In response to The Daily Post’s writing prompt: “Local Flavor.”

Accrington is an old mill town in Lancashire. If you saw some of the early pictures of the town you’d see  many of the archetypal smoking chimneys synonymous with the region. The cottons produced throughout the town were exported worldwide. A curved viaduct was built during the Victorian period that also gave us a library, Town Hall and a market hall. Engineering grew and like the cotton industry sold it’s wares on a global basis. So far, so good.

Today the buildings are still there and as useful and prominent in the town as ever. While the cotton industry has virtually gone and  engineering is in poor health there has been a meteoric rise in one sector, pound shops! There are so many ways to spend your well-earned coin. You can get fed, clothed, cleaned and buy just about anything from the varied cheap outlets.There are three other fields that have made an impression in the last few years. Bookmakers,phone shops and charity outlets.

The sense of achievement inherent in the town years ago has eroded away and with major High street names pulling out we are definitely a town in decline.


Place and chips

A few weeks ago I ran the Sunderland park run and after less than a minute I looked around to see the spread of the field, there were more runners behind me than in front of me. In my quick estimation I was approximately in the top third. With the intensity of a 5K race you don’t have time to count the runners ahead or behind, in fact it’s impossible to do that in any race. The point of this is that I realised early in my running life that I was never going to be much more than an average runner. So, every time that I enter a race, I hope that there are more runners behind me than in front of me as the finish line approaches. There have been times, even in half marathons, that I’ve put in a burst of speed to overhaul one or two runners in the final yards in an effort to improve my placing. Equally, if no one is close enough for me to attack I’ll often check those behind me to make sure that no speed merchant is making an attempt to go past me.

As I cross the start line in London I’ll be doing so with the knowledge that there are about 35,000 runners on the roads of the capitol and with every runner carrying a timing chip every possible statistic will be being recorded for post race dissection. As the timing clocks placed above the Mall come into sight it will be inevitable that if I need to put in a final push to pass a fellow finisher, or hold of a fast pursuer, I will do it. The question that should be going through my mind at that moment is, “is it necessary?” Research has suggested that putting your body through the 26 miles of a marathon and then putting in a major effort over the last 200 or so yards is one of the reasons why runners collapse when finishing the race.

When the stats become available it may be that my time and effort are good enough for me to be in the top half of the field, gender, age group or infact any other group I may classed within. The trouble is if I’m seconds too slow it’ll be too late to do anything about it!

The London Marathon statistics are easily viewed, so I’ve been checking up on runners in my age category that finished their race in my target time. The chip timing gives good definition for each 5K and the half way point. My desire to finish in less than four hours is a realistic target for anyone in my age category that has put in the mileage in preparation for the big day. Looking at the race info if I do end up cracking the four hour barrier I’m reasonably sure that my time will put me in the top third of the field. The temptation to make that last big effort in the final few hundred yards should be easily ignored if the target time is in hand.

Most runners will run with  some sort of timing device with them, be it a watch or a mobile phone but the mental maths to work out the splits and pace still take some effort. Ultimately it is still about getting around London in a time that makes you happy and doesn’t leave you collapsed in a heap surrounded by paramedics.

Time and tide

It has been said that “Time and tide wait for no man” and in running terms the first part of that statement is very true. As you stand on, or as near as possible, to the start line the only tide that appears will be the tide of humanity as it’s released by the starter’s gun. Time won’t be the least bit concerned about your need to tie your laces,stop for a comfort break or take into consideration the adverse weather conditions.

In the two or so weeks since I started marathon training I’ve probably changed my race day plan a dozen times. Each change has been time orientated. The goal is to run the race in under four hours but the splits to achieve that are constantly in a state of flux. I’m not even sure that even as the announcer counts down those final seconds I’ll be confident that the race plan buzzing through my mind in those moments will be acted out in the forthcoming hours.

Watching athletes on TV we often hear them talking about their game plan or strategy and I often wonder whether any of us club runners can achieve these sort of aims. A third of the way around a marathon course is it possible to pick up the pace sufficiently to claw back lost seconds from the early stages, or, for that matter how do you go about slowing the pace down a little to maintain energy levels? Both of the above are possible but it does seem that it is a fluctuating series of events. You slow down for a mile or two as you feel you’ve gone too fast and then you have to pick the pace up as you are now behind target. As anyone that has done a few marathons will tell you it is all about averages. My target time is a fraction over nine minutes a mile so however I get there that’s what I’ve to target.

Time is what we judge ourselves and others on when competing in races but running a marathon is more of an achievement and our finish time should be irrelevant. Shouldn’t it?

Is it in my head?

The simple answer to the question is, yes! I’d even go as far as saying that distance running, particularly for novices, is very much in the head.

I’d been running for well over a year before someone suggested moving up from 10K races to a half marathon. Twice the distance equated to twice the effort and twice the training but that didn’t seem to worry me as much as my initial doubts about running for the first time.

When Julie, a work colleague, died it was suggested that we should run a 10K to raise some money for the local hospice that had cared for her in her final days.As I’d known her the longest it was hard for me to say no.

My fitness was in doubt, certainly in my own mind, despite playing plenty of 7-a -side football I wasn’t sure that I could manage 6.2 miles. Football is a stop start game and my game didn’t involve much speed! Before setting off for my first training run I envisaged taking around an hour and a half to complete the race. This was going to consist of running, well, jogging, a mile and then walking for a few minutes before starting to run again.So before my trainers had hit the tarmac in anger I was putting psychological barriers up.On return from my run I was knocking 20 minutes from my expected race time. As the weeks passed my expectations of a good finishing time rose and much to my delight I finished in under an hour and managed to run non-stop!

There comes a point in a runners life when the idea of running a marathon seems to be an obvious and an expected course. Having run a few half marathons it was my aim to go for broke and “do” the London marathon. As I mentioned earlier the step up from 10K to a half is virtually a double up in effort and training but in my mind the step up to a full marathon wasn’t simply a double up, it felt like more.

Watching the marathon on TV I saw one of the many celebrities that run each year being interviewed after the race. The celeb had finished in a fraction under four and a half hours and this was described as being a good time for a novice. So my target time was to be four and a half hours! the following day at work I sat at my desk at nine O’clock and followed the clock for four and a half hours. Could I really run for that length of time? Once again my mind was worrying about what my legs and muscles were going to have to do.

As I look to plan my race for next year I’m considering what pace to start at, when do I up the ante, will I have enough in reserve to have a decent finish? I won’t be able to answer these questions until Sunday 13th April when I’m in the middle of the race and the answer will probably change mile by mile.

I don’t think that you can separate thinking about a race and your tactics from running it. People say that you should ignore the clock and just enjoy the run but as far as I can see there’s little else to do on a long distance run but to think. So why not think about the run and pass the miles in your head?

D Day

Out of my sight my immediate running future was being decided. Our club secretary along with our President were holding an envelope containing a dozen or so raffle tickets. One of those tickets had my name on the reverse and all of my marathon hopes were riding on it. There was no fanfare announcing the draw just a look in my direction from Mick, the president, and a smile accompanying his announcement of my name. We have three available places for the annual London Marathon and my name was the first out of the hat!

I will now be entering the 2014 race and doing it in my own name! Sounds unusual? Well back in 2010 I ran the race as I’d be drawn out in the club draw as a reserve and was lucky enough to be able to get a place as one of our club members  dropped out  through injury. He’d got into London by being a very good runner and qualifying through a “good for age” category and as reserve I got the chance to take his place, but, and there’s always a but, I ran in his name as it was far simpler than going through official channels to change the race number to me! It was daunting enough to be taking part in my first marathon but also to take the number of a runner far superior to me meant I felt pressure from day one.

Anyway, this time round the place is mine and the marathon effort of marathon training starts soon. Very soon!