Tuesday, 31 May 2011

This weekend brought home why I run...

Just so you're clear about this, the next few hundred words aren't a self-congratulatory w*nk-fest...I mean it is a tiny bit of a slap-on-the-back to self, but that's not the point behind this drivel.

The point is...
...well I'm not exactly sure, coz I haven't really thought this post through before starting to type and just figured I'd kill a few minutes before going to the pub. But there's is a point in here somewhere (probably).

Thinking back over this weekend, it's exactly why I started running (or at least one of the reasons). After a couple of years of pretending, April 2010 was the point I made a concerted decision to start jogging and see where it would take me. There was the ambition of "doing" a marathon, but equally high on the list was the fear of becoming a boring sedentary dad with two young children and having neither the patience nor fitness to really enjoy them, and worse keep up with them.

So, why was this weekend so good?

A year or so ago, by the end of the working week I'd be tired, more than likely a bit grumpy, probably looking for a place to hide, and definitely in need of putting my feet up.

This week I drank far too much on Friday night (should know better at 38, but...) then got up Saturday morning before the family and hungover, sweated my way to 4miles @8:25 pace in shoes that felt like planks of wood, did 10-miles in new shoes on Sunday in a new 1:23:06 PB, then another 8miles @8:26 pace on tired legs on the Monday morning.

But that's not why I was happy. Having blasted out the hangover Saturday I got home to take my 8yr old to his karate class, collected him then took kids to a Kite Festival in the afternoon at a country park. Few more beers Saturday night with a BBQ and the unfortunate demise of Manchester United in the CL Final, then up Sunday morning for the PB ending at the pool to meet my dad and the kids for a good old-fashioned mess about in the pool and on the water-slides, walked to town for lunch then back home and up to the park for a game of football. Monday was another 8-miles then a mile+ walk to a local park for their annual Fair then home again for tea.

As I said at the outset, this is not meant to be a "look at me, aren't I a great dad" posting. I'm not. (And please don't think the "I'm not" is a cunning tactic to make you say "you are", I really not that shallow (honestly)). It's just about achieving running goals that are not about distances or times, and are actually the most important goals of all, but equally the ones most easily forgotten or unacknowledged.  Quite simply a year ago I just wouldn't have had that energy nor the appetite for it.

The point (knew there was one here somewhere) is that I might still be a boring dad (that's the bit where you can disagree with me) with 2 children, but I ain't sedentary no more!

Sunday, 29 May 2011

can it ever be enough...

...can you ever be really satisfied?

Annihilated my 10-mile PB this morning romping home in 1:23:06, taking a whopping 4mins21seconds off my previous best time for the distance. The initial wave of jubilation was rapidly replaced with that nagging thought that surely over 10-miles I could have found an extra 7seconds and got inside the 1hr22mins instead. Maybe I should just write it off as a 1:22:66 10-miler, but...

...it brings me back to a question I've wondered about for the a while. Is it ever enough? Can you ever be truly satisfied and can you ever run fast enough?

Without an eye-ball popping, lung-bursting final exhausted lurch over the line just as you're about to bonk there must reasonably be something left in the tank. Therefore you must be able to go quicker. So if you smash a PB, surely its not completely selfish to want more and think "bugger, why couldn't I have done 1:22:59". The fact that I could finish the run at the local pool and then take my kids swimming means there must have been at least 7-seconds left in the tank.

Don't get me wrong, I'm not complaining, this really isn't a moan and I am believe it or not happy, but it does make me wonder at point as a runner can you be satisfied. When do you think, "fine that'll do, I'm not bothered if I ever run faster than today." At some point in the future the legs will slow down, but surely even then you can't help but think, "damn, should have gone a little quicker this morning".

As for this morning's run, it's amazing the difference a new pair of shoes can make. My old Asic Gel Nimbus 12s had just eeked there way beyond the 400-mile mark and were starting to feel like two planks of wood strapped to my feet. Running for the last couple of weeks has ceased being much fun, every jaunt seemed to require more work than the last and the resulting aches and pains remove every last morsel of fun from dragging my 6'4" 87kg frame up and down the seafront.
Ultimately gave in, brushed off the credit card yesterday and invested in a new shiny pair of the same Asic's model and immediately set out this morning with an added spring in the step. I'm sure some of its merely a psychological lift from wearing new shoes, but from the word go the run was easier than it has been for weeks, the opening 2-miles uphill with a 230ft+ increase in elevation were knocked off in a record (for little old me) 8:47, 8:34 and from that point on I never looked back gradually getting quicker as the run levelled out and finishing the last mile in 7:47 with the majority into a 20mph headwind.

Felt like the running mojo had returned, 1:23:06 of very enjoyable running in fairly hum-drum conditions, but its amazing (or not when you consider how easy we [me] are to please) the difference to your outlook a PB can bring.

But is it really fast enough? The problem with dropping from a 1:27 to nearly 1:22 is that sub-1hr20 is now tantalisingly close. Not close enough that I don't fully appreciate the difficulty of finding and maintaining an extra 19 seconds per mile (not going to find that down the back of the sofa), but its now a mark that's difficult to ignore. I just went out this morning for a stretch in new shoes, but now...

...the new time isn't fast enough. I can't rest, I didn't mean to do it (honest guv'), I wasn't trying to run that quick, but now I've got a new goal ingrained on the insides of the eyeballs. And that probably won't be quick enough either.


Wednesday, 25 May 2011

Does running stop me going doolally?

Felt fit to bursting this morning...tense, anxious and generally feeling pissed off at pretty much everything beyond the front door. Hard to explain just how hacked off I felt this plus the onset of feeling over-whelmed...

...so, went for a run and ran myself into the ground for the first 3miles. Ran out of steam, but felt so much better. Had to stop-start a little during mile-4 to stretch out a couple of times and pace dropped off, but still came home with 5miles in the bag in 39:40 at a tidy sub-8 pace. Not that I care about distance, pace, splits today, it was all about exorcising demons today, and god did I feel better when I got home...

...knackered, but a damn site better than I had less than an hour previously.

Which got me thinking; does running stop me going doolally?

After a couple of, what for me was, big weeks I elected for a few days rest to try and get some zip back into the legs, but 3-days of non-running had me literally climbing the walls. Not with impatience, but something slightly darker. Maybe its me (well obviously it is), but it was "interesting" to see the  negative effect 3-days of doing nothing had on the old grey matter.

One of the reasons I started running was as a means to counter some of this negativity, I'd tried a few other things and realised running was cheaper, heatlthier and more effective, but I guess I'd forgotten that. So much of year-1 was taken up with obsessing about the debut marathon, but with that now behind me I thought the main thing I'd learnt was that what appeals to me most is the personal-challenge of long distances rather than time/speed over short run.  That's not gone away, there is a perverse fascination with the sheer challenge of running-long, but today I've realised just how important running is to achieving a healthy mind.

I'm going to keep running, coz there's plenty more marathons I want to run and challenges I need to set myself, but what I want most in life is the feeling around 1pm when I'd run myself into the ground for 5-miles rather than the wall climbing loon of 11am this morning.

Guess it can be a slippery slope at times, but that's why hill-sprints are so important...

Sunday, 15 May 2011

SuperHeroes and a year of running...

...May 2010 and the Heroes Run signified my first race  after taking the decision I wanted to be less of a lard-arse and complete a Marathon. Didn't have the fitness, balls or gumption to try more than the 5km race and finished hanging-out in 27:55, not too ridiculous a time, but I remember it being bloody hard work.

What it was, was the start of a year of "proper" running, building from those 5km/3mile days to a point where I could tackle my first Marathon in April 2011. Fear of a mid-life crisis was what led me to register for the Marathon, and it seemed fitting to therefore mark this year's birthday with a long run (that turned into marathon distance for the "hell of it"), but also to run the Heroes Run again, and this time make sure it was the 10km race...
...how can you not have fun in this?

A great race, with a great atmosphere and great people; really what more could one ask for?

Managed to complete the run in 51:29 just 18secs short of my PB, which given I was wearing ill-fitting ladies tights and a very non-wickable T-shirt (plus I'd run 26miles 3days before), ain't to bad. The best thing was I knew from about 3/4mile into the race that my legs were tired, and so for the first time I can sense that a sub-50 10km is achievable. Seemed eye-poppingly, lung-bustingly impossible before, but now, just maybe I can feel its within my grasp.
You can see my waving like a fool to the other side 15secs in, but forget me focus on the costumes & fun...

Today was just pure unadulterated fun, wasn't trying to run quick but found myself towards the start of the race and just hung on in there, finishing somewhere in the 60s for places out of several hundred fun-runners (would have been annihilated in a serious race) and had a finishing straight smackdown with the silver surfer which doesn't happen everyday...
...can't actually remember what happened, but let's say for the sake of argument that I beat him.

Costume were great on the day, my favourite being Spiderman and Venom chasing each other down the finishing straight squirting silly-string at each other. Unfortunately Mr Testicle Man was nowhere to be seen this year, which was a shame, although helpful in avoiding awkward questions from the kids about what his special powers are...

Huge amounts of fun from the day and what made me most proud was watching my 8yr old son come in 8th out of around 200 runners in the 8-13yr old kids 500m race. Given that the 5 in front were bigger, I'd wager he was the fastest 8yr old in town today...

...as the day has worn on though, one think that has really struck me and crystallised in my mind as an absolute truth is that I look like a total tit in tights!
...there really is just NO need for that!

Friday, 13 May 2011

Birthday Trail Run: 26.3miles

What a journey, not just today, but the last 12-months.
This time last year I turned 37 and with more than just a hint of impending midlife-crisis signed up for the Brighton Marathon. Seemed fitting to therefore mark my 38th birthday with a nice long run. 

And what a run it was...26.3miles of trail running in 5:52:14, flying solo, all on me own, with nothing but sun-tan lotion, vaseline, compeed, deep heat, toilet roll (why?), a book (for train), gillet, spare T-Shirt, 2 drinks, 2 ham sandwiches, 3 gels, a Cliff Bar, and wallet for emergencies...talk about "adventurous"! Not exactly blistering pace, but hey this was an off-the-cuff marathon, and a trail one at that.
Wanted to take advantage of local trails here in Sussex, and having signed up for Trail-Blaze, I decided to test myself on the South Downs Way rather than the usual road running. This trail running malarkey is bloody hard work though...
...ye gods those hills were knackering, but what a beautiful setting on a glorious late Spring day.

Sea was an azure blue, hills were a vivid green, fields full of buttercups, really quite breathtaking. Having been dumbfounded on the train by a bunch of teenagers arguing over whether everything below London is in fact East of London and that is why Eastbourne is called "East"bourne because its in the East of England, the concept of South seemed to completely pass all of them by, the run started with a monster climb up from Eastbourne and along the rolling Downs to Beachy Head.  

Before I got under way however I had to finish my prep, which meant hiding round the back of a cafe at the foot of the first hill full of happy smiling pensioners enjoying a cuppa who I didn't think would appreciate watching me vas my bum-crack...couldn't miss the first Trail-Blaze checkpoint and away I went...
...after Beachy Head it was along the Seven Sister. Oh my god, the steepness was ridiculous, running down them was actually quite frightening in places, and by golly was I glad when the last one was behind me...
...they might have been sisters, but I bet they were a right bunch of bitches! 

Having left the heartbreaking ups and downs of the sisters, the trail headed inland up through a crop of woodland and through a couple of delightful picture-book villages. Managed to get lost in a forest, got myself back on track, but rather than making up time I then got blocked at a path gate by a very large lip-rolling horse, who was giving me the equine equivalent of the "piss off Ginger" look. Couldn't get him to move for love nor money (not that I was going to spare any of him/her) and had to resort to climbing over the fence so that I then landed right behind what looked like an extremely powerful pair of hind-legs and rock-hard looking hooves...sure I remember reading that's not the best place to find yourself. 

Still I was lightening fast and away across the field before he knew what was happening, down into another quaint village and then along a river bank to the lovely town of Alfriston, running through the Cookmere Valley and past the Chalk Horse on the hillside...
...'twas about 10miles to Alfriston, but then the wind picked up (and didn't let up for rest of the run, 16-miles of headwind aint fun) and the skies turned more than a tad grey. Plodded along to Southease, which was fairly dull, but by this point I'd slipped beyond "ooh, isn't the countryside lovely", into thinking "bloody hell these hills are a bugger" so called on the motivational wonder of Martin and Tom at MarathonTalk, which if nothing else gave me the chance to try my knew Sennheiser Sport headphones. 2 episodes of MT made the next 3hours and 16-miles far more bearable. 

Had wondered before start about bailing at Southease and getting train home, but was relieved to see it was once an hour and that I'd just missed it, so nought to do but keep running/plodding. Final leg back towards Brighton was easier terrain, but was feeling pretty tired by now. One highlight being passing through the Meridian Line, enabling me to stand with one leg in the Western Hemisphere and the other in the Eastern Hemisphere - cool!

Suddenly turned a corner, came over a rise and saw an urban mass in front of me which gave me a great lift, the end was in sight and with it a Trail-Blaze "Orange" band to distinguish a "Hard" level run. Get in! Jogged down the hill into a farmyard, inquired whether the farm down the road was Housedean Farm and was met with a look of bewilderment. Repeated myself and said, "you know just before you get into Falmer" gesturing towards the houses beyond...

..."That's not Falmer love, that's Saltdean!"


What a wally! Obviously got lost somewhere, not sure where, but was miles out of the way. Oh well, while an Orange band would be nice, it would clash terribly with my Ginger hair, and today was much more about the challenge of running a marathon solo - knowing I could do it is what mattered, the band will wait. 

Ran through Saltdean smiling at my cock-up, hit the seafront and ran a final mile or so to nearby Rottingdean bringing up the marathon difference (all but final 2miles on trails) and the joy of Coke and a Mars. 

Couldn't be arsed to wait for a bus, jumped in a taxi to meet my friend in the pub for a triumphant birthday pint, then home to family for birthday cake and presents.  
Awesome day!

Since my debut at the Brighton Marathon, I've been itching to go the distance again, yes I know this was not competitive, but the Great God Garmin tracked it and I'm claiming it.  Feels great to have run the distance again, needed to prove a point to myself, not sure what or why, but... 

Today was not about time, pace or anything else, it was just a personal challenge...could I wake-up, head out solo and run a marathon distance, with the added complication of pulling that off over trails. (Although, I was thinking it'd be cool to pull that off in sub-6hrs this morning)

Very chuffed, a very enjoyable day...and I guess now I need to do it again without getting lost and bag that clashing Orange band. Not many family and friends can understand why, but what a belting way to spend my birthday!

Friday, 6 May 2011

First lost toenail...

...had to say goodbye to my good friend TONE ALE, we've become quite attached to each other over the years

I feel like I've now passed another point in the journey to being a runner. 4-weeks after my debut Marathon, its finally fallen off. Well when I say "fallen" I mean my 4-year old daughter has ripped it off...much to her amusement.

Nothing more to say on the subject. Quite chuffed actually!

Wednesday, 4 May 2011

What motivated you to start running?

Was the dailymile mission for the day.

A year ago it was a conscious decision to change aspects of my life. That is the point from which I see myself gradually "becoming" a runner.

A few years previously I'd toyed with jogging/running, but with no real desire/ambition/enthusiasm or point. I'd try for a couple of months then "forget" about it for considerably longer. I'd tell myself I wanted to lose weight, get fit or "do" a marathon (so I could chalk it off "the list"), but never really believed in the reasons and was more than happy to let a couple of vague attempts at starting drift away to nothingness with nothing to motivate me.

Back end of 2009 I was feeling unhappy at work, under stress, panic stricken and not very able to talk about it. I'd have a few drinks to try to combat the issue, but knew that wasn't really going to work and that ultimately the depressive aspects of the alcohol only made some days worse. I wasn't drinking to excess (far from it), but was using it to try and control things in my life. For Christmas that year I asked for a 10wk introductory tai-chi course, which suddenly made a wonderful difference. Although only once a week, I started to feel a lot better about myself and it helped combat some of the issues and self-doubt that were getting on top of me. The feeling of calm and balance it brought to my life also convinced me to jog again - only a couple of miles here and there, but it ignited a sense of wanting to be healthier in body and spirit, and an appreciation of what I did have in my life.

I then woke up one morning and ran 5miles thoroughly enjoying every moment of it, and then awoke the following the day to the inaugural Brighton Marathon. Hadn't really registered that it was the day and stumbled onto it by accident, but watching it was wonderfully inspiring and actually quite an emotional experience.

A few weeks later turning 37 I decided "doing" a marathon was a far cheaper way to deal with an impending mid-life crisis than buying a sport car, getting a pneumatic blonde, or even taking up cycling. Watching the race, made me want to share in that experience, and ultimately be able to say "I'd done it".

Hitting 37 got me thinking about life as well, wanting to be healthier, fitter and to be an active inspiring father to my children. But...

...running for the last year has taken me far beyond these initial thoughts and one-off goal.

In the last year I think running has made me a far happier and centred person, I think I'm enjoying and appreciating life a lot more, and I'd like to hope/think/dream that I'm a better father, husband, brother and friend, but that's for others to say.

I've found that rather than just wanting to "do" a marathon and chalk it off the list of life's experiences I love the freedom and feeling that running brings me. I know I'm fitter, but also know there's a long way to go physically to improve. I ran my first marathon at Brighton in April 2011 one-year after watching the inaugural race, and while it was not the race I wanted, it will most surely not be a one-off. The second marathon is paid for and training awaits, but I won't stop there, I will keep running marathons and keep the sense of pleasure and fulfilment it brings, long gone are the days of simply wanting to "do" a marathon.

The last year has taught me to challenge myself, to push the boundaries of what I can achieve, to keep the demons at bay, and realise that in most of life as in running, its not about competing against others, its about running against myself.  All I can hope is to be a better runner today than I was yesterday; likewise if I can be a better person than I was yesterday than I can say I've achieved something. It's not easy, but then its not supposed to be.

The challenge, the drive, the persistence, the relief, the satisfaction, the accomplishment and the happiness is where motivation now lies, and while it's taken 37years and an expensive pair of trainers to realise it, I'm glad I have.  I want to be better and I will become better. I want to be healthier, fitter and there for my children as a strong active father they can be proud of.

Running has started to crystallise this and bring substance to what was previously easily said, but seldom done.

Sunday, 1 May 2011

new 10-mile PB and no Gingerbread Man

after the discomfort of running with the Gingerbread Man for the whole 5miles yesterday, I made sure he was well and truly banished to the furthest point of the u-bend this morning. Having been recently convinced to start running Saturday/Sunday with the longer run on Sunday, to get used to running on "tired legs", the plan was to just get through 10miles this morning - or at least that's what the new training plan dictated.

Had no real game plan other than to just get back to the 10mile/double figure running without contemplating pace or anything else; 3-weeks now since the Brighton Marathon and feel like the legs, lungs and head are coming back to form, rhythm and confidence.

Beautiful sunny morning and decided to start with 2-miles heading out of town (over 200ft climb) to bring me to edge of Downs, before dropping back to seafront and along to the swimming pool to meet my dad with the kids for a post-run swim. Figured running uphill to start would help to control the run, but hit the top of the hill in under 9min pace having found a nice rhythm and form very quickly as I relaxed into an episode of Marathon Talk.

Felt great for the first time in 3-weeks of running, possibly helped by knowing I was in it for the long(ish) haul today rather than getting side-tracked about start/middle/finish in short runs - I prefer running long so much more than shorter distances. Held a really steady pace throughout the entire run and came home in 1:27:27 for a new 10-mile PB by 2:30mins; which was a cracking outcome. Felt "in the zone" for the entire run, which as you'll know is a great feeling when it happens.

Granted it's a non-competitive PB, but there's not a huge number of 10-mile races to choose from and the Great God Garmin tracked it so take it as a PB for the distance I shall.

Feeling very content after that run. Legs were in pretty good shape following yesterday's 5miles and the 5hours after it spent walking with the kids round a nature reserve, so to do 10miles with a new PB is a very nice outcome.

Felt pretty dazed for the past few weeks post-Marathon, but this week with 2 hard speed sessions in the week and now two good weekends run has me feeling like I'm back in the groove and looking forward to tackling some more races over the next couple of months (2 Halfs and a 10km) before starting the training schedule for October's Osaka Marathon. It's interesting to see how much running a marathon and running yourself into the ground takes out of you, first couple of weeks were very hard, and I know its "only" 3-weeks, but it feels nice to be back running-happy.

Great run, good swim (my 4yr old did her first full length of the pool doing breaststroke) and now for roast Turducken for tea - yummy! (Chicken in a duck in a turkey).