Marathon Posts – Training tips, Inspirational Accounts and Recovery Techniques

I am running the Brighton Marathon in April 2015 and wanted a place to store some of the inspirational posts from other runners of training tips and woes, marathon experiences or recovery suggestions. I’m hoping that over the year that this page turns into an motivating collection of articles for any marathon runner.

(Image © WallyG 2014) 

Training Tips

Marathon Stories

  • Michael Owen’s experience of running the London Marathon. A refreshingly honest summary of the race itself, with his mistakes, his pain and the importance of the support of family friends and others, combined with an insight into the life of a footballer. Turns out they are human too…
  • Spa Striders debut marathon runner Rob Thompson on his route to a sub 3 marathon and his experience on the day. Five words particularly stay with me: “Push yourself. Every. Bloody. Time”. 
Recovery Techniques
  • Reverse Tapering plans. Discussion and plans for how best to recover in the four weeks after a half or full marathon

Weird Things That Runners Do

This one isn’t mine but thought it was worth a post! 

How many (and which) of these are you guilty of?

1. Hold your Garmin up to the sky because you swear you get better reception.

2. Have full conversations with yourself while running, often times out loud.

3. You look at your clock at home and get all giddy when you realize it’s your PR time.

4. You see the word “marathon” in the TV guide and get excited before you realize it has nothing at all to do with running.

5. Swore you would never wear a bumbag but a fuel belt? No problem!

6. Run tons of miles per week but yet you still search for the closest parking spot at the grocery store.

7. Carry extra running gear in your car just in case you see a great looking place to run on accident.

8. Wear your running clothes to bed so you spend less time changing and have more time to run in the morning.

9. On long runs you get so deep in thought that you suddenly realize that you don’t remember what happened the last couple miles.

10. Talking in acronyms: My last MP earned me PR and 1st in my AG. I didn’t BQ but at least I wasn’t a DNF.

11. You blow your nose in your shirt because you suck at blowing snot rockets while running. You just end up looking like a dog slobbering out the car window.

12. Get extremely excited when you see a porta potty or bathroom out of no where on your run.

13. Show off your bruised and black toe nails to non runners while trying to convince them it was so much fun and completely worth it!

14. Constantly checking behind you to see if anyone is catching up that could be the boogey man.

15. Change into your running clothes in your car not caring if anyone sees.

16. Fart while running on accident but still look around to see if anyone heard it. And if so, you speed up to lose them!

17. Assume that the old lady that passed you like you were standing still is only going to be running a couple miles.

18. Question what you got yourself into at the beginning of the race only to immediately wonder what races you can enter next.

19. Realize that the majority of the songs on your phone are ones that you run to.
20. Panicking the day before a race making sure that you have 
 lined up that you will need.

21. Look at runners with envy while driving.

22. When the local news starts talking about race weekend you start panicking because you didn’t sign up, then you realize they are talking about NASCAR and not running.

23. While driving down the road you see the amount of miles until your destination on the road sign and you immediately think “I can run that!”

24. Avoid going past a running store because you know you can’t come out of it empty handed.

25. Getting people to reschedule their weddings because it interferes with your race schedule.

26. Seeing people with 13.1 and 26.2 stickers on their car and speeding up to get a good look at them. Even if you have to do 80+. It’s still a competition!

27. Running around in circles so you hit an even amount of mileage on your Garmin.

28. Knowing that it is impossible to run past windows without looking at the reflection so you can check out your running form.

29. Solve the worlds problems while running and wonder why there is no law that world leaders have to do this.

30. Plan vacations based on where you can run and what races you can enter.

The Loneliness of The Programme Manager

I have a great deal in common with David Moyes. There are some areas where we differ of course. I don’t have to manage Shrek, I don’t have access to free track suits or dodgy coats and I don’t get my name splashed across every newspaper every time it doesn’t go well for me at work.

Make The Inherited Team Work For You

(Image © VegasEddie)

Moyes, for those who live on Mars (or perhaps the US) is a football manager, the manager of possibly the biggest club in the world, Manchester United. Sounds great. Except he’s a football manager in his first season at the club. I am a programme manager. Specifically a programme manager who specialises in recovery. I land in troubled programmes and turn them around – or even sometimes terminate them.

The similarity lies in the loneliness, the isolation especially in the initial stages of the role. There are ways to alleviate this though as I will walk through later no in this post.

Moyes was presumably recruited by the chairman. A friendly, smiling face full of promises and smiles. Initial talk of ambition and plans, of positives and partnership. Bring in the programme sponsor. The guy wedded to the ambition and delivery of the programme but not necessarily wedded to the deliverer. He knows what he wants, will go to any length to get it but when it comes to it he isn’t that worried who delivers it. In both roles this guy treats you as expendable, merely a means to an end. Ultimately this person is not your friend…

Indirectly Moyes has another client that he must impress. The supporters. A recent survey puts the number of worldwide supporters that Moyes has to impress at 659 million. To be fair, I’ve never worked on a programme with 600 million users so I’m a bit behind there. But the similarities are there. The relationship with the supporters or the business into which you are delivering is always on a knife edge. They are reliant on you doing a good job and will back you vehemently when they see evidence of a good job being done. However, as soon as anything goes wrong they will be quick to criticise, to escalate and demand changes. A group of dissenters can gather momentum very quickly and whilst they do not generally have direct hire and fire power they certainly can influence.

Moyes inherited a team of players. In some ways he is better off than me in that Moyes inherited a team of world class players. Read into that what you will! The problem for Moyes is that they are not his choice of world class players, they do not necessarily play to his system and unfortunately the competition also has world class players. The last point means that in comparison they are average. I inherit teams. Generally pretty average team. One or two potential stars perhaps but in the main teams that don’t play to my system. Teams that don’t suit my style of management. Both Moyes and I are recruited primarily as people managers. Our abilities to produce results from a team are the primary reasons we get the job. Sure, we are experts in our trades, we know the fundamentals but then so do many other people. It’s the ability to get the people around you to deliver that marks us out from the crowd. 

More importantly then, what do both Moyes and I need to do to deliver in such an environment?

The first piece of the jigsaw is perhaps a surprising one as it’s initially at least a non ‘work’ one. In order to succeed in this environment you need a friend. I’ve outlined above how whilst at any given time each of the groups might be supporting you, none are your friends. On arrival, you can trust no one and must not get too close to anyone. Three months down the line, you don’t know which employees you might be having conversations with about poor performance, you don’t know when you might have to deliver a hard to live with ultimatum to the chairman or your client and you don’t know when you might have that tough meeting with the business to let them know you won’t be delivering that much desired functionality or with the supporters to let them know your targets are not in line with their wishes. So until you have your right hand man in place, you need a clear idea of who externally you have to bounce ideas off, to motivate and inspire you and generally to get support from. To start a role without this is tough indeed.

Next comes team motivation. Moyes has an added constraint here. The transfer window. That means that player recruitment wise he is not only constrained by budget and the availability of his preferred team but is also constrained by the time windows in which he can recruit. The problem is similar though on both sides. You have to work with what you have and you need time to understand whether the players you inherit are capable of working in the way that you want them to. First impressions may be wrong. The way a team performed for a previous manager may be very different from the way that they perform for you. Getting the team onside early on and fighting for your cause is about setting out clearly your core beliefs, being very clear about what you want to achieve and how you aim to set about doing it. It’s about being tough when necessary but listening too. The bully boy tactics might create short term wins but never create a long term delivery structure. Mostly though it’s about taking the time to find out about the individuals. What inspires them, what are their concerns, dislikes and ambitions. Having these conversations not only establishes relationships but also starts to set out your long term goals. No point creating a style of play around the midfielder that is desperate to play for Real Madrid next year or the project manager who is looking to take a back seat. The key here though is to focus on motivation in the short term. These people may or not be in your long term plan. They are definitely part of your short term plan though and you will need each to perform as well as they can.

As soon as possible, it is vital to address the loneliness problem. To deliver in the long term, you need a trusted core team around you. People who absolutely buy into your vision and who have the ability to motivate and bring others along. Football managers and programme managers from consultancies often have the ability to create an instant Team structure. Increasingly when a manager joins a new club he will take his back room staff with him. He will walk into the new role an instant team around him. Consultancies will sell in the leadership layer as a way to kicking off a project quickly and early. I’m not a great fan of this approach though. If football or programmes were a repeatable process then this would be fine. However there are so many variables involved -the players, the budget, the ambition of the chairman – that each scenario Is different. To arrive with a management team means that you have one approach. To put your own repeatable model into play. To force the variables around you to act in the way that fits your model. It’s tough to get results this way but also it means you never get better. It’s a plateau model. You build your way of doing it and at best you repeat it. At worst you can’t force the resources into your shape and you end up failing. What you don’t do is create a better model each time. 

The approach of arriving with an external sounding board, the inspirational friend, whilst tougher in the short term means that you have time to assess the situation before selecting the right team from your trusted contacts. It takes longer but you build a team that is accurately selected to address the challenges facing you and therefore a stronger long term team. One shouldn’t underestimate how quickly this needs to be done though.   There is only a short period until the ‘trusted friend’ is too far removed and until the real storming within the team commences. By that point you need at least one person in that you trust and that shares your vision. Finally, your team around you should be people who are loyal to you. They should not be people who always agree with you. I have seen programmes fail due to leadership teams of yes men. If everyone is always going to agree, you may as well have one person.

The holy grail of all of this is time. Time to judge what you have in terms of resources available, time to build that loyal management team and time to start delivering and create an atmosphere of success. You can buy time though through an early deliverable. The absolute first thing to look for on any new project is how to deliver something high profile fast. Divert resource to that deliverable and stay with it until it’s complete. Once you have an early win in the bag, time to build will be made available. 

Anyone for half time oranges?

Running For A Purpose

In June last year I walked into a consultants room. My life focus was about to change. Three weeks before, I had woken with excruciating pain in my shoulder. By the next day I had zero use of my left arm. A seriously painful MRI scan later and several wrong diagnoses and I was en route to a meeting with a neuro surgeon. He ordered another MRI from a different angle and I walked into his room. First thing he said as he looked me in the eye was, “It’s quite possible you might not walk again”.  I’d somehow managed not just to slip a disc but in his words:  to “explode it”. 

Aim For A Target

(Image © Nicholas Raymond)
I didn’t tell anyone that line for a long time. I made light to other people about the way he had said he would fly out on holiday a day late so as to do the operation. “Do anything for money”. He told me to take it extremely careful. No public transport. Nothing where I might accidentally move some part of my neck. My mum wasn’t fooled though. (Not sure I can remember the last time I fooled my mum!). She got it it day one and left me in doubt that I was going to have the operation. And yes, I still thought there was a decision to make. On the day of the operation, the surgeon was more upbeat. His focus at that point was on my arm telling me I would probably get no movement back but after two years It was possible I might achieve some. 


Came round. Wiggled my toes. Grinned. Went back to sleep. And decided to fight. 


Seems really silly now. Like it was never a reality. I remember a few key things in the weeks that followed. I remember the physio looking at the MRIs and my zero neck and arm movement and commenting that I’d done it “properly” and then bringing a colleague in to show him the extent of the damage.

Several people, including some very close to me, told me I needed a different, more sedate approach to life. It isn’t clear how I “exploded” the disk. I surely didn’t want to run that risk again. And no, I don’t. Bit I want to live too. And this has made me think about what I can do rather than what I can’t. I wasn’t interested in taking it easy though. I’d been told I wouldn’t move my arm and so to start with I was focused on changing that. 

I realised how easy I had had it in life. Sport Billy, a friend used to call me. I could do any sport. But I never really pushed it. Never excelled in anything. Just did it to a decent level.  Waking up, I had decided not to do that. I would find something I wanted to do and then try properly.  Didn’t matter how good I was, I just wanted to compete. With myself.

I had a few short term goals I needed to prove to myself. First, playing football again (that’s how I think I originally did it) and second, getting that arm moving. No way was I going to wait two years,  I played football way too soon, but came back to play harder, better than I ever did in my youth. A proper desire replacing the take it easy approach. I tried various sports, to the varying horror, and to be fair, increasing interest, of the physio who quietly quite liked my ‘do or die approach’ as he named it. I’d managed to start to get movement in my arm, but try as I might I couldn’t get rid of a certain degree of pain and stiffness in my neck .  My back was just a mass of tight muscles where I had been compensating for an injury about to happen for maybe as much as eighteen months, 

And then, although I had been subconsciously staving it off for months, depression hit. I was nothing for two months, at rock bottom. No steps, no focus, only weekly football giving me any escape. And in January, mainly to combat my depression, I started to run. I was on holiday in Devon. In a seriously hilly bit of Devon. I went out every morning in that first week of January, walking a bit, and running a bit. By the end of the week I was running the whole loop. Just four miles, but four miles of tough hills in tough winds. When I got home, I could run. I could run for miles. Eight, nine miles. For the first time in my life. 

And so now I run. I try and run every day. I probably shouldn’t, but I can move my arm completely now and I feel fitter than ever.  And I have never felt fitter. And I love it. I love that feeling of dropping into that zone where you feel you can go forever. I’ve done 100 miles in January, 100 miles in February and want to do that every month this year. I’ve signed up for my first half marathon in 25 years. Am so focused in completing it. 

There are loads of people way worse off than me but it’s all personal right? Running a half might not be a great deal to many people but to me, the MK Half on Sunday is about achieving something that at one point I thought was beyond me. 

Because once. Just once. Someone told me they weren’t sure I would walk again. That kind of upset me . I’m not sure I like people telling me what I can’t do. 

The Case Of The Missing iPad

Chief Inspector Jane O’Donnell felt highly satisfied as she took her chair for breakfast at the Golden Armadillo Hotel. The Case of the Missing Geese had been nicely wrapped up the previous evening once it was established that the farmer had forgotten which pond he had left his flock in after a late night at the Stripy Wombat Pub. As often seemed to be the case with the Chief Inspector’s investigations there had been no arrests. Still, the geese were safe, and it meant no paperwork. Another tick in the box.
The Only Sensible Conversation Around
(Image © Jelene)
“A job well done” she announced to a rather green, sickly looking Detective Constable Oakes who had spent most of the night allegedly questioning suspects in the Stripy Wombat.
DC Oakes nodded and turned his attention to the fry up that had been set in front of him but kept his mouth shut. She was mad as a box of frogs he thought, a sandwich short of a picnic. Yet another “perplexing mystery” that was really a wild goose chase. He would be glad to get home to Mrs Oakes and more particularly the chickens he kept. Sometimes he thought they were the only sane things in the whole world.
The quiet atmosphere was interrupted by a heated discussion in the kitchen. An argument about the best way to play angry birds – was it better on the chefs new iPad or his iPhone? Goodness me, thought Oakes, the world had gone mad! He turned his attention back to his breakfast and thought of chickens and clucked quietly to himself.
The Chief Inspector finished her breakfast and made arrangements to meet her colleague in the reception area of the hotel in an hour. It was as she walked up the stairs that she was nearly knocked over by the owner of the hotel. A stooping old man of about 80, he came careering around the corner with his walking stick held in front of him like a lance. His normally calm features distorted by rage, his face bright red, looking ready to explode.
 “Officer, Officer!!! Thank goodness you are still here” he exclaimed, grabbing the Chief Inspector with surprising strength around the arm. “There’s been the most awful theft. Someone has been into my private quarters and stolen my iPad. It was an original one and on my birthday too”. He leant on his walking stick, emotion pouring out of him as he told his story. The iPad had been taken between 11pm and 2am in the morning. The owner had woken up full of good birthday cheer only to be confronted by the devastating theft.
Now, Chief Inspector O’Donnell didn’t know a lot about iPads but she did know about originals. Things like Van Gogh paintings and Dickens first edition books. There had been a very interesting course on those at detective school. She knew they were important and very valuable. And here she was. The first detective on the scene of an original iPad theft. How lucky that she was there!
Like the true professional that she was, she sprang into action. Shouting back to the open door of the dining room, she started issuing orders.
“Oakes. Get more coffee and croissants. Make sure there is marmalade too! Oh, and we will need an incident room. Clear the dining room this instant and set one up.”
She could have sworn that she heard a large “cluck” come from the dining room area before Oakes replied with a weary “yes ma’am”.
An hour later, O’Donnell, now in her full uniform, returned to the dining room. A phone had been set up together with a large TV screen tuned to the national news channels. She glanced at it to see what the public reaction to the theft of an original iPad was and was relieved to see it had not yet made the global media. The current news item was about Apple stores who had run a promotion last night where you could turn up at any local store at midnight and receive a free new iPad in exchange for your old one. O’Donnell wasn’t interested in new iPads though – originals were her focus.
O’ Donnell was an old pro. The conversation in the kitchen had come back to her and she was confident she could have this case wrapped up by lunchtime. “I want to see the chef” she barked at Oakes, who was sitting at his table nursing his head and leafing through a magazine that looked suspiciously like “Chicken Lovers Weekly”.
The chef, when he arrived, looked tired and nervous, his eyes darting from side to side. “Where were you between 11 and 2 last night?” she asked with the slight American twang that she adopted when conducting an interrogation. She felt it made her more professional in front of the punters.
“Erm, erm, erm,” stammered the clearly guilty chef, “I went to the cinema to see a film.”
“Which film?” intervened Detective Constable Oakes, surprising O’Donnell with his incisive questioning. She had been just about to strike the chef off the suspect list as he clearly had an alibi.
The chef paused, his eyes searching the room for inspiration. “Chicken Run” he blurted out, resting his gaze on Oakes’ magazine.
Once again O’Donnell moved to cross the chef off the suspects list. But Oakes was on a roll. He knew that he was not a particularly smart man. He had Mrs Oakes to remind him of that and she was keen to do so regularly. But what Oakes did know about was chickens. And he knew that Chicken Run was not showing at the cinema last night. He whispered as much so his boss, who looked at him astonished as she circled the chefs name on the list.
Dismissing the chef, the two of them conferred in low voices. They hadn’t ever made an arrest before and clearly this was going to require some major planning.

“More coffee” shouted O’Donnell

“And biscuits!” Added  Oakes, his confidence growing by the minute as his prowess as a true detective became more and more evident.

Just then the front door banged open. The owner’s daughter flew in.

“Sorry I’m so late” she cried, flinging herself into the arms of her elderly father, knocking his walking stick to the floor. “The queue at the Apple store was awful. I’ve got your birthday present though” and she brandished a brand new iPad with ‘ new for old’ stamped across the box.

“So you took the iPad?” The owner said, already several light years ahead of our trusty detectives. “How did you fit it in with the soup kitchen that you run after work?”

“Oh! The chef helped out there. I swore him to secrecy though so that your new iPad would be a surprise!” she smiled. “I even said he should take some of the leftovers from the hotel. I hope you don’t mind?

O’Donnell and Oakes looked at each other. “Another successful outcome”, triumphed O’Donnell.

“Cluck” said Oakes.

© John Laverick 2014

The Stress of Chilling Out

I run to de-stress. In fact running has provided me with an outlet where I wasn’t able to find one. But I’ll tell you what. It’s bloody stressful running.

Chilling Over The Constant Improvement Cycle
(Image © Living Fitness UK)

I need targets, need stats (I sync across four apps to get me the widest range of stats) and need goals to motivate me and that’s where the stress starts. I started off with a target of running a half marathon within a year of my neck surgery. Ended up signing up for one at the start of March. My aim then, and I have a Facebook post to prove it, was just to get round. I didn’t want any target to aim for, just wanted to prove that I could do the distance.  I’d set myself a target of 3 halfs during the year, first was to get round, second was to do sub 2 hours and third was to really improve. 

Then I went out for a random run in the style of Forrest Gump. And ran 13.4 miles. In less then two hours. Which caused me a problem. Now when I run the MK Half in March, I’m going to have to do sub 2 hours. I did another in February to check I could still do it and it went pretty well so now I need not only to beat two hours but to beat the training personal bests that I have set down.  That means monitoring my pace and splits to make sure I’m not leaving myself with too much to do. 

The problem that I have now is the stepchange between training to ‘try and get around’ and the ‘try and get round in under a time limit’ is quite different. My training so far has been pretty random – I’ve never been great with training plans, preferring to go out and see how I feel. So now my running mind is hit by loads of questions. How do I get faster? Should I be fuelling more accurately before a race? Should I be adding cycling to my training? Adding the duathlon to my years programme that I missed due to my neck last year? How do I line any of that up with my three halfs goal? How can I make sure I don’t stop enjoying running!?

The faster bit needs to wait until after the half next week (as long as I beat my training times).  But at that point I want to be focussing on the next half or on the duathlon targets. Need to find a way of combining speed work (and that sounds dangerously close to having a training plan) with a half marathon training plan with a duathlon training plan. That all sounds pretty complex and time consuming. 

Then comes the fuelling. And the as yet unanswered question of whether I change that before the half next week. So, my current nutritional strategy ahead of a weekend (longer) run tends to be have far too much beer and wine the night before and head out on an empty stomach and not to refuel during the run. I can run for nearly two hours like that. But I’m guessing that’s not great for me. So what do I do ahead of next week? Do I try and experiment with some sweets or water or something half way round? Or do I leave it as it is? Is my zero intake approach a problem?

So, I run to de-stress but then I stress about running. But at least I enjoy it! 

The Tunnel Of Depression

I’m in a tunnel, I’m not sure where. It’s dark. I’m running. Fast. Tracks stretch ahead of me and I can hear a train behind me. The noise is killing me. Taking over my thoughts – I can no longer think straight. I’m not sure how close it is. I daren’t look. Just need to keep running. 

Depression hits you out of the blue. I will go for months, years even without an episode and then suddenly it’s there and by the time I’ve recognised it, I’m out of control, desperately grasping for stability across my life, fighting for control but slipping, sliding downwards until it’s ruling your life again. 

“Just Keep on Running”
(Image © Eckenheimer 2014)

I break out of the tunnel into green fields and sunshine. I’m still running now. I can still hear the train. There’s a corner ahead and I’ve no idea what lies beyond it. More green fields and sunshine or another tunnel. I think the train is still there. I’m not looking though. Just keeping on running.

I have so many false starts. So many times when I think I’m through it. That I’ve worked it all out in my head and I have a strategy to get better. Then a trigger hits you and back you go, worse this time because you know you had a plan, know you failed again to deliver against it and know its’ going to be tougher next time.

Another tunnel. Running faster now, hard turn after turn. On the edge of control.  Like a rollercoaster. Plummeting down at speed and desperately climbing again. The noise is incredible, crashing around my ears. Taking over my senses. Fast, faster. Got to keep ahead of the train. I can feel it on my back. It’s close now. 

It always takes a while for others to notice how bad it is.  And then everyone wants to talk. And talking is good (sometimes). But just talking it through doesn’t mean instant success. That can leave the friends feeling they have failed because the effect isn’t clear. But it helps, it’s just so gradual, so unpredictable. Talking initially makes it worse. A couple of hours, days even of positive thoughts before plummeting back, often worse than before. I have to keep trying to talk though because at some point, something will click and I will be out and free again. Stronger than before and with experience of reaching tranquillity which will serve me well the next time. 

Jogging now alongside a set of railway tracks. There’s a vintage steam train up ahead, steam billowing into the cloudless blue sky. To my left is the sea, to my right open green fields sloping into hills. A bustling coastal village in the distance and suddenly I can see my house. Home. I slow to a walk, secure in the knowledge that I’m going to get home, grab a beer and kick back in the garden. I know I will get there this time, and I know now in my heart that I can always get back to this place again.

It’s vital to go through this with friends and family who believe in you, genuine people who care and want to help. In the end though, the only belief that actually means anything is the belief in yourself. I believe in me. I’m still here. And I know I always will be. 

Why Karl Robinson Should Move On

Karl Robinson is seen by many pundits as one of the most successful, talented, up and coming managers in the Football League. Every time a role comes up, his name is linked to the job. Whether he ever gets to the offer stage, or whether he pulls out at offer stage is unclear. The fact is that he has remained ‘loyal’ to the MK Dons for three and a half years now and has given the Dons a degree of managerial stability that had been sorely lacking with the big name recruitment strategy previously practised. 

“Key to the club’s success is 
the retention of Robinson”
(Image © Dudek1337 2014)

Whether he has been successful is a subjective point. He guided the Dons to the playoffs in his first two seasons and had an impressive cup run in the last season. There are those that point to Robinson’s lack of success in moving the MK Dons into the Championship as evidence that he is not as successful as his media rating suggests but I think this misses the real detail. 

Despite the outward lucrative image the club does not have money to spend on the team.  MK Dons is firmly focussed on being profitable (a laudable aim in the current spend now climate) and is currently contracted to make improvements to the ground and the surrounding environment as part of the original planning terms. It therefore has to operate as a ’selling club’ nurturing youngsters and scouting little known players before moving them on at profit. Sam Baldock and Sean Williams are good examples of this.  Other players have left to cut wage costs – Sean O’Hanlon and Gary MacKenzie for instance.  

This creates a situation in which to all intents and purposes, Robinson’s hands are tied. He is not in the position to sign new players, he is rarely in the position to reinvest transfer money raised into new talent. So he needs to utilise the pretty impressive youth set up (on the understanding that once a player becomes proven he will be sold) and be active in the loan market. The loan market of course creates significant problems for a club in terms of stability.  The club built its game around Patrick Bamford for instance in the first half of the season but Chelsea’s (understandable) decision to move him up a level means Robinson now has to start again. 

My view is that Robinson has proved himself at this level. He has proved he can deliver results in a cash strapped environment whilst playing the style of football that would not look out of place at a much higher level. He has also proven he has an eye for players and clearly has some great managerial relationships with other clubs. He is perhaps found wanting when teams adapt to his sides passing styles (although having watched Forest get completely shut out by Preston at the weekend he is not alone.) He is young though and has many years of learning ahead of him. How many of us, so early in our careers had had so much interest in us?

The MK Dons have a strategy for ridding itself of debt and of meeting its contractual ‘planning’ commitments by 2015. At that point, the club can start to keep and attract players, invest in a longer term squad and move forward. With that in mind, although promotion would be nice, it is probably not the clubs main aim at the moment. In fact, realistically whilst it would provide a short term injection of cash, it is likely that the club would come straight back down as it cannot compete financially at that level. The aim therefore is more likely to ensure that their league one position is consolidated until 2015 and that where possible they start to create the sort of stability amongst players and staff that creates long term success. Key to this is the retention of Karl Robinson and his managerial support team.

But…Robinson should accept his next realistic offer. That could easily be from Blackpool – the team where he already has a man on the inside in the form of Gary Mackenzie, and a team which, having been managed by Paul Ince would in theory be similar in styling to the team he inherited from Ince in 2010. If not there, then there will be plenty of others.

The decision to go will be his. As outlined above, the club would be mad to push him out. From his point of view he has proved himself at this level. He has proved he can operate in this type of environment. He has proved his loyalty to the club in staying with them over the past few seasons when he has had other offers.  In a new environment he can move forward to the next level now. To stay at MK Dons would mean waiting for two years to do that. How many of us in our own careers would pass up the chance of progressing to the next level now in favour of waiting for two years. I’m guessing only those of us that are not especially ambitious. And Robinson is. It’s in his make up. That’s why he will succeed. 

In the Head

One of the most inspirational people I have ever met once told me once to “be brilliant”. In essence, I took that to mean don’t worry about whether you have the ability to do something. Take that as read, as a given.  It said instead that your ability to give your best that day was down to your mental state. It was how you presented your talent, the attitude that you took with you into work that day.

“Hardest Step is the First”
(Image © lazojoey 2013)

That stays with me as I set off to run. Because put simply running is not about the physical restrictions. It’s in the mind. And yet we use the physical as a reason not to run every day. Too tired, have an ache. We use the physical as a reason to stop, to slow down whilst on a run. But it’s not the physical that tells you to stop, it’s your mental approach. Your head can come up with a million reasons why you are too busy to run, too tired, too achy to run but your legs never well. Conquer the mind and your legs will always follow. 

Think about it, when was the last time your head didn’t want you to get out of bed to run? When was the last time your head told you to leave it till tomorrow. And then when was the last time your head said to you after a run “that was a bad idea”. Guessing never.

So physically you can do it. Take that as read. Believe you can do it. Believe you can be brilliant. And you will be. 

A Fair Tax System

Is Paying More Tax Than Others Any Fairer?(Image © agrilifetoday 2013)

As discussion begins in the media about the rich paying their fair share of taxes once more I am once more interested in the definition of that fair share. I’m not talking here about the actions of corporations who exploit loopholes in the complex tax laws to reduce their tax burden. I am talking about the peculiarly British problem of ensuring that anyone who is successful gets portrayed as having the easy life. The concept that one should be punished for being successful.

There are various degrees of being fair. On the (slightly flawed) assumption (there is actually an inverse correlation to tax paid to services used) that everyone uses tax funded services to the same level, at its simplest one might say that fair would be to all pay the same amount of tax. So everyone pays a flat fee of say £20k per year. Fair then in that we all pay the same. Socially unfair though in that if one earns £100k one has £80k left to enjoy life but if that person only earns £20k per year, they are almost in debt before they are even living. Clearly that’s not going to work.  Thus this proposal is actually unfair the other way although anyone with any sort of social morality would surely discount this element! 

So, maybe it’s fairer if we all pay the same proportion of our income as tax. That seems to work, with a few allowances so that those on extremely low levels of income are offered an increased exemption we are left with all taxpayers having the same proportion of income left. At a flat rate of say 20%, a worker earning £20k still retains 80% of their income as does the worker earning £100k. The richer one is the more one pays. In the above example the £100k earner pays five times as much as the person earning £20k. Even with our slightly simplistic assumption above, that is five as much to use the same tax funded services.

I guess that is at the limit of fair for me. The financially successful massively subsidise the lower earners. Fair though as in any society, there needs to be a degree of social responsibility to enable it to work.  This allows for that without deliberately targeting and penalising the rich, I would argue that this definition of fairness is the impression that many people have of where the tax system is at present.

But no. There is a further concept of fairness which, even as a child I have always failed to comprehend. That goes beyond the idea where the richer you are the more you pay to use the same services. It says that the more you earn, the higher proportion of that income you should pay. under this regime the multiplier above goes crazy. Let’s assume for simplicity a flat rate tax rate of 20% for the first £40k of earnings and then a further 20% for anything earned above that level.  With our example above, the lower salaried example pays £4k in tax. The higher one, £32k. The more financially successful is therefore paying 8 times as much to use the same services.

Clearly the tax system is, and needs to be far more complex than this. It needs to safeguard those on very low wages. It needs to incentivise certain professions or segments of the population to work. It needs above all to provide the income necessary to keep the country functioning.

However, it’s the definition of fairness that I struggle with. I agree with an argument that says that the more one earns, the more one should give back to society. The proportional tax rate achieves that. To take that further though penalises people for being successful. The media in this country currently seem on a witch-hunt to penalise the wealthy.  There is a concept out there that they should be paying more, far more proportionately than those less well off. a concept that if you are successful at what you do, you should almost feel guilty for those less successful. I’m not sure when that crept in. I know that when I was at school, the mantra was work hard now and it would create success in the end. If you wanted to work in the areas where jobs roles were going to be in short supply then you worked hard to ensure that you secured those roles, and the accompanying financial rewards. It feels now like we are supposed to apologise for that and pay guilt money to those who didn’t fancy that choice.

To my mind, that’s just not fair.