Last Sunday, it felt like Spring had finally arrived. After what’s seemed like a particularly grey, drab and chilly Winter, last weekend the wind dropped, sun came out and it even felt vaguely warm.
After my Texan swing of marathons and 5k races, and then spending three weekends taking part in three 10k races (the Chichester 10k, Valentines 10k in Chessington and Chilly 10k at Castle Combe, of which I’ll write more in the near-future), I was taking a welcome break from organised events. That left me free for a lovely Sunday afternoon run, beneath largely blue skies and with the sun shining. It was beautiful: Britain at it’s February finest.
And then… well, it didn’t last long.
That won’t be a surprise if you live in Britain, and experienced vast chunks of the country coming to a standstill as bitter Siberian cold (aka the Beast from the East) met a storm coming from the south, resulting in a fair dumping of snow all over Britain. It closed schools, stopped trains, blocked roads and generally caused havoc. And, on an admittedly far more local and less important level, threatened to play havoc with my running.
My week actually started with a work trip to the Czech Republic (or Czechia, as it’s apparently been ‘rebranded’) on Monday and Tuesday. Quite often, if the schedule allows, I’ll take my kit and squeeze in a run when I’m away. Often my work trips involve a lot of sitting around and plentiful food, leaving me desperate for exercise to compensate. Having checked the schedule there would have been time – and having checked my hotel, I discovered it had a decent running/walking trail on the grounds. Promising… and then I checked the Czech weather.
Now, I’ve run in cold, but that just seemed a bit silly. So I decided not to pack any kit, so that I couldn’t be tempted when I woke up on Tuesday morning. And, sure enough, I woke up on Tuesday morning to beautiful sunshine and a pang of desire to get out there and go running. With no kit, I settled for a post-breakfast walk… which was quickly shortened as I set foot outside the hotel and realised that, sunny as it was, -14C is still flipping cold. It would have been a lovely morning to go running, but I would have needed to pack an extra suitcase to fit in enough running layers.
The snow arrived in Britain while I was in the Czech Republic on Tuesday, but wasn’t too bad around London, and my flight was thankfully my flight home that night was unaffected. But, by the time I woke up on Wednesday morning everything was covered in a layer of snow. Thing is, after two particularly lethargic days I was desperate for a run – and I had a commitment that meant I couldn’t go on Wednesday evening. Well then, only one thing for it: layer it, and head out into the snow for an early morning run.
When, later that day, I told my work colleagues I’d done so, most thought I was mad. They were wrong. It was a beautiful time to be out running. The snow was fresh, soft and not at all slippery, and while cold, it was a clear, bright, sunny morning. It was genuinely invigorating.
Thursday was a bit different: the sun had gone, replaced with leaden skies and an icily cold wind. Bracing, I believe they call it. I put off a run on Thursday morning, and then chickened out of one that evening. But the wind had eased by Friday morning, and I was still feeling like I needed more exercise.
So out I went running again.
This wasn’t so pleasant: the snow had melted in places and refrozen a bit, so it was hard to judge grip, and with no sun to lift my spirits and give the illusion of warmth, it was a bit of a slog. Still, even when it’s not fun, I usually feel better for having run than not having run. And it was good prep for Saturday morning’s parkrun.
Of course, it then started snowing again. In fact, there was probably more snow around where I live on Friday than there had been earlier in the week. And, on Friday evening, the Kingston Parkrun organisers tweeted they’d have to inspect the course on Saturday morning before deciding if it could run.
My little corner of south west London didn’t even have it that bad compared to the rest of the country, as the parkrun website cancellations page demonstrated. From Aberystwyth to Yeovil Montecue, a huge number of parkruns were canned due to the weather. I felt particularly bad for Whinlatter Forest parkrun, which had already been cancelled because the forest was due to be used for the Malcolm Wilson Rally – an event that was, in turn, cancelled due to the snow (and which, in my past life of motorsport journalism, I might well have going to cover).
Things looked good when I woke up on Saturday morning: the snow was already beginning to melt.
And, sure enough, this popped up on Twitter while I was eating breakfast:
The course and been checked and we are a GO. Be careful out there.
— Kingston parkrun (@kingstonparkrun) March 3, 2018
Given I only live a kilometre or so from the start, I had no excuse not to get there, and joined a reduced field of 116 other enthusiastic/bold/foolhardy runners on the Thames towpath for 9am. From my run down there I knew it wasn’t going to be a day for quick times, but thankfully while many paths were still snow-covered, there was little ice – and the melt hadn’t set in properly, so it wasn’t even that muddy.
It was, against all expectations, actually quite enjoyable – and not even that cold. And the reduced field had another bonus: I finished fourth overall, eclipsing my previous Kingston parkrun-best finish of fifth. Which was pleasing, even if the secret to my success was, quite literally, turning up and then not falling down.
Amazingly, by around lunchtime on Saturday the temperature had climbed further, and most of the snow near my house had melted away. The Beast from the East was gone. And, much as it was fun to do some stubborn snow-based running through it, I’m hopeful that Spring will now properly arrive…
Yes, I’m writing about the weather again. Look, I’m British, it’s what we do. We talk about the weather. Especially when a) the weather is really very odd, as it frequently seems to be in Texas, and b) my experience on the Houston Marathon will be largely dependent on the conditions I’ll encounter on the course.
When last I wrote about the weather, Texas was proving surprisingly cold, and I was wrapping up as warm as I possible could for training runs in temperatures of -3C. Well, funny story… it’s now warm again.
On Sunday evening I went for a 10k jog in beautiful sunshine but with the temperatures barely above freezing – cold enough for me to break out The Hat I Can’t Throw Away.
On Tuesday morning, less than 48 hours later, I went for a gentle training jog at around eight am – and, despite cloud cover and very light rain, found myself running in around 17C heat and a surprisingly amount of humidity. Instead of freezing, I was sweating.
It was… confusing, to say the least.
Still, it was also useful, since – for what it’s worth, at any rate – the current forecast is for temperatures to feature daytime highs of around 25-27C (that’s about 77-80F) between now and Sunday, with overnight lows of around 15-16C (60-62F). Yes, those are overnight lows that are 15C warmer than it was in the middle of the day just four days ago. Like I said, Texas weather in January is bonkers.
Anyway, at least the conditions right now should approximate what the runners in the Houston Marathon will encounter on Sunday – although there is a greater chance of rain showers come the weekend. Showers wouldn’t necessarily be a bad thing, as long as they don’t get too heavy, and there’s another current Texas weather condition worrying me a little more: the wind.
It’s been pretty gusty round here recently, with quite a breeze rolling in from the Gulf of Mexico. It’s creating the sort of potent gusts that occasionally cause your car to wobble when you’re driving down a highway. And while such a breeze can be quite cooling – useful on a marathon – it can also be really difficult if you end up caught running in a headwind.
But hey, you can’t control the weather on race day, so when the time comes to start the marathon I can only run in the conditions that I find. But that won’t stop me being confused and slightly obsessed by the forecast.
After all, Texas weather in January is bonkers and unpredictable, and I’m British. Talking about the weather is what we do…
A few weeks back, I wrote a great big Houston Marathon FAQ, trying to answer lots of questions about the 2017 Chevron Houston Marathon. One of the things I pondered was what the weather might be like on race day. In short, I had no real idea.
Well, I’ve now been in Texas for a week or so, and there’s about a week left until the Houston Marathon. So now I’ve had a chance to get a feel for the weather conditions it seemed a good time to have a second go at answering the question: what’s the weather going to be like on race day?
Well, in short… I have no real idea.
Really, I don’t. Because the last week has just demonstrated that Texas weather is bonkers. Really. Last Sunday, January 1, I tackled the Run Houston Sam Houston Race Park 10k on a fresh and cool morning. The sun broke through later that day, the heat rose to about 25C/77F and it was glorious, the sort of day when it was lovely to be outside wearing shorts and a T-shirt (although possibly not so lovely for people who had to see my legs…). On Monday there was an incredible overnight thunderstorm, with lightning and inches of rain… before it cleared quickly and turned into a simply beautiful day.
On Tuesday it clouded over, and the temperature dropped around 15F in, like, no time at all. Suddenly, it all felt a bit cold (at least compared to what you’d expect in Texas – it was still far nicer than January in Britain…). That wasn’t great for being out and about, but would probably make for far better marathon-running conditions. Except… the temperature kept dropping.
By Wednesday the wind had picked up and it was all getting very chilly. A short road trip north from Houston to Fort Worth didn’t help, since it’s a few degrees colder up there. But by Thursday the weather was hovering not that far above freezing. It wasn’t just ‘cold for Texas.’ It was properly cold.
And it kept on getting colder. On Friday the weather didn’t even get about freezing in Forth Worth, and there was snow. Yes, snow. In Texas. Alright, it was the lightest of light sprinkling of snowflakes, that were hard to spot as they flitted in the icily biting wind, but still. It was snow. In Texas.
I’m now back down near Houston, and things have changed again. The cloud has gone, replaced by a beautiful clear, blue sky. But it’s still cold. Blimey, is it cold. This morning’s 5k jog was a bracing affair in temperatures of -3C/26F. At around 9am.
Now, I’ve run in that sort of temperature in Britain quite regularly, but normally I have my pick of multiple wind-proof and thermal layers. I didn’t exactly think to pack them for Texas. Still, I bundled up as best I could, and in the glorious sunshine it was a beautiful morning to be out. Although I was glad to get back indoors soon after my 5k was done.
So what’s next for the weather? I really don’t know, although the forecast is for it to get warm – quickly. Here’s the forecast highs for the next few days:
Sunday (aka marathon day): 20C
Yup, it’s going to get warm again quite quickly. So it doesn’t look like I’ll be freezing on the marathon. Well, at least I don’t think I will be. Given the range of weather over the past week, and in the forecast for next week, I wouldn’t like to guess.
So, to conclude: what’s the weather going to be like on the day of the Houston Marathon?
I have absolutely no idea…
This is a story about a hat. A black woolly hat, to be precise.
As woolly hats go, it is as basic as they come. It doesn’t have a fancy patterned design. It doesn’t have a fancy brand label on it. It doesn’t any fancy thermal lining. It doesn’t have any design flairs, or floppy ear covers, or a strap to hold it in place. And it certainly isn’t topped with a brazen, bouncy bobble. It is a black woolly hat; nothing more, nothing less. As woolly hats go, it is utterly unremarkable.
I can’t tell you much about the hat. It doesn’t have a notable origin story: I found it at the bottom of a box in my house a few years back. It must have come from somewhere before it found its way into that box, but I certainly can’t remember buying it. I couldn’t even tell you which shop it might have come from: it is such a simple, basic woolly hat it doesn’t even have a care label.
In summary, it is a black woolly hat. Nothing more, nothing less. So how come it is a hat I can’t throw away?
For clarity, when I say it’s a hat I can’t throw away, that isn’t due to some sentimental attachment or particular fondness for it. What I mean is that it’s a hat I can’t throw away. Believe me, I’ve tried.
As best I can remember, the hat I can’t throw away made it’s competition debut pretty much exactly two years ago this weekend, on the Chilly 10k, held at Castle Combe Circuit in Wiltshire. The forecast for the day of the event was pretty typical for the time of year in Britain: a cold start with a fairly brisk wind, warming up a bit through the day. The sort of forecast that makes picking the right kit difficult.
The challenge was to wear enough warm clothes so that I wasn’t too cold at the start and in the early stages, but not over-dress so much that I became too hot late in the race when I was fully warmed up. I settled on a long-sleeved technical running top beneath a short-sleeved running T-shirt. But I was concerned about my head getting too hold. It seemed sensible to wear a hat for the cold, early part of the race – but I feared I wouldn’t need it later in the race when I warmed up.
I looked at my range of woolly hats, and none of them seemed to fit. I had some reasonably expensive ones with nice patterns and super-warm thermal lining. But they might prove too warm. And what would I do with it if I over-heated during the race? Pull it off my head and carry it? Didn’t seem like a good idea.
If I was going to start the race wearing a hat, I didn’t want to be burdened by it if I warmed up too much. Rather than carry it for most of the race, I’d rather just throw it away. But it seemed a real waste to pick a ‘nice’ hat and end up getting rid of it through overheating.
I found the answer at the bottom of a random box – and it was woolly, black, and utterly unremarkable. It was the perfect solution to my dilemma: the hat’s basic, simple construction meant I was less likely to get too hot in it quickly – and I could hardly have a sentimental attachment to a hat I couldn’t remember owning until I found it in a box.
The absolutely unremarkable nature of the hat made it the perfect solution. I’d wear it for the start of the race. If I overheated, I’d just pull it off my head and toss it in a bin whenever the opportunity arose.
Funny story: the hat kept me warm at the start, yet the weather never actually warmed up enough for me to throw the hat away. I finished the race with the hat very much still on my head.
Which meant I was able to wear it for the same reason again on the Kingston 10k the following weekend. And on many other subsequent races and long training runs since.
Essentially, if it’s cold enough to start the race or long run with a woolly hat on, the unremarkable black hat is my headgear of choice. A few times the hat has come off my head. Once, the wind suddenly picked up, I got cold again and I put it back on again a few hundred metres later; in most others case it was so close to the finish that it didn’t make sense to throw it away.
But I have actually thrown the hat away in two races. And yet still I own it. Eh?
The first was this year’s Hampton Court Palace Half Marathon. It was definitely woolly hat weather at the start, but after about five miles I’d warmed up so much the hat I whipped the hat from my head. Was it finally time to throw it away?
Not on this occasion. My Mum was visiting to cheer me on for the event. She’d come with me to the start at Hampton Court Palace, and we’d worked out that she was going to spectate near the palace gates when the race went back past there just after half-distance. So I decided to wait until then before throwing away the hat. As I reached the corner nearest the palace gates I spotted my mum, exactly where she said she’d be. Without breaking stride, I slung the hat in her direction. I wasn’t quite on target, but it was close enough for her to pick it up and return it to me at the finish.
That meant I still had the hat for this year’s London Marathon. Again, it was a cold start, but seemed likely to warm up. Perfect unremarkable woolly hat conditions. And, sure enough, about six miles in, I’d warmed up enough to take the hat off.
My brother came to the marathon to cheer me on, and we’d looked ahead to work out where he was going to try and spectate. His first spot was about seven miles in, in Greenwich just after the Cutty Sark. I knew which side of the road he’d be on, but he could have been anywhere within a half-mile or so stretch. Which the crowds at least three-deep in most places, it seemed unlikely I’d spot him.
Still, given when I’d removed the hat, it seemed silly not to leave it a bit before throwing it away, just in case. So I ran along, hat in hand, scanning the faces in the crowd, until – there he was. I spied my brother and, as I closed in and shouted some form of vaguely coherent greeting, I tossed the hat in his direction.
It wasn’t exactly an ideal situation for a hat hand-off. I was focused on running, the crowd left little room for a target window, and my brother had no idea I was about to throw him a hat, and was busy cheering me on and trying to take a photo.
As I ran on, I had no idea whether he’d even seen the hat being thrown in his direction, let alone grabbed it.
By the finish of the marathon, I was too exhausted to even remember the hat. After staggering through the finish area, finding my mum and brother and trying not to be overcome with emotion and/or exhaustion while celebrating, we limped on to a Pret near Trafalgar Square. After picking up a coffee, we couldn’t find anywhere to sit, so we headed over to a bench in Trafalgar Square.
By that point the heat I’d built up doing the marathon was rapidly fading, so I was quickly adding layers to try and keep warm. What I needed was something to stick on my head… and then, from his pocket, my brother produced the perfect solution: a black, woolly hat. An utterly unremarkable black woolly hat.
Of course, there is a weird twist to proceedings. The hat was pressed into service precisely because I had absolutely no emotional attachment to it. But not this hat has now served me so well on so many runs – and survived my repeated attempts to dispose on it – I’ve become quite attached to it.
So haven’t started as a hat that I can’t throw away, it’s now become a hat that I can’t throw away. Which, as the mid-November temperatures drop and I start to contemplate a season of cold weather running – starting with my third outing on the Castle Combe Chilly 10k tomorrow – I’m left with a dilemma. I’ve got a hat that’s ideal to wear for the conditions: warm and comfortable, but cheap enough to throw away if the weather warms up. But, if the time came, could I actually throw away a hat that’s served me so well? Hmmm…
It’s mid-October, so Britain is firmly in the grip of Autumn (aka Fall, for American readers…). An unseasonable burst of heat in September extended the Summer a bit, but all the signs that everyone’s favourite season sandwiched after Summer and before Winter is here. Consider the evidence:
1. Leaves are turning brown and falling off trees with reckless abandon.
2. Train firms are actually cutting back on commuter services for fear of leave on the line. No, really.
3. It’s still dark when I wake up at around seven am.
4. It’s getting dark not long after six pm.
5. The shops are full of halloween merchandise. Seriously, how much halloween merch is there this year? What happened to a spot of half-hearted trick or treating and saving the excitement for Guy Fawkes Night? (American readers: Guy Fawkes Night is when Britain builds bonfires and sets of fireworks to celebrate the failure of a plot to blow up the Houses of Parliament in 1605. Because of course we do).
6. It’s suddenly getting a bit cold, even on days with clear blue skies when the sun is shining. Which also means that…
7. Trying to work out what to wear when I go out for a run has become a nightmare.
Here’s the thing. Tonight I got home from work around six pm, and went out for a run about half-an-hour later. By that time it was basically dark. It was also kinda cold, especially with a bit of a chill wind. But it wasn’t that biting, icy winter cold. It was the sort of cold you felt when you first venture out into it, but can fight off with a bit of activity. You know, like running.
So the challenge is trying to wear enough clothes that you’re not cold at the start of the run, but not so many that you end up overheating near the end when you warm up. And that’s surprisingly hard.
A technical running T-shirt clearly isn’t enough. So a long-sleeved running tech top? Sounds good, but what if that chill wind picks up? It cuts right through a technical top. Perhaps the windproof running jacket, then? No, that’ll be too much. It’s so good at cutting out the wind and keeping the heat in that I’ll boil.
Okay then, a long-sleeved running top, topped with a short-sleeved running top. Two layers sounds good. Well, it could work, except my core tends to stay quite warm. It’s my hands that get cold. Gloves then? Let’s try gloves.
Aaah, but which gloves? My thin running gloves which offer a touch of wind protection but little added warmth? Or the ones with a bit of fleece lining I can get my fingers toasty in? Yeah, let’s try the fleece ones.
So we’re sorted then. Long-sleeved running top, short-sleeved running top, fleece gloves, shorts (I always do shorts, my legs never really get cold), running shoes (obviously), and no hat. Definitely not cold enough for a hat. Done. Sorted.
Fitted out then, I set off into the evening autumn gloom. Around 5k later, and… I’m a bit too warm, really. Particularly my hands. That chill wind wasn’t really there, and without that to cool me down my hands got a bit clammy and sweaty in the fleece gloves.
And so goes the challenge of picking out the right kit to wear while running in the autumn – when you try to predict the largely unpredictable. I know people who can’t bear the thought of going running in the height of winter, when it’s properly cold. But that’s never bothered me – I actually enjoy the challenge. And, as a bonus, it’s far easier to work out what to wear…
It seems no major marathon website is complete without a countdown timer on the homepage. In the build-up to this year’s London Marathon I’d regularly check the event website, and seeing the countdown timer drawn inexorably closer to race day was exciting… and a little bit terrifying.
The Houston Marathon website also has a countdown timer on the homepage. And as that countdown timer draws inexorably closer to race day it’s exciting… and a little bit terrifying. Yup, one of the early lessons of running a second marathon is that the slight terror of running 26.2 miles isn’t lessened by the fact I’ve done it before.
If anything, it might be a little worse – because I know how tough the training will be. Especially looking at the countdown timer today, to show that there’s now 100 days to go until the 2017 Houston Marathon. About 14 weeks. In other words, it’s time to begin ramping up the training.
Which isn’t all good news – because Autumn has finally hit Britain. After a late September summer swoon, the weather has snapped back to normal. The evenings are drawing in, and it’s getting chilly. I had to break out a long-sleeve running top for my post-work run last night – which was also my first evening run for several months to finish in the dark. That seems a bit ironic, since I’m preparing to run a marathon in Texas – hardly known for cold weather…
It’s going to get worse from here, too. The clocks go back in a month or so, and the temperature is going to keep on dropping. It’s not going to stop me running – I’m quite stubborn about these things, and have managed to keep on running in all conditions – but it can be hard to find the motivation to go running on cold, dark nights.
Finishing last night’s training trek in the dark was a reminder that there are going to be a lot of cold, dark nights between now and January. And, with a marathon to prepare for, that’s a lot of cold, dark nights I’m going to have to wrap up and head out on a run.
Still, when I’m out running in the cold, I just need to think warm thoughts. Apparently, it was 32 degrees Celsius in Houston, Texas yesterday…
Apparently, not everything is going to go to plan when you’re training for a marathon. This has been amply demonstrated to me in the last week – a week that now appears as a smouldering wasteland of ruinous nothingness in my London Marathon preparation.
It all started last Wednesday, with everything going so well. It was March 23, I posted a piece celebrating the second anniversary of my running, and headed off to work in high spirits on a sunny day with my running kit packed. The plan: run home from work as part of a longer-than-usual mid-week run. Great plan.
It started to go south around lunchtime, when I started to feel a little… off. I tried to shrug it off and press on. Sure it was nothing. It wasn’t.
By the end of the work day, I had to concede I wasn’t feeling up to a run, so instead I slung my kit bag on my back and walked home, sat on the sofa… and fell asleep for two hours. By this point even I had to admit to that running nightmare: I was ill. I had a bug. A virus. A cold. Man-flu. Actual flu. Whatever it was exactly, I felt terrible. Still, a night of sleep would fix it.
On Thursday morning I managed to convince myself I was better, and even made it into work. I wasn’t better, and I didn’t last the day. I got home, slept, work up, ate a bit, slept a bit. Then went to bed. I went to be at about 10.20pm on Thursday night, and got up at 11.40… am on Friday morning. Before walking to the sofa, sitting down and falling asleep again.
Basically, it wasn’t until Saturday evening that I began to feel remotely human again, and Sunday morning before I could really say I was recovering. By time of writing – Monday morning – I’m feeling much improved, but the coughing and spluttering is still ongoing. I’m hopeful that, on current rate of recover, I might be able to get back to a spot of running tomorrow. But not sure. Either way, it’s less than ideal: the longest I’ve gone without running in two years – and exactly four weeks before the London Marathon.
If it wasn’t so disastrous, it would be spectacularly comic timing, really – especially because I genuinely can’t remember the last time an illness has floored me for quite so long. Seriously, we’re probably talking back in the years following my heart operation, when I was somewhat more fragile than I am now.
Until I can actually get out running again, I’ve got no idea how much missing a week of running is going to affect me. I’m optimistically telling myself it’s a cunning early taper strategy but, clearly, it’s not going to help.
Also, perhaps I shouldn’t complain too much: my profession is as a journalist/editor, so I’m always looking for drama, adversity and plot twists to build storylines and intrigue around. Picking up the worst illness I’ve had in decades, just a month before my first marathon? Yeah, it probably adds to the drama…
…but I’d rather go without the drama. I don’t like drama. Or illness.
I just want to go running. Soon.
Once I’ve stopped lying around in bed, I’m running the 2016 London Marathon to raise money for the Bristol and South West Children’s Heart Circle. For more information on the charity and how to sponsor me, please click the ‘Just Giving’ button below. Thanks!