That Was The Year That Was Part. 1

There are only 21 days left in 2017 and what better way to see the year out by looking back at all the races I have taken part in.  There have been a few brilliant highs this year, which I still continue to bore Mrs. A and everyone who would bother to listen to me, and luckily not too many lows.  These have been slight moments of disappointment and left me feeling a tad glum, but luckily for me these have not been too severe.

I have managed to run in more marathons and half marathons than in previous years, which was something I’d always wanted to do and I’ve met some lovely people on the circuit at some of these events.  My races have been varied between locally organised events such as the Headcorn Half and the Chislehurst Half Marathon, all the way to huge scale marathons like the Brighton and Bournemouth Marathons.

The Ninth Doctor said to Rose Tyler back in 2005 in the pilot episode of the new series, “Run!” grabbed her hand and after defeating the Autons took her into his TARDIS around time and space.  I am extending the similar invitation for all those who want to read this blog to go back through this year and visit these races, just without having to defeat plastic mannequins by swinging on a rusty chain….

(Bloggers Note: I have included the Racecheck link to the races as a whole, if you want my individual review, scroll down until you see my name and click the arrow on the right)

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The Headcorn Half – Sunday 26th February 2017

I have always said with this race that I only entered for the sole reason that it fitted in with my training plan for my Brighton Marathon training.

Arriving on race day, you would not know that the event was taking place.  There were a few port-a-loos and the odd sign showing registration areas, but nothing that said there was a race about to start.  The start line had a beautiful little village surrounding it and although the crowd support was very little, it was very humble.  The race director informed us by no circumstances would earphones be allowed and at the finish line there would be bottles of water and Jaffa cakes. Tremendous.  All this way for a small little race where no one would cheer, anyone with earphones in would have a net thrown over them and at the finish you’d have some stale McVities cakes.  This was going to be horrible and I would end up like Charlton Heston in Planet of the Apes.

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The race started and the lead pack broke away and left us all behind.  We all did a right turn and then this event literally turned into exactly what was advertised: a race.  Normally when I run, I am near the front and am alone for the vast majority of the race.  Egotistically, very rarely am I overtaken but more humbly, very rarely do I overtake someone.  But this event was different.  This event was very competitive and I found there was a group of around 10-15 of us who would take turns being the leader of our band.  One minute I’d be sailing in front, only to see two other ships with the wind in their sails go past.  This would inspire my oars to work harder and faster to regain my position and I crossed the finish line in under 90 minutes.  A fantastic race which I’d love to do again and the lack of earphones and a decent goody bag is nothing compared to how good an event this is.

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Final Position: 22nd out of 396

Time:  1:27:39

Racecheck review: here

Full blog post: N/A

 

Brighton Marathon – Sunday 9th April 2017

Some time after the Dublin Marathon in 2016, I realised that I may not be able to run a marathon in under 3:15:00 and thought a sub 3:20:00 marathon was a more realistic target, especially as my personal best over 26.2 miles was 3:21:01.  Ironically this was at Brighton the year before and I was contacted one day by the pacing legend Paul Addicott who offered to pace me part of the way before leaving me to finish the race by myself.  This wasn’t because Paul couldn’t maintain the pace, far from it, but he had paced the Manchester Marathon the week before and was pacing the London Marathon on the 23rd April so didn’t want to gamble with injury.

Waking up the morning of the Brighton Marathon, the first thing that was obvious was how hot it was.  It was absolutely roasting and the start line at Preston Park was no different, with many people huddled under trees and the corral arches to escape the sun.  This was going to be warm and a sub 3:20:00 marathon was going to be tough.

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Along with Paul, I met another running legend Kevin at the start line also, who was trying his own attempt at a sub 3:30:00 marathon.  After a group  warm up and the inspiring “Sweet Caroline” to really fire us up, the Brighton & Hove Albion FC manager, Chris Houghton, got the race started.  Paul and I ran really well in the heat and boy was it hot!  There was very little shade on the course and the sea breeze, which normally hides the heat that you are exerting, was not there that day.  Paul and I made the halfway mark at just under 1:40:00 which was spot on and I was feeling confident.  We continued to run well and Paul told me around the 18 mile mark to now go on by myself and he would conserve some energy.  Although my target was to get under the 3:20:00 mark, I decided to go against that and stay with Paul.  Not that he needed me to or because I was struggling, but because I was thoroughly enjoying the company and preferred running with my new running buddy than trying for personal glory.

A combination of the heat, the lack of adequate water at the feed stations and the marathon the week before made Paul tell me to go on to get under and although I didn’t get the sub 3:20:00, I did get another sub 3:30:00 marathon.  A great race, although a few things need to be ironed out to get this back to the level it was at a few years ago.

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Final Position: 683rd out of 12,587

Time: 3:26:41

Racecheck review: here

Full blog post: N/A

 

Milton Keynes Marathon – Monday 1st May 2017

The Milton Keynes Marathon is an event that I have been toying with the idea of entering for years.  Its not due to me being a secret roundabout and new office build fanatic, but the thought of finishing in a huge football stadium with my family cheering inside.  “At the roundabout, take the second exit” said my satnav for the twentieth time just before we pulled into the hotel car park.  Bags dropped off, we had some dinner and went to see the sights that Milton Keynes had to offer.  The walk after dinner lasted about a quarter of an hour.

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The Avery fan club and I made our way to the glorious Stadium:MK and met with some of the UKRunChat army who had arranged a pre-meet.  I met another running legend Darren “Runners Knees” Smith and had a nice chat with others who were in our group chat.  Darren is one of those who is as friendly and pleasant in real life as he is on social media.  He also has a fantastic blog which I’d recommend everyone to read.

Making my way outside, I once again saw Paul Addicott and Kev (a Milton Keynes resident) who I saw at Brighton and under a sea of confetti and music, we were away.  The first few miles were everything that summed up Milton Keynes – concrete and roundabouts.  The crowd support was minimal and I was struggling to see why this was a UK Top 10 Marathon.  After a few miles, we headed off the road and I was surprised to find we would spend the rest of the race running along canals, through parks and through woodlands.  The crowd support picked up in the residential areas and really came into it’s glory once we entered the football stadium again.  Completing nearly a full lap of the pitch, I crossed the finish line after punching the air in again under 3:30:00.  Another good race and result for me, but I did not enjoy this as much as the Brighton Marathon a few weeks before.

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Final Position: 174th out of 2020

Time: 3:22:57

Racecheck review: here

Full blog post: N/A

 

Chislehurst Half Marathon – Sunday 21st May 2017

I parked my car, looked in the back and panicked.  I had left my kit bag at home that had everything: Lucozades, gels, sunglasses and more importantly, my earphones.  This race at only the 2nd ever Chislehurst Half Marathon was turning into a disaster before it had even begun.  Luckily, my Dad was on his way and I asked him to run into the nearest shop and pick up some bottles.  Unfortunately, these were the fizzy option so a second mad dash was needed to the tuck shop where luckily two bottles of still Lucozade were there.  This was a wart on a pigs bum when it came to how bad this race would become for me.

The race started well, I was in the top ten for a few miles and was loving the scenery of the commons and woodlands until disaster struck at around 6 miles.  The arrows pointing where to go were not correctly positioned and we had taken a wrong turn.  We were lost and it didn’t get any better when another 25-30 runners joined us.  We were lost in the woods and panic was setting in, with every second that went by we were losing our race position and the competitor in me was getting angry.

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After running for a few kilometres, we came out of the woods and made our way back on the roads but was miles behind the pack who were originally miles behind us.  This run had gone from a gorgeous run in some beautiful nature to a race where we were running through fields and twigs.  I was in a foul mood and picked up one of the bronze medals on the finish line.  It was a lovely medal, but I was aiming for one of the silver ones that were aimed at those who had finished higher up the positions.  The sad thing for me is that I was comfortably on course for one of those.

Final Position: 49th (after running more than 13.1 miles) out of 481

Time: 1:41:39

Racecheck review: here

Full blog post: here

 

The Colour Run – Sunday 25th June 2017

My sister, Laura, saw a Colour Run advertised around Danson Park and decided she’d like to take part.

“It’ll be fun innit?” Laura said, “how far is 5k?”

When I told Laura that it’ll be two laps of the park, her enthusiasm waned, so I decided to do what every protective older brother should do for his sister at times like this.  I paid for her entry as her birthday present.  She couldn’t back out, but I did the decent thing and signed up with her to keep her company.  The delight in her face when she opened the present was one of sheer delight and excitement, well it was after all the shouting and screaming was over.

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Race day was here and after being pelted with snow ball like paint bombs, we got to the halfway mark.  After telling Laura we only had one more lap left, she decided to turn the air as blue as the paint that had smacked me in the face on the way round.  We did have to walk, run, walk, run a little bit, but Laura did really well and beat me over the finish line.  She would definitely do it again, but maybe after a bit more training!

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Final Position: Unknown (not a chipped event)

Time: About 45 mins

Racecheck review: here

Full blog post: pre-race: here post-race: here

 

The British 10K – Sunday 9th July 2017

This was the race that started it all off for me running wise.  In 2012 I was stood outside The Ritz wondering how on earth I was going to run the 6.2 miles and survive, five years later I was stood further up the pens with the hope of getting under the magical 40 minutes again.

The sponsor had changed for another year and the red, white and blue colour scheme had been replaced by a bright orange and yellow.  The Britishness of the British 10k had been taken out, but the second consecutive year of timed pens was a wonderful addition.  I had a slightly tight knee before the race and was worried that I may not get under the 40 minute mark again for a second year, but I’d give it a go.

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Just like with the Milton Keynes Marathon, a sea of confetti rained over us and we were away.  This was also my first race as a member of #teamblack and racecheck’s #visorclub and I made sure I had the supposed ‘magic visor’ wrapped around my head.  And magic visor it was as I sped round the course in a lightning pace, totally forgetting about my bad knee.  I got towards the last few kilometres and knew I was well under the time required to finish in a sub 40 time.  I sped around the front of the Houses of Parliament and back towards Trafalgar Square.  I crossed the finish line in 39:44 which was the exact time I completed the 2016 edition of this race, so not a PB but a PB equalled!  I was thinking would I have been faster if my knee was ok, but then also remembered I never had the magic visor last year….

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Final Position: 81st out of 9246

Time: 39:44

Racecheck review: here

Full blog post: here

 

So this is my review of the first six races of the twelve completed.  Check back in a few days for the other half of this dozen which involves two new personal bests, more marathons and lots and lot of hill running.

 

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What would you think if I sang out of tune, would you stand out and walk out on me?

My last race of 2017 was upon me and an incredibly cold and bitter Greenwich Park was the setting for my 5th Movember Run in a row.  Not only my 5th Mo Run in a row, but after the rather undulated course of the Maidstone Half and the gargantuan climbs required to complete the seemingly mountainous Beachy Head Marathon, it was my 3rd consecutive hilly race.

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Although not a huge event and only a 10k, the Mo Run is a race that will always be a staple in my large book of runs that mainly involve marathons and half marathons.  There are two main reasons for this, the first is that it is just a really well organised and fun event.  Not a fun run necessarily, but where else on the small race circuit would you line up on the start line with Colonel Saunders, an RAF squadron in home made cardboard airplanes with matching Spitfire pilot attire and a woman and her dog both dressed as Borat in matching man-kinis?  The atmosphere also is great, lots of people arriving in fancy dress with an excellent MC getting people fired up for another great race.  The Avery Running Club was back in full swing, with our newest member Mrs A now in attendance as her weekends are now free and her membership card has now been processed.  I was stood rather optimistically in a vest, but realised after seeing the rest of our group shivering away, I thought it’d be best to wear some long sleeves.

The second reason why this is such a good event is this is the race I do on a regular basis with my two good friends Rowan and Nikki.  Both have taken part in other races with me, but this is “our” race.  The Beatles once sang, I Get By With a Little Help From My Friends and this song sums up how we support each other in this race.  Just without the tone deaf vocals from Ringo Starr…

 

We made our way to the start line and I took my place near the front of the leading pack.  We had all Come Together and I was stood there feeling that this year, I may just do well in this race.  In 2015 I managed to get under 40 minutes for the first time ever in a 10k and after a slightly disappointing 40:18ish finish time in 2016, I was desperate to dip back under the 40 minute mark again.  Because of this, my training for this race has been intense, sometimes feeling like I had been training for Eight Days a Week and was hoping that I Don’t Let Me Down with a poor run today.  Just like the Beatles final Rooftop Concert, the band had got back together and we were hoping we could perform our own rendition of Dig A Pony and show that we were still in our prime.  We would know in 10,000 metres time…

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The start horn sounded and I made my way to the Long and Winding Road to the first decline and was picking up a rapid pace.  I found that I was plummeting downhill quicker than when John Lennon said that The Beatles were bigger than Jesus and also made sure I was running near the front with the lead pack.  At the bottom, we did a sharp right turn and made our way along the perimeter of the Maritime Museum.  Outside this gorgeous landscape are some beautiful Octopus’ Gardens in the Shade as well as a large replica of a ship in a glass bottle.  The slight change of route was a big welcome and helped me to maintain my pace without being intercepted by some steep climbs.  The marshals in their fluorescent jackets were standing out like Yellow Submarines and were also stood in the middle points for both early and late stages of the course, telling the early leaders and the runners towards the back the different routes they needed to run down.  They were making sure that they could really Twist and Shout in different directions and I was finding that some of these would say Goodbye, only for me five minutes later to say Hello.

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The start/finish line also acted as the half way mark in this two lap race and sticking to the right hand side, I made my way past the 3.1 mile mark in around 19 minutes.  A good time, but knew I would have to keep going at this speed to make sure that I got comfortably under my 40 minute target.  I knew if I bombed round for at least one more mile, I’d have some minutes in the bank to play with so decided to really smash out the first mile of the second lap as quick as I could.  Surprisingly for me, this tactic worked very well and I ended up holding this fast pace all the way around the course.  At the 9km mark I looked at my app and had plenty of time to finish the last kilometre. The final kilometre had a nasty climb that I had shot up in the first half of the race, but Do You Want To Know A Secret?  I secretly loved this last hill and was grinning like a cheshire cat as I got to the top.  I knew I was under the 40 minutes and maybe on course for a new personal best.

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The finish line was in sight and the MC was cheering us all over the finish line.  I did at one point say to myself that She Loves You, however I noticed that she had the same reaction for the runner behind me so realised that she was just being friendly.  I jumped up, kicked my heels together and crossed the finish line in a new personal best time of 39:23, which over a cold and hilly Greenwich Park I was delighted with.  I grabbed my medal and milkshakes and made my way to the finish line to cheer on Rowan and Nikki, who were not that far behind me and finished their race really strong.  My eldest son Harris, who had earlier ran the mini-Mo Run decided when he saw Nikki that I Wanna Hold Your Hand and helped her cross the finish line in style.  Rowan was only a few minutes behind and didn’t need any Help(!) over the finish line.  A great run by both.

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Our Morunning was over for another year and once again it was a great morning.  I had got a new personal best and Nikki and Rowan had laid some great foundations for their first London Marathon in 2018.  Mo Farah, you have been warned.

This race brings out the best in everyone who takes part and on that cold morning in November, All You Need is Love.

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I climbed the highest mountain. Once or twice but who’s countin’

So this was it, my last marathon of 2017 and one I have been looking forward to for years.  The marathon which although may not have been a PB course, a race I had heard nothing but great things about. A race that Darren “Runner’s Knees” Smith had blogged about in 2016, posing with a polystyrene cup at the mile 22 mark.  The race that Clare “Thinking Clarely” Rixon was doing for her 30th birthday and the race that Darren “Spiderman” Hendley was taking part in as he found squirting silly string at the Royal Family in the London marathon boring in comparison.  As D12 once said during the classic Purple Hills, “I climbed the highest mountain. Once or twice but who’s countin’”.  This was the Beachy Head Marathon 2017.

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The race started for me on the Friday afternoon, with Mrs A and the boys joining me to the registration tent to pick up my race number.  Ironically, it was number 71 which seemed to be the average age of the folk in Eastbourne (note – only joking, I love the elderly.  I will be joining this tick box soon as I’m 31 in a couple of days).  After getting my number, I made my way to the infamous start line, which after only a hop, skip and a jump on the concrete road, you were at the foot of a huge hill that was the first of many, many uphills in this race.  We all plodded up it and I thought if my two young children could climb up with ease, this would be a bit easier than I thought.  This would be a walk in the park, but a very, very hilly park.  The play list which involved Kate Bush in the recent Maidstone Half Marathon was left at home.  I couldn’t see what the fuss was about….

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Race morning arrived and after getting changed into my running gear, I made my way back to the start line where our legendary group of UkRunChat and Racecheck hikers had arranged a pre-race meet.  There were around 12 of us in total and the atmosphere in our group was brilliant.  Friendly, encouraging and full of belief.  We were like a mountain expedition who bravely decided to take on this epic challenge and although we would all finish at different times, we were in this together!  The tannoy announcement told us we didn’t have long to start and that’s when Spider-Man came out with the most inspiring quote of the day:
“Here, I heard that the combined elevation of those hills is higher than Ben Nevis.”
Silence fell.  We all looked at each other.  This is exactly what we needed going into the race.  Cheers Darren!  There was a sudden stampede of people heading back to their cars claiming they’d left the iron on.  But we weren’t frightened.  Much…..

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We made our way to the start line and as mentioned I saw the birthday girl Thinking Clarely with her own expedition army.  I thought of something funny to say for her big day, however I came out with the classic, “Happy Birthday.  Cheerio!” and made my way closer to the front.  I saw a sign to say any sub 5 hour runners to stand a bit closer and although I’d never done this race before, I was confident that I could get round in that time.  I was the self proclaimed leader of our expedition and Darren was my lieutenant, slightly further back.  The race horn went off and we were away!  And then we stopped.  And then we climbed.  And then we stopped.  And then we climbed.  And then we stopped.  Then I nearly got taken out by someone else’s birthday balloon.  This was great!  I was only about ten steps in and this race had turned into a free for all.  It was like calling last orders at the local Wetherspoons when they only had one jug of monster reef left.  Everyone wanted to get to the bar at the top as quickly as possible.

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I made my way to the top of the hill and my thighs were burning!  Absolutely on fire.  If Kings of Leon were with me, they would have re-wrote their classic hit about something else being on fire.  At the top I looked round to the right and saw a yellow arrow.  Pointing Up.  Great.  Up we go again!  I made my way up this slightly shallower climb, however this one seemed to go on for longer than the last.  Was it a mental thing?  Was it my thigh’s way of telling me to slow down as I had another 26 miles to go?  Who knows, but whatever it was, it was tough.  But it was bloody brilliant.
At the top of this second hill, it seemed to plateau slightly so I managed to regain a bit of pace.  It wasn’t fast by any means or the speed I run on the roads, but I was happy with it.  The top of this mound was cold and very windy, but I barely noticed with some of the fantastic views that were on offer.  “There’s gold in them there hills!” And the gold were these indescribable views.  This was magic and I was loving every step.
My race continued well and although there were some very steep, uneven and tricky downhills, I wasn’t too phased by the early stages of this race.  The scenery was gorgeous, the fellow runners were cheerful and chatty and this was really a unique race.  There also weren’t any mile markers apart from the checkpoints so it made a nice change just to run and not worry too much about mins per mile.  I had a rough idea of my time and how I was doing, but felt a bit of freedom I haven’t felt in other marathons.  It was liberating and I was just running and just making sure that I wasn’t overdoing it.  Admiring the sights and saying hello to the cows and sheep that had made their way on along the paths, cheering us along.

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It wasn’t until the 8 mile checkpoint that I had really struggled.  I say 8 mile checkpoint, what I meant was this was the checkpoint which had defeated even Bear Grylls.  This was the point where no amount of grubs, insects, animal carcass or water squeezed out of elephant dung (yes Bear Grylls did this once) would get you to the top.  After grabbing a cup of juice, I started my climb.  This was a section of the race that was so steep and so long that it was literally impossible to run up, so for the first time since my first marathon in 2013, I was forced to walk.  I had by no means whatsoever hit the wall, but it was just too steep to run up.  This hill, like some of the others preceding it, just seemed to go on for a lifetime, I’d never had to climb something this steep before and this made the hilly Brighton course, the tall hill towards the end of Dublin and the up and down course of Maidstone look like PB potential.  As before, this was tough but great fun.
The rest of the race continued this way, with lots of ups and downs, walking and running, but the views seemed to be getting more and more special.  In the distance, miles in front inspiring us all to keep going were the magnificent leaders.  They were leading our expedition and were like huskies pulling our tired sleds, telling us the course was clear and if they could do it, we could too.
It was around the 18 mile mark where this expedition hit another stumbling block and by stumbling block I mean a huge staircase that had to be climbed.  Equally as steep as the earlier hill and also more challenging as the stairs were very uneven and different sizes.  There wasn’t the option to quit, we had all come this far.  The only thing we could do was as we had done up to this point: climb.  It was at this point where the race was really showing its character, as the other runners around me had turned this into a seemingly social event and not a race.  It was still competitive and we wanted to finish the race well, but instead of being in our own little world, we were willing each other up.  “Nearly at the top!” “Few more left to go.”  “Not long now!” “We’re still on course for sub-3!” And within no time we were at the top and continuing our race.  Like the wall in Gladiators, we were climbing together and making sure that the Gladiator behind wouldn’t catch us.

AMERICAN GLADIATORS "The Wall"
AMERICAN GLADIATORS “The Wall”

After more climbs, running through open fields with farm animals, leaping over stone walls, running over old bridges and having to navigate kissing gates, we made our way to the final stretch and over the Seven Sisters cliffs.  As Chandler in Friends felt when he drunkenly kissed Joey’s sister, I wasn’t sure the best way to take these ladies on, so decided to take my time and work out one after one which one was the kindest.  Although, all of these females were stunningly beautiful and mesmerising, after 20 miles of hill climbing, they were showing their inner ugliness.  Laughing and cackling at me as I tried my hardest to show who was boss, this was Girl Power at it’s finest and the female of the species was definitely more deadly than the male.  These cliffs were Xenia Onatop in Goldeneye, beautiful but deadly.  This would take all my inner strength but I finally soldiered on and made my way over these cliff tops to the final stretch.

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Seeing the Beachy Head pub, I knew I was nearly at the finish.  One final push was all I needed and luckily the steep uphill at the beginning of the race was transformed into a steep downhill.  Steadily making my way down this decline, I looked up and saw that my time was quite comfortably under 4 hours.  I made my way back on to the road and after a quick jump and clicking my heels, I landed and crossed the finish line.  3:57:12 was my time and I was delighted.  I had stood next to the sign that said sub 5 hours and had beaten that by a whole hour.  After crossing the finish line, I did what all marathon runners should do: put my medal on and hobbled to the nearest pub for a pint of Guinness.
This race was hard.  This race difficult.  This race was perhaps the most challenging event I have ever taken part in and this race had left me battered and bruised.  But this race was brilliant.  This race was awe inspiring and this race has to be attempted to see its stunning beauty.  Girl Power may have prevailed over me today, but I was delighted that the Seven Sisters did.

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I have to give a special mention to our newly created UkRunChat army: Darren Hendley, Kaya Smith, Clare G, Bal Tavener, Baz (who provided my cable tie!) , JK, Mark Reese, Sarah Grimshaw, Alex Labang, Deborah Pitt and Chris Fleming.  It was an honour going into this adventure with you all and you are all bloody brilliant.  Look forward to joining forces again soon and showing those other seemingly hard races who’s boss.  We should all get matching tattoos or something…..

Leave behind my wuthering, wuthering Wuthering Heights

“Out on the wiley, windy moors we’d roll and fall in green.”  Sunday 15th October was the day of the Maidstone Half Marathon and this year’s theme would not look out of place on a Kate Bush Greatest Hits album.  After taking part in this race last year in cold and wet conditions, I returned to the windy moors and was instantly taken by the green of the area.  No, not the natural greenery, but the race HQ and flags that were round by the start line.  Also, this was a race that was notorious for its undulation, hilly course and I knew in just a few minutes I would be “Be running up that road, be running up that hill.”

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The bag drop was so quick and easy I had time to make my way back to the start line and get my bearings of where I was and to soak in the atmosphere.  I got to the start line just as the classic Run to the Hills by Iron Maiden was finishing.  I chuckled to myself and wondered which first timers were taking part in this race and not thinking of the foreshadowing that this song was suggesting.  As the song lyrics proposed soon we had to Run to the Hills and we would have to Run for Our Livvvvveees.  Then came the classic Be Running up that Hill.  Now I knew that wasn’t a playlist on shuffle but very subtle trolling by the race organisers.

 

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On the way outside I bumped into the running legend Darren Hendley who is a fellow racecheck #teamblack member.  Like me, Darren is also taking part at the Beachy Head Marathon and was using the hills of the Maidstone Half as a training run.

“Bit hilly is it Mike?!” Darren asked eagerly

“Yeah you could say that mate….” came my eagerly enthusiastic response.  Although I had hid this very well under an expression of dread and worry at what was to come.  I could feel Kate Bush singing again about my love, hate relationship with this race: “I hated you, I loved you, too…”

Darren met me back at the start line after dropping his bag and after the usual pre-race handshake and selfie for our ukrunchat and racecheck fans (well Darren’s fans, he is Spider-Man after all) the horn sounded and we were off.

 

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The race started with an immediate left turn and towards the country lanes of Maidstone.  Due to a slight bit of congestion at the start I had to play catch up with the front pack and spent a bit of time weaving in and out of the marathon runners who also joined us for the mass start.  The first few miles came and went in a blur, with much of the undulation being nothing more than just a few seemingly large speed bumps.  Nothing of any concern, but I knew what was to come from this race.  Although not too dissimilar from the likes of Paddock Wood and the Headcorn Half, the scenery is very picturesque and in the style of stereotypical, old fashioned cottages and detached houses that are Hollywood’s perception of rural England.  Unfortunately for me, Cameron Diaz decided not to spend The Holiday in this area cheering me, but I was more than happy with her substitute of the locals who came out of their houses and lined the route cheering us on.

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After a relatively fast first three miles, I knew what was coming.  It was on the horizon and there was no avoiding it.  I just had to look to the peak of this Ben Nevis and just soldier on.  These early miles had deceived all those that had run on them thinking that this was easier than they thought.  These miles had lied to us and although earphones we not allowed in this race, Kate Bush’s Greatest Hits were in my head and this time it was Hounds of Love: “It’s in the trees.  It’s coming”.  I put my first foot on the hill and knew what I had to do.  I didn’t have to sprint up it as fast as I could, it was too long for that.  I couldn’t steadily run up it, the gradient was ever slightly just to steep.  So I did what was the only thing I could do, climb.  My pace dropped but I knew once I got to the top it would plateau out and I could regain my pace on the flat.

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At the top, we were greeted with some wonderful cheers and high fives from the locals.  The weather was better than last year and with the added warmth in temperature came the added warmth from the locals and it radiated off of them.  We did not need vitamin D from the sun, we were soaking up the support and it made us all regain some of the time we had lost.  After running down hill for a short burst and around more beautiful scenery, we were met by another hill that made the Ben Nevis at mile 5 look like a small mound of dirt in comparison.  This was around the 8-9 mile mark.  The dreaded, dreaded 8-9 mile mark.  This thing was a whole new beast.  I thought I had conquered it last year but this dormant volcano like mound was awake and angry.  Runners in front of me were stopping and grabbing their calves and quads.  “Keep going!” I screamed like a captain to his soldiers “don’t stop, you stop it’s beaten you!”  Luckily, I wasn’t being too dramatic at this point and just tried my best to keep going.  This hill went on.  And on.  And on.  And on.  This was a beast and it was beating me.

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After what seemed like a lifetime, I made it to the top and looked at my watch.  For the first time in a long time, I wasn’t going to crack a sub 90 minute marathon, although after tackling these hills and running a marathon the week before I wasn’t too bothered.  I could feel my internal Heathcliff getting angry with Cathy, but decided to not let this anger build anymore and just let her in through my window.  I was just focusing on getting the best time I could and accept defeat this time.  Knowing that I “had a temper like my jealousy” of those finishing under 90 minutes and normally with every second that goes over the 90 minutes would usually get me more and more upset, I was actually really enjoying this race and the sights seemed more and more glorious now I had the time to take them in and appreciate them.

The last few miles were slightly more downhill than the animal that had taken huge chunks out of my legs by the end of mile 9 and with some nice applause I made my way back into the car park and across the finish line in just over 1:34.  The MC on the mic managed to get my race number in time and shouted my name over the speakers which was met by a big cheer from the spectators.  I walked over to get my medal and was pleasantly surprised to see this was a lot nicer in the flesh than in the photos.  The dark red draw string bag was also a nice gift as was the buff inside, very unique piece of race gear from this race.  Spider-Darren crossed the finish line a few minutes later and looked fresh as a daisy as he crossed the finish line.  The usual post-race selfie and hand shake followed but this time with a novelty frame around it.  A great race by the #teamblack team and it was brilliant to make a new mate on the circuit.  I can also tell my boys I have met the real life Peter Parker.

I got back in the car and thought about this race a bit more.  It was tough, it was hard and unlike last year when I was victorious, this year had beaten me.  It’s now 1-1, who will win when I sign up again in 2018?…..

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You’re just a product of loveliness….

Many things instantly come to mind when people think of Bournemouth, be it the pier, the seaside, Premier League football, ice cream or the first pier to beach zip wire.  But after taking part in the 2017 Bournemouth Marathon, I will always associate Bournemouth with the King of Pop, Michael Jackson.

Three members of the large Avery Fan Club joined me down on the south coast for what was to be my 10th marathon since my first London in 2013.  After a long drive from South London, we arrived to a wonderful welcome.  The Roundhouse just half a mile from the pier must’ve known of my Bermondsey, Millwall supporting roots as they kindly had no “H” displayed on their sign.  Round’ouuuuuse we phonetically read as we approached, how very thoughtful of them.   As we walked in from the car park, it was as if we had booked a room in Fawlty Towers.  The lobby was dated, as was the hotel room.  The walls were all cream and the carpets were a dark, old patterned burgundy.  We couldn’t find the Spanish waiter that was bumbling around, but could’ve sworn I could hear a high pitched “Basil!” from the room behind reception….

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We dropped our bags and after a quick high carb lunch in the nearest Wetherspoons, we made a slow walk towards the start line and the race hub.  Unfortunately, Manuel must’ve forgot to drop off the telegram that there wasn’t anything at the hub because we arrived to an athletics track that had the gates around it all closed off.  This was luckily right next to the Premier League stadium of football giants AFC Bournemouth, so my football mad eldest was very impressed to be standing by the doors to one of the best teams in the country.  Well I say giants, they have some Premier Flags outside their ground and Eddie Howe has his own parking sign made out of tin foil.  Surely this wasn’t the same team I visited with Millwall who were using cement mixers as half time entertainment in 2008?!  Surely not!  Although there wasn’t a great deal there, at least we knew where to go in the morning and we made our way to the arcades so the boys could spend our well earned money trying to grab a teddy….

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We made our way around the arcades and was surprised to see a lot of runners for the night run that the Bournemouth Marathon offered.  Everyone was covered in glow sticks, head torches and any other item of clothing that would make them seen in the dark and there was a great atmosphere from the DJ playing some great songs from Jacko.  “When I had you to myself, I didn’t want you around!” was blaring out the speakers and there was a great party atmosphere.  This was a run where all ages took part and seemed like a hyperactive, feel good atmosphere which didn’t require the level of training as the title event of the festival.  As easy as 1,2,3 you may say?  After seeing the runners off, the boys tried to win their fortunes on the 2p machines when we heard clapping and cheering on the pier.  Outside and the runners from earlier on were now doing a loop of the pier and along the seafront path in the distance there was a new sea, a sea off bobbing head torches and glow sticks.  We cheered and dished out some high fives before making our way back to the hotel.

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The alarm went off, I got changed and made my way back to the hub where I’d been the day before.  On arrival there were a large number of people huddled around chatting.  Although not necessarily seen as a running club only run, it seemed as though everyone knew each other or had met on the marathon circuit before.  Saying that, it doesn’t matter if you’re Black or White as the stewards were very welcoming and helpful getting everyone into the correct pens.  I met up with the marathon legend Steve Edwards and had our usual chat on the start line, poor Steve must see me as the male equivalent of Billie Jean as I always seem to pop up from nowhere when he’s doing his own thing and pretend like I’m his best friend.  Well in my world I am.  This was Steve’s 799th marathon and so far he was averaging 3:18 overall, but I could tell he was more impressed with this being my 10th.  I left him to make my way to the red pen and I believe he went to consul himself by checking with The Man in the Mirror.

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After a pre-race briefing which involved the DJ repeating a Justin Timberlake track, we were off.  “Don’t be so quick to, walk away.” Justin sang, but sorry JT, you weren’t shackling me and I made my way out of the park and into the rural area of Bournemouth.  The race conditions were a little chilly, but comfortable and I held my pace well.  There were a few inclines and undulated sections of the race that I wasn’t expecting, but although running up them felt like enduring Jackson’s last studio album, the downhills were as steep as his career’s decline after he released You Rock my World (blogger’s note – I actually like that song).

After a race that seemed like we were running backwards and forwards over the same roads for the first 8 miles, we made our along the seafront at mile 9.  Although on the seafront, there was very little sea breeze and it was starting to get warm.  Perhaps Earth Song was right and global warming had taken affect as this was an alarmingly warm day for early October.  We continued along the seafront, cheerfully acknowledging the kind residents in their beautiful picturesque beach huts up until the 12 mile mark where we were hit with a real wall of sound.  Huge loud cheers and high fives greeted us all and I could feel my legs picking up slightly and getting more of a bounce.  After venturing into a small woodland like area, we headed towards the pier, only to double back and run towards the 12 mile mark, which now on the other side of the path was acting as the 15 mile marker.  Running on the smaller Boscombe pier for the first time was magic and just like the dancer from Shalamar who taught Michael Jackson the moonwalk, this was quickly becoming A Race to Remember. (Sorry poor pun)

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After looping back round the pier, we made our back towards the big one and it was an absolute Thriller to run around the pier which less than 18 hours before I was cheering on the night runners.  There were cameras everywhere and I felt like a member of a Jackson Five tribute band with the small group of runners who had entered the pier with me.

Mile 17 was something I didn’t expect and after running past the marker we were met which felt like Everest after 17 miles of 7:30 minute miles.  The hill was very steep and very long, a lot of the runners who I had been racing with had dropped down to a walk and were really struggling.  The heat was now really starting to take effect and I just wanted to get up this hill in one piece without putting myself in any danger hill wise.  The lack of shade was also causing concern but luckily once we were at the top, we had around two miles of quiet, country lane type roads that were sheltered with some degree of greenery.  It wasn’t a lot but I took full advantage and was running from different sides of the road to stay cool.  I was thinking back to some of the runners who had tshirt a under their vests and how they were doing, as the temperature was vastly warmer than at miles 1-9.

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We descended back down to the mile 20 mark and along the seafront for the final 10k.  At this point, some of the other runners were now stopping and struggling with cramp and looking dazed due to the heat.  I was on course for around 3:20:00 but decided that to push myself to get a PB in this weather may not have been the best idea so decided to contain my run slightly.  I could feel myself getting hot and wanted to finish the race comfortably.

There was a final loop near a marina type area at mile 23 and we made our way back along the seafront path we had just run down for nearly three miles.  The finish line at the main pier was a dot in the distance and I just kept that in my sights and focussed on finishing strong, I was well on course for a sub 3:30:00 marathon again and was happy with that time considering the conditions.  I continued up to the last half a mile and this was where the townsfolk really came out of their shell.  Cheering me and screaming as I ran the last leg.  The more I pumped my fists at the crowd, the more they cheered.  A Mexican wave type effect was achieved and I was running alongside the wave of cheers and support.

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The last run along the makeshift corridor was magic and I was running on my left high-fiving all the well wishers and those shouting at me to finish the race.  As I am just over 6’2, I realised I had a large arm span and not wanting to leave my fans on the right left out, I spread out both arms and magically was getting high-fives on either side.  My wife was right, it’s not just the size, it’s what you do with it that counts!

I crossed the finish line in 3:24:59 which although wasn’t a personal best, it was a time I was happy with.  After the race, I met up with the rest of my family and like the rest of the finishers could not move for love nor money.  But one thing we could move for was one of the most inspirational singers of all time.  As soon as the lyrics kicked in, suddenly I rose to my feet and started dancing.

”Hey pretty baby with the high heels on, you give me fever like I’ve never, ever known!” Classic tune and although not a running track, it was just the ticket to get my legs moving again.  Shamoane!

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So my 10th marathon was completed and unfortunately I cannot soak in my accomplishment as I have Beachy Head at the end of the month.

”I swear I’m keepin’ you satisfied” said Michael Jackson and The Bournemouth Marathon and you did!  This was a great marathon and one I’d definitely recommend.

I now knight you, Sir Michael of Ealing

I would step foot in the arena of Lammas Park, West London for a third time in my running life.  This colosseum of gorgeous parkland and greenery was the setting for all those brave enough to be invited to take on this seemingly mythical beast.  This gorgeous stallion of such beauty, which all other thoroughbred half marathons have gallantly tried in earnest to replicate and better, but have been no match for its majesty and prestige.  This galloping creature of legend which has left all opposition in its wake and all those that have attempted to ride it have finished in awe and wonder at something so magnificent. This creature of absolute perfection that dared all those to climb aboard and try to control.  Well today was my turn.  I was back after a year’s absence to try and tame the immortal Ealing Half Marathon.

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I arrived just after 8’o’clock in the morning with my entourage who were here to support my challenge.  My father who was acting as squire for the day, my Uncle Tony, brought along the weapons needed to domestic this beast and my two young sons Harris and Lennon, who were too busy eating snacks and chocolate to understand the task I was taking on.  I had arranged to meet another noble knight, Lee Kemp, as he too was attempting his own challenge of claiming the riches from reigning victorious over this wild steed.  We noted each other’s choice of armour, he was the classic knight in shining armour with his glorious white visor.  Tactics were shared and a slightly reserved but steady race would be on the cards for Lee, whilst I was channeling the darkness from my black armour with green stitching around the outside.  I was going to climb in the saddle, hold tight to the reigns and show this animal who was boss.

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Our noblemen from the small town of Race-upon-Check and Visor-le-Club joined us for a wonderful portrait and after a few well wishes, we were on our way to the start line and where we would see this invincible yet stunning creature again.  The gorgeous green banner across the start line was there in all its glory, acting as a sign of what was to come.  A sign daring only the brave to take on this competition.  Dame Susie Chan was over on the sideline informing us heroic cavaliers what was in store for us once we had mounted the beast.  It was beautiful, inspiring, you’ll feel amazing when you have completed it, enjoy the race and don’t try to tame it too early, the race will beat you if you let that happen.  I was confident, but still was slightly nervous as I climbed into the saddle.  I got my weapons ready to go.  3…..2…..1 and we were galloping away.

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We started with a steady cantor, my loyal army surrounding me, making sure that both them nor I not set off too quickly and let the event over awe us.  Up ahead ensuring safe passage were two knights who were displaying a proud red colour  with the insignia “1:25” displayed on the front of their flags.  We were all attempting en mass to conquer in waves, with the purple “1:30” army close behind as back up if we were unsuccessful.  We continued to gallop up and down over the undulations of this course, holding the reigns tight on the downhills whilst kicking our stirrups and screaming at the stallion on the up-hills.  The townsfolk of Ealing were out in full force and we were riding like the Knights Templar, proudly whisking past and showing all those watching they could rely on us to get this race completed.

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St Peter and St Barnabas had descended for the morning to watch this biblical struggle and were offering physical, emotional and spiritual support along our journey.  Willing and screaming us along.  Our horse was starting to get slightly agitated, but we continued, whispering into the beast’s ear that today would be the day we would defeat you.  You would still maintain your beauty and legend, but I would be the brave horsemen who slayed you.  Galloping through Ealing golf course and through Cleveland Park, we were met by another descended saint in St Stephen who with his followers was doing his best to get us towards the finish line safely.

We approached halfway and this was where I could feel the animal slowly starting to overpower me, the 40 minutes of galloping had reduced back to a respectably fast cantor, the red flagged 1:25 army becoming spots in the distance and were resuming the battle further up the battleground.  The angry, wild stallion was starting to emerge and was taking its frustrations out on me for trying to domestic it.  It did not want to be like one of the plain horses locked in stables, listening to what the master and stable boy instructed.  It wanted to be free, free to show its glory.  It wanted to show the reason why all those who were experiencing it could do nothing more than just stand there and admire its uniqueness.  It wanted to display to the world why this was the very best and that no man nor woman, boy nor girl could control it.  I was still on the saddle, I was still riding but we decided that the best way for us both to succed was to work together.

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We continued to the 11 mile mark, taking in the cheers and the roars from everyone when disaster struck.  I had a sudden side pain that was nothing ever felt before.  I was struggling to catch my breath and the pain was surging through me.  I considered stopping, letting the race carry on without me, but my steed refused to leave me.  It was telling me how much further I had left to go.  12 miles.  Nearly there.  One lap of Lammas Park.  Getting closer.  500 metres left.  My ride was now carrying me, ignoring my anger and attempted domination over it earlier in the race and showed who really had been in charge all along.  I made my way towards the finish line, returning home to my village to a sea of cheers and applause.

I had tried to conquer the beast but was taught a valuable lesson halfway around.  Give it your best and try to accomplish goals put in place before your crusade, but miracles of nature such as this, these wonderful events that cannot be compared to anything in the country should not be seen as the same.  It is incomparable to any experience I have ever run in and I am glad to say that the mystery, the sophistication and the splendour of this race remained after my third attempt.  This was a wonderful, wonderful challenge and one I will attempt again next year.  A respectful 1:28:58 was my time and although not my quickest or a course PB, this was again another cherished fairy tale that will live long in the memory for years to come.

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Dry land is not a myth, I’ve seen it!

The weekend started with a long family drive down to the beautiful setting of the New Forest on the Friday evening.  The car was packed, we picked up my eldest from his school and like Kevin Costner in the classic Waterworld, we opened our sails and let the wind take us onwards to the M25, via a quick stop in McDonalds for the kids dinner of course.  The drive down was horrendous and the rain was absolutely lashing it down on our car, making visibility very difficult.  We were struggling to see dry land through these waves and waves of a water cycle well and truly in flow.  I was clutching the steering wheel like John Smith in Titanic, just as the water had broken through the windows. “We’ll be ok.” I nervously said to the wife, “my app has only been wrong a dozen or so times and says it’ll clear up later…” she did not look impressed as she tucked into her soggy chips….

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We arrived down at the New Forest Marathon HQ after a ridiculously long drive and although the ground was boggy, waterlogged and it was still raining, I did not mind getting my Sports Direct trainers muddy as I needed to desperately stretch my legs.  We made our way to the HQ and even though there weren’t many there and it seemed like Dennis Hopper would sail past at any minute with his smokers, the atmosphere was really friendly and bubbly.  Wonderfully welcoming and for a few minutes we all forgot about the rain.  I had been looking forward to this marathon for a long time now and the volunteers did not disappoint, they were definitely channeling their inner Temptations and most certainly had sunshine on a cloudy day.

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Race number collected and we had a walk around the HQ so my wife and two boys could get their bearings of where they needed to be and what to do while I ran the marathon on Sunday.  A charming volunteer in a bright green hat came up to us and I did at first think that we had stumbled across part of the setup we weren’t meant to be at, but within milliseconds he informed us he just came over for a chat and then proceeded to speak to us for a good while about the race, the boys, what they can do to entertain themselves and also things to do in the New Forest itself while we were down for the weekend.  A smashing chap and my new best friend for the weekend.  We made our way back to the HQ and met with John-on-the-finish-line who kindly agreed to mention my three year old son who’s third birthday it was the day of the marathon.  A lovely touch from just two of the many very, very kind and genuine people who we met whilst down on our weekend away.

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For the next two days, we had nothing but rain and although we knew that the race would still be on, I was debating whether to wear trail or road shoes.  I remembered the year before wearing trail shoes and thinking it was a bit over the top, but this rain at times was borderline Biblical and was not stopping it seemed.  Race day arrived and I went to look at the first few hundred yards after the start/finish line.  It was wet, very wet.  Absolutely sodden in fact but I convinced myself it was nothing more than just a very wet clay road so stuck with the road shoes.

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We grabbed some breakfast for Mrs A and the boys and we all sat down for a while before the race started.  The bacon sandwiches and hot chocolates were going down a treat and with the excitement of having an unhealthy breakfast for the first time in months, it possessed the wife to break out the dance moves to the David Guetta that was blasting out of the sound system.  Nothing says international DJ, Flo Rida and Nicki Minaj than my wife raving in a soaked field in her Audi work coat in the South of England. “Where them girls at, girls at….”

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The group warm up started and I made my way to a chap holding a flag who was showing all those who wanted to run under 3:30:00 where to stand.  I made my way over and would you believe it, it was my new best mate from a couple of days before.  I made sure that I got a photo of us both together and had a nice little chat about the race and the rest of the weekend.  These are some of the things you don’t get at many “major” marathons, this personal touch and the fact he remembered me and my family was wonderful.  What was nicer was that John-at-the-finish-line was true to his word and gave a big shout out to my son before I started so that I could hear everyone cheer that it was his birthday.  This was already turning into a day I’d never forget and the race hadn’t even started.

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The race started and although I felt a little nervous as this was my first marathon for a few months, I headed down towards the first bend at a good pace.  I ran past the mile 1 mark at around 7:10 and knew that this was steady, but a tad fast.  I made the decision to get a couple of fast miles in but pull it in and contain my run, desperately fighting with my inner self who was telling me to run faster.  Although I’d done the half before, this was a new race for me and I didn’t want to end up in a bad way in an area of the New Forest I didn’t know.  “Raise it, you can maintain it…” my devil on my shoulder was saying.  I chose to ignore it and take in some of the wonderful scenery the New Forest was offering me.

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The scenery in the New Forest cannot be matched or beaten.  As simple as that.  I have run around the historic streets of London during the London Marathon and other London based 10ks, I have run around Brighton and seen the gorgeous pier in its full glory with thousands of people cheering you on along it, I have run through beautiful parks in Dublin and even did Fell Running up in the Lake District a few years back, but nothing will ever come close to the scenery of the New Forest. Each tree you run past seems to have its own individual charm, the narrow gates you run through have old fashioned type signs warning you how slim they are, the small bridges you run over and the smell of the fresh running water delight your senses and even the clay trail paths have a cheekiness telling you in their own way to mind your step.  The open areas with the acres of beautiful purple flowers, galloping ponies, cows who decide to stop on the road you are running on and the insects and bugs are all something that you need to experience to believe.  This is a magic, magic race and for the majority of the race the forest must have spoken to Mother Nature as the rain had stopped.  Even the domestic areas that were out of the woodland were lovely and picturesque, the seemingly bland spots were taken up by a queue of wild donkeys who decided to stand on the curb, causing us runners to chuckle as we had to run around them.

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We were getting towards the end of the race when at about 22 miles in I felt myself burst into a sprint for around 50 metres or so.  This wasn’t because it was a failed attempt at picking up some speed, it was an incredibly successful attempt of barely missing a New Forest pony by a matter of metres that decided to gallop rather closely to my section of the race.  Don’t worry about caffeine gels, Gatorade, EPO or anabolic steroids, put a galloping horse within 5 feet of me like this one was and I will do my absolute best to out run the thing.  A very close shave indeed, this didn’t put me off my stride though and the runner who I’d been running with for the mile or two before even commented to how close it got.

The final 5k stretch was sore but seemed to be over in a flash.  This is the part where all the other races meet up and run together.  I was sailing through the other runners and all I could hear behind me was cheers of encouragement to keep going and keep going I did.  “Dry land is that way!” They seemed to shout and just as before, my inner gilled, mutated freak from Waterworld came to the service and I was on my way toward the mythical dry land finish line.

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The finish line was in sight but before I got there, I had to tackle the mud bath that was caused by thousands of people starting their race after me.  I knew I was ahead of PB time but wanted to crack the sub 3:20:00 marathon I’ve been attempting for a while now.  A sprint finish was required and with my family, supporters, John-on-the-finish-line and seemingly the entire New Forest cheering me on, I opened the sails and ran as fast as I could.  It wasn’t until I got in the car on the way home that it was confirmed I had finished with a 3:19:38 and 34th place finish overall.  I was absolutely delighted and the celebrations began with a Rock’n’Roll type post race meal of Jacket Potato and a pint of ale.  Who says running marathons means you have to give up on these luxuries in life ay?

But, alas, the joy is short lived as I have to sail away from dry land and look towards my next destination marathon which will be Bournemouth, with a quick pit stop at Ealing.  The New Forest Marathon is a race I will recommend to anyone who will give me more than two seconds to talk about it.  This is a marathon where you get nothing but genuine support, indescribable scenery, well wishing and if you are lucky some wonderful sights of galloping horses and other beautiful wildlife you simply will not see at major city marathons.  And that’s what adds to it’s appeal.  See you next year, save a space for my tent!

 

 

The Avery Awards pt. 2

The Godfather part 2.  The Empire Strikes Back.  Toy Story 2.  The Dark Knight.  All sequels that arguably surpassed their classic originals and hopefully the second part of the inaugural Avery Awards will follow that trend.  Normally with sequels, there’s always the chance that they could be an extension of something so amazing, that it creates a classic dual box set.  On the other side of the coin, there is a chance that these next set of awards could start out with best intentions but end up being Ghostbusters 2, Jaws: The Revenge or dare I say it: Jurassic Park 3.  Yes, the one with the talking velociraptor.

So without further hesitation. Ladies and gentleman.  I present to you, The Avery Awards part 2.

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Best Bling

A lot of people sign up for races for a vast multitude of reasons.  It could be sentimental as they would love to run a race a family member has run, to take part in an event that is world famous or even a race that is organised by their local running club that they would like to support.  There are those who also like to run for the piece of metal that hangs from your neck, normally inscribed with the race date and name on the front and a small rectangle on the back that you would later insert your race-tag which has your official printed chip time on the back.  The piece of metal that is held around your neck by a beautiful piece of coloured material, highlighting and navigating the publics eye towards your achievement.  Yes, you may look like a poor mans Mr. T, but a lot of people do races for the bling.

As most of you know, I have taken part in a variety of races.  From huge marathons that have worldwide coverage, all the way down to smaller races that make the local park run look humongous. But there was one race that the bling just jumped out at me and I had to get on my hanger.  A medal which screamed novelty but also pure genius which would always be the talking point on it’s hook.  Ladies and gentleman, the winner of Best Bling goes to:

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The Hampton Court Half Marathon 2015

I was looking for races that fitted in with my Brighton and London marathon challenge in 2015 and stumbled across the first ever Hampton Court Half Marathon.  I looked up the important things: the price, the route, start time and how long it’d take me to get there from Belvedere in South East London.

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Then I saw it.  I was hooked.  I was a mosquito to a blue light. I buzzed and buzzed and made my way towards the Enter Now button.  Now I’m not normally a runner who gravitates towards the prize but this was magic. A red ribbon with Henry VIII at the bottom doing the Mobot, with two members of the Kings palace staff above the metallic bottom ribbon doing classic Usain Bolt poses.  At that moment in time that was the greatest medal I’d ever seen and if perfectly honest it still is.

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Most Competitive Race

I am a runner that as my ‘About Me’ page says is fast enough for others to go “oh that’s good!” But too slow for them to say “oh that’s great!  Give up your job and I’ll pay you!”  As a result, I tend to be quite a fair bit behind the leaders, but comfortably in front of around 90-95% of the pack.  What this means is most of the time I am running by myself and it can be quite lonely, especially over the longer distances.  These races are where I have to dig deep from the start and with the new “we ban earphones and will shoot all those who wear them!” rule that a lot of local runs now have, I am very conscious of every mile, my breathing, heart rate and the fact I talk total rubbish to myself.

This all changed however when I arrived for a race and although it didn’t instantly shout out at me that this would be a good one, this was without a shadow of a doubt the most competitive race I’ve ran so far.  The envelope has been passed to me, the Avery Award for most competitive race goes to:

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The Headcorn Half 2017

I’d never even heard of Headcorn the place, let alone the race before I’d entered.  I was training for the Brighton marathon and so has become the norm, I searched for a race that fit in with the training plan.  I saw Headcorn and after a quick Google Map search I saw it was only outside Maidstone so not too far away.

I parked my car and was met with nothing but a self built scaffold arch with a start/finish line sign above it, a small swing park and around half a dozen port-a-loos.  This race did not scream out excitement by any means and the promise of “water and Jaffa cakes at the finish line!” did not excite me.

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The race began and straight away all my worries disappeared.  What was to follow was some fantastic and scenic country lanes, a quiet and calm atmosphere and more importantly a real race.  For the next 13.1 miles, I was overtaken and then I overtook.  I dropped my pace when hitting the inclines and was replaced in the standings by the racer behind me.  On the downhills I made the time up and resumed the previously lost place.

As per the new rules, we weren’t allowed earphones but I didn’t care at all.  The competition was distracting me from the heavy breathing, heart rate and painful legs.  One gentleman I was racing for most of the race pulled up around 9 miles in, but I soldiered on and chased down the runner in front.  This was the first time I had felt part of a proper race against other people and not just the clock and it was brilliant.

I finished the race in just under 88 minutes and although not a PB, it was a time I was happy with against a good, competitive field.  This is definitely a race I’d recommend.

 

We have come to the final award now of the Avery Awards.  Nothing can end an amazing two part award ceremony more than the classic and distinguished accolade of:

Best Goody Bag

Similar to the earlier award of Best Bling, we come to an award that you would only get after completing a race.  I have had some great goody bags post race with protein bars, tshirts, flap jacks, headtorches and other great items but nothing can top what I received after I completed a local, multi lapped race around a park in mid-January. So without further hesitation, the award for Best Goody Bag goes to:

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The Bromley 10k 2014

After the multi-lapped and slightly underwhelming 10k had finished, I dipped into the goody bag to discover a t-shirt and a car scraper, perfect for the January weather.  The organisers had been very thoughtful with these items and…..

Hang on……. hang on there’s been a mistake….

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This is not a joke.  Eastbourne Half Marathon you have won Best Goody Bag.  Come up here this is not a joke, you’ve won.

Ladies and Gentleman the winner of Best Goody Bag goes to:

Eastbourne Half Marathon 2016

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Sorry for the confusion everyone, the wrong card was in the envelope. Eastbourne Half Marathon is the winner of Best Goody Bag and what a great one it was.

There wasn’t necessarily anything sentimental, or bespoke in there that made it obviously stand out from the others, but after a long half marathon where you climb up the steepest hill imaginable without ropes and spend the rest of the race up and down the freezing cold sea front in early March, there is nothing more rewarding than crossing the finish line and being handed a carrier bag from Aldi, the race sponsor, full of sweets, chocolate and other bits that the staff picked up during a game of Supermarket Sweep.

A good race, but more importantly a memorable goody bag full of guilty pleasures that most running magazines tell you to avoid…

 

So thank you everyone for joining me for these Avery Awards.  I’d like to congratulate all those who won and sincere commiserations to those who did not scoop one of these prizes.  I have a number of other races lined up for the rest of the year and will also re-run some of the races who have won these trophies.  Will they win next year? Competition is fierce and maybe there will be some surprises in 2018!

The Avery Awards pt.1

Normally, when I write a blog, it tends to be about a race I’ve just previously completed and what my thought are of the race. However, summer is being its usual typical self for me and British 10k aside, I have absolutely nothing scheduled in until I hit the trails and paths of the New Forest Marathon. With that in mind and feeling myself itching to write something, I thought I would make a list of some of the best races, bling, goody bags and moments I have had since I began running. With that in mind, please allow me to welcome you to part one of the non-egotistically named Avery Awards!

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Best 10k

I thought I’d get a shorter distance out of the way and this was a tough one to choose for me.  I have ran some great 10k races and could easily have chosen one of the fantastic Mo Runs at Greenwich, the Bupa 10,000 from 2015 or (RunnersKnees look away now) one of the British 10ks from the previous two years, but the winner for this year is somewhere a bit closer to home and not too denting on the wallet!

The Avery Award winner for Best 10k goes to:

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Petts Wood 10k 2014

What a race this was. Not my best 10k result and also not the first trail 10k I’ve completed but what a race. I remember for months seeing this in magazines as one of the top 10 UK trail races and as it was only 20 minutes from my house I was a fool not to do this.

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I arrived to an unbelievably friendly and helpful Petts Wood Runners who gave us a quick race briefing. After the briefing, my family sat back and enjoyed the live band playing some classic rock songs and later participated in the wonderful and entertaining group warm up. The race started and we headed into the glorious surrounding woodland area. The scenery was magic and for only £17 entry this race was already proving to be an absolute bargain.  The Petts Wood locals were out to cheer everyone and even the moments back on road had the residents coming out of their houses, high fiving us all.  The last 2km had a wonderful surprise with the live band from earlier in the woods with us playing some more classic hits and many other supporters were in the trees enjoying the atmosphere. I crossed the finish line to a smart medal, lots of praise and the highlight of the race, the world famous trays and trays of samosas. “Would you like another one?” “Don’t mind if I do!”

 

Best Half Marathon

On to our next award and the distance has increased by just over double to a half marathon.  Now anyone who knows me knows that there is one half marathon that I have been screaming the praises of now for years and years.  This wasn’t just my favourite half marathon but also my favourite race. However, a race arrived out of the blue in 2016 that caused the Ealing Half Marathon to be shaking and quivering in it’s boots. Could Ealing hold its mantle and win the award for the best Half Marathon at this years Avery Awards? Here comes the envelope….

The Avery Award for Best Half Marathon goes to:

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Ealing Half Marathon 2015

The New Forest Half Marathon came incredibly close to winning this award and a recount was needed, however Ealing just managed to hold on to the title. This race has won the Runners Awards Best Half Marathon for a number of years but I think they will change their Twitter bio to include the Avery awards now.

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This was the year of two half marathons on the same day and at 9:00 I rocked into Ealing for the second year in a row to take part in the epic Ealing Half Marathon. The organisation is second only to the juggernaut that is the World Major of the London Marathon and there were plenty of signs showing where people were meant to be starting depending on their finish times, wonderful marshals who showed you everywhere you needed to go and where to drop off our bags and more importantly: miles upon miles of portakabins.

The start line had a brilliant MC on the microphone who was walking along the starters asking them how they were feeling, had they been to Ealing before and getting the rest of the race starters and fans to cheer them along.

The course may not be as scenic as Windsor or the New Forest, but it is a magic race nevertheless; with signs along the route wishing people from other countries good luck and also some interesting trivia like “did you know by mile 9, 10 million cagillion zillion litres of water will have been drank?”

A wonderful race that you have to do to take in the magic of it.  The atmosphere is phenomenal, the crowd support and steel drums in 2015 were great and the final lap of the park with people urging you round is fantastic.

Not just the Best Half Marathon, but still my favourite race. Looking forward to taking part in 2017.

 

Best Marathon

Now on to the big distance: The Marathon.

At time of writing I have done 8 marathons: Brighton four times, London twice, Dublin and Milton Keynes once each.  All have been great races and all totally, totally unique but there can unfortunately be no joint winners in the prestigious Avery Awards.  Be it the carnival atmosphere of Brighton, the prestige and spectre that is London, the stadium finish in Milton Keynes or the calm and collected Dublin marathon, only one can be victorious.

Therefore without further hesitation, the winner of the Avery Award for Best Marathon is:

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Dublin Marathon 2016

A great race and a great weekend. Straight off the plane with our cases my family and I made our way to the Dublin Marathon Expo to pick up my race number and soak in some atmosphere. When we walked into the exhibition centre we were blown away. A huge Dublin Marathon medal was on display for everyone to get their photo taken with, clowns making ballooon animals and doing face paints for all the children who were dragged along by their parents, loads of stalls with excellent merchandise and helpful experts who were telling you the best way to pace your race while you gulped down plates and plates of pasta.  The Irish people were as exciting and bubbly as their reputation suggests and you could not ask for a more cheerful and helpful bunch of people.

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Race day arrived and the famous rain that had haunted previous years was nowhere to be seen.  I met a lovely couple before the race who kindly let me hang around with them before we made our way into our pens at the start line.

The start of the race was a bit crowded but after a couple of miles it opened up and the live bands along the route were really adding life to this already rocking marathon. “We’re still building and burning down love.  Burning down love!…” belted out the U2 tribute band and I could have easily stopped there at around 16-17 miles to stop and listen to more.

There was an absolute pig of a hill at the last 5k but once up and over I made my way along the blue carpet along the finish line.  I missed out on a PB by about 50 seconds but I didn’t mind.  It wasn’t just an amazing race but a great experience running in another country and I could not wait until what was to follow, the litres and litres of Guinness…

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Most Memorable Race Moment

The final award of the first part of the Avery Awards is the Most Memorable Race Moment.

Now, there are the obvious sentimental ones of completing the London Marathon down The Mall for the first time, achieving the seemingly impossible sub-40 10k finish at the Mo Run 2015 or a top 10 finish at the Maidstone Half Marathon in 2016 but for me it isn’t about sentiment.  My Most Memorable Race Moment was something that made me nearly stop in my tracks to appreciate the sheer beauty of the race I was doing and absorb this magical moment.

So trying my hardest to do justice to what I had experienced, My Most Memorable Race Moment was:

The Galloping Wild New Forest Ponies of the New Forest Half Marathon 2016

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I had won a competition only 36 hours before informing me I had won a place in the 2016 New Forest Half Marathon.

After arranging 11th Hour babysitting and telling my wife that I had to leave our house at 5:30 in the morning to drive down to the New Forest from South East London, I was ready.

The car was parked in the field by the race HQ, I picked up my number from the delightful race organisers and volunteers and made my way to the start pen to take part in what would be the most magic race I had ever participated in.

The nature and tranquility of the area was straight out of a novel and unless you have experienced running through the New Forest, no words can describe how beautiful this part of the country is. The smell of all the trees and streams was glorious and I knew within the first 5k that I would be back in 2017 to take part in the full marathon (note: as mentioned above, this is my next race booked)

I was running really well and the sights and sounds were distracting me from my heavy breathing and faster than average minutes per miles. Then the magic happened.

We all entered an open part of the race and all around us were the gorgeous New Forest ponies.  I reigned in my pace slightly just in case one of the ponies decided to walk on the course and was relieved when I ran past without incident.

We ran back into the woods and that’s when it happened.  Out of the corner of my eye I could see something moving at speed.  This brown blur was joined by another, then another, then another and within a flash, only a few feet away from us were a dozen full sized wild ponies running alongside us.  It felt like we were racing each other and neither wanted to give in.  These wild beasts were galloping next to us and it was like something from a Hollywood movie that you would have to experience to believe.  I felt myself slowing down in total awe of this moment and would happily have sacrificed hours off of my time to keep watching these animals in their natural habitat showing us mere humans how to run. They galloped off out of sight into the woods and inspired by these magnificent creatures I finished the last few miles strong and enjoyed all the post race entertainment with my Dad and two sons.  A magical moment which I will never forget.

 

So that is it for part one of the Avery Awards, join us soon for part 2 where some of the awards include: Best Bling, Best Goody Bag, Most Competitive, Most Scenic and many more.

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Please allow me to introduce myself, I’m a man of wealth and taste….

2012 and I’m stood miles away from a start line without a clue in the world how I’m going to survive a 10k.  I’d never run a race before that and I was only meant to be doing this for a one off charity run.  The Nike British 10k was about to start and my wife and I were both in our black running tops.  I had no idea that 5 years later I’d be here again trying for a consecutive sub-40 minute British 10k….

Typically, as what normally happens with my 10k’s, I pick up a niggle or a cold a couple of days before that makes me feel a bit nervous for the task ahead.  The 2017 British 10k was no different.  The British themed music was playing but all I could think was The Rolling Stones. No, I never had the Moves like Jagger, I was thinking that with this new thigh injury that I wouldn’t run a time I’d be particularly proud of and that I Can’t Always Get What I Want.

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I arrived at Green Park to a slightly subdued but excited atmosphere.  For the first time over 10k, I really could feel some nerves kicking in. I tried not to let it show, but I was worried my tight thigh was going to decide this would be the moment to decide not to play ball with me.  My new sunglasses were hiding the nervous look in my eyes and I left my wife’s side to slowly make my way to pen B, while she made the walk back to pen F.  Pen B was a very lonely place for me, not the chatty atmosphere that you get in races of this size and I certainly was thinking that I Can’t Get No Satisfaction.  I didn’t really have anyone to chat to, my thigh was teasing me and playing a game of chicken with me, I was starting to worry.

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The pre-race music and warm up was great fun. I joined in trying to shake off some of the nerves and I was amazed how the music seemed to be making everyone start Dancing in the Street. Pens A & B finished the warm up and made a slow walk around to the start line. The sponsors of this years race was Virgin and I was surprised with the colour scheme that they decided to go with: luminous orange and yellow which was a huge difference to the red, white and blue from previous years and the bright pink from the Vitality races. There must have been some discussion with the colour scheme this year being too bright, because to break up some of the fluorescent colours they decided the gaps needed some darkness and agreed to Paint it Black.

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At the start line, just as the race was about to start I thought about just giving it my best shot and see how my leg would hold up at a semi fast pace. A shower of confetti rained over us and we were dashing down towards Piccadilly.  The runners in pens C-F gave us a big cheer and applause as we darted out towards the first corner up Regent Street.  My legs were holding up well and I was gobsmacked to run past a South London Street Band, past a lot of gazebos in the middle of the road, up to a u-turn and back down to the 2 mile mark with a mile 1 time of 5:58 and a 2nd mile clocked in at 6:00.  I was getting a touch emotional at this time but thought that I’d be a Fool to Cry.  The rest of the B team and I continued on our tour of London and made our way past Her Majesty’s Theatre, the National Gallery and I was managing to hold on to this fast pace on just a small bottle of water, I didn’t need any extra lucozade or Brown Sugar.  I held on tightly to this pace past Trafalgar Square and saw the sign to say we had got to halfway.

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Following a couple of turns and car washes, we made our way along the Embankment for the final stretch of the race.  I knew that there was only a couple of miles left and I had a bit of time to play with to get under 40 minutes.  This did not make me stop and just like Jumping Jack Flash I continued to give it all that I had and finish the race strong. I knew that my thigh would hold out so for the first time in the race I really felt that I was capable of overtaking others at this pace and this really helped to Start Me Up, luckily it didn’t make a grown man cry.

At the end of the Embankment was a sharp left and over Westminster Bridge for the penultimate U-Turn.  I must’ve been a dreadful Fortune Teller as I had 8 and a half minutes to finish the last mile.  Still not taking anything for granted, I soldiered on and continued to give it all I had.

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I made my way up towards Trafalgar Square again, where the finish line was situated nearby the Horseguards and Downing Street.  I had managed to get in under the 40 minutes which I’d hoped for and turns out I had 16 seconds to spare.  I was absolutely delighted and proudly grabbed my medal,  high fiving and hugging everyone within a 20 miles radius.  I was delighted, the woman starting the race called all the runners rock stars and if that is the case then I Know it’s only Rock n Roll but I like it.

I hung around for a few minutes waiting for the 45 minute pacing machine Paul Addicott to finish and after a quick chat and hand shake, made my way back up to Trafalgar Square to watch the excellent Not the Rolling Stones band while I waited for my wife Leigh to finish.

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I met back up with my Dad, Uncle and two boys and took them to the finish line to watch Leigh finish. Leigh desperately wanted the boys to run with her as she finished the race, so as she approached the finish line I put the boys over the barriers and they finished the last 20 yards or so together. If you didn’t find this emotional that a woman who struggles to run finishing her Everest with her two most favourite people in the whole world then you must have a Heart of Stone.

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So that was it, the British 10k 2017.  A race that got me a bit nervous before the start but when I crossed the finish line I realised I had nothing to worry about.  A well deserved rest on Monday before my training resumes again on Ruby Tuesday.