Dégustation – My Médoc

The last time I mixed alcohol with athleticism it almost landed me a £2000 fine. Following a night out with my best man and unwilling to wait twelve minutes I raced a departing Metrolink tram from Shudehill to Victoria Station. I emerged victorious but wasn’t permitted to board said beaten tram because apparently you can’t go through the tram entrance to the station. So to paraphrase Kipling “Oh alcohol is alcohol, and running is running, and never the twain shall meet.”

Yet one chilly February evening I sat in the Same Yet Inn listening to three Marathon Des Châteaux du Médoc veterans, T-Dog, Massage Hands and Be Nice, harp on about their annual running jaunt around the Bordeaux vineyards. The ‘Wine Marathon’ starts in Pauillac and the course meanders in and around the Médoc vineyards along the left bank of the Gironde Estuary near Bordeaux. It is the standard 26.2 miles (42.2km) in length but with twenty plus wine stops! Furthermore it is ran in themed fancy dress. Initially sceptical I was eventually drawn in and by night’s end my flights to Bordeaux were booked.

It would be my first Médoc but T-Dog’s 5th, Massage Hands’ 4th and Be Nice’s 3rd trips and every year they always dressed the same irrespective of theme. They wore mid 1990s France or Man Utd replica football jerseys together with Eric Cantona face masks. The Three Cantonas of Médoc. In 2019 Superheroes was the theme so I, with my 1992-94 Newton Heath inspired shirt, would join them as Le Quatrième Cantona. Eric, the superhero for the red half of Manchester.

Following a couple of eventful days in the beautiful city of Bordeaux race day finally arrived. We were up bright (well dark actually) and early for the 0630 shuttle bus to Pauillac. The weather did not bode well as it poured down nearly all journey. I, being the newbie, was immediately classed a jinx and christened ‘Rain Man’. Fortunately the rain cleared up and the sun came out just as we arrived in Pauillac.

The start area was thronged with excited athletic wine aficionados in Super Mario, Spiderman, Captain America, Wonderwoman and more costumes. We were treated to an aerial performance on high wires suspended above us then just before the starting gun two French Air Force Alphajets screeched overhead. We were a Cantona down as Massage Hands was ‘otherwise engaged’ so T-Dog, Be Nice and I set off with the principle objective of just beating the 6:30 sweeper cart. If we failed in that there’d be no medal or bottle of wine at the end.

Be Nice’s race strategy was clear, bypass the winestops up until half way then imbibe thereafter. The remaining three Cantonas would adopt the Jonathan Swift ‘better the belly burst than good liquor be lost‘ strategy and hit them all from the first at Château Haut-Batailley until the last at Château Montrose.

The first 6km was just like any old marathon. T-Dog restrained my natural instincts to settle into my usual marathon pace. ‘It’s not about time Mike, relax’. It all changed upon reaching Château Haut-Batailley when a fine Bordeaux was thrusted into our welcoming hands. Be Nice clattered on whilst we savoured the glorious Claret.

Standing waiting for Massage Hands provided time to observe the passing mass of dressed up runners. It was obvious some had preloaded given their already tottering gaits. T-Dog greeted those dressed in highly restrictive costumes with a ‘they clearly haven’t thought that through’ and those dressed in standard running gear with ‘they obviously didn’t get the email’.

Massage Hands finally caught up to us 10km in whilst at Château Gruaud-Larose. It was the third stop and the first to serve in wine glasses rather than plastic cups. Jesus it tasted divine and waiting around was no problem as we enjoyed a second and third glass. I had finally settled into Médoc pace.

The chateau wine stops rattled by on average every three kilometres. From the grandioseness of Châteaux Pichon-Baron and Lafite-Rothschild to the little one by the side of the road in Pauillac each one had their uniqueness and the quality of the wines was outstanding. Running through the dusty roads amongst the rolling vineyards was majestic however the amount of people seeking urinary relief amongst the vines was a tad off putting. I was advised to venture at least 30 metres in if I wanted to pinch a grape (btw that is not a euphemism).

The support along the route was incredible. Obviously given our get up we got many ‘oh ah Cantona’ and ‘allez Canto’ chants throughout from spectators and runners. One runner sidled up beside me and recited the famous ‘when the seagulls follow the trawler’ quote. Fair play to the lad. I only noticed one other runner dressed as their footballing icon, a Finnish FKW in a Norwich City away kit with Fantasy Football’s man of the moment Teemu Pukki on the back.

Whilst in the grounds of Château le Haye, bedecked in large multicoloured helium balloons, at 32km I got myself into and out of a little bind. My daughter was born in the late 2000s and she enjoyed an Icelandic show popular on CBBC called Lazy Town. I bumped into a group of Icelanders dressed as the lead character.

“You’re dressed as Sportacus aren’t you? From Lazy Town. Such a shame the lad died recently.”

“No he didn’t.”

“Yes he did. I saw it on the news.”

“No he didn’t. The guy’s a personal friend of ours. We saw him last week.”

“Are you sure? Really? Ah yes you’re right. It was the guy that played Robbie Rotten.”

Thankfully they laughed and we parted in good form.

Like all marathons the last 10km are the real tester. My feet were aching and my right abductor muscle was giving me some jip. The mind started at me and the nagging doubt about finishing tried to sow its ugly seed however the camaraderie eased me through it.

The last 5km was a long straight road back into Pauillac that could have been mind numbingly boring but for the pièce de résistance. As if the race had not given enough en route what with the fine wine and delectable aid stations we were treated to oysters, cheese, entrecôte steak and ice cream. How my stomach stood it all I’ll never know.

The finish arrived not long after the ice cream and as we approached the Three Cantonas spread out, clasped hands in the air, put our Eric masks back on, turned up our collars and sang ‘oh ah Cantona’ to the tune of La Marseillaise. 6:12:47, a marathon personal worst by multiple hours but as a wise man said ‘it’s not about time.’ We were handed our finishers medals and bottle of wine and then hobbled to the free bar, yes free bar, to rendezvous with Be Nice.

It’s hard to pick a favourite wine from the twenty but if I had to it would be the 2015 Frank Phélan at Château Phélan-Segur. An Irish name, his ancestor was a Wild Goose, but very much a delightful Bordeaux wine. My least favourite? A bullshit dessert wine I was tricked into drinking somewhere near halfway.

Médoc was terrific fun with so many hazy memories banked for the rest of my life. Although it is an epic moving piss up it is also a wonderful showcase of all that Médoc and then Bordeaux region has to offer. As Be Nice said “they know what they’re doing, they’re no fools.” Marathon des Châteaux du Médoc ensures that those that participate go forth and become vocal ambassadors for the region and its produce. No more will I ask for an Argentine Malbec or a Californian Pinot Noir in bars or restaurants. I’m an old world wine convert and from now on it’ll be ‘what do you have from Bordeaux?’

(L-R) Be Nice, Massage Hands, yours truly, T-Dog

Full Tour Runner

“Hello part-timer.”

The reaction of fellow PACs when I rocked up to Hell on the Fell 2018. They were doing all four stages in the annual Tour of Tameside series whereas I was only running the two on our club championship list. An air of athletic superiority exuded from those with ‘Full Tour Runner’ written upon their race numbers, I resented the ‘part-timer’ slight but also had severe run envy. Fast forward twelve months and I was about to embark on my Full Tour.

The Tour of Tameside was the idea of iconic marathon runner and running kit designer Ron Hill. Originally 6 events over 7 days it has since been whittled down to a more manageable four over four, or four over 62/63 hours to be precise-ish.

First up was the X-Trail 10k on Thursday evening. I arrived at Oldham RUFC, race HQ, in forgetful mood having left my watch back at home so I’d have to go at this one naked. The race itself was set amongst the grounds of Daisy Nook and Park Bridge Country Parks. It started off with a few nasty inclines and declines but then settled into a flatish out and back until a final 1km of slaloming and rollercoastering through a tight wooded trail. I crossed the finish line situated in an Endor-like setting in just under 45 minutes, a full 2.5 minutes under target pace but running by feel felt good.

Is it Endor or is it Daisy Nook?

Next up was Hell on the Fell 6 mile race in Stalybridge, or Staly Vegas as the locals call it, on Friday evening. Having ran without a watch the evening before I opted for a half way house and put a bit of electrician’s insulation tape over the watch face. I’m a notorious watch lookeraterer but my discipline held for the entire series.

Following a fast downhill start we turned on to Stocks Lane and after exchanging greetings with a spectating Tamesider whom I hadn’t seen for a while we commenced a four mile ascent. It was very hard going. At three miles we turned off Mottram Moor Rd and were met by two fantastically placed PAC marshals in Louise and Rob. It was then along country roads, up a grassy field that had it been wheat would’ve sent Theresa May into orgasmic convulsions and then it was onto the Fell. In 2018 I got to the top of the Fell within touching distance of Duncan, the Heaton parkrun scribe, but my fell descent was so abysmal I ultimately finished two minutes behind him. This year I threw caution to the West Pennine winds and attacked the one mile sharp descent like a Little House on the Priareer overdosed on EPO. Unlike last year not one person passed me and I overtook numerous runners on the way down. Exhilarating!

The quiet village of Hadfield, aka Royston Vasey, was the venue for the third stage on Saturday morning, the Hero Half Marathon. The race commenced following a charity run in memory of Nicola Hughes, one of the police officers murdered by Dale Creggan in nearby Hattersley in 2012. After a one mile loop around Hadfield it was on to the Longdendale Trail for nearly twelve miles. I love half marathons, they’re my ideal distance generally, but this out and backer on top of a hard race the night before was going to be a headfecker alright.

The trail had a mixture of densely wooded sections broken up by open areas with dramatic backdrops. The West Pennine Moors accompanied us to either side together with Bottoms, Torside and Woodhead Reservoirs. The unmistakable sound of gunfire after about five miles may have alarmed some however I knew it was from the Boar Clay shooting range, a place that I once frequented.

Up the Longdendale Trail

On the way back down the trail I got involved in a wee stramash with another runner. If there’s one thing that gets my goat it’s littering so when the runner in front of me took a gel pack from his gaping pocket, consumed the contents and then whizzed the empty packet into the grass verge I couldn’t remain silent. After a heated exchange I was bluntly told to ‘fuck off!’ My blood boiled but I kept focused and a mile later I eased past him so I suppose there’s my justice but there’s still a discarded gel packet out on that trail.

Just before the thirteen mile marker we were motioned off the trail to the right and up a nasty little incline and then downhill to a storming finish. It was an arduous race that practically nobody enjoyed but my 1:40 target was bang on and so it was on to fourth and final stage on Sunday morning.

Hyde was the location for the Dr Ron Hill 7 mile race and the centre of town was alive with runners early on Sunday morning. Male and female tour leaders Mohammed Abdurezeq and Kirstie Longley looked fresh as daisies warming up and full tourers were excited about getting a hold of the fourth medal and finishers tee however a tough road race lay ahead first. Starting opposite the Town Hall the route led uphill toward Hattersley followed by a bit of a mooch around the estate then a long mostly down hill run back to Hyde finishing where we had started. My legs were tired as we started off but after about a kilometre they came to life. I remembered most of the route from last year but the uphill section on Hattersley Road West took me by surprise, it seemed never ending. The one mile dash down Mottram Rd was very welcome and following a short but sapping uphill section we were brought around to the fantastic, support-filled finish straight down Market St (closed since 0600).

Seconds to go in the Tour and leaving nothing behind in Tameside

Crossing the line my first feeling was relief that it was over closely followed by a sense of accomplishment of completing a tough 32.3 mile race series. Receiving the final medal and full tour finishers tee felt fantastic.

I loved every part of the Tour of Tameside. It was superbly organised and marshalled and the support out on the testing race routes was wonderful. The best thing about it though was the camaraderie.

There was quite a PAC contingent of Full Tourers so we organised ourselves into car sharing groups for the daily commutes down the M60/M67 to Tameside. I got in with the Nutts, Mike G and Dr Jenn and the journeys certainly took on a life of their own. The topics of conversation (some unrepeatable) varied as much as our individual musical tastes picked from Spotify (there’s nothing wrong with Belgian rap!).

Meeting up with a our club mates, plus other runners, at the various locations set in motion an almost gallows-like humour about the activity that we were involved in. There was definitely a ‘once more unto the breach’ atmosphere amongst us. Thankfully Hayley kept us nourished with rich baked treats, me more than most as to paraphrase the song from Oklahoma ‘I’m just a guy who can’t say no’ when offered cakey buns.

PAC Tourers.

I have to give special mention to a number of PAC Full Tourers. Firstly Steph that recorded back to back category (F65+) wins, Matt for being first PAC home and to Stu and Dr Jenn that completed the Norden Race Series and Tour of Tameside over successive weekends. Also recognition of a non-PAC in Rob F with his tenth position overall finish.

I think now looking back we did not race others, we raced ourselves and the battle was within us. The Tour of Tameside is over for me now but it will always be there for the rest of my days… Shut up Mike, you shouldn’t have rewatched Platoon last night.

The Glasnevin Schillaci

Salvatore ‘Totò’ Schillaci. People of a certain vintage will recall that name. Whilst England was consumed with Gazza hype it was the diminutive Sicilian striker and his six goals who really took Italia ’90 by storm.

Schillaci came from almost nowhere to be a household name. Yes he played for Juventus, the old lady of Italian football, but up until 1989 he was still plying his trade at lowly Messina. The Palermo native was a surprise inclusion in Italy’s World Cup squad and was the runt of the Azzurri forward litter. He lagged behind more recognisable names like Vialli, Baggio and Mancini and was there seemingly just for the ride. However by the end Schillaci with his satanically wild eyes and emotion-riven goal celebrations would almost drive Italy to World Cup glory on home soil.

As an Ireland supporter Schillaci broke our hearts. His quick reaction to Packie Bonner’s paltry block was all Italy needed to blast them past The Boys in Green and into the semi finals. Jimmy Rabbitte’s ‘Fuck Schillaci’ t-shirt in Roddy Doyle’s The Van spoke to many of us but fair play to Schillaci, he took his opportunity and made sure his hitherto unknown name went down in football history. A true Italian dark horse.

Jimmy Rabbitte.

The story of the dark horse brings me neatly on to last weekend. I was over in Ireland again with a fellow parkrun tourist Adrian. Originally we’d planned to run the parkrun out west in my dad’s hometown of Castlerea in Roscommon but plans had been changed by James and Dan, two Dublin-based cousins. And so it was to Bushy parkrun in Rathfarnham we would be headed. I’d already done Bushy parkrun in London, the so-called Bushy pilgrimage, on New Year’s Day so I was on for a 2019 Bushy double (don’t snigger).

Dan and myself are the runners but I was staying with James in North Dublin and he was coming along to parkrun ‘just for the craic.’ I knew he’d run the New York Marathon in the past but he never spoke of it. We assumed it had gone all wrong so we never asked questions. Maybe it was his running equivalent to Vietnam so to speak. We didn’t go there, no need to stir up bad memories.

Being in Ireland we spent the Friday night in a pub, John Kavanagh’s ‘The Gravediggers Inn’ by Glasnevin Cemetary. The pints of Guinness flowed and I started to get a handle of what I thought was going on. James was getting me ‘locked’ so Dan, sound asleep in his bed in Wicklow, could beat me in the morning. Unfortunately as Oscar Wilde said ‘I can resist everything but temptation’. James’s sister Claire turned up with fiancée Joe later in the night and we finally departed just after midnight.

Lining up at The Gravediggers Inn

With heavy heads we made our way over to Rathfarnham on Saturday morning. In the nearby Tesco carpark we met up with Dan, fresh as a daisy, and his sister Aoife and headed to the start. Luckily enough the park is quite sheltered and had survived the cancellations that affected other parkruns due to Storm Hannah but numbers were swollen with exiles.

The parkrun route follows the River Dodder for nearly 1km then enters Bushy Park for a couple of figure of 8 loops around duck ponds and along wooded trails then back down the path we ran out on to the finish. The pathway was narrow so to get a good time it was integral to get up near the front which Dan and I duly did. James was happy to stay in the middle of the pack.

We started and I headed off quickly in order to lose Dan. At 1km I briefly looked back and didn’t see him. Job done, so I thought, but don’t let up. Life, however, has a funny way of knocking one down a peg or two and sure enough after 2km it happened. I got caught, but not by Dan.

I was running along reasonably well considering the libations of the night previous and all of a sudden a looming moving object appeared by my right shoulder.

“Hi Mike, howya gettin’ on?”

It was James. James! He was here ‘just for the craic’! What the bloody hell was going on?

I fathomed that he had got all excited and set off too quick. He’d falter, they always do, but nice one for having a go though mate. However over the next 1km he stuck to me. Every time I injected a bit of pace, James stayed right by me. I was breathing heavily whilst he was almost Kipchoge-like in his ease of breath. I tried to shake him but just couldn’t. He was so relaxed and was even helpful to a lad running alongside of us.

“Hey young lad! Watch out there, you’re shoelace is loose. Sure you’ll be okay?”

At 3km James made his move and passed me without much effort. Even still I had notions of catching him as his engine was surely going to give out. I’d reel him in on the long finish stretch. Not a bit of it. He put twenty seconds on me and that did not change. James finally crossed the finish line in 20:24 with his English cousin trailing in behind.

What a mighty performance in his first parkrun. It took me six years to get that time, albeit the anaemia didn’t help, and he rocks up ‘just for the craic’ and lays down a great marker. Apparently he even went the wrong way on exiting the figure 8 bit to further rub salt into the wounds. Fecker!

Dan finished in 23:00 and won the ‘closest to the PB’ challenge we’d set ourselves as I was 1:23 outside mine and he bagged a PB however the day was all about James, the Glasnevin Schillaci. I’m now seriously thinking of getting a Jimmy Rabbitte-style t-shirt made up in his honour.

Dan, The Glasnevin Schillaci and MC

P.S. Dan’s daughter came up with the below after reading. Absolutely marvellous.

The Longer Than Planned Good Friday

I was brought up a Roman Catholic and Good Friday mornings used to entail attending Mass, feeling guilty about the Passion, uncomfortably having to kiss a big crucifix and refraining from eating meat. These days it involves dodging dog shite and traffic and being directed by signs on scrap white goods whilst trying to bag a PB at the Salford 10k Road Race.

It’s all about the coaster

Lower Kersal and Agecroft, on opposing banks of the River Irwell, are the race setting and refreshingly it doesn’t paint itself to be anything other than what it is. No bullshit, no dressing up with frilly descriptions. It’s a 10k race along Salford roads in two of the city’s less salubrious wards. The route is simple enough. A two lapper that starts on Littleton Rd near Salford Sports Village and is a circuit ran mostly on Littleton and Langley Roads that crosses the Irwell twice. It’s flat so should be a PBer and is littered with cracking club runners. The types that see 3s rather than 4s or 5s beginning their 10k times and taking it easy usually means running at a quicker pace than I can belt out a 1500m. Seeing them warming up with their fantastic running form just breeds my runner envy.

Whenever I run along Littleton Road I’m brought back to a priceless childhood memory of a cold January morning 32 years ago. My uncle (Big) Brendan surprised my cousin (Little) Brendan and I with a quite special trip. We were both Man Utd daft and he brought us to The Cliff training complex in Higher Broughton. After meeting players arriving in we were told that the squad would be training on playing fields that bordered Littleton Road so we got back in Big Brendan’s maroon Ford Escort Ghia and headed over. All the talk was about the new manager that had done so well at Aberdeen and his decent start. A group of supporters though told us of his unfriendly manner toward fans and how he was nothing like Big Ron whom he’d replaced two months previous.

We happened upon a good spot that bordered the playing field and watched on with a few others. Midway through a man approached us in a Utd bobble hat and training jacket. As the figure grew closer we realised it was Alex Ferguson, the new guy at the helm. Based on what we’d heard earlier we feared the worst however our worries couldn’t have been more misplaced. The future Utd legend spent time chatting and joking with us and made my 8 year old self and 12 year old Brendan feel on top of the world. Fergie was an absolute gent and polar opposite to Captain Marvel who, together with the World Cup’s youngest player, raced past us not bothering to stop for a photograph or autograph despite our forlorn cries when they arrived to training. Football in sunshine and shadow as Eduardo Galeano put it. I’m not still bitter, honest.

MC, Fergie and Little Brendan

And so race day came and by God the temperature dial had been turned up a bit. Arriving I was reminded of Señor Love Daddy, the radio DJ in Spike Lee’s Do The Right Thing, when he dished out the weather forecast. It was ‘hot!’ In fact Brooklyn’s Bedford-Stuyvesant, the film’s location, could pass for the area we were to run through if more in spirit than architecture especially since the demolition of Kersal flats.

I absolutely love the start of this race. The organisers, Salford Harriers, must have the most minimal of road closure permits. Runners border each side of the road until at the last minute traffic is stopped, the timing matt is set and the runners are beckoned on to the tarmac by the marshals. Then it’s go. After about 800m the duration of the race is ran more on the footpath than the road.

Starting imminently

I had notions of putting in a good showing, perhaps a PB, this year and I set off slightly quick alongside Pete, an evenly matched clubmate. My expectations went out the window by 3km and Pete bounded off in front of me as my body just failed to respond. My subsequent km splits tumbled and as the clock approached 45:50 I stuttered across the line a sweaty and semi-delirious mess thoroughly relieved to be finished. I was 3 minutes slower than 2018 and nearly 5 minutes off PB time set at Wilmslow back in November. I felt that bad that I almost pulled in at the end of the first lap but pride, fantastic support and the lure of the all important finish coaster kept me out on the course. I commented later that I felt better on the last 10k of the Greater Manchester Marathon two weeks previously than the entirety of this 10k.

Not withstanding my performance I really enjoy this expertly organised and marshalled race and, as I’ve said previously in the Coniston blog, it’s cemented in my athletic calendar. It’s as proletarian as they come and that’s what endears it to me. It holds no pretensions and is all the better for it. It stands in stark contrast to the more sanitised event later in the year at the Quays. If I was in charge of setting the motif it would be ‘This is Salford, get use to it and run fast whilst you’re at it.’

All in all it wasn’t the best of Good Friday mornings for me, maybe I should’ve opted for the crucifix kissing. I could trot out a number of excuses as to why but ultimately they’re all worthless. It was a bad day, move on and do better next time. At least that’s what Fergie would’ve said albeit with a little barbed moan aimed at the timer.

They channelled their inner Pheidippides through Trafford

“It’s a twenty mile training run followed by the toughest 10k you’ll ever do.”

Forgive the imperial/metric mix but this is how a Prestwich AC clubmate once described a marathon. Sunday was my sixth and that statement remains true. They are very hard and take guts to train for and run. Marathons eh? Why do we do them?

I tend to focus on my own story on this site but here I’d like to highlight the achievements of some runners I know amongst the twenty thousand others I joined pounding the streets of Old Trafford, Stretford, Sale, Altrincham, Timperley, Carrington and Urmston at Sunday’s Greater Manchester Marathon.

Firstly Mike G, my ofttimes Tuesday 6am training partner. He set himself the personal task of eclipsing his old fella’s 3:12 marathon time and his monstrous training miles and discipline over the past six months have been inspiring. Though his 3:16 fell short of target it wasn’t through lack of effort nor determination and a 12 minute marathon PB is nothing to be sniffed at. I would’ve paid good money to have witnessed what I imagine to have been his Francis Begbie-style ‘get tae fuck’ screams to scare his cramp away. Also don’t worry Mike I’m still striving to be as good a JCB driver as my father.

The G-Man in full flow

Dr Ryan. What can I say? I’ll not disclose his age but he was rampaging around Europe supporting the mighty reds whilst I was in the neonatal ward at Townley’s Hospital in Farnworth. His 3:39, GFA for London, was phenomenal running but more impressive were his even splits. The Good Doctor ran alongside Swanny, a man more used to running stupidly steep fells rather than Netherlands flat Trafford Borough. He managed to outdo my fortnight before late entry time by four days and also bagged an eleven minute PB. Nice one Niceswan.

Last May I attended a good pal’s stag do in Reykjavík and in the obligatory WhatsApp group I broached the subject of a morning run to a group of mainly unknowns. Expecting tumbleweed I was surprised when three lads stuck there hands up. Two of the Reykjavík Stag Runners, Ben and Chris, subsequently signed up to their first marathon at Manchester. Both trained hard for their debuts and completed it with creditable times although I hear that Ben nearly ODed on the free gels. Lads I raise a £10 glass of Gull to you both.

Reykjavík Stag Runners. MC, Chris, Ben and The Diplomat

The Carrington section between 19-21 miles is unforgiving. It’s almost Western-like in its bleak desolation. I maybe hyperbolising but I find it a truly awful place to run through. The defining image for me of 2018 marathon occurred here and was Band of Brothersesque. Stu lay prostrate on the pavement with his right leg extended upward whilst a spectating Dr Ryan attempted to relieve his cramp-riddled calf. Stu’s run had been hampered by his body but he finished. He entered this year in order to exorcise his 2018 demons and though his 4:03 fell just short of his sub four hour target he was still elated with his performance nonetheless. The Dude Abides!

Brothers in Arms (and legs).

My first marathon in 2014 was an absolute nightmare. Unpreparedness mixed with being the recipient of errant water bottle discarder at mile 15 sent me off kilter. Though obviously gutting both pride and encouragement can be taken from completing a run that doesn’t go as planned. This happened to my fellow parkrun tourist Guigunator, my fellow RT run leader Linzi and Andrew on Sunday. Whether it be cramp, a knee issue or something else the key thing to remember is that even though it took longer than expected the finish line was crossed and you earned that medal and t-shirt. Strength and resilience through adversity and all that.

Sub three. That’s a time I’ll never achieve but I know a few that did. Byron came in three minutes behind his 2:40 time in Tokyo, you’re getting slower since you entered V45 pal. Matt, Dan, Rob M, John, Jordan, and Sol the Honeyman sailed home in the last few minutes prior to 3:00 appearing on the clock. Fabulous running guys.

What about Louise? Another fellow parkrun tourist and she bagged a great PB with 4:48 although I’m pretty sure she’d knock a sizeable chunk from that if she halved the amount of dickingaboutery she does on the course. Just kidding Lou, a big peace sign coming your way.

Strike a pose

Mentions also for The Manning siblings, Rob F (who ran over distance to retrieve his beau’s buff), Steph (another London GFAer), Leo and Leon from Middleton, Lil’ Hilary, Eddie (the prizewinner for possibly the biggest positive split of the day), PC Neil, Danny (with guide Alistair), Sharon, Suzanne, Jenn, Linda, Chris McC, Rob T, Mike S, Evvie, Vicky, Libby, Fairbanks, Aussie Harry and Cat. If I’ve omitted anyone then please forgive me.

Back at da Club

Last but not least Dan the Man. Until eighteen months ago I didn’t know that he existed. Being from a huge Irish family means that relatives can often be strangers. On first meeting he basically press-ganged me in to the 2018 Dublin Marathon, something I was ultimately glad about given my finish time. I returned the compliment and on Saturday he left rural Wicklow in Ireland to run in my home marathon, the away leg for him. The poor guy with Liverpool sympathies had to put up with a Man Utd adorned bedroom, drink every brew from a Utd mug and start the race outside Old Trafford but with his 3:48, a 5 minute PB, he closed the aggregate gap to me from 27 to 22 minutes. See you back in Dublin in October col ceathrair.

U-N-I-T-E-D, United are the team for me!

The 2019 Greater Manchester Marathon was once again a great experience and the support was as always fantastic (even the Timperley Tories). The course proved itself to be both friendly and tough in equal measure and the event is a wonderful day in our area’s sporting calendar.

Anyone up for 2020? Me? Possibly.

The day Connaughton ran Coniston (with 1600 others)

“Mike, you have to do Coniston 14.”

Lines uttered to me umpteen times by Lee, a guy I used to work with in Stockport. More of a cyclist and swimmer than a runner Lee however waxed lyrical about the 14 mile race around Coniston Water pretty much every time running cropped up in conversation. Thankfully in 2019 it fitted into my diary so at 0730 last Saturday morning I departed North Manchester bound for the Lake District.

The convenient gun time of 11am allowed me to sneak in a parkrun at Fell Foot near Newby Bridge on the way up. Now the last time I was in Newby Bridge, on Lake Windermere’s southern shore, I was repairing the roof of a rich man’s tennis court building when suddenly a US Air Force F-15E (#avgeek) screamed by directly overhead. The shock and deafening noise nearly knocked me from the roof and my future running could’ve been ended before it started by an ‘oversexed, overpaid and over here’ Yankee airman on a Lakes training sortie.

After a quicker than planned parkrun at Feel Foot mainly due to a bit of friendly rivalry I got my barcode scanned, swapped the trail shoes for road shoes and set off on the thirty minute drive to Coniston village.

As I approached Coniston Water the race feel became apparent. Marshals were out on the course, water stations were being set up, cattle grids being taken care of and mile markers were already in place. The approach also hinted at what was in store namely country roads filled with upping and downing.

Race HQ

The race HQ was in John Ruskin School but with numbers already posted out there was plenty of time to take care of last minute toilet business, browse expensive running clobber at a mobile store (£140 for a light jacket! Must be some garment) and soak up the vibrant atmosphere of a Cumbrian village taken over by runners. I met up with Glyn, a Salford/Prestwich birunningclubual, who was taking on the race for the tenth successive year. Meanwhile his much better half and Prestwich AC (PAC) race chooserer Jo was scaling the nearby 2500ft Old Man of Coniston rather than racing. Moments before the start we bumped into Andy and Steve, a couple of ex-PACs, and a non-running PAC in Tony.

The not so Fab Four (Andy, Glyn, MC and Steve)

Coniston Water is the typical long and narrow glacial lake, 5.5 miles in length by 0.5 mile wide. Coniston village is located at northwestern end of the lake and the route followed an anti-clockwise direction around it. Due to being a participant in next week’s Greater Manchester Marathon I fully intended to take it easy and enjoy this scenic 14 miler and initially I did. However following the steepish climb out of Coniston village along the A593 the gradient eased somewhat and my legs took the run of themselves and quickened up. It then settled into the lumpy up and down affair and after five miles of running on country road between rock, greenery and trees the route proceeded to pretty much border the lake from there on in to the finish.

Upon reaching Water Yeat at Coniston’s southern tip we made a left along a farm track, crossed the River Crake and then turned left again shortly after and headed north along the quieter eastern bank road. This is where the scenic beauty of the race truly imposed itself upon us. The Lake District needs absolutely no introduction but the views across the Water toward the Coniston Fells were bloody breathtaking. Thankfully the early morning low cloud had receded leaving Old Man of Coniston and other fell summits in full view. Simply majestic.

Photo c/o Coniston 14

I had been forewarned about a rather arduous incline at Brantwood between 11-12 miles and by God it duly delivered. It was a real pace reducer. The benefit of the climb however was the opportunity to look down from height directly across from Coniston village and up toward The Old Man. The two mile remainder of the race route could also be viewed.

What went up sharply also dropped sharply and pretty soon we were down by the lakeside once again for the final dash around the north of the lake, through Coniston village rammed with vocal support to finish where we had started just off Lake Road. My finish time of 1:48:17 ended up nearly twelve minutes ahead of what I intended but hey what can you do when your legs take the run of themselves. Not the best of marathon tapers.

After collecting the branded Cumbrian slate coaster at the finish, I’m a big fan of useful race gifts, and perusing the cake stall we repaired to the Black Bull Inn for post race chat over chips washed down with a pint of Old Man Ale for me and Special Oatmeal Stout for Jo and Glyn from the local Coniston Brewing Co. There I met some fellow parkrun/race doublers, one of whom I had previously met at the all beach Portrush parkrun last September, who had like me done Fell Foot or Ford parkrun in Stan Laurel’s home town of Ulverston.

The Après Run

Running the Coniston 14 is a truly fantastic experience. I grow weary of the expensive big event races so it’s refreshing to participate in a decent sized race cemented with a local ethos and brimming with community spirit. From it’s humble beginnings in the early 1980s the money raised from the registration fee right down to the cakey buns sold in the school gets redistributed amongst local charities and organisations. It’s the type of event where you feel good parting company with your hard-earned readies.

I am definitely a convert to the Coniston race and it is now copper fastened into my annual race diary alongside the Good Friday Salford Road 10k (if only for the scrap washing machine with the ‘caution runner’ sign on it) and the Dublin Marathon. To others that have not yet experienced it I simply quote my pal Lee when I state that ‘you have to do Coniston 14.’

PAC Homage to Catalonia

From Prestwich AC website

Barcelona has always held a special place in my heart. Perhaps inspired by the iconic Blaugrana football team managed by Johan Cruyff, the visual aspect of the 1992 Olympic Games Diving competition and the overall revolutionary nature of the city. It was odd then that it took me nearly forty years to actually visit the place.

A friend of mine moved to Barcelona a few years back so I chose 2018’s Half Marathon to visit him and do a bit of running tourism also. Held in the aftermath of the independence referendum where voters had been beaten out of polling centres and pro-independence leaders imprisoned or exiled it was clear that revolution was once again in the Catalan air. Yellow ribbons and Catalan flags decorated people’s clothing, buildings and the road surface.

I enjoyed it so much that when I could I immediately booked on for 2019 and was soon joined by PAC club mates Vicky and Louise. It wasn’t until track night last week that I found out that 2/3 of the Greggs crew, Rach and Bernie, had also signed up. A small PAC European away weekend was in the offing.

Rach and Bernie arrived on Friday night whilst Vicky, Louise and I joined them on Saturday afternoon and we headed straight for Plaça d’Espanya to pick up our numbers at the Expo in the old bullring (bullfighting is now thankfully illegal in Catalunya). Following a spot of lunch we all went our separate ways. Rach and Bernie headed out for a run chock full of photos, Vicky and Louise got caught up in an Iberian Devil-inspired parade whilst I got steadily borratxo as the drinks flowed with my old Instituto de Cervantes Manchester pal Charlie.

On race day we arranged to meet up at the baggage area at 8am. We then made our way to the start area bordering the expansive Parc de la Cuitadella to corral in to our time pens after a Rach-inspired group selfie (no smiling Mike) for the 0845 start. Poor Vicky was injured and couldn’t run so was on PAC support duties.

Bang on time the race started with a blast of confetti and the individual waves set off in five minute intervals. The kind of rectangular route first went along by the port toward the statue of Christopher Columbus who unhelpfully pointed in the wrong direction. He may well have been the first European to get to the Americas but he’s one crap race marshal. Ignoring Columbus we turned up the wide thoroughfare known as Avinguda del Paral-lal (it runs parallel to the Equator).

After 4km the route about-turned and sent us back in a northeast direction along Gran Via. After turning back toward the start/finish area with the sighting of the Arc de Triomf in the rising sunlight we then started a 5km tour around some of Barcelona’s less aesthetically pleasing residential architecture, Gaudí-inspired it was not, and arterial roads.

At 12km we turned right and the glistening Mediterranean came in to view but also the warming sun now hit the unsheltered runners. It was a stark contrast for those PACers that ran in the bitter cold at the Blackburn Winter Warmer 10k the previous Sunday. Following this there came a 2.5km out and back section along Avinguda Diagonal that I hated last year and still hate this year. There’s something about faster runners headed in the opposite direction that demoralises me a wee bit. Must be more mentally strong.

Between 16 and 17 kilometres we arrived at the coastal section of the race. To have the Mediterranean and Barcelona’s city beaches for company was fantastic and did a good job motivating the runner on the last hard bit of the race.

We turned left onto Carrer de la Marina and as we approached 20km Gaudí’s awesome but still unfinished Sagrada Família came into view. What a sight to behold and with one final left turn we were on the long finish straight. One thing I warned the other PACers about was to ignore the first eight inflatable overhead arches and just keep concentrating on running until the last of them, the finish line.

I originally thought I’d managed to best last year’s time by the finest of margins, 1 second, however on checking up the official results rather than relying on Tom Tom/Strava data my official 1:34:38 in fact was over by 1 second. Bollocks! Rach and Bernie achieved 1:54:37 and 1:57:21 respectively whilst an injured Louise valiantly limped home in 2:25:40. Only after looking at the results on Tuesday did I find out there was a fifth PAC runner out in Barcelona also, Helen Berry who finished in 1:55:10.

We all had a thoroughly enjoyable brief running sojourn in Barcelona. It was a real cosmopolitan affair and were proud to show the Prestwich AC colours amongst all the European running clubs in attendance. The support was fantastic with Vicky being ably assisted by tens of thousands of supporters with their ‘¡venga, venga, venga!’ (come on) shouts. There was also a great variety of live music playing along the route. The €25 entrance charge compares favourably to the exorbitant fees charged at our local half marathons in Manchester and together with the medal, t-shirt, poncho and as many bananas and oranges as you wanted proved great value.

Barcelona was great host city for our PAC away weekend and we have brought back unforgettable memories.

¡Visca PAC i Visca Catalunya!

Aviophobia

Last Saturday’s parkrun had to take a back seat as I headed out to Catalunya for the second successive year to take part in the eDreams Mitja Marató de Barcelona. My good friend Charlie lives out there so it’s an opportunity to see him, take in the culture and run the streets of one of my favourite cities.

The short visit (out Saturday, back Sunday) accompanied by my much better half, daughter and a few running club mates went well. The race is run on a great route that starts and finishes in the centre at Parc de la Cuitadella and takes in the broad thoroughfares of Paral-lel, Gran Via and Diagonal and the tough kilometres from 16-20 gifted us the glistening Mediterranean as company. I was a tad disappointed as I had targeted a 1:32 finish and was going great guns up until 16km however my pace fell away. I still managed to sneak a one second half marathon PB (1:34:36) so came away reasonably pleased. We returned home from our brief athletic and cultural sojourn happily fulfilled but also quite sore and tired.

Approaching 20km with Gaudí’s Sagrada Família in full view.

Our Ryanair flight departed a little late from Barcelona’s El Prat airport. It followed the usual course south west along the coast then turned northward to cross the Pyrenees. Pretty soon after we encountered a sustained period of mild turbulence. I used to be a very anxious flyer but thankfully it has eased off as I’ve grown older. It can be ‘triggered’ though and as the aircraft shifted about over the snowy mountains my palms became clammy, my breath shortened and I felt a bit uneasy.

My fear of flying stemmed from an incident when I was a wee boy. In 1990 on a flight back from the US following a family holiday our British Airways 747 hit severe turbulence. As the rough air ratcheted up my childish view of ‘oh isn’t this rollercoaster ride funny’ changed to a more concerned ‘this shit’s getting really bad’ pretty quickly. The wingtips flexed wildly, overhead bins creaked eerily, glasses crashed together and passengers exchanged worried glances as the aircraft bounced about in the violent thunderstorm that enveloped us. Then all of a sudden we dropped. Those that had not heeded the ‘fasten seatbelt’ signs briefly experienced zero gravity and involuntarily departed their seats skyward. It lasted all of couple of seconds but at the end of the drop there was an almighty bang. I looked back at Big Gerry seated two rows behind and saw fear in his eyes for the only time in my life. It was absolutely terrifying.

When the turbulence subsided somewhat a stewardess that had been in the nearby galley was helped into the vacant seat beside me. She had a nasty head wound and her colleague patched her up. Thankfully the remainder of the flight went smoothly but upon landing in Manchester the aircraft was not permitted to continue onward to Gatwick. It needed a thorough checking over. The poor Gatwick bound passengers had the privilege of a six hour bus journey rather than a thirty minute flight back to West Sussex.

It wasn’t until my next flight that I realised I’d developed a fear of flying. As the aircraft took off I immediately felt scared. Every movement, every sound unsettled me. Matters worsened a few months later when a US bound flight I was on had an engine conk out over the Atlantic Ocean and an emergency landing at Shannon Airport became necessary. This fear would continue over the course of the next few decades. I didn’t stop flying but by God when I flew I was filled with pre-flight unease, in-flight dread and post flight relief.

I developed religious rituals straight out of my Granny’s devout Catholic playbook. I’d bless myself and touch the fuselage upon entering the aircraft for divine protection similar to a South American footballer coming on to the field of play. If I ever forgot I instantly felt we were doomed and our journey’s end would be a mountainside rather than the actual destination. On a flight from New York bound for Brussels one time Orthodox Jews and Muslims headed to the Hajj made up almost half the passengers. My only thought was not the potential for airborne inter-communal tensions but that this flight was sound as it covered many faith bases. It was ridiculous I know but I’d take all the reassurances I could muster.

In the end though knowledge is power. I tried to be governed by the stats. You know the ones, that you’re more likely to (insert any crazy highly unlikely scenario) than die as an airline fatality. I read more about aviation as I wanted to understand the physics of taking a heavy object up into the wild blue yonder and keeping it aloft. I also learned the breathing techniques, basically yoga, that aided relaxation in times of anxiety. All these combined gradually gave me coping mechanisms and I became a slightly anxious flyer rather than a petrified one.

The leaving of Barcelona

Flying, although not very environmentally friendly, is my link to family and my passion for travel. I could’ve chosen to do a Dennis Bergkamp, the non-Flying Dutchman, following my bad experiences but realised that to do so would’ve significantly inhibited my life choices. Like all fears, you have to metaphorically batter the crap out of them and keep them held at bay or they’ll gleefully defeat you.

A number of runners I’ve met often say that they are anxious/scared as they approach the start of a race. I can kind of understand it if it’s one they’ve trained hard for and looked forward to but I’ve heard a few say it a bloody parkrun! As FDR said ‘the only thing to fear is fear itself’ and that remains as true today as when the great man proclaimed it in January 1933. So handle the fear and just f**k it and run or fly or ask that person out or do whatever, within reason of course.

I’m still scared of big angry looking dogs though, I’ve not defeated that one yet.

A Marathon training run full of Wearside memories

The Sunday morning long runs tell a story of only one thing and no it’s not the prolonged after effects of a dodgy Saturday night norovirus-laden takeaway. Marathon training.

After a post Dublin Marathon hiatus I’ve upped the mileage recently to gear up for April’s Greater Manchester Marathon once again. A local twelve mile run with the Guirgunator two Sundays ago then a marathon paced fifteen mile out and back to Old Trafford the next Sunday both went well. A visit to the in-laws last weekend would not hinder what runners call ‘getting the miles in the legs’.

The in-laws live in Penshaw, a quiet former pit village in the North East between Sunderland and Chester-le-Street. When I started seeing my now much better half a gigantic slag heap competed with the Parthenon-like Earl of Durham’s Monument for Penshaw’s most prominent landmark. Thankfully the slag heap has now made way for Herrington Country Park, a popular cross country venue, and the monument has regained undisputed pride of place.

Penshaw Monument from Herrington Country Park

A fine vegetable curry plus sides and a few too many pints at Penshaw Tandoori the night previous meant I set out on my Sunday run a few hours later than originally planned. The intended run route was to Roker Pier in Sunderland via Chester Rd and back via Durham Rd. Fifteen and a half miles.

At 0830, with the Belgian rapper Baloji in my headphones, I set out in the cold, crisp, clear air. After a mile I passed the monument and as I hit the first incline up to the A19 roundabout my body warmed up and began to feel arsed about the run ahead.

As I crossed the A19 the huge Nissan production complex sneaked into view. I’m a Remainer but even if I wasn’t and lived here I would do nothing to potentially put that place in even the mildest form of jeopardy. The scene in The Wire springs to mind when crooked State Senator Clay Davis is guiding gangster-cum-businessmen Stringer Bell through the world of political contracts. Davis talks about the importance of ‘the goose…that lays them golden eggs.’ Sunderland’s goose is Nissan and the local vote for Leave in the 2016 referendum still bloody baffles me.

From the A19 it was downhill until Sunderland city centre and my legs got the run of themselves a bit. An alumnus of the city’s university I passed the site of my old halls of residence, the lecture halls I occasionally visited, the union bar I did my ‘studying’ in, and also the library I did my actual studying in.

After making my way through the quiet city centre I crossed Monkwearmouth Bridge under which the River Wear flows out to the grey North Sea. The waterway put the city on the global map due to it’s shipbuilding heritage. My much better half’s grandfather Ken, a man that personified the ‘Mack’ in the term Mackem, was a boilermaker at Laings and later Austin and Pickersgills and it was solid working class shipbuilding folk like him and her uncle Colin that were encapsulated in the opening lyrics to the theme tune of Netflix’s acclaimed Sunderland ’til I die series.

The River Wear

On the north side of the river with Sunderland AFC’s Stadium of Light to the left, I used to like them until they did the Poznań at us back on that bleak May day in 2012, it was a right turn toward Roker. I passed St Peter’s Church that dates back to 674AD and was where the Venerable Bede once resided. The church is located across the road from Manor Quay, the University of Sunderland nightclub, which is not venerable I can tell you. After passing pubs along the Roker seafront (The Albion, The Wolsey and The Harbour View) where more of my student finances were squandered than I care to remember I came to the steep ramp that led down to Roker Beach and then on to the pier.

St Peter’s Church

Roker Pier is truly a wonderful piece of workmanship. It smoothly stretches out into the North Sea for half a mile and with it’s shorter southern partner provides a calmness for the waters that lie within. At the pier’s end I rounded the lighthouse, exchanged pleasantries with the fishermen and momentarily paused to look back at the place that from 1997-2000 I called home. I thought of the city that still held fond memories and laughs, where I revelled in the ‘…and Solskjær has won it’ night in ’99, the 2.1 degree I somehow emerged with and most importantly where I met my much better half. There was also the aching disbelief of a forty year old that realised it was all half a lifetime ago.

Sunderland

I retraced my running steps back to Monkwearmouth Bridge but once recrossed this time I headed south down the once thriving Fawcett Street and then west along Holmeside to met up with the A690 Durham Rd. I passed the pedestrian crossing where my Geordie mate Ian was run over during Fresher’s Week. Apparently an A&E doctor actually told him that due to being drunk he escaped major injury as his inebriated body was completely relaxed when it met the oncoming car.

In planning the return route I had completely forgotten how steep parts of Durham Rd were. The area’s hilly nature is the reason that a dry ski slope was located in nearby Silksworth. It was a real slog and my earlier eight minute mile pace took a clattering. I started wishing I’d gone back the way I had come but then quickly rationalised that every steep hill is an opportunity and the distance covered on them counts double (my unscientific calculation). Thankfully after a few miles the gradient softened and as I turned off Durham Road onto Herrington Road the Penshaw Parthenon came back into view. With one last push up the incline to the west side of Herrington Country Park I was back at the in-laws for a brew and breakfast.

Apart from a nice run down memory lane what am I imparting here? Well the long marathon training miles are hard and can bore the shite out of even the most engaged runner. It’s crucially important to mix up the routes, make them interesting and give one’s mind something else to focus on other than the monotonous mile after seemingly endless mile.

Good luck to all the marathon runners this year.

The one and only New Year’s Resolution I’ve ever kept to

New Year’s Day 2019. The clock showed 0700 as I drove with two other parkrun tourists, Amanda and Nigel, on the M40 motorway just past Oxford Services en route to Bushy Park in South West London. The home of parkrun was to be the first of two that day as part of parkrun’s New Year’s Day Double, the second being Upton Court in Slough at 1030.

The first rays of sunlight partially illuminated the nearby Chiltern Hills and I couldn’t help but contemplate New Year’s Day 2012. Back then I was unfit, unhealthy, overweight and stressed with work but about to embark on something that would change my life.

At high school I’d been physically active. I had no ‘first touch’ so veered away from football and focused my efforts on rugby union. I played for my school team on Saturdays and Sedgley Park Rugby Club on Sundays. It kept me reasonably fit and also provided an avenue for controlled (for the most part) aggression. I was also a decent sprinter on the school athletics team and a numbermakeruperer on the basketball team getting the ball at every opportunity to Jason and Big John Mac, the only two good players.

At sixteen I got a job working weekends at a local supermarket and pretty much gave up sports-based physical activity. I tried out Gaelic football at university but the Irish lads with GAA coursing through their veins just ran rings around me. Other than that then nothing for the next fifteen years.

By that stage my much better half and I started our own temporary recruitment business. Although it was good financially the stress got to me, badly. I was irritable and thought continually about work. The 24 hour nature of the business didn’t help. The sedentary office environment together with a dubious diet led to me becoming overweight. I needed a productive avenue to take care of both issues.

In October 2011 I visited my cousin Genie in Atlanta, Georgia as the first part a three state tour visiting American family. Genie owns an independent running store called West Stride and she gave me some West Stride branded gear. When I returned to Blighty however I put it in a drawer and forgot about it.

Myself, in West Stride technical tee, and cousin Genie

On New Year’s Eve 2011 I endeavoured to do something about my physical and mental wellbeing. I’d read that physical exercise was good for relieving stress and, of course, weight loss so I decided to take up running the following day. A New Year’s Resolution was made.

At 0700 on New Year’s Day I went to the drawer took out the running gear that Genie had given me, put on some old trainers and headed out the front door. I got as far as the local park, about 400m away, and questioned my decision. My legs ached, my heart beat so hard it felt like it was going to explode out of my rib cage, my lungs felt like they were internally combusting and I was dizzy. I reached the nearest post box and sought sanctuary on it like a drowning man would do with flotsam. I felt horrible, like I was dying. Once I’d recovered I walked back home.

I didn’t give up on my resolution though like so many of the past. The next morning I went out the front door and set out for the post box. I again felt terrible but once I recovered I ran back home rather than walk. The next day I cut the recovery shorter, the following day even shorter. By day six I needed no recovery whatsoever and ran to the post box and back. I ran every single day of January (before RED January was a thing) with each time stretching the distance out a little more until I could run 2.5km without needing to stop by the end of the month. I started to notice my stress levels changing slightly. The best tonic to a shit day at work became a run as soon as I got home. It took troubles away for a short time and my outlook just became putting one foot in front of the other. I used to return from a run feeling tired yes but paradoxically feeling refreshed and relaxed. As February moved in to March with my distance increasing I signed up to my first race, the Great Manchester 10k, and also discovered Heaton parkrun that gave me a weekly focus.

There’s been ups and downs along the way but two hundred and fifty three parkruns and countless races of varying distance later, including five marathons, have proved that the decision not to give up when I walked home from the post box a physical wreck to be one of the best I ever made. I’m physical fit (Tom Tom Sports says I have a fitness age of twenty, hopefully not when I was twenty), I feel good and manage stress reasonably well. I’ve gained a whole raft of friends that share my running passion and I have achieved goals I never believed possible.

I still run past the post box quite a bit and every time that I do I look at it, smile and think about where I was seven years ago and how far I’ve come.