Sunday, 17 May 2009

Great Manchester Run

Last week's Great Manchester Run went really well for all of TEAM fivemarathons. I managed 43 minutes and 22 seconds, which put me in the top 2.5%. When I consider how poorly I was running this time last year, I’ve got to be pleased with that. Amanda ran a fantastic 45 minutes 30 seconds, which made her an amazing eighth in her age / gender classification. Amanda must have a very specific gender. Lucy finished in a great time of 57 minutes 39 seconds, which suggests that a personal best must be on when she runs The Great North Run (half marathon) on 20 September – the same day that TEAM fivemarathons' Martin and I will be tackling the Berlin Marathon.

With Amanda and Lucy after the race

Manchester still suffered from people fabricating their estimated finishing time and causing congestion in the starting pens. Martin, Amanda and I were in the Orange starting pen, which sets off after the men’s elite runners. To get into that pen, you need an estimated finish time of around 46 minutes or less, but there were Orange runners who were having to walk after only half a mile. This means that the rest of the pen is hopelessly held back, as they try to negotiate their way past the bottlenecks created by people running too slowly or walking. This is a recurring problem – you’ll remember that the London Marathon was even worse. One solution would be to only allow access to the fast starting pens by reference to a recent finishing time in a similar race.

Promo shot for Christies, after the Great Manchester Run

After the race, I caught up with Christies and Macmillan in the charity village, hosted within the G-Mex centre. You can check out Christies’ photos from the race at

Sunday’s 16 mile run was unusually hard-going. The explanation lay in a mountaineering miscalculation the day before. I’d planned to cross the mountain tops from Windermere to Haweswater, around 20 miles in all, with my friend, Simon. We’d left Simon’s car at the finish, then taken my Land Rover over to Windermere. After a fantastic day in the mountains, you can imagine my incredulity when Simon remembered that he’d left his car keys in the Land Rover. With options thin on the ground, we had no choice but to turn back and re-trace our steps. All 20 miles. All over again. Laugh? I almost did. 40 miles over the mountains went some way to explaining my legs’ relative unwillingness to grind out yet another 16 miles on Sunday. To be fair, this isn’t Simon’s first visit from the foul-up fairy. In 2007, we undertook a four day canoeing trip down the River Spey in Scotland. After 48 kilometres on day three, you can picture the look on my face when he told me he’d failed to secure the bulkhead lid at the front of the canoe, and all of our food was now resident on the river bed. How he lives to tell these tales is anybody’s guess.

Last week, I met up for a drink with Noel Bresland, a genuine marathon running legend. Noel has run the Marathon des Sables three times, and over 90 other marathons. He holds a place in the Guinness Book of Records for running the world’s coldest marathon, has run the North Pole marathon and will compete in the Antarctica marathon later this year (see,, Noel has just embarked on a series of 233 (yes, two hundred and thirty three) marathons to raise money in memory of his nephew, Ethan. Considering what he’s achieved, Noel is a remarkably down to earth and friendly chap. I’m just back from training with Laith at The Endurance Coach, where Noel joined us to talk marathons and training techniques.

Finally, many thanks to Manchester’s Key 103 radio station (, who kindly donated two great tickets for the recent Enrique Iglesias concert at the MEN Arena. Kirsten auctioned the tickets and generated a fantastic donation for fivemarathons.

This week’s training schedule:

Monday, 25 May 2009 3 miles easy
Tuesday, 26 May 2009 8 x 2 minutes hard, with 2 minute jog recoveries
Wednesday, 27 May 2009 4 miles steady
Thursday, 28 May 2009 8 miles, half marathon pace
Friday, 29 May 2009 Rest
Saturday, 30 May 2009 4 miles
Sunday, 31 May 2009 18 miles

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

Visit us at

Join the Facebook fivemarathons group

Check out the detailed training plan at

Saturday, 16 May 2009

Animal Rescue

My 6 mile run in Shap on Monday evening was eventful. As I ran off into the mountains, I attempted to cross a cattle grid, only to find my route blocked on the other side by an enraged sheep. While I was trying to negotiate my way past, I could hear even more sheep-related disturbance coming from underneath my feet. A lamb had managed to fall down between the gaps in the cattle grid. The sheep blocking my path was obviously the lamb’s mother. Regular blog viewers will recall that this isn’t the first time I’ve had to deal with errant sheep on my training runs (see “All Creatures Great And Small”, Wednesday, 14 January 2009).

The lamb’s head was poking up through the bars, so the next car over the grid would have spelled disaster. As I tried to get hold of the lamb, it ran to the far side of the grid, and a maternally outraged ewe was waiting to bite me over there. This was a complete Catch-22 situation: should I wait for a car, which I could flag down for some assistance, or run to the nearest farm? Murphy’s law dictated that, if I waited for a car, one wouldn’t arrive, and it would soon be dark; while, if I ran to the farm, a car would almost certainly appear and, with it, a grim end for my ovine friend.

After waiting for 10 minutes, with no sign of a car, I leapt over the dry stone wall and made for the farm. Fortunately, by the time I made it back to the cattle grid with the farmer, the lamb was still bleating. I had to kneel on the cattle grid, with my arms through the bars, shepherding the lamb towards the farmer, while trying to avoid getting my rear nibbled by the lamb’s apoplectic mother. We finally managed to squeeze the lamb out through the bars. The poor little thing’s heart was going crazy. Almost as many beats per minute as my own.

Upsetting Shap’s sheep

This week, I received an email from the organisers of the San Francisco Marathon, which suggested that I should incorporate some hill work into my training so that I’d be well prepared for the hills at miles 3, 5 and 22 on race day. You can follow the course of the San Francisco Marathon at and Given Shap’s location, virtually all of my long runs have been through the mountains. In fact, I’ve struggled to find flat courses to do some timed speed work in preparation for shorter races like tomorrow’s 10km Great Manchester Run. My estimated time for the race is therefore a real guess, but at least it has got me into a quick starting pen. After the congestion in the London Marathon, being able to get away quickly and run at my own pace will be a big advantage.

Harris and Ross’ Alan Raw has worked hard this week to get me ready for tomorrow’s race. Alan investigated the cause of some recent tightness in my left achilles tendon and checked to see if my trainers were contributing to the problem. Some acupuncture helped to release the tightness, and some new stretching exercises will hopefully stop it coming back. I’ve also developed an unexpected dedication to Alan’s core stability exercises to prevent a recurrence of my piriformis problem. If the alternative is having acupuncture knitting needles in my rear again, I swear I’ll get doing the exercises.

You can now follow my detailed training plan online at Google docs: I update the plan with feedback on the various training runs (average speed, average heart rate, my energy level) and Laith tailors the plan accordingly. It also details the regular VO2 max tests which I’ll be taking in the run up to San Francisco (see Saturday, 18 April 2009’s blog, “Dr Ron Hill MBE” for a full explanation of the test).

Good luck to fivemarathons’ Amanda, Lucy, Martin and Kirsten in tomorrow’s Great Manchester Run. Full details in the next blog (unless I have a complete shocker, in which case I may overlook it).

This week’s training schedule:

Monday, 18 May 2009 5 miles easy
Tuesday, 19 May 2009 Warm-up, 3 x 1 mile fast, 4 minutes jog, warm-down
Wednesday, 20 May 2009 6 miles steady
Thursday, 21 May 2009 10 mins jog, then 8 x 40 secs uphill, jogging back down, then 10 mins jog
Friday, 22 May 2009 Rest
Saturday, 23 May 2009 5 miles easy
Sunday, 24 May 2009 15 miles brisk

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

Visit us at

Join the Facebook fivemarathons group

Sunday, 10 May 2009

Local Zero

Hot on the heels of the recent fivemarathons article in The Cumberland News (, this week I was contacted by The Westmorland Gazette (, which is the regional newspaper in my home village of Shap. The Gazette’s Aaron Jolly has kindly prepared an article for publication in the Friday, 15 May 2009 edition. Both of these articles will help to raise awareness in Cumbria, and hopefully generate funds for Christies and Macmillan. 

Regular viewers of the blog may remember my ill-advised suggestion that racing in Hull wouldn’t have the same appeal as Barcelona, London, San Francisco, Berlin and New York (see “New York, New York”, Thursday, 8 January 2009). Now that the recriminations from the east coast have finally started to die down, I’m off to offer my apologies in person, and race in the Humber Half-Marathon, on Sunday, 14 June 2009 ( This should fit nicely into my preparations for San Francisco and will complete a neat treble with the San Francisco and New York Marathons. The San Francisco Marathon crosses the Golden Gate Bridge, which was the world’s longest suspension bridge from 1937 until 1964. From 1964 until 1981, the title was held by the Verrazano Narrows Bridge, which links the route of the New York Marathon from Staten Island to Brooklyn. Upon its completion in 1981, our very own Humber Bridge became the world’s longest, which I’ll cross at miles 2 and 11 of the Humber Half-Marathon. 

Another major motivation for running in Hull is the race’s strong support for cancer charities. The principal charity for the 2009 event is Marie Curie Cancer Care. Last year, the race raised £30,000 for Marie Curie Nurses and a further £40,000 for a variety of other national and local charitable causes.

Mary (left) and friends, after the Broad Street 10 Miler

Last Sunday saw the 2009 Blue Cross Broad Street Run in Philadelphia ( The event is reputed to be the biggest 10 mile race in the USA.  Several fivemarathons supporters were taking part: my friend, Mary, was running her first long distance event, in a fantastic 1 hour 55 minutes, and James Arnold (fivemarathons’ Kirsten’s Dad) finished in a stellar 1 hour 17 minutes. I hope Kirsten is taking note for the Great Manchester Run next Sunday – running is obviously in her genes. Following the race, Mary emailed me to say that the race had inspired her and her friends to move up to half marathon distance, which is great news. Mary also asked if I had any tips for making the transition to even longer races. As I’ve always maintained, I’m not a sufficiently accomplished runner to be able to dispense sage advice, however I can at least impart the things I wish I’d known when I was getting started. After all, experience is something you get, a few moments after you needed it. In case anybody else is interested, here it is:

“Half marathon isn't a big step up from 10 miles, you should nail it easily. Marathon is a big step up from half (only because you've got to try to avoid the wall at 18 miles). Here's what little I know, in a few easy points:

1) if you haven't already, get some top notch running trainers (Asics, Brooks, Mizuno, New Balance, Saucony). Not a huge fan of Nikes - if you get theirs, buy the Bowerman Series shoes). Shoes are really important, you've only got one set of knees! Your best bet is to try to find a specific running shop – some of the big sports shops are just chain stores, and the staff won’t necessarily have a clue. Many specialist shops will have video gait analysis. They video you running (on a treadmill), to see if you are over-pronating or supinating (rolling over the outside, or inside, edge of your feet as you run). Once they’ve identified your running style, they can suggest trainers that will correct any issues. None of this stuff really matters for casual running – but as the miles stack up, it gets increasingly important (and you’ll want to stay injury free).

2) get a heart rate monitor. They cost as little as $25. It will demonstrate your improvement by showing that, even though you're running at the same speeds (or even faster), your heart rate is lower. It's also like a rev counter in a car - it will keep you running at the right intensity (and stop you from backing off without noticing it). 

3) as well as running set distances, run for set times. For example, run for 40 minutes - out for 20, back for 20. You'll see the improvement in your running by how much further you get in your 20 minutes out. Same as the heart rate monitor, it's all about staying motivated by seeing the improvement.

4) have you tried carbohydrate gels for your longer runs? They're fantastic. The body can only store enough glycogen for about 15 miles, so runners hit the wall by about 18 miles. You can replace your glycogen stores with carb gels (take one 10 minutes before a long run, then one every 20 minutes while you're running). Try Highfive Energygels - very easy on the stomach. I don’t use the Highfive Energygel Plus - they contain caffeine (see below re: caffeine).

5) don't always train at the same pace. If you do, your body can get used to only running at that one pace, and feel uncomfortable if you're forced to change in a race. Often race conditions are such that you're forced out of your rhythm (too much traffic from other runners etc). Try mixing slower runs, steady runs and runs at race pace. Also make time for some weekly speed work, e.g. 1 or 2 minute bursts within a longer run when you push really hard. This gets your body used to working hard and dealing with the lactic acid that gets produced by your muscles.

6) eat right. Cut down on fat, favour carbs, protein and fresh fruit and vegetables. My daily diet is usually: porridge with skimmed milk and raisins (a big bowl of it), bagels and lots of fresh fruit for lunch, another bagel (or two) late afternoon, grilled chicken breasts with rice / pasta / potatoes with fresh vegetables for dinner. This is too carby if you're not running a lot, but perfect if you are (and you won't put on weight, trust me - I've lost 3 stones easily in getting down to my race weight).

7) consider giving up caffeine. This isn't essential, but it has certainly helped me. By running, you're getting fitter and bringing down your resting heart rate. Caffeine is artificially stimulating your heart - and undoing your good work.

8) hydrate. You're almost certainly not drinking enough water. Most other drinks are diuretic (i.e. they're dehydrating rather than hydrating you). Tea, coffee, most fruit juices, sodas are likely to be diuretic.

9) sign up for some more races. It's hard to get (and stay) motivated without goals in mind.

10) have a strategy for your races and try to stick to it (e.g. 10, 9, 8.5, 8, 7.5, 7 minute miles). Run within your comfort zone in the first half of the race, and if you’re feeling strong at the mid-point, gently pick up your pace. To run quick times, don’t concentrate too much on running hard in the first half, concentrate on not fading in the second half.

11) Get yourself a training schedule – try Go to the training section and input the relevant details into the Smartcoach service; it will give you a personalised training plan, starting now and finishing on race day. It’s a great service – completely free, and will tell you exactly what you need to do. 

If you want some proper advice, visit, and contact Laith (Marc Laithwaite) with your requirements. On Tuesday, I’ll be out running with Laith again. Last week, we concentrated on speed work and it really pushed me out of my comfort zone, which is exactly what I need. By running hard, and much more quickly than I normally would, for example 5 minute 30 mile pace, it makes an increase to my race pace, for example 7 minute 30 mile pace, seem much more comfortable and easier to maintain. My marathon pace won't get near 7 minute 30 mile pace, but I’ve got shorter races to think about before the San Francisco Marathon. Roll on the Great Manchester Run on Sunday.

VO2 Max test at The Endurance Coach

Finally, I’m pleased to confirm that the Cashback for Christie campaign has received more than 100,000 signatures on its petition to ask Prime Minister Gordon Brown to intervene. You’ll recall that The Christie lost £6.5M in the Icelandic banking collapse. Last week, Christies’ fundraisers delivered the petition to 10 Downing Street (see Many thanks to those of you who followed the link at the bottom of the recent blogs and added your support to the campaign. 

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

This week’s training schedule:

Monday, 11 May 2009   6 miles easy
Tuesday, 12 May 2009   Warm-up, 3 x 4 mins fast, 2 mins slow, 10 mins jog recovery
Wednesday, 13 May 2009   5 miles easy
Thursday, 14 May 2009   1 miles warm-up, 8 x 1 min fast, 2 mins jog recovery, 10 mins warm-down
Friday, 15 May 2009   Rest
Saturday, 16 May 2009 15 minutes very easy
Sunday, 17 May 2009   Great Manchester Run

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  

Sign the Manchester Evening News' petition at: 

Visit us at 

Join the Facebook fivemarathons group

Saturday, 2 May 2009

Every Day Is A Winding Road

Two marathons down, three to go. The atmosphere in London was fantastic, there was superb support from the crowd and it felt great  to have my family there to see me race. I’ve got mixed feelings about the event itself, which I felt was let down by the organisation. Long sections of the course were far too narrow, which created bottleneck after bottleneck, as 35,000 tried to squeeze through. As a result, I found it impossible to run at my own pace until 18 miles. At that stage, as runners started to hit the wall, more space became available and I could finally get into my running. The last 8.2 miles were my quickest of the race. I found it incredibly frustrating because I’d trained hard and felt very strong – all you’re looking for is a chance to re-create on race day how you’ve been running in training. Funnily enough, I hadn’t done much queuing in training! 

With my Mum after the race

On the positive side, I can’t be too unhappy with 4 hours 01 minutes. I’m still on target to finish all five marathons in a total of less than 20 hours. That shows the difference that Laith’s coaching has made – before I started the fivemarathons, my previous best time for a competitive marathon was 4 hours 52 minutes (in New York, 2004), which would translate to 24 hours 20 minutes for the fivemarathons.

With Jill (and Monty), my Mum, my Dad and Vinnie (and Seb) 

Thanks to everyone who contacted me to say they’d spotted me on BBC2’s coverage of the marathon. I caught it on (15 minutes before the end of the coverage). I’m the one who’s inexplicably grinning like an idiot. 

Today saw my first training session since Sunday’s race, and it was great to get out and run again. I'm already looking forward to San Francisco and my preparations start here. With 12 weeks until the race, it’s the longest gap between the marathons and it gives Laith and me  the opportunity to increase the intensity of my training, while Harris & Ross can work on keeping me on the road. I trained for London at the same intensity as I did for Barcelona, but it felt easier and it became obvious that there was scope to step up a gear. As well as my running, I’ll be working on exercises for strength, to help keep my piriformis and plantar fascia injuries from causing any difficulties.

My parents have sorted a fantastic house on San Francisco Bay, from where I can finish my training, and prepare the carbohydrate-rich meals which I’ll need in the days leading up to the race. I’m really pleased that my Auntie June, and cousin Melanie, will be joining us from Canada. It should be a great fortnight.  

Hopefully, it won’t be too warm on race day in San Francisco. While the weather was great in London on Sunday, it was probably a little too warm for racing. I drank at each of the water stations, took 2 litres after the race, and it was still 6 hours before I needed the toilet!

Rob Ainscough, fivemarathons’ PR Manager, has been busy this week. Firstly, he contacted The Cumberland News, who published a great article about fivemarathons (see Many thanks to reporter, Linzi Watson, for her kind support in promoting fivemarathons in Cumbria, my home county. Secondly, Rob arranged for me to contribute to an article for Runner’s World Magazine (see about how running builds confidence and can help your work. Great work, Rob! 

Finally, congratulations to my Pannone colleagues on some superb performances in London on Sunday. James (4 hrs 04 mins), Ayse (4 hrs 50 mins), and Stephen (4 hrs 30 mins) had great runs and I know that Ayse has already entered the ballot for a place in next year’s race! 

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

This week’s training schedule:

Monday, 4 May 2009 5 miles easy
Tuesday, 5 May 2009  3 miles warm-up, 5 x 5 minute efforts (30 seconds sprint, followed by 30 seconds jog recovery, followed by 30 seconds sprint etc, to 5 minutes), 3 miles warm-down
Wednesday, 6 May 2009 30 mins easy
Thursday, 7 May 2009 Rest
Friday, 8 May 2009 6 miles steady
Saturday, 9 May 2009 10 km race pace
Sunday, 10 May 2009 6 miles easy 

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 

Sign the Manchester Evening News' petition at: 

Visit us at 

NYC Marathon, 2004

NYC Marathon, 2004
NYC Marathon, 2004