Week 45: Bitter-Sweet

Saturday 5th November

Week 45 will go down as one of the most beautiful 1/2 marathons of this year around a img_5837course that I’ve done 5 times already on this challenge. What followed later that day was sadly a stark reminder as to why I am putting myself through this challenge. The contrast of the two experiences book-ended my day.

Today I had Tom Drowley for company. I’ve known Tom for years from my Loughborough days and then later as a colleague and close friend at Bath. Not much of a runner, this was going to double Tom’s lifetime longest run and the tension was building all week. When the morning arrived it was clear blue sunshine, a perfect Autumnal day. I’m not sure we actually stopped talking for img_5839the next 1hr46mins that it took to complete 21.1km. I mean Tom can talk with the best of them and he didn’t disappoint for company. Topics covered included life design, sprint kinematics, ego, ambition… the list of dreamer-bullshit goes on and on! I absolutely loved it and the whole thing flew by.

img_5845We spent the rest of the day unwashed, watching rugby, eating and drinking and even enjoyed a firework display out the back courtesy of next door’s family reunion. It was all going so well.

Autumn had been suspiciously cuddly with me all day and had been off her food ever since her vaccinations on Thursday. When she’s drowsy like this we check her heart with a stethoscope just to make sure it is under control. This time though, it sounded pretty quick. Katie and I passed it back and forth listening intently through her raspy cough. Our guide is that if it’s too quick to count, it’s going crazy! When she’s in SVT it beats like a hummingbird’s wings. We dropped everything (including Tom) and headed to A&E. We got seen straight away and the nurses hooked Autumn up to a heart rate machine. Sure enough her heart was going double what it should be: 260 beats per minute.  Our hearts sunk. We were taken into the room next-door where she’d been seen back in November and it all came flooding back. At nearly a year on she was much stronger than before and while concerned, the situation was not life threatening this time. The doctors tried to avoid using adenosine this time and instead opted for conservative treatments. Unfortunately this involved holding Autumn’s head in ice cold water to evoke a vagal response, that feeling you get when you jump in ice cold water and your breath is dragged from your throat. She immediately responded and her img_5849heart rate fell back to 130bpm before shooting back up again a few minutes later. The staff tried again and successfully repeated the procedure. I couldn’t watch. Our little girl must have though she was going to be drowned. She was terrified and there’s nothing we could do to explain to her what was going on. The doctors delivered adenosine just once through a canular in her hand. Again it worked but he heart just rebounded back up to 260bpm. We were admitted upstairs for the night. Eventually the doctors decided to just leave her to calm down, fall asleep and monitor her. At 2am she corrected her heart rate herself and did not return to SVT. Katie stayed with her overnight and on Sunday afternoon we were discharged.

Once again I cannot thank the staff enough for their kindness and generosity with Autumn, Katie and I that night. Their expertise was once again so impressive to me and I’d like to thank everyone so much for all they did. Unfortunately nights at the hospital don’t come cheap so I’m hereby adding another £1000 to my £8000 total to cover the cost of Autumn’s care once again. It’s worth acknowledging the repercussions of such an evening to appreciate what parents in Children’s Hospitals have to endure. Katie and I took the Monday off work together and returned to work on Tuesday. You feel fit enough to work but you’re not all there. We both got sick that week and limped through to Friday. Life goes back to normal but your just exhausted. My mood was so low. I was irritable and frustrated. I had to remind myself that it’s to be expected and it’ll pass. And it does, but it takes longer than you think.

Each time we just catch a brief glimpse of what life is like in Children’s Hospital and we’re so lucky to take our little girl home safe and sound. I just can’t imagine what it would be like otherwise. My heart goes out to everyone there and the staff that do such an amazing job every single day and night.

Thank you Tom for coming running with me, it was immensely enjoyable. We’ll have to try the burger night again some time!

Week 43: Stealthy Appearance at The Marlow 1/2 Marathon

Sunday 22nd October

I can put hand on heart and say that I could not have run this any faster. It was literally 95 minutes of hanging right on the threshold of what I was capable of. But what I learned today was that your head is capable of confining you of your absolute best. I’m convinced that if I had have been striving for this same time on my own it just would not have been possible for me.  It’s not that I can’t work hard for that long, I’ve done it in the past on my own. It’s that there is a gap between what I believe is possible and what is actually physiologically possible. The head drives the legs. Ralphie was like a shadow cast in front of me hovering a few paces ahead always nudging the pace. The first 500m was virtually a sprint to get into the narrow pathway along the Thames river. Not my usual way of starting these runs.

“What’s your tactics today?” he asked me.

“Follow your pace, be brave and see what happens…” was my speculative response!

And that was it, something that whirred around in my head the whole way around. There’s going to be a point at which I either run out of mental energy to hold myself at boiling point or fatigue creeps up too high for me to sustain this pace. At that point I decided that today I’d just keep leaning into the bubbling boiling point of threshold running and just see what happens. The thing is that slowing down is completely understandable, acceptable and even noble in the pursuit of a new PB. If I boiled over at 10km to crawl to the finish line I reckon I could even believe my own bullshit. Today I’m really proud to say that when the time came I was brave enough to keep exploring what was possible for me when every piece of me just wanted to pull back!

We ran the fastest 10km I’d ever run at 44mins30secs. I was pretty sure that at some point fatigue would kick in and my pace would drop. Either my legs would go or my head would reach it’s suffer-limit and pull me back…but it didn’t. I knew that tiny voice in my head would try and convince me to back off and slow down and this is when I felt I needed to be brave and hover in that red zone. The critical point for my race tactic was at 16km. Ralphie overtook 2 runners and I slowly caught up to them. If I was on my own my goal would simply be to stay with these guys. Not because it was comfortable to do so but that this was genuinely a strong pace for me. This was the moment…. be brave and see what happens.... and I did. I overtook the pair and held that pace for the next 2km leaving them behind. I had found a new level that before that moment I wouldn’t have thought I was capable of. With 2km to go Ralphie surged again and I just couldn’t hold him. Run ragged I was just desperate to get to the end. Navigating back into the Bisham Abbey I did my best to accelerate again, easy to do when your at the finish. As I turned the corner Ralphie was stood behind the finish, urging me over the line with 1hr34mins40secs on the clock. I was ecstatic. Another 3mins off my previous best from The Bristol Half and 5 minutes under the 100minute threshold that just a few weeks back I was struggling to break.

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It takes a huge amount of focus and effort for me to sustain running on the redline for that long but today was yet another realisation as to what I am capable of and what needs to be in place for me to achieve it. Food for thought for the future!

 

Week 42: A Half Before 8am

Thursday 20th October

Left bedraggled after The Friday Night Grind this week was about bringing the joy back to the challenge. Early mornings are better than late nights for me and when you invite Renee McGregor and her dog Bailey along there’s not much choice anyway! My first coaching session of the day today was 8.30am. img_5756Starting a run before 6am is certainly a first for me this year but I would definitely do it again. I’d planned to meet Renee at 6.20am on the other side of town so my aim was to have covered 5km before I met her just to break things up a bit, another tactic for avoiding The Grind again. I headed out on a tourist route around Bath taking in the Abbey at Pulteney Bridge, beautifully under-lit in the dark. It was cold, dark and dreary this morning but if you just look up the architecture is stunning and is enough to  keep me occupied. As planned, I met Renee at a not-so-scenic Tesco Express and we immediately climbed towards Victoria Park and straight up the backside of Lansdown Hill. Super-steep in places, Renee’s gentle camber just speeds up and away she goes. This is the third 1/2 marathon that Renee has done with me this year. Week 3 we did The Hilly Heights of Bath and Week 14 we did The City Paradise Surprise in Bristol. This time I felt like I had a lot more in reserve (should hope so considering I’ve done 30 of them since we last ran!) and for the last 5km she squeezed the pace heading back towards Weston. Back at Tescos we partedimg_5757 company, just pausing for a photo and a hug and away I went to cover the last 1.5km back to the car… I turned to run and SNAP… my right knee gave way… cramping calves or hamstrings… or both! Either way my knee wasn’t lifting at all. To the commuters on their way to work at 7.30 I must have looked like a complete idiot out for a run on a Thursday morning, training through injury. I cracked 21.1km just as I reached my car. I jumped in and up the hill to get to work. I joined the commute up to The Sports Training Village, cleaned myself up and got on with the day… just don’t ask me to move any faster than walking pace and I’ll be fine!

 

Week 41: Friday Night Grind

Friday 14th October

After 12 hours at work after a rough week there is absolutely no way I would have gone out tonight if I had any other option, but I didn’t! I would have jumped in my car, crawled my way back to Bristol in nose-to-tail traffic and collapsed on the sofa followed for an early night. I was going to run to work Tuesday but woke up feeling so rough I called in sick for work. We celebrated Autumn’s first birthday on Wednesday night followed by a mini party on Thursday night. And with that Friday was upon me. No excuses and no other options, if img_5724I conceded then the whole challenge would be tainted. I can be really flakey in other areas of my life, disorganised to the point where I don’t commit to anything more than a few days in advance. I decided on this challenge because it counteracted a lot of these tendencies. It’s difficulty is in the consistency and regularity of the runs. The rules are simple and clear and there’s little wiggle room. From this structure I’ve delivered on a promise which has been by far the most significant personal achievement of my year, maybe my life. It makes me think that I should set up all of my goals like this: commit to something with regularity at the heart of it. Publicise it to create accountability. The problem with these types of goals is that they are scary to commit to. For the majority of runs this year I’ve been pretty unenthusiastic about heading out. I guess that’s why most of the time we img_5731don’t create accountability in our goals, because it makes us uncomfortable and put us in a position where we might just have to do something that we don’t want to do. Tonight was just one of countless occasions when my self discipline would have failed me. I set out tonight with Craig Proctor who I managed to pressgang img_5726into 10km with me. We set out at
at dusk, up to Bathampton, back through Bath City Centre via the canal. Before long, Craig was done and we said farewell. Darkness
took over and I looked to repeat our 10km loop alone. The pace dropped severely and I conceded a positive mindset to the grind. Run ’til it’s done. Just to cap it off the struggle, I finished the last 1.5km up Widcombe Hill, a viscous ascent back up to the University. By 8pm work had cleared out. No fanfare, no drama. I just picked up my bag and walked back out the door. Another one done. Never in doubt.

Week 40: Marathon401

Wednesday 5th October

I believe physical exertion is all about perspective. Anything can be hard but as soon as you experience something bigger you mind shifts to a new level of what is difficult. Today I img_5617met an incredible person who has achieved something so hard that I’m not sure it can be overshadowed. In the last 401 days Ben Smith has experienced 401 marathons. Hours of running and physical exertion, pain, injury, boredom, exhaustion and overwhelm at the prospect all wrapped up into a 4 hour window per day… every…single…day…. and day after day without rest. Utterly relentless. Last week this man came into my consciousness on the BBC News and today I met an incredible human being. He’s created a cult following, inspired by his ambition and bravery to sacrifice himself for something so big that for the vast majority of us, we cannot dream it up, let alone commit to doing it. Today was Ben’s last marathon of his 401 day challenge. I headed to Millennium Square in Bristol to show my support for him and his cause and be a part of something special. I didn’t expect to come away with something so much more.

Anticipating a small group of runners ready to head out I was surprised to find over 400 people from all over the UK and beyond geared up on a beautiful Wednesday morning.

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Chris & Faye, chief whips for The Ben Effect- thank you both!

With just my phone and a bank card, I was prepared for a half marathon but at the 6.5mile turnaround I experienced what is known within this cult as The Ben Effect. Reportedly The Ben Effect has caused countless runners to ring in sick for work and renegade on their commitments to run further than they’ve ever run before. And so I did. Buoyed on by a friendly atmosphere I chatted to runners of all ages, experiences, abilities and backgrounds. We stretched out along the southern bank of the Avon, under Clifton Bridge, through the fields and villages towards Portishead. At my intended turnaround point a few img_5622volunteer stewards muttered under their breath that this was the half marathon turnaround point and a unanimous decision was assumed for me by my group of newly found running buddies around me that I was going to run a marathon with them that day. And with that my perspective shifted, 13.1 miles was now just the half way point, the goal was now 26.2 miles today. My furthest run to date was 15 miles in Normandy back in August and that was an accident: The Ben Effect.

I chatted all the way to Portishead with people who had come to show their appreciation to Ben from all over the country. Most had run with him before over the last 14 months. All knew the journey he had been on and took pleasure in telling me his story. Ben’s target was to raise £250,000 for Kidscape and Stonewall, 2 anti-bullying charities close to his heart. So the myth goes that at one point he suffered with agonising back pains, was forced to take 10 days out of running and then catch up the mileage with ultra-marathons in the weeks and months following. Now… If you’re the guy doing the most extreme thing that you know, then what you do is tough. It’s reinforced to you by the people around you and your friends on social media. For me, a 2 hour gruelling exertion of 13.1miles each week and the consistency to do that over and over again is a mountain in my mind. But within an hour of running and understanding what this man has done my mind shifted, my perspective extended. My expectations changed and I could understand a different level of what it is to ‘show-up’ and commit yourself to something so big and so brave that you inspire thousands of people to get up and follow you. I met others who’d taken on gargantuan  challenges of their own, inspired by Ben. Equally as mind-boggling in their difficulty. I understand how it happens. What was previously impossible now becomes possible. The level above, which you never even knew existed, is now visible. It’s the same as the 4 minute mile or a summit of Everest. Previously unfathomable, now achievable.

But to be the guy who dreams something so big that it hasn’t beenimg_5621 done before. To not only dream that it can be done but to sacrifice so much to see if that’s the case. Today I very briefly encountered a man with parallel ambition to Roger Bannister and Edmund Hillary and it was a privilege to support his cause and experience at the moment when a dream is realised. I came away from the finish line with a glimpse of how men like Ben think and with a fresh extension of my own perspective into what was previously impossible. On top of this I met some incredible people doing amazing things with their lives. These are gifts from Ben that he has unknowingly given to so many people and was worth the entry donation a thousand times over.

justgiving.com/bobsm100      www.kidscape.org.uk      www.stonewall.org.uk

Week 39: A Family Affair at The Bristol Half Marathon

Sunday 25th September

I believe Bristol Half marathon will go down as THE highlight of 52 Half Marathons in 2016. The reason is not the scenery or the course, or the fact it’s a home half marathon but the generosity and determination of my family and friends who came along to take part. Tonight I’m humbled, grateful and full of love for my running partners, many of whom overcame their fears and went to their very limits to make it around the course. Katie is one of 5 sisters and long ago, back in the spring, they somehow managed to bully each other into signing up for the Bristol Half Marathon to run for The Grand Appeal. Laura also managed to rope in her boyfriend Faizal as well- a man of notable military pedigree who fullsizerender-2surely still possessed that grit!? The weekend crept up on everyone so quickly and on Saturday night The Family descended upon our tiny house for an education in carbohydrate loading like they’d never seen before. 2 flavours of risotto, garlic bread, fizzy drinks followed by apple pie and custard. It turns out force feeding girls is not as easy as you’d expect! Ironically husbands who weren’t running didn’t seem to be so resistant.

img_5499Personally, I’ve been aiming to take on a PB at this race for some time and today I had the pleasure of a team of friends alongside me all capable of dragging me under 1hr40mins. Matt has run marathons, ultras and 3 day events. Luke, an active member of the UK Run Chat scene and a sub 1hr25min half marathoner-not too shabby. And Mike’s been cycling up mountains all summer, his second half marathon with me this year.

And so we were ready. We caught the bus down to the harbourside and the girls were obviously nervous. But with great fear comes great fundraising. After The Warm Up on Monday night The Grand Appeal total was £5135. Pre-race we hovered at £5731 and the money just kept on coming.

img_5482Flat course, big crowd and pacemakers galore-The 100mins barrier had to fall today. Today we set out fast. What I learned from The Treadmill is that when you feel good go quick to buy yourself time for the inevitable drop. That’s what I tried to do from the start. Thankfully the boys had absolutely no problem responding to my sporadic pace changes! I went in bare, no food or GPS- just a heart rate monitor with no time on it to make sure I was working hard enough. I know I can sustain roughly 180 bpm when I’m on the edge. At 5 img_5484and 10km Matty just gave me the nod to say we were making good time. 10km we hit a new PB for me at 45mins30secs. At 16km a gentle stitch appeared which then grew over the last 5km. There’s something about 5km to go that invites another push on if you can and I tried. Weaving in and out of the rabbit warren of a course we approached Queen’s Square and I asked the boys to lift it again with 2km to go. That confidence was short lived as the stitch grew up into my ribcage and strangled my heavy breathing. Then Matty started lying to me…

“Come on mate we’ve got to lift it again”

“Come on mate, last km needs to be 4:30…. last 800m in 2mins….you’ve gotta lift it… ”

I couldn’t lift my legs let alone lift the pace and I hung on to the boys for dear life. If this wasn’t sub-100mins I don’t know when or where I could do it.

“…last 400 in 60 seconds” but I just couldn’t accelerate. I knew I couldn’t do that and my hear sank. Coming around the corner to the last 200m I just kept going as fast as I could. As the finish line came into sight, there it was: 1hr37mins… finally…I’ve hit an outdoor PB of under 100mins and by some margin! Dragged in by 3 great runners like a lame Mark Cavendish delivered to the line by his lead out team… only I was less than elegant and finished in 735th place- no podium or sprinters jersey on this occasion.

The great news is that everyone got around in one piece. Relief! It’s been an incredible weekend and I’m so grateful to everyone who took part, made the long journey to support to run with me. Thanks to the masses of people that donated their hard earned cash in week 38. At the end of Sunday we smashed through our target of £6000 and as I write this the donations are still coming in. As it stands the pot sits at £6188, a whopping £1053 from this week along.

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justgiving.com/bobsm100

Week 38: The Warm Up Run

Monday 19th September

img_5444The goal of tonight was to just get the job done to give me as much time as possible to have a good go at a PB at The Bristol Half. I’m not sure my bum touched a seat all day at work until I got in the car to pick up Autumn. Next stop Whitehall to meet Katie and from there I ran. Tonight I just set my GPS going, turned down the sound and ran. As dusk came over the city the rain started to pour. After the last few  weeks in the heat it made for a refreshing change. I ventured to the other side of the Avon, under Clifton Bridge and up through Leigh Woods. Absolutely stunning route. With a cloud of rain the forest was eeimg_5446rie, quiet and stunning.

Compared to last week and despite a long day on my feet I felt good. No fluid or gels required. I just focussed on the hundred yards in front of me trotting along with no need to check the distance until many miles in. I prefer running with quiet. No music, times checks or noise as a distraction. This was an enjoyable run, new scenery and another one under my belt. I landed home just after 8pm, dinner on the table and a glass of wine alongside. Now to get ready for the Bristol Half.

Week 37: The Psychology of a Slow 1/2 Marathon

Wednesday 14th September

img_5238Middle of September… surely this weather is going to cool down!? After the ordeal of Week 37’s Treadmill, the goal of this week was to get back on the road and stride out another. Last week left my legs absolutely dead, not painful- just empty! I’ve made this mistake before where you head out for a cruisey 21km. Pick a familiar and enjoyable route, avoid too many hills and just wait for the miles to pass by. The problem is there’s 13 odd miles to let “pass by” and these runs are never easy, however relaxed you take them. It’s odd but atleast if you’re striving for a best time then you’re expecting to suffer. It hurts but you’re being aggressive pushing all the time. Take 10% off that speed like I did tonight and you expect it to be easier. But your head tricks you img_5463as for me it’s still a tough thing to do. My passive mindset just isn’t prepared for the fight. This afternoon it was hot with the September sunshine baking down on me. I’ve had a lot worse this year but difficult all the same. My latest running meditation is on the img_5243wonderment of what my body is doing as I run and what it’s capable of. I can lose myself for 30mins on this storyline. The positive feelings of gratitude, luck and wonderment can stave off any indulgment of negativity
when you consider how insignificant my suffering is in the history of suffering. It’s just not that comfortable running for 100+mins. There’s a tranquility in discomfort if you can find it.

 

Week 36: Treadmill

Wednesday 7th September

This is a half marathon that I’ve been dreading since we conceived the idea a few months img_5109ago. The attempt was to coincide with the official opening of the new Team Bath Gym by Olympic gold medalist Colin Jackson. In the weeks before I had some equally stupid souls suggest that they would join alongside me for a half marathon but one-by-one they fell quietly away. I can understand why, the morning of this one made me nervous. I’ve never enjoyed treadmills. The incessant grind of the belt under your feet and the endless amount of data detailing your demise. I think it was also a mixture of zero excuses (i.e., no hills or gates to slow me down) and peer pressure that the target had to be going faster than I’d gone img_5105before which was obviously going to be painful…

… And so it was. The Team Bath MCTA tennis academy filled the treadmills next to me img_5108
taking it in turns from start to finish. James Mitchell, one of our injured players even came in especially to walk the whole lot alongside me. Megan Fletcher (judo) and Molly MacKenzie (modern pentathlon) also coming along for the ride and did some great fundraising as well. I watched every metre and every second ticking by in front of me and skipped up and down in pace pushing 1.5km intervals with 500m at a lower pace and then back up again for the next one. From 11km-21km the machine left me with no doubt that 12km/hr (5minute km’s) were required to beat the 100minutes. 13km then 12.5km then 12km… And repeat for the next 30minutes.

1hr38mins16secs is the new record for me. Massive relief to have got this one done. Next goal is to repeat that on the road. Thanks to everyone who contributed to the day and put some money in the bucket as well. Over £105 collected for the day.

Week 35: God’s Country

For in six days the The Lord made the heavens and the earth, the sea, and all that is in them but on the seventh day… He built Yorkshire!

Exodus 20:11

The Yorkshire Dales has to be one of my most favourite places on the planet. You can never appreciate how many shades of green are possible until you see a picturesque Dales landscape on a sunny day. The turbulence of the weather makes it all the more wild and remote.

Today my destination was Buckden- a tiny village on the cusp of the hills that the Tour de France graced 2 years ago. Katie, Autumn and I drove up from Bristol for a wedding weekend out in the sticks and the girls dumped me out of the car in Cracoe. The first 5km were very forgettable running on a busy A-road, hopping up and down the verge as lorries from the local mine stormed past me. Crossing East over the river into Grassington and then back north I skipped through a farmer’s field on the Wharfdale Way. A stunning path that skirts the River Wharf upstream towards the source. In 10km of running I saw more wild horses than I did people. Seeing convoys of cars on the opposite side of the road it felt like I’d found a secret road all to myself. Having done 2 carb loading days (fed to run on Wednesday but didn’t) this week I had no shortage of energy passing through Kettlewell into the last 6km- the only thing slowing me down was a farmers gate every 100m or so- not conducive to a fast finish! I’ve walked this stretch of the Dales many times and it was an absolute pleasure to finish up and take a lonesome short stroll and finish in Buckden just in time for the Cragg’s wedding pre-wedding reception.