When everything goes according to plan

After the debacle of the St Valentine 30K, the 2017 edition of the Silverstone half-marathon was an important event for my running in general and as a milestone towards the London2Brigthon. Last year’s edition was great, with a fantastic atmosphere, nice weather, and personal best for my daughter and I. One does not change a winning formula and this year’s edition was was not very different,  with a similar course, similar village, similar aid stations etc.


The first difference was the weather. While Saturday was quite nice, we traveled to the site under heavy rain. It progressively abated, but the last hour, waiting for the start was still quite chilly and wet. We started to wonder if coming back to run 21K on a circuit devoid of protections against elements was a good idea (after all, one reason why Silverstone is a great F1 circuit is that one can see almost the entire track from several of the grand-stands, which in turn means no obstacle against wind). We therefore decided to put on several layers of clothing.




The rain stopped just at the start of the race, and it felt a bit warm initially. However, we appreciated the protection towards the end, when soaked in sweat we had to face a few gusts of wind.

When it came to running, I had a plan. My average pace at the 2016 Great Eastern Run, my previous PB, was 5:27 per km. My daughter’s PB was about 3 min off, and I decided to trick her into a new one. I therefore proposed to run between 5:25 and 5:30 until 13-14K and then see how we would feel. The plan was accepted and we followed it. We tried to be strict about it, catching up after the slowing down at the aid stations. As you can see on the trace below, we succeeded perfectly. I think this was the most consistent race I ran so far. Until 7-8K, we were both fine, then my daughter started to suffer a bit because of lack of training. But age prevailed and she soldiered on. The running crowd was quite large, about 6700 runners. As a result, we had to overtake often, which was tiring. As with cars, in order to overtake without problem, one needs to accelerate above our normal pace, to slow down afterward, while watching around to avoid collision.

My turn to struggle arrived at km 15. However, the atmosphere in Silverstone is great, with motivational music on different points of the course, and a fantastic crowd of supporters. If anything, it was hard not to get carried away by their enthusiasm and run too fast.


One good aspect of the race, which turned to be a problem, is the hydration. Aid stations are frequent, and alternatively offer small bottles of water or large bottles of Lucozade. We initially took only one bottle at each aid station, to share until the next one. However, the water bottles were too small, and the Lucozade too sweet, which made me very thirsty. At the end, we decided to only take water, and to take one bottle each.

At 18K, we knew we would get a good time, probably a PB. We were tired but nowhere close to bonking. And we started to accelerate. This is when we overtook huge swats of runners, who were where I was in previous half-marathons, suffering from tiredness and pain, after a race sub-optimally managed. The last km, we gave everything, and I am very happy to see that we were actually able to increase our pace significantly. We still had juice in the tank and this is encouraging for the forthcoming marathons and ultras.

This was a great event, with a nice medal, and a nice goodie bag, including a comfy t-shirt, various drinks and food, plus products such as antiperspirant, suncream, cream to help with muscle soreness etc. and a great atmosphere. Even the sun came out at the end. We will be back!


Sometimes it hurts more

Usually, I enjoy running and I try to post reasonably cheerful blog entries. The main reason is simple: running makes me happy. Even when things do not go as planned, such as my timed-out experience at the Beaumes-de-Venise trail, I enjoy the run (sometimes retrospectively 😉 )  Not this time …

I finished the year 2016 on a high. October and November saw personal best on 10 km, 10 miles and half-marathon. Therefore, optimistically, for the first half of 2017 I built a program of increasingly long races, 30K in February and half-marathon in March, Marathon in April, and 100K in May. However, I struggled to run long distances in training. I clocked 167 km in January, my second heaviest month ever. However, this was due to 24 runs, the longest being only 18k. Then disaster struck. 10 days before the St Valentine 30K, I was floored by a diverticulitis.  I spent two days at the hospital. I was sent back home 1 week before the race, with antibiotics, and still some abdominal pain.

I decided to run nevertheless. It was one of the coldest week-end of this winter. Just a couple of degrees above 0 when I arrived in Stamford. The organisation of the event was very good. We benefited from an entire sport centre, with a large gymnasium for pack collection, advertisement booths, display of the maps etc., toilets, changing rooms (with showers), and a cafe serving food and drinks. 15 min before the start, we moved towards the starting line and warmed up. It was snowing! Because of that, I put multiple layers of clothing: an inner bamboo long sleeves shirt, a looser long sleeves shirt, and a windbreaker. Plus a scarf, a hat, and two pairs of gloves. You think it was too much to run? You are right.


I was very warm when we started. While trying to remove one pair of gloves I lost one of my running gloves, and thus was stuck with my big snow gloves. To be honest, I appreciated my clothing later in the race, when I slowed down and the wind picked up a bit. The start was OK and during 5 miles I felt good. Then I started to think about the next water stops, and this was not a good sign so early in the race. I expected a flat course since we were in north Cambridgeshire. Wrong. It was going up and down continuously.



So, I was OK but it was not my most enjoyable race, as my face tells around km 10 (I am not sure I wanted to kill the photograph then, but he probably thought so).

Many runners had water bladders and that surprised me a bit since it was a road race (we always see a few, but this is a small minority). I understood quickly … The water stations, every 5K,  offered cups of water containing roughly 100 to 150 ml. This was at best 1/3 of what I needed.

The punishment came after km 15. I started to cramp. Both calves. It was initially intermittent, and I could shake it off by slowing down a bit. After km 20-22, the frequency of cramping increased. I was not the only one. A few runners had to stop.

valentine30k2017By km 25 I was forced to walk a significant amount of time. I was cold, in pain, and miserable. Look at this picture, taken after the water station of km 20 I think. To be compared with the image taken at km 84 during the London 2 Cambridge 2016 (the one with my daughter).

To add insult to injury, the race finished by a lap on a field. So while my Hoka One One were perfectly suited for the first 29 km on road, I finished sliding and mudding myself. And you thought there was only one insult? Nope. It was also one of those races without finisher medals (a nice t-shirt thought). And to top everything, runners arriving as a couple got a box of Maltesers (it was the St Valentine race …) while old farts running on their own just got the regular goodie bag with a banana and cereal bar.

My aim was 3 hours and 7 minutes. I finished in 3 hours, 15 minutes and 49 seconds. I was 529 of 589 finishers.  But where it hurts was that I finished 55 of 57 runners in my gender/age class  … I cheer myself up thinking that I was 55 of 57 males my age who actually ran a 30K instead of drinking beer at the pub watching darts (Did you think I was about to say football? We are in the UK).

The winner was Aaron Scott in 1 h 39 min and 56 sec (he also won the 2016 edition). The first veteran over 45 arrived in 1 hour 53 min and 13 sec.

Exploring the world with running shoes … or not so much

I record all my runs on a website called fetcheveryone . One of the features offered by the site is a map of everywhere you ran. The world is divided in hexagons (I do not how many). I so far explored 8528 hexagons.

Here are maps at different scales representing what I ran. I will hopefully repost them every year to see the progression (if the site survives that is. This is not a website created by a trademark of running gears, but something developed by one developer, who used to be paid by a company but now will mostly be supported by voluntary donations).
Around the place I live, I explored a lot of the available hexagons. I covered almost 100% of my village. It should not be difficult to fill 7 of the remaining ones. 3 of them will probably stay out of reach since they represent the ground around the privately-owned Sawston Hall

The local map shows that on Sundays I am mostly limited by the distance I can run from home and back. And I also tend to run on the same courses. (I have 4, 8, 10, 14, 22K courses).


The regional level shows the races I traveled to on the day (plus a big piece of London2Cambridge of course).region

The national map shows everywhere I recorded a run in the UK. And it is pretty much


limited to south-east, London and East Anglia. I really need to go see places. I am amazed how clear are the details of the two marathons of Stratford Upon Avon and Eastbourne, as well as the Roman-Road/Fleam dyke run. That shows past 30K, we are really covering ground.



The European map shows that I ran only in the UK and a bit in metropolitan France (in 8 locations. Strasbourg, Paris and Velles are barely visible).






Finally the World map adds Guadeloupe (so 9 locations in France in fact) and the US.

So … resolution for 2017, fill more hexagons! Run in more diverse places.

Recap on 2016, looking forwards to 2017

A year of running

2016 was an important year for my running, probably the most important there was and there will be. Among other, there were my first marathon, first trail, first ultra, and first marshalling! I also improved a few personal bests. All that was supported by an increase of mileage. A last run on December 31 brought me just over 1500 km. I ran at least 100 km every single month of the year. This is a good progression over 2015.


Running more developed my stamina and improved my pace over long distances.


Over 10K, I gained around ~5 min in 2016, after gaining ~10 min in 2015 (my best being the Abington 10K in October). An important  difference is the use of negative splits: I run the first 5 km slower than the second one. I also do not stop for drinks anymore. The thing is that my frontier between short and long runs is now 11/12 km (which corresponds to 1 h of running). As a consequence, I now frequently run 10 km at the gym on the treadmill during the week. I will not pretend it is always easy, but when I encounter problems, they are not related to stamina (but rather injuries, legs tired from other runs, stomach issues etc.)

On longer distances, I also improved by around 5 min the 10 miles (Bass Belle 10 miler in November) and the half-marathon (Great eastern run in October). The main progress here is that I no longer reach a wall around 15K, which caused my pace to collapse. I still feel tiredness and loss of morale around 18K, but I learned to run through it.

Of course, 2016 was the year when I went over the half-marathon distance in a race. I ran the Shakespeare marathon in April. I finished in 4h46, which was within my aim (less than 5h), but I was disappointed for not pushing myself enough at the end (proof being my PB on 8K two days afterwards!). At least it removed the fear of long distances. 42K is nothing to be afraid of, neither is 100K, and of course that was the goal of this race (not to see Prince Charles and Dame Judy Dench, although that was an appreciated add-on): to prepare myself for the main event of the year.

Then came my first ultra-marathon with the London2Cambridge challenge. This was a proper adventure, with highs and lows, pain and recovery, 16 h on paths and trails across the British countryside. It was painful, no doubt, and it took me more than a month to recover. But it also confirmed that this was the kind of running I preferred, out there, discovering landscape, far from tarmac and crowds.

The last piece of the puzzle was to run in hills, because the most beautiful ultra-trails are hilly, often in mountains. The Trail des Beaumes de Venise in September was another adventure. I liked most of it, but I discovered that climbing hard was not easy for me. I am not built for it, and am far too overweight. As a result, I was timed-out and did not run the full 30K (NB: due to the harsh conditions and the low number of finishers, the race has been canceled in 2017). But I am not going to give up on that, and to make sure I could finish a long race in hills, I ran the Beachy Head Marathon in October. Let’s be clear, I am not comparing the two events. The positive climb of the BHM is half the one of TBV, spread over 1.5 the distance. No comparisons (there are no cliff to climb with ropes!!!).

Beside the races, I followed a regular training program in the gym, that permitted to increase my speed and build my resistance to slopes.

In addition to the running, I started to Marshal at the Wimpole Estate Parkrun. This help me discover another aspect of running races, where our aim is to encourage and support everyone rather than trying to compete with others.

What is coming up in 2017?

Hopefully, 2017 will be full of interesting races, following beautiful courses ran in bright sunshine, in witch I will score PB after PB … However, this will only become true if I improve a few things along the way.

I already registered for a few races:

  • February: St Valentine 30K in Stamford. Goal is 3 h (6 min per km, which is 30 sec slower than my current half-marathon pace)
  • March: Adidas Silverstone half-marathon. Goal is to maintain a sub 1 h 55. Nothing more. That would still be 6 min better than last year on this course.
  • April: ASICS Greater Manchester Marathon. Goal is to reach 4:15 (6:05 per km). This is pretty ambitious. But anything lower than 4:30 and I will be happy.
  • May: London2Brighton challenge. Goal is to finish, if possible in less than 15 h. This is a tall order, since the course is way more hilly than the London2Cambridge. But I will hopefully make less mistakes this years.
  • Finally I preregistered to one of the UTMB races, the OCC. It is an heavily oversubscribed race, and the current prediction is a 2/5 chance to get lucky in the draw.

Depending on the result of the OCC draw I may register for another ultra in the summer. I did not register for anything after the summer. I toy with the idea of running the Beachy Head Marathon again. Depending on my state, I will focus on small races or try to do longer less popular races.  I will also run small local races such as villages fun and run, but they will be part of my training.

To support this program I will have to improve my training. First of all, I need to increase my mileage. Something along the lines of 40K per week would be good. This will require me to run when I do not feel like to. I will have to introduce variety in my runs. At the moment, I mostly do two runs a week in the gym and a long one at the week-end (when I do not have a race). In the gym, I either run to progressively improve my speed at all distances (I have a formula and tables, perhaps a future blog post), or slow runs with varying slopes (between 1 and 4%). I need to do more Tempo runs (3K at 8K pace, 1K at easy pace, repeat) and interval (1K at 5K pace, 3K at easy pace, repeat). I like repeats runs too (400m at 1K pace, 200m at easy pace, repeat 3 times, longer rest, repeat the lot), although they are more meant to build to short distance running. I also need to do more hill training, with steeper slopes on the treadmill and use stairs.

I also need to improve my life style. My weight has plateaued for more than a year. I need to ditch around 5 Kg before the L2B. To do that, I need to eat less and drink far less alcohol. A side effect will be a better sleep, also crucial for running. Ahhh new year resolutions …

Happy 2017 everyone!

Bass Belle 10 miler 2016. Elation and depression

Last race of 2016! Hoorah! Or not? To be honest I find myself a little depressed at the idea of almost 3 months without a race until the Valentine 30K. I looked hard, but there is nothing local around new year. A few 10K here and there, but I decided not to travel for those anymore. The Folksworth 15 miles, on Jan 22nd, is full. I considered to run the “trail de la Galinette” because it is close to my in-laws, but the price in money and energy to go there was just too high. So February 12th it will be.

Meanwhile, I ran my best 10 miles ever. The weather was much better than last year. There were more runners too. That was another run with my Hooka One One Clifton, and as usual they did not let me down (but see below). The run was eventless. As shown below, I kept a very steady pace. The first dip at 5K corresponds to the first water station, where we had plastic cups. The second, bigger, dip at 12K corresponds to the steepest climb of the course. Last year was hellish, with lots of wind. This year, I braced myself. I did not stop at the water station located about 1 km before. Since it provided bottles, I kept mine until the climb, since I knew I would have to walk.


I started to walk when the slope became more than 2-3% and ate a gel, before drinking water. A few runners overtook me, and then I was all alone. This is when I realised there was a qualitative difference between two groups of runners. There is a first group made up of people running the whole race, at a steady pace. They can be very fast, or quite slow like myself. And there is a second group, made up of people crashing, walking etc. I think I now promoted to the first group :-).

A photographer was present on the course and took a few pictures of me. I am both happy and worried about them. The left one below was taken at km 6, while the one on the right was taken at km 11.



They are remarkably similar. The positive side is that I am still smiling after 11K. The worrying sight is the position of my heel. At 10 miles pace, I am definitively hitting the ground heel first. Many people have pined that running stride on over-cushioning. And clearly the Hooka One One are super-cushioned. I have to watch that if I do not want to end up lying down with broken knees.

Final time was 1 hour 25 minutes and 53 seconds. That is almost 6 minutes better than last year. And I am definitively now in the division of runners, as confirmed by discussions in the changing rooms afterwards (too much details!). However, being in the group of serious runners does not mean I am fast. I discovered that one of my former colleagues, Nick Goldman, also ran the race. He finished 3rd of the over 50 with a tear-bringing time of 1 h 07 min. So … a bit of progress ahead … (Nick is also pretty famous as a scientist. See him talking at the world economic forum in Davor about storing information on DNA).


October “raceathon” 4) – Beachy Head Eastbourne marathon

I was left a bit frustrated by my first Marathon, the Shakespeare Marathon in April 2016. I plan to improve my time a lot at the Manchester Marathon next April. Meanwhile, I wanted to run the distance again. But Fall and Winter are pretty poor in Marathons around here. A marked exception is the Beachy Head Marathon held on the south coast of Sussex in the beautiful South Downs National park. So I entered the event, despite having already decided to run the Peterborough half, because I wanted to improve my time on a flat race, and the Abington 10K, because it is near my home and famous for its Personal Best opportunities. The Cambridge Town and Gown came later, just because “why not?”

We took the opportunity of the race to have a nice trip to Eastbourne, visiting the house of Rudyard Kipling on the way. Because the race is off-season, I was able to get a good deal on a room at the very impressive Grand Hotel.


As usual the evening before the race, we had dinner in an Italian Restaurant (because of carb-loading!) I strongly recommend the Pomodoro E Mozzarella. Great food, super service (super fast too).

We were able to get our race pack the day before the race, so I was not in a great hurry on the morning. But I always like to arrive 1 h before the start. That was a good idea. The organisation of the race was mostly OK, but the various important stations (registrations, bag drop, changing rooms, toilets, refreshments etc. ) were spread over a park and different buildings of the adjacent school. This required a bit of exploration. When I got out of the bag drop, long queues had formed everywhere, and less than 30 min before the start people where still just arriving! Not surprisingly, the start was delayed so that everyone could join. I saw two YouTubers I follow. Stephen Cousins from the channel Film My Run and John Pennifold from johnjrp01. I hope they will post videos of the race.

Update: You can now find a video from John. I don’t think Stephens posts any so far.

I was not aiming to record a competitive time in Eastbourne. This is a trail event, sometimes called the hardest Marathon in England (many more difficult trail events are not classified as Marathon, even if lasting 42K). The organisers in fact warned that we should expect to add “30 to 40 min” to our time. This is of course a bit silly. If the winner adds 30 min, the back of the pack needs to add several hours. In fact, last year’s winner time was 3 h 08 min, which is more like 1 hour more, or 50%. So scaling that based on my Shakespeare marathon, I should expect 7 h. However, since I improved my running a lot since then, I targeted 6 h. Ever since the London 2 Cambridge, I have been very sensitive to the hydration issue, and the Beaumes de Venise trail taught me that hills mean you need more water. So I decided to run with my Salomon S-Lab backpack. That was a good decision. I was able to bring gels and cereal bars, my phone, ibuprofen, and wet wipes.

beachy-head-marathon-startThe start of the Beachy Head Marathon is something. We all align at the end of the seafront road, and in front of us, is basically a cliff.  The steepest part does not last long, but if you run it, you’re dead. So most of us walked the start, at least during the first half K.

Hills are what characterise the Beach Head Marathon, as can be seen on the profile below. Very long slopes during the first half of the race, and the terrible seven sisters in the second half. The total ascent was 1126 m, which mean a slope close to 5% on average (you climb half the distance and go down half the distance).


The first half of the course was inland, alternating between open paths, for instance along Golf courses, and forest trails. I really liked this part. My legs were still fresh, so while only power-hiking when climbing rather than running, I was doing a good time. And I was having great fun racing the downhill parts. Although as forecast it did not rain and there was no wind, the fog was pretty thick. This meant we were wet. I ran the first half-marathon in 2 h 28, each km under 9 min except the first one, and km 17. The reason for the latter was that my calves started to cramp. It was only temporary, and after walking a bit I was fine (I was a bit anxious to find myself alone at that point since this fog was so thick I could only see a couple of runners ahead of me).


All was fine until km 26. There was a very nice checkpoint, with hot drinks and … sausage rolls! I had one, with a white coffee and a piece of banana. Just after the checkpoint was a steep hill, and I knew immediately I was in trouble. Both my calves cramped, and my stomach started to complain. And then came the punishment: two long series of steps. This was murder. It took me 14 min to make km 27 (arguably a bit of that was taken by the stop at the checkpoint). The steps were even more keenly felt by the dogs accompanying some runners.


The pain was rewarded by amazing scenery since the fog finally vanished. The picture of the white horse below was not taken by me, but it could have.


The last part of the race was along the seven sisters, a series of chalk cliffs. Although not very high, the climbs and downhill were very steep. Calves and quads suffered a lot. By then I was cramping almost continuously. And there was no salty snacks at the check-points, only Mars bars. The exception was the latest checkpoint, but by then it was too late. I think it still helped me for the very last stretch, and I finished at a 6 min 30 per km pace.

Since we are talking about check-points, I was dismayed by the behaviour of runners regarding littering. This is where it became clear it was a “marathon”, and not a trail. People basically dropped cups and gel packs whenever they were done with them, without the slightest consideration for the environment. Even people with running vests did not bother to put them in a pocket until the next stop. At some point the runner in front of me lost a gel. I warned him and he replied “oh, that’s all right, I have plenty of them”. That’s not the point you twat!


Final result 5 h 38 min 40 sec. 1011 for 1711 runners, 715 for 1024 males. The course record was broken by Sam Humphrey in in 2 h 50 min (by a big margin I believe). The last participant arrived in 9 h 20 min. I cannot imagine what it was like for them. Such a strong mental needed to keep going.

October “raceathon” – 3) Cambridge Town and Gown 10K

Third race of the “bad-planning-athon”. The Town and Gown races are 10K races run in Cambridge, Leicester and Oxford, in support of Muscular Dystrophy UK. The idea is to run in Orange. I almost did not because I do not own an orange raincoat …


Here are the weather observations for Cambridge this morning. I arrived on site at 9:00. The start of the race was 10:00 …

I changed clothes twice. Once by putting on the running raincoat, and then, considering the temperature and the thinning rain, back in my running shirt again. At the end, the shirt was a really good decision. The rain stopped a few minutes after the start, and the pace was so high that I heated up quickly.

The course was very scenic, with a trip at the back of the colleges (1.5 to 2.5), in front of the colleges (3 to 4) and along the river cam (5.5 to the end).


I did not feel so good at the start. I ate far too much the previous day (first cabbage from the allotment, that deserved a nice gammon joint). I also stubbed my big toe, which I think caused a tiny fracture. And it was raining. So when I started at a pace of 5 min per K, I was convinced it was too fast and that I would crash latter in the race. In fact, I pretty much ran the same race as in Abington, with a fairly steady race until half-way, and negative splits afterwards.


One of the problems of the course were the numerous turns, sometimes quite sharp. One can see them easily on the pace curve above (all the dips basically). Also, from km 6 to 7, we run together with people on km 9 to 10. The first time I was overtaken by an elite runner, I thought it a bit depressing. I was struggling to keep the pace at the time, and this did not help. However, the real problem was when I was myself in my last split and rejoined slower runners. It was not easy to keep up a higher pace and avoid slowing down in sync with the surrounding crowd. I understand the rational for a compact race (less roads closes), but not ideal. I got a stitch in the last K, and was convinced to have slowed down dramatically. I was apparently wrong according to my GPS watch!


I finished the race in 50:32, which is my second best time, and considering the situation, probably worth a PB. I was 450 over 1320 runners, but most importantly 317 over 672 males, 83 over 170 aged 40-49. In the first half, which is good enough for me.