Tuesday, 29 March 2011

Food for thought: Pacing and the "Central Governor"

Worked from home today, which was nice. Had a seriously tedious task to do so couldn't face doing it in the confines of the office. Kitchen table is far nicer, brighter and warmer (with a full fridge in grabbing distance).

The task in hand was (yawn) web-based research, but not with an exciting purpose. So to reduce the tedium factor, I thought I'd catch-up on a few episodes of Marathon Talk
iTunes - Marathon Talk archive

For those not in know, Marathon Talk is a wonderful weekly podcast that does what is says on the tin, with some great interviews with many of the big names in running. I've only recently stumbled on the wonder that is MT so apologies to those long since on the band-wagon, but we've got to start somewhere and MT has helped me to lose myself further in the obsessive world of running.

So, food for thought. What exactly I am going on about? And is this going to turn into a horribly long unfocused scrawl? No, coz you can listen to the stuff yourself, which will be far better than any of my poor attempts to recreate it.

I'm only 12 days out now from my debut Marathon, saw my ears pricked up today when Martin and Tom starting discussing PACING: Choosing your Marathon pace

Click to listen: Marathon Talk - episode #62

The gist of it was:

  • Spend some time thinking honestly about what you really want from the race
  • Reflect on how your training has gone and consider what run condition you are in
  • Calculate a pacing strategy
  • Consider the potential risks of going too hard or too easy
  • Commit to your 'A' goal with 100% confidence and belief
This is well worth listening to as it really got me thinking about my plans for April 10th and making sure my plan for the day is as "sensible" as it can be when you are running 26.2miles before lunch. 

In discussing pacing the boys also touched on the question of the "central governor" which is something I've heard them bring up a few times and had a vague appreciation of what it was all about, but in doing so they mentioned a previous episode with Prof Tim Noakes (author of "The Lore of Running" and esteemed sports scientist) who is an exponent of the theory. So I tuned in and this was really fascinating...

Click to listen: Marathon Talk - episode #47 (starts at 33min40sec)

The central governor is a proposed process in the brain that regulates exercise in regard to a neurally calculated safe exertion by the body, so the brain has a big impact on fatigue impacting on muscle usage. The existence of a central governor is suggested to explain fatigue after and during prolonged strenuous exercise like in marathon.  Trust me, its a lot more interesting than my poor (and very brief) explanation.

Do listen, coz this was really really interesting, and on top of discussions about pacing gives the novice marathon runner (like myself) plenty of food for thought...

Saturday, 26 March 2011

What do you do that for?

Surely there's other things you can do? 

Doesn't it take up lots of time, it must be boring? 

Why? 

How many times have you heard those questions, or things similar?

Plennie L Wingo completed an 8,000mile walk backwards in 1932 from Santa Monica to Istanbul over a period of 517-days. Backwards!

In 2007, Rob Thompson skateboarded over 7,500miles from Switzerland to Shanghai in 463 days

Put alongside feats like this, there's nothing particularly unusual or dumbfounding about running 26.2miles, its practically tame by comparison.  Where and how do you get the idea to walk backwards for a year and a half?

I can "see how" Ben Carlin came up with the  idea to be the first person to drive an amphibious car around the world (admittedly it took him the best part of 8-years and cost him his marriage, but...), and opting to be the fastest person to run a mile in a bomb disposal suit as Lt. Jonathan Kehoe successfully did in 2009 in Iraq is an obvious challenge to take up - 10min16 wearing 34kg cannot be sniffed at.

Those are all feats of endurance and daring-do that deserve astonishment, incredulation and exclamations of "I couldn't do that". But why does the idea of running a marathon cause such comments of shock and awe? It's not easy and not to be underestimated, but its hardly an 8,000mile walk backwards.

Admittedly, there's nothing to stop any of us walking backwards from Santa Monica to the nearest bar outside Istanbul and thus toppling Plennie from the records, in the same way all of us can run, but I'd rather just pull on my Asics, dig in and drag my sorry arse 26.2miles. At least that way I can see where I'm going! Although, maybe Plennie would have said its nicer seeing where you've been.

Amazing what you can learn reading your son's Guinness Book of Records on the loo.

Friday, 18 March 2011

"Are you the runner?"

"Are you the runner?"

"Yes, I am."

I am. I am a runner.

I am you know. I feel safe to say, hand on heart, that I am a runner. Does that matter? Well, yes and no. Partially its about the journey I've started and will continue to take (sorry, if that line has you reaching for the sick-bag), but it's true.

I've jogged off and on (more 'of'' than 'on') in the past, without any real heart, dedication or goals, but also for many years thought I wanted to run a Marathon. Why? Because it seemed like a challenge and I wanted to be able to say I'd done it once (perhaps a long time ago). Why didn't I? Because it's a long way and when would I find the time always seemed worthwhile places to hide rather than walking the walk.

Funny how things change.

Watching the Brighton Marathon in April 2010 inspired me to sign up and "do" a Marathon. Why? a) because I wanted to be able to say I'd "done" it, b) I thought "with no disrespect, if you can I can", c) as I turned 37 I started to worry about getting old and wanted to stay "superhuman" a little bit longer in my kid's eyes.  But, the big one was probably so I could say I'd "done" it.

I have no intention now of "doing" a Marathon.

I'm about to run a Marathon.  My first Marathon in Brighton in April 2011.  I have no interest whatsoever in being able to say "I once did a marathon".  I intend to become a "Marathon Runner" and have dreams of times and places to achieve them. Hell, I've already signed up for my second Marathon and haven't even made by debut over 26.2 miles yet (I fully accept this may come back to haunt me and want bare a grudge if you say, "I told you so".)

Brighton on April 10th 2011 will just be the start (I hope). I've awakened something inside that I really do enjoy. I love the solitude of a long run, but equally it can be great to have a nice run and natter with friends, and as for seeing your kids at the side of a race as you bust your guts to run and run well, why wouldn't you want to see the look of their faces?  They say there's an addiction in running, and you know what they're right, and the best thing is it there for everyone if just have a quick peek to find it.

I started out on my long marathon journey last May dragging my sorry arse round the seafront for 3-miles and pushing myself to do a 5-miler at the weekend. Everyone has to start somewhere, and the threat/goal/fear/challenge of signing myself up for a 10km, Half and full Marathon gave me nowhere to hide.  That plus telling everyone I was going to run a Marathon, so pride could and would not let me back out and face the ridicule and behind-the-back sniggering.

With the Marathon 3-weeks away, I've moved out of jogging/dragging and into running.  I've pushed my half Marathon from 2hr14 down to 1hr49 in 3-months and really can't wait to run the Marathon. Don't get me wrong I have complete respect for the distance and the preparation I need to do, I'm not going to underestimate it, but I'm really enjoying the build up to it, and know I'll ultimately enjoy the day (even if my legs do start screaming after 20miles) and fully intend to run a lot more. The bug has got me in its grasp and I really hope it doesn't let go.

One of the things I love about running, is that I'm just running against me. I just trying to be a better runner than I was yesterday. If friends beat me then hat's off to them, because that's there run and this is mind, and while I may feel a tinge of envy at their spped I'll be glad for them. Likewise, if I'm faster than you it doesn't mean anything. Did you have a good run? Great, I will be really happy for you, because that's your run and you had a good one.

All I can do is try to be better than I was yesterday, and if friends do the same be that faster, on a par, or slower than me then I'll be overjoyed for each and everyone of them. And one of the truly great things in the last few months of running is friends, making new ones and reinforcing bonds with old friends, and no doubt non-running buddies thank the Lord that there's someone else now to listen to my "boring" running stories - so everyone's a winner.

As for me (and some may argue against this, which is fine and cool), the act of regularly going beyond 9-min miling made me feel wholeheartedly like a runner.  That's probably due to my own hang-ups, confidence issues than anything about anyone else, I'm not judging anyone but me and the maelstrom that exists in my head and what I needed to feel (don't hate me), but my first sub-2hr half made me think I'm jogging no more, I'm running and long may that continue.

So, after enduring all that god awful waffle, back to where we started...

..."Are you the runner?" she said in the school playground.
"Yes, I am".
"Great, I'll sponsor you, I think it's great what you are doing."

She'd read the exert in the school newsletter saying I was running the marathon for a charity focused on emergency disaster relief who are currently in Japan trying to help.

And she made me smile. Not a smug or conceited smile, but a smile because someone saw me as a runner.

http://www.justgiving.com/helpingjapan

Sunday, 13 March 2011

Running for Charity: Marathon to raise money for Japan Tsunami Victims

Please help and donate:
RUNNING MARATHON TO HELP JAPAN

My wife is Japanese & I spent several years living in Japan. Fortunately our family's not been directly affected, but hundreds of thousands have not been so lucky.

I am running my first Marathon on Sunday April 10th and my 8 year old son is running the kid's mile looking to break his PB of 6min35.

We want to do what we can to help the victims of the earthquake and tsunami. In the past I wondered whether, or for who I should run the Marathon, but this is disaster is something that feels close to home.  The images and news from Japan are heartbreaking, if we can something, no matter how small to help, then that will be great. We've therefore set-up a donations page via JustGiving:

"EMERGENCY SHELTER IS TOP PRIORITY IN JAPAN."

SHELTER BOX provides emergency shelter and life saving supplies to disaster zones around the world, and were on the ground to help within 24hrs.
The box: ShelterBox's solution in disaster response is as simple as it is effective. They deliver the essentials a family needs to survive in the immediate aftermath of a disaster. Each large, green ShelterBox is tailored to a disaster but typically contains a disaster relief tent for an extended family, blankets, water storage and purification equipment, cooking utensils, a stove, a basic tool kit, a children’s activity pack and other vital items.
The Japanese government have asked for international aid assistance in the wake of the recent 8.9 magnitude earthquake and subsequent tsunami. The latest reports coming out of Japan state that more than 215,000 people have been made homeless by the disaster with the need for emergency shelter being the top priority.

So SHELTER BOX is a great way to help these people.

Please help.

Donating through JustGiving is simple, fast and totally secure. Your details are safe with JustGiving – they’ll never sell them on or send unwanted emails. Once you donate, they’ll send your money directly to the charity and make sure Gift Aid is reclaimed on every eligible donation by a UK taxpayer. So it’s the most efficient way to donate - I raise more, whilst saving time and cutting costs for the charity.

So please dig deep and donate now.

Saturday, 5 March 2011

Tale of Two Runs

My first attempt at trail running...in glorious technicolour
With only 5-weeks to go to the Brighton Marathon, I wanted to do something a little different with my long run this week. I couldn't face another long slog up, down and around the seafront so decided to head up into the beautiful Sussex Downs for my first attempt a trail running.

Started at Devils Dyke with its stunning views across Sussex, unfortunately there were no handgliders soaring across the sky this morning, but the sun was out, the grass was green and it was a delightful change from urban running (even if you have a seafront to throw into the mix)...
...I wasn't quite sure exactly where I was going, but looking at the maps it seemed if I got to the Dyke and went "Left" (into the distance on the image) I'd eventually reach the River Adur which I could then follow down to Shoreham.

What a sense of liberation!

Warm weather and warm welcomes from passing hikers and mountain bikers - an absolute joy. Didn't need the iPod, just enjoyed the stillness and occasional sounds of being out in a lovely rural setting. I see why some of you do little more than trail run, this was a true delight, and I surprised myself by keeping up a respectable pace as well.

7-miles lovely miles that I didn't want to end, but end this had to as I went past the Hogwartsesque Lancing College as I came down the river into a busy Saturday afternoon high-street in Shoreham...
...and this is where the run went downhill (rapidly!)

First half of the run was a joy, second 7-miles a battle all the way. Not sure what happened, but the change in surroundings seemed to coincide horrendously with a very real change in my mental state. Seemed to lose a certain je ne sais quoi somewhere very quickly on the road to Brighton.

After the relaxation and stillness of the South Downs, I was now faced with a grim 4-mile stretch with industrial buildings on my left, a dour port on the right, constant traffic coming directly at me and wind coming straight through me.

Suddenly everything seemed tired, the kick wasn't there and all I really wanted to do was stop and go home.  "Luckily" the only way to get home was dig in, concentrate on left-right-left-right and run, coz while its not a nice place to run, its certainly not somewhere you want to be stuck walking.
Didn't help that I wasn't really sure where I was. I wasn't lost, I knew if I just went down the road I'd get to Brighton, but never having been along there before I had no landmarks from which to gage distance and boost what was dwindling confidence. Thankfully the port finally came to end, I knew where I was and feeling slightly buoyed I pushed on with the final 3miles to home, finishing with a sense of relief and into a bath my 4-year old would have described as "hurty hot".

Distance: 13.94miles
Time: 2:15:34
Avge Pace: 9:43

Friday, 4 March 2011

I know they smell, but kids can be quite inspirational...

...hold your horses!

Before you have a pop at me, let's face it most children of a certain age do have a natural disdain for cleanliness. Dunking your head quickly under the water or running wet hands through your hair to make it look wet, does not constitute "washing your hair" - I know! I did it when I was there age. Luckily for them Mrs. W hasn't quite caught on to these devious machinations yet, and I'm quite content to accept a certain degree of general grubbiness.  After all trying to actually keep them "clean" at 8 and 4 is a losing battle anyway, so you might as well roll with the punches a little.

But, back to the point of today's waffling self-indulgent post.  The little blighters can be astonishingly inspiring as well (even though I know/bet/reckon) they don't realise it.

I'm still slightly in awe of Oli's 6:35mile at age 8, and as I readied myself for a cold blustery run last night he chirped up with, "Dad, I want to run a 4-minute mile".

And he meant it!

Admittedly he doesn't yet understand or appreciate the iconic ramifications of running a 4-minute mile, but this is the man/boy/thing who announced his displeasure at only running 6:35 because he wasn't tired so should have gone faster (can't fault his logic), and has now set his sights on going sub-6 at Brighton Marathon's mile race. "Do you think I can?" What else can you say to such dashing, but offer up "You can do anything you put your mind to".  Which let's face it is true, and somebody has to run a 4-minute mile, but lets get there one step (or giant leap) at a time.

Anyway, fuelled by the impudence of planning to ravage a 4-minute mile, I set off on my run like an idiot. Not in green and red jester uniform or howling at the moon, but a far better idiom...like a bat out of hell!


Only then did I realise the stupidity of this, and the elementary mistake I'd made in buying into the idea of 4-minute miles. A banged out the first mile in 8:26 then reality struck..."bloody hell, I've got to keep this up".  I didn't of course (have to keep it up I mean), but it just feels wrong to run mile-1 at "pace x" then slow down immediately, so in true idiot mode I stubbornly dug in and hung on for grim life.

And hang in I did, for 10km, blindly running 8:26, 8:22, 8:03, 8:05, 8:00, 7:39 then 7:07 for final 0.2mile, which is a tidy progression if I do say so myself, finishing in 50:03...

...so close!!!

So close to pulling my first sub-50 10km out of the bag, a bag I didn't even know I had and would have left behind without Oli's sense of right at running 4-min miles. Suddenly the idea of running a sub-50min 10km is tantalising close, somewhere I must be able to find a handful of seconds to dip below that mark - there's bound to be couple lost down the back of the sofa. But pace is funny isn't it?  I don't mean funny ha ha, but the idea of building up enough steam (without the mother of all winds behind me) to run sub-50 has seemed a very very long way off.  The idea of running a sub-2hr half, or even a sub-4hr marathon has recently struck me as being easier then going sub-50.  And yes I know the pace is slower for both, but I'd rather dig in and try to maintain 9-min pace for 26.2miles then try to keep up 8-min for 6.2miles.

Where you are supposed to find that extra kick from.  I guess practice and a lot of miles is the key, but having recently run 1:49:22 for the Brighton Marathon, the idea of finding an extra 20-seconds a mile seemed ridiculous.  I was quite frankly hanging-out at the end of that one. Give me a longer run any day.  This might seem daft, but it just feels easier. I work out my rough route beforehand and just head off, it'd "do my head in" (for want of better English) to start thinking about half-way points and the finish on a long run because quite frankly its miles away. So focus on left-right-left-right and we'll worry about where we are in an hour or two.  Whereas if I'm running, like last night, on a time dictated run (hour while the little man was at karate class), I start of thinking about the finish from the off. Daft I know, but all the way I'm conscious of my position versus the finish.

Having done a few of each, give me the choice tomorrow and I'll take your Half-Marathon Race over a 10km race without a thought. Maybe its just me, but it just seems much harder, and I'm not sure I particularly enjoy as anything more than a midweek run to blow cobwebs away.  I'll get that sub-50 sooner or later, but then I'll forget about it and plot/dream/aspire to 4hr marathons and just running as far as my little legs will carry me ("little legs" is of course poetic license, lets face it, it sounds good - but at 6'4" there's nothing little about my 2 stilts.)

Heart was pounding at the end, but everything was back in working order very quickly after I'd finished.  Run was cold as hell and very blustery which might have helped with timing, but given that it was coming behind, upfront, sideways and even up my nose I'm surprised I didn't finish in Oz, but above all it was fun.  The end hurt, but it was a good hurt. A strain, but nice to feel yourself going that "fast", my fastest yet, apparently hitting 5:52 pace at one point (although I don't remember falling off a wall, so not sure how I built up that speed).

Finished my run, snaffled a Mars bar then picked up his Lordship from karate in time to see some pretty impressive spinning roundhouse kicks and we strolled home putting the world to rights.