Should I stay or should I go?

During this time when we’re under attack from COVID-19 we know what our responsibility is – STAY AT HOME – PROTECT THE NHS – SAVE LIVES.

There are a few specific reasons we can leave the house. One of these is one form of exercise per day, such as a run, walk or cycle. The government guidance specifically states that when undergoing these activities we should minimise time spent outside of our household.

Trying to process this as someone who runs nearly every day, and work out what I should do has taken a bit of time. As the clear advice states:

‘The single most important action you can take is to stay home’

however the government have recognised that some kind of daily exercise is critical in maintaining our physical and mental health. So how do I balance the need to stay home, with the need to do exercise?

I’ve been working from home now for nearly three weeks and seem to be less active at home than I would be at work. My step count could now be fewer than 2000 steps per day without doing any exercise. It’s clear that simply staying at home will mean I’m fairly sedentary, which won’t benefit my long term health. Some exercise is obviously going to be beneficial and is ‘allowed’ under the guidelines, but how much is ‘minimising my time spent outside’?

Just because you can doesn’t mean you should

It is obvious that the longer I run outside for, the greater the potential is for coming into contact with more people. How long is too long? Usually, at this time of year I would be in my peak marathon training and running for 75 minutes each day, with a 2 and a half hour long run at the weekend. It seems obvious that minimising my time outside would mean shorter runs than this and that the guidelines idea of exercise is unlikely to mean training . I also can’t see how a 2 or 3-hour walk, run or cycle could be described a minimising time outside. The guidance doesn’t specify exactly how long my daily exercise should be, so I could argue that I could go for as long as I liked, but the oft repeated phrase in cases of moral debates of ‘just because you can, doesn’t mean you should’ surely applies here. Recent government press conferences have talked about complying with the letter of the rules and also the spirit of the rules.

At the end of the first week of social distancing I went out for a 13 mile run for an hour and a half. Having reflected, I felt guilty that I was out for so long and risked coming into contact with more and more people as I ran. This caused a bit of a rethink on my part about striking a correct balance.

Striking a balance

The most important consideration is STAY HOME – PROTECT THE NHS – SAVE LIVES. Any exercise that I do should minimise time spent outside and when outside ensure I maintain at least a two metre distance from others, this is what I’m planning to do:

  • Limit my daily runs/walks/cycles to about 45 minutes (with one per week at about 60 minutes)
  • To run in places and at times where there are fewer people around and paths are wide
  • To stay as close to home as possible
  • To run for exercise, not for training. There’ll be time for training again when there are races to run
  • To run for fun
  • To run easy or steady to minimise the risk of injury and to make sure I keep the two metres distance from others
  • Not to take part in virtual races or speed challenges to make sure I keep the two meters distance from others.

Whilst out on my exercise I’m also trying to remember to do the following:

  • Be the one who makes sure the ‘at least 2 metre rule’ is being observed (not everyone seems to get it)
  • Running on the road where traffic permits to keep a wide berth
  • Calling out ‘passing on your right’ in plenty of time to those I’m coming up behind
  • Waving and saying a cheery hello to anyone I meet – I could be the only person they see that day

How have the current restrictions changed your running habits?


Carsington Water Half Marathon 23rd February 2020 – Race Report

The Derbyshire Peak District has some of the UKs most beautiful scenery, so I was looking forward to racing around the Carsington Water reservoir on a late February morning. The weather forecast hadn’t looked very good for the few days leading up to the race, and despite rain through the night, race morning turned out to be mostly dry.

📷 Tony Audenshaw

I knew this was going to be an undulating course, the type of course I’m never quite sure on how to pace, so I hadn’t really got a particular plan of how to run it. I’d have to sort of see how it went.

We were staying only a few minutes away at the Marathon Talk Run Camp at Mount Cook Adventure Centre, so the trip to the race wasn’t a long one. I got a lift there with Jonny and Helen, Julian and Emma. It looked a bit ominous as we had to drive through an enormous and deep puddle on our way, just near to where part of the race course passed.

I never quite know what to do with myself before the start of a race, particularly if I’m ready well before the start time, so I was walking up and down nervously, whilst trying to stay warm in the cold wind that welcomed us at the start. I waited until ten minutes before the start time to get down to vest and shorts and drop my bag at the bag drop (a green tarpaulin close to the start/finish).

There had been some discussion amongst the Abingdon AC contingent about the most appropriate running attire for the conditions. Those who’d run the previous year on a glorious sunny day said that road shoes would be fine, but the organisers were recommending trail shoes. The biting wind made some reluctant to don just the club vest, opting for an underlayer too. I decided on vest only and racing shorts with my ASICS Tartherzeal racing road shoes.

We gathered at the start line, like penguins huddled together for warmth and headed off at the signal. The initial jostle for positions and suitable pace began as we ran through the car park and headed for the trail around the reservoir. The trail was a firm compacted sandstone gravel path, with no real mud to speak of but plenty of puddles, so the choice of road shoes seemed to have been a good one.

Those of us running the half marathon were doing an 8 mile loop of the reservoir followed by a 2.5 mile out and 2.5 mile back stretch. The 10K runners did a slightly longer 5K out and back on the same route. The first section of the course involved a few short and sharp ups and downs, before we soon settled into a more prolonged flat section of about a mile or so. It was at this point that we got a good view of the reservoir, which looked huge. Trying to put thoughts of how far the route around looked out of my mind, I settled into a pace of just over 3:45 per kilometer (6 minutes per mile), which felt about right.

I could see at this point that there were only three runners stretched out in front of me, and I could hear one more close behind. We hadn’t reached the 10K race turnaround point yet, so I didn’t know if any of these guys would be turning back or carrying on for the HM, so wasn’t sure of my race position.

We soon reached the turnaround point for the 10K runners and all three of the runners in front of me carried on, so I was in fourth place. I’d never really been this close to the front in a race before, so usually ran at a set pace with a time target in mind. So at this stage I decided to keep going with that idea. Run my own race at this stage and see what happened to the others later on. I couldn’t see the race leader, the second and third place runners were a bit ahead, but still in sight.

It was at the section between four and six miles where the course started to undulate a bit more and the hills were a bit longer. Keeping a regular pace was not an option any more, so I opted for a regular effort instead. My watch was telling me that I was still managing each kilometer in under four minutes.

As we battled up and down the hills, the second place runner was now out of sight, but it felt like I was making ground on the third place runner.

I could see that we were approaching the dam end of the reservoir which looked nice and flat, but pretty exposed with the wind likely to be coming across us up the valley. I braced myself for a bit of a battering and wasn’t wrong. The crosswind was a real challenge as we ran across the dam, along with a constant sequence of big puddles across the path. There were a few large groups of walkers out at this point too, so I tried my best not to splash them as I ran passed.

The windy dam 📷Tony Audenshaw

It felt like I was making little progress in the wind, but I could see that the third place runner was getting closer, so he must have been having a tougher time than me. As I got to the end of the dam and ran towards a little gateway, I spotted Tony Audenshaw taking some photos.

“You’re the first Marathon Talk runner, I think” he said.

📷 Tony Audenshaw

It wasn’t long before I’d completed the first loop and was back near the start point. This was where the Williams and Yelling cheer squads really helped to keep me pushing. I had by now nearly caught the third place runner, so pushed hard through the next undulating bit to catch him up and keep pushing passed.

I knew there were about 5 miles to go and I was now in a podium position, a new experience for me. This was now going to be about making sure no-one came past me in the dying stages of the race. I tried to keep the same effort level, and could see the second place runner getting nearer ahead. Should I push on for second place and risk blowing up and finishing outside the top three, or sound I keep it steady?

I decided to try and keep going at the same effort and see if I could reel him in. I was getting closer still by the time we reached the turn of the out and back point. The lead runner was quite a bit ahead of us, but was there enough of the race left to catch second place? Seeing me close behind at the turn may have spurred him on to keep pushing. I could see that I wasn’t so far ahead of the fourth man and first lady that I couldn’t be caught too.

The last 2K was quite winding and undulating, so it was again difficult to regulate my pace. I felt I was getting closer to second place and didn’t dare look behind.

By the time we reached the car park close to the finish, I was only a few meters behind. It was at this point we went through a couple of sharp left and right turns before a short stretch to the finish. The turns broke my stride a little and I didn’t quite have enough to make it to second place. I finished in third with 1:23:18, just 2 seconds after the second place runner.

Coming in to the finish

I was really pleased with my first ever podium finish, and learnt from my experience of racing for position. I could see that Jaffa Cakes were provided as the post-race nutrition which was pleasing, but then noticed the fig rolls, the ultimate biscuit – a great idea that all races should adopt.

Thanks to all involved in the organisation of the race. My prize of a big bobble hat was greatly appreciated too.

The first three men to finish were

  1. Paul Sadler 1:21:15
  2. Paul Harpham 1:23:16
  3. Peter Akrill 1:23:18

The first three women finishers were :

  1. Katherine Wood 1:24:24
  2. Kelly Butler 1:27:14
  3. Holly Rush 1:30:14

Marathon Talk Run Camp 2020

On Friday February 21st 2020 small groups of people laden with bags full of running shoes and kit (or no running kit at all in one or two cases) were making their way by plane, trains and automobiles to Mount Cook Adventure Centre in Derbyshire for the much anticipated Marathon Talk Run Camp. Paths were being beaten from as far afield as Cornwall and Inverness to the picturesque and rugged Derbyshire Dales, once more to meet up with old friends or to make new ones.

I was travelling with a posse from Abingdon AC. We left just after rush hour on Friday morning with plans to take the cable car up to the Heights of Abraham at nearby Matlock Bath for lunch and a visit to the caverns, before then heading to Mount Cook for late afternoon.

We arrived at Mount Cook to find many already there and after getting settled in our rooms and deciding who would be on the top bunks, congregated in the dining area. We spent the first evening getting to know some of the other run campers. Runners always seem a friendly lot, so it wasn’t difficult to start conversations, particularly with the Marathon Talk hosts who were always happy to chat. Before heading off to sleep we had a quick look at the weather forecast for the weekend ahead. The Met Office forecast looked more promising than the BBC Weather forecast, with less chance of rain when we’d be running.

Saturday Morning

Glancing out of the window on the Saturday morning at 7 am revealed somewhat of a deluge, with the hope that 2 hours later it might no be so wet.

After a breakfast of toast and porridge we all headed out in to the now less rainy Derbyshire Dales to convene at Bakewell parkrun. The start of Bakewell parkrun is at the delightful cafe and shop now occupying the old Hassop Station. The run is and out and back run along the Monsal Trail. We’d discussed long and hard about the best shoes for the trail, with some favouring trail shoes and others road shoes. The surface was compacted trail that wasn’t muddy, but the rain had left it a bit puddly. Road shoes would not be a problem I was glad to see.

After a great welcome from the RD we were sent on our way along the Monsal Trail. The run out was slightly uphill and into the wind, which meant we were having to work a bit harder than expected for the last 500m of the outward run.Once we’d reached the turnaround point we had the wind in our backs, for the gentle slope back to the finish. It was at this point that a rainbow appeared, closely followed by a very brief rain and hail shower. Blue skies welcomed us at the finish and we retired to the cafe for our hobbitesque second breakfasts.

Saturday Afternoon

After lunch back at Mount Cook Tom, Martin, Holly and Tony held an afternoon Q&A. We asked about motivating ourselves when things don’t go to plan; what ‘real meaningful success’ looks like and ‘the shoes’ among other things.

We then headed out for a session on the High Peak Trail. Those who were running headed off for a gentle jog up the 640m long 12.5% Middleton Incline to Middleton Top Engine House, where Tom let them know what the session would involve. Holly had organised the runners into groups, Tom set them off (after make some changes to the groups) at 30 second intervals for :

  • 400m out and 400m back tempo run
  • 10 squats and 5 lunges (per leg) led by Pete
  • 100m gentle jog down the incline
  • 100m sprint up the incline
  • 30sec wall sit

This was repeated every 12 minutes for 3 reps. At the last rep we formed a tunnel to cheer in the sprinters up the incline.

Saturday Evening

The evening was kicked off by a great Q&A with Richard Whitehead – double leg amputee World Marathon record holder and double 200m paralympic gold medallist and multiple World Champion. Martin and Tom asked Richard questions about his running career and his legacy, including questions about the regulations his running blades need to comply with; how he’s dealt with setbacks and disappointments and how elite athletes should remain relatable to those in the grass roots of the sport and the general public.

This was followed by Tony and Holly drawing the raffle which raised more than £600 for 5K Your Way.

Stand-up comedian Rob Deering from the Running Commentary podcast then entertained us with a musical, loop pedal filled routine on running, the dangers of Lego and early 90s dance music to run to.

It was a great evening of fun, inspiration and laughter.


The Met Office forecast proved correct again and the rain seemed to be holding off on Sunday morning as the sky brightened during breakfast. We made our way to Carsington Water for the 10K and Half Marathon. Many of us were running, others like the Yelling and Williams families were there to offer their support and encouragement, which was greatly appreciated.

Tony’s weekend seemed to be a live episode of Tony’s Trials. The singer he’d been planning to see on Saturday night cancelled, so he was with us for the whole weekend, however he pulled his hamstring during Bakewell parkrun, so couldn’t run at Carsington Water. This meant he was there to cheer us on and take some great photos too.

The rain held off for most of the race, but there were lots of puddles and quite a wind to make the undulating course more challenging. This was particularly true for the half marathon stretch along the dam where a side wind seemed to almost bring us to a standstill as we ran through the almost constant puddles along its length.

Photo by Tony Audenshaw

Back at Mount Cook we showered and packed before staging the biggest #kitaroundtheworld photo. We said our farewells in the hope of meeting up again for Run Camp 2021.

Photo by @helentwilliams

Thanks to everyone who made my first run camp memorable. Let’s hope our year ahead is full of real meaningful success.

How to start running…….and keep going

It’s always great to hear about a friend or colleague who’s decided to start running or has signed up for parkrun. I try to encourage them to make it a part of their regular routine to stay active, pointing out the physical and mental benefits of running.

Through my own experiences of trying to start running over the years, I know how hard it can be to keep going once you’ve started. I had a couple of aborted attempts to become a regular runner during my thirties. My failure to keep going was down to some common mistakes that new runners make which discourage them from continuing to run. So I thought I’d include some key tips from my own experiences and those of others I know on how to start off running in the right way to help you keep going for the long term.

1. Don’t start off too quickly

This is probably the biggest mistake we all make when we first start running. We head off from the house and go charging down the street and 400 meters later we’re doubled over out of breath. We knew we were daft to think we could start running and this just proves it. I can remember doing this once when I lived in Sheffield and the first time I ran parkrun. The simple problem is we’ve gone off too quickly. The best way to start off is to run at a ‘conversational’ pace. This is a pace where if we were running with someone else we would have enough breath to hold a conversation with them. For some this can mean starting off at a walking pace. This is fine – you’ll soon get to be able to up your pace to a jog after a few outings. It’s also worth remembering that you don’t have to smash yourself each time you go for a run – most endurance runners run about 80% of their runs at an easy pace.

2. Dress for the last mile

It can often feel a bit chilly as we step outside the front door to go on our run. The temptation is to layer up so we don’t feel the cold. Whilst it’s important not to get hypothermia whilst out running, we do tend to err on the side of caution and overdress for our runs. As we run the processes our body goes through produces heat, so the body tries to cool us down by losing heat through the skin. If we have too many layers on it struggles with this process and we find keeping going a struggle as we over heat. We’ve all ended a run with layers discarded or tied around our waste as we do our bets to keep cool. Just like heading off too quickly, wearing too much can end with us struggling to keep going and doubting that running is a good idea. I’ve mentioned previously that I had to stop and walk during my first parkrun, this was partly because I went off too quickly, but also as you can see from the photo (me far right) because I was wearing a fleecy top as it was a bit chilly. The result was and overheating and out of breath related walking spell.

The general wisdom for what to wear for a run is to dress for the last mile not the first mile.

3. Wear the right shoes

My aborted attempts at running when in my thirties mostly came a cropper because my shins started hurting a short way into the run. On these occasions I headed off on my runs in a cheap pair of trainers that were not specifically for running. When I started running again in my mid forties I made sure I had a pair of shoes particularly designed for running. They weren’t an expensive pair, but were made with running in mind. I had no problems with my shins at all after this, which I specifically remember was a big encouragement to me that I could become a regular runner. You don’t have to go out and get the latest spring loaded go-faster shoes that cost you an arm and a leg. A good pair that provides you with the right cushioning and support shouldn’t cost you too much from a local running shop, or even from somewhere like Decathlon or Inter Sport, where you can get proper advice from someone there.

4. Get a running buddy

It’s always easier to do anything when you have someone to be accountable to or to encourage you along the way. If you’re finding the motivation to get out and run hard, find someone else who can join you. Having someone to chat to along the way helps to make the time pass quickly and you don’t notice so much when it gets hard. Arranging to meet someone or call for you at a set time for your run means you have that added impetus to go out when you might not quite feel like it. You’ll always feel great afterwards with the post-run endorphins giving you that runners buzz.

I hope that anyone reading this who doesn’t yet run will be inspired to give it a try and that these tips will help you get going and keep going. Why not try your local parkrun – it’s a great gentle introduction to running. You’ll find plenty of potential running buddies there too.

Have you got any tips for new runners from your own experiences? Add a comment to the blog with your ideas.

It all started with a parkrun

It all started on Saturday March 7th 2015 at Abingdon parkrun. On Saturday just gone I completed my 150th parkrun. This got me thinking about the things I’ve done in that time that I wouldn’t have done if parkrun wasn’t a part of my life – what parkrun has done for me.

It’s always inspiring to hear in the parkrun newsletter or on podcasts like Free Weekly Timed or Marathon Talk about the positive impact parkrun has had on those who volunteer, walk, jog or run regularly. There are those who have turned around dangerously unhealthy lifestyles, or have come back from the depths of serious mental health problems or overcome anxiety or loneliness through involvement in the parkrun community.

I don’t really have such a dramatic story. My active life before parkrun was that of a moderately active middle-aged bloke. I had run a couple of charity fun runs when I was in my 30s and regularly played five-a-side football, which kept me reasonably fit, but I’m sure I wasn’t as active as recommended. I’d heard of parkrun from my sister who had run a few, but wasn’t that interested to join her. That was until some colleagues and I entered a team into a 5K obstacle race, so I thought I’d better make sure I could at least run 5K .

So, on March 7th 2015 alongside 278 other people I turned up at Abingdon parkrun #186. I only knew 4 other people there (two of whom were my sons who’d decided to join me for their first parkruns too). As with any previous attempts I had made to start running I went off too quickly, so at the 4k mark the feeling of being seriously out-of-breath was so uncomfortable that I had to stop and walk for a bit. I managed to cross the finish line after a time of 29:44. I’ve managed to get a lot quicker since that day and achieved a parkrun PB on my 149th parkrun last week.

It wasn’t long before I could honestly say I enjoyed running and I couldn’t have imagined all the things that I have experienced through running had I not begun parkrunning. I would never have:

  • joined a running club
  • competed in road races through picturesque Oxfordshire villages and elsewhere
  • run on the track or cross-country again for the first time since school
  • completed marathons
  • stood with my foot actually touching the start line of the London Marathon as the starting gun fired
  • run on the Iffley Road track where Roger Bannister ran the first 4-minute mile

These are all amazing things, unthinkable to me five years ago, but they aren’t the things that I’m most grateful to parkrun for. As I mentioned above, other than my children I only knew two other people at my first parkrun. I’ve just checked the results of that first parkrun and counted about sixty parkrunners from the 278 there that day that I now know. This is now true of close to 150 current regulars at Abingdon parkrun, many of whom I would consider my friends.

parkrun to me is about meeting people from all walks of life that I’d probably never meet ordinarily. Some of us are fast runners; some of us are looking to get a PB as often as we can; some of us are steady plodders; some of us are mostly walkers and a lot of us are volunteers – we are all parkrunners.

I mentioned above that I ran a new PB at my 149th parkrun. This happened to be at Cardiff parkrun on Saturday February 1st, where Charlotte Arter ran the fastest ever parkrun by a female runner. Where else but parkrun could an ordinary runner run a PB and chat afterwards to a fellow runner who’d just broken a world record!!

Sorry I’m late

Occasionally you’ve been delayed, maybe by traffic or a late running train. When you finally make it to the meeting it’s already in full swing and you haven’t got a clue what everyone’s talking about.

You’re miss the start of a film or TV drama and join it 20 minutes in. You then spend five minutes annoying your friend by asking who everyone is and what’s going on.

If you’re new to running it can sometimes feel like this when you chat to other runners about training, equipment, pacing or all manner of other things. You nod sagely as if you’ve been a runner all of your life when they talk about threshold runs and fartleks. This is especially the case if you’re of a ‘certain age’ and seem to find yourself finishing in the first half of a race. The assumption is you know what you’re doing and understand all the jargon.

This is where I found myself after starting running in 2015 as an already V40 runner and beginning to enter more local races in 2017, where my age suggested I was a well experienced runner. There can be a bewildering number of things to remember from training for certain distances to fueling for a race and all things between. I even found myself at the start line of a half marathon in Cardiff in 2106 wondering what the plastic poncho in the race pack was for and what I should be doing with it.

Since those days, through researching sensible information on the internet, getting friendly advice from members of my running club and my own experiences, the fog of information and misinformation seems to be clearing a bit.

Being a veteran runner by age group and new to running at the same time I very much felt I was running to catch up, so this blog will recount some of my experiences; the things I’ve learned to do and the advice I’ve learned to avoid. I’ll also include run and race reports from time-to-time, as well as running events I attend. I might even review new running equipment as I use then. I’ve also met some amazing and inspirational runners, so may comment on some of their great achievements too. I’ve definitely still got a lot of catching up to do, so it would also be great if you could comment on my post to offer your relevant experience and advice.

I’m hoping that my experience in getting into and really enjoying running as a moderately active sporty bloke in his mid forties will encourage others to get more active and discover the joys of running, and its mental, physical and social benefits.

Sorry I’m late, I’ll try and keep up.