Saturday, 8 May 2010

Strawberry Fields Forever

Hello from Athabasca, Alberta!

Sunday’s Vancouver marathon and half marathon were great events. Despite the heavy rain and cold weather, Melanie and Ron turned in personal bests. Admittedly, it was their first half marathon, but a PB is a PB. In the build-up to the race, I’d said to Mel that I wasn’t choosy about the weather, as long as we didn’t have excessive heat or torrential rain. One out of two ain’t bad.

Spotting Randy in Stanley Park

Mel and Ron got underway in the half marathon at 7am, while I got started half an hour later. As it turned out, some marathoners, those who expected to take over 6 hours to complete the course, had started running at 6am. I didn’t know that, when I was still passing the morbidly obese, 2.5 hours into my own race. I couldn’t understand how I could have been running so hard, for so long, and yet still be behind the salad-dodging chapter of the distance running fraternity. Having considered that it was obviously time to hang up my trainers, it came as a great relief to see the starting timetable after the race.

Ron, capturing the moment on Sunday's half marathon

Sunday was the culmination of a great adventure which started in San Francisco last year. Nine months of intensive training for Mel and Ron and a lot of careful planning by Mel and her Dad, my Uncle Bob, to get over 20 members of my family together on race day, meant we had everything in place for what was an unbelievable occasion. As my race started later than theirs, I was able to walk over to the starting pen with Mel and Ron and enjoy the build-up with them. It was so great to have our family around us, to share the moment.

Making tracks in Stanley Park

My own final preparation for the race had been far from perfect. I picked up a cold in New York which I just couldn’t shift. By the day before the race it had really got a grip. Had it been the forthcoming marathon in Edinburgh (23 May 2010), I would almost certainly not have run. I had trained so hard throughout the freezing cold winter that I couldn’t bear to waste the race – to run when I wasn’t feeling fit and, at the same time, tire myself out for a proper attempt at a time in a future race. Having said that, I had been building towards Vancouver, and thinking about little else, for six whole months, ever since I crossed the finish line in New York City, drawing the fivemarathons to a close. Also, with my family in town for the race, I really wanted to run if I possibly could.

Mile 10 support team

I’m really grateful for all of my family’s efforts to ensure that I had every chance of running a good race. My Uncle Bob made sure that I had all of the right food in the week before the race and drove me around the course to acquaint myself in advance with the uphill sections where I was going to have to work, and the downhill sections where I would need to bank some time. He also arranged that I had family members every five miles on the route, not only to support me, but to hand me the drinks which were going to be essential for a good time. That meant that I could avoid the scrums at the water stops, and actually get some fluids on board. I find it almost impossible to drink properly from the cups handed out by the race organisers, while simultaneously trying to maintain 7 minute 45 second miles. Perhaps, like all men, it’s the multi-tasking element I find hard. Most days I struggle to walk while chewing gum.

Uncle Bob, Val, and Mel’s boys, Jonas and Zachary, met me at mile 5; my Mum, Dad, Auntie June (three quarters of my San Francisco and New York support team), Jacob and Noah were waiting for me at mile 10; and Caron and Randy were just past the halfway point in Stanley Park, still smiling through the pouring rain. On the Burrard Bridge, at 17 miles, my cousin Neil, a fellow endurance athlete (and regular Iron Man competitor) was waiting to run with me and keep me on pace for the last 9.2 miles of the race. My cousin Craig, Tracy and Meagan met us at miles 19 and 22, which was a great inspiration to keep me pressing. Given my cold, I was trying to take it easy in the first half of the race, and keep my heart rate below 152 beats per minute. Running with a bad cold is never a good idea and I was keen to avoid any undue strain on my heart. My legs also felt tired and a little weak from mile one. Normally, the first 15 miles of the race are free, while the latter 11.2 are where you really earn your money. On Sunday, I was having to scrap for every yard from the very start. In spite of all that, by the time I reached Neil, I realised that a new PB was possible, if I could just keep moving freely. Neil was such a fantastic help and pushed me to a 3 hours 31 finish, 12 minutes inside my previous best. Thanks Neil! Whenever I can return the favour for you, just let me know and I’ll be there.

Job done

As we reached the finishing straight, Mel was waiting for us, having finished her half marathon with Ron in a fantastic 2 hours 18 minutes. Getting to run in a new PB, with my cousins Neil and Mel either side of me, and with our family cheering us on was a priceless moment which I’ll never forget. My Mum and Auntie June were in tears. On Monday evening, we all got together for a celebratory meal, which was a great way to mark a fantastic family occasion. Caron is keen to run another half marathon (having run Vancouver and Kelowna before), and Mel and Ron intend to keep running, so I may be back to do it all again.

Left for dust: swallowing my running pride at LTIS

Yesterday, I had the opportunity to run with the Marathon Club at the Landing Trail Intermediate School in Athabasca. LTIS is the school attended by Mel and Ron’s sons, Noah and Jonas. At lunchtimes, the kids run 2 kilometres around the school grounds. Once they reach 42.2 kilometres, they’re awarded their marathon certificates. Noah and Jonas are already well on their way, with half marathons under their belts. I’m not ashamed to say that, for the first 400 metres, I wondered if I was going to be able to keep up! Fortunately, the boys settled down into a more sustainable pace, and we got our heads down for their next two kilometres. It was an absolute pleasure to run with the kids, and hopefully help to enthuse the distance runners of tomorrow. The next destination on my running world tour is Philadelphia, first thing tomorrow morning, where I’ll be meeting up with my friends Mary and Laurie, who are fresh from last Sunday’s Broad Street 10 Miler in Philly. I know Mary is looking to bag her first half marathon before the end of the year. Photos and a full race report to follow in a future blog!

Sam, Sebastian, Jamie and Jonas

As always, I’d like to offer my sincere thanks to my coach, Laith ( and my physio, Alan (, without whom I couldn’t have even dreamed of taking another 12 minute bite out of my PB. Thanks chaps! Work starts Monday for a 3 hour 15 finish in spring 2011. Just a few minor races to keep me occupied between now and then.


Vancouver, 2 May 2010 3 hours 31 minutes (new PB)
Edinburgh, 23 May 2010
Lakeland 50, 24 - 25 July 2010
The Atlantic Coast, 1 - 3 October 2010
Auckland, 31 October 2010


Liverpool, 28 March 2010 1 hour 33 mins 14 seconds (new PB)

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


Lucy Dawson and Amanda Howlett - Christies -
Lucy Dawson and Amanda Howlett - Macmillan -
Jessica Lovell – NSPCC -
Helen Thomasson – Christies -
Claire Smith – Christies -
Harriet Sutherland – The Prostate Cancer Charity -
Noel Bresland - Bliss -
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NYC Marathon, 2004

NYC Marathon, 2004
NYC Marathon, 2004