4.8 brisk. Also I caught this morning morning’s minion…

I have taken to strange habits.

This is what my neighbours are surely thinking. Rolling out the front door before dawn, swinging my arms and fiddling with my watch, wearing some sort of “tights” garment and a band of flashing lights on his arm… this just cannot be normal behaviour for a citizen of our borough. Can it? I mean, what is he doing? Is he out stealing cars? Rustling sheep? Hey, maybe it is him who vandalised the phone-box in Chipping Snodsbury?

But yes, I am now a morning runner. True to my moniker, I am a genuine runner at the gates of dawn.

Necessity forced it (see post below about wild horses), repetition has ingrained it. Now I understand what this AM thing is all about. I see the light! (Even though there is no actual light yet.)

It happened yesterday, my epiphany. Running down the flank of my local common, I chanced upon a small gathering of young deer. Three female, one male (I knew because he had pointy things growing out of his head. And they weren’t Beats By Dre.) They ran off pretty sharpish but I had surprised them. I had seen what I was not meant to see. I had pulled back that pin-holed curtain of night and glimpsed the secret charms of early morning… whilst getting in an easy 6-miler.

We shall see how strong my commitment is when I get my light evenings back, but for now I worship at the alter of Eos, goddess of daybreak.

“The past is the beginning of the beginning and all that is and has been is but the twilight of the dawn.”  – H.G. Wells

Meanwhile I did 34.19 miles this week – my 2nd biggest total since my comeback. Awesome!