My 2019 Running Goals

2018 was a memorable year for me. The ups and downs of last year have inevitably influenced my 2019 running goals.

My focus this year is achieving consistent, progressive, endurance-based and injury-free running. 

Although I will still compete in a few races, I want 2019 to be the year of developing the strongest aerobic fitness of my life. 

Run my First Ultramarathon

 
For many years I have wanted to test myself over a distance longer than the marathon. 

Initially, my inspirations were the books and audiobooks of incredible ultrarunners such as Scott Jurek, Pam Reed and Dean Karnazes
 
Later, my experience as a 8-time marathoner got me wondering, too frequently, how I could cope with the extra mileage. 
 
In 2017, I set myself the goal, before I turned 30, to explore this relatively new running phenomenon. 
 
Fortunately, there is an ultramarathon race close to my home
 
Held in early October, it is the ideal challenge that offers me plenty of time to experiment in my training.
 

Improve my Marathon Personal Best

 

Since completing my first marathon in 2013, I have achieved relative success at this iconic running distance. 

However, my dream to qualify for the London Marathon as a good-for-age entry remains a long-term goal. 

My aim for 2019 is simply to improve my personal best, accomplished in October 2017 at the Chelmsford Marathon.

Although only two weeks after the ultramarathon race, I feel confident my endurance training, recovery and race tactics will aid my success.

Run Injury-Free

 
After a disappointing end to my 2018 season, I want to return to building a strong foundation without the pressure of short-term racing. 
 
 
By returning to an appropriate and progressive stretching and strengthening routine I believe I will enjoy pain-free running again. 
 

My hope and expectation is that I will become a more resilient and fitter athlete.

Strong Finish at Chelmsford 10km for Final 2018 Race

My first 10km race in almost a year and half was slightly hampered by my persistent shin injury.

Having fully recovered from my eighth marathon I wanted to end my 2018 racing season by running strong over a new course in my hometown.

But I hadn’t been able to train much leading up to the event. The five workouts on my turbo trainer (amounting to 69 miles) and four training runs (amounting to 17.6 miles) were insufficient to give me confidence I would set a new personal record.

I focused on effort level rather than pace, although I couldn’t resist setting myself the target of a sub-40-minute performance.

Even during my warm up I could feel my shins weren’t fully healed. Still, as I set off from the start line I concentrated on passing runners rather than glancing at my watch.

A gradual, but long incline was my first challenge and I was soon faced with a winding road that undulated far more than I had anticipated (41m of elevation gain and 36m of elevation loss, according to my Garmin).

I continued to overtake runners who were breathing heavily after so little distance. It reminded me of my controlled, soundless breaths, keeping me from overreaching. I also focused on my arm drive, opening up my hands and keeping them from crossing my body.

The only occasions I checked my watch were when it vibrated to indicate mile splits. I knew I was on target for my time after I covered 5km in approximately 19 minutes. I ended up running every mile under 6:25, my fastest at 6:11.

Once I turned into the park where the athletics stadium was situated I tried to expel the last amount of energy I had. I doubted whether I could pass the final few runners in front of me, but when I emerged onto the track a man decided to challenge me to a sprint finish. As I accelerated the last 50m he stayed with me. I felt lactate rise in my legs as I made one final push to the inflatable arch, beating him by a second. I congratulated him with a hand slap afterwards in a competitive but friendly spirit.

Except for one runner who just evaded me, I must have passed fifty or so competitors to record a respectable 45th position, my 12th top 50 race finish.

The race was my first that started in the afternoon and the weather was crisp and dry. The atmosphere at the end was tremendous; lively and encouraging. I spoke to a number of runners afterwards, some from my running club, who praised me for my sprint finish and ‘barefoot shoes’.

The race demonstrated my natural resolve to push on during the uphill sections and hang on to overtake more runners, despite not setting this as a goal before the race. My heart rate was relatively steady and low throughout, revealing that I had managed my effort well over the distance.

But the lack of pain in my shins, except for the first mile or so, only compounded my overall disappointment; I feel as if I know my body less and am reminded that my racing season could’ve been even more successful. Nevertheless, it was a memorable race and one that only motivates me to fully recover and better prepare for the 2019 season.

Fought off Injury to Finish 5th Marathon in Row

I started near the middle of the pack. I wasn’t used to being amongst runners who chatted and laughed. Space became tight and a runner almost tripped me up as we funnelled from the start line.
I kept a comfortable running pace. The early miles dragged as the markers didn’t start until the third mile. I ignored my watch as I focused on not flaring up my shin injury.
I modified my foot strike so I didn’t land primarily on my forefoot.
I soon passed my family and told them twice “I’m alright so far”. I was nervous but determined in getting through the first quarter of the race.
By mile eight I knew I would complete the race. My shins hadn’t caused me any pain and my anxiety about not finishing suddenly disappeared. Instead I needed to keep my muscle soreness to a minimum.
When I reached tenth mile my stomach began to rumble, so I ate several handfuls of dried fruit I carried on me. I enjoyed the sticky, sugary dates, apricots and mango pieces.
By half way my quads, hamstrings and adductors were extremely tight.
I reminded myself that this was natural as my training had been extremely limited and as long as I kept moving forward I would finish.
I passed cheering spectators, faced frequent undulations, and even runners that were walking or sitting at the side of the road.
The terrain was sapping my energy, and once I had drunk my second bottle of juice I knew a run-walk strategy was inevitable.
So I waited until the next aid station, located at approximately 19.3 miles, where I took advantage of the water the volunteers were offering. As I walked, I found that the pain was not discernibly different from when I was running. So I took a sensible approach and ran on the flatter sections of road, and walked the uphill and downhill sections.
I soon became obsessed with drinking, even though I wasn’t particularly sweaty or thirsty.
The next aid station was my only concern. I had plenty of company, with many runners around me showing signs of fatigue.
The final miles didn’t feel too slow, despite my pace of 9:30-10:20 per mile.
Spectators inspired me at the end to sprint passed a runner before stopping my watch at 3:52:35.


After once again suffering from pain in both my shins in early September, I knew my journey to my eighth marathon would be a challenge. Despite not running for 40 days I became paranoid that my shin bones were weak and tender. Even starting the race was in doubt up until Sunday.

My training during the seven weeks leading to the marathon consisted of walking a minimum of 14,500 steps each day, and cycling on my turbo trainer three to six times each week. Although I maintained a reasonable level of fitness, due to a variety of endurance and speed cycling workouts, I never believed they replicated the demands of running.

However, I was so fixated on whether I would experience shin pain that I neglected the impact on my muscles. On a positive note, it took 2 hours and 43 minutes of running before I succumbed to walking breaks. My mental strength proved once again that I could tackle a rather incredible feat (relative to my recent preparations).

My only goal was to finish, in order to maintain my record of running my local marathon each year since its inception in October 2014. I ignored position and pace, and only until the last few miles did I consider the 4 hour predicted finish time, and want to beat it.

The race was brutal on my body, akin to the first marathon I ever ran five years ago. Although my muscle soreness consumed my attention, I enjoyed the experience mostly as confirmation that my body is better at healing itself than I give it credit for.



Aiming to Win a Race

For over a year I have wanted to win a road race.

I earmarked the Clacton Half Marathon, a flat coastal race, as my best chance of finishing first.
Since the first year of the race in 2014 the winning times have been 1:17:151, 1:15:492, 1:21:273 and 1:19:284.
Although all the winning times are faster than my current personal best, set in the summer of 2016, I believe I have the potential to run sub 6:00 miles for 13.1 miles.
Last year I was sidelined with a hip injury due to overtraining for my fourth Chelmsford Marathon.
But this August I aim to win.
My training will commence tomorrow after a fortnight of recovery from my first 10 mile race.

I have thirteen weeks to improve my fitness and mindset.

Although I will focus primarily on tempo intervals and continuous runs at target race pace I know I need to change my routine compared to previous training periods. I must place more intense and varied stresses on my body in order to stimulate the necessary physiological responses.

I will use many techniques to ensure I recovery adequately and prime myself as a future champion. These include:

If I am to take my race finishes from the top ten (once in 2016 and again in 2018) to the ‘podium’ I must believe I am a champion. I intend to demonstrate my best at the Clacton Half Marathon and leave nothing to chance. Previous race results are so tantalising that it may be the greatest opportunity to realise my ultimate ambition.


1 Equivalent to 5:53 per mile average pace.
2 Equivalent to 5:47 per mile average pace.
Equivalent to 6:12 per mile average pace.
Equivalent to 6:03 per mile average pace.



Running 10 Miles Home

7 May 2018
A runner in front of me pulled up just after two miles.
Two other runners passed me early.
I stayed composed, focusing on forefoot striking and taking water from the aid stations.
Before five miles, a fellow club runner who was marshalling told me I was in twelfth position.
I now had greater motivation to work hard.
On one of the steeper inclines, I passed one runner.
I told him he was running great, and he returned the compliment.
My pace remained consistent. I was encouraged that the runner in front was getting slightly closer.
I knew I could chase him down if I patient enough.
I picked up the pace, confident that he wouldn’t respond.
As I passed him I again congratulated him on his running.
His heavy breathing boosted my chances.
I was now in tenth position.
As the temperature appeared to rise I kept drinking water and pouring it over my head and back.
I kept glancing at my sports watch over the last two miles.
I knew the route back. It was the same as the one- and two-mile time-trial I had run in late March and early April.
I looked behind and found I hadn’t extended my lead.
I asked myself how much did I want a top ten finish.
I responded by executing a couple of surges around the 6:00 per mile pace, and knew I had succeeded as I sprinted the last 100m over the grass of the rugby fields where I had started the race.

I had four aims prior to the race.
First, I wanted a top twenty finish.
Second, I wanted to be the first runner from my club to cross the line.
Third, I wanted to run my club’s gold standard of 1:01:58 for the 10 mile distance.
Fourth, I wanted to run under 1:00:00, equivalent to 6:00 per mile pacing.
I accomplished the first two aims, finishing in the top ten for only the second time. The first time was almost two years ago.

I ran 1:03:25, which was a respectable time when considering the heat. I was pleased to have represented my club admirably, and after volunteering pre-race. I assisted in directing vehicles to park. This meant an early start, but none of my pre-race warm-up, hydration and nutrition were negatively affected. I was thankful that I could help my running club organise a well-received race.

On reflection, my race performance was predictable. My training since my One Mile Challenge had been limited, especially miles at my intended race pace.

Still, I feel I earnt my finisher’s t-shirt, and enjoyed a distance I had never raced before, relying on my mental strength to guide me home.

Snooker as Practice for Running

There was a snooker table in my grandparents’ house when I was growing up. It was the right fit for a growing boy.

I used to play all the time.

My grandfather loved the sport. My uncle even used to play competitively. He played frames against legendary players such as Cliff Wilson, Willie Thorne and Steve Davis.

I looked forward to watching snooker on the television as well. I have fond family memories of the World Snooker Championships on the BBC every late April to early May.

My favourite player was Stephen Hendry. He was the most dominant player of the 1990s, arguably the greatest player who has ever played, and who I admired for his impressive break building, stoic mental strength and consistent match performances.

My favourite player of the modern game is Ronnie O’Sullivan, mostly because, like Hendry, on top form he is unbeatable. O’Sullivan also has a fast potting style, can play with both hands and win matches without having to play his best snooker. He’s also a runner.

I loved potting balls. My main attribute was long pots.

Although I did move up to cueing on a full-size table I never played snooker competitively. But I remain fascinated by a sport that relies so heavily on mental fortitude and inner peace.

Snooker Table Pocket

Snooker is a game of concentration, patience and consistency. Much like an endurance event, an appreciation of the challenge ahead must be balanced with appropriate decision-making in every moment.

For the past several years I have played on a slightly larger table than the one during my youth. It’s six feet long, and three feet wide. Although I only have a pool cue to use, some pocket nets are missing, room to strike the balls is limited by the walls of my lounge, and the cloth is slightly uneven I’ve enjoyed reliving one of my first sporting loves.

Snooker is a straightforward sport. Pot balls. Similar to running, the simple repetition of placing one foot in front of another, the difficulty arises from the choices that precede the execution. Every time you speed up or slow down, cut a training run short, or veer off the route you intended, you must rely on strategy. You must take intelligent actions.

The more you practice the better you become at making the right choices, quickly. That will be the difference between success and failure at the important moments in race situations.

What to do with MTSS

Training for my One Mile Challenge has had one negative consequence.

I have developed a minor injury in my lower legs.

This is not the first time in my running career I have felt pain on the sides of my shins.

It is a common injury amongst runners (and also soldiers)1.

This is not comforting.

There are various names for the condition, such as shin splints, but Medial Tibial Stress Syndrome (MTSS) is the most relevant. The pain along the inside of the shins is felt during running, walking and even resting.

The causes are not well understood but a number of factors could contribute1, and include:

  • heel-striking
  • over-pronation (inward turning of the foot after landing)
  • lower bone density
  • higher Body Mass Index (BMI)
  • previous history of MTSS-related injuries

Like with all running-related injuries, overtraining is most likely the cause of my recent issues. Too many miles, at a relatively fast pace, on hard surfaces, such as pavement, will overload the bones in the lower legs. The impact, therefore, should be reduced.

Many treatments have been studied, but none have been conclusively effective2. So easily-applied practices are the most logical, and include:

  • covering the affected area with kinesiology tape
  • stretching and icing the affected area regularly
  • strengthening the abductors3 and calf muscles
  • resting (or cross-training to lower the impact of exercise)

These can be implemented in the short- and long-term.

I intend to prioritise the recovery of the affected area not least so that other more serious conditions, such as stress fractures, do not develop4.


1 Moen, M.H., Tol, J.L., Weir, A., Steunebrink, M., and De Winter, T.C. (2009). “Medial Tibial Stress Syndrome: A Critical Review.” Sports Medicine, Volume 39 (7), pp. 523–546.
2 Winters, M., Eskes, M, Weir, A., Moen, M.H., Backx, F.J.G., Bakker, E.W.P. (2013). “Treatment of Medial Tibial Stress Syndrome: A Systematic Review.” Sports Medicine, Volume 43 (12), pp. 1315-1333.
3 Becker, J., Nakajima, M., Wu, W. (2017). “A Prospective Study on Medial Tibial Stress Syndrome in Runners: 505 Board #326…” Medicine & Science in Sports & Exercise, Volume 49 (5S Suppl 1), p.141
4 Galbraith, R.M., and Lavallee, M.E. (2009). “Medial tibial stress syndrome: conservative treatment options.” Current Review of Musculoskeletal Medicine, Volume 2, pp. 127-133.

Racing to Celebrate Family Time

11.03.2012
Race day held special significance for me; my fiancée and I were celebrating our recent engagement with our families. It was the first time our families had met, and I was grateful that they were supporting my running.
We drove part of the route as we headed to race headquarters at Colchester United Football Club’s new stadium. The undulations made me nervous. I was only months away from my final university exams so my training had not been as intense as I had wanted.
My warm-up was also inadequate, too distracted talking with family, and a fellow racer and colleague.
I did not have to wait long on the start line. The early section of the course was downhill and had few spectators. I felt free and fast until we met a steep hill heading into town. The energy in my legs was sapped but the large crowds motivated me.
Everything was familiar until we ran along country lanes through villages. The strain on my ankles and calves became severe. Runners passed me but I stayed focused on the long rural road ahead.
I still made my trademark sprint to the finish line, except I misjudged the distance and needed to move fast again before the end.


Rather than a race to improve my personal best, the day was an experience to unite my family.

It was the first race in which I had to tackle multiple hills, and with inadequate training I found the course tough.

Interestingly it taught me that setting and beating self-imposed running targets should not always be the aim. The moments spent with family in a local, yet unfamiliar area still provide lasting memories.

Why I Became a Club Runner

For over eight years I was an independent runner. On December 1, 2017 I changed my running status; I became a member of my local running club in Witham, Essex.

In truth I had spent many months considering the decision. In theory my choice was based on wanting to grow as a runner. I believe learning by speaking to and comparing oneself with others are rewarding and essential activities if one is to realise one’s potential.

The timing of my joining was also a conscious act. My off-season began after my seventh marathon at the end of October and I knew that this would be the ideal time to focus on other elements of my running, aside from racing and training with a specific goal in mind.

Since joining, my perspective on running has shifted unexpectedly. My first three club workouts have been tough but enjoyable.

  • 2 x 15 minutes of 400m repeats with 1 minute standing rests (3 minutes between each set)
  • 30 x 30 seconds hard effort with 30 seconds of walking rest
  • 5km time trial

Although I view myself as a disciplined runner, these workouts are more difficult to complete alone. The soreness in my calves for subsequent days was a constant reminder of how other runners can motivate and support me.

I have also met many friendly and experienced runners, who are keen to include me and have already provided me with some technical advice and new methods of warming up and stretching. They have already taught me that experimentation keeps one fresh and focused.

I do not regret the choice to become an affiliated runner. Now I experience the best of running, often training alone, but at least once a week interacting with other passionate and skilled runners. I look forward to embracing more of the club running culture so I continue to improve as a well-rounded and humble athlete.

Why I Run: Reason 2

One of the fascinations I have with running is that it challenges me. Over time I have become obsessed with improving my aerobic capacity, becoming leaner and stronger than I ever have before. The driving force is my desire to know (and experience) my physiological and psychological limits.

I measure limits in different ways;

Distance – how far I can run without stopping, and over the course of a week, month or year

Pace – how fast I can run various distances, from 400m up to the marathon

Compared to Others – how close I can match the performances of fellow runners, local club runners and even Olympic and world record holders

Compared to Myself – how much I have improved since I first started running and in contrast to previous racing seasons

Ultimately, my intrigue and commitment originates from experimentation with my training to find the stress and load that produces the best results and to better deal with pain.

I believe my pursuit to discover the boundaries of my potential and maintain a high level of fitness, which includes a toned physique and sharp mind, will be a lifelong one.

My Favourite Post-Run Stretch

Every runner understands the importance of injury-prevention. Stretching post-run is an important element of avoiding pain and ultimately a lay-off.


I always start my post-run stretching routine by targeting my groin. I use a standing position to first hang forward and hold for 10-20 seconds.

Next I lean into one leg for the same length of time, then lean into the other (both feet pointing straight forward).

 

The linear function of running means that the inner thighs do not experience the full range of movement. Thus, these stretches alleviate the buildup of tension. This act will help mitigate situations like the one I experienced before the Hardwick 10k.

Along with testing my flexibility, this adductor stretch feels particularly satisfying, as any aching dissipates during the seconds I hold the stretch.

Another variation is the seated groin stretch, which I have undertaken during my morning stretching routine prior to any running.

Serious Racing at my First 5 Miler

2 May 2016

There was no pressure to run or undertake any core exercises as soon as I woke, as was my usual routine.
I felt good as I walked with my family from my home to race headquarters. To reach it we walked what would be the final 400m uphill to the finish line.
I found the 6:00 per mile starting section. There were club runners from the area beside me.
I felt a little intimidated, closed in by serious runners. But I reminded myself that I had trained on the route many times.
I made a flying start, running with fresh legs at a 5:30 per mile pace.
I was soon charging up a long hill, passing my family who cheered me.
I stayed in a group of runners as I ran the first mile in under six minutes. But my breathing and pacing became erratic as I tried to focus.
A stitch developed on the right of my stomach but I refused to let the pain slow me.
I alternated the strike of my feet, forefoot to heel.
I was soon passed halfway and heading back to the start. I ignored the water station and a previously fast runner who was now walking.
My first 5km was 18:48, equivalent to 6:04 per mile. I passed more struggling runners and felt hope I could run the race in under 30 minutes. But I needed to keep a faster pace.
As I made the last turn up the winding, steep incline to the finish I looked back. I was alone.
I avoided the potholes and gravel, as volunteers and spectators cheered me on.
I sprinted but could not catch a couple ahead of me.
I told my family that I could have gone quicker, and was a little disappointed that I was sixteen seconds from running under 30 minutes.
However, I was pleased that I had felt strong at the end of the race. As I applauded the last of the runners I knew I could improve my future performances at this uncommon distance.


Witham May Day 5 Mile 2016

This was my first race over 5 miles, and, located a half an hour’s walk away, was the most straightforward to enter. The race exposed me to many quality club runners as the race was also the Essex Road Running 5 Mile Championships. It is the shortest distance recognised by my home county, but I was not eligible to compete as I was not affiliated with a running club. I finished as the fastest non-affiliated runner and would have placed in the top 35 if I had been.

I took many positives from the race, especially my mental resolve to continually remove doubt that I would beat 32 minutes (my original goal) and not allow other runners to disrupt my rhythm. Similar to when I lived in Southend-on-Sea, my place of residence (and the familiarity of the route) gives me greater self-confidence.

Finish Line of Witham May Day 5 2016

Why I Run in Barefoot Shoes

Change from Trainers

After my second marathon I needed to replace my running trainers. I had run so many miles in them that the stitching had split, the rubber of the soles had worn in multiple places and there were significant holes forming.

Mistakenly I had run in the same trainers for more than three years, since my first road race.

So in Autumn 2014 I researched the running shoe market. I was open-minded but was influenced by the minimalist movement.

The core principle of this movement is to focus only on those features that add value to one’s life. For shoes, this means not indulging in aspects that do not enhance performance, instead focusing on the basics. Vibram Fivefingers best fit the criteria.

The EL-X model I chose was an ideal introduction to barefoot running, and I had no problem adjusting to them in training. My first race wearing them was my third marathon.

Vibram FiveFingers EL-X Barefoot Running Shoes
My Vibram FiveFingers EL-X (Black) Running Shoes

Benefits of Barefoot Shoes

  • I experience a better fit and greater flexibility, especially for my toes.
  • I feel lighter on my feet and am able to deal with the effects of different terrain.
  • I can choose whether to run with toe socks or not. I usually wear socks in colder weather or when I run off-road. I usually do not wear socks in hotter weather or when I am undertaking faster workouts.
  • I am able to clean them easily by placing them in the washing machine.
  • I believe my feet and ankles are stronger as a result of them becoming less dependent on the cushioning of trainers, and I have developed a fatigue-resilient forefoot strike running style.

Personal Success

Running in these shoes makes me feel like a unique runner, as I am often the first ‘barefoot runner’ across the finish line. I have run more than ten races in barefoot shoes, including the V-RUN and Bikila models, and have set all my current personal best times in them.

My decision of footwear has been validated in part by a former university colleague who trained in the gym wearing them, and by inspirational runners such as Barefoot Ted and Christopher McDougall (explored in the book Born to Run). Although I do wear them out quickly, the brand provides a quality product that meets my needs.

Returning Home to Improve Half Marathon

12 June 2016

I ran a number of strides as a warm-up.
But the race start was delayed.
I stayed calm at the front of the field then ran a fast first mile in 5:47 along residential streets.
I passed many runners despite my calf muscles aching from the second mile.
I ignored the water stations as I continued to advance my race position.
As the weather became overcast I saw my supporters.
The crowds were loud at times, some cheering me as “Runner 763” and praising my “good running”.
On the second lap my legs felt fatigued. Rather than slow I alternated my foot strike to challenge different muscles. Running flat footed helped keep the pace consistent.
Closing in on the final few miles I used a soaking wet sponge to moisten my head and face, which felt excessively dry.
I battled with two runners over the final stretch but ultimately came up short.
I still managed a final sprint across the grass before collecting my medal.


The race was my second Southend Half Marathonand my fifth half marathon. The experience brought back fond memories of my first ever road race in 2011.

I felt pressure to ensure I improved my performance, although I contained my nerves. My training had gone well, culminating in a 9-mile run in 57:40 (6:25 per mile pace) three weeks prior. I felt confident and despite the cool conditions, I began the race strong. The significant pain in my calf muscles was a concern, but I coped well throughout the race.

I maintained a steady, fast pace throughout the flat course and was extremely pleased with my finishing time of 1:22:50 (6:19 per mile pace), shaving over 6 minutes off my personal best. I finished in 29th position out of almost 2,000 runners (18th in my age category).

I was also proud of raising £140 for Havens Hospices, the local charity that organised the event. The day proved again that my hometown brings the best racing out of me.

Southend Half Marathon 2016 finish

Why I Run: Reason 1

One of the pleasures of running is that you can see places from a unique perspective; unlike travelling on a bicycle, personal vehicle or public transport, running is a slower, yet purposeful means of visiting new locations.

Similar to walking, running has given me an opportunity to explore my local area in my work lunch break, or at either end of the day. On holiday I have seen intriguing landscapes.

On recovery runs I can enjoy a ‘tour of streets’, that although nearby, I would never have otherwise witnessed. I have encountered many scenes through running, and have interacted with nature by running ‘off-road’. Certain running routes are off-limits for anything other than two feet and I have been inspired to write poetry and record my adventures.

I have run on the streets of Chicago in the United States, the beaches of southern Spain, up the hills in the Peak District, in the Suffolk countryside, and all over my home county of Essex.

I look forward to running in many more locations because if you keep an open mind, you can always take a path you have never run before. Unless you do, you will never know what it may hold…


Follow me on Instagram @GroundedRunner to see images of my running routes.

Why I have Never Run for a Club

I have never been a member of an official running club.

In the eight years I have run and competed on the roads I have become progressively stronger, faster and more competitive. Yet I have remained an unaffiliated runner. Although I perceive this as a personal attribute (especially when I have finished races as the first non-club runner) I must admit I have inadvertently limited my contact with other runners, from whom I could learn.

The main reasons I am an independent runner is that I enjoy running alone, and coaching myself requires careful and meticulous planning. My training has been relatively structured for the past year and I find my self-discipline enough to achieve personal success.

In truth, years ago I did not think of running clubs as an option and was never influenced by others to join.

The cost, although minimal, and regular time commitment, although not excessive, have deterred me from making the decision.

Only recently have I considered club training sessions as a useful addition to my long-term ambitions.

My coaching has introduced me to an array of different runners and I recognise the benefits that running in a group and gaining encouragement from like-minded people can offer.

How I Trained for my Quickest Marathon

Early May – Mid October 2017

After a promising spring marathon, I wanted to continue towards qualifying for the London Marathon. So after a week of rest to recover from a local 5 mile race, I began training for a familiar autumn marathon.

I devised a flexible training plan that aimed to increase my mileage of my spring training (34 miles per week) over a period of 24 weeks. After thorough research I intended to run 7 days a week. After 5 weeks I had to include a weekly rest day to ensure adequate recovery between workouts.

Read more

How I Improved from my First Marathon

Sunday 11th May 2014

The sky was overcast and drizzly.
My mum, partner and I waited for the start of the race in the crowded sports hall.
I was confident of a good race so I started at the front of the pack as the gun went off.
By the first quarter of a mile I was gasping for breath and my legs felt tired.
My enthusiasm was soon squashed and I settled into a smooth, comfortable rhythm.
Not long into the race I saw my supporters. I threw them the gloves I had taken off.
I tried to keep with other runners, but every time I found a steady rhythm I would be deserted again. One dropped off my pace to run with a fellow club member, another got too far ahead of me.
Still, I stayed mentally strong, refusing to stop, even when I accepted water from the numerous aid stations.
The weather improved, brightening the scenic route.
I kept checking my watch and noticing the mile markers were accurate.
I overcame the occasional hills and repeated sections without feeling deflated.
As the distance dragged on and my pace slowed my mind strayed to food. I wanted the banana I had given my family to keep ready for me but I had to cross the line before I could replenish the calories I had burned.


It was a hugely satisfying race as I finished in the top third overall, and in the top half of my age and gender category. In contrast to my first marathon I was able to interact with the marshals on route and not feel as if I had failed to represent my capabilities.

I ran my second marathon because it was local and I needed to prove to myself that I could run the entire distance. I followed an intermediate training plan that lasted more than 20 weeks.

I developed mental strength and a greater tolerance for pain during my long runs, and overcame a bout of illness.

My first marathon taught me so many lessons about preparation. The changes I have made since then meant I finished 46 minutes quicker.

  • I registered for the event months in advance.
  • I used a respectable source for training advice (a plan endorsed by Runner’s World magazine).
  • I logged my workouts and mileage, through my previous blog.
  • I learnt to use more functions on my Garmin watch, including lap counts, which encouraged me to run slower and to warm-up and cool-down.

I still made one mistake pre-race; thinking that gluing together the front of my well-worn trainers meant adequate footwear.

Most memorable were some impressive runners that participated in the race, including Rob Young and athletes that were completing their 100th, 200th and 600th marathon. It was also the first time I appreciated runners who finished last, for some had endured over seven hours on the route.

Unsurprisingly, my gut reaction was to sign up for my next marathon.



Smart Pacing for my First Negative Split Marathon

22 October 2017
I was disciplined from the start. I let runners pass me as I kept to my strategic pace.
I smiled as I soon passed my supporters in the crowd.
I fought off a slight stitch and maintained a comfortable rhythm.
I sipped my homemade electrolyte drink every mile. Then I alternated my caloric intake with energy balls and dried mango.
I approached the halfway mark on schedule. But I reminded myself that the work had only just begun.
As I continued along the long, winding country lanes I adjusted my foot placement and effort level to deal with the strong side winds.
I began passing runners that were breathing hard, slumped forward or shuffling.
I reached the twenty-mile mark and knew this was the time to speed up. Only slightly, but enough to ensure that a new personal best would be mine.
Even though I ran out of fluids two miles from the end I had the fuel to push on and overtake more runners.
I felt greater strength as I continued on the path through the parks I had run many times.
I did not look back as I reached the spectators.
Then I turned into the final straight and sprinted to the line, overtaking a runner by a second.


Chelmsford Marathon 2017

Even as I crossed the line I knew I had not finished.

I continued to walk in circles in the park for ten minutes as I consumed a post-run homemade pea-protein shake, two bananas and plenty of fluid. I also stretchedI did not want a repeat of my post-race leg pain at last year’s event.

I also spoke to a runner named Alex, who told me I had inadvertently paced him for the first two hours, before he sped up. We had mutual respect for one another, and I know that he is the standard I must attain if I am to qualify for the London Marathon.

Despite the favourable cloudy and dry conditions I had to concentrate so that my energy was not sapped combating the wind.

I dedicated the race to my grandparents, who are sadly no longer with me. They taught me that hard work offers rich rewards.

There were many reasons I achieved my best marathon to date.

  • I carried my own fluid, which contained carbohydrate (in the form of orange squash) and sodium. I drank a litre of this homemade electrolyte drink, plus half a litre of water from the aid stations. This kept me hydrated and energised without needing to slow.
  • I also carried enough calories, packed with sugars and proteins to ensure that my stomach was constantly filled with fuel to use. I balanced my intake well so that I did not feel bloated or suffer from excessive stitches.
  • I kept a steady heart rate throughout the race, which meant that I could focus on my caloric intake without having to panic about an unsustainable breathing pattern.

Chelmsford Marathon 2017 Finish

I executed the race so well there were few mistakes.

  • I carried three energy bars and several handfuls of dried fruit that I did not need. Although not heavy they were an unnecessary energy supply that I could have better calculated in training. This can easily be rectified for future races.
  • I suffered slight niggles in my lower legs, ankles and feet throughout the race. Although they were not enough to prevent me from achieving my goal I could have supported my lower body better by wearing newer ‘barefoot shoes’. 
  • More importantly I felt I had more to give. This notion is always difficult to judge as the marathon requires many decisions, which are impossible to analysis individually. Still, in hindsight I ran the first half too cautiously.

The race was a success because unlike my previous six marathons I passed runners in the second half of the race, feeling stronger and faster than ever before. Perhaps I could run much further at 7:20 – 7:30 per mile…



Pain and Joy After my Third Chelmsford Marathon

23 October 2016

I wished my runners the very best of luck before the race.
Then we separated, ready for our own journeys.
I ran as though the race was a half marathon.
I soon found myself alongside a taller runner about my age. When he passed me I surged into the lead. This repeated for many miles through the Essex countryside, absent of spectators.
The battle made me concentrate on staying strong but by half way he was out of sight.
I was left to run alone.
Runners kept passing me as I fought back fatigue and muscle soreness.
I wanted the race to be over but it dragged on as I inevitably slowed.
I couldn’t estimate my finishing time as my average pace was dropping quickly.
There was nothing I could do but to endure the last miles until I sprinted the last metres to the line in pain.


Chelmsford Marathon 2016 from front

I went out too fast too early. Although this was my pre-race strategy my hopes of not fading too much in the second half of the race were naïve. Despite the generous time I banked for more than an hour I suffered even more pain than previous marathons, culminating in 10 minutes of post-race lactate acid in my legs. I had never felt so much discomfort, and for so long after any race.

Despite a huge personal best time of over 20 minutes I was disappointed by my endurance fitness. This was my first attempt to qualify as ‘good for my age’ for the London Marathon and had come up way short.

Still, I also felt pride as this was my first race I had coached runners. Three of the four that started completed the race, two of which had never run the distance before and had all achieved respectable times.

Chelmsford Marathon 2016 from behind



Adapting to New Circumstances during my Second Chelmsford

18 October 2015
Soon into the race I passed the sub 4 hour pacer.
I saw my partner at the 5 km mark located at race headquarters.
At 5 miles a female competitor told me she was impressed that I was wearing ‘barefoot’ shoes.
As I approached half way I took advantage of the water, cereal bars and dried fruit at the aid stations.
Although at 17.5 miles a marshal said I was the first man that had passed him wearing Vibram FiveFingers I was struggling. I switched my running style from forefoot to mid-foot striking, until I tired and had to accept becoming slumped forward, my feet rocking.
The muscle fatigue worsened.
I saw runners lying alongside the path to the finish, reminiscent of my first marathon. I refused to succumb to my feet’s desires to rest.
I then drew alongside a runner, frequently exchanging positions, until I finally crossed the finish line.


Even though I recorded a new personal best the last hour was painful.

I also experienced mixed emotions when I received both encouragement and distractions along the route.

I was inspired by spectators calling me “Wonder Feet” and “Vibrams”, impressed by my barefoot style of running. However, another runner, a few miles before the end, joked to other runners that I had forgotten my trainers and asked whether I had practiced in them (which of course I had). 

The route had been modified from last year for greater accuracy and less confusion. Although this was much appreciated, more of the course was on tarmac, which felt more demanding on my legs.

The race proved that everything during a marathon can be exaggerated in the mind, and adjusting to external circumstances is crucial for long-distance success.

Pre Chelmsford Marathon 2015



4 Marathon Firsts in Chelmsford

19 October 2014
Boggy conditions but not raining.
A light warm-up then I was off.
I completed the first mile in just over 8 minutes.
I kept a steady pace. My breathing was always under control.
I ignored the many runners passing me.
I focused on my foot placement, especially after treading on a hard object after two and  a half miles.
The route switched from grass to asphalt to gravel, through scenic parks and villages.
I reached half way in 1 hour, 55 minutes; a time that replicated my training.

I continued running strong, boosted by a runner praising my (former) blog that I was advertising on my back, and supported another runner by giving them some water.
I ate two bananas for extra energy, as practised in training, and saw an old running partner and work colleague from my time at university, who shouted encouragement.
Fatigue hit me at mile twenty-three but I overcame confusing signage to finish in the top 35% of competitors with a sprint finish.
My finishing time fell between my first two marathons, which reflected my limited training for the race.


Chelmsford Marathon

I observed throughout the race that many runners struggled, perhaps unprepared for the challenge. This was confirmed by reports that of the 1,900 runners signed up, only 1,020 started and 961 finished.

It reminded me of my first marathon, where the second half of the race consisted of painful shuffling.

Despite not achieving a new personal best there were many first-time experiences I enjoyed. The race was the first ever marathon in Chelmsford, a city 10 miles from my home. It was the first race I ever ran in barefoot shoes, and first in which I raised money for a local animal charity, the RSPCA Danaher Animal Home (£150 in total). Finally, it was the first marathon where all my family came to support me. The rain held off as we celebrated my fiancée’s birthday with a picnic after the race.

Chelmsford Marathon 2014 medal



5 Ways Swimming Developed My Athleticism

My mum introduced me to swimming at an early age, paddling in the training pool. In primary school I took lessons. I had a instructor who was encouraging, friendly and patient. I accumulated six local school badges, including 25 metres unaided, and overcame my fear to pencil dive. Swimming was one of the first sports in which I gained personal success.

I took a long break from swimming throughout my teens and later picked it up as training for my sprint triathlon. I swam with friends and colleagues from my university sports centre. I enjoyed the challenge even though it took a while to regain the correct technique with the aid of a nose plug, goggles and cap.


Swimming has taught me to be a better athlete.

There are many components to any action – swimming is difficult because you have to find a rhythm with your breathing, as well as arm, leg and head movements.

Confidence in enduring discomfort is essential to progress – my fear of drowning, especially at the deep end of the pool, taught me to focus and recognise that this was a barrier to my athletic development.

The importance of a mentor can never be underestimated – my instructor gave me the necessary knowledge and self-belief to continue even when I could have easily given up.

Feeling relaxed is the optimal state for performance – considerable practice and calmness during exercise are essential to realise your full potential.

Accumulating mementos can inspire you – a motivating factor growing up was to obtain the next badge, which continually pushed me to achieve more than I would have otherwise.

I am not the best swimmer, not least because I find it hard to stay afloat. However, it is an exercise that requires immense concentration and helped me overcome personal weaknesses growing up.

Fear and My First Marathon

29 September 2013.
The sign was not clear. A marshal repeated his mantra “half marathon straight on, marathon to the left.”
I heard my mum say it was fine to finish the half marathon.
Despite the pain I had eliminated that option before the race.
I took the turn, away from the crowds.
Away from the finish line.
Away from my comfort zone.
I stopped to use a port-a-loo. My legs stiffened as I descended into the country park. A large lake appeared. I was to run three quarters of it.
An ambulance soon passed me, forcing me and other runners onto the grass. My calves were so tight I was reduced to jogging and walking. My muscles threatened to cramp.
The sports drinks and water did nothing to help.
When I caught up with the ambulance a runner was sitting on the grass, his race finished.
I knew it could be my fate.
I had to dig deep to keep moving forward. I tried to count seconds to establish a rhythm but I could not concentrate for long.
I started to doubt myself. I feared I would not finish in the allocated time and be disqualified. I was unaware of the cut-off time and could not work out what my projected time would be. The mile markers were also further than my Garmin recorded.
I continued along the River Trent, passing people enjoying the sun.
Every step was another shock to my body.
I soon had to squeeze through pedestrians and marshals as I went over the final bridge.
My mood worsened as I felt the race would never finish.
Yet I sprinted the last metres to the line. The fatigue was tangible as I forced back tears.


Fear got me through the race. Fear of the unknown. Fear of letting myself down, and my family who supported me. Fear that I may need a medic to take me to the finish. 

Fear also got me to the start line. I had imagined running a marathon for some time and I worried I would never achieve it. I had forced myself to enter the race a month prior; evidence that I was unsure of the challenge.

I had convinced myself that with less training I ran better. But I was wrong.

It was my greatest achievement to date because I used all my mental resolve to overcome severe physical discomfort. I reminded myself I had chosen this, that I wanted to run because I enjoyed it, despite the pain.

Best of all I learnt a great deal about the person I am.

Robin Hood Marathon

4 Running Lessons from Playing Badminton

In my second year of university I joined the badminton club. Membership was cheap and Thursday evening training fit into my schedule. It also required little equipment.


1. Running in a confined space is an effective exercise.

Running around the badminton court improved my aerobic endurance.

The weekly practice sessions were four hours long. My instinct was to play as much as possible; I only rested when there were no courts available.

The continuous training matches replicated the demands of long slow distance runs. Whilst the short, sharp repeated movements in rallies supported slight progress in my anaerobic threshold.

Singles is harder than doubles as you have to rely solely on your own running to cover the court.

2. Running is a useful but limited skill in sporting success.

Running as an attribute can win you points. By running quicker and further I would sometimes keep the shuttlecock in play, and therefore force my opponent to make an extra shot (and an accompanying error).

But running only served to cover up a lack of sport-specific skills, such as shot selection and tactical execution.

After a year I realised that without more dedication and knowledge I was unlikely to develop.

3. Running in all directions challenges your legs in new ways.

Movement around a badminton court is quicker than in tennis. The need to run sideways, backwards and forwards in fast sequences exercises different muscles in the legs.

For example, you jump more often for smashes and the repetitive strain on your dominant arm requires careful management. Although sore when I first played, I quickly adapted to the physical stresses.

4. Running can give you a mental edge.

During university I played many matches with friends, club members and even students from other universities. I lost more matches than I won but I learnt a valuable lesson about how my running affects my enjoyment and the score.

Despite my relative inexperience my ability to chase every point meant most sets were decided by a small margin. I also felt better if I never stopped running, as it meant I was burning more calories and working my muscles harder.

I am proud that I represented my university in the Men’s Third Team in British Universities and Colleges Sport (BUCS) league matches. My opponents often praised me for my doggedness, an essential characteristic for all runners.

University of Essex Cross Country Championship

It was late 2011. I was to run my first cross country race since high school.
In previous years the annual event had attracted many entrants.
There was only one medal available. Only one name would be engraved on the historic University shield.
I wanted to be that runner but the high competition, including a well-known fast runner called Sandy, made the challenge an unknown.
As I walked to the start line at Wivenhoe Park I discovered I was wrong. There were only three other runners, all male and none I had heard of before.
My confidence grew.
We set off from the sports pavilion and within a minute I was last.
I continued to run hard around the perimeter of the football and rugby pitches, then the cricket field.
Three laps.
A flat course.
I stayed in last position the entire race.
The winner was Dominic King, the two-time Olympic 50km race walker and one of the best in the United Kingdom having competed at the Commonwealth Games and World Championships.


I underestimated my competition. But when I later realised the quality of my competitors I learnt not to always compare myself to others. I ran my own race and was pleased with my effort.

The time did not matter and instead my measure of success was my tight chest and ragged breath; I had given all that I could.

The soft grass and absence of spectators reminded me of my cross country days.

Yet, the experience was extra special because I ran with a professional athlete (albeit from some distance away) and my then-girlfriend (now fiancée) supported me.

The Benefits of Indoor Triathlons

In March 2011 I completed my first indoor triathlon events, which were organised by work colleagues at my university sports centre.

The half triathlon consisted of rowing 1500m, cycling 6km and running 2km, all completed using gym equipment.

I trained without a structured plan. Instead I focused on completing CrossFit workouts. I finished in 24 minutes and 1 second.

Due to my university schedule I could only undertake the full triathlon two days later.

I had no intention of missing it, despite a little leg soreness.

Colleagues kept encouraging me as I rowed 3000m, cycled 12km and ran 3km in a time of 44 minutes and 20 seconds.

I came first.

The challenge proves I can work hard to persevere and counteract any fatigue. My cross-training in the gym complimented my fitness and performances.

I preferred the indoor form than the traditional outdoor sport because the transitions are short (due to the lack of distance between machines) and require no change of clothing or gear.

These events were an effective and flexible test of cardiovascular fitness and can be modified as a training tool to meet running goals.

Race Report: Basildon 5km

Basildon 5km

I was amongst a large group of runners.
Ready.
Then we were off.
I was soon on my own, the race spread out and the leading pack out of sight.
I followed the concrete path, and passed a lake, trees, benches, other park users.
I kept thinking of the time I wanted. My goal.
At halfway my mum and fiancée cheered me on, which inspired me to push my pace.
Once out of view I returned to a manageable rhythm.
On the second lap I fought off a stitch. I developed a metallic taste in my mouth; I was on the verge of manifesting runner’s cough.
I had to dig deep not to drop my pace.
I came to the playground and car park for the second time.
The finishing stretch appeared as I lapped the runner in last position. I sprinted to the line, passing a couple of runners.
As I got my breath back my family told me my finishing time. It was seven seconds quicker than my goal, equivalent to the time saved from two bursts of sprinting.


Although I had a clear and realistic time goal of 20 minutes I did not wear a watch. The benefit is there are no distractions. The drawback is that at no point during the race did I know whether I was on track; I had to trust my instinct.

I did not complete any specific 5km training but I was prepared to push myself and experience pain.

The start line felt like a mass cross country competition, even if the circular, flat and dry course did not.

It was also the first race my fiancée watched me, which was a boost. I was surprised and pleased to obtain a new personal best and finish in the top 20. Better still, at least half the runners that finished ahead of me were over 40 years of age.

I was excited that if I kept myself as fit as these experienced runners I knew I could achieve greater success.

Later, when I looked to enter again I found that the race was no longer held. I wonder if the emergence of free parkruns had an impact…

Basildon 5km Finish

Race Report: Southend-on-Sea 10k Classic 2012

I was matching another runner stride for stride.
I doubted I could maintain the current pace.
But I wanted a new personal record and my instinct was to keep up.
I was running in my hometown. The beach and estuary were beside me. The road was lined with loud supporters. Motivation was all around me.
But I could only focus on not slowing, despite my fear of the inevitable. Due to the limited space we weaved between runners that were not keeping pace. My heart rate kept increasing.
I knew my body could manage the hard effort. The possibility of falling back and allowing the other runner to pull away continued to test my concentration.
Then the finish line came into view. I chose to sprint the last metres, my trademark ending.
But I did not feel elated as I often do after a race.


I knew before the starting horn sounded that to get the best out of the race I had to use another runner to pace me. This strategy showed my inexperience and lack of training preparations. I felt I was running close to my maximum and my partner runner offered me a physical reminder of my desire to push my limits.

The race taught me that mental strength and confidence is vital to keep insecurities from negatively affecting performance. The final stretch proved I had more to give. But the loyalty that my partner runner had shown me made me question whether I should have beaten him.

After the race we shook hands. He said he could not have run the race as quick as he did without me. I thanked him for his influence on my race.

The runner was a man over fifty.

He inspired me with his performance. He was proof that, regardless of age, running can bring the best out of everyone. Running a road race is about competition but on this occasion it felt more important that I made a personal connection with another runner.

What Tennis taught me about Running

Growing up I played tennis in my back garden. I hit the ball against the back wall of the utility room and downstairs bathroom. I left the wall cracked, patchy and dirty. I accidentally broke a window too.

I used the wall as my opponent.

I served from the end of the lawn, then ran forward to use half the lawn as the court. The patio path surrounding the grass was deemed out of bounds.

I played with my neighbour, volleying the ball to each other over the dividing fence that made up the net.

I also played on grass courts as a teenager with a school friend. We were evenly matched, although he took the sport more seriously than me. In 2005 we entered the Essex Junior Lawn Tennis Championship held in Southend-on-Sea as a doubles team. We failed to progress.


At university I was a member of the tennis team and in the try-out session I was designated an ‘advanced player’. I never represented the university in matches but I enjoyed playing on the outside hard courts at the sports centre. I had success against numerous colleagues and friends.

My greatest achievement was when I won a men’s singles tournament at my university in May 2011. Although I lost to the two best students, both tall with fast serves, I beat a stubborn player to take home the plate trophy. I later partnered with him to become runners’ up in the men’s doubles tournament.

I also discovered singles and doubles short tennis, which is played with smaller rackets and a spongy ball on an indoor badminton court. It is so quick that there is little time to think. Plus it encourages players to hit the ball as hard as possible, which made it exciting.


As I developed I learnt how to serve with more speed, use topspin, grip a two-handed backhand and hit the ball deeper and into the corners.

But most of all tennis taught me the importance of foot placementTennis relies on control of the racket and ball, which is only possible with strong posture and a well-balanced position on the court. Tennis further developed my ability to extend my swing and react quickly, usually as the lawn in my garden was uneven and the bounce unreliable.

Unsurprisingly, I loved running for the ball from one side of the court to the other, or to the net and back. Unbeknown to me at the time, tennis was an effective fitness routine.

Race Report: Hardwick 10km

Hardwick 10km

On the start line my quads and groin ached.
As I set off I ignored the distraction and focused on charging up the first of many gradual inclines.
The road was packed with runners.
I maintained a comfortably hard (tempo) pace as we navigated the undulating rural landscape.
I kept within a pack of heavy breathers as we approached Hardwick Hill.
As runners slowed I passed them by sustaining my effort level.
Only, the route continued to ascend for over half a mile.
My heartbeat accelerated and my breath shortened.
The steep path twisted until I reached the entrance to the Hall.
I saw the leaders running the opposite way.
I chased them back down the hill, past the long queue of runners refusing to stop despite the challenging climb.
Before I conquered the hardest section I was stunned.
People began clapping me. Not just spectators but groups of runners, one after another.
I could not hold back a smile. I returned their applause.
I ran hard to catch up with the top runners. But they remained too far ahead; I was alone.
No sooner had I reached the last kilometre I was cheered again.
I sprinted to the finish, to celebrate with my family and retrieve my t-shirt with “I beat the Hardwick Hill” printed on the front.


This race was the first I ran in the county of Derbyshire, the first 10km for over four and a half years, and the first held in the evening.

Although I tapered my running I played an hour of walking indoor football the day before. This made my upper leg muscles sore when I most needed them. Although my performance was consistent with my recent training improvements and past race results it was not ideal preparation.

As a warm-up event before my marathon later in the year it was the perfect experience. The Hardwick 10km was a great test of my strength and produced an inspiring and supportive atmosphere.

My mistake of trying a new activity too close to race day reminds me of an important lesson too: experience counts for nothing if you do not apply previous learnings.

file_001-e1500839403142.jpeg

Race Report: Bungay Black Dog Marathon 2017

Bungay Marathon

I had been waiting for it.
I had overcome the challenging undulating stretches.
I had long passed the half-way mark.
I was slower than my planned pace but I had not given up on achieving my goal.
It was now that I had to push on, make up the difference.
Only I was struggling to keep my pace from slowing.
My goal time passed as I accumulated 25 miles. I attempted to speed up but the pain was instant and eradicated the last hope.
Then I found myself alone.
Each sight was another reminder of the race I had done, the little that remained.
I sprinted the last five seconds with the crowds cheering me across the line.
The race had not destroyed me and I felt great post-race.



I began training for a 2017 spring marathon late the previous December. My goal was clear: run under 3:05 to qualify as a ‘good for age’ entry for the 2018 London Marathon.

I signed up for the Southend Marathon, a flat course along the seafront held in mid-March. I planned it as a fairy tale. “Local lad returns to his hometown for inaugural event, wins to qualify for London.” But two weeks before the race, as I prepared to taper my training, the event was cancelled.

I was gutted.

But I refused to let it waste my training and scupper my ambition. So I searched for another marathon held locally in the upcoming weeks. The Bungay Black Dog Marathon was ideal.

Or so I thought.

My training had been consistent and high quality. But the course was not suitable for a major personal record attempt. I paced the race well, always running within my limits. Although I still achieved my fastest marathon finish and remained positive physically and mentally during and after the race, I failed to achieved my dream

I remain determined to achieve my ‘good for age’ entry into the London Marathon, even if it has to be the 2019 event.

Bungay Marathon.

The Usefulness of Indoor Rowing

I started rowing on indoor machines at my university gym.

It became an obsession for two years.

I would row for half an hour or twenty minutes on a fixed setting and over time I increased the distance I rowed.

I enjoyed the repetitive, rhythmic motion.

I believed it was an efficient method to strengthen my arms and legs whilst still working my cardiovascular system.

Despite the relative weakness in my upper body, I relished the new challenge to power the machine and increase the distance travelled.

I have rowed on water recreationally only a few times, but is far more technical. The rowing machine was the most convenient and accessible piece of equipment to teach me the correct technique without joining a club.

For the indoor triathlon competitions I later entered, rowing was the first exercise, which replaced the traditional swim. I preferred this.

The training for this section was rowing consistent 500m repeats with 2-minute rests in between. I recommend this as an effective workout.

I also had the ambition to row the distance of a marathon. But it never materialised. Over three hours of sitting on the hard, uncomfortable seat deterred me. However, I came to love the Concept2 Indoor Rower and would never rule out a return to the pursuit of setting new personal records and attempting this feat of endurance. Only, I would need to commit to purchasing a gym membership or buying a machine, both of which are expensive and therefore unlikely.


Personal records (set 2009 – 2012):

500m – 1:45

4-minute O’Neill test – 1,048m

1,500m – 5:40

3,000m – 13:14

4,000m – 17:27

5,000m – 20:21

6,000m – 27:52

30 minutes – 6,651m

10,000m – 43:29

21,097m (half marathon) – 1:44:12

High School Cross Country Career

Cross country was my route into running.

When I run on trails in training I am reminded of the importance of this surface. I look back fondly on those multi-terrain events at high school.

I ran cross country mostly in my Physical Education classes. Unlike other children, I never complained and secretly enjoyed this exercise more than any other sport. The course often followed the perimeter of the school sports field, along a cricket pitch and around a plot of barren land, full of weeds and litter (and home to an old military pillbox).

These runs built my endurance and required consistent pacing rather than speed.

There was often long stretches where I would be running alone.

This suited me.

During those times I would imagine the race commentary. It was inspired by the Sky Sports Soccer Saturday television show, where pundits would keep viewers updated on football matches that could not be shown live. This was a technique to motivate myself to remain competitive and experience the thrill of chasing and leading other runners.

It was the form of running that made me feel most free. There were no boundaries. No distance markers. No way of telling the pace or time during the ‘race’. It emphasised the playfulness of running.

I was awarded two badges for my dedication to the discipline. I am proud to have competed for my high school in two cross country championships, even if my finishing positions were never outstanding. Although I felt the same nerves as running on the track, once I was off the start line I would enjoy the atmosphere of mass participation, sparse crowds and a challenging course, which often included hills, mud and puddles.

Cross country taught me that sport did not need rules or equipment to be enjoyed, and that following the fast starters is not the most sensible approach.

My disinterest in running such events as an adult reflects my preference to set new personal records rather than explore paths off the beaten track. For now, anyway.

Race Report: Maldon Half Marathon 2016

Maldon Half Marathon Race

I was in the lead.

The cyclist pacing the race was my only focus.

My friend called “Come on, David.” This spurred me on.

I could hear runners’ steps and breathing.

I was running hard.

But I could not prevent myself from slowing. Two younger runners passed me then another older one two miles later. I watched them increase the gap until I could not see them. I was not able to respond with a surge.

I soon heard noises behind me. I checked for fifth place but he was some distance away. I had to navigate the route alone, with some signage absent or unclear.

I counteracted these race developments by steadying my pace and thinking of a new personal record. But the undulating course continued to sap the strength from my legs and I was forced to concentrate on maintaining my position. I pushed through the pain and hoped that one of the front runners would falter so I could overtake them.

This never happened.

Near the end I passed the winner walking home. He clapped and I raise a thumb to him.

I sprinted the last metres in the park to the end.

I finished in fourth position, one minute and twenty seconds behind my previous best.

As I sat on the grass watching other runners cross the line, third place greeted me and shook my hand. He said I was a strong runner. Fifth place did the same, but added that he was convinced he would overtake me. He never came close.


The problem is that I intended to win the 2016 Maldon Half Marathon.

This was based on my belief that the distance had produced my best performances and my ambition to win my first race as an adult.

I led for the first 0.7 miles (5.3% of the race). I had never led a road race before and it showed. I could not maintain the required speed.

It was my highest placed position in a road race. I will never forget the euphoria of leading, however short it was. More useful is that I tackled a challenging course and still performed respectably.

I remained competitive throughout the race despite harbouring a blocked nose and recovering from a sore throat. I also overcame a significant stitch during periods of the race.

The fact remains that I failed to achieve what I set out to do: to win a trophy by coming in the top three and achieve a new personal record. However, it was not through a lack of desire.

Instead I was ill-prepared for a race I had underestimated.

What High School Basketball taught me about Running

When I played basketball in high school I was best known for steals and scoring on the fast break.

To win the ball back I would hassle the opposing team’s ball carrier. This meant I would get as close to the ball as I could without touching (fouling) the player. When the opponent passed to a team-mate I would sprint to follow the ball, even when this was not the coach’s instructions or in the best interest of my team’s formation. I would also dive on the hard court in an attempt to reclaim the ball or intercept a pass. At times I would be reminded by players and coaches of my role to defend only one player.

This never deterred me from prioritising running, as I was an effective scorer when my team had the ball and I would sprint the length of the court to receive a long pass close to the basket. This was only possible because of my fast speed and sharp reactions.

Basketball taught me the importance of sprint endurance. Basketball relies on repeated short bursts of high intensity running. There were times that I would exhaust myself within minutes of playing but as I often played half the game time this skill allowed me to be a more influential bench player.

Although I enjoyed the thrill (and to a lesser extent the pressure) of handling, passing and scoring the basketball, my attributes as a player stemmed from running. I played so I could sprint all over the court for as long as my fitness would allow. It became a personal challenge.

However, I admit that I am not best suited for basketball and a future in that sport was unlikely. I tried out for the basketball team in my first year at university. I am five feet, six inches tall and, despite the hours of practice before, during and after school in the sports hall and in my back garden, I was never a confident ball carrier or convincing long-range shooter. My best attribute was never giving up on retrieving the ball from the opposition. That was never going to be enough to get me into an ambitious senior team.

I first played basketball when I was twelve years old and represented my high school for the five years I studied there. I amassed a total of 40 games, over 220 points and won three borough championships.

Although not often a starter, I look back at the sport as an unexpected achievement. This proves that energy and commitment can take a sportsman surprisingly far.

My Short Track Running Career

I reminisce about past running experiences with mixed emotions. One evening a few months ago I led some group runs outside a sports centre. The complex has an outside track and I was reminded of when I ran on this surface more than ten years ago.


Back at high school I did not take much notice of times or positions. Although I was competitive, expectations, from myself and my teachers, were never ambitious.

I always ran my best but my training was never adequate to make me an outstanding track athlete come the summer meets.

I raced a couple of times a season and, although my results were promising, I was not coached to pursue that potential. I do not blame my Physical Education teachers; it was the high school culture of participation above performance.

The highlight of my track career came when I was chosen to run at the Essex County Championships, an all-day event held in the town of Colchester. I was the only person who attended from my school. I competed in the Pentathlon, which included 100m hurdles and 800m. I competed well but I never believed I could win. It was my best experience running on a track, yet fell short of inspiring me to further the pursuit.

I always had nervous energy at the start of a race. Although natural, I never felt comfortable in the environment. Perhaps it was the artificial surface, the impersonal officials or the repetitive course. Even when I ran on my school’s grass track I found the lanes too restrictive.

However, I learnt an important lesson that has stayed with me today, that I can manage the pain of running hard

My specialism was 800m, which forced me to run the two laps at a sprint. My legs, chest and stomach would hurt and my breathing would become wheezy. Even back then I was not afraid to push my limits.

On reflection my experience running on the track may have been more positive if I had entered longer races. 800m now seems an arbitrary and inappropriate choice for an athlete who enjoys long-distance running.

The one exception is that I had practiced running 100m and fancied myself as a high performer. But at the time I accepted my fate of two laps and did the best I could, which often meant I was in the top half of competitors. My personal record was 2:36.


For a moment I considered going outside, under the spotlights and reacquainting with the oval track. But I dismissed the thought, not because I did not want to do it, but because it would only remind me that it was not what I was born to do. My three seasons as a track athlete were enough to be certain.