Hypocrite? Hell yeah and I love it.

Started my London Marathon training this week.

I'm trying out a 20 week training plan based on the principal that I have the speed (ish) but lack the stamina at the full distance. The sight of me 'running' the last three miles of Abingdon and London marathons looking like I was carrying an elephant on my back probably illustrates that perfectly.

So, three days in and that's one steady run, one long run and one rest day. Nice to have a rest day so early on - I might even start with one next time.

Why does this training this make me a hypocrite? Well, back in March I wrote a break up letter to Marathon training. It all got a bit hard and a bit sore and bit repetitive and I stomped off like a hormonal teenager worried that his girlfriend is too good for him.

But then I did London. Not well, I'll grant you, and not without pain either but I enjoyed it. So I had the summer off, focusing on some fun triathlons (a mere holiday fling compared to the commitment of a runners' relationship with their sport) and I ran purely for enjoyment.

Now I'm ready to scrap again. So goals for this year:

1) More stamina - get those miles in

2) More strength and conditioning (for which you can read *some* Strength and Conditioning)

3) No junk miles - just four or five quality runs backed up with big rides on my bike

Allardyce: brought down by good journalism not entrapment

I'm as gutted as anyone to see the manager of England - a man who I wanted to see in the job - lose the role after 67 days and just one game in charge.

Sam Allardyce never seemed to get the credit he deserved during his long club management career, and this summer Portugal showed that a pragmatic approach to football could bring success, so it seemed like he was to be given his chance.

But that chance has gone. Disappeared in a puff of greed.

I have noticed that some, not least 'Big Sam' himself, are pointing fingers at the journalism that took him down. They are calling it entrapment and claiming that journalists were out to make him look bad.

Poppycock, balderdash and buffoonery. The investigation by the Daily Telegraph has uncovered serious wrong-doing across the sport and the journalists and newspaper must be applauded for its tenacity.

I have been deeply critical of undercover 'entrapment-style' journalism in the past. The Fake Sheikh, Mazher Mahmood, was an appalling example of journalistic entrapment. His method was to get C list celebs in a room, offer them oodles of cash and then enquire if they knew where he could get drugs and could they help him get some.

Of course, not wanting to lose the cash or the opportunity to star in films, they mostly said 'yes' and then found themselves splashed all over the front pages of now defunct News of The World.

But, if there is a genuine need for investigation and the 'sting' is only part of a wider journalistic strategy, there is a place for this style of journalism.

So does the Daily Telegraph investigation pass my test?

Well, anyone who hasn't had their head in the sand for the past few years knows that there is a problem with corruption and dubious practice in football - the downfall of Sepp Blatter and Michel Platini are clear evidence of this.

Allardyce has previously been implicated in dubious practice as part of a BBC Panorama investigation into dealings with his son, Craig - a football agent. No charges were brought but the 2007 Stevens report into football corruption stated:
″The inquiry remains concerned at the conflict of interest that it believes existed between Craig Allardyce, his father Sam Allardyce – the then manager at Bolton – and the club itself."
Whether the sting is part of a wider journalism strategy or not is less clear. The follow-up revelations today that eight Premier League managers have taken 'bungs' was also filmed undercover in 'sting' style.

I feel this too is justified. The Daily Telegraph investigations team - the same one that did such a great job on MPs expenses - is not targeting an individual in the manner of Mahmood but conducting an institution-wide inquiry into corporation, amoral activity and greed within football.

Big Sam is no starry-eyed, 20-something C lister. He is one of the most experienced football managers in the game, was on a massive £3m salary, and at the peak of his profession.

In short, he had no business doing another job at all, let alone one which may have enabled people to circumvent rules established to protect the game.

It is not that long since the sting was turned on tabloid journalists with great effect by Chris Atkins as part of the excellent film Starsuckers. In that he exposed wrongdoing within journalism by dangling carrots such as confidential medical information in front of journalists.

Not long after that Nick Davies and the Guardian exposed the level of corruption and criminality within journalism with the hacking scandal which sent many senior journalists to jail.

The Sting should never be a fishing trip where you hope to uncover a juicy titbit but, as a targeted tactic of an undercover investigation, it is vital in this age of super-injunctions and secrecy.

All power to the Daily Telegraph I say.

Aaarghh. Dog owners!

I’m not one to rant. Really, I’m not.

But I have to get something off my chest. What is it with dog owners in this world of ours?

As a runner you spend a goodly amount of time outside so you come into contact with this most selfish of species on a regular basis and O to the M. to the flipping G does it open your eyes.

I was out for a nice run – a planned interval session in a beautifully maintained bridleway. It should have been idyllic, but as I turned a corner I heard a bark, a growl and then saw a black labrador hurtling towards me at top speed.

It’s owner haplessly begged her dog to ‘heel’ and ‘calm down’ but it was having none of it and snapped at my heels with its hackles raised. Having three children I can be fairly authoritative at times and bellowed “Hey. Stop that!”.

Not my best constructed sentence but I was jammin’ in a crisis situation. The dog paused in its fury and a few seconds later its owner managed to bring it under control.

No-one was hurt in the making of this rant. However, I suggested to the dog’s owner – who seemed perfectly pleasant and I am sure is kind to kittens, gives to charity and would never vote Brexit – that if she was unable to control her dog, perhaps she shouldn’t have it off the lead?

Her response? “He would never actually hurt anyone.”

I jogged on trying not to react as my heart rate slowed from hummingbird levels and my buttocks unclenched from their rock-like state.

But I have two questions:
  1. Is that the point? Does it matter that I wasn’t injured, just scared witless for a measly 30 seconds? I would argue that no, it does not.
  2. What if I had been with my children? I can guarantee that one of them would have tried to flee in terror, and how would the dog have reacted then?
I have been bitten twice by dogs while out running. On the first occasion the owner was deeply apologetic and no longer allowed their dog to roam free in their garden (it escaped as I ran past), on the second the owner said it ‘wasn’t really biting me but it didn’t have hands so how else was it going to hold on during its game’?

I have also been a journalist for 20 years – mostly in local newspapers and I have covered a fair few dog attacks. The owners’ responses always escalate in the same manner:
  1.          He/she would never bite anyone
  2.          I don’t know how that happened, he/she is not usually a biter
  3.          He/she only bites when she/he’s scared
  4.          I can usually control him/her
  5.          I can’t believe my gorgeous Rex savaged that child.
Dogs are beautiful, loyal creatures. Dog owners need to accept that they are responsible for the dog’s behaviour at all times and not just make excuses when their pets threaten people.

Rant over. For now - you have been warned.

The danger of entering events in a state of drunken euphoria

It is with a growing sense of trepidation that I await the coming of a triathlon this weekend.

The Half X is Set in the glorious Lake District it features a 1.9km swim in Windermere, followed by a quad-burning 90km bike ascending 2,800m (9186 ft) over the big three Lakeland passes, Kirkstone via the 'Struggle', Wrynose and Hardnott, in both directions and concluded with a 21km run around the stunning Fairfield Horseshoe ascending over 800 m (2,600ft).

Organisers claim it to be the steepest and most gruelling 'Half Iron' Bike section anywhere in the world. 

I entered after a few glasses of wine following a half-decent performance at Abingdon Marathon last year. I was, in my mind, invincible having thought I had finally broken the cycle of being a lazy bloke claiming to be an athlete.

But now my trepidation is not around the horrific physical challenge of the event but the mental challenge in knowing that once again I have failed to live up to a promise I have made myself.

You see, I pulled out of the event two weeks ago. I finally accepted that I am probably not fit enough to complete the event, or if I do, will seriously putting my body through the mill.

I am not a good swimmer – cramp has laid me low for too many years – but I am also a very average cyclist even when comfortable on the flat roads of Oxfordshire. Some friends from Oxford Tri scoped the route and, despite being among the strongest cyclists in the club, came back with horrific reports of their struggle up The Struggle and its pals.

I'm a decent runner and the trot around the horseshoes was appealing but realistically, after completing that bike course, my quads are likely to be as useful as a chocolate fireguard.

So I bottled it. I realised six months ago I needed to put in some mega training with reps of Blowing Stone and maybe a trip over the Cleeve Hill in Gloucestershire. But, as is the norm with me, I didn’t follow through with my plan.

So my trepidation is that I must look myself in the mirror and face the reality that after 10 years of triathlon I have barely improved and failed to challenge myself significantly.

Where’s that wine….

Running: Changing body shape in the facial region

Had a lovely run in the sun this morning - it was just too good not to get out there and get off road for a while.

As I ran through a village near my home I ran past a woman I have seen regularly for the past two years. In 2014 she trudged along with pained grimace, last year she jogged with a determined frown, and this morning I saw her running with a smile wider than a Cheshire Cat.

It was as uplifting as I finished my run as the sun had been when I set off.

Great reminder that while running is great for changing body shapes, the most important physical change is the massive smile it can bring to your face.

Things I have learned about running from the London Marathon

1.    Optimism is great but reality will get you in the end
          No matter how much I tried to convince myself that a torn hamstring three weeks before the event need not prevent me from running fast, the reality was that it stopped me running fast for 26 miles.

2.       The crowds are special
I have done a lot of races of distances from 5km to marathon but nothing – no matter how much people told me – prepared me for the roar of noise and the overwhelming positivity from the VLM crowd.  Cheers, posters, high fives all helped get me round. My favourite was a sign held aloft in Embankment which read simply ‘Motivational Sign’.

3.       Water bottles are lethal
I was staggered by the number of numpties who chose to simply drop a water bottle at their feet, leaving it to trip a fellow runner. I was one of those fellow runners and it ended my hopes of a moderately fast run. I was even more staggered by those who thought the best alternative was to launch water bottles – some of which were 90 per cent full – over the heads of runners. Of course it meant they avoided tripping fellow marathoners but the bottles became vicious missiles to the crowds of spectators. 

4.       Egos should be left at the start line
Nothing will prepare you for being overtaken by a runner in a large fancy dress costume. It is a peculiar kind of damage to your self-image.

5.       Mental toughness isn’t everything
No matter how I willed myself to run faster, I couldn’t overcome the cramp in my hamstrings, the pain in my foot or the tightness in my leg. Taming the chimp is all very well but the body has a say too.

6.       Marathoner’s mirages are real
You can imagine the strangest things. As my mate Nathan  pulled away from me at mile 15 he looked like a young Haile Gebrselassie, gliding away like a gazelle. In fact Nathan more closely resembles the experimental progeny of The Thing and She-Hulk. It is a highly effective running style though and he gave me a proper spanking.

7.       Training pain soon forgotten
I swore off marathons forever in March, inspiring this breakup letter. Within seconds of finishing I had decided to claim my Good For Age spot in 2017 and break that 3hr mark.

London Marathon: A tough day but not a bad one

I feel chewed up and spat out after my first experience of the London Marathon.

I started off in 2015 aiming for a sub 3.15 marathon, injured my knee last year and had to defer my place for 12 months. Between then and now I managed a 3.08 marathon at Abingdon in October and, at London 2016, my aim had been to get under the magical 3hr mark.

But life isn’t straightforward. The training was tough this year. I was hampered by a tight glute all the way through, found the relentless pounding of 18 months marathon training unenjoyable and finally, with three weeks to go, I tore my hamstring.

After all that training it was something minor of course that caused the injury – ducking under a metal railing with a sack of footballs on my back. It was a very small tear and I had physio which really helped but it was essentially no running for three weeks beforehand.

It bothered me right up two days before and then started to ease. On the morning I could barely feel it and thought that maybe this was going to be my day. How wrong I was!

I set off at good pace and as I was at the front, tried to keep the 3hr pacer in sight as we fought the crowds in the first 5km. Then I found some open space and stretched my legs out but still couldn’t catch the pacer. I should have trusted my watch over him as it turned out because he was flying in the first 8 miles, setting the pace for a 2.55.

My left foot was sore – something was digging into the joint on my big toe. I carried on and every few hundred metres gave it a shake to relieve the discomfort.  

I was enjoying it – crowds were amazing and the pace I was maintaining felt great. But then at Tower Bridge my hamstring just started to complain and tighten. That continued for the next couple of miles so I shortened my stride and pushed on.

My pace was still good and I saw my family at halfway which felt great.

I was still going well but by mile 14 my shortened stride started to have an impact – different bits of me started hurting – hips, quads and the other parts of my body trying to compensate for the tight hammy.

At mile 15 a club mate, Nathan Blake, passed me. We had a brief chat and I tried to use him as motivation to keep my pace up but I didn’t have it any more. Sore foot, tight hamstring and burning hips are not conducive to fast running and he serenely glided way in his cheerful style.

I eased up a bit and the hips and hamstring hurt less. My foot however was now really painful and each step seemed to make worse. Finally, about mile 18 I got worried that I could be doing myself some permanent damage so I stopped, undid my laces, took my shoe off and sorted it out. 

I don’t know if I had tightened my laces differently but there was a crease in the shoe near the eyelet which was causing the damage. My foot was red and angry-looking (and is a lovely black and green today). I loosened the laces as much as I dared and gingerly put it back on. The act of putting the shoe on and off was incredible difficult after 18 miles of running and I could feel minor cramps all the way up and down my leg but the adjustment made the foot pain bearable again.

But then I was off. I walked for a while and took on a gel while I assessed the foot. I decided it was ok so broke out into a run – it was a great feeling and soon I was flowing along a nice jog of about 4.30 per km. 

I knew the sub 3 was long gone but now a Personal Best was still not out of the question. The enjoyment returned and I was loving it right up to the moment I was suddenly on the ground. 

I had stood on a discarded bottle, turned my ankle and down I went. I swore like a trooper and a few other runners stopped but I waved them on (mainly out of embarrassment). A kindly St John’s Ambulance lady came over to help and after a few tests I discovered that nothing was broken and that it could bear my weight.

Up I got and I set off at a tentative walk which became a purposeful walk and eventually a slow jog. I was back in the game!

At about mile 22 I saw my family and stopped for a quick hug and power boost – it was just what I needed and my pace picked right up again. For about five minutes I was back running but just couldn’t maintain it – my injured hamstring twitched and then cramped and I was back to walking.

After 100m I picked up into a slow jog and just set about finishing. A sub 3.15 was still on but with 1km to go the 3.15 pacer overtook and all I could do was watch as he pulled away into the distance.
I finished in 3.17. Not the time I wanted but after all that had happened I couldn’t be too upset. 
I'm disappointed not to have done better but with the challenges I had I have to be pretty pleased to finish. Plus my first experience of a city marathon was very positive. Say what you like about the overwhelming commercialism, they are enjoyable for tens of thousands of runners and hundreds of thousands of spectators and that is worth a lot. 

Am I done with marathons? Well, I have qualified for London next year as a good for age and that sub 3 itch won't scratch itself ...

A runner's break-up letter

Dear Marathon Training, 

This is one of the hardest letters I have ever had to write.

You and I have had a mutual attraction which spans decades, although it was a relationship which was consummated just five years ago. But, as hard as it may be to face the truth, we must accept that the spark is no longer so bright, if it flares at all.

The joy of those early morning long runs, accompanied only by the sounds of nature and a fanciful internal dialogue, has faded. The intense passion of the breathless interval runs has given way to mechanical repetition, and, as much is it pains my knees, the hurt I feel as I remember how it used to be is an ever sharper wound.

You see, I think I am falling for someone else – no-one new but someone from my past. Sure, nostalgia plays a part but it’s fast and easy and also intense and sociable. I don’t face the loneliness that I have when I’m with you and I feel more energised than I have in months.

We have just over one month together preparing for The Big One. I know that the temptation will be there to carry on but we must think back to this time. We must remember the darkness, the nagging doubts and insecurities, and the lower body aches which have plagued the winter months.

Let us not be sad and mourn for the past, let us be joyful in the gifts we have given each other. You have taught me much about commitment and made push myself more than I ever thought possible. You have given me a waistline that I thought lost in my teenage years.

No. We are adults you and I, and it is time to face the future. It will be a future of heady dashes around parks and fields, a future of the thunderous footfall at the start of a fast 10k, and a future without the endless exhaustion I have when we are together.

You will always have a special place in my heart and I will remember our time together with warmth.

Yours in gratitude,

Malcolm Bradbrook