Rock stars running marathons: Bernard Butler, 2014 London Marathon

Bernard Butler London Marathon 2014

The Butler did it! Bernard (orange vest) in the 2014 London Marathon (photo:

We recently featured the running exploits of ’80s indie guitar hero Johnny Marr – and his ’90s counterpart ran in the 2014 London Marathon yesterday.

Well done to Bernard Butler, formerly of Suede (one of my favourite bands back in the day) and lately a successful producer, who ran London in a respectable 4 hours, 30 minutes and 12 seconds.

Butler was running to raise money for a children’s cerebral palsy treatment fund.

Looking at his 5K splits, Butler seemed to have slowed considerably in the second half of the race, be it from injury or the trusty old walk-run method. Still, four and a half hours is a good time for a first marathon, and he and his charity should be proud.

With yesterday’s race, Butler joins Marr, Joe Strummer and Bjorn from Abba in the pantheon of rock and pop stars who have run marathons.

If I remember correctly, Butler’s former co-writer in Suede, singer Brett Anderson, was a schools cross-country runner. Perhaps a future marathon will see a Suede smackdown between Anderson and Butler that could be as acrimonious as their 1994 band split. (The two subsequently re-united as The Tears.)

Let’s hope that today, after his London Marathon efforts, Butler can proudly belt out the chorus of this stupendous single he made with singer David McAlmont, “Yes”:

Posted in London, Marathon | Leave a comment

London Marathon 2014 – Mo problems, but Mo marathons!

Results of the 2014 London Marathon men's race...

Results of the 2014 London Marathon men’s race… (Image: Screen shot / BBC)

It could never live up to the pre-race hype, and in the end it didn’t. But the 2014 London Marathon was still fascinating to watch, producing worthy winners and generating plenty of talking points.

Both the men’s and women’s events had the same pre-race narrative: a track superstar making a marathon debut against the best in the world at that distance. Neither Mo Farah nor Tirunesh Dibaba, for all their class, were seriously expected to win, though ultimately Dibaba went closer.

The women’s race provided some early drama, as once again Tiki Gelana had a bad London Marathon. Last year the Olympic champion’s race was scuppered by a collision with a wheelchair athlete at 15 kilometres; this year she simply faded at 10 kilometres and never got back into contention.

Even more dramatic was the fate of race favourite Priscah Jeptoo, who stepped off the course somewhere around 18 miles. This left Dibaba alone against the more experienced Kenyan namesakes Florence and Enda Kiplagat at the business end of the race.

2014 London Marathon women's race results

…and the 2014 London Marathon women’s race results (Image: Screen shot / BBC)

And experience, or lack thereof, made the difference. At several water stations Dibaba had to slow down and grab her bottle with both hands – and at a table around the 30-kilometre point she even dropped her bottle on the ground. Stopping to pick it up rather than go without on a warm day, Dibaba showed commendable common sense but lost ground to the Kiplagats that she never regained.

The women’s race went right down to a sprint on the Mall, as Edna came out from Florence’s slipstream to take the honours in 2:20:21. Dibaba came in third just 14 seconds behind – an impressive performance in her marathon debut.

The build-up to the men’s race was dominated by attention on Mo Farah – and in the days before the race, by his decision to run with the second group of pacers a few seconds behind the lead group under the command of Haile Gebrselassie.

While this was a sensible decision for a debut marathoner, in racing terms it proved to be a tactical error on Farah’s part. He may have banked on the leaders going out too fast and blowing up in the second half of the race, but in truth he lost sight of them and never looked like reeling them in, especially as the Great One took his group out at a blistering 2:02 pace.

By halfway, just after Tower Bridge, sense had been restored and the leaders went through at 62:30 for 2:05 pace, with Farah half a minute behind at 2:06 pace and still on course to break Steve Jones’ UK record of 2:07:13.

But the hometown hero had a torrid second half. In a similar incident to Dibaba’s turning point, Farah missed a water station just after halfway and seemed rattled by it – he looked and gestured with an air of panic and even seemed to be asking the motorbike cameraman to fetch a bottle for him. Meanwhile, his two pacers were 50 metres up the road and not much use to him up there. Farah was visibly hurting as he came to the last few miles, but on the Embankment caught up to a fading Emmanuel Mutai.

By this stage the decisive move had been made – Wilson Kipsang and Stanley Biwott had left the other leaders behind. Turning at Big Ben, Kipsang had pulled away from Biwott to give himself a comfortable cushion of time for the Mall run-in.

Kipsang took the win in a new course record of 2:04:29, with Biwott 26 seconds behind him and defending champion Tsegaye Kebede holding off his compatriot Ayele Abshero to claim third place.

As for Farah, he ran in for 8th place in 2:08:20, just two seconds behind the more experienced Geoffrey and Emmanuel Mutai.

While not achieving his stated goal of a new UK record, Farah certainly had a decent first marathon – after all, he finished with the two Mutais and well ahead of Olympic and World champion Stephen Kiprotich. And yet, the BBC commentary team of Steve Cram and Brendan Foster were quite blunt in saying that Farah should, in Foster’s words, “stick to the track”.

But, speaking to the BBC’s Jonathan Edwards immediately after the race, Farah seemed determined that he would run another marathon, with greater success. As for Dibaba, she was more circumspect about her future plans, noting that the marathon was different to the track as it had “more kilometres’.

So, Farah didn’t emulate last week’s fantastic 2:05:04 Paris Marathon victory by Kenenisa Bekele. But the much-anticipated Bekele-Farah duel for the 2016 Olympic Marathon might still happen.

Of course, before then a lot of water will pass under the bridge – though hopefully not from another mid-race water bottle dropped by Farah.

Posted in London, Marathon | Tagged | 2 Comments

The 5K sub-20 club

Plenty for some, but not for me! (Photo: Auntie P via photopin cc)

Plenty for some, but too much for me! (Photo: Auntie P via photopin cc)

This has been a momentous day; I achieved one of my running goals for 2014.

I went under 20 minutes for 5K for the first time ever, by clocking 19:43 at the Marlay parkrun in Dublin this morning.

To be honest, I surprised myself with that sub-20 time. My previous personal best was the 20:55 I set back in January, also at the Marlay parkrun, although I ran an unofficial 20:50 for the first half of the Great Ireland Run last Sunday.

That said, I knew I was in good shape. I’ve been training well and complementing my running with swimming, and I took over a minute off my 10K P.B. at the Great Ireland Run.

Also, I ran that 20:55 under the post-Christmas effects of overtraining and overeating, so having shed three kilos since then I was always likely to improve on it.

The funny thing is that I wasn’t aiming to run sub-20 today. My intention was to use the parkrun as a speed session to run three miles at a target race pace, and that would have got me around in 20:45 – still a new 5K personal best. Perhaps by not thinking of sub-20 I relaxed enough to perform better. (Former cricketer Ed Smith has an interesting article on this very subject in this week’s New Statesman issue of 11-17 April 2014.)

Anyway, how did this parkrun unfold?

The weather wasn’t as blissful as for my sun-kissed 6-miler yesterday morning. Today was overcast in Dublin, with a cold, swirling wind. And we were showered upon during the second kilometre of the run.

I went out a little too fast in the first kilometre – 3:54 instead of my intended 4:09, perhaps due to a rush of adrenaline in the cavalry charge of the race start. And this with an uphill section in kilometre 3 to come.

Fortunately I soon recovered. I got my breath back by focusing on breathing out hard so that my lungs would then fill naturally to their full capacity. (This is the basis of my cure for stitches while running.) A second kilometre at 4:05 meant that I could recover while still running strongly.

I continued my strong pace up the hill to the back of the park, and passed the 3-kilometre marker at almost 12 minutes exactly. Kilometre 4 of the Marlay parkrun is mostly downhill, and because I was already running hard on the uphill I gained momentum and time on the descent.

At the 4KM marker I was just inside 16 minutes – and the thought of a sub-20 finish flashed across my mind. But I shut that out. I didn’t even look across to the finish line at far side of the Marlay Park concert field. I fixed my eyes on the ground up ahead of me.

Around the concert field on that last lap, I maintained what felt like a steady, hard pace. Turning the corner at the top of the field, I glanced at my watch and saw 18 minutes and something seconds, but I wasn’t sure how far I had left to go. Without any kick or surge, I ran in for the finish.

Imagine my surprise to find, on looking at my stopped watch, that I had gone well under 20 minutes! Not only that, but I had run the last of my three miles in 6:09, a lot faster than the target race pace I had intended for my speed workout.

So, my parkrun today exceeded my expectations and saw me nail one of my targets for this year. Now I have to maintain this form, improve on it, and bring it onto the roads for my summer races.

I’m in the sub-20 club, baby!

Posted in 5 mile, 5k and parkrun | Tagged | 11 Comments

London Marathon 2014 women’s race preview

The wheelchair and elite women's groups collide in the 2013 London Marathon (Image: Screen shot)

The wheelchair and elite women’s groups collide in the 2013 London Marathon (Image: Screen shot)

The build-up to the 2014 London Marathon has focused on the men’s race, where Mo Farah makes his debut against the best in the world.

The women’s race is an equally-thrilling prospect, though.

Just as the men’s event sees track star Farah try his first marathon, so the women’s features the marathon debut of Tirunesh Dibaba, also laden with World and Olympic gold medals at 5,000 and 10,000 metres.

And like Farah again, Dibaba faces the world’s best marathon runners in her first go at the event. Last year’s winner, Priscah Jeptoo of the strange running gait, returns to defend her title, having also picked up the New York Marathon title since then, and must be the slight favourite to win again. Double World marathon champion Edna Kiplagat will also toe the start line in London.

Perhaps the stiffest competition to Dibaba apart from Jeptoo will come from Tiki Gelana. Olympic champion on the streets of London in 2012, Gelana returned to London for last year’s marathon as the favourite.

But Gelana had a disastrous race. In their finite wisdom, the organisers had the women’s elite field start before the wheelchair field, which meant that the wheelchairs would have to overtake the women at some point on the course. This came to pass at the 15km water station – just as the elite women pulled in to grab their bottles, the wheelchair athletes came flying up behind them at top speed.

All the runners in the group got a start, but Gelana was unlucky enough to collide heavily with wheelchair athlete Josh Cassidy. The collision scuppered Gelana’s chances of victory – she continued running but faded badly and eventually finished 16 minutes behind the winner.

To avoid a similar incident this year, the wheelchair competitors will start before the elite women.

Oddly enough, Gelana also fell at a water station while winning her Olympic gold in London, after slipping on the wet road during a rain-soaked race. Let’s hope Gelana doesn’t continue her streak of London water station accidents this year.

So, barring falls, who will win?

Well, just as in the men’s race, the debutant track star may have a higher profile but will surely have to settle for a minor place behind the marathon specialists. Hopefully Dibaba will run well and stay in contention until the business end of the race. Gelana and Edna Kiplagat have championship-winning credentials – but the recent form of Stephen Kiprotich in the men’s race shows that World and Olympic champions don’t necessarily dominate the different challenge of a major city marathon.

Still, Priscah Jeptoo is the in-form runner of the women’s field, and she has already emulated Paula Radcliffe in demonstrating that an awkward running style is no bar to winning the London Marathon. Plus, she won silver in that 2012 Olympic Marathon behind Gelana, so London has been kind to her.

Jeptoo for the win, then – and it should be a fascinating race.

Posted in London, Marathon | Tagged , | 4 Comments

Great Ireland Run 2014

Great Ireland Run 2014 medal and finisher's top

Under the tree at the Great Ireland Run

Today was Paris Marathon day. For 8 years this was my local race and I ran it three times. But today I was back home in Ireland, watching on television over breakfast as Kenenisa Bekele ran a fantastic 2:05:04 to break the course record in his marathon debut.

Today was also Connemara Marathon day. This west of Ireland classic might be one of the most scenic marathons in the country; it’s certainly one of the hardest, as it takes in some fairly punishing hills.

Instead of these two august races, I ran the Great Ireland Run in the Phoenix Park in Dublin. It didn’t have Kenenisa Bekele – he won the previous two men’s competitions but, as we saw above, was otherwise engaged today in Paris. But it had some stiff hills along the western edge of the Park, in the second half of the race.

And I had a great race. Not only did I finish in 42:39 for a new 10K personal best, but en route I clocked up 20:50 for the first half – an unofficial new 5K personal best too.

(Check out your Great Ireland Run 2014 results online or in today’s Irish Independent.)

Before the race, personal bests were less of a consideration than merely finishing in one piece. This morning the Phoenix Park was swept with heavy showers and swirling winds, which slightly dampened the junior and men’s mile races and threatened to lash the exposed hill of the Military Road at kilometre 5 of the main event.

But only half an hour before the start, the sun broke through, the winds abated and temperatures rose; the day seemed to have vaulted from winter into summer.

Weather worries dispelled, my only slight concern in the start area was that we were starting at half past one in the afternoon – almost five hours after I had my breakfast, with only half a fruit-and-nut bar between then and race time. This was my first ever afternoon race; would I be starving for my lunch before I reached the finish line?

Off we went, then.

I found the first kilometre up Chesterfield Avenue quite hard work but covered it in 4:15, close to my pre-race plan. Just after the 1K marker I saw a small MP3 player lying on the ground; some earphone-wearing runner was in for a hard day – or perhaps a revelatory experience.

The first half of the race revealed to me that I was in good shape. I relaxed and travelled smoothly. Turning off the Khyber Road, I ran strongly up the first of the day’s hills and passed the 5K marker in 20:50 – five seconds faster than the 5K personal best I set at the Marlay parkrun in January. (The little fella I took down in that race tore through the junior race earlier.)

But the succession of long climbs, punctuated by only brief downhill stretches, took a toll on me. I kept running solidly but let my mind drift off on a few occasions. The short descent to the Glen lake in kilometre eight allowed me to husband a little energy for the run-in.

Whatever about their difficulty, the hills had broken up the course quite well – I came to kilometre 9 a little sooner than I had visualised before the race. Now we were on the Furze Road, the traditional finishing straight for races in the Phoenix Park and a stretch of road I know well. I didn’t have much of a kick for the last few hundred metres, and I felt a few worrying stomach rumbles for lack of lunch, but I still ran in strongly to cross the line.

Only well after the finish of the race did I realise that I had run a new personal best time.

So, I’m happy with my time and with how comfortably I ran a faster pace in the first half of the race. I dropped around 40 seconds in the hilly second half, but that’s not such a bad return on a difficult few kilometres. In fact, fading slightly but still running in for a P.B. is quite reassuring.

Added to that, I saw myself on television when we watched our recording of the live race coverage after returning home from the Park. (I was crossing the start line and setting my retro digital watch.)

Personal best, medal, goodie bag, fine weather, a good hard race and a TV appearance too – I had a great Great Ireland Run!

Posted in 10 mile and 10 km, Dublin | Tagged | 8 Comments

The captain’s run

Now for some cod-loading. Arrrr!

Now for some cod-loading. Arrrr!

The day before a rugby international, both teams take a turn at visiting the stadium for the traditional captain’s run – a light training session where the players get a feel for the match-day experience.

Following this example, my pre-race preparations also include a captain’s run.

Ahead of tomorrow’s Great Ireland Run, this morning I took a short, light run around my local park. The objective was to loosen the legs, blow out any physical and mental cobwebs, work up a bit of race buzz and battle fever, and go through my race strategy in my mind.

Also, I find that I race better if I’ve had a run the day before – I’d feel stale on the starting line otherwise. And it’s a good opportunity to test for any niggles or check that your gear is up to scratch.

Many marathons include some kind of day-before event, like a breakfast run. As well as sharing the captain’s run idea of a practical warm-up, these mini-events add to the sense of occasion and ‘experience’ that most large city marathons aim to create.

I’m not limbering up for a marathon tomorrow – the Great Ireland Run is just a 10-kilometre race, though with some crunchy hills in the second half of the course. But a race is a race, so I’m going through my usual preparations. My captain’s run this morning was nothing strenuous: just a nice and uneventful 1-mile spin around the park, with no twinges or aches to reports.

With that job done, now I can rest up for the afternoon. Bring on tomorrow’s race!

Posted in Training | Tagged | 2 Comments

Great expectations for my next 10k race

Got my number - and my county colours

Got my number – and my county colours

Another month, another race in the Phoenix Park in Dublin. I’ll be doing the Great Ireland Run 2014 on 6 April.

While its parent race, the Great North Run, is a half-marathon, the Dublin event is only 10 kilometres. But it’s a prestigious race – the only one in Ireland to have IAAF recognition. Also, it’ll be shown live on RTE television, and not even the Dublin Marathon gets that treatment any more.

And the women’s elite competition features the last two winners of the European Cross Country title – reigning champion Sophie Duarte of France and Ireland’s Fionnuala Britton, whose presence should guarantee some fervent home support. Wouldn’t it be great if Duarte and Britton produced the same sort of hell-for-leather duel with which Kenenisa Bekele and Mo Farah electrified last year’s Great North Run?

Unfortunately, double-defending men’s champion Bekele won’t be at this year’s event. He’s doing the Paris Marathon that day – so in effect he and I have swapped races.

For all levels of runner, the Great Ireland Run course is a good challenge. The first half is flat, but then the race hits the hills and S- bends of the Military Road. Then after a downhill stretch to the Glen lake, the Upper Glen Road rises up to greet you in the second-last kilometre. (Most races that take the Upper Glen Road come down it – except for the Colour Dash last July, which went up it and thus proves to be valuable preparation for the Great Ireland Run.)

These hills aren’t particularly steep in isolation, and if they came at the start of the race you mightn’t notice them too much. But any hill that looms in the second half of a race can prove to be as much a mental challenge as a physical one. You can’t get around it – so just get over it. Keep something in reserve during the first 5 kilometres. Then when you reach the hills, slow down a little or even walk if you must – but just keep moving forward and stay positive. You can use the downhill section to catch your breath, gain some time and gather some energy for the second hill.

And you might find it helpful to use a mantra to get you over the hills – not one of those wishy-washy inspirational quotes but something meaningful and true like “Just keep lifting your feet and you’ll finish” or (my favourite) “I want my P.B.!” or even a good old “Come on!” to yourself.

So what am I aiming for in this race? Well, I ran 43:55 in my first race at this distance, the Fit Magazine City Series 10K in March, so I’ll be trying to beat that time and set a new personal best. I’ve been training well this past month, and hopefully my swimming lessons count as rock-hard cross-training. (Either that or I’ll prove to be exhausted on race day.)

The Great Ireland Run is shaping up to be a great race – see you there or see me on television!

Posted in 10 mile and 10 km, Dublin | Tagged | 8 Comments