Wednesday, 26 March 2014

Where is my Mojo?

Since my last entry I have experienced a few ups and downs.  I thought I would share them as they may resonate with some of you on some level.

Life can grind away at you at times and that can have a direct effect on your training, motivation and morale.  This entry is about how I experienced that phenomena over the last few weeks.

I went to Lugano and watched an incredible display of walking.  I was lucky enough to travel and stay with the UK teams.  Lots of people recognised the three legs on my clothes and some remembered the Lugano Trophy in 1985.  That was a wonderful feeling.  The sheer athleticism of most of the competitors was incredible.  The heat was intense - 24 degrees in the shade on race day.

While out there, I was informed of the passing of a family member.  It was difficult to be away from the family in those circumstances.  It put a taint on the trip.  I lost my way a little, struggled to find any motivation or pace and pulled out of the race after 11km.

The week following the trip I was feeling heavy and slow.  In my training sessions I was struggling to maintain any pace and felt breathless and it felt a real struggle.  I cut a few sessions short, simply not enjoying myself.  I experienced dark thoughts about it all being too much and that 85 miles simply seemed a mountain too high for me.  I had serious conversations with myself about failure.

Then I read Jock Waddington's blog entry.  Jock described a 10km race he had done that weekend.  He described how, contrary to expectations, the fitter you get, the harder it becomes.  That is SO true.  He came out with a line in his blog that stood out for me, like a neon flashing sign:

"Without mental strength and a willingness to succeed, it is very easy to give in and either slow down (because it doesn't hurt and you will be more comfortable) or quit altogether. For those wishing to achieve their target, neither is an option."

Here is a man who won the Parish Walk 4 times in a row - a unique achievement.  He knows what he is talking about.  

This was a bit of a wake up call for me.  You only fail once you stop trying.

So I decided to go for a walk with Jock.

I arranged to meet Jock, Richard Gerrard and Dave Walker at the NSC last Saturday at 0730.  They very kindly agreed to let me tag along.  I felt like a Domestique in a cycle team.  These are seriously tough guys.  Between these three they have a phenomenal pedigree:

5 Parish Walk wins
The Parish Walk record time
18 Parish Walk finishes
What's more, each of them has completed the Roubaix 28hour race.  The week after Roubaix 28,  Dave went on to do the End to End walk (39miles) and came 3rd!

We set off down the quay at a sensible pace to warm up and got into a good rhythm.  Richard explained that they would go "steady" for the first half and then "pick it up" later once they had some miles done.  We went along Marine Drive to Port Soderick and then along the Old Casteltown Road.  

The pace was conversational and I felt relatively comfortable.  There was lots of banter and joking which made the time pass really quickly.  Before I knew it we were in Ballasalla refilling water bottles at the shop.

I guessed this might have been the end of the first half and felt a little nervous and not sure of the route when I got dropped.  I was right - at some unseen signal Jock changed two gears and flew up the hill towards St Marks.  The others also changed gears and went with him.  I was left standing even though I was half expecting it to happen and had been warned.  I didn't actually have two gears left to change up!

I found going up that hill to St Marks very hard.  I was doing 5:25/km and they were going away from me.  As we still had 20km to go and that is my 20km race pace I wasn't sure what to do.  What was I doing there?  Who was I with?vvJocks words came back to haunt me...

 "it is very easy to give in and either slow down (because it doesn't hurt and you will be more comfortable) or quit altogether "
My body was screaming at me to slow down.  What the hell, I knew I had no option.  I had to speed up.  I didn't think I could sustain it but decided I was going to push at all costs.  By St Marks the gap was only 10 metres and then they slowed up and had a drink and a snack.  I could hardly speak, drenched and gasping for air.

Off we went again towards Crosby.  There is another climb up that road and exactly the same thing happened again.  They just flew up it - so I gave it my all.  We regrouped and dropped down the very steep descent into Crosby, then up the other along the Mt Rule Road heading back through Strang.  During the steep climb out of Crosby the three experienced guys spoke to me about nutrition and pacing on hills during the parish.  I was given some great advice about what to expect and how to react.  Some real wisdom.

I also knew what was coming next!  I took the advice and fuelled up on the steep section of the climb, estimating we had 6km to go.  Richard then injected some really serious pace again and off we went.   I decided I was going to see how long I could hold on and stuck to him. We did the final 5km back the the NSC considerably faster than my 5km personal best - yet we were still chatting all the way back.  I was fatigued though and told Richard this.  His reply was "yes I am feeling a bit peckish myself"...

At over 35 kilometres (22 miles) it was the second longest race walk I've ever done and it was brilliant! Great experience, completely exhilarating and I learned a lot, mainly about myself but also about endurance walking.

I also realised I had found my mojo.  

Since then my training has felt great.  Quite a contrast to how I felt a week ago - and I still managed a weekly total of 85km (53 miles)

Thank you guys!

My advice this week is two fold.

1. If you lose you mojo, it isn't gone, you will find it again
2. If you can, get out and walk with people better than you.  It will push you to do things you didn't realise you could do or won't do on your own

Sunday, 9 March 2014


So for me, the very word Lugano conjures up a whole range of memories and emotions.

It was the name of the race walking World Cup as Lugano was the first city to host it in 1961.  It was also hosted there in 1973.

The "Lugano Cup".

In September 1985, just after my 15th birthday, the Lugano Cup came to the Isle of Man.  It was held at St Johns.  All of the world finest race walkers came to the Isle of Man and as a 15 year old race walker, this was the most incredible thing I had ever seen.

Martin Young and I used to go down the promenade in Douglas every night where the international teams were training.  I don't think they could believe their eyes when these two kids were matching them stride for stride - albeit for a few hundred yards - absolutely killing ourselves to do so!

The 20k was won by the Spaniard Jose Marin and in second place was the Italian Maurizio Da Milano - two of the biggest names in race walking history.  The 50k was won by the big East German Hartwig Gauder.

It was both inspirational and formative.  The memories are etched forever.

Jose Marin (58) and Maurizio Da Minano(38) coming into St Johns from Peel

Hartwig Gauder(22) the 50k winner in St Johns.

So for me, the very word "Lugano" is synonymous with race walking.  It is, of course, a stunning city in Southern Switzerland close to the Italian border.  The city itself is on the edge of Lake Lugano, set in the Alps.

Every year, there is a large international race walking even in the city, around the shore of the lake.  It attracts the best race walkers in the world.  A flat fast course in stunning surroundings.

I do not count myself amongst this elite by any stretch of the imagination, however - I have the qualifying time.  All of my friend from Leeds are either going or have been given an international selection and...


So I am off on Friday to race in the 20km on Sunday.  I will probably be last but I will have the best seat in the house to watch the race and I may just get a personal best as well, inspired by the occasion.

This week has been less hectic than last week as I have started to taper for the race.  I have to admit I was pretty tired for most of the week after last weekends efforts!

I did manage an up-tempo 15km this morning and got round comfortably in 1hour 25.

My weekly total was a mere 61km this week and average pace was exactly 6mins/km.

I went to watch the Ascot Hotel Manx 20km yesterday.  I didn't compete as I am saving myself for next weekend.  I saw some solid personal bests set.  I though the 20 walk of the day was from my fellow blogger and four times Parish Walk winner Jock Waddington.  Jock has had a lot time out of the saddle and only recently been getting his strength back.  To have put in a 1:45 shows real quality and some serious strength.  It was very windy and he effectively doubled his 10k time from only a few weeks earlier.  The other spectacular performance for me was from from young Tom Partington.  25:00 for 5km.  He would have beaten me.  I think Birmingham was the last time I will ever beat that young man.  Following in his parent's footsteps, a thoroughbred if there ever was one!

I also had a good chat with Richard Gerrard - Parish Walk joint course record holder.  Rich was also spectating arriving in late from a Michael Buble concert.  .  He patiently let me quiz him for ages.  I was privileged to be able to tap into his knowledge and experience - trying to pick up tips for the big day.  A big thanks to him.

So, next time I post it will be back to serious distance training.  Of course, I will try and get lots of "selfies" with me and the stars of walking for my next post.  I can't think of anything more blatantly self indulgent. 

Can't wait!!

Sunday, 2 March 2014

Hail and High Water

I seem to have a recurring theme in naming my blogs after horrendous weather.  This weekend has been no exception.  The hail on Saturday morning was actually painful and the roads were a cm deep in slush afterwards - not fun.

Last week I hinted that this weekend was going to be a heavy one.  And I was right.   I will try and explain.

Everyone you listen to will tell you their story about their way to train for the parish walk.  I have listened a lot.  I struggle to distil any particular formula; it seems to be very personal - almost every aspect of it from mileage, pace, nutrition, recovery etc.

As a noobie, non finisher, I am worried about "hitting the wall" and walking on empty.  For me, training for the Parish has to be about mitigating or avoiding this for as long as possible.

So this weekend was designed for that purpose.  It is impossible to emulate the last 1/3 of the Parish walk, but you can do things to push your body hard and feel fatigued. This was the goal.

I had a relatively high mileage week so I would go into the weekend with heavy legs.

The goal was to totally empty the tank on Saturday and go into Sunday with really heavy legs and energy fatigue.  On Sunday, I wanted to be forced to refuel on the move and experiment with soups and bananas etc to see how my body copes.

The formula Saturday was 2 hours hard fast walking.  Then Sunday to walk 30km (19miles).

I felt anxious about Saturday as 2 hours hard hurts, I find it hard to keep driving with a big effort for that long.  I got into a steady rhythm and after 10km felt great.  I did the second 10km quicker than the first and went through 20km in 1:51:10, Half Marathon in 1:57 and ended up doing 21550 metres (13.5 miles).  That is 5:34/km or 8:56/mile.

I was wrecked at the end.  I had some lunch and fell asleep for an hour!  I spent the rest of the day eating, trying to recover for Sunday.

I was more relaxed about Sunday (today) as the goal was not to go hard, but just to get round the 30km. I was worried I would hit the wall at about 10km though.

I set off at a slow steady pace and did the first 10km in 63mins. At 10km I joined Adam, Michelle and Marie on the road. They wanted to do 20k.  The company was good and buoyed me up significantly.  Someone had stolen my flask of soup I left behind a tree at 12km and that made me a bit flappy as I was feeling very fatigued so I ate a gel and drank some orange squash instead.

I found my second soup stash at 19km and guzzled down a whole pint of soup and half a banana. I was famished and beginning to think I was hitting the wall at this stage.  I was on my own by 20km, dropped by the others but I got to 20km in 2:07 (16minutes slower than the day before!), another 64min 10km.

The soup and the banana seemed to do the trick.  I felt good quite quickly after them and picked up the pace.  I didn't mean to, I was working at the same rate/effort but the speed just picked up naturally, I began to feel good again.  The final 5km felt great, probably the best 5km of the weekend mentally.

I finished the 30km in 3:05, the final 10km being just under 58mins. Given the punishment I had given myself on Saturday I am really happy with how the weekend went.

Weekly total was 99km.
Weekend total was 51.5km (32miles) 5:55/km average or 9:32/mile

I have been worried about my fitness and race form, suspecting I was on about 1:54 form for 20km, but the 1:51 on Saturday with heavy legs told me I am stronger than I thought.  It must be all this training or something?

There is an international 20km in Lugano, Switzerland on the 16th of March.  The qualification standard is 1:52 and if you go over 1:55 your time does not count.  I am now seriously thinking about going.

Watch this space...