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Thursday, 22 December 2016

Euro16 - A dream come true

It started in Bordeaux

Sitting in the Stade de France, at the Euro16 final between France (the obvious hosts) and 'plucky' Portugal, I was feeling slightly....odd.

Having booked my ticket to the final way before the tournament started (via my job as a customer of Continental Tyres), I never once thought that Wales would be in with a shout of appearing in this very final. I still can't quite believe that i just typed the previous sentence to be honest.

Along with a fair few over-confident Germans, I saw a resilient Portugal, conquerors of Cymru in the semis, overcome the favourites France. This saved me what would have been a very long commute back into central Paris after the game amongst throngs of jubilant, intoxicated locals. As it was, the atmosphere was still great, but sensibly great.

The French were in good song. I dressed appropriately..
There were almost no Welsh fans in the stadium, contrasting to the Germans, our fellow losing semi finalists, who's fans being so used to perennial last four appearances, had pretentiously booked ahead meaning throngs of white shirts outside the stadium before the game. How we'd have loved to have been watching Wales v Germany. 

Final Match - Stade de France - Wales were there!

Winding back a month to June 10th, and Wales were about to start their first major tournament finals since 1958. 1958 to Wales is like England's 1966. Not in terms of success, but as a significant landmark, harked on about by every journalist, commentator, spectator and pub football expert since, er 1966 probably. This 'Wales have yet to qualify for a major football finals since 1958' line was made all the more worse, as i grew up seeing Scotland, Northern Ireland, England and the Republic of Ireland all have their time in the limelight at various finals during the 1980's & 90's. I kind of blame Gerry Armstrong for my love affair with the Welsh national team, as seeing his strike against Spain in the 1982 World Cup finals to put Northern Ireland through to the last 16 really got my imagination going as to what could be achieved by a nation like Wales (I was 8 at the time). 

England's path since '66 has been a frustrating one for their fans but the date is looked upon fondly for obvious reasons, only becoming a burden to some including David Baddiel & Frank Skinner since around 1996. Compare this to Wales, and we became frustrated many moons ago. One, because we didn't win the 1958 World Cup like England had in '66, and two, because unlike them we'd suffered 38 years of monumental (virtual mathematical impossibilities in some cases) qualification failures, usually between 8-12 years apart. 

Reading Phil Steads 'Chasing the Dragon' only goes to twist the knife, as he reminds us of the not so well known Euro 80, World Cup 82 and Euro 84 catastrophes which then marry up to '78, '86 '94 & '04 to pretty much finish you off before you've read the final chapter. But that was before... read that book now, and Welsh fans can release a small chuckle, not break into a sweat of bitterness and regret, finish that final chapter, lay the book down, and sleep easy..

The tram ride to that first game..a memory that won't die.
Without wanting to go into the details of the qualifying campaign, suffice to say that despite the tournament opening its doors to 24 teams, up from 16, Wales would no doubt have qualified regardless, thanks to a strong qualification campaign that saw only one loss, a major victory over Belgium at home, a draw away, some handy wins over all the banana skins and uncharacteristic resilience against the whipping boys Andorra. Bosnia's late slumber out of hibernation was too late in the campaign to pose any real threat.

We'd made it, with Gareth Bale playing a big part in scoring 7 of the 11 qualification goals and turning out for every game. This 'leading from the front' attitude from Bale, a star of world football, at the top of his game was unprecedented for Wales. We're used to lethargic commitment from some previous star players, usually pressed by their clubs into feigning an injury in the days before an important international game. Others treated Wales trips like lads weekends, if you believe all the stories on Twitter! Let's be honest, we'll only ever have 6-8 players who regularly play at the top club level at any one point in time, and in the past, the 'virus' of half heartedness by the few has probably led to some of our near misses with qualification. 

The Mark Hughes era brought in a new found togetherness, Toshack had to take a step back before the country could go forward due to a generation of players coming to the end under Hughes. To be fair we can now look back and say he was right, and he took all the criticism on the chin. Brian Flynn beavered away with the under 21's and took them from World beaters for all the wrong reasons, to a formidable unit that now presents itself as the squad you see before you in Euro16, nurtured along the way and given the drive to succeed by the late Gary Speed and now Chris Coleman.

Onto the tournament. It was to be in France. How handy was that!? France in June, what's not to like? Once the draw was made, my mind was also made and the Slovakia game was for me, the plum tie as it was our first game and all that, and it was in a lovely city too and on a weekend to put the icing on the cake. The midweek England game didn't appeal and i didn't want to gamble on waiting until game three against Russia in case that would've been a graveyard tie with us already out of the tournament.

The atmosphere leading up to Slovakia was purely lovely. Every team was at square one, at the very start of the tournament, all points to play for with no added stress of 'needing' to win to stay in the competition. The Welsh were in town, they emptied bars dry, sang many songs, entertained the locals to the point where Bordeaux's head of tourism personally thanked them for their behaviour and attitude once they'd left, hotel and bar coffers no doubt better off to the hundreds of thousands of euros. 

The splendid stadium in Bordeaux, with a handy Novotel bar open to non-residents just around the corner. SShhhhhh!
I flew into La Rochelle after a personal internet mission to beat the excessive travel fees imposed by most airlines and travel companies to cash in on the Euros. It meant a 190km drive south, but with hire cars available at 56 euros for all three days, it made sense. One of my best mates from childhood (Jam) called up a few days prior asking about travel and so he also took advantage of the still available La Rochelle flight and we set out on three days of schoolboy humour fuelled by French beer and great football.
Sheffield's finest Welshmen before the Slovakia game
Obligatory non-football related tourist shot
As with all three games that I went to see, Bordeaux was a blur that seemed to both go by in a flash, and last for days, depending on the individual memory in question. Jam chose the new age way of booking accommodation, via AirB&B, something I'd not heard of until meeting him at Birmingham airport. He struck gold via a top floor (see pic above) prestine city centre apartment, above a Tapas bar (he's a quarter Spanish or something). I had to make do with an Ibis Budget, a few km's south of the city, where I'd meet the rest of the ex-Aber Wales away crew, and their extended Welsh supporting families later that night.

A night spent managing to order octopus by accident from the Tapas bar, followed by France v Romania in a bar, followed by free shots in an empty nightclub ensued, followed by a two hour wait/walk for a taxi back to the Ibis.. Bordeaux does not do taxi's very well.

Some failed attempts at chatting up middle aged cleaning ladies finishing their night shifts into giving me a lift back meant a long walk and eventual taxi. Ade Colley had made it back first to our room, which would have lost out to a Tenko solitary confinement cell in terms of spaciousness. Rich Olyott was last man back having won the who can drink the most competition for the evening. The Aber old boys had landed at 11pm and commuted in, yet still managed to out drink everyone else on the night. Their hangovers the next day proved it.

The next day would be match day. I was raring to go, and with the game at 6pm, we had all day to chill, eat, chat & drink. Unfortunately, procrastination and hangovers caught us out, along with some rotten luck with bus timetables and Uber (again, new to me until this trip). 

We struggled to get into town, after a mammoth hotel breakfast for me, and a MacDonalds coffee, water, Fanta and Heineken hit for the headache crew. In the end we took the bus and ended up sitting with some of the few Slovakians that we saw in the city, until we got to the stadium where they were fairly well represented. The other group that we saw were insistent on swapping headgear. Caught in a moment of madness, not quite on a Ron Davies scale, but nonetheless regrettable soon after, Rich swapped his sacred Spiritof58 bucket hat for a Slovakian baseball cap ,with some friendly Slovaks. I photographed the moment to ensure he sees this and doesn't make the same mistake again, that is unless he finds some similar bucket hatted away fans in the future..

Rich 'losing' his bucket hat. Don't do it Rich
Game 1 - Hitting town pre-game

We reached a great bar after trekking past what seemed like every other in the city centre, and settled in with a few beers, although we only had an hour or so before the trek to the stadium would begin. The sea of red was getting bigger, and after a quick lunch in which Phil Olyott took as an opportunity to become cultured, maybe even a little 'French, his espresso and red wine chaser did look a bit out of place amongst the surrounding pintage..

Phil '3 beverages' Olyott

First Saturday beers - relaxed

So onto the stadium. The tram journey was something to remember, with songs all the way, passing throngs of bars and Welsh fans walking to the stadium. The riverside bars seemed to be the main hive of activity for Welsh fans and it was hard to comprehend how many were in Bordeaux, with not a hint of trouble. Arriving a tad early by my own standards, we looked for an opportunity to get a couple more beers in rather than get into the stadium early. Radio Cymru were recommending showing up 3 hours prior to kick-off. Despite the obvious worries of security in these worrying political times, the actual process of accessing our seats was smooth and there was no actual need to be super early in the end.

In what was an industrial area around the stadium, there were no obvious bars, but we walked against the flow after spotting a lone Novotel, gated for residents only. A few nice words to the security guard and we were in. The bar was perfect, not too busy, comfy seats and the TV on, we had landed on our feet. Next up was the tear jerking moment of getting in, taking our seats behind the goal (I'd managed to get a ticket from esteemed Wales fan and roommate for the weekend, Ade).

After 58 years, Wales were in tournament mode - emotional

Excitement turned to emotion as the anthem was sung. Why? Not hard to explain, and something pretty personal to any long term sufferer (I mean Wales fan)... As previously mentioned, the years of failure are what made the tears arrive, coupled with one of the best anthems in the world, therefore it was a very proud moment that will be savoured for ever!

We were still at base 1, not a ball had been kicked and the anticipation was off the scale. Some pundits had previously stated that Wales could go all the way, but in reality, our run in to the finals was pretty lame. We had lost 3-0 to Sweden the previous week, and soundly beaten. We'd actually not won in four and there were some worries amongst supporters that our rich vein of form had come to an end. Slovakia on the other hand had just beaten Germany, and so I think my personal feelings on the day were that we were going to go down fighting on the pitch, and singing in the bars...

Fears were almost confirmed when the Slovaks pressed and a great bit of skill in the meant a last gasp Ben Davies lunge was all that stopped them getting an early lead. Yet we too looked good on the ball. At the time of writing, the memory is already fading, but we seemed pretty confident not forgetting that these players had a bucket load of caps, and most also had a bucket load of Premiership or at least Championship appearances. There was no flustered, scrambled play, it was smooth close passing and when we lost possession, we were good at pressing and regaining possession. Was this really Wales?

No need for me to commentate on the whole game, we know that Gareth Bale's first free kick of the tournament resulted in a goal which was celebrated wildly, and that the persistent Slovaks came back before one of the stars of our tournament, Hal Robson, Hal Robson-Kanu scuffed a stumbling Aaron Ramsey pass into the net to bag us three points. We were in dreamland. I hugged Ade, I looked behind at the red wall and spotted the Olyotts crying. They were proper 'Wales Away', two decades worth of it, if not more, even travelling to Qatar in (circa '99) for a meaningless summer friendly amongst a dozen other fans on the same charter as the squad.. or so the rumour goes.

And so the story went on from Bordeaux, already told by thousands of other Welsh fans.. We beat the Slovaks here, lost to England but bounced back and trounced Russia to win the group and carried on winning, past Northern Ireland and Belgium in what was a surreal night in Lille for everyone associated with the Welsh football team. 

Mr Ronaldo finally put an end to our French adventure in the semi finals, much to the disappointment of Welsh fans yet relief for their bank managers.. To think the Northern Irish were skint after the second round, many Welsh fans are probably still paying for the summer of 2016, but it was so worth it :-)

Me & Rich Olyott after the game

Thursday, 17 March 2016

2016 - Still going...

A new approach to training and racing was required towards the end of 2015 as injuries in the last few races really took their toll on an ageing carcass, and time restraints due to family commitments made it pretty easy to decide to bin the marathon in 2016, and focus on some shorter stuff.

I can only admire from a distance, the fantastic commitment of a bunch of club mates this Spring, who to a tee, have ran seven days a week, from as far back as December, of distances of approximately ten miles per day as they build for their Spring marathons.

Pausing for thought here, i wonder how the body could handle such a volume. They all seem to be handling it well, albeit running on severely heavy legs most of the time, but nevertheless, completing training goals and racing well. For me, I know I'd struggle with the volume, as I struggle anyway with my current 4-5 runs a week. I do get purple patches but also some dark times where the legs don't want to work, plus a new gammy knee that keeps me company most of the time.

Maybe that incomprehensible overload is the key? Couple that with a decent taper and bingo, the lads are already showing some fantastic new race PB's.

I've decided on a different approach, a bit like less is more or 'normally aspirated versus turbo'. I have to be clever. Enter Adam Bitchell, a current Commonwealth Games 10,000 metres representative for Wales who is local despite now being based in the US. His email at Christmas, advertising his new coaching company made me decide to take a punt. I've coached myself for years, or scrounged bits and bobs from clubmates and peers and generally found my way, in a haze of poor nutrition, too much beer and a 'raise the bar' attitude on race day to surpass form book expectations...

I told Adam to target half marathon distances instead of the full 26.2, and so my annual guilt trip of not doing enough training mileage was curtailed due to the new weekly schedule that was more in keeping with my current lifestyle. Out went the 20 mile Sunday runs. I can get a couple of hours at best, with a mad one year old in the house, combined with an even madder three year old and I'm happy to admit that its the sensible thing to do, rather than be away on a Sunday for 3-4 hours doing the longer stuff. My new long day is 13 miles, with Saturdays usually run free! Thanks Adam.

I've tried to follow the programme as best as possible, and apart from two dodgy illness and 6-Nations fuelled weeks in early Feb, I have done so. I've raced only once, well, make that three times if you include club TT's and Parkruns with a hangover in Dublin...

My race was the Tregaron Half, which I've done three times previous but not for 3 years due to a clash with the Anglesey Half which is a toughie. My best Tregaron was a 1.26 whereas Ynys Mon saw a 1.31 and a 1.27 the last two years, nowt to cheer about really based on what I should be running a half in. Consider i ran a 1.24 for the first half of Snowdonia Marathon last year!

So back to Tregaron with my new slimline training regime that was similar to what i was doing previously in terms of tempo and speed, but slightly more structured, and more track and somehow Adam manages to give me target splits that are spot on for my current fitness, both being just about achievable whilst leaving me fit enough to run the following day.

I raced Tregaron like I've never raced before. I actually 'raced', as in it was not an individual time trial like most races end up being. I had the power to start fast, making the front group and then settling into a small group of 7 before we hit the hills. Most had overtaken me at this point but rather than panic, I got stuck in and like a silent assassin, I picked them off one by one until only three were left. These guys were good, they were on form, so was I. They were just a tad too fast for me on the flat, but i went with it, not worrying about the latter stages for once. I was stronger on the hills, but we formed a kind of allegiance which worked really well.

We hit the 'bog' at 8 miles, a three mile straight liner that kills you mentally before the fatal physical blow is given at around mile 11. Not this time. My friends fell back at mile 9. I was in 7th place, up from 13th in mile 3 and forged a gap of around 200 metres. Just 2 1/2 miles to go and back onto the road. I faltered, I heard the screams behind. The effort was resonating with them too, and the screams and shouts were getting louder. 1 mile to go, i felt like collapsing in the hedge and letting them through, but at the same point, i also had the idea of sprinting for a mile. If i could run a sub 6 last mile, they would have to run a 5.45 to beat me. I'm convinced these kinds of thoughts only appear in seasoned runners heads at this point in a race, and so i grabbed the thought and put it into action.

There was actually 1.1 miles to go, as half marathons have a distance of 13.1 and that last .1 was done on fumes. I'd sprinted to a sub 6 but still had some distance to go. I was out of power, with that 'I've crossed the finish line' feeling, except that I hadn't.... I crawled in, holding off my pursuiters by a good 30 seconds and so the job was in hand as i threw up as I crossed the line. Why oh why do we put ourselves through such harm?

That was the first time an effort had made me throw up. Maybe it was coincidence, and I actually have a new stomach condition, wouldn't be the first time.. I had won the over 40's shield which was a very grand trophy which I am proud of. Second place went to the guy just behind me and so i was so glad that the manning up process had kicked in at 12 miles.

Onto recent training and all is going well. My time at Tregaron was 1.23 - a PB on that course of 3 minutes which i can't quite comprehend, We've all come on so much at Aber AC and so now Adam is pushing me to do 1.21 at my goal race, the Cardiff Half in 2 weeks time.

Stay tuned.

Friday, 30 October 2015

Snowdon Marathon - Run Walk Crawl

So many memories from what was my third successive stab at Marathon Eryri, one of the toughest road marathons in Europe.

Usually, to run a road marathon you make a start and plod along at as sensible a pace as possible, taking your brain out along the way for three flattish hours as the legs get heavy and the mind wanders, with nothing much to focus on apart from the competitors around you and the crowds to cheer you on.

The difference with Snowdon? For a start, it's hilly, very hilly. Then there's the scenery, absolutely stunning. Then there's the weather, usually raining, which brings out some more stunning autumn colours from the surrounding landscape. Then there's the surface, which goes from road to track, back to road and finishing with another track and a steep grassy descent towards the finish. You can break the Snowdon marathon down into so many sectors that the miles literally fly by, even when your own body is failing miserable, as mine did during this 2015 edition.

There are also the pockets of crowds at the few villages en-route, and the organisation, which is mainly made up of volunteers which makes for a real sense of community and camaraderie from when you first park up in Llanberis, to when you hobble back to your car many hours later.

For me, I set myself up by ordering a large americano in the cafe opposite race HQ and made my way to my club's resident table which they seem to acquire each year. I was late, and so had to down the double shot drink in time to make the club photo call. As a cappuccino connoisseur, the hit from the heavily caffeinated water based coffee made me feel a tad alert and ready for anything, or so I thought..

Behind Ken at around 6 miles in.

The day was a rainy one, the first rain for 6 weeks after a gloriously dry autumn, but hey ho, it was fairly warm and there was no wind.

I hadn't raced much in August or September, in fact, not at all and so with retrospective regret, i decide to run the Aberystwyth Twin Peaks hill race, just 6 days before Snowdon, to get the engine into gear. The race went well, as well as the notoriously hard Twin Peaks can go, and I came away with a PB. Unfortunately, in the days after the race, my aches and pains were far worse than usual, and I even had a touch of DOMS. The hamstrings were tight and so ice baths and a pro massage were the order of the day. Looking back, the aches stemmed from a triathlon in late September that i hammered myself on, especially the run course which involved two steep descents. I remember feeling great around this time, with some fast splits on training runs being achieved and thinking at the time that i wished the races were earlier.

Two days out from Snowdon, and the legs felt recovered and I felt good as I warmed up before the start. Always a bad sign..
I started near the front of the race, just because seeing a zillion runners ahead of me in a race is always disheartening. The first mile was a tad too fast and so I wound my neck in and tried to settle into a sensible pace but the legs were feeling good.

Mile two was still faster than scheduled. An old steady state pace strategy for me would be to stick at 6.50 minute miles (sub 3 pace on a flat marathon), but having done this race twice previously and having had three strong & fast 20 mile training runs in the lead up, I was up for experiment.

As the story goes, I ran Llanberis pass at what seemed like a normal pace. I had very little knowledge that i was in fact in 30th position out of 2000 odd runners going over the summit, . My club mate Kenny Caulkett came past at the top and informed me of our position. To be with him should have sounded alarm bells, especially when he also told me that eventual 7th place man Dylan Lewis was behind us. 
We chatted for a bit and tumbled down the descent. It was half way down that the first twang of hamstring pain made it's entrance, oddly on the left, my 'good' leg.
I ignored this and ploughed on, knocking out stupidly fast mile splits for me. I'd have said prior to the race that 6.40 would be the fastest pace that I was prepared to go, but as it turned out, there were some 6.11, 6.26's and even a 6.13 at half distance. Despite a toilet stop that Paula Radcliffe would have been proud of (just ask witness, Dyl Lewis), i hit half distance with a half marathon PB. My previous half marathon PB was not fantastic, but it was done at Cardiff, not having via Llanberis pass!
The road inclines once again in Beddgelert, and this part of the course usually catches people out. I'd conked out badly here in 2013 and not done much better in 2014, but today I breezed up the hill, keeping equal distance to Ken, Dyl and Gancho up ahead as we'd all gone through half way within a minute of each other.

It would've been nice to get back to sub 7's after halfway's climb, but as the graph below shows, pace remained ok up until mile 21. Mile 21! That's only 5 miles to go right? If the graph showed heart rate, i pretty much died at 23 miles, which was to be fair, one of the steepest road climbs of any marathon out there. 

My calf's and hamstrings were now unresponsive and i was overusing the glutes and quads, calling on any other muscles that could help. I pretty much walk/jogged/crawled the remaining three miles and the pacing target got hammered as I lost over 60 places to the finish in Llanberis.
My final time was 3.17, which ain't too shabby to be fair, but the target had been a sub 3.10 before my fast start demons got the better of me.  
The next day, i woke up with a bad ankle and pulled calf on the left side, direct results of whatever niggle was caught at the triathlon. Prognosis - it's a scratch wound. Onwards and upwards to the Aber 10k in December before a spring marathon to prepare for. Surely i won't start too fast again, will I? 

A grimace for the camera.
Walking the final descent

Saturday, 25 July 2015

The Ystwyth 10

8 year old club 10mile TT record falls 
I went along to help marshal the Ystwyth 10 mile TT recently on the Lovesgrove course which is currently the faster of our two 10 mile distances, based on the then club record time by a member – 21.23 by Dafydd Dylan. That night, the record fell to Gruff Lewis.
The achievement was not struck on me until the next day when I actually thought about how many riders had ridden that race over the years. A very rough calculation tells me that it's approximately 16 events per year, so to take it back to 1955, that's 960 events in total. For arguments sake we'll round this down to 900 to allow for cancellations for road works and weather. An average turnout, despite a late noughties peak of 40 riders per week, was usually more like 8-10, and so based on 10 rides per week as a conservative estimation, the Ystwyth 10 has been 'time-trialled' at least 9000 times in its 60 year history. 8999 of those rides were slower than Gruff Lewis' ride that evening, some of which were his own attempts since around 2011 when he began to attack the previous record of 21.23, set by Dafydd Dylan, a school friend of Gruff's and also a former semi-pro who set that record in 2007.
The history of the record itself is sketchy before 1987, ironically the year that tri-bars first started to make their way into the sport, via triathlon. It was student Rick Morris, a popular and successful triathlete who broke the record with 22.53. How do I know? I spent three seasons with that time sellotaped to my stem, with splits for various locations on the course to  hit, to try and beat Ricks time. I can remember most of them : Lovesgrove junction (now a roundabout) - 3.55, or anything sub 4 minutes, Capel Bangor village sign (6.55), 5 mile turn (11.30), Capel Bangor sign on return (16.00 ), Lovesgrove roundabout (18.50), Finish (21.53).
The fatal error in my split calculations was that I only planned to match the course record, and so that is exactly what I did, twice, before finally breaking it with 22.46 in 1996. Gruff probably had a similar idea of splits and of course, expected power output these days, in his pursuit of Dafydd.
So Rick's time stood for 9 years, Dafydd's for 8 and mine, well only for one year, as another student, Arwel Davies came along in 1997 and rode what can only be described as 'the perfect 10' one summers night that year. The local scene was strong in 1997. Arwel was a fine tester and road man and still races to this day. Another two students, road racer Simon Owens, a Welsh International at the time, and Daniel Roberts who was possibly the most talented cyclist I had witnessed up to that point were also on the local scene at the time.
These three, coupled with locals like Alastair Rhodes, an international standard duathlete, Meirion Davies and myself, both second cat roadmen at the time meant that chaingangs were tough and thus the time trials became faster. That said, my record wasn't threatened until that night. A calm, non-existent wind, plenty of traffic, a hot but not too hot night and Arwel with his Jeff Bruce TT machine and Spinergy wheels had a flyer to record 21.57. He's knocked me out of the water and then some. He's even broken 22 minutes, something that only four riders have managed in history!
Poor Daniel Roberts. He rode to 22.01 on the same night, albeit after Arwel and so never actually held the record.
A 22 minute time has become a regular occurrence in recent times, none more so than Danny Thorogood, a regular at the time trials since the early 2000's and in a second coming after some rides at the distance during his student days in the 1980's. Both he and Paul Robinson of Felifach ruled the roost during the 2000's until the 'Penweddig' youngsters Dylan, Lewis and Williams came along with their regular forays into the sub 22's.
How long will the new record last? How long will the courses last, with all the new regulations regarding no dead turns and no right hand turns in any new time trial course, it seems Llety's days are numbered, although somehow, it seems to soldier on!

Wednesday, 25 March 2015

Ynys Mon Hanner / Anglesey Half Marathon

The first race of 2015 and the first since the birth of yet another daughter. I say yet another, it's only two in total with the new arrival meaning, inevitably that since 29th December, running has taken a major back seat.

I entered this race as its on the outlaws doorstep. I say entered but I actually forgot. Maybe we think about races so much that we assume we've entered them and then after this self assurance, we spend the next few weeks training in the belief that we are about to pin a number on.

After 'booking' the weekend and driving the family north, I luckily decided to log on to the race website and for some reason, checked the 'am i in' page, mainly to see if any other Aber AC runners were coming. To my horror, my name didn't appear under C for Blimey Charley...

Panic set in but I calmed enough to send an email, leave an answer message to which none were replied to on the eve of the race. There was absolutely no entry on the day permitted and so I had to make a decision. Did I admit the error to the family or plod on and see if I could wing an entry. I decided on the latter and parked up in a grassy layby near the HQ and pleaded ignorance that I had definately entered online and couldn't understand why i wasn't showing on the entry list. This was all played out just 40 minutes before start time.

To be fair, the staff were great, and I was convinced that I'd spent a lazy Sunday morning entering on my phone a few weeks prior. They soon sorted me a number, T-Shirt and numerous freebies and I was on the way to the start line on Menai Bridge.

With a poor number of miles in the legs, i decided to go for a 6.30 pacing which would give a 1.26 time. Having done the race in 2014, i now respected it as a hilly, windy half marathon rather than one that a PB could be achieved on. I was just happy to be there.

The start was very picturesque, going over the famous bridge and onto the island of Anglesey on an out and back course along the Menai straights from Menai Bridge to Beaumaris and back.

Having done the race and crashing/burning in 2014, i now knew the hills and windy sections that would knock the stuffing out of all but the toughest of runners. I spotted Lauren on the start line and after her narrow victory over me at the Aber 10k, i wandered if revenge could be gained today?

The gun sounded and a mass of runners headed off on the largely downhill first mile. A zillion runners seemed to be ahead of me but i was running to pace and so didn't worry too much about this. As mile two and three came along, i felt a bit rough due to that lack of a run in the three days leading up to the race. At one point, I felt that it wasn't my day and decided to look for a place to stop, such was the lactic acid build up in the legs...!

As the course flattened out at around 5 miles, my legs came to and I was still hitting target pace and feeling better, decided to plow on.

Miles 6-9 were my best of the race. Despite the hills in these miles, and the turn into a block headwind, I'd passed numerous runners and was catching a group of Eryri Harriers, running a negative split. Maybe Lauren was in among them?

Unfortunately my lack of miles meant that by mile 10, i slowed a tad as we hit the climb out of Beaumaris. I didn't crack, but i was no longer gaining on group Eryri and footsteps behind were becoming louder.

The last three miles were tough but I knew that i was on a good time and at the line I scraped in under 1.27 (despite what the clock says in the picture!), for an improvement of over three minutes on 2014.

Happy with that, i chatted to Lauren at the finish to find that she had 1.23'd to which she wasn't very happy with!

I was very happy that despite a slow start to the year, I'd still improved and it gave some hope for the rest of the year.

I now await the clocks to change so that late evening runs do not seem so depressing!

Monday, 10 November 2014

Marathon Eryri 2014

Second attempt, after testing the water last year. This is how it went :

Mile 1 : Almost decapitated by the mile marker. Three of us were running side by side when a gust of wind dislodged the plastic marker and it proceeded blow across the road and swipe us, narrowly flying overhead. I thought 'is this a sign of things to come', excuse the pun..

Miles 2-3 : Headed towards Pen y Pass.

Miles 4-5 : Looked up at a peleton of good runners up ahead, including our own Dave Powell. I had lost touch but was keeping it sensible & felt pretty good.

Miles 6-7 : The descent. Andrew Poole stole a technique from Dyl Lewis which I then stole from him. Head forward, long strides and away you go. It worked and Dave's zoomed back into view, albeit still up the road.

Miles 8-12 : Preparing to start the assault. The long gradual descent in Beddgelert is where you settle in to a pace and hope you still feel good. I did, but though I was probably going slower than last year, holding back a tad.

Halfway at Beddgelert

Half Way : 1 hour 29, same as last year. Hit the hill out of Beddgelert and my group all left me on the climb. Thanks guys....

Miles 14-16 : Feeling fresh, too fresh. Almost started racing an old boy who past me. Luckily I didn't as I started feeling the heavy legs just a mile or so later!

Miles 17-18 : Passing people, people passing me, hard to work out the state of play! Caught a glimpse of 1st lady up ahead, it's as close as I got!

Miles 19-22 : Slower miles than last year, where I got caught up in the ladies battle. Kept a bit in the tank for the climb this time.

Miles 23-24 : The climb, oh and what a climb. Aim of the summer training had been to work on hills so I could run up this pig. It worked as I settled on a steady trot. Got passed by second lady like I was standing still. Passed a few walkers myself. Cramped at top of climb, but breathing was leisurely compared to last year.

Miles 25-26 : Took me 10 mins to do a mile downhill last year. Ran down this time but was passed by 6, taking me out of the top 60. Far too steep for the likes of me!

Mile 26.1 : Llanberis High St, good legs and a calculated effort resulting in a PB by 10 mins for 3.13!

Great event which will have to remain in the diary year on year me thinks!

Scarily close splits!!

Monday, 20 October 2014

Twin Peaks 2014

After a fairly long childcare-led sabbatical from racing, I finally got a chance to don the blue vest at the local 'Aberystwyth Twin Peaks' race, a tough mixed terrain Welsh classic.

The event had been organised by my running mate Ian Evans, his first stab at race organising and despite being nervous beforehand, he put on a great show, one of the best Twin Peaks yet, ably assisted by freak mid-summer like conditions in early October. The local surge in people taking up running also showed, with lots of new faces meaning a record entry for the race and in addition, all the family and friends that come with them, to create a great atmosphere on the promenade.

Race start
My previous outings in 2014 had been the Teifi 10, Island Race (HM), Tregaron Duathlon & Castles Relay (12m), all in the first half of the year, but the trusty Parkrun and a good summer of training meant that fitness was good and it would just be a case of finding out whether the form was there on the day.

It was also my first year since 2010 without a Spring marathon. Whether this was a good thing or not remained to be seen.

A reccy was carried out the previous week with first timer, nephew Llyr. I'd worked out some mile splits which always sets my mind at rest (to know the course like the back of my hand). One less thing to worry about on the day.

Looking back through some previous Twin Peaks races via my Garmin data (I love this kind of retrospective analysis), I realised that my hill work had been ok in the past but my downhill and maybe even the pace on the flats needed some work.

This meant the plan was to start at full gas for once, minus maybe a couple of percent, and slacken off on 'Dogshit alley' in readiness for the first slog of the day, Pendinas Hill.

My plan kind of worked. I wanted a fast first mile but it seemed that the quality field all had fresh legs on the day and we set off at a seemingly brisk but sensible pace, only for the mile one split to read 5.39, way faster than even my 5km pace. This felt very comfortable at the time and so I decide to go for it and try & stay at the back of the lead group.

Mile 2, which ended just at the foot of Pendinas was another cracker at 6 minutes, and I'd even lost a couple of places which didn't alarm me too much. I was almost one minute up on my schedule after two miles, something had to give.....

Pendinas starts steep, levels out and then kicks again towards the summit. The first kick saw me hold back and run with my group, which by this point had thinned out, with the leaders making their way ahead of us. I began to overtake runners on the less steep middle section and was running 9th as we headed for the top.

The last kick was a brute and the guy in front started to walk. Psychologically, this wasn't good for me. I was in pain and saw this as a great chance to copy him, and to try and stop the burn. I did, and never really recovered.

I'd gone over the red line, and plummeting down the descent, I was out of control, lucky not to turn an ankle or slip on my back as I just didn't have the core strength to keep myself stable. Not to worry, I just thought of how fast Richard Anthony would be snowballing down behind me, and managed to keep a good pace going through the off-camber footpath whilst being chased by a couple of runners I'd past on the ascent.

Back onto the road for mile four and the legs had gone into lactic shock and I felt like I was operating at 50% power, probably due to the fast start! We've all been there and it's a test of will to convince your body to snap out of it and get going again. I thought of the old 3 min max. sprint tests on the bike that the University lab carried out a few years back. This showed that even after a maximal sprint effort where you die by minute two, you actually start producing more power again in minute three, despite the sensation of doom that you're going at snails pace...

I looked up and saw that the guys in front were in the same boat, we were all running in slow motion compared to the outward prom leg, it was just a case of hanging on. The 3 min theory did work in my opinion, and I felt a bit stronger as we headed to climb two. My Garmin had lost GPS at mile three frustratingly and so I can't analyse the negative split in great detail much to my annoyance.

'Consti' is another tough climb, albeit shorter than Pendinas, and years of efforts up there taught me in my hour of need, not to look up, focus on the three twisty corners at the bottom before crossing the two bridges and then the final slog through the rocky section to the summit. It was 'orrible. I walked, I looked up to see others walking, I looked down to see that I had ample gap to the guys & girls behind me but I still wanted to keel over. I asked a marshal where the collapse mattress was.. If you're cooked, no hill training in the world can help you speed up. I trotted and eventually forced myself to run again, cheered on by the crowd at the top, and plodded up to the access road at the very top and managed to catch up with one other runner to start the descent.
 My timer was still working and so I knew how long we had to descend back to the prom in order to try and dip below the magical 50 minute mark for a PB and it was going to be close, probably too close. I bombed down, again in a Richard Anthony esque' style, almost falling into the sea at the bottom of the ramp, with my knees and shins still reminding me of this almost a week and a half later. I didn't hit the prom with enough time to spare to run to the finish in the time required,and was duly re-caught by my companion in the yellow shirt that I'd left on the descent.

The legs had gone but I managed a glimmer of a sprint to come home with a PB by 17 seconds, at 50.22 for 12th place on the day. I reckon a sub 50 is possible next year, just hold off a tad in that first mile!