Henley Half Marathon

On August 29, 2013, in Running, by Robert Dallison

Hello all!

I’ve just signed up for the Henley Half Marathon on Sunday 13 October.

13.1 miles starting along the Thames towpath, then up Fawley Hill, and back along Fairmile to the finish. I’m aiming to complete the course in just under 2 hours. I’ve a few unnecessary pounds to shed between now and race day, but the training has already started…

I realise a lot of people ask for donations, but if you have it in you to make one more, I would greatly appreciate it. You can give here – http://www.justgiving.com/robruns10in10.

This is part of my on-going campaign to raise funds for Brathay Trust, a charitable foundation that works with vulnerable and disadvantaged young people throughout the UK, helping them develop the skills, confidence and motivation to make positive choices in their lives. These kids are often trapped in a vicious circle of abuse, drugs and crime – and without the help of Brathay Trust they would never escape.

In May 2012 I already raised over £3,500 for Brathay, by running 10 official marathons on 10 consecutive days round Lake Windermere. If you want to know what that feels like, check out my journal about the event.

However, my original fund-raising target was £5,000 – so I have unfinished business, to the tune of £1,500.

If you can help me complete my original goal on this one event, that would be formidable. £50, £10 or even £5 – every little counts!

Thank you in advance for your generosity – and if anyone is interested in running or supporting on the day (or in joining me for a couple of pints and a large lunch after the race), just let me know!

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Cluck cluck – keeping an eye on the poultry scientists

On September 12, 2012, in Paleo, by Robert Dallison

My attention was recently drawn to Science Alert, an educational web site that posts updates on scientific news and research in Australia and New Zealand. So far so good – I enjoy keeping up with science news from around the world, so after adding them to my RSS feed I checked to see if there was a UK equivalent.

Surprise surprise – www.sciencealert.co.uk takes me to the International Journal of Poultry Sciences. This publication, whose articles are freely accessible online, describes in exhaustive detail the methods used by the poultry industry to manufacture (for there is no other word) the product that is then sold, somewhat misleadingly, as meat.

Of course, the Science Alert I mentioned first has absolutely nothing to do with this UK-based web site of the same name. Before any feathers get ruffled, I only mention them here as the reason I stumbled across the poultry scientists in the first place.

I know it’s all been said before, so I’m not going to deliver my own version of Food, Inc. right here on my blog. But I’ll definitely be following this web site (and reviewing their articles) to see just how mind-boggling their practices can be. Read a few of them yourself, and you’ll never see a chicken from Sainsbury’s or Publix in the same light.

An example from the current issue:

Strategies to Improve the Utilization of Tannin-Rich Feed Materials by Poultry

Tannins are well known as anti-nutritive factors that hinder the utilization of feeds by monogastric animals especially poultry. Tannins depressed growth rate and feed utilization by forming complexes with proteins and carbohydrates or inhibition of digestive enzymes. Unlike ruminant animals, poultry do not have microbes in their gastrointestinal tract to detoxify or reduce the effect of tannins, but several methods have been used to reduce the tannin content of poultry feeds for better utilization. These methods are mainly physical and chemical in nature. The physical methods are cooking, dehulling, autoclaving, toasting / roasting and soaking, while the chemical methods include, use of wood ash, addition of tallow, use of tannin binding agents, use of enzymes, germination and urea treatment. The choice of method(s) will depend on their effectiveness in reducing tannin and the cost involved.

Sounds delicious. Wood ash? Urea treatment? If I were a battery chicken I’d be licking my chops at the thought of my next meal.

In the meantime Alex and I are now making a point of purchasing only locally sourced organic free-range meat, which actually tastes as one imagines a chicken, lamb or cow should taste. Poultry scientists, eat your hearts out – we’d already abandoned you well before I stumbled across your Frankenstein journal – but it would definitely have tipped the balance for us, and I hope it will for others!

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Ten Days of Paleo and Going Strong

On August 20, 2012, in Paleo, by Robert Dallison

Just a quick post this evening to say that my paleo journey is starting smoothly. I have now spent ten days following the basic guidelines – no grain or derivatives, no legumes, no dairy. I am feeling quite normal, and adapting to the new routine is much easier than I expected.

As with any new regime it takes a while for the body to settle into the new conditions. But already I see some effects. I’ve lost nearly 5 pounds (without any significant running mileage or other physical exertion). My resting heart rate has dropped from 60bpm (my normal average during all the marathon running earlier this year) to around 50bpm, which indicates that my heart is now working slightly less hard.

Of course it is far too early to read anything significant into these numbers, but they encourage me to believe that the paleo path can actually make a positive difference to my overall health.

Most importantly this has not been particularly difficult. Our weekly shop now looks a little different, with larger than normal quantities of fruit and vegetables. I used to eat massive amounts of pasta and rice, but these have dropped to zero. Coffee in the morning is now black rather than latte. And the evening beer (or whisky) is unfortunately a thing of the past.

But it’s not too hard. It is actually enjoyable to come up with creative new meals, and breakfast in particular is a delicious start to the day! This weekend we were invited to a barbecue, which would be something of a challenge on most diets – but since meat and veg are “all you can eat” in paleo, I was able to go back for seconds and thirds, and nobody even realised I was watching what I eat!

I definitely feel my metabolism changing, and I have not yet faced the challenge of fuelling for high weekly running mileage. One step at a time – but I already look forward to running my first paleo marathon…

Click on the images to taste – I’ll bet your mouth starts watering!!

Morning fuel station

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My Paleo Journey Begins

On August 12, 2012, in Paleo, by Robert Dallison

I’ve never been fussy about what I eat. Actually, that’s not true. I am fussy, but in a good way. I avoid fast food like the plague, and I’ve always preferred organic and free-range over the mass-produced output of Food, Inc.

My preference is based on common sense, the desire to remain healthy, and a taste for quality. In addition, I believe it is important to support one’s local economy and producers rather than lining the balance-sheet of yet another industrial corporation.

In summary I will eat pretty much anything – so long as it is healthy, and if possible not processed or artificial. I avoid sugary drinks and (to the best of my ability) anything with high fructose corn syrup.

Combined with an active lifestyle and significant amounts of endurance running, surely this should be enough to keep me in good shape?

Yet like so many people, I struggle with bad cholesterol and chronic weight gain. For a while now I have been resigned to this as my genetic lot. There is nothing more I can do about it that I’m not already doing.

Or is there?

During the last few months, my complacency has been challenged. I have heard many stories, some from close friends, about weight coming off and staying off. They feel ten years younger and their energy levels are through the roof. Health is greatly improved, with dramatic reductions in cholesterol, and in at least one case disappearance of diabetes. These stories sound too good to be true, but as they come from people I know and respect, I have to listen to them.

I approach most things in life as a sceptic, meaning simply that I take nothing for granted. This does not make me negative – on the contrary, I am ready to give any idea a chance, but it has to stand up to scrutiny (the original meaning of scepticism) and rigorous testing.

This approach leads me to dismiss dietary trends, for the most part, as marketing-driven social or commercial fads that are designed primarily to sell books and products.

I watch people try them and fail, either because the systems don’t work, or because they are too complicated for any normal person to sustain for more than a few weeks. They fail my tests of logic, or science, or plausibility, or simplicity, or commercial honesty, or observable success rate.

In my world, a dietary trend has to pass all these tests before I will even consider trying it for myself. To date I have never come across anything that passed just one test, let alone all of them.

Enter the paleolithic diet. From the Wikipedia article linked here:

Paleolithic nutrition is based on the premise that modern humans are genetically adapted to the diet of their Paleolithic ancestors and that […] an ideal diet for human health and well-being is one that resembles this ancestral diet.

Proponents suggest that with the advent of agriculture 10,000 years ago we started eating grains, legumes and dairy products, which had played no part in our diet for the previous 2.5 million years. Until then we had eaten essentially the meat we hunted and the vegetables we gathered.

This change is so recent in evolutionary terms that our bodies have not had time to evolve genetically to accommodate the “new” foods. Our metabolism strains to process the starches and sugars, and arguably many of our modern health disorders spring from this root cause. Weight, insulin, cholesterol, hormones, immune system are all affected.

Interestingly the paleolithic diet is not a diet in the usual sense, but rather a lifestyle. It is based on a simple principle that is easy to understand and easy to implement: avoid certain food types, but eat as much as you want of the rest. The underlying science is intuitively plausible, and increasingly confirmed by unbiased peer reviews. Last but not least, the real-life stories in my own circle of friends provide evidence of some fairly remarkable benefits.

So for the first time since I first became concerned many years ago about my propensity to gain weight, I have reached the next step. After talking to friends and reading the literature, everything stands up to scrutiny. At this point I cannot in all honesty dismiss the concept without first trying it for myself. It would appear that I have nothing to lose and everything to gain.

So starting this weekend I am officially “paleo”. No more grains, flour, bread, pasta or rice. No more legumes (beans, peas, peanuts). No more dairy products. Minimal amounts of starchy vegetables. Otherwise as much fruit, vegetables, nuts, meat and fish as I can eat. Not difficult to remember, and actually not much of a constraint once I get used to fuelling for marathons on something other than pasta.

Here is lunch for today, after 3 hours of vigorous gardening: romaine lettuce, cherry tomatoes, cucumber, mandarin pieces, sardines, nuts, oil & vinegar dressing. I would have eaten a second bowl, except I was too full to move.

As part of my experiment I will document my progress from time to time, in the hope that it may provide insight for others following a similar path. Check back soon for my next post, and feel free to leave your comments.

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Day 10 – Hard Work All The Way

On May 20, 2012, in Running, by Robert Dallison

Finish Time — 06:07:10
Average Pace — 14:01 per mile
Steps Taken — 58,747
Mantra of the Day — “Keep your eye on the goal”

The beautiful spring morning on Day 10 was somewhat overshadowed by my apprehension about the day. Physically I woke up in slightly better condition than on previous days, but only marginally. Steve and Guido from Body Rehab worked their magic, but despite this I was not confident about my ability to “boss” my way around yet another marathon distance.

Despite all the talk about this being the “lap of honour”, “easiest marathon of the ten”, “light at the end of the tunnel”, I could not stop thinking that the course and its challenges still demanded serious respect. And despite the resilience of my body in recovering from a potentially damaging injury, I was conscious (and apprehensive) that the slightest mis-step could undo all the progress of the last few days and reduce me to a hobbling walk.

Still, as I said earlier in the week, there is no courage without fear. So I did my best to harness my negative emotions and turn them into energy that would drive me round the course.

Ideally I would have liked to take the main 10-in-10 start today, making the most of the official send-off for Day 10. But this would have meant that I absolutely had to finish inside a 6-hour window in order to get back in time for the medal ceremony, which I did not want to miss at any price. So I made the tough decision to go for the early (and lonely) start along with Toks and Stuart.

As it turns out this decision was wise, because although I still ran to finish inside 6 hours, I did not have to deal with the pressure and stress of missing a once-in-a-lifetime moment if I needed a bit of extra time!

The spectacular weather lifted my spirits and I made good enough time to Newby Bridge. From here on, there were lots of course stewards setting up for the main marathon, supporters at various points, and local residents clapping from their front gardens. Every little encouragement was an extra boost and I maintained a steady pace all through the tough rolling hills from miles 14 to 18.

In case this all sounds easy, I can assure you that this was one of my hardest days out on the course. For the first time since Day 3 I felt that I was really running again, with some quarter or half-mile intervals where I was striding out and re-discovering my normal running style. But at every moment I was afraid to over-stride, or misplace my foot, and aggravate my ankle again. So I tried to keep it under control and focus on the 6-hour finish.

Bowness at mile 20 was a huge boost with large crowds cheering me through. Then Ice Cream Mountain sapped my legs and my energy, and for the next couple of miles I had to back right off the pace for fear of blowing a gasket.

At mile 23 the lead runner of the main marathon came through, clock on the race car showing 2:24. At this point my own time was 5:24. I had to make a massive mental and emotional effort not to grind to a halt, out of sheer disgust at how slow I have been moving this last week…

Although absolutely everybody has been tremendously supportive through my injury and my recovery, there is always a little voice in the back of one’s own head that says “you’re an idiot, what are you trying to prove, look at these guys who are orders of magnitude stronger and fitter than you can ever hope to become.” This voice is quietly destructive, and very hard indeed to silence.

But with just 3 miles to go of this extraordinary 262-mile journey, I was not going to let myself be intimidated by some guy with a mere three-hour lead. So I gritted my teeth, put my inner chimp back in his cage, sucked down an energy gel, recalculated my finish time at about 6:10, and went for it!

The last mile or so through Ambleside and Clappersgate was phenomenal, with every single person I passed offering congratulations and encouragement. The pain and fatigue faded away, and I actually felt as if I was running properly again for the first time in a week!

Pushing up the Brathay driveway for the tenth and final time, I started to feel a sense of accomplishment that I had actually completed this amazing journey — while at the same time knowing that it will take me weeks and months to really understand what it is that I have done.

All of this went out of my head as I rounded the corner on to the crowded lawn. Spectators cheering and applauding; my name on the loudspeakers; Alex waiting for me at the finish line with my medal; surprise visit from Mrs Evans (Class 4); previous 10-in-10ers welcoming me to the club… So much emotion! This is without question the most intense finish of any race that I have ever run.

The rest of the day was a blur of activity. Highlights were the medal ceremony with fell-running legend Joss Naylor, and the 10-in-10 banquet in the evening. I will remember this day for many, many years to come!

I will post again in a day or two, because I have so much more to tell about this extraordinary journey that I have now completed.

In the meantime, I would like to thank you very warmly for following my progress, for your countless messages of support, and for your generous donations to Brathay Trust.

If you have made a pledge contingent upon me finishing the event, now is the moment to visit my fund-raising page.

Oh, and… those who had money on me pulling out early may want to consider doubling their stake and donating it to Brathay :)

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Day 9 – This Never Gets Any Easier

On May 19, 2012, in Running, by Robert Dallison

Finish Time — 06:21:58
Average Pace — 14:35 per mile
Steps Taken — 57,295
Mantra of the Day — “Run strong, run light”

In case you’ve missed it previously, make sure to watch every day’s video on Cumbria Live TV. It’s compelling stuff, and a great insight into the challenges we have faced during this event!

Every morning here at Brathay, the alarm clock is harder to obey, and the bed is harder to leave. There is a definite progression of fatigue — no surprise of course, but it is interesting to watch how it evolves. Most surprising is how it takes the body about 60 minutes to move into “active” gear. When I first get out of bed I literally have trouble standing, and yet an hour later I am walking to Body Rehab with little or no discomfort. And once they finish with me I am capable of taking the start line of another marathon. I still have a hard time understanding how the body manages this transition, day after day.

And so it was that I started Day 9 at a gentle jog that held nicely to Hawkshead, my first refuelling station. Warmed up at this point, I decided to pick up the pace a little and see what happened. Everything felt good, I continued at a 13:30 pace for about 10 miles. Arriving at Fell Foot just after the halfway point, I was surprised and happy to see Sue (one of my colleagues), who had driven out to the course just to say hello.

At this point I was on target to finish the day in under 6 hours, but my left quad started to cause trouble and I had to slow the pace a little. Only six more miles and I was in Bowness greeting family by the roadside — what a treat to have so much support during this difficult second half of the course!

The six miles after Bowness were a world of pain. My thigh felt as if it had an iron spike driven through it and I was forced to take the downhills at little better than a walk. At the top of Ice Cream Mountain I was in such a mental “zone” that I have no idea who all the people were — but I do thank you all for coming out to support!

Despite the pain I somehow sensed that this was not a damaging injury but rather a response to accumulated fatigue. So all along I had been recalculating my pace, and saw that I could finish comfortably inside yesterday’s time, without compromising my physical state for the Day 10 showdown.

Arriving at the bottom of the driveway I was caught by Matt who offered to finish together, a grand gesture from a guy who finishes this course two to two-and-a-half hours faster than me. Thank you Matt for giving me the extra ounce of oomph to get up the final climb today! End result — nearly 10 minutes quicker than yesterday, and I am satisfied with this, given the difficulties I have had to overcome to get back to this point.

I dare to dream that I will have a storming run tomorrow on Day 10, but I have to be realistic and admit that it is unlikely I will crack 6 hours. For this reason I will be taking the early start at 7:30am with a handful of other runners (supporters welcome!), so as to have time to complete the course and change in time for the various ceremonies at 3:30pm.

Brathay is now buzzing with runners who have arrived for tomorrow’s annual Windermere Marathon, along with their friends and families. It was nice to be stopped by a few people who recognised me from the blogs and videos — and to chat with them about this amazing event.

Despite the excitement and the buzz, I am not doing this for curiosity or for entertainment. I am doing it to help kids who otherwise will have nobody to give them the respect they deserve. As Paul Foster put it perfectly in his Day 8 interview — running 10 marathons is the easy part; putting your hand in your pocket is harder, but you can do it, and the time is now! Thank you for your support!

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Day 8 – Riding The Rollercoaster

On May 18, 2012, in Running, by Robert Dallison

Finish Time — 06:31:17
Average Pace — 14:56 per mile
Steps Taken — 60,605
Mantra of the Day — “You can, you can do it!”

Once again, this morning I took the early start. My thoughts were full of the inspirational video from Class 4. If you haven’t watched this yet, you really should!

Grey day again today, but without the rain this time, which makes it marginally easier.

It was good to have Stuart’s company for a while, and then Toks and Davey. At the cypress stand before Devil’s Gallop I was warmed up, and decided to crank up the same slow but steady rhythm that I have been running at for the last two days.

Despite being so prudent, these early miles were tough for some reason. Reaching mile 10 ahead of schedule was a surprise, and I took my foot off the gas. Could I have continued at a 5:30 finish pace? Maybe, but today was too early to try it. I still wanted to give my ankle more time to recover, and my muscles more time to ease back into a higher pace.

As it turned out, my decision was the right one, and even the few miles I had run harder were quickly taking their toll. From Newby Bridge onwards, I had to fight for every mile. Not just physically — mentally as well. The doubts came crowding in, and the demons hid in the shadows whispering at me that I am not good enough for this challenge.

Arriving at Bowness I did a time-check and realised that I was in a position to match my Day 2 finish time. So I decided to go for it, and finished strong through Ambleside and up the Brathay driveway. The finish itself was intense, and hard to describe. Let’s just say it would be difficult to give that much every time…

As it turns out I bettered my Day 2 time by just 7 seconds, scoring my second best time of the event, and putting me at less than a minute from Davey on accumulated time since the beginning of the challenge. High drama in store at the back of the pack!

Brathay 10-in-10 is an extraordinary roller-coaster that swings you violently from pain, to elation, to despair, to amazing camaraderie — and back again. The ride leaves you with emotions as raw as if you had been skinned alive.

Today was hard, very hard. My finish time made me happy. But I am still very afraid of what the next two days hold. Many people here are talking about how Day 9 is the last “real” marathon, there is light at the end of the tunnel, and so on. Personally I cannot listen to any of this. The first 8 days have shown me that this course demands absolute, total respect. The physical and mental control required to get round are huge, bigger than anything I could have imagined. “Just” two days at Windermere is not something I take lightly, even with 8 already under my belt!

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Day 7 – Listening To My Body

On May 17, 2012, in Running, by Robert Dallison

Finish Time — 06:42:41
Average Pace — 15:22 per mile
Steps Taken — 58,290
Mantra of the Day — “Listen to your body”

Day 7 started much greyer and damper than yesterday’s splendid spring morning. But this is the Lake District after all, and I think we have been lucky with the weather so far. So, on with the rain gear and don’t let the spirit be dampened!

Morning therapy at Body Rehab went well, as I realised when someone commented how quiet it was (I have a reputation for being noisy on the table) and when I got out twenty minutes faster than usual.

Opting again for the early start, I caught up with Davey and Toks around mile 3. By this time I was already warmed up and in a similar rhythm to yesterday, so I chugged on into the drizzling rain.

I quickly realised that my ankle pain had almost completely subsided, so despite the dismal weather I was on something of a high. For a mile or two I debated how to play today’s run, and decided to opt for a slow and steady pace. The idea being to maximise my physical recovery, and give myself the absolute best chance of a cracking run on Saturday or Sunday.

And so my day unfolded much like yesterday, except that my aches and pains were now “normal” runner’s afflictions rather than acute injury. This, I know how to deal with. I settled into the meditative state that makes me enjoy endurance running so much… You relax into the pain, don’t fight it, let it absorb you, look at it “from the inside”, and perceive it not as an alarm signal but rather as a measure of your capacity and state of fitness.

Apart from a couple of walk and chat breaks with various supporters around the course, this approach got me all the way to Ice Cream Mountain at mile 22, before the relaxed focus started to deteriorate somewhat, due to fatigue and busy traffic. The last 4 miles were a little tougher, but when you are so close to home the finish line calls out and you just run to reach it.

End result — a very satisfying “discipline run”, confirming that my injury is clearing and that I have this event under control. I am also very pleased see the principles of active recovery and minimalist running working so well in an event that is highly taxing by any standards. This in itself is a psychological boost!

As always, I would like to thank everyone who has donated to my fund-raising goal of £5,000. Please help me again by sharing this story with your friends and colleagues, and encouraging them to support the amazing work of Brathay Trust. Thank you!

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And Now For A Quick Message From Class 4

On May 17, 2012, in Running, by Robert Dallison

Nothing I add can possibly do justice to this extraordinary video.

Thank you, Class 4. Keep pushing, we are nearly there!

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Day 6 – Back To Basics

On May 16, 2012, in Running, by Robert Dallison

Finish Time — 06:34:14
Average Pace — 15:03 per mile
Steps Taken — 62,880
Mantra of the Day — “Courage cannot be beaten”

In the same way that Day 4’s problems dragged me down at the start of Day 5, so my stronger finish on Day 5 carried over into a more positive outlook this morning. In addition we were treated to a spectacularly beautiful Lake District morning, that would have lifted the spirits of the worst curmudgeon.

Breakfast filled my belly, Body Rehab ninjas worked their magic, and I was almost impatient to get out on the road. What a difference from yesterday’s dismal start…

Not wanting to overdo things I started with the same walk-run routine as yesterday so that I could warm up gently. After the first drink station I felt that I could handle a full run, so off I trotted. Amazingly the ankle felt fine, and everything about the spring morning relaxed me and gave me huge confidence for the day. I jogged past the black pig snuffling in his field, I jogged past Randy Crag, I jogged past Hawkshead — and marvel of marvels I jogged up Devil’s Gallop. Steepest hill on the whole course, and the first time since Day 1 that I had taken this one at a run.

I settled into my rhythm and went back to the basics of minimalist running. Focus on centre of gravity, weight distribution, feedback from the body, and foot placement. Count the steps, count the breaths. Adjust, fine-tune all the time. And suddenly I was at Newby Bridge, having marked a regular pace on almost every single mile since the start.

Best of all I felt strong, and capable of carrying on at the same pace all day. Mile 14 went by, then mile 16 where Aly had written a message of encouragement on my banana! MIle 18, tick. Mile 20 and I’m in Bowness dodging Japanese tourists and bad drivers. Mile 22, Ice Cream Mountain where I chat briefly to a couple of guys biking Lands End to John O’Groats. Mile 24 and I’m *still* clocking the miles at the exact same pace. The last two miles were a treat. Smooth and easy, no pain to speak of, just looking forward to reaching the finish line.

Today’s run, although one of my slower performances, will go down in my personal records as one of my strongest runs ever — psychologically for sure, and also physically given the trials of the last couple of days. Any time you run a full marathon at the same steady pace, mile after mile, you know that you are in control. And it feels good!

I’m curious to see what happens tomorrow. I am on a high from today’s performance (almost two hours faster than yesterday) and I will have to rein myself in so as to continue my recovery and be on full form at the weekend. This journey is taking twists and turns that I could never have anticipated…

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  • Running PRs

    5K - 23:17 (Oct 16, 2010)
    5K - 23:37 (Mar 13, 2010)
    5K - 26:23 (May 23, 2009)
    10K - 49:09 (Oct 3, 2010)
    10K - 49:36 (Nov 26, 2009)
    10K - 51:36 (Oct 4, 2009)
    13.1 - 1:46:28 (Mar 07, 2010)
    13.1 - 1:52:23 (Nov 13, 2009)
    26.2 - 3:53:49 (Jan 30, 2011)
    26.2 - 4:39:14 (Jan 31, 2010)

    Running Goals

    5K - 22:00
    10K - 45:00
    13.1 - 1:40:00
    26.2 - 3:45:00
    Feb 2012, four marathons in 4 days
    May 2012, ten marathons in 10 days