Is Greyer Than Grey Ok?

Only a few weeks on from the Olympics and it turns out that British sport is starting to resemble an over aged cheese. What was seen as the premium product is starting to go just a little bit whiffy. The smell is faint though – a slight discomforting odour which occasionally pervades through. That’s because fundamentally no one has actually done anything wrong. Indeed further to that, the channels with which those (non) offences have come to light are often as suspect as the supposed misdeed.   Those channels both have significant motive for causing the trouble or the discussion that has followed.

On the one side, a national (almost tabloid) newspaper has the significant incentive of selling more papers (and therefore advertising space) by creating the most sensational story possible. And on the other, the Fancy Bears as they refer to themselves, are seemingly intent on showing the world that the concentration on Russian State involvement in doping is just the tip of the iceberg. Unfortunately, these motives don’t  make the allegations incorrect.  

The first, that of the ex-England football manager Sam Allardyce, is probably the clearest. Even he admits to a major miscalculation in meeting the agents / journalists to advise on how to ‘bend’ transfer rules and in regard to the comments that he made against the royal family and Roy Hodgson. There are many though who say that he would have been innocent if not for the media ‘plotting’ to bring him down. Anyone who has read my posts before will know I am generally hugely against stings by the media but I have to say that this has highlighted ‘good and bad stings’. This was not a matter of sexual indiscretion or lifestyle choice for which I believe there is very rarely any legitimate public interest. It was a matter of clearly breaking the rules. As the England manager – the very pinnacle of representing British sport, it was imperative that Allerdyce played the ethical line. He didn’t and was rightly sacked. His moaning about entrapment is purely self-pity. It is arguable that the might not have gone looking for it. He certainly didn’t run from it. The flip side of course is (aside from the comments) he didn’t actually break any rules…he seems to have advised on how to, and the inference is that he may have accepted payment had it gone further but nothing actually happened.

That Peak Form Look
Image ©  Surrey Council

The second incident leaves a really bad taste in the mouth even though there is in theory no evidence of wrongdoing. For me,  Sir Bradley Wiggins is the poster boy for the changed face of (British) cycling. Arm in arm with Brailsford, he represents the clear line that British Cycling and later SKY have taken in terms of their no drugs, no needles policy. And yet, the much exalted policy of marginal gains is starting to leave a grey area around how close up to the line those marginal gains were pushed.

The response from Brailsford to the Wiggins TUEs along the lines of ‘we have not done anything that we didn’t have the right to do’ hardly provides comfort that rules were followed rather than bent. I don’t know anyone whose asthma is bad enough to need an injection of such a strong drug (although I don’t doubt they exist). I doubt that that same person would record themselves in their autobiography as being in peak condition at that point though. I doubt they would categorically say in the same book that there is a no needles policy within the team if they required such a medication (shades of Armstrong there perhaps) and I doubt that they would only have a need for such an aggressive intervention before key races. Having said that I don’t know any elite athletes either.

When contrasted to Callum Skinner’s excellent reaction to the TUEs exposure, the reactions of Wiggins and Brailsford feel like stuttering, floundering defences of potential guilt which of course adds to that slight uneasiness…   It seems clear that no rules have been broken. But Sky and British Cycling have presented a proactive image of being whiter than white. And that’s clearly not quite the case – more greyer than grey perhaps.

We want British sport, any sport, to be watchable, we want it to be a competition played on a level playing field. Unfortunately Wiggins own concept of generating that “level playing field” is probably not what the public thought (hoped) that they were watching.   What both these examples show is that what the vast majority of the public wants to think is happening – transparency in sport, clarity that what they see is real, confirmation that there is a level playing field both in and out of the arena – is not there.

Britain it seems is actually no better than any of the other competing nations which casts doubt on the missiles thrown at FIFA as well as the condemnation of Russia. Many, would sacrifice some of the ‘success’ that the GBR team has enjoyed for the confidence that we can properly hold that moral high ground.

Excellence, Friendship & Respect

There was nothing like the anticipation that accompanied the London 2012 Olympics. On the contrary, the lead up, heavily tainted with allegations of doping together with the more recent expose of systematic doping at country level left many wondering how ‘real’ the events were that they were watching. The absolute focus on winning at any cost both to improve the individuals personal net worth and to aid the political bragging rights between the top countries had perhaps stretched the Olympic ideal to its absolute limit.

The Olympics have always been slightly removed from other sports contests. The central ideals flow from three core values : Excellence, friendship and respect. Indeed the official IOC website defines the Olympic Creed as follows:  

“The most important thing in the Olympic Games is not to win but to take part, just as the most important thing in life is not the triumph but the struggle. The essential thing is not to have conquered but to have fought well.” 

The pursuit of medals, seemingly at all costs seems to address only the first core value – and often at the expense of the other two.

Do Medals Equal Success?
Image ©  KCXD
As enjoyable as the Olympics were, success seems to be increasingly seen as the numbers of medals won – purely measured in terms of the first of the values. Don’t get me wrong. I love that in certain sports we are now the Australia of the ’90s. Looking back at that time, I remember admiring the Australian pure desire to win, the country’s cut throat approach to individuals and sports that didn’t make the mark and then the resulting sporting achievement. I enjoy now our absolute dominance in sports like cycling (whilst desperately hoping it’s not down to anything other than hard work) and I am fascinated by the focus on concepts such as marginal gains pioneered in British cycling by Brailsford and now picked up in hockey and other sports. That idea of  improving every element by 0.1% is something we can all take into our wider lives. And yet, there is something slightly distasteful about success purely being measured in terms of the performance of this highly paid, often country funded group of elite athletes.  I cheer on British medals as much as the next person but I do wonder whether we have lost sight of the true meaning of success.

Isn’t all sport like that? Purely focussed with a win mentality which drives commercial gain? In some ways yes. The Premier League is probably the best / worst example. It is all about the money. Globally marketed clubs mixing on the Stock Exchange alongside Blue Chip companies, Astronomical TV deals funded by advertisers desperate to tap in to in to one of the biggest markets in the world. And individual players understandably making multi millions of pounds to showcase their talent.  And the nail in the coffin: the deliberate lack of any filtering down of that money to the pyramid that supports it and especially to the grass roots (legacy in Olympic terms).

The difference between the Olympics and  the Premier League though is that the latter makes no real pretence of this. It’s a money making machine. It was formed by the top clubs purely for that aim. The side effect of producing potentially one of the best leagues in the world is purely that – merely an enabler to create wealth. It even goes further than that – when it was set up it deliberately changed the model of cascading funding through the game with the view that actually the lower leagues could fend for themselves. The Olympics though should be different – it has not come from the same commercially driven values.

There were examples of the true Olympic spirit during Rio – Nikki Hamblin sacrificing her race to pick up Abbey D’Agostino after they had tangled and fallen, plucky performances from the ‘Refugee’ nationality and some amazing performances for some of Britain’s younger athletes – as yet seemingly untainted by the commercial side of sport. I’m not backing a return to the days of amateur only entrants:  It’s a strange dichotomy. The Olympics are now successful because they  are a showcase of the best in (most) sport. That drives the viewing figures, it drives the investment at country level to increase the medal counts and it makes for some incredible top class competition. On the other hand, it also moves it far from its ideals. Excellence is now everything  The medal winners are rich athletes, many of them celebrities, some of whom even choose whether the Olympics is even worth fitting into their competition schedule.

My point here is not about changing the Olympics – it is increasingly a great spectacle, although the 

continuing weak stance on doping from the governing body could ruin that. Perhaps though it’s worth looking at our definition of success.  When I think of the Olympics ‘the taking part that counts’ motto is foremost in my mind. We seem to have forgotten that element in the pursuit of winning and winning increasingly at all costs.

Sportsmanship creates Inspiration
Image ©  Edson Hong

When I think of great sporting memories of 2016, I think of Hamblin picking up D’Agostino , I think of the housemates Vicky Holland who fought Non Stanford  for third place and then immediately apologised to her friend for beating her, I think of the Brownlee brothers in the Triathlon Series World Championships – Ali sacrificing his own race to carry his brother over the line. The crash of the Dutch cyclist in the road race showed that actually winning wasn’t what mattered as the contestants desperately tried to find information about her rather than over celebrating their win. I even recollect Lewis Hamilton passing Magnussen’s horrific crash and going straight on the radio to ask if ‘the guy got out ok’. The focus to win is vital and makes our best athletes great to watch. However, as used to be the central tenet of the Olympics, it’s their sportsmanship makes them inspirational.

Looking Back – What I Wish I Had Known

Looking back at the past year, I started thinking about the things that I wished I had known when I started. I properly started running in January. Before that, I ran occasionally – on average less than twice a month through 2013. I ran because I wanted to stay fit for football and tennis. No other reason. And I rarely enjoyed it – it was a means to an end. 

Inspiration to Change

(Image © TattyDon)

A photograph of me on holiday brought it home to me that I was starting to lose control of my weight. I wasn’t massive but my size was definitely increasing year on year and I was doing nothing about it. My neck issue put that thought on hold for a while and it took me until the start of last year to feel physically confident enough to run again at which point there was no stopping me. This year I have run over 1300 miles and have moved from an average pace of around 9:30 to  8:00 mins per mile. I have most definitely ‘got the bug. 

So what have I learned over the last year that I wish I knew when I started out?

1 Miles Under The Belt: This to me is the absolute clincher. You have to develop a core. I have read a few times that you should increase your mileage slowly, concentrating on at most a ten per cent increase week on week. I didn’t exactly do that but then I had a lot of drivers which meant that kicking in a ‘do or die’ attitude to running was personally my best way forward. However you end up doing it, I would say that getting to 100 miles a month level is key. I would go as far as to say don’t really worry about anything else until you get there. That doesn’t mean don’t race, it just means don’t start focussing on epic distances or breaking  records until you have this baseline.

Attack Those Hills

(Image © Unknown)

2 Hills are your new friends: I started in January when I went away for new year to Southleigh in Devon. I found a circuit which was only 2.5 miles and over which I was only able to run at 11 minute pace. The circuit had an elevation gain of 500 feet which over 2.5 miles felt pretty aggressive. I walked occasionally but generally tried to keep running where I could. When I got back to Milton Keynes, I was able to run 5 miles without thinking. The ‘Hill Training’ from that week in Devon gave me the base to get over the mental ceiling of only being able to run for three or four miles. It provided the change in my breathing which took my running from being a chore to being simple. Now I approach hills with vigour, pretty much however tired am. I understand that they are the route to success, the core of development. I am also increasingly aware  that in a race, a hill is a great place to move up the field.

3 Race Times Give you 10% bonus: There is a quote I see quite regularly on twitter which reads “Don’t judge your life by everyone else’s highlight reel”. For ages, I was looking at everyone’s race times, at seasoned runners training times and comparing them to my running stats. I couldn’t see how I was ever going to get close to competing with them. (Also, when you are running day in, day out you don’t necessariliy notice the speed gain or endurance gain that is taking place). Then I raced my first half. My PB went from a training time of 113 minutes to a race time of 101 minutes. After a couple of half marathons and various races, I now get that being in a a race tends to give you around a 10% performance increase on your training times. 

4 Invest in the Hardware: I can’t emphasise this enough. As soon as you start, get yourself some decent running shoes. I did what everyone told me and got myself professionally assessed and bought the recommended shoes. I have no idea whether that bit was a gimmick or was worth it but I do know that I ran for nearly a year with no injury. My present injury is probably due to not changing my running shoes quickly enough and going from very worn ones to new ones overnight. Change them as soon as they look worn  – start checking from 300 miles. 

Buy running shorts, running tops, gloves  – everything! It honestly makes a diffference. Loads of research (admittedly as well as marketing budget) goes into this stuff. A running top that takes sweat away, shorts that don’t chafe – they all make for worthwhile investmensts to make you get out there day after day. 

The second bit around hardware might be more me specific to me. I am a data junkie. I will sit and analyse my run and bike stats for hours. I use three apps / sites to give the all the data I want. For that reason, the piece of equipment I value more than anything else in this space is my Garmin. Every stat I could want, full GPS mappng, heart rate etc. It drives me forward. Finally, Strava. Since Strava is essentially geared around segments, you are constantly acheiving personal bests, constantly moving up leaderboards. I love that. Just because I have been out for a slowish run, doesn’t necessarily  mean that I haven’t hit a PB. I love that feeling when the little trophy pops up showing you what achievements you have made. I sync them using a site called Tapiriik which keeps all three apps (Strava, Garmin and Runkeeper) together.

5 It’s Not Cheap: I’ve read several things about running being one of life’s great free sports. In some ways that’s fair enough. No expensive gym fees, no huge kit list and no expensive servicing costs. However, the reality is it’s not free either. As I pointed out  above, you need decent shoes. And they need replacing every 300-500 miles. Before long you will need a GPS watch or something to measure the data. And then there’s race fees, club fees and the running kit. You run every day, one pair of shorts and socks really isn’t going to cut it! Then you start looking for extra challenges. Multi-sports. Suddenly you are into tri-kit. Into tri-shoes and then a new bike…
6 Join a Running Club: I started running to beat depression and mainly because of that I’ve never really struggled to find the motivation to get out the door. For many, being in a running club gives you that motivation. For me, it has given me friends, support, structure and the incentive to push myself far harder than I otherwise would have done. Through that club, I have been paced to a Half Marathon PB and have worked with others to improve their times. Most welcome all standards of running so take a deep breath and throw yourself at it. I wish I had done earlier. 

7 There Will Be Detractors. When you start, you will get a lot of advice. ‘bad for your knees’, ‘you’re obsessive’, ‘you won’t keep it up’ etc etc.You will hear countless reasons why others are not able to run  – often couched in a way that says you will soon learn yourself.  Listen to it but process it. Pick carefully who you go to for running advice. Three things that worked for me in this area is to find out early who will be really supportive, create a bling wall to celebrate your own personal achievements and finally, use social media. Online groups like #UKRunchat are great at offering you support, advice and giving those family and friends close to you a break from constant running talk!

8 Intervals Are Vital.If you want to get faster then do intervals. They are tough, they are still the one part of training that makes me think twice before stepping out of the door. But the exhilaration when you have completed them is immense. Easiest ways to do intervals are either to pick a Strava segment or two and try to set a Personal Best on that or to do them with a running club. Chasing your mates up and down hills or over measured segments makes it way easier!

9 Watch The Weight Loss. If you run every day the weight will initially drop off. Simple as that.  I haven’t changed my diet much at all over the past year but I’ve lost another stone (2.5 stone in 18 months). It’s easy to get carried away. Watch the calories you are putting back into your system (especially after long runs) and make sure you are taking on enough. However, also be aware that muscle is heavier than fat and you will soon start developing it! I reached a level and then started to slowly put weight back on. Get a set of scales that measure Body Fat % rather than just weight. That tells you a more accurate story of where you are heading.

The flip side of this is I have seen several people who run but still struggle with weight. Do some research into what calories you are burning. A slow three miler followed by a celebratory cake and latte will not decrease your weight. I used MyFitnessPal to record my calorie intake. It also takes feeds from Runkeeper (or Fitbit) to add in the exercise you have done that day. Doing that has given me a far better picture of when to take on more, when to lay off and also more generally, an understanding of what foods contain what in terms of calories. 
10 Don’t Walk. This one might be a bit more controversial as I’m aware that most beginner programmes start with run / walk sessions. I’m not knocking that  – I started in Devon like that.  I would say that once you can run without walking, never walk on a run again. Even if you slow to a snails pace, don’t give in and start walking. Much of this is a fight with your mind. Your head will give up way before your legs do… Don’t let it.

And finally….

11 Take in a McDonalds On Your Runs. I love running past a McDonalds on a Sunday morning if only for the smug satisfaction I get from watching all those people too lazy to even get out of their cars to order fast food. I was them once. Now I’m a runner…

Losing My Marathon Virginity – Lessons Learnt

I underestimated the marathon. Simple as that. Partly through arrogance – “I can run as well as anyone else”, and partly through surrounding myself with such experienced and seriously inspirational people. When you watch someone run 7 marathons in 7 days your brain kind of tells you that just doing one is going to be ok.

Just One Marathon

(Image © TattyDon)

I was honestly going to just do one marathon. Just a tick in the box and then back to the distances that I enjoy. Everyone told me that I wouldn’t leave it at that and I ignored them! Part of that thinking was that I thought I could just run a marathon, bag a decent time and then pop it tightly in the done it box. I had two main targets: Sub 3:45 but really to run my ‘target time’  of 3:30  (Two Half PBs plus 20 minutes). I ran a 3:46 hitting the wall big time at 20 miles. That left me not only missing my target but more importantly it made me very aware that there are a significant amount of lessons I could take to improve the time and to ‘ace’ it next time. I now know exactly what people were saying when they said you need to just do one to understand what it’s like. With that in mind I’m actually pretty pleased with the time and with the things I’ve been able to take away to run the same marathon next time. 

My Top Ten Learning Points:

  1. Hotel Location: Stay as close to the race as possible and in a town. Better meal choices, less driving, more chilled start
  2. Practice Absolutely Everything Before You Arrive. Clothing, gels etc are obvious but this should include the things you think are easy – like drinking water. 
  3. Don’t Walk – Even Once. Once you have started it’s way too easy to do it again. A shuffle is way better for the head than a walk.
  4. In Head Preparation: Think in advance how you will deal with each quiet section. Especially when that section might fall around the 20 mile stage. 
  5. Don’t forget it’s your first one: Use the first one as an experience. Almost as a training run.
  6. Long Runs in Training: Look into whether it is worth (for the head at least) going further than most training plans recommend.
  7. Define your race goals well before you start training. Research your plan well ahead of time based on those goals. Align that plan to ‘real dates’ – If you do your long run on a Friday, make sure the plan says that. 
  8. Run Types in Training: Understand why each type of training run is important and how it fits into the overall training programme. Stick to it – don’t just chase the miles.
  9. Nutrition: Properly understand the effects of food on racing. Learn the importance of proper nutrition pre, during and post racing.
  10. Alcohol: Take it out of the equation. It provides no benefits to marathon training – only negatives.

Race Learnings in more detail:

I’ve broken down the lessons learnt into three main areas: The Race Weekend itself, Training and finally Nutrition. Whilst there were certain learning points to be taken from the weekend itself, it’s the latter two that I think provide the real opportunities for improvement. 
The Race Weekend – All that training, nerves and excitement and it all comes down to one weekend:
  • Pre Race:
    • Hotel: We (My ‘support crew’ and I) stayed out at Crawley, about 40 minutes from Brighton. This worked well in that it meant that we weren’t battling into Brighton on the Friday night but wasn’t so good in other areas. Firstly, going down on the Friday was definitely the right decision. Getting in early to the Expo on the Saturday from Crawley was much easier and left us with the day free and no pressure  – and we avoided the horrendous queues later in the day. We were however restricted to the menu in the hotel (which meant I changed the pre race dinner I had had for every long run), I did a lot of driving and also it left us with a pretty early start on the Sunday. In future, I would definitely stay much closer to the event.
  • Race:
  • Nearly Over
    (Image © TattyDon)
    • Pacing: The aim was to run at about 8:15s which would have left me with a finish time of around 3:36 (well inside the 3:45 target). We went off pretty fast running the first 10 miles at an average 8:06, the second 10 miles at 8:22. 20 miles therefore was pretty much back on target at a 20 mile PB of 2 hours 43 but we had already started to slow significantly. At 20 miles the wheels fell off!
    • Water Stations: The Brighton organisers decided not to go with bottles this year but instead to go with paper cups every mile. Two learning points here: The first is I should have practiced drinking from a cup whilst running! Sounds simple but I just couldn’t do it without waterboarding myself. I’m sure there is a way (I gather since that squeeze it into a funnel and pour it down) but my main lesson here is to think things like this through and practice and test it again and again before the race. The second element associated with the water stations are that with cups it is way too easy to walk. I realised the best way to drink the water was to stop and drink it. That turned very quickly into an excuse to stop (or walk) through the water stations.  
    • Walking: For the first time since I started running properly I walked during a run. I’m gutted about that. I’m not just talking about the water stations. During that last 6 miles I walked several times. Maybe if I had learnt to drink from cups whilst running I wouldn’t have walked although to be honest I doubt it. I’m not even sure I could have done anything different having hit the wall. But looking back on it now, I wish I had slowed to a shuffle (as I recommend in my ‘Things I wish I’d known’ post). Even a 9:30 – 10:00 shuffle would have kept me going and might have made the difference. 
    • The Wall: I wasn’t worried about the wall. I thought I had experienced it at the MK20 and maybe I had. This was like that but multiplied by ten. Parts of me hurt that had never ached running. My hips, my back, my arms. My chest go so tight I thought I was getting an asthma attack. I wasn’t thinking coherently – these days I calculate splits, finish times etc on the fly all the time. I remember stumbling for about half a mile over how long six miles would take at ten min mile pace. My head was completely gone. I needed that though so that I can anticipate, avoid or cope with it next time.
    • Mileage:  I arrived at the marathon having done two long runs of 20 miles – both in race conditions in addition to several runs of around 17 to 18 miles. Whilst this is in line with many training plans, I had neither run a full 26 miles in training nor had I run for nearly four hours. Six additional miles (or an additional hour) is a long way – over a quarter again. In retrospect I would look to go longer in training (in time perhaps rather than mileage) and look for a training plan that facilitated that. 
    • Support: The crowd support was at times overwhelming. Just awesome. I can vividly picture the middle piece of the race where you come back into Brighton near the finish line. It felt like there were crowds five deep up against the crash barriers at both sides. It was just incredible. I think the finish straight was like that as well although that’s a bit of a blur to me. I remember a lot of shouts down that bit. There are bits of the course though where there is no support. Out towards Roedene in the first ten miles or so it was ok. I was still fresh. Hitting 20 miles in the empty industrial estate near Worthing was really tough though. There were far less people about there. Just where you needed the crowds. I had no strategy for how to deal with that, how to occupy my mind to avoid the doubts creeping in.

Training: Those months of dedication and early Sunday starts
  • The initial training plan: A few people asked me in the build up to the race which training plan I was using. My response that I wasn’t really sure left the next question generally unvoiced: “Why was I using that plan?” My plan was a result of me googling something like “marathon plans for sub 3:45”. I then discounted any that had more weeks in them than I had left (because I was starting late due to injury). I ‘merged’ the resulting plan with one for 3:30 as I still wasn’t clear on my goals. Finally, I heard someone talk about heart rate based training and so reengineered it to fit that. The result was a fish mash of plans only very loosely related to any goal that I had. Hardly scientific! My plan also had Tempo runs on a Wednesday and a rest day on a Friday. I generally do a Tempo club in on a Friday so throughout I was switching dates and runs round in my plan. I had ended up with a plan I didn’t trust and which I couldn’t reliably follow anyway…
  • Training Plan: This is the big one as far as I am concerned. Even though I read books on marathon running, told others the value of Long Slow Runs, of Tempo Runs and Interval Training, I did none of that. I purely focussed on mileage, driving out mile after mile at marathon pace. In retrospect that was my biggest mistake. The stats from running friends performing well at the Manchester Marathon show the value of varied training. Next time, I will stick to the plan but also understand better the purpose of each run type.

Nutrition: Apparently it’s 90% nutrition ten per cent training (or not in my case…)
  • Race Nutrition: I paid very little attention to this I talked of carb loading without really understanding it. I threw gels down fairly randomly during training and races, again without understanding the purpose of them. I changed my pre race meals to suit the environment I was in at that time rather than aligned to any plan.I hit the wall, I cramped up and I pretty much collapsed. Wonder why that happened…
  • Overall Nutrition: I paid absolutely no attention to my nutrition throughout the whole training period. I changed nothing. Only towards the end when I was ill (again) did I start even taking vitamin C and Zinc supplements. I had always backed off taking supplements  in the past because “with a rounded and balanced diet one shouldn’t need them”. It was only late on that I accepted that I don’t have that. 
  • Alcohol: This is the one thing that I am really kicking myself over. Most of the other points on this page are about doing things better – improving training, nutrition and pacing. My consumption of alcohol throughout training can have had no positive impact on my training at all. In fact, there is plenty of evidence out there pointing to the detrimental effects of alcohol and marathon training in terms of muscle regeneration and dehydration. Realistically, if I wanted to succeed, alcohol was something I needed to cut out and would likely have provided me with a big hit. 

Where Next?

Contemplating the Future

(Image © TattyDon)

So… what next? My intention is to do way more research before my next marathon to understand the reasoning and the science behind some of these lessons. I want to understand the value of the Long Slow Runs on training for instance – it always feels so counterintuitive to run so slowly as a preparation to running fast.  I want to understand nutrition better in general and get my race day fuelling right  – collapsing or cramping on the finish line is not a sensible long term strategy. I intend to approach Brighton 2016 with a whole different mindset – my body trained and fuelled so that I am really arriving with the best chance I can possibly give myself. 

My Running Year

I was never much of a runner. When I was puffing around the football field, I would run 3 miles or so in an attempt to get fit. After my neck injury, I started off the year barely able to run a 5k. I definitely would have never tried a race or a park run. This year has changed everything 

Go Hard or Go Home

(Image © TattyDon)
Having started running to combat the worst period of depression I’ve had (See…Why I Run) I got addicted! I ran my first half (since I was 17 years old) in March  and my fifth in December picking up a PB of 1.35.54 on the way. I achieved 18th position in a 10k (Cattle Creep) and completed the Silverstone Duathlon series. At the start of the year I set myself a target of running 100km a month which seemed unachievable at that point. I changed that to 100 miles per month by the end of January and have only missed out on completing that in the last month. Injury having forced me to retire December’s effort at 73 miles. Added to that, I am fitter than I’ve been since I was a kid. I have lost 2.5 stone in the last eighteen months and finally look in the mirror and don’t feel negative. 

I really appreciate the support everyone has given me. My regular ‘race support crew’ and Redway Runners. You guys have been great in terms of motivation, support and advice. I have made loads of friends through the club and some really close ones.  The ten mile run on a Friday means that I can roll up at any Half now and just do it. No training needed. That’s a quite incredible step forward for me. Finally, finding a twitter group in #ukrunchat has linked me to some incredible people. Supportive and inspirational runners, most of whom I will probably never meet.  Thanks guys!

Looking forward to next year, the injury that has resulted in me missing out on my main target this year has made me reassess target setting a bit. Hopefully it’s a small one but makes me realise that four week based targets require a great deal of luck. 

To have got so near this year and yet miss out takes away from what I have achieved personally. If I had sat down on January 1st and looked at the stats above, I wouldn’t have believed them. I thrive on targets though and so I’ll set them down although this year I will be flexible about reassessing them if I need to. My main one for next year, of completing my first marathon (targeting sub 3:45) is probably the best example of that. I’m already aware that Im missing the training for that so need to reassess when I’m fit. Beyond that, my broad targets are to spend the first four months focussing on the Marathon, the next four focussing on Duathlons and possibly a Triathlon (quite a stretch as I can’t really swim at the moment…) The last four months is about running for fun! 

Without running I’m not sure where I would have ended up this year. With running, I have become stronger, more confident and believe in myself more than I have done for years. 

Performance Against Targets 2014

1 Log 5 million (fitbit) steps by the end of the year: 

  • With one day to go, 5.8m steps. 

2 Run 2014 km in 2014:

  • 2197 km completed  (1365 miles)
3 Run 100m every month:
  • Missed it in the last month (103,103,108,118,115,124,140,122,111,136,102,73). Average Mileage per month though was 114

4 Do Three Half Marathons: 

  • Five Half Marathons completed (1:41.57, 1:41.34, 1:35.54, 1:37.42, 1:42)

5 Do a sub 2 hour Half Marathon: 

  • All five sub 1:43. PB of 1:35.54 

6 Complete a Duathlon: 

  • Silverstone Series completed (3 races) 

Specific targets for 2015 

1 Log 6 million (fitbit) steps by the end of the year

2 Run 2015 km in 2015

3 Run a sub 1:30 Half

4 Run my first Marathon

5 Run a sub 3:45 Marathon

6 Place Top Ten in a 10k

7 Complete 3 Duathlons and 1 Triathlon

Silverstone Duathlon – The End of a Personal Battle

Determined to Win

(Image © TattyDon)

I am, and have always been, highly competitive both at work and at sports. Now that I run, that competitive nature has been channeled less into beating other people or teams but primarily into self improvement and constantly pushing myself. Every run, every cycle is now a foundation block to targeted races, the bricks which build up to that personal best. Every now and then though, I am still absolutely focused on beating others. The Silverstone Duathlon last Wednesday was one of those occasions.

Last Wednesday’s Duathlon was the second in the series. It’s a short evening session of just 3.4m, 9m,1.7m) I had loved the first  one. It was the most competitive event I had ever taken part in. The majority of entrants, which included some sporting GBR tri-suits, were clearly experienced triathletes and this was an easy training session for them. It was actually the first event since I’ve started properly running where there was no bling for entering – only for winning. I set off fast that day running legs at 6:48 pace and 7 minutes pace respectively which was a minute inside my 5k PB. The field completely carried me along and it was certainly the most intense exercise I have done since I started in January. I knew the bike would be my weaker element and it proved to be exactly that.    Cramp, limited training, (and a lack of talent) meant  I dropped 27 places in the cycle and a further 5 during the transitions. I finished in a time of 1.08.23 which I was pretty pleased with and a position of 76/100 (Male).

I was targeting 1:06:00 this time. My intention being to make up the two minutes, twenty-three seconds on the bike section and the transitions. In the intervening month I had done several interval sessions (one on the bike, three on the runs) plus a couple of longer two hour plus rides on the bike. I hadn’t practiced transitions but know I had scope to improve there. Fair to say, I nailed it. Set off faster and took 43 seconds out of my run time. New 5km PB and then took nearly ten per cent out of my bike time. My transitions improved a lot too adding nearly another minute to the new total. I ended on 1.04.31.

To add to that, the personal issue. I didn’t realise until just before the start but someone turned up to race who I needed to beat. Someone who when I was at my absolute lowest mental point last year, manipulated me and tried to consistantly put me down professionally in order to meet his own personal objective. It would be fair to say that I had a personal score to settle. That for the first time since I had started running, I needed to compete against an individual rather than against myself. He may have not even noticed I was there. It didn’t matter. This was for me.

For the first time in sport, I realised how tough it is to be ahead. In football, tennis, hockey – everything I had done, you know where you are, are completely aware of what you have to do. I knew I’d put in a good run but also knew that he was both a strong runner and even stronger cyclist. Whilst being aware at first transition that i was well ahead, I had no idea where he was. All I could do was focus on my bike session and hope I was holding him off. He caught me at the end of the final lap. Thirty seconds on the bike to go. A very satisfied glance across from him as he swept by let me know he absolutely knew I was there. I stayed

Put The Pedal Down and Go
Image © TattyDon)

with him into transition. His transition was faster than mine and again, as he set off, that same confident, self-satisfied look – He had done me. I deliberately took a moment, reached for my water in transition, took a measured sip and set off. I knew that if I passed him I had to pass him properly. If he stayed with me, he would have the advantage and come past me as I tired. I watched him ahead of me, watched his form and realised he was hurting so I put the hammer down. Drew level. Glanced across to register the look of discomfort on his face. Mentally photographed that and pushed on. Easy form, no fatigue. Just how I had trained.  I didn’t look back for two minutes but when I did he had gone. I had done it. I finished nearly two minutes clear.

As I normally do at any event, I walked back up the course a bit to applaud, support and offer encouragement to those who were coming in to the finish. Running is like that, life is like that. Support others, especially those who share your skills or interests. He didn’t. He finished. He walked, eventually, back up to cheer on just the two people he had arrived with. No more.

I knew then that that I had won. That the personal battle was over. It didn’t matter if he was in a future duathlon and what his time was in that. I was no longer interested. My time going forward is what matters – my time against my targets. I was a runner. I was genuine. I represented everything that he had shown to me he wasn’t. I’d finally got that shallow attracts shallow. I had shown commitment, encouragement and support. I was finally free.

I arrived home elated but that was surprisingly replaced by a real feeling of negativity. I had absolutely put to bed an internal battle I had been fighting for a long time. The feeling of freedom from that though was to some extents an anti climax. I know in the next few weeks that will be massive. But right then, it was tough.

At the end of the first duathlon, I was elated at having completed it but I knew that I could have done more on my cycle ride. I knew that the cramp had slowed me considerably. On this one my feeling when I woke up on Thursday morning was where was I going to go next? I felt I had hit a plateau on the run. (I hadn’t  – I had taken nearly a minute out of an overall 5 miles). I thought that I had been pretty flat out on the bike in the highest gear and yet I had been caught by the single person I needed to beat. Again, I had taken almost two minutes out of my 9 mile time.

It’s taken a couple of days to realise that actually I put in a great performance (for me), but that vitally it wasn’t a one off. I had actually taken some significant times out of each of the three sections: Run, Bike and Transition. There is more in the tank though. To start with, I need more of the same. More miles on the road and on the bike. More of the interval training. The structured approach is absolutely paying dividends. Time to invest in hardware too. A higher gear cog and aerobars. I’m still a long way down the field and that shows there is loads of room for improvement.

So, after a reflective rest day I am once again at peace. Free completely from past demons and with better understanding,  and focussed on knowing how to improve for next time. How to take another 2.30 minutes off the total and being absolutely confident that it is that target I am looking at (1:02) and nothing, or no one else that matters.

Overall stats

We All Hate Derby… Or Maybe Not

Passion is not Hatred

(Image ©Waywardeffort)

I thought Derby played well tonight. Looked solid defensively and play a lovely style of football, showing flair whilst controlling the game convincingly. Am right behind them in the play off final and hope that they can once more reach the premiership.

According to many, I’m not actually a real football fan because I watch the MK Dons (read about that here). That aside though, I’m a Forest fan. Forest hate Derby, Derby hate Forest. So why the paragraph above?

I really don’t understand the hatred of football teams. Sure I get the human nature to belong to a pack, to follow their football team above all others. But to hate other teams and automatically hope they lose because they…exist? No I don’t get that bit. If Forest are playing Derby I want Derby to lose. I vehemently want them to lose. I know that at work on Monday I will feel the consequences of that 5 nil drubbing. I know that when we win 5 nil I will be just as bad. I want Derby to lose If during the season we are contesting the same elusive promotion or relegation spot. But that goes for any team in the division. If Forest aren’t directly involved I don’t care. In fact, given that I have several friends who are passionate Derby fans, in a neutral game like tonight, I will back Derby.

I have a real issue at the moment with following football. (Blog post to follow). This unconditional hatred is just one example. I woke up this morning to various premiership fans being asked what their club’s best moment of their season was. Fulham, Liverpool and Man City fans all answered. The Man Utd fan said his best moment was Gerrard slipping and subsequently seeing him in tears. So nothing to do with his team then. Just hatred of another. Hatred purely because this season they have been outclassed. To any proper football fan, what Liverpool have achieved this year is pretty impressive. To that person, the fact that one of the most talented English players we have seen in the last decade made a mistake outshines anything else he has seen this season from his and (I assume) any other team.

Sport is greatly enhanced by rivalries. It adds the extra edge to competition. Local rivalries and derbies add banter in the classroom, the office and social media. But that’s what it is. Banter. Not hatred. This banter means that when my team isn’t involved, far from wanting the other team to lose, I want them to win. I feel far more connections with the rival, far more empathy with their fans than teams that are just regular participants in the league.

So I’ll be backing Derby County in the play off final. Wearing my Forest top, but backing Derby. 

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.

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.