Monday, 30 December 2013

How to run the perfect marathon

Heathside Massive

Most runners are full of wisdom and advice, a lot of it good, but a huge amount is circumstantial. We assume the fastest person knows best, the oldest is the wisest, but most runners I know still have some very bad habits and overlook aspects of their training that could improve their times considerably.

I'm fairly confident in saying that I am one of the slowest runners ever to run sub 2.45. I'm a maths geek at heart and have spent years analysing every aspect of marathon training to trim off a few seconds repeatedly with every discovery. The below advice does assume you have run for a while, trained for races before and have read the bog standard 'how to train for a marathon' articles, so it's missing a lot of the basics, but it's long enough without them. This is meant, as the title suggests to enable runners to run their perfect marathon.

My main assumptions are:
  • You have a training plan already - Caffeine Bullet plans are great. You can play with them, just ensure you have at least one tempo run, one interval session and one long run each week and that there is always a rest day or easier run in between each of them.
  • You are near to your optimal weight - if you are overweight, the quickest way to get quicker is to lose the weight. I've been lucky enough to never need to diet or lose weight, so am not going to advise on the best way to do this, as it's not my area of expertise.
  • You have shoes that work for you - barefoot debate or not, if you've not checked your running style and found the appropriate shoe, marathon training will accelerate you towards an injury so go to runnersneed for a gait analysis.
  • You have a realistic target - this requires you to have run a few halfs and maybe some marathons before and you can then set your target based on the times you've achieved so far. If you can't run a sub 20min 5k, you're not going to run a sub-3 marathon after one training block. Having said that be ambitious, my fastest 5k and half marathon times are all mid-marathon training and I didn't really know I could break 2.45 until I'd run a half in 1.18 during my training.
So taking on board those assumptions:

Recover after every run

The frequency, intensity and mileage is such that training is as much about recovery as it is about the sessions. If you're tired going into a run, you won't train as effectively, you'll lose running form and increase your risk of injury. Marathon training is therefore about recovering as effectively as possible after every run:
  1. Recovery drink after every hard run - you have a 20 minute window post exercise when your muscles are taking on fuel at an increased rate, drinks such as For Goodness Shakes or something as simple as low fat chocolate milk have the balance of 3:1 carbs to protein ratio - carbs for energy, protein for repair. I drink half a pint-a pint after every run (hot chocolate when cold).
  2. Icebaths after a long run - icebaths reduce the inflammation of the muscles and also withdraw the blood from them, removing lactic acid and replenishing with new chocolate milk fueled blood once you get warm again. 10 mins in a bath of 10'C water or less is enough, I throw some freezable iceblocks in, stick on a DVD and drink a cuppa.
  3. Compression tights - similar to an icebath, compression tights increase circulation and reduce inflammation, I wear them all day and night when not training under my work clothes etc - the ladies love!  If you don't want to buy expensive tights, wear a size of women's tights that are too small.
  4. Sleep like a bear - obvious and will probably happen anyway, but expect to be tired and don't neglect the power of sleep
  5. Vanquish the Vino - alcohol can slow your metabolism down for up to 3 days, impacts on the quality of your sleep and strips the body of nutrients, none of which are good for recovery. I restrict myself to a 2 pint max, accept for Thursday and Sunday nights, as I know the next day is my day off running or a 5 mile jog.
  6. Eat well - obvious, but lots of people eat junk, as they're burning through calories, is important to ensure you're getting all the minerals, nutrients and carbs the body needs though - green veg,  nuts ...

Train to race

  1. No gels or energy drinks in training - it's important to try gels, so you're confident with them for race day, but on training runs you shouldn't need them and it's far better to train your body to use its fat stores, so that you don't hit the wall. Take a gel with you for if you bonk, but don't train yourself to depend on them.
  2. Get a gps watch or heart rate monitor - I've been told heart rate monitors are best to train with, as it only monitors how hard you're working, therefore taking into account hills, wind, tiredness, a cold etc. but gps watched are also great to make sure you're running at the right pace.
  3. Join a club - interval sessions are hard to pace and ever harder to push yourself to your limit by yourself. Join a club, find a nemesis and push yourself every session chasing them down, it adds variety and it's extremely useful to be able to talk to other runners.
  4. Run every run - schedule each day when you are running, book it in the diary (having a club time helps with this) if pushed for time run to work ... Every week training builds on the last and missing runs will only increase the intensity of the next. I've done 22 * 1 mile laps of my local park at 10pm following  a stag do before, not fun, but felt great afterwards. If you run with others, you are more likely to attend and it varies your training, reducing repetition and means you get unload your boring running chat to people who actually care and can empathise. Obviously the only exception is if you are injured.
  5. Don't race every run - it may be tempting to speed up on your long runs, but you're just building in tiredness for the week ahead and reducing your ability to train well. Go as hard as you can on your intervals, while keeping them consistent and increase your tempo session pace, but keep your long run slow until you're used to the mileage.
  6. Don't catch up on your schedule - if you miss a run through injury or lack of planning it's gone. Training is hard enough without piling on extra miles and it will only increase your chance of injury and decrease the quality of your training through tiredness. If you have a long period without training it will impact on your time, suck it up and learn from it - it took me 3 attempts to get to the start line ready for my 2.44.

Stay injury free

One of the hardest aspects to master - how to push your body to near breaking point without actually breaking. The recovery tips will help, but in addition:

  1. Warm up before every intense session - a one mile jog is advisable, include some strides (quicker 50 meter runs where you concentrate on your running form) and some dynamic stretches if you have time. It reduces your risk of injury and you'll start each session primed to run quickly.
  2. Don't do static stretches before a run - they drain elasticity and power from the muscles for up to 3 hours, reducing performance and can cause injury, as your muscles are not warm enough to be stretched, instead do dynamic stretches.
  3. Warm down after every hard session -  a one mile jog is often enough after intervals, tempo run and races. It gives your muscles a chance to stretch out again and remove unwanted lactic acid.
  4. Stretch after every run - the only exception to this is after a very hard race or a very long run, as your muscles with have micro-tears and stretching can actually exasperate the damage and lead to slower recovery. Instead wait a few hours before stretching. Additional good times to stretch - in or after a shower or straight after getting out of bed  as your muscles will be warm or even on the tube platform if you've just walked there. Make sure you're holding a stretch 30-50 seconds for each of your glutes, hamstrings, upper and lower calves, groin, quads and hip flexors
  5. Stretch for balance - very few of us are anatomically perfect and as a result we often have one side stronger or more flexible than the other, which can create imbalance that leads to injury. If you are stiffer or less flexible on one side, hold your stretches for longer on these muscles, so that in time you will readdress the balance.  
  6. Dull pain probably ok, sharp pain no - your body will feel lethargic and sore during training. Your one mile warm up will help you sense whether pain is tiredness or injury, sharp pain is never good though and you should seek advice rather than run. Two days off resting is better than 2 weeks injured.
  7. In the head fine, below the neck check - head cold is fine to train with, but anything in the lungs and you're risking a chest infection, as I found out for 6 weeks this year.
  8. Get a sports massage check up - the miles of training will magnify any imbalances in your muscle groups, which lead to injury, so once a month schedule a sports massage - it aids recovery and a good masseur will be able to identify any weaknesses or imbalances, so that you can stretch or strengthen accordingly. If you're London based I'd greatly recommend Sam

Prepare yourself mentally

The training plans are hard and can be quite demoralising if you're not prepared for the highs and the lows. A few things to bear in mind:

  1. You might not be quick enough for your plan to start with - I struggle with the speed of my tempo sessions at the start of each training plan - I'm too tired from the increased mileage and while quick enough to run them as a one off, am only quick enough to run them at the end of a training week once I'm half way through the plan. This is quite usual, so persist through.
  2. You will hit a low - while training you will speed up and feel great, but as the training continues ramping up, runners often slump in week 6-8. You might start to slow down or struggle with your runs - I once hit the wall 7 miles into a 12 mile run and had to walk home. These things happen, once again expect it, don't let it affect you and persist through.
  3. Be realistic about who you are and make some rules - we're all lazy, weak ... sometimes. So it's important to think of ways of motivating yourself before you need to. I have a rule that I can walk in any race, I'm just not allowed to walk up hills (unless it's faster to). It's a stupid rule, but in marathon training the only part of a run where I want to walk is up a hill, once I'm at the top I no longer want to walk, so the rule works for me. Training will be hard and you will be tired, so whenever I'm tired I remind myself it's because I'm training like a hero, when it's hard it's because I'm running like a powerhouse, every negative thought is recognised, but put in context with a greater positive.
  4. Have a mantra - you need a reason for running; training is too hard to without one. Mine was 2.44 - every time I didn't want to run I reminded myself and on the runs repeated 'this is 2.44 running.'
  5. Break it down - You're going to be running tired repeatedly and runs will seem beyond you, break them down and just commit to running part of it, then when you get there, readdress. If you don't think you can do ten intervals do 6, then another ... same for running 10 miles. It's much easier to think you might have a break coming and push for a short time than to think about the overall total. In races stick to people's shoulders, chase down the runner ahead, concentrate on the short term.

Race like a boss

Try these out for every race leading up to the marathon so that you know that they work

  1. Choose the right race - not all marathons are equal, if you want a pb, pick the right course. Take into account not just ascent, but wind, support on the course, logistics (for New York you have to arrive 3 hours before the start), the journey to get there - London is where I live, so it's easy to get there, but most importantly I know every step of the last 6 miles, as soon as I hit Tower Bridge I'm running home, it's a huge boost.
  2. Only run as far as you have to - you don't get anything extra for running 26.5 miles, be as aggressive on your racing lines as you can be. In Milan I came through half way in 12.8 miles. I still ran 26.4, but I was taking off a few meters with every corner that I could edge. Obviously if you're in a packed group, run with the group, it's too tiring to be constantly weaving and disrespectful to other runners.
  3. Get some magic shoes - my adizero's are my race day shoe. They're extra light and I only wear them for the big races. As a result, as soon as I put them on I feel pumped and my feet feel like they can fly. Obviously find a pair that works for you, but mentally it puts me on the front foot.
  4. Carb load like a sumo - most people think a large bowl of pasta is sufficient, but research shows that you should eat as much as 7-10 grams of carbs per kilo of body weight. That's a huge amount - over 500g of carbs for me; a bowl of pasta may only be 90g. I achieve the amount with  a 200g bag of toffee popcorn (Lidl has the lowest fat), 200g bag of pretzels, 4 Lucozade drinks, malt loaf, porridge and then some pasta. The morning of the race have up to 150 grams of carbs to top you up - porridge, toast and a banana (remember to give 2-3 hours for it clear your stomach.)
  5. Caffeine is rocket fuel - it's the only legal drug that works. Caffeine takes 5-10 minutes to take effect, reduces tiredness, pain, increases alertness and releases fat into the blood stream to increase energy. It's a wonder drug, but it only last 25-40 mins and each dosage gives diminishing returns. Therefore reduce caffeine from your everyday life to increase its impact on race day. Never have caffeine before a race, you'll start too fast and crash. Caffeine Bullets are the most convenient way to take caffeine, as you then unlock yourself from having to take a gel to get your caffeine. Half-marathon take 1 bullet when your pace starts to drop at 7-8 miles, take 1-2 more if you need at 9-11.Marathon take 1 as you start to drop at 16-19 miles, then a double dose 21-23. Practice beforehand, but for best results leave 2 weeks before each use.
  6. Know your gel strategy - you can absorb 60 grams of carbs an hour while running, 90 grams if your gel is duel maltodextrin and fructose, this equates to 2-3 gels an hour, figure out your favourite, do the maths and take them when you're meant to no matter how you feel. Don't take one before you start running, it will spike your insulin levels, which reduces the absorption rate. Even if you only have 2-3 miles left, take a bit in your mouth for 20 seconds, it's called a carbo mouth rinse and has an effect even if the gel doesn't reach the muscles in time. I would recommend Nectar or Torq gels or if you don't like gels Cliff shot bloks.
  7. Get your funk on - music has a powerful effect on your emotions and rhythm ... so save it for when you need it. Start without, take in the sights, think about your breathing, enjoy the event and then when the going gets tough you'll have the lift of the music to make an impact. If you're going to play music throughout have a slow playlist and a fast playlist, for each stage of the race - fast playlist doesn't have to be fast, it can be something that makes you smile, something you love or just the best running song of all time.
  8. Stick a cap in your arse - take 2 Imodium tablets with breakfast, it won't effect you in any way other than knowing you're not going to get yourself an unwanted spray-tan mid-race.
  9. Race your pace - start in the right pen for your time, don't push ahead or you'll start too fast. Relax and no matter how good you feel, don't go quicker than your race pace until half way at the least, only then will you be able to judge what's possible.
  10. Beetroot diet - this is for the real diehards, but has been shown to work; Mo Farah swears by it and it worked for me - a pint of juice a day for six days leading up to the race and you will be needing that Imodium. I eat 200g of cooked beetroot as a cheaper more palatable alternative. Fairly complex, but the high nitrate levels in the beetroot help with the transportation of oxygen around the body and increase stamina.
  11. Have a wall beating strategy - hopefully with the above you won't hit the wall, but if you do there are a few things you can do - get angry, really angry - scream, bang the a wall, it releases adrenalin, which will help get you started again. Start sprinting - you won't have used the glycogen stores in your fast twitch muscles, so start sprinting. It won't last long, but maybe enough to get you through the wall. Ideally get angry and start sprinting.
  12. Catch up on lost time over 26 miles -  you may start in the wrong pen, get caught in a bottle neck or start late. remember you have 26 miles to catch up, so pace accordingly. When pacing Brighton a runner caught up 2 minutes in the first 3 miles to catch me, so that he could run with a pacer. Needless to say he faded at half way. it's far better to catch up a few seconds per mile.
  13. Pace only against the clock and the mile markers - Garmins are great and pacemakers are useful, but neither are 100% guaranteed - pace to your Garmin and you may find you have another .4 of a mile to run, pace to a pacemaker and he may have started five minutes behind you from a different start or might just be wrong. Get a pace band and check your splits after every mile, it's the only way to guarantee your pace.
That's a lot to take on board and some of the research and science will change, so if you have any counter-evidence, then let me know, as I will be updating this to take on board new developments and often sports science studies lack a sufficient sample size to be conclusive. If there's anything you would add, then please get in touch. I try to be a sponge to knowledge, but there could be more I could be doing or certain aspects I have overlooked or am not aware of (diet and running style are prime examples.) The main takeaway is tiny differences add up, so analyze every aspect of your training and try new ideas out. The beauty of the marathon is that you only get one shot from months of training, so it can take a few attempts for everything to fall into place. Good luck and let me know how you get on.

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Tuesday, 26 November 2013

Am I a massive cheat?

I cut a 5 mile loop off a half marathon and I won. So does this make me a cheat and should I be disqualified?
Sheepishly picking up first place - trainers on in case I need to leggit

The story's a bit more complex than that and hopefully some of you will see my side and agree that I should have no shame in claiming the win, especially given how much of a rarity a win is. I was running in the inaugural New Forest Half Marathon in March and after a switch back half a mile in, it was clear that there were only two of us competing for first place and 5 miles in Gordon and I were running together and having a natter.

On the same day there was a 10k, a 20 miler and an ultra all converging at different points  of the course and when we approached one marshal, who seemed surprised to see us, we shouted 'this way?' as we turned right at the junction, running past her to no real response. A mile later and we started passing ultra marathon runners coming towards us and after nine miles we realised something wasn't right - the first lap was only 8 miles and we were nowhere near the finish. We asked a passing car where Linwood was and headed back to the event base, figuring we'd have probably run 11 miles by the time we made it back. As far ahead as we had been of the third placed runner, we were never going to catch up 3 miles, so we had a decision to make.

We were both fairly relaxed about the mistake, but I wanted the win and explained to Gordon that I was going to go for the win if I could and I'd welcome his challenge. He declined, I think partly because I'd talked him into thinking I'd burn him off in the last half a mile, but also because he just wasn't that bothered, so I ran on, hit the beginning/end of the lap, turned round and ran back the wrong way around the course. The marshals were looked confused, but I smiled at them reassuringly, as if I knew what I was doing and a mile later, turned round again and ran in for the win having run 13.1 miles according to my Garmin. Gordon continued with the second loop and noted the time as he ran through 13.1 miles, running in far down the field, having run a full 16.

Turning into the finish

The second placed runner was really confused, he had no idea that we'd gone wrong and couldn't figure out how he'd passed Gordon without noticing. I was staying quiet, acting a little bit sheepish about the whole affair, until Gordon came in and explained the whole situation and claimed 2nd place. David, was bumped to third, possibly a bit harsh, but his time was four minutes slower than Gordon's.

So did I cheat or was I just pragmatic about an unfortunate situation? Let me know what you think.

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Thursday, 10 October 2013

The Red Bull Steeplechase

I was flying, flat out down Win hill. My legs were burning, but it felt great, feet dancing over the rocks until my left foot caught the top of a boulder.  I tried to correct myself, but my momentum was rotating downwards, looking ahead all I could see was a bed of jagged rocks; this was going to hurt. I slid along the trail, my bottle splitting and peeling my left palm, my right hand side acting as a grating brake.  As I lay on my side the position put my entire body into a cramp and I wiggled around like an electrocuted fish, winded and struggling for breath. I shouted at the passing runners to leave me, I didn't think anything was broken, before regrouping for some time and hesitantly clambering to my feet.  My right forearm resembled Popeyes, a mesh of blood and grit, but my legs seemed ok.  I wiped the blood dripping from my left hand onto my face - might as well look proper bad ass. Only another two miles until the next cut off and another eight until the final one.  Bugger!

Some of the damage

Three weeks prior I'd won a place on the Red Bull steeplechase through runners world, a 21 mile race with 1400 metres of ascent.  The twist was that roughly every 5 miles they cut the back third of the field until only 30 runners remained. Having spent the summer pickling what remained of a runner post Sierra Leone, I suddenly had only three to get marathon fit. The next day, when in theory I should be beginning my taper, I headed to London's steepest hill, swains lane and attempted to run up and down it ten times.

Three weeks later I was travelling up to the peak district in a car with Jon 'best assault course racer in Britain' Albon, Ross 'GB duathlete' Macdonald and Rob 'best trail runner in Heathside' O'Grady. If fully fit I could just about match them once we got up to marathon distances, but today I had no chance, in fact of the 6 people I knew racing 5 of them were probably going to beat me; top 30 was going to be tough.

We arrived in Glossop and it was a bit disconcerting how fit everyone looked. I'd opted for my running of the bulls outfit, as a homage to red bull, but was looking completely out of place and with the temperature picking up, it was definitely going to be too hot. 500 of us collected under the Red Bull banner and after a 100 meter sprint we turned straight up the steepest hill I've ever attempted to run up - 49% gradient. The route was single track and panic set in amongst the runners trying to get clear of the maul. People were scrambling through the bracken, elbows swung to make room, it was a full on mosh. The first hill only took 8 minutes, but by half way my calves were already burning, the steepness forcing me to climb on the tips of my toes, putting all of the force through my calves and using the bracken to keep my balance. By the top of the hill I was already way off the top 30 and my calves were shredded. Trying to get a rhythm was proving difficult, but as we reached the first peak, a solo trumpeter was playing the Rocky theme tune, amazing.
This doesn't do the first hill justice

Two miles in and we finally reached our first downhill, my time to shine. The hill was grassy and wet so I lent in and took off full pelt. To my surprise, I was overtaken by a nutter who was sprinting to build up enough speed to then slide down on his side. I considered copying his technique, but as much as I believe the adverts, I couldn't see Ariel getting the stains out of my white outfit and after three slides he'd changed tack, having grazed his entire left side. 800 feet of descent later, I'd overtaken 25 or so and mid way up the next peak we ran through our first counter - 59th. I maintained my position on the up, passed the table overflowing with Red Bull cans and then got stuck in a two mile single track route. I was trying to pass runners, but the ground was too technical; overtaking meant risking tripping, as you didn't have enough space to see the trail coming ahead, add to that a barb wire fence and I decided to just tuck in. There were streams, rocks and suddenly a huge candy floss ball, which turned out to be a rotting sheep clouded in mold.

An ascent, I'm in white

Another descent through the woods and past a beautiful reservoir and we entered the first cut off point, with another wealth of Red Bull and large group of supporters. My outfit was cheered, which gave me a boost, but for 8 miles in I was feeling pretty tired and knowing I would be well within the top 125 at the next cut off point, I started to focus on the 12 miles to pull myself up from 57th to 30th, seemed unlikely.

Monster 1000ft ascent in one

Our next stage featured 1000ft of ascent! Runners were slowing dramatically and rather than picking up the odd runner, I could start to see the groups of people ahead of me. As I was passing people, others were coming through, but by the top I'd improved to 50th and suddenly felt that 30th was more than achievable, I wasn't fit, but fairing better than most, but then came the crash.

My immediate thought was that I could do an Eric Liddel - despite the fall sprint on and win the whole thing, but a few more steps and even though my legs still seemed to work, it was apparent I wasn't the runner of five minutes before. With only 2 miles to the next check point, I ran on, hitting another steep ascent, where runners were cautiously stepping their way down. 'Straight back on the bike' I thought and steaming off again. I couldn't tell if their looks were saying to me 'fair play' or 'that's what got you injured in the first place.' The right hand side of my body was all slightly strained and letting my arm go limp seemed to help, another mile passed before a welcome face gave me some support, as Anthony, a fellow Heathsider sped past. He was sitting pretty in 23rd before taking a 2 mile detour and looked like a man on a mission to catch up immediately.

I reached the second cut off point in around 60th and decided a Red Bull was definitely needed, however a few more yards on, I stopped, looked back and thought about stopping. There was no way I was going to overtake 30 people in the next 6 miles and it was likely every hill I was going to have to be a walk. It seemed sensible, but then I thought about the ribbing I'd get in the car all the way back to London and realised I had to continue.

Amazing scenary

The atmosphere of the race suddenly changed. Surrounding runners knew we weren't going to make the cut, so we were all now just running to finish and our competitive edge drained away, each runner chatting with each other and encouraging anyone passing them. I was amazed how many ultra runners there were and that they were also struggling - they could do the miles, but the speed which we had covered the first 12 miles had ragged even their legs. We took in the breathtaking scenery, swapped war stories and slothed our way through the last six miles. With a mile left to go, I decided I had to finish with a flurry so, took off down the hill and gritted my teeth for running what felt like a decent pace, but was probably wasn't even 7 minute miling. I turned the corner to see the third cut off, thank God, I was destroyed. We were greated with hoodies, socks, and for some reason a teatowel (which I love) and of course plenty of Red Bull. We jumped on their buses and made our way back to the finish, where there was a free BBQ and bar. Jon had felt great at half way and incredibly streaked away to go from 8th to 2nd, resulting in a magnum of champagne he generously shared; my pain was quickly numbed.

Heathside Massive L-R Brian, Rob, Myself, Anthony

It was one hell or a race - well organised, with amazing scenery and ridiculously cheap for what you get, but wow is it brutal; four days on I still can't walk properly. If you want to get close to the feeling, ask your biggest friend to repeatedly beat your quads with a rusty crow bar, while someone grates your calves for three hours. I wasn't match fit going in, but realistically I'd need to be fully marathon fit for next year, to do it justice, as this is harder than a marathon. You can train on hills in preparation, but they're not going to be enough. I will be back next year, with my sights firmly on a top ten finish, I just need to get the keys to the Shard first, as it's the only thing within 200 miles of London high and steep enough to prepare me.

L-R me, Ross, Rob and Jon - final pint in London

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Friday, 9 August 2013

The Great British Beerathon - 5 miles, 4 pints, 4 bits of food - 1 almight hangover

Sweetheart's back fat ... possibly
The Great British Beerathon is a five mile slobstacle race, where runners run five-one mile laps, drinking a pint and eating some food at the end of each lap. 

Now in its fourth year, I've always hidden behind my organiser role to avoid having to take part, preferring to laugh at friends from the safety of the pub and hint that if I were to run I'd obviously blitz it. 

Having won two of the previous years Sweetheart insisted that I run this year, partly to shut me up, but probably more to do with his concern over what the calories would do to his back fat.

Fancy dress chosen, I was feeling pretty confident.  I'm not in the greatest shape, but I can drink like a champion (at least in my head) and six minute miling should be fine, even with a baby bump, giving me 90 seconds per transition. 
Event briefing
After an inspirational speech from Sweetheart, explaining that he'd laid on several specialist areas around the course should we feel ill, also known as walls, 120 of us lined up in full fancy dress.  The first mile was pretty quick, two people leading out the first lap in 5.20 or so, I came in 17 seconds behind, charged up the stairs, grabbed my Guinness and muffin and headed for the beer garden. The two ahead of me became one, we guzzled, then gasped and we were off again 1.06 transition, piece of cake ... literally. 

James West leads out the start

The second lap felt ok if a little slower (6.12).  The leader dressed as a Evel Knievel (Matt Wilto), took another fifteen seconds out of me and I began to notice I was being stalked by a monk (Andrew Fargus), I began to feel like Robert Langdon (but with the ability to solve simplistic puzzles on the first page). Back up the stairs for bitter and samosa.  The samosa was a decent size and piping hot, but we were making our way through it as the monk inhaled his and took off with the Evel.  25 seconds later and I followed.

Guinness and muffins
We were beginning to attract a bit of a crowd on the course.  The builders' laughs grew louder with each lap, there was a homeless man, asleep on a step motionless throughout (I hope he was asleep) and the tourists were sometimes already filming as we passed.  The roads had been closed for the London cycle the next day, but the tourists assumed we were the main event and were getting fully behind us.  To be fair the Evel was running quick enough to be a cyclist.
Third lap of 6.09 and we were back in for slobstacle three - lager and a Cornish pasty, I say Cornish, only because it was the size of Cornwall.  My chomps were merely flirting with it, but thankfully nearly everyone was struggling. My only solace was that a friend of mine Jody had the vegetarian pasty and it was bigger than his head (and this is man who needs custom made cycle helmets). He flashed me a look of 'this is all your fault you bastard', it hadn't been planned, but I wish it had.

Evel and the Monk
Another friend Chris strutted in with a half eaten pasty. He's not a bad runner, but definitely a better cyclist and seeing him so close behind me was surprising. Then it all made sense, not only was he an ironman with a hunger like no other, but boy does he have a mouth on him (in the best possible way.) Evel was in a world of pain, the monk going steady and Chris was devouring like a hungry hippo. Chris was out first, followed closely by the monk, I struggled and after 4.47 finally headed out for my fourth lap.

Chomper Chris
Devo in happier time
My belly was bubbling by now and starting to pick up a momentum of its own. I was still trying to keep the pace up, knowing that the next slobstacle was a smaller porkpie. If I could get in quick there was a chance I could neck the pint and be back up with the leaders. 6.11 for the fourth lap and then it hit me. The cider was sweet and sickly, the porkpie burningly hot, but thankfully not that large. 

The belly had been doing a pretty good job as a washing machine and felt like it was frothing up my neck. I couldn't even take the smallest bite of the pie without the feeling that it was all going to blow. A friend of mine Devo was sat in the corner still on his pasty. He would have been a favourite for the race, but he was coming back from injury and on Thursday night had taken on the Red Dog hot wing challenge. His stomach still hadn't recovered and having snuck into a corner for a bit of privacy, expelled its content right in front of the race photographer to the cheers of the crowd.  

The finish
I saw away the cider, but was still left with my entire pie, as Chris and then the monk strode away. Minutes later, stood in the corner, I was battling to swallow anything without having to fight to keep the food down, dry retching with each attempt. Knowing the race was lost, I forced the pie into my mouth and set off, mouth still full of pie, a woeful transition of 6.49.

I felt like I was moving ok for my final lap, waving at the builders and dodging the tourists. I looked like a pregnant samba dancer, waddling like a duck. As I rounded the final corner, I kicked in for a sprint finish only to hear the pounding of footsteps behind me - Evel was trying to take me on the line. Thankfully I still had a but left in the legs and ran into the cheering crowd with a time 45:09, six and a half minutes behind the winner Andrew Fargus, the monk,  in 38:42. 

Chris and I finished, with Andrew over-shoulder
I felt pretty rough, but a couple of decent burps and we were back on the sauce. The race had been a lot harder than I had expected. The booze and the running was fine, but the food just sat in your stomach and by the cornish pasty there were no gaps left to fill. Great pacing by the monk and much kudos to Rob Foster, the current world record holder who averaged 7:30 per mile with food and drink.

The rest of the runners slowly filtered in and we started the customary drinking circle to wrap off the event, dishing out drinks as punishment theroughout the race (of which there was plenty.)

Seaman, last seen stumbling towards a hairdressers

Special mention must go to Zacharay Davidson, winner of the best male fancy dress category, dressed as David Seaman. He won over the crowd's hearts and as a result ended up having to drink his body weight in beer and half again in gin. 

We'll be back next year and I'm planning on running again. Don't think I could get the record, but with a bit more chomping, will hopefully put up a fight until the last lap at least.

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Monday, 5 August 2013

UK Challenge - Stage 3 - Successful Formula

Stage 3 was a 3 hour mountain bike. Team of 4. The result = the team with the most points receive a 00:00 stage time, the team with the least points receive 3:00 hours, all the other teams were distributed between those two times using the formula:

or something like that. Crickey!

The scenario was forming a grand prix team and racing to win championship points. Each team needed to buy a driver, a car and then enter races - visiting the start and finish of each race. The better the driver and car, the higher your placing and more points received. If you entered a race that you didn't finish (by visiting the race points) you received a considerable penalty. Teams could upgrade their driver or car at any time throughout the 3 hours and there were investment points that could be visited to gain more cash to pay for the upgrade.  We were given our map in advance and there was a clear loop that could be used from the start to visit the best driver and best car checkpoints. We still didn't know the times of the races or their location and there were also quite a few single-track, one way routes to add to the confusion, so we couldn't determine how many races we should attempt in advance.  Unless the first race was extremely early and with a long gap before the second, it seemed to make sense to buy the best driver and car straight away to get the maximum points from each race.

Leo, Vanessa and Simon were joined by Dan Adams - our Senior Executive (which explains why I'm low on detail for the race, as I was busy drinking tea and chatting up the Sainsbury's girls.) Just before the start they announced an extra element to the scenario - all races had to registered in advance by foot and the number of entrants for each race was limited, so there was a dilemma of how long to plan for knowing that the better the planning the more likely the races would be full.

Sprint Start - I'm 2nd red from the left, 5 - Stuart is a 2.45 marathoner, 16 - Glen is UK standard steeple chase 

I ran for the envelope of race times in the mass start and within the first ten meters I decided that jogging was good - why pull a hamstring? to the disappointment of Dan, who had been regaled with tales of my London marathon sprint. Start times in hand the team ran towards the registration points, that had become a bun fight, with teams pushing and shoving to get their registrations in. Leo confessed to registering for the wrong race, then registering for four more, before thinking sod it and on the spur of the moment registering for a sixth.

The scrum to register for races

Off they raced, while I prepared myself a little corner of the van to nap in. Two and half hours later and Vicky and I were waiting nervously by the finish. Nearly all of the teams were in, but Accenture 4 were nowhere to be seen. We had no idea how many races they had gone for, but there were a lot of teams having disasters. The RAF team didn't make it to the start, their van's engine blowing on the drive to the race course, Perenco had only been able to register for two races, having a 45 minute break in between the two and Accenture 5 had not dibbed properly for their driver and started their first race without one. At 2.58 the team came running home - all looking knackered, but all grinning - six gone for, six achieved, some with only seconds to spare. We'd been lucky to go for the six correct races, but they'd then cycled like hell to complete them all.

Becky and Rod from Accenture 5

Syngenta were the only other team to have attempted six and only a puncture on the way in stopped them finishing in time, meaning that we'd won the stage and managed to take half an hour out of AWE's lead. We were now up to third, twenty minutes behind the leaders. Traditionally the Friday evening was a build stage, a bit of a lottery for us, but it was non-physical, so we drunk our For Goodness Shakes and headed back to the university, knowing that it was now game on!

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Friday, 2 August 2013

New shoes - Kalenji Kiprun HM review

I've been sent a pair of trainers to try out and they're the best kind - they're free. They're called the Kalenji, not heard of them before, but they sound kind of Polish, so I was expecting them to be hard working, but for the male versions to be somewhat unattractive ... casual stereotypes over I was asked which pair I'd like - the 10k, half marathon or full marathon version.  The range is Kiprun and the concept is that each pair is designed to suite each distance - more support and cushioning the greater the distance.  Nice idea and certainly far easier to decide which shoe is right for your needs than having to decode the usual marketing language. Wanting the best of both roads I of course opted for the half marathon version and soon enough a lovely new pair were delivered:

I give you the Kalenji Kiprun MD
They looked pretty good and most importantly the lime green matched my Inov8 running bag - turn my swag on!

To help you understand my review it's worth stating that I am a neutral runner and a massive shoe whore. I was lucky enough to win 8 pairs of trainers during the Nike Grid and have managed to win or been given several other pairs of Adidas, Saucony, Brookes or Asics since, so haven't bought a pair of trainers in 4+ years. I therefore do not have one preferred trainer to compare against. I also seem to be blisters free, no matter the shoe, which allows me to whore my feet about so readily (like a gigolo immune to stds) or something like that.

I was heading to Portugal that weekend for a friend's wedding, so I put them in my hand luggage and psyched myself for some hardcore running. The wedding was intense - 30C heat, serving unlimited booze, pre-poured and lined-up into 15 or so different spirits - far too many to choose between, so I systematically worked my way down the line; the weekend run wasn't looking that realistic.

Sweetheart at the top of Estrada de Serra 

The morning after my friend Sweetheart was insisting that instead of running along the coast, finishing where our friends would be surfing, we should instead head for trails. Being too hungover to disagree we jumped in a cab and half an hour later, lost and fed up of driving round in circles looking for a dam, the taxi driver dropped us off in the middle of a national park. It was 38C, we were in the middle of nowhere and having been unable to navigate our taxi driver to anywhere of note, I had no idea how we were going to find a taxi to eventually take us home. Sweetheart started us running aimlessly until we saw some flour on the floor - he'd brought me to the Lisbon hash (I run with city hash in London). We still had no idea where the start was, so he thought it wise that we run up the hill until we find them. 4.5 miles later and 1000ft of ascent, there was still no sign of them. So we decided to take some action shots of the shoes.

Definitely going to be the next cover shot of Runners World
Happy that we'd not looked too pretentious to any hidden doggers (we saw no one the entire time we were here and believe me sweetheart went looking) we headed down the hill and put the trainers to the test.

We raced down, passing some walkers who turned out to be the Lisbon hash. There were 12 of them, they were lovely, but they were all walking due to the heat. 8 miles later having had to run every checkpoint and loop (they called them rambo trails) by myself, I was pretty broken and delighted to find a platter of crisps, nuts and drinks to welcome us back. They then handed out beers for people to down (in a ritual known as the circle, will have to explain in a later post) when I realised that they had been eyeing up my trainers. One of the rules of the hash is that you never wear new trainers - if you do, you have to drink a pint out of them. Aware that I was already in the middle of possible the worst debut review ever, to then end it with a beer covered trainer was nearing disrespectful. After some negotiation and explanation of the review they compromised, allowing me to drink out of a cup from the shoe.

Possible a half of Tanglefoot - get it!
Unbeknownst to Sweetheart (hash name) and myself it was gay pride in Lisbon that weekend. We then found out that having two males arrive, both fairly camp, called Sweetheart and Princess (my hash name) they had made one conclusion too many and we were the gossip of the hash. So not to disappoint, Sweetheart and I left arm in arm, catching a ride back with one of the local hashers.

I had found it hard going in the trainers, but in their defense they weren't designed to be warn in 38+C heat, running down steep descending trails as a first outing. All I conclude was that they weren't great trail shoes - worse reviewer ever. I also concluded that weekend that chocolate was not a great material to make a teapot out of and that razor wire isn't a great product to build seat belts from (that was awkward.)

Review part two

The following week I went for an interval session with heathside running club on the heathside extension

I was running on a mixture of road, woods and fields, with a few inclines, so it was a good mix of terrain to try out the shoes. There was plenty of cushioning and they felt comfortable, with a lot of space at the front for people prone to blisters on your toes. New trainers tend to feel very springy, but the Kirpun do not give a huge amount of bounce. I'm not sure whether they're intended for training for or racing a half marathon.

For me there is too much cushioning and not enough spring for me to consider racing in them. Even half marathons can be quite a quick pace and I've always opted for a lighter/faster shoe on race day than the Kiprun. I'm not sure I'd even wear them for a marathon for the same reason, so I'd be interested to find out how the Kiprun marathon trainer feels. I do often race in Adizero's though, one of the lightest shoes on the market, so maybe I'm just an extreme.

As a training shoe these would be very good for your longer runs with plenty of support to reduce the impact on your knees and lots of space at the front of the shoe to reduce the onset of blisters. The good thing about a training program is that the race is at the end, so if you're looking for a mid-range shoe to train and possibly race in, give these a go, you can always drop down to the 10k pair if you want to a faster shoe come race day.

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Tuesday, 16 July 2013

The UK challenge - Stage 2 - Minimal Intelligen5e

Stage 2 was a 2.5 hour fastest to finish run and kayak. Team of 4 - 2 runners, 2 kayaking. Result = time taken - bonus + penalties. The scenario was to capture spies by collecting their coordinates at 'Intelligence Points' (IP) - some on land, some on water, then decode their grid reference and running as a team to the Spy Point (SP) to take them down. Each team needed to capture at least two spies to avoid a penalty and there was an added complication of package drops. Teams could chose to pick up and drop off dossiers at several points in a specific order to gain bonuses, however start a dossier without completing it and all hell would break loose.

Thankfully I was tooled to the max with several AKs and a Magnum for some serious pistol whipping, but they proved too heavy and we decided to ditch them and use our stealth instead. Vanessa 'The Hot Ness Monster' Harding had spent the previous evening strategising and had selected several alternative routes that allowed us to pick up two spies and the two dossier bonuses, we didn't have a map yet, but we knew the points available, so we would need to quickly establish the distance per time bonus of each route, once we saw the map. We wouldn't know how much running a spy point entailed until we collected the coordinates, so there would an element of luck involved. Running again - kerpow, Ness and I would team up, with Leo and Vicky taking the main kayaking duties. We could change the sub-teams during the stage, as it was likely we would be weaker on the kayak and might need to share out the duties.

Becky Green from Accenture 5, red left at start

Simon sped off in the mass start and we immediately started hoisting the kayak into the water. All four had to kayak to the transition point before splitting and there were only two paddles, so I started off as the power, Leo the steering (some would say finesse), Ness calculating the best route on the map, while Vicky, our most experienced kayaker, saved herself for the epic effort to come. We got out clean and fast to try and avoid the demolition derby enfolding behind us and ten minutes later we were first into the transition, route set and feeling confident.

Accenture at the top of the picture leading out
We started off with the hardest spy worth the most points. We quickly sailed past our first IP point, noting down the coordinates 2nd - 19, a bit too quickly, a minute later remembering that we needed to both dib at the checkpoint. A quick backtrack and we were back on schedule (this was to remain our secret - no mistakes etc.). We passed Dame Kelly Holmes, looking strong and smiling, sadly her running partner was not, but that's hardly surprising - get yourself a bungee chord Kelly. The route was about 4.5 miles, but the navigation was easy, so we quickly finished our loop, noting down a couple of unmarked checkpoints - possible spy points, on the way. We were back ten minutes ahead of schedule, but with only half the coordinates there was nothing we could do, so we started planning. The kayaking was definitely the longer leg, but Leo and Vicky powered back, two minutes ahead of schedule. We calculated the SP - holy f to the moly,  the Spy Point was at least a 5k loop straight up the only hill on the course - far longer than we had expected; we needed to rethink our strategy. Vicky and I bungeed together, allowing Leo and Ness to bang heads; the kayaking was hard graft and going for even the third highest scoring spy would risk being late if the SP was a similar distance. The fourth highest would still allow us to get all of the dossier drop bonuses and could allow us time to go for a third spy if were ahead of time.

Dame Kelly landing
Ness and I set off again on a far shorter route. We were picking up one of the dossier packages, but we had to dib after twelve minutes, to give the kayakers time to make their package drop off first. We were there in 8 minutes, so we waited, then the fear crept in. What if Leo had taken longer? We were blitzing the run routes and didn't feel tired, so we decided to dib as late as possible and then sprint back to make up the time. We nectar gelled up, gave each other massages (might not be true) and 16 minutes in dibbed and dashed. We suspect Leo may have stopped to feed some passing ducks, as they didn't reach their checkpoint until 15 minutes - call us Uri Geller; our time delay had been vital. We regrouped, rebungeed and headed to our next SP. The map wasn't obvious, our coordinates were off and we only discovered afterwards that the scale of coordinates wasn't 1-10, but 1-6, so 41.3 was halfway across a square of the map and not a third. We couldn't find the spy, rechecked then ran to the only other place it could be - four minutes wasted, not a huge amount, but it was on me, aaaarrrrgggghhhhh.
The SP was close to the start of another Spy loop. It was a short one, so if we went flat out and got lucky on the next SP being close, the bonus time gained would be more than the time taken. We knew we were behind on the first stage, so we had to take some calculated risks to catch up.

Leo and I bungeed up and went flat out back to the kayaks. We were paddling manically, but after 90 minutes of running, my legs were cramping, kneeling in the kayaks. After the first IP we realised it was taking too long, the risk hadn't been worth it, but by then we were committed. We skirted the second IP to try and read what it said - if the number was low, it meant that the SP was going to be a long way away and it made more sense to abandon the loop and head home. The IP was high, the SP was across the dam, it was far - over a k away, but not too far. We dibbed, ploughed back to the transition and as we neared started screaming to Ness and Vicky 'dam, run to the dam'. They eventually heard and started running. We beached, strewing paddles and life jackets everywhere and set off after them, knowing we were going to be late, so every minute taken counted double. Our legs weren't really working after the kayak and we were struggling to catch the girls. Vicky, expecting a bungee taxi ride, put her hand out for the karabiner, as I neared, I mustered "I've got to catch you first." We were going flat out and I was broken. We all dibbed and headed back, as I started to contemplate the kayak back, my lungs burning like as if in an 800 meter race. As we neared the kayaks I asked Ness how she felt about kayaking back, she realised it wasn't really a question though. We boarded and Ness powered away. Three minutes in, I felt fine again and I started to feel a bit guilty, as Ness was clearly tiring. I tried paddling with my hands, but Leo pointed out I was filling the boat with water rather than adding to the push, but she's not the hot ness monster for nothing and the monster took over, catching another team and bringing us back within ten minutes.

Team Holmes at the finish L-R Charlotte Hartley, Toby Garbett, Dame Kelly, Martyn Bernard
We were just under ten minutes late - a 19 minute penalty, the extra spy hadn't been worth it, as we would have saved time by coming in early. Still we'd made all of the dossier drops and captured two spies, not a bad hall. With penalties we ended up on a negative time of -0:20:15, third position for the stage, a good result given the amount of kayaking. We'd moved up into 5th, but were 42 minutes behind the new leaders - AWE. Next up was the cycling stage - traditionally a strength of AWE's and this year a bit of an unknown for us, we were going to have to take some risks or else AWE would be out of sight and that's exactly what we did.

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