Running America and Barefoot Britain

Running America by Jamie McDonald and Barefoot Britain by Anna McNuff are two books that will inspire you to push past your limits and chase your dreams. Both authors have previously written books that focus on their incredible journeys of endurance and perseverance and Running America and Barefoot Britain continue to showcase their remarkable feats of physical and mental strength.

Jamie McDonald’s previous book, Adventureman: Anyone Can be a Superhero (read my review here), chronicles his record-breaking run across Canada, where he ran 200 marathons in 275 days. This time, he takes on the challenge of running across the United States, from the west coast to the east coast. Running America is a raw and emotional account of his journey, from the gruelling physical demands to the mental and emotional toll it took on him. Jamie’s resilience and determination are truly inspiring, and his ability to stay positive and motivated despite the challenges he faced is a testament to his strength of character.

The last few chapters of the book are all about Jamie’s attempt on the 7-day treadmill world record. Jamie ran on a treadmill for seven days straight, covering a distance of 523 miles, breaking the previous record.

One of Anna McNuff’s previous books, Pants of Perspective: One Woman’s 3,000 Kilometer Running Adventure Through the Wilds of New Zealand, is a hilarious and heart-warming account of her journey running across New Zealand. In Barefoot Britain, Anna takes on the challenge of running the length of Great Britain, from the very top of Scotland to the very bottom of England, all while running barefoot and raising awareness for Girl Guides. This book is a beautifully written love letter to the United Kingdom, as Anna takes us on a journey through some of the country’s most stunning landscapes and introduces us to some of its most interesting and kind-hearted characters. Her wit and humour shine through in every page, and her descriptions of the challenges she faced are both honest and inspiring.

On top of all this, Jamie and Anna are a couple with two small children.

In Running America, Jamie faces numerous setbacks, from blisters, getting lost and sleep deprivation. He refuses to give up, and his unwavering positivity and gratitude for the support he receives from his team and from strangers he meets along the way are truly inspiring. His writing is both vulnerable and uplifting, and you can’t help but feel like you’re right there with him every step of the way.

Similarly, Anna’s writing in Barefoot Britain is so vivid and engaging that you feel like you’re running alongside her, feeling the grass between your toes and the wind in your hair, as well as the dangers of stepping in dog poo. She is refreshingly honest about the ups and downs of her journey; from the physical pain she experiences to the moments of doubt and fear that threaten to derail her.

In conclusion, Running America by Jamie McDonald and Barefoot Britain by Anna McNuff are two books that will leave you feeling inspired and uplifted. Both authors have previously written books that showcase their incredible journeys of endurance and perseverance, and these latest offerings are no exception. I gave both books five out of five.

Philips Park parkrun

The last couple of weeks I’d run at Lancaster, but today I drove all the way into Manchester to take part in the relatively new parkrun in Philips Park. I don’t particularly like driving into Manchester as there are too many motorways and main roads. Fortunately, the Sat Nav was behaving this morning and I arrived with 30 minutes to spare. I couldn’t spot the suggested car park, and the parking at the National Cycling Centre was confusing when it came to paying. I decided to see if I could park on the road next to the park. I could, although there were loads of signs saying resident’s parking only on match days, as the park is very close to Manchester City’s football stadium.

It was a fairly typical wet and grey Manchester morning. However, even with almost half an hour to go, there were plenty of other people milling around. I took the opportunity to run most of a lap as a warm up.

The first-timers race briefing was easily the largest one I had ever seen, with half of the field listening. Today was only the third event at Philips Park. The route involved two large laps and one small lap to finish. Like many parks, the route was completely on paved paths, although they were quiet narrow and had plenty of potholes.

The start was fairly narrow, and it looked like there were hundreds of people taking park. I managed to find a spot not too far from the front. I was hemmed in for the first few minutes, but by about half way through the first lap I had plenty of space. Towards the end of the lap there was a nasty little climb, quickly followed by a short out and back section, which was also on a hill.

I soon found myself running at a fast pace, which I hadn’t intended to do, as I completed my second lap and turned off for the shorter third lap. The final lap also missed out the short out and back hill. However, the short lap joined the main lap on the right hand side, and the finish funnel was on the left, which meant I had to cross over the stream of slower runners. Not ideal and maybe the finish funnel should be set up on the other side of the path.

I finished in a time of 21:41, 37th overall and 6th in my age category with almost 400 hundred finishers. The run also moved my Wilson-Index from 2, up to 6. The Wilson Index is a Running Challenge add-on for parkrun stats, where the index is the continuous series of parkrun event numbers starting at 1.

Overall a very well organised parkrun, and from the numbers there, a welcome addition to parkruns in Manchester.

The Slummer by Geoffrey Simpson

I am a sucker for a good dystopian futures book, and if it was combined with running, then even better. This is in essence what The Slummer is all about; a dystopian future where the main character likes to run. My lovely wife also knows my taste in books, which is why this was such a good Christmas present from her.

The book is set in 2083, and Benjamin, the main character, lives in one of the slums, hence the name Slummer. Anyone who lives in one of the slums is considered to be less than human and aren’t even allowed to vote. They are shunned by the rest of society, even though they make up a considerably percentage of the population.

Benjamin and his father and brother work in the local steel mill for slave wages. They currently have a flat, but their precarious existence means that they could lose it at any moment and end up in tent city, where only the strongest survive. Benjamin likes to run, much to the annoyance of his family as they feel it brings unwanted attention. Benjamin’s girlfriend also likes to run, and when a local five-mile race opens their entries to Slummers, they both sign up. Benjamin wins, even though he’s up against better trained athletes and runners who have had their genes altered at conception to make them better runners. A little later in the story, Benjamin meets an old man who also lives in the slums who used to be a coach, and between them they set up an audacious plan for Benjamin to race at the National 10,000m championship.

I gave this book four stars, and I very nearly gave it five, but the ending sort of petered out and I wasn’t sure about how people knew that they were Slummers, apart from if they were wearing old and tattered clothing. A couple of times in the book it is inferred that it is because they have brown skin, but this isn’t explored further. Are the slums a futuristic apartheid based on race, or is there more to it, because this premise changes the nature of the book. Additionally, if the slums are based solely on skin colour, then by the year 2083 the slums would consist of half of the population, based upon current trends.

Despite this, there are some really good descriptive passages all about running and training, including “Quarters Till Death”, which is the sub-heading of the book. This is basically the legendary Zatopek’s training regime, where you run 400m as many times as possible until you can’t run anymore.

Overall a good book, but possibly one for running fans.

The Hammer and the Nail

That old saying, some days you’re the hammer, and other days you’re the nail. That sums up the last few days. I was definitely the hammer on Saturday at Morecambe Prom parkrun. I’ve been training hard the last few weeks with one of Garmin’s virtual coaches with the aim of breaking under 20 minutes for a 5km. I smashed this at the weekend, finishing in 19:23, my second fastest parkrun ever, and my best ever age-graded result.

I then decided to end my 5km coached plan and start a half marathon one. I had to repeat a five-minute base run on the Sunday, which went ok, and then me and my lovely wife Helen, along with our silly old pointer Nelly went for a good long walk.

Monday morning and my new training plan had me doing an easy three-mile run. I took Nelly with me, and just after halfway I felt a pop in my Achilles. I hobbled on home.

Injuries are always frustrating, especially if you’ve been running really well. I had really enjoyed the speed work I had been doing, as well as seeing a real improvement. Hopefully my injury isn’t too bad, and I’ll be back running again before too long.

Worsley Woods Parkrun

After last week’s speedy run at Morecambe parkrun, it was time for another tourist run. Slowly, as I tick off different parkruns, they get further and further away. My NENDY is well over an hour’s drive. However, there are parkruns quicker to get to than Watergrove, which was one of the reasons for picking Worsley Woods.

I arrived nice and early so that I could do a run beforehand. I hadn’t yet completely the monthly Strava 10km challenge, and there was a Garmin 10km challenge on this weekend as well. My route would also tick off three Veloviewer tiles, increasing my cluster by five tiles, as well as completing three streets on City Strides.

Anyway, after almost 5km I lined up near to the start. There was a simple briefing for those of us who hadn’t done the parkrun before, and then we all headed to the start. The start was fairly narrow and even though I was near to the front I still had to weave in and out of runners in the first half a mile. The route was fairly simple, one mile out along an old railway line, followed by one mile through the woods and one mile back. The woods included two short flights of steps, which always take it out of me. The weather had been dry most of this week, but I expect that the wood section can become very wet and muddy in the winter. Out of the woods and I overtook a few people on the long straight back to the start/finish.

The last few weeks I had been feeling quite strong, which I put down to the better training I’ve been doing, curtesy of Garmin’s virtual coach Amy, so I was surprised to see that my finishing time was 20:43 in 26th place overall and 2nd in my age group with almost 350 finishers. One of the busier parkruns that I’ve done. The first woman finished in an incredibly fast 18 minutes. I expect that to be in the top ten fastest parkruns of the week.

One of the most pleasant parkrun routes that I’ve done, which got me thinking. Do all of the good parks already have a parkrun?

On top of all this, at the start I bumped into a man with a Pointer. Slightly different look to our Pointer and from a different breeder, but still very friendly and wanting to know if I had any snacks.

You’re Olympic, You Are

That was shouted to me yesterday morning as I was running some speed repeats. My Garmin virtual coach had me doing 7 x 1-minute repeats at 3:52 – 4:05 per km pace, with one minute jog between each one. Fairly speedy, but definitely not Olympic pace, despite what the cyclist shouted to me as he passed.

However, it did get me thinking about how fast Olympians are? I had a look at the three classic longer distances, the 5,000m, 10,000m and the marathon. The Olympic records for these distances respectively are, 12:57, 27:01 and 2 hours 6:32.

Those records are fast, and I will never run that fast, but how fast are they over 400m. Could I manage one lap of a track at their record pace?

For 5,000m it works out at 62 seconds for each lap, 10,000m is 65 seconds and a Marathon would be 72 seconds.

At some point I will head over to our local athletics track and run a flying lap to see just how much slower I am.

Can I run 400m at the pace of Olympic champions, even though they are running much further?

Cliffe Castle parkrun

Cliffe Castle parkrun has been my NENDY parkrun for a number of months, so today I made the 90-minute drive from Lancaster to Keighly to run Cliffe Castle.

First problem of the morning was getting the Sat Nav to accept the postcode. Next problem was that the Sat Nav wanted me to take the M6 south and then use the A59. The time difference between this route and the back roads was negligible, however there were lane closures on the M6.

Anyway, I found the carpark without any issues and because this week I had brought my phone with me, I had a little walk around the park taking a few photos.

The park isn’t very large, but there was a magnificent greenhouse/conservatory, and a very nice pond and a fountain, although the fountain isn’t turned on until 9.30. I could also near plenty of birds from an aviary.

The main house, possibly not quite a castle, was still very impressive, although the 70’s style concrete bunker that had been built adjacent looked out of place (to the far right in the photo below, partly hidden by the tree).

As it was windy and wet, I huddled inside the car until it was nearly time for the start. I made it in time for the tourist briefing, where the volunteer mentioned that it was a three and a half lap course, with 90% of it downhill, with one very large tough climb, which is as high at the Ribbleshead Viaduct. After the usual announcements it was time for the off.

My new coach, Amy from Garmin, had today down as an easy run, consisting of a 2-minute warm up, 4km run at an easy pace, finished off with a 2-minute warm down. Almost immediately my Garmin was beeping and buzzing, letting me know that I was going too fast. I then came upon “The Hill” for the first time. It was steep and it went on for far too long. My Garmin then started telling me that I was going too slow.

The nature of a three-lap course means that inevitably I will be overtaking a number of people on my final lap, although as there wasn’t too many people running today, this wasn’t a problem. At the end of the third full lap the course does a small loop past the pond and fountain, with another sharp little climb, thankfully not as long as “The Hill”.

My finishing time was 22:21, which I am more than happy with, and 6th overall. I was 2nd in my age-group, almost a minute behind the other man in my group. There were 86 hardy parkrunners along with a dozen volunteers. Overall, a very pleasant and friendly parkrun, and despite “The Hill” one that I would recommend if you’re in the area.

This was also my 50th different parkrun and I completed the Pirates challenge on the running challenges Chrome extension. The Pirates challenge involves running seven different parkruns beginning with the letter C, and one beginning with an R.

My parkruns were; Cheltenham, Clitheroe Castle, Cuerdon Valley (no longer a parkrun), Centre Vale, Conkers, Coventry, Cliffe Castle and Rothay Park. My next NENDY is Watergrove parkrun near Rochdale. See you there soon.

Garmin Coaches

One of the best things about the modern smart watches is how Garmin has fully integrated training plans available from a choice of different coaches. These include running and cycling training plans over a number of different distances. The training plans are then tailored to your own goals and ability, as well as giving you an idea of the confidence that you will achieve your target. I’m fairly sure that most of this is automated using clever algorithms, and that each coach isn’t delving into your own data each day before setting out your training plan for the following week.

My lovely wife Helen completed a half marathon training plan with coach Gregg earlier in the year when she was training a race in Anglesey. She has also completed a couple of 5km training plans, all with Gregg. She also looked at trying a different coach, Jeff, but his training plan included some quite technical drills.

I am currently aiming for a sub twenty-minute 5km. With this in mind I have started a training plan with Garmin. However, the fastest 5km training plan available is for 22 minutes, which is why I’ve not done one in the past. This time I have decided to complete a training plan and simply push myself a little quicker on each session than the recommended pace.

I completed a benchmark run earlier in the week with coach Jeff, which consisted of a two-minute warm up, followed by four minutes fairly hard and a two-minute cool down. The next day Jeff wanted me to warm up and then run walk run. I ignored him and simply went for a run with Nelly. Jeff then wanted me to complete a complex set of drills on parkrun day. I decided that Jeff wasn’t the right coach for me, and I have switch to coach Amy. Jeff also only had three scheduled runs each week, while Amy has four, which suits me better.

However, for Amy to set up a training plan, I had to do a five-minute time trial this morning. I think it went well. My next run is on Saturday and Amy wants me to warm up for two minutes, run 4km and cool down for two minutes. Perfect for a parkrun.

I’ll let you know how I get on as Amy’s plan includes speed work, hill reps, easy runs and longer slow runs.

Coventry Parkrun

Another weekend away. Me and my lovely wife headed down south to stay with Helen’s eldest son and his partner in Hitchin. We broke the journey up by staying at her brother’s house in Kenilworth, even though he was up in Fleetwood.

Anyway, the closest parkrun was Coventry, only four miles away, and Helen was also running along with our silly old pooch Nelly.

As expected, we arrived with plenty of time. However, neither of us had brought our phones, so the only photos are one that I “borrowed” off Google and another from an official photographer, although he managed not to take any photos of Nelly or Helen. The parkrun is within the War Memorial Park, with Parking at the Park and Ride (free for the first three hours). We had a walk around the park, which was really pleasant, with toilets that we free and well looked after.

We missed all of the run briefing, although Helen spotted that there was a person translating it into sign language, which we’ve never seen before. Lining up at the start there were a whole load of pens, depending on what time you expected to finish in. I lined up just behind the sub 20 minute area, not wanting to encroach upon the speedy people.

After my performance at Fleetwood last week, I ended up giving it some again. However, without the wind it felt much easier. The two lap route passes the War Memorial towards the end of the lap, and while the run was quite quick, it wasn’t pan flat.

I ran most of the run alongside a younger lad, who raced off from me with 100m to go, but he thanked me afterwards saying that he’d just managed a pb because I’d pushed him.

Amazingly my time was exactly the same as the previous week, 20:32. The big difference was that this week I finished 31st and was 2nd in my age group. More than happy with my result, and I think I can possibly manage a sub 20 minute parkrun before the end of the year.

I then waited for Helen and Nelly. I hadn’t realised how many people were taking part, and Nelly gets a bit stressed in crowds, so Helen had had no option but to take it easy for the first lap. Nelly is also 12 years old, and maybe parkrun isn’t for her anymore. They were both smiling though.

At the finish, Brooks were had a display and were giving away free running bottles, which we filled with water so that Nelly could have a drink.

Coventry was one of the best parkruns that I’ve done, and one of the busiest with 585 finishers, putting it in the top ten largest parkruns of the weekend. It was also my 150th parkrun, although there’s no t-shirt for 150. Only another 100 to go until I can claim a new shirt.

Emil Zatopek by Richard Askwith

Who is Emil Zatopek? He was probably the greatest middle- and long-distance runner the world has ever seen. He broke numerous world records and won Olympic medals, including three golds at the 1952 Olympics held in Helsinki, he was the first man to run under 29 minutes for 10,000m and was unbeaten at that distance for many many years.

Emil was born 19th September 1922 in what was Czechoslovakia and he showed little inclination for running when he was young, until he realised that running could make his life easier in the Czech army, with time off for training and extra rations, if he was good enough to represent the army. He surpassed that qualification quite soon, and it wasn’t long before he was travelling around Europe representing his country.

What made Emil different was the incredibly intense training methods he used. While his contemporaries, for example, Chris Chattaway would run a hard session and then take a few days to recover. Emil would push himself as hard as possible, and then do the same the next day. His training set him apart from anyone else. However, he was friendly to everyone he met and would happily share his training methods with his rivals. A standard Emil session would be 40 x 400m with 200m recovery between each one. He might then repeat this later in the afternoon. His training diary indicated that 100 x 400m was uncommon.

At the 1952 Olympics it was thought that his golden days in the 5,000m was coming to an end, so it was suggested that he might enter the marathon as a backup plan, even though he had never run a marathon at that time. However, he won the 5,000m, then the 10,000m and followed it up with gold in the marathon. A triple that has never been repeated and it is doubtful if it ever will. His wife also won a gold medal at those Olympics in the javelin.

It is said that at the start line of the 1956 marathon, Emil stated to his fellow competitors;

Gentlemen, today we die a little

All of this and much more, including how the communist regime hid him away for 20 years, is excellently written in the book by Richard Askwith. If you’re a running fan I would suggest that it is a must, and even if you’re not, it is an incredible story.

Emil was full of brilliant quotes. My favourite is when it gets tough, go harder. I used that when I was running a recent 10km and when I was at parkrun yesterday.

In celebration of his life, on the next anniversary of his birth, I will attempt to run 40 x 400m at the local athletics track and try to run them as hard as possible, just as he would have done.