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 jont). 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.

October “raceathon” – 2) Great Eastern run

The Perkins Great Eastern Run in Peterborough is an important race for me. It was my first half-marathon in October 2015, and the first race I ran strategically, pacing myself, hydrating correctly etc.

The weather forecast was typically British, meaning quite uncertain. Predictions of intermittent sunshine but no rain, with progressive improvement along the day. I left Sawston in bright sunshine. As I closed to Peterborough, the roads were soaked, and I was relieved that the worst had past. However, nature kept us worried until the last minute. 1 hour before the race dark clouds accumulated. And just as I got ready to leave my bag, we were treated with a quite heavy shower. I came prepared, with a light running raincoat. After 10 min of indecision, as the rain thinned out, I decided to remove it and take a gamble. It turned out to be the right decision. As we were entering the starting pens, the sun came back, and the entire race was dry and bright.

I arrived long in advance – around 90 min – and did something quite reckless: I bought a cappuccino. That meant coffee, which is diuretic (it makes you pee), and cream, which could turn my stomach. My worries were unfounded. However, after a while, it made me thirsty and I let all my water in my bag. I really appreciated the first drink station!

My expectations for this race were not very high, since I had not rest properly or trained specifically for a half. Nevertheless since I did 2:03 the previous year, I decided to enter the 2h pen instead of the 2h10 one. The consequence was that I missed most of the people running in disguise. For instance Darth Vader started way behind. I still overtook a Ninja turtle around km 6. Spiderman arrived in an impressive 1h37. True superpowers.

The race was extremely successful this year, with more than 4000 runners finishing. That meant it took me 5 min to reach the start line after the gun. The course was more or less same as last year. That mean a flat course (75 m ascent) with >97% on road.



Straight from the beginning, I decided to opt for a very opportunistic technique I tested the week before during the Abington 10K: the tow. I basically look around me for a runner or group of runners who seem to pace themselves well, at the rhythm I planned. And I lock myself onto this “engine”. The initial plan was to run the whole course between 5:30 and 5:40 min per km. However, I found myself naturally running 10 sec faster. That worried me a bit. Remembering my consistent bonking at 3/4 of the previous 3 half-marathons I ran, I did not want to burn out. But I felt this pace natural and easy. Plus, I already went through the same thing one week before (planning a pace between 5:10 and 5:20 at the Abington 10K  and ending up on a 5:00 pace). So I took the second gamble of the day and kept this slightly faster rhythm.

There were 4 drink stations, the first one at 5K. Water was distributed in large bottles (around 500 ml). Most people drank a sip and threw the bottle. I find this huge waste and polution more and more unsettling. During this race almost 15000 plastic bottles were thrown away. It is true that bottles are way better for hydration than cups (and cups used in races are often in plastic too). As usual, I kept the bottle with me, and drank it all progressively over the next 5K. I did not take any at the 10K drink station. The part before the 15K station was hard, with a long stretch facing the sun, followed by a steady climb, gentle but long. I was quite tired arriving close to the dreaded bonking point. Fortunately there was the third drink station coming. I took a bottle and decided to walk a few dozens meters after that while drinking. Hence the small dip in my pace profile.

The last 2K were quite hard. I was very tired, albeit without any particular pain. But more than the physic, the mental was playing tricks. By then, I knew it would be a personal best. I could slow down to almost fast walking pace and still make it in a sub-two hour. I am more proud of those 2k than the entire race. Because I did not slow down. Each time I felt myself slipping, I aimed ahead, found someone to overtake and sped up to do so. When I arrived, I saw the clock and realised there was still plenty of time to reach it before the 2h mark. Therefore, unusually, I did not sprint. I still had two races to go in October, there was no point to get hurt. Plus, I just past the medical crew attending a runner lying on the ground. It tuned out he just died of heart attack.

My final time was 1 h 54 min and 27 sec. A 9 min improvement on last year time and 6 min on my previous personal best at Silverstone. 48% of the runners finished in front of me. However, this is because I finished in front of 81% of the women runners. 59% of men runners were ahead, including 61% of the 40-49 men. Still work to do!


October “raceathon” – 1) Abington 10K

As a hobby, endurance running presents a few problems. First it takes time. I run a minimum of 4 h a week, often much more. When the running takes place during races, the problem is compounded by the time needed to get to the race and to wait for the start. The second problem is that it is addictive. This addiction takes place at numerous levels: Perhaps in the brain, although the evidence of actual addiction is debatable; definitively in the body. It feels good to be tired, and the positive effects on heart, breath, weight loss etc. are quickly felt, causing a reinforcement. Then there is the social aspect. While smoking, drinking and having unbridled sex is frown upon in western society, doing sport is largely well considered, even if this sport is done in excess. A consequence of all that is an easy “binge racing” and compulsive registering to races without taking anything else into account. This led to my current October “raceathon”.

Last year, I ran my first half-marathon in Peterborough, the great Eastern run. The course is pretty flat, and the atmosphere is great (I tend to like races with lots of runners). So I decided to run it this year again, to evaluate my progress in one year. I also wanted to run a marathon as soon as possible, to go back to great distances. This led to registering to the Eastbourne Marathon (which is also a trail marathon, a good training for next year’s endeavours). Then, there was the Cambridge Town and Gown, that I missed last year. I never ran in Cambridge, and fancied a race there. After all, it is only a few miles from home, and a fantastic scenery. Finally, just near home is the Abington 10K, famous for being a flat course able to deliver personal best. I registered to all of them… As a result, I end up with four races in a month, a sort of “raceathon”! This is a bit too much, for me, and for the family. This disrupt my life, their life, and I do not think it is good for my training. Anyway …

First one was the Abington 10K. I decided that I would not prepare the 10K any more. They would just be Sunday long runs like any others. As a result, the Abington 10K was included in my preparation for the great eastern run, without any specific training for fast short races. It might have turn for the best actually since I did not do intense workouts the weeks before. A few days before the race, I received a pair of new shoes, the Hoka One One Clifton 3. I had wanted to try Hoka One One for a while. The first reason is that my knees hurt and super cushioned shoes are supposed to help. The second reason is that Sage Canaday, an endurance runner who inspired me over the last few years, run with them (he is sponsored by the company though). I had the occasion to try them on after the Hyde Park 10K, and quite liked the feeling.  I did a test at the gym. Although they felt a bit weird, I beat my 11K PB on the treadmill, so decided to run the race with them.

The morning preparation was rushed. I cycled  to the race (it was only about 5K from home). Once there I realise I forgot my bodyglide, so no lube to protect nipples and thighs. I did not bring any fruit with me. I did not have ibuprofen either. It was really like an improvised Sunday run.

The start took place in the scientific campus of Granta Park. 433 runners finished the race, which makes for a significant crowd, but not a huge race. It is now a famous race and for next year, the organisers envision to open up registrations up to 750. The course is basically a large loop around the campus and the village of Abington. It is mostly flat with gentle undulations.


I started with a plan to run between 5:10 and 5:20 per km (part of a large plan including my next 16K at 5:20 to 5:30 per km and my next half at 5:30 to 5:40 per km). I worked quite well, as you can see from the profile below. Until 4K, my speed is remarkably steady.


Then I felt really good. And I started to have small races in the race with runners aroung me, trying to keep up with that old dude who tried to overtake me, following that fit young woman etc. And my pace progressively increased. I went below my 5K pace, which was fine since I had less than 5K to go. What was happening is that I unintentionally used a negative split strategy. And it worked very well. I did not stop at the first drink station, but slowed down to a walk at the second drink station (see the dip at 6.5 on the diagram above).  That turned to be perhaps a mistake. Indeed I finished in 50:07. Yep, I missed the 50 min mark by 7 seconds. Well, it is still a massive PB, more than a min and a half better than in August, and 14 min better than my first 10K 16 months ago. I think I should be able to break this barrier with the next 6 months or so. Although I have no 10K race planned …

The overall winner was Rebecca Moore in 34:51. Very impressive.



Beaumes-de-Venise trail run

This race was the race of firsts.

  • This was the first time I entered a mountain trail (One of the runners argued that it was not strictly speaking a mountain trail but a hill trail. This reminded me of the movie with Hugh Grant, The Englishman Who Went Up a Hill But Came Down a Mountain).
  •  This was the first time I travelled to a race on my own. Generally I run with Marie or we use the race as an excuse to organise a family mini-break.
  • This was the first time I failed to finish a race. Oops, sorry for the spoiler. Since you know the end, you can stop reading.

I could have predicted the outcome. The reasons why I chose the trail of Beaumes-de-Venise were because it is part of the Trails de Provence, and I wanted to run one of those, it is a “short trail”, which means less than a marathon distance (most people would probably not consider running 30 kilometres in hills “short”) and it was fitting my calendar.  However, according to all the reports I read, it is one of the most difficult if not the most difficult trail in Provence (and boy, difficult it was).

The second warning was the history of drop-outs in the race. 30 to 40 of the couple of hundreds participants drop off every year (we beat that head and shoulders this year).

The third warning made the second one even more worrying. At the start, all the participants looked super mega fit. I was not just the only overweight person. The others all looked skinny and strong at the same time. A few of the participants were top-class such as Sandra Martin, who was then the French long trails champion (and actually topped the women rankings on the day). Most of the competitors in the Trails of Provence challenge were running as well.

Sooooo, I did not feel anxious at all waiting for the starting time …

The start from the centre of Beaumes-de-Venise was good. I decided to start close to the back of the pack, so as not being dragged forward by people running too fast, and not impede too many runners. We all ran the first 1.5K, until the chapel of Notre-Dame d’Aubune.


NB: This bit was supposed to be 2K according to the course profile. But this was not true, as all the other communicated distances: the rest stop was not at 16K, but 17K. The cut-off was not 1K after the rest stop, but 1.5K. And the short-cut did not last 4K, but 5K. I just don’t get why the organisers did that. It really killed me. When I saw nothing coming at the announced distance, my moral collapsed each time.

Anyway, we then started the first climb. Everyone started to walk, and we were basically walking noses to bums until the top. It was scorching hot, and the hillside was fully southward. The forecast was 30 deg C, although some runners claimed that they recorded 37 on some parts of the course. But I had climbed this the previous day so I knew what to expect (a very silly thing to do by the way. What was I thinking? I should have saved every ATP molecule and rest every muscle cell!).


After that, it was down into the valley of “Grand Vallat”. I also ran that one the previous day (grrr.), so it was also fine. My only niggle was the GoPro chest strap again. I already had problems during the London2Cambridge challenge. But I put it on again for this trail. Not good. It pushed on my stomach and made me nauseous. On a regular basis I unlocked it, but that was really bothering me. I should also not have eaten only 2 hours before the race (a pasta salad, a bit of dry sausage and a banana).


Then, we started to climb, really climb, towards the hill of Grand Montmirail.  The factor that killed us early was that the the climb took place in two steps. First, we had a long climb (2K) between 5 and 15%. I started to be passed by runners at that point. People who got stuck in the queue after the chapel, and started to get their proper rhythm.

Second, we were hit by a crazy climb, 800 m at more than 15%. This was when my heart went mental. I had to stop a couple of times, just to let it calm down. This was also when I started to overtake runners, who were crashing (one of them was actually attended by first aid crew). The crazy climb ended up with a near vertical portion where I was on all four.


But look at the picture below. Some people actually ran this stuff!


I looked pretty happy though.

firstdentelleThe arrival at the summit of the Grand Montmirail at 8K granted us with the first breathtaking vision of the run though, with the majestic Dentelles Sarasines in front of us. It was worth the pain.


By that time I ached, but it was just physical. I still tried to run whenever I could (although my criteria for the runnability of the trail became more stringent), and was still considering reaching the rest station possibly in time. And in any case, I was still willing to continue the race as an independent runner under my own responsibility (this option was offered). That is when I started to feel hungry for the first time. I had a fruity bar, which went down OK.

Then we had to climb the Dentelles Sarasines themselves. Pretty stiff slope, with a portion of several hundreds metres >15%. The end of the portion at km 10 is a vertical wall, requiring ropes to climb it (yup, you read it right. This is not borderline trail “running” in my book …).


At 627 m, this was the highest point of the trail and the reward was an amazing view of the valley towards Gigondas.


At that point I realised that my legs would not sustain much more climbing, and in particular the 2.5K of uninterrupted climb in the second part of the race. But my moral was still good, and I was still just in time for the cut-off. I even found some crazy parts of the trail funny. Would you call what is on the picture below a “trail”?


But then came the downhill part. The first 2K were hard because of the numerous portions of rolling stones. Imagine running down a sand dune, with sand rolling under your feet as you get down. But each grain of sand would have a size ranging from a marble to a melon. It both kills the knees, the quads, and is quite dangerous. Basically, either you run it hoping for the best, or you have to slowly slide along (look at my shadow on the picture below …).


This took a few of us out. At the end of this portion we reached a water point. The few of us running together then realised that we would probably not make the cut-off. That caused a mental meltdown for me. Basically, the realisation that I would not make the cut-off triggered a “what’s the point” attitude, where I did not feel like pushing any more. And that was a wrong place to feel that, because we climbed again. I had imagined that we would go downhill from the Dentelles to the rest stop. But this was not the case. We had to climb again, three times! I tried to eat a cereal bar, but could not swallow anything solid. To be fair, the landscape was pretty stunning, but by that time I was passed tourism.


After two climbs, one long (2K) and one shorter, we plunged towards the village of Lafare, at >15%. In some portions the descent was so vertical that I had to play Tarzan and go from tree to tree or to face the rock and go down using my hands.


At that point I was really hobbling around. And then, I started to see the village in the valley, hooray! How deceiving are hills though … The trail started uphill again, and AWAY FROM THE VILLAGE! I swore so much that it will be easier to delete the sound-track on the GoPro movie rather than beeping the rude words.

In the final descent to Lafare, I was overtaken by a women with whom I spent the next few km. She was a seasoned runner, finishing the CCC and the TDS (two of the Ultra-Trail du Mont-Blanc races) and organising another trail of Provence, in Manosque. She had actually ran part of the UTMB 2 weeks before. But she did not make the cut-off time there either.After the rest stop, we climbed a bit together, but she was really struggling and I left her (although she finally finished not much later than me). The rest stop was full of runners who gave up. Some were exchanging views about the trail, some were lying on benches or even on the ground. The volunteers were super nice and super helpful, comforting us, giving advices and of course providing food and drinks.


So, as expected I did not make the 18K cut-off. As a result I was re-routed through a short-cut (see profile) which corresponded to the short trail race (“La Dentellière”). I did not climb the last two summits and ran only 23K. But the view of the valley southward was gorgeous. It is a pity my GoPro was dirty by then.

However, from 19K onward, I was back on the regular course, including a long run along the river La Salette, and sometimes in the river.


Because I was back on the normal course, I was running amongst people who actually ran the 30K and were arriving at the same time. I felt like an impostor when I finally reached Beaumes-de-Venise and was cheered up by the crowd during the last half km. At the finish line, as is customary for the trails or ultras, I was greeted by a microphone and asked for “one word”. Of course, despite being warned by the Lapins Runners, I did not prepare anything interesting and witty to say in advance, and since my brain was fried (literally), I could not improvise much (I just muttered that I was dead and choosing this trail as my first was perhaps a mistake).

The first thing I did after passing the line was to get my free beer! Gosh, it was so good, so cold! To follow on the cooling down, I went to try on a bit of cryotherapy. The theory behind cryotherapy is (unsurprisingly) that cold improves recovery after a strong effort and in particular alleviates delayed onset muscle soreness. Some high profile runners use sophisticated cryotherapy on a regular basis, such as Mo Farah. I do not know anything about the scientific basis for cryotherapy. And having no comparison, I cannot evaluate its effectiveness on myself. However, I indeed did not hurt much or at all this evening, and most of the next day. Pain in the calves and the buttocks only started the next evening. I basically removed shoes and socks and dipped in water at 13 deg C for 5 min.

I then decided to take a shower before the prize ceremony and dinner. I found the idea of a dinner with all the runners very nice, even if my mood was not at its highest after my failure to complete the whole trail. I changed into regular clothes, but it turned out most runner did eat in running kits. Since the next day the village was still full of people strolling around in running gear, I suspect that many trail runners just use such clothing all the time. After all, it is very comfortable.

I finished the 23K in 5 hours and 3 min.  The full 30K was finished in 3 hour 9 min by Andy Symonds and in 3 hour 52 by Sandra Martin. The final results say that 115 people finished the complete trail and 94 did not. However,  several people who were rerouted (including myself) appeared in the rankings. An unofficial post on Facebook mentioned a 60% drop-out rate!

Roman road and Fleam Dyke

Most often, a Sunday run involves starting from home and running on known roads not far from the house. Around Sawston, we are fortunate to have nice trails at short distances. One such trail is the Roman road. This is a long straight path running south east from Cambridge for many miles. It is unfortunately cut by the A11. But I frequently use both portion alternately. The North portion is part of a loop going through BabrahamWandlebury,  the Magog down and Stapleford and back to Sawston. I use the South portion, quite undulated, to train for trail. However, I am always limited by the time I can spend on a run.

A fellow runner of the London 2 Cambridge challenge once posted that she trained on a 50K run along the Roman Road and the Fleam Dyke. I did not hear about the Fleam Dyke before so my curiosity was picked. In June 2016, I decided to go and see this dyke by myself. The run was lovely. However it took me 11K to reach the beginning of the dyke. I decided to go back, since this meant already more than 22K and 2:30. But I promised myself that I would do the whole run during the summer. The last week end of August is a bank holiday in England. The weather forecast was brilliant and my family was away. It was therefore a perfect occasion. Here is the path in green:


I actually came from Sawston, not from Cambridge, and got a bit lost in the middle. So the actual run, that lasted 48K was:


Since I knew I would travel for roughly 50K, I brought plenty of liquid. But I suspected I would be short. I had two 550 ml chest bottles – one of water, one of electrolytes, another hand held 550, and a litre of water in my backpack. My backpack was the Ultimate direction AK 2. I love it because it is minimal, and therefore does not bother me in the runs. But in this situation, it was too minimal. I stuffed it to the maximum, and could barely add gels, bars and a banana after the bottle, the pack of wet wipes (yep, never forget those), an extra battery for my phone/GPS. BTW, this decided me to buy a new one when I came back. I changed manufacturer and volume, and bought the Salomon S Lab Advanced Skin 12 (12 L instead of 4.5 on the back)

The first 5K are on roads from Sawston, through Babraham, across the A1307, to reach the Roman road. Then just 1K on the lovely Roman road. Here are pictures taken during my June run. The Roman road is actually on the other side of the trees. The poppies are lining the fields along the road.

Then we take to the fields. Very green in June, which forced me to run on the side, in overgrown wet grass. Fortunately at the end of August, the harvest let us with very flat fields that can be ran without detriment to crops.


After a few hundred meters, we enter a sort of magical mini-wood. It is only about 5-10 meters wide but it feels much more secluded than that. And it provided a much appreciated shadow on a very sunny morning.

After crossing Balsham road, that links the villages of Fulbourn and Balsham, we  reach a nice path lining fields and the Fulbourn Fen reserve. This part is positively lovely and is what decided me to do the whole run. We finally reach the bottom of the dyke. These dykes are fortifications dating from the Anglo-Saxon period, although traces of previous earthworks dating from Iron and Bronze ages are present. There are several of such dykes running in parallel in a south-east direction.


The dyke is basically a long elevation of ground, accompanied by a ditch where the soil was taken. On the top of the Fleam Dyke is a path which is sometimes runnable, and otherwise walkable.


My experience of the path goes from positively lovely – clean path, beautiful surrounding – to gruelling – nettles, blackberry, wet overgrowth and roots. But altogether a very special path. I would say I was able to run half of it. The dyke is cut several times, by a disused railway, by the A11 and at the levels of farms. These descents and climbs actually cause welcome distractions. On the way we pass near an impressive wind farm

The dyke progressively disappear and the difficulties start … There are no indications there. I strongly recommend to acquire the guide book if you want to do the walk/run. The path goes through the village of West Wratting, then wanders through fields.  I got lost a first time there, and ended up in Yen Hall Farm. One of the persons living there was able to point me to the right direction and I reached the village of West Wickham. Shortly after leaving West Wickham, I got lost again. The farmers have changed the configuration of the fields since the guide was printed, and when signs remain they are tiny (and dark brown, which does not help considering the main colour of the surrounding …). Thanks to some indications from walkers, from the position of the sun, my phone sat nav, and sheer luck, I was able to reach the Roman Road again. After crossing fields I was so covered in thistles  that I had to undress to remove all the prickling bits by hand.  By then, it was clear that I would run out of liquid well before home. Therefore, I decided to make a small detour and see if I could find something open on the bank holiday. By chance I did. I landed at the Old Red Lion, the pub of the village of Horseheath. Now I have to confess.  I did buy water, to refill my chest bottle and put in my back pack. But I also took a beer. After the mishaps in West Wratting and West Wickham, it was impossible for me to beat any time I did at the L2C. Therefore, there was no hurry … The beer was soooo fresh, taken outside, extending my legs in the sun🙂

Restarting was not easy, but I was cheered up by horses with sunglasses. They were very friendly and both came to be say hello (well, they  came to see if I had food for them, but close enough).

Running on the Roman road was enjoyable as usual. By then, I was pretty tired. But I still ran on the flat and downhill, and walked the climbs. I was happy to come home but cannot wait to do it again, for instance in winter, when there are no nettles, blackberries and thistles …

Final time of 7h24 for 48K.


Hyde Park 10K. How long can I expect PBs to come?

Since I had no race planned in August and, after all, it is time for Summer holidays, I decided to only run a 10K. It went well and I improved my personal best by more than 2 min. I am ecstatic. But I cannot avoid the question: How long will that blessed period of consistent improvement last? I am not young any more you know …

But the race first.

There were no such race locally in August, so I went all the way to London (which meant waking up at 6am on Sunday, boohoo).  The Hyde Park 10K is part of the Royal Park Summer Series. The weather was beautiful, and it was a blessing. Indeed, the race starts in the middle of the park, without any protection. Toilets were close by though. After collecting my race pack, and changing in my race clothes, I was ready to warm up. About 700 runners participated, which made for a big crowd. The organisers therefore decided to set up impromptu waves. A few seconds after the start, to-be-runners (including me) were stopped in their launch for a 30 sec wait …

The race was made up of two 5K laps around the East part of the park, pretty flat with just the right amount of 1%  slopes and climbs to keep us awake. The main problem was that the race track stays open to all. We were constantly among the Sunday morning crowd of walkers (mostly nice), and cyclists (mostly not nice).  At some point we even ran with the gardener’s van. I then experienced the predicament of elite runners, forced to run in the fumes of the media vans and motorbikes. Not cool.


I am very happy with my race, because I was consistent. After a usual slow start, that was a good warming up, I mostly stayed between 5:00 and 5:25 per K. As you can see below, the sliding average (dashed grey line) does not show either constant slope or kink as it so often does.



I stopped a few sec at 5K for a cup of water. I did loose time (not just because of the drink, but it always takes me a few hundreds metres to get my rhythm again), but it was worth it. The weather was very nice, and the sweat abundant.

Final time was 51 min and 48 sec. My previous best was 54 min and 22 sec, hence an improvement of 2 min and 34 sec.  Quite chuffed with that.





Now, how long will I keep improving my times? The first question is “how good am I doing now?” I mean, considering my current form, what should be my time on a race without specific difficulties (flat course, cool temperature, no wind etc.). An important parameter to measure that is the Jack Daniel’s VDOT.


You can learn all about it in his iconic book, one of the runner’s bibles. The VDOT (a v with a dot above) is an “effective VO2max“,  VO2max being your maximum rate of oxygen consumption. Runners with the same VDOT should perform the same, whatever their actual VO2max. How do we determine our VDOT? Daniels’ running formula contains tables with VDOT values and theoretical performance in races. You select the highest VDOT corresponding to your races.

I did that. I am very close to the entry of the table (the lower VDOTs), but fortunately still able to make it. At the time I looked, my best performance was the Shelford 5K, that I ran in 25 min and 11 sec. That gives me a VDOT of 38. What does that tell me? That tells me: *today*, I should be able to run the 5K in 25:12 – check, the 10K in 52:17 – check, the half marathon in 1:55:55 – off by 5 min, and the marathon in 3:59:35, off by a whooping 46 min!!! The conclusion is inescapable, I need to get cracking and stop bonking at 16K during half marathons and walk from 30K onward during marathons! I have no excuses, Jack Daniels tells me I can do it.


Now, all that is if my form does not improve. What if I loose some weight? What if I improve my lung capacity? What if I change my ratio of fast-twitch muscle fibers? To answer the question, we have the WAVA scores (WAVA means World Association for Veteran Athletes, now rename World Masters Athletics). A WAVA score shows the percent of the maximum speed you can expect for your age. They are based on curves computed by fitting the best  times recorded by masters athletics. You can find a set of curves on the website of the runscore software.

I plotted my times on the curves below. My first Wimpole Parkrun in January 2015 scored 43.98%. My Shelford Fun and Run in September 2015 scored 56.74%. A big improvement. That correspond to the world record at 85 years old.


My first 10K, for the Milton Keynes festival of running in March 2015, scored 45.82% while last week-end 10K in Hyde Park scored 57.86%. This correspond to the world record at? You guessed it, 85 years old.


Now for the half marathons … Not much improvement is there? Peterborough Great Eastern run in October 2015 scored 52.44%, while my best, the Silverstone half in March 2016 scored 53.88%. My VDOT would correspond to the fastest speed of an 86 years old, but my best time correspond to the best of an 88 years old.


Should I go on to the marathon? Well I have only one point here. But it tells me that my Shakespeare marathon, in April 2016, score a paltry 47.49%. My VDOT would correspond to the best of a 86 years old, but I ran a marathon corresponding to the best achievable at 90 years old.



  1. I need to work on stamina and fortitude, and reach my VDOT predicted performances. I have zero excuses not to.
  2. I have lots of room to improve my VDOT, even without competing with actual athletes.

I will aim at running the 10K in 50 min. That would give me a VDOT of 40. This mean a 5K in 24 min, a half marathon in 1 h 51 min and a marathon in  3 h 45 min. If I achieve that before being too old, I will be very happy. And then I will be allowed to concentrate on slow trail running (in three weeks I am running my first mountain trail, which features a participant who is 76 years old).


About complacency and fortitude

My participation to the London2Cambridge challenge let me low in energy and aching in many different parts, feet, legs, hips. I nevertheless recovered and started to run again. I was running fairly short runs and on a slow pace.
D+7:  3.6 km at 8min52s/km (my 50K pace)
D+9: 5.8 km at 6min50s/km  (my 41K pace)
D+13: 7 km at 6min13s/km (my 31K pace)
D+15: 8 km at 6min36s/km (my 38K pace)
At D+21 I ran my first race since the challenge, a half-marathon that I finished in 2h10 (average of 6min8s, that is my 27K pace). By then, I was convinced that the L2C drenched me of all energy and that was the reason I was so slow. I returned home and resumed the training, staying in “recovery mode”. After all, I earned it right? If after a few kms I felt tired, why not stop? I did not have breathing problems. My joints did not hurt. I just felt tired. My body was probably telling me to go easy. Was it really? Since when one is not supposed to feel tired when running?
D+23: 4.8 km at 7min2/km
D+25: 7.15 km at 6min10s/km
D+29: 12.45 km at 6min5s/km. This was a long run in a mix of street, dirt road and mostly wood trail. I did some of the earliest kms at my 5K pace (4m55s/km), the rest very slow. I felt good. Therefore I decided to go back at trying to progress.
D+31. I decided to go for the 12K time-trial.  I ran 7 km at 5:30s and then felt a pain on my right heel. I immediately stopped running and ended the session. When was I supposed to get better? Meanwhile I kept registering for more races. Was I deluded myself? If after more than a month I could not recover from a 100K, that was the end of the story. After all I run because I like it and it helps keep me fit. Not to feel broken and weak.

F..k it. D+33, let’s try again. Sunny afternoon, alone in the gym. Good warm-up and off we go on the treadmill. Everything went well. I broke the boredom with ultra-running podcast (2 days before, I was forced to run watching a contest between Rhianna and Arianna on 4Music …). Sure, arriving at 6-7K I felt tired. But I did not have breathing problems, I did not have specific pains. Just tiredness. The good aspect of treadmill running is that stopping require an active movement (moving your hand and press the slow down or pause buttons). When running on an immobile surface (ignoring the fact that it travels at blinding speed around the centres of the earth, the solar system and the galaxy), it is much easier to just stop moving your legs. So I did not stop. Towards 9K, I had to concentrate and threw my headset across the room (sorry for the disrespect to whoever was talking on the podcast at the time). But I pulled it. 12.07 km at 5min29s/km. Nothing hurt more that usually. I was not broken. I did not collapse on the floor of the gym. On the contrary, the pleasure of having a new benchmark on 12K synergised with the running high. I felt super great.

So you know  what, I was just being complacent before (a lazy bastard would be another way to put it). Because everyone was continuously telling me how amazed they were that I travelled 100K on my feet, I basically stopped pushing. I lacked mental strength, which is one of my greatest weaknesses.

NEVER STOP PUSHING. Otherwise, what is the point?