Thursday, 29 January 2009

Man, I Feel Like A Woman

Back into the mountains, Sunday 25 January 2009. High Street and Harter Fell in the distance.

First of all, many thanks to Thomas Coxon of Hilly running gear ( Thomas tuned into the blog and has kindly offered to supply Hilly running socks. TEAM fivemarathons' Amanda and Martin are big fans of Hilly gear and have recommended it to me strongly. I tried out Hilly's twin-skin socks last night and was impressed. Getting the proper socks is a big issue - you absolutely can't be worrying about blisters for 26.2 miles. Until now, I've worn two pairs of thin walking boot liner socks, one inside the other. The idea behind the two layers is simple but effective: instead of your trainers rubbing against your skin, the two socks rub against each other. This is exactly how the Hilly twin-skin socks work - but without the hassle of wearing two pairs of socks (and having to wash 14 pairs of running socks a week).

Near Keld, Sunday 25 January 2009. Trademark grimace.

It’s been a busy week at fivemarathons’ HQ. Sunday’s long run went well, which is encouraging. My friend Roxana accompanied me by bike. Not having to carry my own drinks and carb gels knocked at least 15 seconds off my previous personal best for half marathon distance. I should consider an accompanying cyclist for all of the fivemarathons. This week's photos are all Rox's handiwork.

All the acceleration of continental drift.

On Tuesday, I visited the Christie to see first hand the projects being funded by the money raised on behalf of the hospital. Many thanks to Marco and Emma, Christies' fundraising co-ordinators, for taking the time to show me and Kirsten around.

My motivation for supporting Christies and Macmillan was the loss to cancer of my grandmother, before I was born, and my dearest Auntie Moll, my grandmother's friend (and my surrogate gran), who looked after me as a child. Auntie Moll was a huge influence on my life and I loved her dearly. Both the Christie and Macmillan perform vital work in helping people affected by cancer. They are working 24 my hours a day, 365 days of the year, towards the day when no child will lose their Auntie Moll. All donations to fivemarathons will help Christies and Macmillan in their priceless work.

On Wednesday, I appeared on Heather Stott's show on BBC Radio Manchester to promote fivemarathons. You can listen to the show for the next week online at A friend of mine had offered to make a donation to fivemarathons if I could shoe-horn any of the following into the on-air conversation: "paraphrase", "Pluto" or "demonic". Keen as I am to secure donations to Christies and Macmillan, I didn't want to ruin a great opportunity to promote fivemarathons. Or, more truthfully, I didn’t have sufficient eloquence or mental agility to pull it off.

Today, I confirmed my flights for the Berlin marathon. I'm particularly looking forward to Berlin. Having previously worked in Mannheim, Germany has a lot of happy memories. While, the Germans may have a reputation for not having a sense of humour, that wasn’t my experience at all. A fantastic example was a letter I received from a rival German law firm: “Dear Sir, Thank you for your recent fax. We are amazed by the boldness of your Client's claims. Next time, please send a letter, not a fax. That way, you'll waste your paper and not ours”. They don’t like it up ‘em, Captain Mainwaring.

Finally, I’d like to remember my great friend, Dinesh Dorai Raj, who died on Tuesday after a long illness. Dinesh was a great bloke. I stayed at his house during my preparation for the London Marathon in 2004 and his unwavering generosity, good humour and collection of awful music made it a fantastic six months. The torment of listening to Shania Twain prevented me from having to consider the pain in my legs. Wish you were here.
This week’s training schedule:

Monday, 2 February 2009 Rest
Tuesday, 3 February 2009 5 miles very easy, off road
Wednesday, 4 February 2009 6 miles fartlek
Thursday, 5 February 2009 7 – 8 miles steady
Friday, 6 February 2009 Rest
Saturday, 7 February 2009 30 mins easy, on grass
Sunday, 8 February 2009 20 miles steady (target 3 hrs 20)

Barcelona, 1 March 2009
London, 26 April 2009
San Francisco, 26 July 2009
Berlin, 20 September 2009
New York, 1 November 2009

Christies is the charity which provides funds for, and supports, the work of the world renowned specialist cancer centre, The Christie, in Manchester (see Macmillan provides practical, medical, financial and emotional support for people affected by cancer and campaigns for better cancer care (see

Tuesday, 27 January 2009

BBC Radio Manchester

Tune into BBC Radio Manchester on Wednesday, 28 January 2009 when I'll be talking with Heather Stott about fivemarathons.

You can also listen online at or catch the programme on BBC iPlayer ( for 24 hours after the broadcast.

This week's blog will follow.

Monday, 19 January 2009

Lost In Translation

Training continues to progress well. Yesterday's 19 mile run certainly gave cause for cautious optimism. Despite spending the previous day in the mountains, my legs were in remarkably good shape, with no suggestion that they were going to tie up in the latter stages. TEAM fivemarathons' Martin kindly accompanied me on the run. Given that we got underway at 5am in the freezing cold, you'd have to say he showed commendable commitment to the cause. Having said that, the early start did have its compensations, not least the dawn over Haweswater, and the sunrise on the mountain tops. After a quick shower and breakfast, we were out again with mountaineering friends, this time into the blizzards on the top of Harrison Stickle in the Langdales.

Angie, me, Mark and Ed, on our way up High Street, Saturday 17 January 2009.

Stickle Tarn, Sunday 18 January 2009.

Have you ever noticed that if you go for a long run, or any strenuous exercise, your muscles don't necessarily hurt that day, but you really know about it the next day, possibly even the day after that? This is called DOMS (delayed onset muscle soreness). After hammering my legs this weekend, I'm waiting for the aching to start. Nothing yet, but let's not speak too soon.

The idea for fivemarathons came from the World Marathon Majors ( Boston, London, Berlin, Chicago, and New York - the Grand Slam events of marathon running. Unfortunately, the dates of the Majors don't fit neatly into one calendar year, so Barcelona and San Francisco have ably stepped in for Boston and Chicago. My sources tell me that there's pressure for Berlin to be dropped and replaced with Tokyo. I'd certainly like to run Tokyo. I have trained there with a good friend of mine, who lived in Japan for four years. Running around the Imperial Palace in central Tokyo certainly beats having fruit thrown at you in downtown St Helens. Japan is a fascinating, if staggeringly expensive, country, with an inexplicable fashion for all things tiny. At one stage, I had the most fashionable bank balance in the whole of Japan. The language barrier is also an issue and having a surname which is difficult to pronounce doesn't make things any easier. Unable to trace a reservation for Vaughan, a receptionist queried, “Is it Vorgan?”. Quick as a flash, my friend kindly interjected, “Yes, large V, small organ”. When the same friend got married, I had to deliver a speech in English, with each paragraph followed by a Japanese translation. While the English sections raised little more than a polite titter, the Japanese translations had the audience rolling in the aisles. When I expressed my thanks to the translator and commented on how the Japanese appeared to really appreciate the humour, she explained, “Yes, I didn't get it myself, so I simply said, 'he has told a joke, please laugh politely'.”

When choosing the replacement marathons for Boston and Chicago, there were several possibilities: Edmonton, Reykjavik, Prague. Martin from TEAM fivemarathons had run Prague and recommended it. As it turned out, Prague wasn't really an option. When I worked in Germany, I'd taken the train to Prague for several long weekends. On the final return journey, things didn't go entirely to plan. I stowed my luggage and a 3 litre bottle of Coca Cola on the overhead rack and settled down for a snooze. I awoke to an enormous commotion, with a Czech police officer howling, coughing, spluttering and trying not to be sick. When I asked another traveller what had happened, he said a rogue bottle of Coca Cola had fallen off the luggage rack and landed squarely in the policeman's groin. Marathon or not, I won't be showing my face in Prague again in a hurry.

An early Happy Birthday to my Dad, who is 70 next month. Instead of birthday presents from friends and family, he has asked for donations to fivemarathons, which is a fantastic gesture. Thanks Dad!

This week’s training schedule:

Monday, 26 January 2009 Rest
Tuesday, 27 January 2009 6 miles easy
Wednesday, 28 January 2009 Warm up, then 4 x 1 mile timed, with 4 minute recoveries, then warm down
Thursday, 29 January 2009 6 miles steady
Friday, 30 January 2009 Rest
Saturday, 31 January 2009 20 minutes jogging and striding
Sunday, 1 February 2009 Race half marathon (target 1 hr 50)

Barcelona, 1 March 2009
London, 26 April 2009
San Francisco, 26 July 2009
Berlin, 20 September 2009
New York, 1 November 2009

Wednesday, 14 January 2009

All Creatures Great And Small

If you take a look at the training schedules, you'll see that there's a lot of variation. This is an important element of marathon preparation. For one thing, you need to train to be comfortable at different, often changing, speeds. If you only train at one pace, your body can find it uncomfortable to have to run at a different pace. This often only becomes apparent on race day, when the congestion from so many runners means it's difficult to run at your normal speed. At the 2004 London Marathon, I’d covered 6 miles before I was able to run at my own pace. Prior to that, I’d been falling over guys in rhino suits and getting into a most unseemly tussle with a chap dressed as a giraffe.

Such is the importance of varied training, I unintentionally introduced some very unusual elements into my preparation for the Dublin marathon. Not least sheep-herding. As I was running back towards my village, the road was blocked by a flock of sheep. The farmer explained that his assistant was off sick, and asked if I could help him to herd the sheep down the road into his field. He disappeared to open the gate at the other end, leaving me to perform some "One Man and His Dog" heroics. All but I didn't have a dog. Things got progressively worse as I got nearer and nearer to the village and the farmer had disappeared. The realisation dawned on me that, just maybe, the sheep didn't belong to the farmer at all, and I was now stealing sheep on his behalf. I imagined myself in Penrith nick, trying to fashion a plausible explanation as to why a man dressed from head-to-toe in lycra was stealing 38 sheep. When the farmer did finally reappear, I noticed my heart rate monitor was reading almost 175 beats per minute. What a stress, and not the variation I was looking to introduce into my training. More recently, when a friend came over for dinner and we drove along the stretch of road where the sheep-rustling had taken place, I related the tale. To be fair, she was more than a little bemused, and wasn't buying my story for a moment. By sheer coincidence, on the way home from dinner, a cow had managed to jump out of its field and was stuck in the middle of the road. A practical demonstration of my now finely-honed herding skills removed all doubt.

Congestion is just one of the things which doesn’t come up during training, which is why it’s worth entering a few shorter races before the big day, just to re-acquaint yourself with race conditions. Precisely for this purpose, I've lined up some shorter races in between the marathons: the Coniston 14 on 28 March, and the Great Manchester 10km on 17 May. I've entered these events with my friends Lucy, Amanda and Martin: TEAM fivemarathons. My preparation is really benefiting from the team's support, advice and irreverent commentary.

London Marathon 2004. Rained all day. Inexplicable sunglasses.

Even with the right preparation, race day rarely goes exactly to plan. In New York, the queue to get started was so long, the clock was reading 36 minutes before I could even see the start line. To deal with this inevitable delay, the big races tend to use Champion-Chip tags to time runners individually. The chip is detected at various points of the course and provides data on your pace and overall time for the race. In London, the organisers had linked up with a major mobile phone supplier to use the data from the chips to text your loved ones with up-to-the-minute information on your progress through the race. Unfortunately, the technology wasn't up to it and the system went into meltdown. On the Wednesday following the race, my parents received a text confirming their worst fears: it had taken me 72 hours to cover the first 3 miles.
With big thanks to Kirsten Arnold and Rob Ainscough, who are respectively masterminding fundraising and PR for fivemarathons, I'm pleased to announce that our webpages on are now live:

This week’s training schedule:
Monday, 19 January 2009 Rest
Tuesday, 20 January 2009 6 miles fartlek
Wednesday, 21 January 2009 7 miles steady
Thursday, 22 January 2009 5 miles easy
Friday, 23 January 2009 Rest
Saturday, 24 January 2009 20 mins easy, including a few strides
Sunday, 25 January 2009 Race 10 miles or half marathon (target 1 hr 20 / 1 hr 52)

Barcelona, 1 March 2009
London, 26 April 2009
San Francisco, 26 July 2009
Berlin, 20 September 2009
New York, 1 November 2009

Christies is the charity which provides funds for, and supports, the work of the world renowned specialist cancer centre, The Christie, in Manchester (see Macmillan provides practical, medical, financial and emotional support for people affected by cancer and campaigns for better cancer care (see

Thursday, 8 January 2009

New York, New York

The current weather is not helping my training. While the minus 6 degrees inevitably makes it harder to summon the enthusiasm to run 7 miles at 9pm, slipping and sliding on ice covered pavements is the real issue. Although it won’t make me miss a training session, it is making me look forward to sunnier days in Barcelona and San Francisco. It was even 25 degrees in November 2004, when I ran the New York Marathon.

I’m a big fan of the New York Marathon. There’s so much to see and the crowd is so enthusiastic. In The Bronx, one chap was standing shaking hands with as many runners as he could, thanking them for coming! It’s also fascinating to see how the five boroughs of New York fit together. You run through areas which have a character all of their own – neighbourhoods which are distinctly Italian, Russian, Jewish – there’s so much diversity within just 26 miles. The route planners for the London Marathon could learn a lot from New York. Most of the first half of the London Marathon is south of the river, in areas where you’d be running anyway – as fast as you possibly could. There’s also not a great deal to see until Tower Bridge at about 13 miles. Before that, there’s just the Greenwich Observatory, and what’s left of the Cutty Sark.

Even the journey to New York in 2004 was a great experience. As we landed at JFK, the Captain of the British Airways flight announced his best wishes and congratulations to all of the marathon runners onboard, which was met with a spontaneous round of applause from the other passengers. Now that’s something which doesn’t happen every day, not to me anyway. Talking of which, the day before the race, I was invited to a reception at the United Nations for the international athletes, followed by a gentle jog from the UN to Central Park, with the runners carrying the flags of their countries.

For the rest of the day before the race, I just wanted to relax and not tire my legs. My friend suggested a film, and chose “Birth” with Nicole Kidman. The opening scene features a man jogging in Central Park, who collapses with a massive heart attack, dead before he hits the ground. That was a real crowd pleaser, not to mention a confidence boost. 24 hours later, I ran into Central Park thinking “any second now….”. The same friend repeated the same feat a month later, when I was about to set off for the Andes to climb Aconcagua. This time she chose a film called “Touching the Void”, with remarkably similar effect. Preparing for, and running, the New York Marathon was a big part of my preparation for the high altitude climb up Aconcagua. The other element was a season ticket at Goodison Park, where I got used to an environment with a depleted atmosphere.

Touching the Void, Aconcagua, December 2004

The New York Marathon starts on Staten Island, straight onto the Verrazano Narrows Bridge and over to Brooklyn, then Queens, Manhattan, the Bronx and back to Central Park on Manhattan. The bridge is closed for the start of the race and the runners have it all to themselves. The celebrations start straightaway, with tugboats facing the bridge firing water cannons into the air, with plumes of water dyed blue, white and orange (the colours of ING Bank, the marathon’s principal sponsor). From 1964 until 1981, the bridge was the longest suspension bridge in the world, a title it took from the Golden Gate Bridge in San Francisco, which I’ll be running across on 26 July. The Verrazano Narrows Bridge relinquished its title in 1981 when our very own Humber Bridge was completed. Tempted as I was to run across the Humber Bridge and complete a neat treble, the Hull Marathon just didn’t have the right ring to it. Barcelona, London, San Francisco, Berlin, New York, Hull. Spot the odd one out.

This week’s training schedule:

Moday, 12 January 2009 Rest
Tuesday, 13 January 2009 2 miles easy, then 3 miles brisk, then 1 mile jog
Wednesday, 14 January 2009 10 mins warm up, then 10 x 40 secs fast uphill, jogging back down, 10 mins warm down
Thursday, 15 January 2009 6 miles easy
Friday, 16 January 2009 Rest
Saturday, 17 January 2009 20 mins easy
Sunday, 18 January 2009 18 miles training run (easy, 3 hours)

Barcelona, 1 March 2009
London, 26 April 2009
San Francisco, 26 July 2009
Berlin, 20 September 2009
New York, 1 November 2009

Christies is the charity which provides funds for, and supports, the work of the world renowned specialist cancer centre, The Christie, in Manchester (see Macmillan provides practical, medical, financial and emotional support for people affected by cancer and campaigns for better cancer care (see

Friday, 2 January 2009

Jim'll Fix It

Happy New Year!

Thank goodness the Christmas season is drawing to a close. The pressure to over-indulge has done nothing to help my training and I'm actually looking forward to some bland food. Christmas parties haven't helped: 6 – 8 mile training runs followed by a further 3 miles or so on the dancefloor. The latter made the former look like a polished performance.

A big thank-you to my friend and coach, Marc Laithwaite. I first met Laith 32 years ago and we've had several athletic fundraising adventures since then. Highlights stretch back as far as 1983, when I appointed Laith to coach me for, and help me to plan, a sponsored run to raise funds for a local hospital. The 6 laps of the athletic track that I ran seemed like a massive undertaking to two ten year olds. In 1990, we raised money for Birmingham Children's Hospital when Laith ran the 300 miles of the Pennine Way, all of the way from Scotland to Edale in the Peak District. 19 years on, and here we are again. To be fair, Laith has taken his duties as a coach much more seriously than I have as an athlete: having secured a BSc in Sports Science, he's now well on the way to his PhD, he's a BTF Level 3 Coach & Coach Educator, UKA Level 3 Coach and ABCC Level 3 Coach. On top of all that, he's the head coach at The Endurance Coach (see All of which makes him dramatically over-qualified to provide sage advice for the Five Marathons. His mission priority is to stop my legs going bang at 22 – 23 miles on race day.

The weather in the Lakes has been fantastic for running. Sunny, clear, and freezing cold! As well as running, I've had several days in the mountains. Sharp Edge on New Year's Eve was fantastic (see below). There was a marked temperature inversion over the North Lakes: while it was minus 4 degrees and foggy in the valleys, above the cloud it was sunny, clear and plus 12 degrees.

Temperature inversion over the Northern Lakes

Scrambling up Sharp Edge, Blencathra

I'm already looking forward to Barcelona. I'm not sure whether it will attract fun-runners in the way that London does. The threat of being overtaken by a guy in a rhino suit does tend to make you pull your finger out. At mile 22 in 2004's London Marathon, Sir Jimmy Savile was about to run past me, however the impending embarrassment proved more painful than my legs and I managed to pick up my heels. The fact that Sir Jim, then 78 years old, was managing to maintain a conversation with the crowd and still outpace me was too much to bear.

This week's training schedule:

Monday, 5 January 2009 Rest
Tuesday, 6 January 2009 6 miles fartlek
Wednesday, 7 January 2009 Warm up, then 3 x 1 mile timed, 4 mins recovery, warm down
Thursday, 8 January 2009 5 miles easy
Friday, 9 January 2009 Rest
Saturday, 10 January 2009 25 mins easy
Sunday, 11 January 2009 10 miles, race pace

Christies is the charity which provides funds and supports the work of the world renowned specialist cancer centre, The Christie, in Manchester (see Macmillan provides practical, medical, financial and emotional support for people affected by cancer and campaigns for better cancer care (see

NYC Marathon, 2004

NYC Marathon, 2004
NYC Marathon, 2004