Chelmsford Marathon 2019 Race Report

Race Report: 20 October 2019

Before the race, I wasn’t sure what performance I was capable of.
It would be the last race of a long running season. I had hoped before the year that I could set a new personal best. But that felt impossible.
The weather was ideal; cool and dry. As I set off from the start line, I had the 3:30 pacer in my sights.
I began conservatively, holding back and ignoring the adrenaline.
I saw my family at the five-kilometre mark then soon took a cup of water from an aid station. Most of it I spilt on the floor.
Still, my mile splits were all under eight minutes. I wasn’t gaining on the pacer and group of runners around him.
Just past the five-mile mark I used a portaloo. I was less than 30 seconds inside and soon came upon the second aid station. I grabbed my special drinks bottle and gradually made up the time I had lost. I didn’t panic.
I enjoyed a Nakd bar as I sipped my homemade sports drink over the next miles.
At eight miles I was still behind the pacemaker even though I was still running quicker than a projected 3:30 finish time.
I increased my pace so that miles eight and nine were 7:30 each.
I passed runners who were falling off the back of the pacer group. This gave me confidence.
I could ease off the pace a little over the next few miles as I steadily reached the group. At 12 ¼ miles I was part of the group. It contained seventeen runners including me and the pacer.
I felt relatively fresh. Only my left knee ached a little. I ignored it.
We passed halfway in around 1:42:00. This meant that at the current pace we would finish the marathon in 3:24:00. I was more than happy with this.
I retrieved my second special drinks bottle and drew energy from the group. Most of the time there was no talking; just the pattern of footsteps pounding the rural roads. The support was sparse but noisy.
At times I was hugging the curb, other times I ran just behind the lead pacer in the centre of the road, other times I kept on the outside. The positions moved when we passed another aid station. I tried to get out of the way of everyone else as they frantically grabbed their drinks.
I felt good, but I reminded myself that I needed to wait. We continued clocking up the miles at around 7:40 pace. The undulations didn’t affect me as the group continued with almost fifteen runners.
We soon passed runners in front, others hung onto us.
At the 19-mile mark I grabbed my last special drinks bottle. I didn’t need much from it but I kept it in my hands just in case.
There was a sharp incline and I held myself back from passing the pacer. We were less than 10 kilometres from the finish and I wanted to push on.
But I waited another mile before I surged.
I thanked the group and found a pace I felt I could maintain. That pace was 45 seconds faster per mile; 6:45. It was challenging but within my limits.
I was alone for long sections, then I passed more runners.
I sped up for miles 24 and 25. I ran 6:30 per mile pace.
The last mile I surged again and finished the 26th mile in 6:22.
I gave all I had over the final 320 metres. I sprinted to the finish line, overtaking an older runner moments before crossing the line in 3:16:35.
I was genuinely pleased, exceeding my expectations pre-race.

Relatively Huge Success

My ninth marathon was a huge success. I managed my second negative-split marathon, and enjoyed a race with relatively little discomfort. It was my third-fastest marathon and was the first race for which I purposefully used a pace group to support me. It undoubtedly helped me reduce my perception of effort, and was a unique experience. I also finished in the top 50 runners. This was the 16th race in which I achieved this feat.

2019 had already seen me produce a new 10-mile and half marathon personal best, and complete my first ever ultramarathon. Although I felt fully recovered after my ultramarathon, it had only been 15 days prior. I didn’t know what to expect from my legs. I only hoped that a sub 3:30 marathon would be possible. I knew the pacemaker would help me along.

At the start of the year I had wanted to break my previous personal best, set in the same race in 2017. I was only 3:16 away from accomplishing this goal. If I had not run such a conservative first half of the race, I perhaps could have got very close to my ambition. The difference between the two halves was about 7 ½ minutes. Still, my sixth consecutive Chelmsford Marathon was a fantastic way to finish an injury-free running season. Also, the medal is my first to spin. I am now motivated more than ever to realise my full potential at the 26.2-mile distance.

Chicago Marathon 2019 – Review

The Bank of America Chicago Marathon is one of six World Marathon Majors and has one of the flattest courses. On Sunday 13 October 2019, the American city was host to a new women’s world record and a highly competitive men’s race. In this post, I’ll answer the question “What happened during the 2019 Chicago Marathon?” and what lessons all runners can learn from this major race.

What happened in the elite women’s race?

The elite women’s race was dominated by one woman. Brigid Kosgei. She intended to break the marathon world record. With no other athlete in the field capable of running that fast, she would spend much of the race with her personal male pacemakers, never needing to look back down the road. 

Kosgei set her pacemakers to run 68 minutes for the half marathon. She comfortably slotted behind them and had dropped her competitors by 5 kilometres. She maintained a strong, fast high arm drive throughout. Her face was a picture of concentration. Her head remained still and her posture was strong, proving her superior core strength.

Some watching would have been sceptical of her fast early 5 kilometre splits, especially when she was 38 seconds faster than Radcliffe’s world record at 10 kilometres. Gaps only formed when she retrieved her bottle at the aid stations. Otherwise it was as if she was glued to her personal pacemakers.

At the halfway mark she was 63 seconds ahead of Radcliffe’s record, in a time of 1:06:59. Her 5 kilometre splits remained under 16:08, with no sign of slowing. Even when the pacemakers stopped running Kosgei kept her composure, finishing in 2:14:04. She had broken the world record by 1:21, when no woman had even got within a minute of Racliffe’s mark before this. To add to her incredible performance she also finished the race in 23rd position overall, showing there’s more to come from this special athlete.

Even though Kosgei is only 25 years old, her impressive running record had already showed that this performance was possible. She proved again why she is world number one in the women’s marathon.

What happened in the elite men’s race?

The elite men’s race was packed with great athletes. The battle seemed to be whether Mo Farah could defend his title, or whether an East African would prove once again their dominance of the 26.2-mile course. The race finished with two Kenyans and two Ethiopians sprinting for the tape. Kenya’s Lawrence Cherono, the 2019 Boston Marathon champion, executed the most savvy of race strategies to win by a second. 

Despite having two pacemakers, the lead pack continued to stretch out then bunch together during the first seven miles. From there, gaps started to appear. Six men emerged as the lead group. Mo Farah, the defending champion, his training partner Bashir Abdi, and the 2017 champion Galen Rupp had fallen significantly behind. One of the pacemakers also couldn’t keep up with the pace, falling away before the halfway mark.

Dickson Chumba surged multiple times but could not shake off his competitors. Stronger winds soon became a factor. The six men ran in single file behind the pacemaker for several miles. Surprisingly, Chumba was the first man to drop off the lead pack just after 30 kilometres. Then the pacemaker left his position and the real racing began. Karoki ran at the front then Cherono took his turn. Ethiopia’s Seifu Tura was dropped at 1:53. Debela then led the race.

Into the last mile, Cherono and Dejene Debela surged. Asefa Mengstu gritted his teeth to stay with the group. Cherono soon found himself at the back of the group. Debela appeared to push on as he kept looking at his watch. But Cherono’s final sprint proved too strong; he was crowned champion.

Abdi finished in fifth place, less than 30 seconds behind the winner, whilst Chumba faded into seventh position. Farah also had a disappointing race, crossing the line in 2:09:58 for eighth place. It was his slowest time since becoming a marathoner.

Running lessons from the race

There were three obvious running lessons on display at the 2019 Chicago Marathon; 1. you should run fast if you feel good on race day; 2. reduce pre-race distractions where possible, and 3. never ignore injuries regardless of where you are in a race.

Run fast if you feel good on race day

Kosgei’s fast running was a testament to her feeling good and making the most of her current form. Her attempt at breaking Paula Radcliffe’s world record was still very ambitious. Her recent block of training must have gone well. Ultimately, she was coming into the race with many factors in her favour.  Her previous personal best of 2:18:35 was more than two minutes faster than the next best athlete. As defending champion she was the clear favourite for the race. 2019 had already been a stellar year for her. She had won six of her six races, including the Virgin Money London Marathon and the SimplyHealth Great North Run. Perhaps it was inevitable that one day she would become the world record holder.

Reduce pre-race distractions where possible

Professional athletes are primed to focus on their training and racing. But distractions can still be unproductive at best and frustrating at worst. Sadly, three prominent athletes found themselves questioned by the media pre-race about the recent doping ban of famous running coach Alberto Salazar. Top US athletes Galen Rupp and Jordan Hasay had been coached by Salazar. Neither finished the race despite high expectations of performing well. Even Mo Farah, who had been coached by Salazar during his track career, did not perform at his usual high standard. These pre-race distractions would not have relaxed their minds going into an important race of their seasons. As none of them have been accused of doping, this would have been an unfortunate and saddening moment in their careers. Hopefully, they will bounce back stronger.

Don’t ignore injuries however close to the finish 

Aside from the negative media attention, pre-existing injuries would not have helped athletes competing. Galen Rupp found himself running alone in the top ten for much of the race. It was his first race since the 2018 Chicago Marathon. An Achilles injury and subsequent surgery meant that most of his year was focused on recovery. He had withdrawn from the Philadelphia Rock ‘n’ Roll Half Marathon in September. His morning ended just before the 23-mile mark. Despite being so close to the finish line, it remains a sensible decision to drop out of a race to receive medical attention rather than push through an obvious injury. The consequence of ignoring such pain could be that more recovery time is needed. The medium- to long-term is always crucial for professional athletes.

Jordan Hasay could not finish the race either, dropping out early in the race after suffering from a hamstring injury in the first few miles of the race. It was another disappointment for the USA team, but again she made the right decision. 

Conclusion

The 2019 Chicago Marathon was packed with exciting racing and fast times but also disappointing performances. Brigid Kosgei smashed the course and world record, proving her current dominance of the event. Whilst in the men’s race, the sprint finish between four athletes reminded audiences again of how East Africans are simply unstoppable. But the race was nonetheless overshadowed in part by the ban of Alberto Salazar. Although coaches exist to support their athletes, in extreme cases like this they can also hinder. Especially when the mass media become interested.

Read the report of the 2018 race in which Mo Farah won his first marathon.

Great Scottish Run 2019 – Review

The Great Scottish Run is one of the biggest running events in Scotland and attracts many elite athletes and recreational runners of all abilities. On Sunday 29 September 2019, Glasgow hosted stand-out half marathon performances from East Africans, who dominated the race. In this post, I’ll answer the question “What happened during the 2019 Great Scottish Run?” and what lessons all runners can learn from this popular race.

What happened in the elite men’s race?

The elite men’s race focused on whether anyone could usurp Britain’s Chris Thompson, who had won the previous two years. Zane Robertson of New Zealand, and a host of quality East Africans looked to do just that. Stephen Kiprop and Micah Kogo of Kenya, Timothy Torotich of Uganda and Yemane Tsegay of Ethiopia seemed best placed to test Thompson’s recent dominance of the event.

However, well before halfway, Thompson looked beaten and Robertson had dropped out. Torotich’s convincing triumph over the rest of the field returned the title to Uganda, after a four-year wait.

The steep hill during the first mile did nothing to separate the lead pack. But it didn’t take long to shake up the athletes. Kogo, Kiprop and Torotich pushed the pace just before five kilometres and established a quick twenty-metre gap. Thompson was sweating a lot after less than fifteen minutes, and his title defence was realistically over by four miles.

The three East Africans were soon out of sight. Torotich surged several times without a breakthrough, until the halfway mark. It was through Pollok Park that Torotich broke his Kenyan rivals. He ran hard, completing the seventh mile in 4:28. Although he couldn’t quite maintain the same fast mile splits, he didn’t need to. He kept a thirty-second lead at 10 miles and never looked in danger of being caught.

Kogo was runner-up, whilst Kiprop came third. This was despite Spain’s Benabbou managing to run beside Kiprop at 11 miles. Kiprop then surged and was four seconds away from second place. Fifth place Eritrean got a lifetime best by over two minutes. The Eritrean Weynay Ghebreselassie finished in fifth place with a lifetime best of 1:04:22, over two minutes faster than his previous best performance.

Although Torotich won the race by 59 seconds, he showed visible signs of working hard. He frequently wiped his face of sweat, his head moved a lot in the closing miles and his breathing was noticeably heavy. However, he stayed strong by using his fast, short arm drive to great effect.

What happened in the elite women’s race?

The elite women’s race was all about Kenya’s Edith Chelimo, who was the outstanding favourite, racing against fellow Kenyan Nancy Kiprop, Ethiopian Askale Merachi and a number of European runners. Chelimo ran as expected, alone, in a new course record.

Chelimo broke away within the first few minutes of the race. She looked relaxed throughout, looking slightly down, her head still, her posture strong and upright. She continued her dominance, leading by 59 seconds at the 10 kilometre mark. Male club runners helped her in the early miles. Then she was alone. She eventually ran a new course record of 1:07:38, 19 seconds faster than the previous record. Although she admitted post-race that she wanted to run 1:06:00, she should be proud of her amazing performance.

Although Nancy Kiprop and Askale Merachi worked together for much of the race, the Kenyan surged in the closing miles to beat Merachi by ten seconds and claim second spot.

Running lessons from the race

The 40th edition of the race revealed three important lessons for all runners: 1. you can race by yourself if you’re strong mentally; 2. you can’t expect a great performance (relative to your own standards) if you aren’t fully recovered from a previous race, and 3. sparsely located supporters can’t deter top athletes from performing.

Racing alone isn’t negative

In both the men’s and women’s elite races, the eventual champions spent much of their race running alone. Experienced athletes such as Torotich and Chelimo don’t get easily distracted by their competition. Instead they could run their own predetermined strategy. This was even more impressive when considering that neither checked their watches much throughout the race.

Peak performance requires being fully rested

For all athletes, top performances can only be achieved if you are in shape. This means that any athlete should be fully recovered from any recent races or hard block of training. Despite only a light breeze during the race, with the temperature around 12℃, certain athletes were never going to fare too well on the course.

Defending champion Thompson had to settle with seventh position, several minutes slower than his previous victories in a time of 1:05:31. Post-race the 38-year-old Briton admitted it had been a tough day. He had not recovered fully from his recent victories. This was understandable as he won the Great East Run the previous Sunday, and the Richmond RUNFEST Marathon the weekend before that. Sadly there was no threat from Zane Robertson either, who dropped out with injury at the five kilometre mark.

Sparse support is still helpful

Although there was huge support in certain areas, the race snaked through several parks, which understandably were sparse. This meant that athletes couldn’t draw on the enthusiasm of the spectators. Nonetheless, it was still encouraging in those areas where there were people cheering and clapping. Thompson even slowed as he approached the finish line to acknowledge the crowds’ efforts. Edith Chelimo also praised the Scottish people, saying they helped her to not give up and to keep believing in herself.

Conclusion

The men’s and women’s races at the 2019 Bank of Scotland Great Scottish Run were won by a relatively large margin. With over 8,000 runners completing the 13.1 miles, and tens of thousands running across the running festival weekend it’s a great spectacle for Scottish athletics. However, sub-par performances and even injury are risks if athletes are not fully fit to race. The steep hill at the start of the race should be a warning for everyone that all running achievements are no stroll in the park.

 

Read my reports from other elite races since 2018.

Cardiff Half Marathon 2019 – Review

The Cardiff Half Marathon is an iconic road race for elite athletes and recreational runners. On Sunday 6 October 2019, the Welsh capital was host to some amazing Kenyan performances but sadly a runner also died after completing the event. In this post, I’ll answer the question “What happened during the 2019 Cardiff Half Marathon?” and what lessons all runners can learn from this popular race.

What happened in the elite men’s race?

The elite men’s race was packed with quality athletes, many of whom were Kenyan. Some of the men will have trained together and know each other’s racing tactics. It was no surprise then that a sprint finish decided the eventual champion, 29-year-old Leonard Langat. 

Before even two miles had been run the lead pack contained ten runners, spread almost in single file. After four miles, there were five men at the front. By halfway, four remained. Huge gaps between athletes appeared quickly and remained.

At 10 miles the champion would be either Leonard Langat or Shadrack Kimining. They had dropped compatriots Lotiang and Kimutai with ease. This was despite Langat appearing to struggle for a few miles from the eighth mile. Kimining increased his arm drive but Langat stayed calm, sitting a few metres behind. 

They ran a 4:29 twelfth mile, but Langat refused to be dropped. Kimining appeared to kick several times in the last half mile. As they descended on to the final straight, Langat moved passed and took the inside bend. Both sprinted for the finish line, their arms flailing, their teeth gritted. Langat beat his compatriot by two seconds, and in the process established a new course record for the Cardiff Half Marathon.

Prior to the race, Wilson Chebet, the three time Amsterdam Marathon champion, Japhet Korir, the 2013 World Cross Country champion, and Shadrack Kimining, the 2016 Cardiff Half Marathon champion were the organisers’ favourites. Kimining was the standout man who lead for much of the race. The other two men had to settle for seventh and tenth place respectively. 

At times Kimining appeared to usher others forward to take the burden. But no one did. As a result, he couldn’t ease off the pace. In hindsight, Kimining had paced Langat perfectly. The signs were evident though. Kimining’s forward lean was more pronounced and his gaze slightly further down to the ground than his compatriot’s. Langat’s running style, in contrast, was characterised by an upright, relaxed posture. All the elite men ran hard, but it was the athlete with the most composure who produced the outstanding performance of the morning. 

What happened in the elite women’s race?

The elite women’s race was packed with quality athletes, seven of whom were from Kenya and two from Ethiopia. Once again, the champion was crowned after a sprint finish to the tape.

In contrast to the men’s race, a smaller pack of seven women lead the race alongside male club runners and a male pacemaker. By halfway the lead pack had become five. Just past the hour mark, there were only three main contenders. It was Kenya’s Lucy Cheruiyot who was content to stay at the front. 

With only half a mile left, Azmera Abreha kicked. It was now between her and Cheruiyot. But the Kenyan responded well, ensuring she remained ahead. The final sprint to the finish was intense and close. Cheruiyot won by a metre in the same time of 1:08:20 as the Ethiopian. Although exhausted post-race, lying on the ground, her exhilaration was clear to see.

Kenya’s Paskalia Kipkoech, the 2010 Berlin Half Marathon champion, and Ethiopia’s 20-year-old Birha Mihretu were the organisers’ favourites for the women’s race. But they had to settle for third and fifth respectively.

Despite Cheruyiot continually looking at her watch and glancing back at her competitors in the final miles, she remained composed. Her fluid, high arm drive never faltered and she used all her strength to continue Kenya’s dominance in the women’s race. 

Running lessons from the race

The 17th edition of the Cardiff Half Marathon demonstrated three important lessons for all runners: 1. you can leave your last surge late and it can still be effective against your opponents; 2. when conditions are perfect, you need to take advantage, and 3. always listen to your body – if it’s telling you you’re working well beyond your limit, consider slowing down.

Late surges can be effective

In both the men’s and women’s elite races, the eventual champions used late surges to great effect. Although Langat in the men’s race stayed behind the leader for much of the race, this strategy meant he was in the ideal place to surge when he knew there would be no response from his compatriots. Cheruiyot in the women’s race instead led from the front for almost half the race. This allowed her to control the pace so when her Ethiopian rival surged near the end, Cheruiyot  could respond best and finish what she had started from the 10 kilometre mark.

Perfect weather and course support fast times

Favourable weather conditions, the relatively flat course and huge support from spectators were ideal for fast racing. There were sunny intervals with a fresh breeze, with the temperature around 17°C. This was in contrast with the almost four days of rain prior to the race. 

The pressure was on to produce fast times and the elite athletes didn’t disappoint. The top four men all produced times faster than the previous course record, set in 2017 by third place, John Lotiang. Leonard Langat smashed the course record by 72 seconds. The 28-year-old Kennedy Kimutai on his half marathon debut finished in a respectable fourth place, in a time of 1:00:39. The standard has now been raised for future years, and cements the race as one of the best half marathons in Europe.

Heed your body’s natural warning system

The sad death post-race of the third runner in two years should be a reminder for all runners that you should never ignore excessive physical stress. Although the specific details may never be known, it’s crucial that pushing through extreme pain should be avoided at all costs. If the stress of running becomes too great, slow down, stop and even speak to the nearest medic if in doubt. 

Due to the growth of the event in recent years it has become a member of the Super Halfs Half Marathon Series. The event is a great fundraiser, generating millions of pounds for national and local charities. So it is understandable that people flock to the race and want to push themselves. But it’s important that the health and wellbeing of all runners is prioritised. Runners must therefore take responsibility for their effort levels. 

Conclusion

The 2019 Cardiff University Cardiff Half Marathon was filled with drama but also sadness. The close racing at the front meant it was difficult to predict the winners of the elite men and women’s races with less than half a mile to run. Although it was exciting how the elite field ran, the race is yet again known for the death of a participant. With around 27,500 runners entering, and over half of them women, it’s undoubtedly one of the best sights in Welsh athletics. However, Nicholas Beckley’s death is a stark reminder for all runners to never push yourself when you feel serious physical stress. The result can be devastating for you, your family members and the local community. No personal best is worth dying for; listen to your body and never ignore serious pain.

Read the 2018 review, a race which doubled up as the Commonwealth Half Marathon Championships.

2019 Great Baddow 10 Mile Race

19 May 2019

There was a false start then we were off.
There was a short lap around the recreation ground before I hit the pavement.
I knew I couldn’t sustain sub six minute per mile pace but the runners around me made me especially conscious.
I encountered several inclines and I could feel my heart rate rising. But I stayed calm.
Then, as I completed the second mile, the longest, steepest hill of the route inevitably slowed me.
I kept working hard and passed several runners. I glanced at my watch and had a dilemma; should I increase my effort to maintain a strong pace or respect the hill?
I found a middle ground within myself and ran. I knew there was a long way to go still.
By the time I reached a flatter section of road my pace didn’t return as I had hoped. I still had to work hard.
Before halfway I had to accelerate or be held back by a couple of runners.
Vehicles continued to whizz by me.
There were pockets of cheering spectators including some from my former running club. It gave me a slight boost but another hill loomed.
Whenever I saw my watch early in the mile, my average pace was promising, sometimes sub six minutes. But by the end of each mile the time just crept over the mark.
I kept calculating whether I was on track for a new personal best. I had to force myself to believe I was still on target
I took a sponge and water from two aid stations, never stopping.
I continued to pass runners, many of whom praised my strength.
Then one final hill faced me. The traffic was building from every direction.
I checked my watch and knew there wasn’t too far to go. I soon passed the sign for ‘400m to go’.
The runner ahead was too far ahead to catch now.
I turned the final corner along the straight to the finish line. My watch buzzed in recognition of covering 10 miles.
I sprinted the last seconds.


The Great Baddow 10 Mile Road race was the final examination of my training since the start of 2019. After improving my personal best for 10 miles by over two minutes 13 days prior I wanted to give any last effort I still had.
Although I expected the course to consist of hills, I wasn’t prepared for such frequent and steep undulations. I wanted to maintain an average pace closer to the Witham May Day 10 race and was on course after the first two miles. However, after the third mile, the fourth and fifth miles were too challenging for me to maintain. I am pleased that I ran the second half of the race quicker, and I managed a sub 6 minute mile in the final mile to finish in a respectable fifteenth position.
My Garmin watch showed that I had actually run the 10 miles in the exact same time as my previous race, which proved that the recovery and additional workouts in between races helped keep me performing at my best. The 25th road race of my running career was a memorable one, even if the traffic and hills made for a stern test of my physical and mental resolve.

2019 Witham May Day 10

6 May 2019

I held back from running too fast from the start line.
I had to be patient.
The course was undulating from the start and along country lanes with few spectators.
I kept glancing at my watch to make sure I was running under my targeted 6:20 per mile pace but not faster than ten seconds.
I ignored the first water station and continued to adjust my effort as I ran up the slight inclines, on the flat, then down the slight declines.
Runners ahead of me helped give me a target for which to aim.
As I approached the halfway mark my pace was controlled and within my target.
My instinct was that I would achieve a new personal best. I felt relieved.
I passed a couple of runners as I quickened my pace.
By the next mile my quads were feeling tighter. I continued to power up the inclines.
I wasn’t perturbed and continued to concentrate, largely running alone.
I grabbed a water bottle from the final water station just after 7 miles. I took a couple of sips and wet my hands. I then chucked the bottle in a nearby bin.
I wanted to push my pace, and I knew I still had the strength.
I kept a cluster of three runners in my sight ahead of me.
At mile 8 I quickened my pace once again, keeping my breathing controlled.
I passed one runner, then another.
Over the last mile I forgot about my watch and pushed on. I could hear my own breathing as a runner in front stayed ahead. The last stretch of road was the same as the one- and two-mile time-trial I ran in late March and early April 2018.
I never looked behind me.
Instead, when I turned towards the final stretch, a marshal congratulated me on 11th position. So I sprinted the last 100m over the grass to the finish line. I was desperate to overtake another runner and although I was gaining, I ran out of distance. The results showed I was half a second away.

Witham May Day 10 2019 sprint finish

I had three aims prior to the race.
First, I wanted to beat my previous year’s time at the same race.
Second, I wanted to run under 6:20 for each mile of the race.
Third, I wanted to finish in the top ten.

I accomplished the first two aims and was so close to the third aim.
Most importantly, I beat my personal best by 2 minutes and 5 seconds, which validates the 18 weeks of steady and progressive training since the New Year.
I felt much stronger than a year ago and am confident that my daily routine of stretching and core exercises, along with my consistent 30+ mile weeks, had the desired effect.
The cooler conditions also helped me perform at my peak but an injury-free race was enjoyable and highly rewarding.

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.

4 Reasons for the New 2018 World Half Marathon Record

When the date for the 28th Valencia Half Marathon finally arrived in late October, there should’ve been no doubt that the world half marathon record was under threat.

Kenya’s Abraham Kiptum lowered the eight-and-a-half-year mark by five seconds, recording 58:18. But it wasn’t just the flat course that ensured a spectacular result in Spain’s third largest city.

#1 Special Conditions

The course is perfect for running fast not only due to the absence of hills, but also the relatively few changes in direction, beautiful weather and remarkable history of the event. Since 2017 Valencia has been home to the women’s world record for the half marathon, both in a mixed gender race and women-only race.

Not only does Valencia name itself ‘The Running City’, hosting over fifty running events in 2018 alone, the half marathon is recognised by the IAAF as gold label. The strict conditions of this highest honour include international elite athletes, anti-doping testing and broadcasting of the event.

The lesson for all runners is to make the most of excellently organised and well supported running races, as they can empower better performances.

#2 Competitors Slowing

As runners passed 10km the lead pack suddenly lost the impetus to push on. But Kiptum knew that if he was to win this was the time to strike. His surge proved how strong the Kenyan felt, knowing instinctively that he could maintain sub fourteen minute 5km splits over the second half of the race.

Refusing to lead for the first 10km would certainly have eased him into the race, conserving slightly more energy than his rivals.

The lesson for all runners is to use the first half of a race to measure feeling. If strong, then increase the pace gradually to the end.

#3 Efficient Stride

Kiptum’s running form was particularly prominent throughout his world record performance. His bouncy, long stride and high knee lift suggested a rhythm that was efficient and relatively comfortable. His hips stayed high, which revealed his impressive core strength. His arm swings were driven and his eyes fixed on the road ahead.

Despite his serene movements, Kiptum demonstrated intense concentration and bravery to tackle the feat.

The lesson for all runners is to focus on developing and maintaining a solid foundation of core strength and stability. This will aid the body to deal with the relatively high impact of running lots of miles.

#4 Excellent Recent Performances

Kiptum’s 2018 had included a marathon win in Daegu back in April, and a second place finish in Copenhagen’s half marathon in mid September. The breakthrough year would’ve built the Kenyan’s confidence, so winning would have certainly been at the forefront of his mind. As long as he ran steadily, his training would’ve given him the knowledge that anything was possible.

With nine other Africans finishing in under an hour, if Kiptum had faltered others would’ve pounced.

The lesson for all runners is to use any positive training runs or races as inspiration whilst performing.

Waiting to Pounce at 2018 NYC Marathon

New York City held a mild, windless marathon this year.

The eventual winners employed the most effective strategies on the day, keeping their composure when competitors continued to test them, finishing strong.

Steady Start Helps those with Greater Capacity

Before the marathon I predicted that it would be extremely difficult to beat Mary Keitany. Not only had she won the event three times before but she is undoubtedly one of the greatest female marathoners ever, alongside the UK’s Paula Radcliffe.

The race began with a huge pack, and stayed that way for the first half of the race, which was completed in 1:15:50. If the pace had continued it would’ve meant a relatively slow winning time (Kenya’s Edna Kiplagat’s 2011 performance of 2:28:20 was the most recent winning time that would have been slower).

But, unsurprisingly twenty runners soon became eight as the pace steadily increased. Keitany began to lead the pack, but soon Rahma Tusa of Ethiopia and Vivian Cheruiyot of Kenya surged. A 10-second gap quickly appeared. Only Keitany stayed with them.

Keitany had the impetus to keep the pace fast. Cheruiyot fell back, then Tusa had to let Keitany go. By 30km Keitany had begun her ‘victory lap’. She didn’t need to look back; the gap was growing with every stride.

She broke her competitors by running three consecutive 5km splits under 16:30. Her efficient stride, short, powerful arm swings (similar to Juliet Chekwel) helped her to win by over three minutes and record the second-fastest course time.

Know One’s Limits

It’s easy to comment that some of the athletes should have pushed the early pace to keep Keitany from running a huge negative split (she ran the second half of the race more than fifteen minutes faster than the first half). But every athlete needs to run their own race strategy. The relatively comfortable early pace meant that Americans Stephanie Bruce, Brittany Charboneau and Desiree Linden could all front run for short periods.

The danger is that by attempting to keep with a superior runner, as Tusa did, runners can compromise their race. Overstretching, especially during a marathon, can lead to a loss of a podium finish. Alone, Vivian Cheruiyot could run at the pace she needed during the last miles, finishing strong in second. The American Shalane Flanagan, last year’s champion, could also run within herself, eventually breaking away from the chase pack and completing the podium. Tusa faded, finishing in fifth position.

The experiences of Cheruiyot and Flanagan, who are both in their thirties, ensured that they kept a tight grip on the top placings.

Always Have More to Give for the End

Whilst the elite women made their move just after the halfway mark, the men’s race was decided in the final mile.

The elite field was strung out in a line by 5km, with Ethiopia’s Lelisa Desisa and Shura Kitata, and Kenya’s Tamirat Tola and Geoffrey Kamworor pushing the pace.

As the race progressed Kitata held the lead, but couldn’t break away. The frequent undulations kept the runners together until 35km, where Tola couldn’t respond to the surge from Kamworor.

Pre-race I believed the defending champion would be too strong for the Ethiopians, and like Keitany, was conserving energy before his fast finish. When Kitata fell back during the last mile, it seemed the Kenyan had only one competitor left. But it was Kamworor who couldn’t maintain, with Kitata fighting back and pushing his training partner and fellow countryman to the end.

Desisa had deceived everyone, quietly keeping back so that he could give his all when it was most needed. The Ethiopian, who had attempted to break the two-hour marathon last year with Eliud Kipchoge, had finished in the top three on three other occasions, and at the finish line his delight was clear to see.

Pacing, Surging and Pain at 2018 Great South Run

The 29th year of the Great South Run was billed as a battle of the Brits.

In the women’s race, Eilish McColgan, Scottish middle-distance track specialist, was running the longest distance race of her career, competing against defending champion Gemma Steel and in-form Steph Twell. 

In the men’s race, Andy Vernon was out to stop long-time rival and friend Chris Thompson from winning his third consecutive title.

Every athlete had their concerns, mostly fatigue due to recent races, but there could be no excuses. Portsmouth laid out ideal running conditions for the 10-miler with little wind and even some warmth.


Surge at the right time to test your competitors

The top women were together at 10km until Twell surged. She looked determined as she pushed the pace, quickening her leg turnover. Steel couldn’t respond, and for the next mile it looked as if McColgan was almost beat. But she hung on, and by 8 miles they were side by side again. At the start of the final mile McColgan turned the tables on Twell and made a decisive move. Her lofty, bouncy stride was majestic as she stormed to an impressive victory.

Vernon executed a similar tactic to Twell, trying to break Thompson early in the race. By 5km through to 10km Vernon was staying ahead of Thompson. But no discernible gap had formed, so when Thompson surged before 7 miles, Vernon couldn’t respond, and instead focused on maintaining second place.

Don’t show your best move too early

It’s easy to think that Twell and Vernon made a tactical error, forcing the pace early in the race. However, when you consider that McColgan had never raced beyond 10km, and Thompson felt heavy in his legs from the recent win at the Great Scottish Half Marathon in late September, Twell and Vernon were smart.

The problem was McColgan and Thompson had that slight advantage in persistence and endurance that the 10 mile distance requires.

Although it appeared to play into McColgan and Thompson’s hands, if they had any weaknesses, the strong pace early on would have given them too much to claw back. As it was, McColgan and Thompson not only dealt with the early leaders’ surges, they had the superior strength to counter-surge when Vernon and Twell were starting to fatigue from their unsuccessful breakaways.

Pain is easier to take when achieving your goals

David Moorcroft, the former 5,000m world record holder, remarked in commentary that pain is more bearable when winning. This was certainly the case for both champions; visibly fatigued but still running strong and fast during the final mile of race.

But their efforts were rewarded with new personal bests and impressive victories; Thompson gaining his third successive title and McColgan following in her mother’s two victories in the mid-1990s.


Although the 20,000+ recreational runners weren’t able to experience the highs (and lows) of running at the front, they could execute similar strategies to the elite field.

Runners should play to their strengths; if they know they can endure (and not slow in the final stages of the race), then they must be disciplined early on. If, however, they feel their speed is their best attribute, then getting through two-thirds of the race at a fast pace can allow sheer determination to kick in until the finish.

Either way, runners must embrace the pain of muscle soreness and keep believing that the end is in sight. After all, a new personal best is never that far away when the conditions are right.


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.



3 Lessons from 2018 Commonwealth Half Marathon

The 15th year of the Cardiff Half Marathon acted as the inaugural Commonwealth Half Marathon Championships. The event was packed with talent and numbers, but there were three important pieces of advice demonstrated throughout the 13.1 miles.

#1 Execute an Individual Race Plan

In the men’s race the story was dominated by five Africans competing against the Australian Jack Rayner.

However, even from the early miles the four Ugandans and Kenyan struggled to settle. They frequently exchanged positions, veered across the road, and accelerated suddenly only to soon be rejoined by the lead pack.

They could have been forgiven due to nerves, but surprisingly this erratic behaviour continued throughout the race. Despite the Africans’ impressive mile splits their surges and glances over to one another were a constant distraction. As I watched the televised coverage I imagined the coach of the Ugandan athletes confused and annoyed; they appeared to run with a lack of composure and self-assurance.

I wonder whether the team title (which they won emphatically with their four runners finishing in the top six) was their priority because they had used up all their reserves, unable to respond to Rayner’s timely surge over the final section.

Rayner’s strategy of staying at the back of lead pack, concentrating on a smooth rhythm and not getting drawn into competitors’ tactics secured him the win.

#2 Stay Focused throughout the Race

In contrast to the men’s race, Juliet Chekwel lead almost from the start line, never looking back and pacing herself consistently. After each 5km she dropped only 3-4 seconds per mile on her overall average pace. She ran alongside top male club runners for long stretches, then later by herself.

Like Rayner though, the Ugandan focused on her own race, pumping her arms across the body in a powerful lifting motion, which reminded me of a boxer practising uppercuts. Her head was still and relaxed, with her mouth slightly open, taking advantage of her lofty stride.

As Tanni Grey-Thompson, the decorated former paralympian, observed during the race Chekwel was “running on feel”. This performance was all the more astonishing because it was the longer distance race she had completed. Her running future appears bright.

#3 Running is a Demanding Sport

Sadly, soon after the event finished news broke that two runners had passed away. Two men under the age of 35 lost their lives, with cardiac arrest the causes.

Although these men had varying training histories, it remains true that regardless of athletic experience death is always a possibility during exercise.

Running is highly impactful and requires the heart to work efficiently and in synergism with every other system in the body.

This tragic news should remind us to never take the challenge of an endurance event for granted and that, if and when we feel pain in our chests during running we should seek medical assistance immediately.



Windy Seaside Race Success

19 August 2018
I stopped myself running hard from the start line.
Instead I let runners pass me.
I wanted to keep to the pace of my current personal best and only later speed up.
After one and a half miles I headed down a slope to the Lower Promenade.
The strong winds hit me straight away and quickly reduced my pace, and expectations.
I stayed at the back of a pack of seven runners, shielded slightly from the blustery conditions.
I passed clusters of noisy spectators until I headed up a short but steep slope to the Upper Promenade.
After one lap the group split, some of whom finished the 10k race (which started at the same time).
The second and final lap was longer, and I knew I could overtake the runners I could see in the distance.
I just had to be patient and not let the wind slow me down.
Despite runners behind me I knew I could stay strong and consistent. I had to run my own race.
I saw my family halfway along the Lower Promenade. I hoped I was lying in third position. But my mum shouted that I was ninth.
It wasn’t what I wanted to hear, but every position mattered to me.
I used random checkpoints to time the seconds I was behind the runner in front of me.
24. 22. 18. 12. 8.
I kept sipping my homemade sports drink, as others used the water stations.
I ran on the balls of my feet as I tackled the final slope.
2 miles left and the sun was starting to overheat me.
Still, I improved my pace by 5 to 10 seconds per mile.
Neither of the runners I had been chasing could respond to my surge.
But another runner quickly passed me, and I couldn’t stay with him.
Instead I worked hard to keep a 6:30 per mile pace along the final stretch.
I sprinted across the grass to the finish line with no one close behind me.

I chose this race because for the past three years the winning times had been only a few minutes faster than my previous personal record performance.
Last year I had been injured.

This year I had hoped to improve both my best time at the half marathon distance and my highest race position.

Although I don’t ever excuse my performances, two factors affected my race:

  1. I discovered on the morning that the conditions were very windy, weather I had not considered (or trained in).
  2. My block of training leading to the race was also far from ideal. I had a minor injury throughout June, which prevented me from running. Although cross-training in a local gym was productive, it could never replicate the sport I love. I therefore only had approximately five weeks of quality running workouts, culminating in 11 miles at an easy pace two weeks from race day.

Despite not achieving my two primary aims, I finished eighth, which was the third top ten performance of my career. I also represented my running club well, as the only male runner, and fastest finisher in barefoot shoes.
The race was a special experience for me, located in a seaside town of which I have very fond memories. My family could also see me a few times throughout, encouraging me and offering vital race information.

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.

Avoid Over-Racing

In Alex Teuten’s article for this week’s Athletics Weekly1, the BUCS cross country champion cautions against racing too often. The article, entitled Losing the Love, details Teuten’s recent struggles to maintain mental sharpness for races.

It’s apparent that racing calendars can become too packed even for international athletes.

I’ve noticed even runners at my running club race too frequently. I was surprised as a runner, and concerned as a coach, to find this to be so prevalent. I’m extremely doubtful that racing often, sometimes every week, is a beneficial strategy for long-term success. It simply requires so much mental and physical energy. That’s why I’ve never done it myself.

Listening to certain runners’ upcoming schedules has made me more stoic. I can’t rid myself of rational questions like “How can you get the most out of yourself if you don’t allow enough time to recover from peak performances?” and “Can running at a sub-optimal level for too many races ever truly satisfy an ambitious runner?”.

I remember reading that renowned professor Tim Noakes2 advises runners should limit their racing to a maximum of 100 miles per year. If runners exceed this, and in my opinion get close, there is a real risk that the enthusiasm for the sport will lead to either two outcomes. Injury or mental exhaustion. Most likely both.

It’s true that I’ve never been an incessant racer. The most races I’ve competed during a calendar year is five, back in 2016. Although it was a breakthrough year for my running I found that by the end I needed rest. I had only accumulated 70.5 racing miles. On reflection I feel I was fortunate that my performances reflected my high ambitions at the time, and that I suffered no notable injuries.

But don’t mistake my focusing on only a few races per year as a sign of weakness or lack of love for the sport. As a competitor I can relate to many of the runners in my club. I would love to race more if I knew it could help my running. On a purely emotional level, I would certainly try. But a subconscious fear of over-racing has always been a factor in my choices as to when to give my best efforts.

Spending more time experimenting in training and pursuing two or three important race goals during the year has been a far more effective method for my improvement in the sport, both mentally and physically.

As a coach I know that sustainable, incremental progress best avoids long-term lay-offs, which should be the overriding aim of all runners. It’s this knowledge that prevents me from joining other highly motivated runners on the start line most weekends.


 

Published on 26th April 2018.
2 Lore of Running (2003, 4th ed.) published by Human Kinetics.

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.