Bridge Runners in New York City

Epic Shot

Last night I finally got to run with the legendary Bridge Runners in New York and it completely lived up to my very high expectations. Bridge Runners are the original foundation running crew. Legend has it that founder Mike Saes was late to pick his kids up from school one day and was caught in traffic in a taxi. He realised he’d be quicker on foot, so hopped out of the taxi and ran across the bridge, making it in time to pick up his kids. He got such an endorphin high from the run that he’s been running ever since.

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Running with Bridge Runners was one of the main reasons I picked New York as the destination for my birthday celebrations this year. Jason and I had already had an amazing day in the city, watching the New York Mets slay the Phillies at baseball (I caught a match ball), and taking in great aerial views of the city walking the High Line. Time ran away with us and we were almost missed the crew, arriving just as they were setting out for their run. I’m so grateful we caught them.

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Mike was really happy to see us and we were made to feel very welcome by everyone. It was such a good vibe. We dropped our bags under the tarpaulin in the bar on Bowery that they run out of, and then headed down to the subway. We got to know some of the other runners and other international guests from Frankfurt and Moscow as we made our way to the Bronx for the start of tonight’s run. This was unusual for the crew- while they often bring MetroCards in order to get back from the destinations of their runs, they normally start out of 310 Bowery.

Better Hill Shot

The run began going straight up a steep hill, so Jason had quite a baptism of fire; this was his first run since completing the Copenhagen marathon in a stellar time of 3:30 on Sunday. At the top we stopped for a photo with the beautiful sunset, and then turned to cross a bridge to Randall’s Island. The views over the East River were epic. I would never have gone to the island otherwise and when we got to the other side of the bridge there was another fantastic view of the sunset.

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We then ran past an athletics stadium and hospital for the mentally unwell as dusk fell, running under the fantastically named Hell’s Gate bridge. Mike Saes told me he was planning to have relay races under this bridge in the future, tagging the event Below Hell.

Epic Shot

Then we got to what appeared to be a dead end. Mike explained that what we were about to do next was possibly not technically legal, but if anyone asked us, we didn’t know that right? A new bridge was being built under Hell’s Gate Bridge and was cordoned off from the general public, as it was incomplete. To quote Briggitte, there followed some “cross the wires on the unpaved bridge without breaking your ankles vibes”, so we walked as it was too dangerous to run. Finally we climbed through a gap in the wire fence to take a crew shot beneath the barbed wire at the other end. It felt exciting to be exploring somewhere we technically shouldn’t be, and the crew shot looked absolutely epic.

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We then took another bridge back across to the Bronx and after a few more twists and turns we arrived in Harlem at Patsy’s Pizzeria, where several delicious pizzas had been ordered and were waiting for us. Appetites sated, we hopped back on the subway and back to Bowery.

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Running out of a bar really lends itself to post-run socialising and I’m all for it. Chatting after the run over a beer, I was really excited to hear Mike’s plans for future Bridge the Gap movements. He thinks about running the same way the Wu-Tang Clan thought about hip-hop in the early 90s, and it’s pioneering and ground-breaking. There are plans afoot to have monthly Bridge The Gap events with evening runs in different places around the world, open to the general public on race day but open to the crews from Friday onwards. It sounds fantastic- the equivalent of a Lollapalooza of running, and I have no doubt Mike will make it happen.

Warriors

I really can’t overstate how good an experience this was. It fulfilled all my Warriors fantasies of New York and everyone in the crew was so warm and welcoming. If you’re considering a trip to the Big Apple, don’t delay, book it up and make sure you leave Wednesday evening free to run with Bridge Runners. I hope to see Mike and many more of the crew over in London soon.

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Props to Jason Lawrence and Bridge Runners for the flicks.

Paris Marathon

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The first new post in ages as I’ve been busy with marathons, awards and work!

Its good to be back.
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So, Paris Marathon. I love the way running takes me all over the world. This was my first trip to Paris in 15 years. Last time I convinced myself I could speak and understand French better when drunk, and therefore spent the majority of the time in a boozy haze. Its testament to how much my lifestyle has changed that I was returning to run the marathon, and while I had the odd beer, those days of excess are long gone. I feel much better for it.

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I travelled on Eurostar for the first time. Such a great experience and so easy. It makes Europe much more accessible. I hope to be back for more travels soon.

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The weather was beautiful for the first couple of days. I made the most of the opportunity to do some sight-seeing as well as getting over to the expo to pick up my race pack. As far as expos go, this one was pretty good.

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Sight-seeing highlights were my visit to the Moulin Rouge, chilling out at Sacre-Coeur and above all climbing the Eiffel Tower. Once I began the ascent on foot to the second level I was forcibly reminded that I suffer from vertigo. My hands were sweating and my head spun, but I told myself if I could do this, the marathon would be easy. The children laughing and running about at the top reinforced Shakespeare’s notion that “Nothing’s good or bad, but thinking makes it so.” The views were spectacular and it was a great way to take in the sights of the city in the sunshine. I felt mentally empowered.

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I caught up with friends from Run Dem Crew at the Jeff Koons exhibition and some of us went for a final carb-loading dinner on Saturday evening. I stayed at the Hotel Arvor, which was well located in Montmartre. Definitely a location I would recommend, and I had a good-sized room, but I didn’t sleep as well as I would have liked.

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This was the first time I really understood how to carb-load properly and I’m convinced it had a positive impact on my race. I ate over 70% carbs from Thursday through to the morning of the race. This took planning, but bagels are the carb-loader’s friend, as is pasta. I was able to run strong in the later stages of the race because I got this preparation right.

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The race itself was an absolute dream, played out on a sunny morning but not so hot it became unpleasant. I had set myself three goals. Number one was to enjoy the race, number two was not to walk during a marathon for the first time and three was to run a BQ, but not at the expense of number one. I’m happy to say I managed all three.

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Like many training for spring marathons, I’d had my share of illnesses during the training period, and had found myself becoming depressed about the way a Boston Qualifying time seemed to be slipping away from me. Then Paulie Roche’s medal speech in Housekeeping at Run Dem Crew reminded me that more important than the time we run is how we feel during a marathon. It was like flicking a switch in my head- everything felt better. Thank you, Paulie.

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The race starts on the Champs Elysees and you see spectacular sights, including Notre Dame and the Eiffel Tower. The first mile is downhill. There are a few hills that you feel more towards the end, but nothing PB-threatening. You run through two different parks for 5/6 miles each, which I really enjoyed. As you run beside the Seine you go through some tunnels, some of which have disco lights and music, and one of which was apparently the one in which Princess Diana and Dodi Al-Fayed tragically died.

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Special shout-out to this lady, who walked the course with 20kg of water on her head to raise awareness of water shortages in parts of Africa.
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Crowd support was great. Lots of really enthusiastic cheering and high-fives were to be had, and a good number of people recognised the Run Dem Crew t-shirt. Paris Run Club had a cheer point at the 30km mark, which was a welcome boost, and Run Dem Crew were at 35km. Knowing they were there really kept me going, and it was great to see Azra and co as I powered through.

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After that I slowed slightly, but was still able to run at PB pace. I almost caught up with Steven Layton, Richard George and Alex Morrison, who’d started in the wave in front of me, but couldn’t quite reel them in. On the final mile my right hamstring cramped up so I slowed right down, knowing I would get a good for age Boston Qualifying time as long as I didn’t injure myself on the final straight. It felt incredible to cross the finish line having enjoyed the whole thing, run the whole way and also got the BQ.

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Its crazy that we cross the finish line at a marathon and stop running immediately. It would be better if we carried on at a snail’s pace doing a one or two mile cool-down, but that wasn’t an option. I felt light-headed and it took a while before I could converse normally, but I queued up for an excellent post-race massage and then met up with other crew members. It was great to hear everyone’s stories and to share the endorphin high. We went for lunch and beers at a nearby bar, and then it was time to head back on the Eurostar as I had to be in my classroom the next morning.

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It was a pleasure to run Paris with these good people. Big ups to Cheer Dem for supporting us. Next stop New York for some crew running in May.

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Here’s The Thing

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Less than two weeks till Paris Marathon. I’m in the taper and despite a typically up and down training process, I’m feeling good. My last long run went pretty well. I was able to do most of the miles at marathon pace and felt good most of the way. I enjoyed the sunshine, smiling and taking in the friendly faces, wildlife and boats of the River Lea. My mission to say hello to fellow runners and get them to return the favour is even starting to bear fruit.

I’ve dwelled on the negatives of this training cycle in a previous post, but there have been many positives. I’ve made full body stretching a fundamental part of my routine for the first time thanks to weekly yoga and great advice from the Advanced Marathoning book.

I’ve completed all of my 20 mile long runs. In 2013 my calf swelled up like a ham after my first one. No such drama this time!

I’ve been able to get core and strength work in. When work has been intense that has fallen by the wayside but some is better than none.

I’m already feeling the benefits of the taper and have felt sharp and strong on recent runs. Although I’m working through part of the Easter holiday I’m going to be able to rest and eat well. I know more about nutrition than in previous marathons, although carb-loading in Paris could be a challenge!

I’m hyped about exploring Paris. Its been more than ten years since I was last there. I’m staying in Montmartre, one of my favourite areas. I’m really looking forward to checking out some art. I’ve never been to The Louvre and I want to see the Jeff Koons exhibition at Le Marais.

I’m even cautiously optimistic about being able to parlez un peu le Francais. Hopefully Hugo Muzelle can hook us up with some Paris Run Club connects to make the experience all the more enjoyable. And massive big ups to the people coming out to cheer us on in the race. Some are even cycling all the way. I’m really looking forward to hanging out with you guys and know that you’ll give all us runners a big lift. Its really appreciated.

Here’s the thing. Whatever time I put down in Paris, I’m determined to enjoy the weekend and particularly the race. I’ll give it all I have on the day and of course I’ll be happy if I reach my goal time. I hope to get round the whole course without walking, which would be a first. But more importantly I aim to high-five some Parisians and remember how lucky I am to be able to run, to have the funds to do it in a foreign city and to have a place in New York Marathon later in the year when I can do it all again.

In the quest for PBs its easy to lose sight of how lucky we are.

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The Bumpy Road to Paris

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Paris marathon training has not been going well. I’ve hit a number of bumps in the road. The first five weeks and the last five weeks of my eighteen-week programme have been like night and day.

The first five weeks I did every single training run. That’s 6 runs a week, 30 runs in total. In terms of my heart and my muscles, I was able to complete the runs just fine. But the jump up from 10K training to full marathon was too swift. I got metatarsalgia- bruising of the bones on the base of my feet. As a consequence I took half a week off training, which helped. I made a decision to reduce my weekly runs from six to five, and felt pretty positive moving forward.

The following week I got ill with a cold and so had to miss all my weekend runs, as well as a Ghostpoet gig I’d been looking forward to. Not ideal, but these things happen so I was philosophical about it. The week after I was back at it, completing all five of my training runs in spite of still carrying a bit of lurgy, and felt as if I was moving forward positively at last.

The week after was an unusual week. It began with running 9 miles at suicide pace with Run Dem Crew elites on Tuesday. I was beasted after that so opted not to do an easy run the next day. On Thursday I went to Track Mafia and ran another really hard workout, doing 6 x 800 at a pace outside my comfort zone towards the back of the fast group. Since I was running FlatLine 10 on Sunday, I then opted not to do an easy run on Friday or Saturday. I now regret this, but it made sense at the time. FlatLine 10 is 10 miles up and down Swain’s Lane, one of the steepest hills in London. There is no flat running, and I knew it would be exhausting. It was a great experience as usual, but I have to admit I was hugely tempted to stop running and walk the last couple of times up the hill. I’m glad I held out and hope that will stand me in good stead out on the Paris Marathon course. FlatLine does wonders for the mental side of your training, but there’s a physical hangover the following week. As I’d skipped the recovery runs I ran just 26 miles that week, even if all 26 miles were done in extremely challenging conditions.

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On the following Monday I was determined not to make the same mistake of not getting my easy runs in, so did a very leggy post-FlatLine recovery run. And then I was ill again, this time with a horrible stomach bug. It was completely unrelated to the last illness, and kept me bed-ridden and unable to eat for days. At the end of it I’d lost half a stone and my sum total of running for the week was 3 miles. I’d seen my avatar slide way down the Strava February MTS rankings;a competition in which you take on your friends to see who can run the most miles in a month.

As this week has come around I’ve found myself understandably sluggish on my runs, and needing more recovery time than normal. I wasn’t able to eat a full meal from Tuesday to Sunday of last week. As a consequence, I was only able to manage 3 miles of a scheduled 10 at marathon pace yesterday. In time I know I’ll get back to my best, but I’ve had five weeks now of hitting bumps in the road after an initial five weeks of smooth running. I’m worried more about the lack of running at marathon pace than the mileage missed over this period. It effectively leaves me four weeks before my taper, so I have four weeks to get marathon pace comfortably back into my legs over distance. It’s achievable, but I really hope there are no more hiccups on the way.

I’ve really missed Run Dem Crew the past two weeks. Well-meaning friends and family have booked me tickets for things on a Tuesday. Much as I am grateful and have enjoyed the theatre trips, I’ve hugely missed the psychological boost of being with the crew on a Tuesday. Run Dem is like a happiness fix. It also provides an opportunity to run well above marathon pace with the elites every week, which is something I feel my body needs at the moment in order to get itself back into shape.

I know I’m lucky to be able to run as fast as I do. I know that my bad training weeks are someone else’s dream week. But I really hope I can stay illness and injury free between now and Paris so I can give myself every chance of running the race I know I’m capable of when I’m out there. Here’s to a happy and healthy finish to training.

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New York State of Mind

Sometimes when you least expect it the things you’ve been searching for come searching for you.

This week I found out I’ve qualified to run the New York Marathon. When I ran 1:24:17 at the Berlin Half Marathon last year, New York was the last thing on my mind. It was Mother’s Day, and as I ran I was thinking about the strength and love of the woman who brought me into the world. I was over the moon with my new PB, and that, I thought, was the end of that…

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Until last Sunday when I followed a link Dan Maskit had posted on the Run Dem Crew Facebook page. It shows the times you need to run to get guaranteed entry in this year’s New York marathon. I was suffering with a heavy cold that day so thought I must have made a mistake when it appeared to say I had qualified due to my Berlin Half time. I shook my head, turned the computer off, and didn’t return to it till the next day.

At that point, upon seeing I hadn’t been delirious, excitement kicked in. I have a significant birthday coming up, and it’s opening all sorts of doors for me as a runner. I quickly filled out the application form. I didn’t expect to hear back for a while, so was not prepared for the endorphin party that would be triggered when I checked my emails late on Tuesday night and saw the message below. Sleep was not on the agenda for some time after that.

From a very young age New York has always held a strong attraction for me. My Mum says when she took me to the Natural History Museum as a four year old, which was also my first tube journey, the first thing I said on coming out of South Kensington station and seeing all the tall buildings was “Are we in New York now?” One of my favourite TV programmes at that time was the original live-action TV Spiderman show, and over the next few years as breakdancing crossed over into the mainstream I became obsessed with all things New York. The Roxanne wars were hotly debated in the playground (Shante for life!) and I even set up my own breakdance crew, picking up all manner of bruises throwing down moves to electro compilation soundtracks.

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Sadly, this is not my breakdance crew.

When I finally made it to New York for myself in 2004 I wandered around like I was in a movie set, gawping at everything. I was running back then, and Central Park was my playground. I barely slept, saw Dead Prez, Immortal Technique and Talib Kweli live as well as tonnes of theatre and some jazz. When I took the taxi back to JFK my driver was moved to say “You’ve done more things in this city in one week than I do in a year! This is like a wake up call for me… After I drop you off, I’m gonna go home and take the wife out on the town. You only got one life, buddy!”

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I was unable to take part in the New York Bridge Runner’s 10 Year Anniversary Bridge the Gap last year as it fell during term time. Fortunately, the marathon is in half term, although I’m going to have to ask my boss for an extra day off or else I’ll have to fly straight from the race into my classroom. Fingers crossed!

I’d actually booked a trip to New York in May as a birthday celebration, and I’m thrilled to be going twice in one year. Last time I went I almost moved over there. I’m really looking forward to following in the footsteps of Paula Radcliffe, who I remember watching dominate the New York marathon 10 years ago. I’m hyped to get the chance to run with the New York crews, catching up with Jeggi from Black Roses, Adam from Orchard Street Runners, and meeting Mike Saes, the godfather of running crews and founder of Bridge Runners.

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I’ve been entering the ballots for the World Marathon Majors since 2013 with no luck and while I’ve been pleased for my friends running Tokyo, London, Berlin, New York, Chicago and Boston I’ve also felt a bit left out. It feels so good to have made it in by virtue of my own hard work. Charlie Dark says if you train hard, the race is a celebration. Back in Berlin in March 2014 I didn’t realise my runner’s high would extend into 2015. Life is one big chess game.

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Before New York I have the significant matter of the Paris Marathon, at which I am attempting to qualify for Boston, the only marathon in the world for which there are no charity or ballot places; you have to be fast to get in. If I’m successful, I will run Paris, New York and Boston within a year. I’m loving how running is taking me all over the globe.

That said, it’s the simple things that matter, and today’s Irish Breakfast Club 17 miler with Junior and Jason was great. Kate and Jason had baked some delicious peanut butter cookies for us on finishing. You know you’ve been putting in work when you accidentally invent the new season camo-edition Run Dem shoe tags on your long run.

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Paris and New York soon come. Boston won’t qualify for itself.

“In New York,
Concrete jungle where dreams are made of
There’s nothin’ you can’t do
Now you’re in New York
These streets will make you feel brand new
Big lights will inspire you
Let’s hear it for New York, New York, New York”

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From Dib Dab to Dibaba

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Roll up, roll up, for one man’s journey from Dib Dab to Dibaba. Over the next three months, in an occasional series, I will chronicle my friend Junior’s attempt to transform himself from a man sometimes seen munching through a six-pack of McCoys to the owner of an abdominal six-pack as he trains for the London Marathon. 1375148_10153404053600273_602942809_n

You have to go back to the summer of 2013 to find the origins of this story. The hashtag #dibabalife was trending within Run Dem Crew. I first saw it being used by Jeggi Elinzano, co-coach alongside Cory Wharton-Malcolm at the Thursday evening track sessions at Paddington Rec. As we pushed each other to complete ever faster loops around that 400m “O”, Jeggi would shout “Diamond League” in reference to the elite athletics meets on British TV that summer. The hashtag #dibabalife would fly about on social media for a few hours afterwards, as we celebrated our hard work and the dream that one day we would be able to run with a fraction of the grace, speed and guts of any of the Ethiopian Dibaba sisters. Tirunesh_Dibaba_Bislett_Games_2008 Towards the end of that summer, Junior asked me, “Chris, what’s all this about ‘Dib Dab Life’ on twitter?” What could I say? There’s something endearingly Junior-esque about mistaking a reference to elite endurance athletes for Sherbet Dip Dabs. barratt-dip-dab-821-p

Last weekend, that all came back to me as Jason and I helped Junior through a 10 mile training run along the River Lea. We’d crushed a marathon-pace nine-miler together the previous weekend, but this time he found the going tough, even walking a couple of times. At the correct, slower long-run pace, I’m confident Junior can eliminate this, so if he hits the wall in the marathon, he will cope. Boats_on_river_lea I’m calling our intrepid trio the Irish Breakfast Club due to my heritage and the high quality black pudding served at Aran’s Cafe in Stamford Hill, our regular post-run nutrition-stop. To be fair, Junior doesn’t eat the stuff, but it’s as good a name as any. While we ate, we talked Junior through a training plan that will get him ready for the London Marathon in 3 months time. Junior has a challenging time goal in mind, so I explained what pace he should run his different training runs at, and now it’s up to him. Consistency is key. IMG_3852 Success is in Junior’s hands. He has the backing of the Run Dem family and of Irish Breakfast Club. The challenge is for him to commit to the rest of the training plan, getting the runs in at the required pace on the days when the sofa calls and he doesn’t have Jason and me to pull him along. Knowing how determined Junior can be, I’m backing him for success.

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This weekend Junior, Jason and Paul Bains are hitting the hills of Gravesend as our hero takes on 12 miles. Wish him luck. Junior is raising money for Sense, the charity for deafblind people. You can sponsor him here.

Paris Marathon Training Update

There’s been a slight setback this past week but generally Paris Marathon training has been going very well. I’m well into the sixth week of my plan, and for the first five weeks I managed to complete every scheduled training session. My fitness has improved and I feel physically stronger.

Last weekend, for the first time in this training cycle, I was lucky enough to do my long run with friends. Junior had just secured his place in the London Marathon, which is two weeks after Paris, and was scheduled to do a 9 miler. I had 14 miles to do and Jason, who’s running the Tokyo Marathon for the second time next month was down to do the full 20 miles. We decided to head down to where the River Lea passes near my home in Hackney, and to enjoy the forecast good weather with the benefit of a flat course, enabling us to focus on form and pace.

I enjoyed pacing Junior through his nine miles with Jason. Junior was strong over the first five, but then the doubts set in. Jason and I had warned him we wouldn’t let him reduce the pace or stop, and we were as good as our word. I could tell from Junior’s running form that he was physically in a good place; the need to stop was all in his mind. He powered through to the start of the eighth mile, but then psychologically it became even more tough for him. In spite of this we were able to help Junior keep the pace up so that he finished within 5 seconds of his target pace, as we’d agreed.

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We stopped to catch breath and high five Junior, then Jason and I headed East towards the Olympic Park. We accelerated to our marathon goal pace, but all too soon I had to peel off and leave Jason to carry on his longer run alone as I headed home. I slowed slightly over the last half mile, but it was all uphill, so no worries there. Jason powered through and managed to complete his 20 miles in sterling fashion.

There’s a challenge on Strava where you see how many kilometres you can run in the month. I’m near the top of the leaderboard of my friends due to to the heavier training load, but it has contributed to a niggle that has not gone away, and which eventually led me to listen to my body and take a few days off running this week. I seem to have bruised the metatarsal bones on the bottom of my feet through increasing my pavement pounding too quickly- the right more than the left- leading to a dull ache that I initially ran through. I have flat feet, which may have exacerbated the problem, so when it didn’t go away, I took the first half of this week off, and then did track yesterday. The feet feel much better, and although they’re not 100%, I think I’m alright to push on with the training plan. I’m permanently swapping one of the two scheduled easy runs for supplementary training, as my plan had me running six days a week and I want to reduce my load. I’m also getting some trail shoes so I can run on softer, more forgiving surfaces. Watch this space for news of trail running with Chris McLean and co.

Hal Higdon claims you won’t have time to cross-train when doing his Advanced Marathon Plan, but he doesn’t know about me. Having read a lot about the need for supplementary strengthening and stretching work in Advanced Marathoning, I’ve been doing my best to incorporate some yoga, bodyweight and core training into my routine. I actually enjoy and look forward to stretching and foam rolling these days- crazy. I’m making an effort to get out to Paddington Rec for Track Mafia on a Thursday whenever possible, and will be putting hill training or threshold runs in on those Thursdays when I can’t make it. I’m also keen to get back to the yoga classes at 1948 on a Monday once my social diary calms down from February. I’m also keen to find a tune-up race or two- I hope FlatLine10 will be back in February, and I’d like to do a half or 15/20 miler as well if I can find one. Any tips?

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So, six weeks in to Paris Marathon training I’m enjoying it, am listening to my body, have built an endurance base and am ready to move into the next cycle. I’m so excited about hitting the streets of Paris with Run Dem Crew. Bring it on.

If you’ve enjoyed reading, you can vote for this blog at the 2015 Running Awards here.