Am I getting slower………….and is this a good thing?

I have read time and time again, that to get better as a long distance endurance athlete you need to run/cycle/swim more slowly.

The idea is that I should be exercising at an intensity that I could hold a conversation with somebody.  That my heart rate is up, but not up too much.  That I am in “Zone 2”, meaning that my heart rate is in that sweet spot for maximising aerobic capacity.

I usually run my training runs with a heart rate monitor, so keeping track of my heart rate is relatively easy.  Using a calculation taken from the Don Fink book “Be Iron Fit’, and having achieved a maximum heart rate whilst running of 191bpm (just after crossing the line at the Great South Run following a sprint finish), I know that I need to keep my heart rate under 162bpm to stay in the magical “aerobic zone”.

Borrowing further from Rich Roll, who mentions in his excellent book “Finding Ultra” the need for him to slow down his training speed to get fitter for the mega endurance events, I have concentrated on keeping my heart rate at around the 140-145 mark.  This feels about right to me.  I am not out of breath, feel like I can run forever at this pace but am still getting a reasonable workout.  At least I think I am.  But there is one problem.  I am getting slower.

Using good old Strava (click the link to follow me), I can keep an eye on my runs and track if I am getting quicker or not.  Almost universally, I seem to be getting slower.  Despite now running 5 days a week and concentrating on keeping in Zone 2, I am definitely getting slower.

I keep telling myself that perhaps this is not such a bad thing.  Perhaps you have to get slower before you get quicker.  After all, I am not trying to break any world records.  That being said, it would be nice to at least feel that I am fitter and faster than I was two years ago.  I simply must be fitter.  There is no way you can do the amount of training I have done over the last two years and not get fitter.  I have done an Ironman for God sakes.  The problem is, the evidence just does not show this.

In April 2015 I was well over a stone (7kg) heavier than I am now, but I ran the Brighton Marathon in 2015 a full 4 minutes quicker than I ran it just a couple of weeks ago.  I am lighter than I was in 2015 and am almost certainly fitter, but I am slower.  All of my runs on Strava are tracking slower too.

If anybody out there is reading this and has experienced something similar, please get in touch and let me know.  I am especially intrigued to know if you did eventually get faster, or if I am destined to be the slowest fit person in England.

I really hope it is not the latter.

TTFN

Snooky

 

Marathon 1 of 13 – Brighton Marathon – race report

It’s 4:30am and my alarm has just gone off.  Must be time for the Brighton Marathon.

The first thing you might wonder is why the hell have I gotten up at 4.30am for a marathon that doesn’t start until 9.30am.  Well I would like to say it is because I like to be super organised, but the real reason is a much longer story.  To save you from all that, lets just say that I was supposed to stay locally to Brighton for the marathon, but due to one of my kids being ill and a few other unforeseen circumstances I had to stay at home in Portsmouth.  So the early alarm call was to give me time to drive to Brighton and get parked before they shut the roads at 7am.

So following my drive to Brighton I was all parked up at 6.30am and meeting with Nicky from Chestnut Tree House for a taxi up to the marathon start, which is at Preston Park.  Whilst loitering around on the street waiting for her, there was an unusual mix of people about.  Littered amongst the lycra clad, bag carrying marathon runners were a few guys and girls who were just getting home from their night out.  I fondly recalled that I used to be one of those revellers.  Now I get my kicks from getting up early and running marathons.  Funny how times change.

Anyway, soon enough I had met up with Nicky and some of the Chestnut volunteers and was on my way in a taxi to the start.

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We were soon set up in our spot by the clock tower, and in dribs and drabs my fellow runners started to arrive.  Some were running the 10k, with others running the marathon like me.  As I watched everybody go about their pre-marathon rituals, pinning numbers to their vests and chatting about how much training they had done, I was delighted to see so many runners supporting the charity which I love.  Chestnut and St Barnabas had over 300 runners this year, which is hugely impressive.

Soon I was deep into conversation (well mainly banter really) with Mark, Martin, Dave and Josh who I have all met through Chestnut.  None of us are expert runners, but we are all equally dedicated to Chestnut / St Barnabas and fundraising for such a great cause. It was lovely to talk to them before the race.  Martin was only supporting, as he has London Marathon in a couple of weeks.  Mark was running the 10k with Dave, Josh and I all running the marathon.

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L-R Me, Dave and Josh

Soon it was time to make our way down to the start corrals and await the off.  There were a lot of people around.  Having not run at Brighton in 2016 I was amazed how much more busy the event had got since 2015.  There were literally 10’s of 1000’s of runners in all shapes and sizes.  I said goodbye to Dave and Josh (who were in a different starting group to me) and made my way into the yellow starting wave.  Each wave is seeded depending on your predicted finish time.  I had gone for a very ambitious 4-4.30 finishing time group.  A 4.30 marathon would probably be my best possible effort, but nothing ventured nothing gained……..right?

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You can see the yellow hoop of my starting group in the distance

Once the white and green waves had gone, the yellow group shuffled slowly towards the starting line.  There was a real buzz in the air, with people cheering and shouting.  Despite this, I had an overwhelming sense of sadness wash over me.  I run to raise money for Chestnut Tree House.  Chestnut care for children with life shortening conditions.  The children they care for rarely make it to adulthood.  I was thinking about those kids, what their lives must be like and the wonderful work that Chestnut do to enrich them and a tear formed in the corner of my eye.  It is an honour to run for Chestnut, and the weight of this honour fell deeply on my soul at this moment.

Slowly as we inched closer to the start it was time to start jogging and over the line I went.  2 years ago I started the marathon far too fast and paid the price, so I started nice and slowly at my target pace of 6:30 per km.  We were off and running, and as we made our way round the park and off towards Brighton the sun was shining and it was a great day to be a runner.  I felt fit (despite my lack of training) and was excited about the race.

Sticking closely to my pace through the first 5km, and then past 10km I was running well and feeling good.  The crowd was noisy and all was well.  Rather amusingly, due to wearing a back pack you could not quite see my name properly on my top.  As you can see from the pictures, it looks like I have Nooky written on my top rather than Snooky.  This lead to many smiles from me as the crowd shouted out “go on Nooky”.  Some people were a bit quizzical about me having Nooky on my top, but never the less the crowd were cheering and shouting my name.

All of this was brilliant. All except for one thing.  It was very very hot.  For so early in the morning (around 10:30am at this point) it was really warm.  The forecast had been for up to 23 degrees.  I had no idea how hot it was, but it was easily 20 degrees at this point and was only going to get hotter.

As we proceeded out onto the seafront for the long slog towards Ovingdean, the heat became very real indeed.  There was a light breeze blowing into our faces, but the sun was relentless and I was ploughing though my water bottle and topping it up at every aide station.  Others were clearly suffering in the heat too, and you could hear the mutterings of other runners all around, all saying how hot it was.  Having almost no experience of running marathons in the heat, I decided to keep my pace steady, concentrate on drinking a lots of water, and keep on going.

Turning around at Ovingdean and back towards the pier to complete the half marathon, I was still feeling good but was very worried about the heat and the impact it might be having on me.  For the relevant pace I was going, my heart rate was about 15-20bpm higher than it should have been.  I took this as a sure sign that the weather was taking it’s toll on me and was starting to fear that I was running into trouble.  Sometimes, it sucks to be right.

Running relatively strongly past the 15 mile marker I started to suffer.  I was so hot.  Ridiculously hot.  It must have been in the mid 20’s (or it certainly felt like it) and I was struggling.  There was no choice but to start a walk/run strategy.  Giving my heart rate a chance to slow down a bit whilst walking was a good idea, and God. knows I needed a bit of a rest.  I continued this strategy through the 18 mile mark, started to feel a bit stronger and picked up the pace.

All the way round my friend Sarah (who was there supporting her girlfriend Liz) had been bumping into me and she gave me a little pep talk as I approached the dreaded power station section.  My hip flexors had given up by this point (as they often do) and I lamented to her that perhaps one day I will get them sorted.  Haven’t managed this yet in 3 years of endurance racing, but you never know.

As I got to the power station the heat started to become very real.  There were fellow runners conking out everywhere.  People were laid on the ground.  Many were repeatedly being sick and there were St Johns Ambulance people all over the place.  Those volunteers do a great job, but I definitely did not want to see one up close.  I knew my wife would be worried about me running in the heat, so I gave her a call at this point.   Usually I would not have my phone whilst running, but I have been practicing wearing my race backpack that I will use on the ultra marathon, so had my phone close at hand.

Cat was very glad to hear from me, and as I walked along talking to her she reminded me that this was my first marathon of 13 this year, and all I needed to do was finish not “kill myself” on the first one.  I took her counsel well, and proceeded with my walk run strategy round the power station.  As we got to mile 22, I tucked in behind a couple who were running together.  The man had an M-dot tattoo on his left calf, meaning he had completed an Ironman triathlon in the past.  I have a very similar tattoo myself, so decided that I would stick with him and he could pace me to the finish.  Sticking close behind the couple for a couple more miles, I then walked the first half of mile 24 before deciding to run to the finish.

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Almost done

As the saying goes, “the best laid plans of mice and men often go astray”, and I could not maintain the run for that long.  I was clearly way more dehydrated than I had thought, so after one more brief walk I ran the final mile and crossed the line in 5:07.

Bearing in mind the ridiculous heat, I was very pleased with the time.  Sadly I felt absolutely awful when I stopped running and had to make my way to the Chestnut Tree House tent in the event village for a well earned packed of crisps and a nice cold coke.  Following on from this I felt OK again, and reflected back on what I now consider to be my hardest ever marathon.  I have run much hillier races, an also run a marathon at the end of an Ironman after swimming 2.4 miles and cycling 112, but Brighton this year was definitely physically my toughest.

I guess I just don’t do too well in the heat.  Still I have learnt some valuable lessons from this marathon, and will take these with me into my next marathon, the Three Forts Challenge, on the 30th April (3 weeks time).  This will pose a whole new set of problems, with over 1000 metres of climbing over the 27 mile course.  Let’s hope it’s not so hot!

As always, I would like to say a massive thank you to the amazing Chestnut Tree House supporters who turned up in the heat to cheer us all on.  Also a huge thanks to my wife Cat, who was busy spamming Facebook with updates as my race unfolded, trying to get the sponsorship money flowing.

So with one marathon under my belt, and 12 more to go (including two ultra marathons), it is time for me to sign off and get my head into gear for the next short burst of training before the 30th.  Hope you are all well.

TTFN

Snooky

PS – if you can please share my website using the buttons below or in the column on the left I would be hugely grateful. I really want to raise as much money as I can for Chestnut and everybody who shares this on Facebook, Twitter or any other social media will be helping raise much needed money for this hugely deserving charity.

Thank you.

I feel my epic journey has finally begun

This morning I sent out my first Facebook post to start the ball rolling on my fundraising for my 13 marathons in 12 months challenge.

It is always strangely nerve wracking trying to raise money for charity.  In 2015 I set a very ambition fundraising target and managed to hit it (see article here).  This year I am trying for even more.  To better what I achieved in 2015.

You never know whether people are going to be inspired to donate or not.  You cannot tell whether your story is interesting enough, or people will care as much as you do about the charity you support.

All I want is to do Chestnut Tree House proud.  It truly is an amazing place, full of inspirational people and some of the loveliest people I have ever met work for them.  The care that they provide is second to none, and without them there would be 100’s of children with life limiting illnesses that would receive nothing.  No care at all, during what must be an awful time in their lives.

Fingers crossed this fundraising goes well.  Fingers crossed people are inspired.  Fingers crossed that me, one man, can successfully run 13 marathons in 12 months and raise a bucket load of cash for a very deserving cause.

Follow the link below to see more about my fundraising, or click here to read about it on this website.

Humbly yours.

Snooky

Visit my fundraising page on BT MyDonate

QE Spring Half Marathon – race report

It is 6.30am on Sunday 26th March and my alarm has just gone off.  Must be time for the QE Spring Half Marathon, run by Second Wind Running.

Well I say my alarm has just gone off.  This is not entirely accurate.  I have a 4 year old who gets up at somewhere between 6am and 6.30am every day, so no need for an alarm really 🙂

I was looking forward to this race.  Despite my training going nowhere near to plan due to injury and illness, I was feeling fairly fit and this hilly half marathon is a preparation run for Brighton Marathon in a few weeks time.  No need to try and rush round, just turn up, complete the race uninjured and move on.

This race had been entered due to my friends Mike and Neil both signing up and persuading me to do so.  Since then, they have both had to withdraw from the race due to injury, leaving me to it.  No real drama, as they both run WAY faster than I do so would only have seen them at the start, and then again at the end.  They would have been looking all lithe and fit and well rested as I hauled myself over the line hours after they have finished.  So really a blessing in disguise I was going on my own, as I wouldn’t have to suffer that.  🙂

Queen Elizabeth (QE) Country Park is just up the road from where I live in Portsmouth.  Nestled along the absolutely stunning South Downs Way, QE allows access to miles of mountain bike and running tracks, and is just about as nicer place as you could ever want to run.  All except for one minor point.  It is hilly.  Very hilly!

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One of the stunning views on the South Downs Way

Now I am not somebody who balks at hills.  In fact I quite enjoy a hill.  Those that are too steep for me to run up I simply walk up, meaning I get a well earned rest and can then fly down he other side of the hill like a mountain goat running away from a snow leopard.  At least that is the idea anyway.  Plus my ultra marathon that I have booked in June is along the South Downs Way, which means that any hill practice I get in now will hold me in good stead for that race.

Arriving at race HQ at around 9.15am for a 10.15am race start, I quickly registered and set about the tedious business of trying to pin my race number onto my vest.  Luckily, I had the ever cheerful Dave Ludlam to talk to.  Dave is a fellow member of Portsmouth Triathletes, and also a fellow blogger.  His blog is well worth a read if you fancy it.  You can find it here.  I always enjoy talking to Dave and we were discussing his race schedule for this year, my race schedule and various other bits and bobs as I got prepared for the race.

Soon enough the race brief was upon us and we filed over to the race start.  I had never run this race before, so didn’t know what to expect (other than hills), so the plan was to start slow and see how I got on.  This plan worked perfectly, as soon after the start Dave and others were powering up the first switch-back style hill, as I slowly trundled along towards the back.

Once we submitted the first hill we were in the woods at QE, winding through well worn paths and out away from the park.  The run was essentially either uphill, or downhill with very few flat sections.  I was concentrating on just keeping it steady.  Not worrying about the pace on my watch, just nice and steady.

After a few kilometres I caught up with Dave.  We had a brief chat on how we were getting on before getting to yet another uphill, where I slowly moved away from him.  I was feeling good at this point in the race and wanted to maintain a nice solid pace.  On we climbed through another switchback and out into the sunshine at the top of the hill.

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There are worse race carparks around!

The scenery around QE park, the Downs and the Meon Valley is simply stunning.  On a warm morning in March there is nowhere better.  Each turn presented another stunning view and I felt very privileged to be able to run in such a beautiful place.  As we continued onwards I glanced down at my GPS watch, which seemed to be stuck, saying I had only run 2.79km.  Oh well, I wasn’t planning on using it much anyway, so would just keep going.

Soon we were through the first aide station (at the 4.5 mile mark), manned by some cheerful volunteers.  I was running with my race pack on (that I will use for all my marathons this year) so had water with me.  There was no need to top up the bottle, so I just kept going.  We were running through some great single track at this point and I had settled in with a group of runners who all seemed a similar speed to me.  There was pink top lady, green jacket man and another lady with some very colourful trousers on.  We would all take turns overtaking each other, but essentially seemed locked together.  It is funny how this tends to happen in races.  I never plan to stick with certain people, it just seems to naturally occur.

As the race wound on and I was feeling good.  After 1 hour of running I had no idea how far I had gone (cause of the watch), but I felt really strong.  The sun was beating down on me, but my legs felt great, my breathing was easy and I was running well.

Onwards and onwards, uphill then down again, I continued.  At the second aide station (at the 9 mile mark) I stopped to top up my water bottle.  It was really quite hot and my water consumption rate had risen.  Luckily, I had run enough races to tell when I needed to drink more and had adapted my water intake accordingly.  I had also taken a couple of energy gels by now to keep the energy levels topped up.  These are great but sometimes give me a bit of a stomach ache.  This would prove to be the case shortly.

As I approached around 2 hours of running I started to flag.  We were out in the open.  The wind was blowing and the sun was strong.  I was running out of beans.  Hardly surprising on the amount of training I had done, but never the less it was a problem.  I decided to take my final energy gel, even through I had taken the previous one only 20 minutes before.  Usually I have to leave it at least 30-40 minutes or I am guaranteed stomach ache; however this was not a luxury I had. I needed the energy boost.  No sooner had I taken it than I got stomach cramp.  I knew this would happen, so just kept on running.  Concentrating on my breathing I got the cramp to pass, lifted my head up and got on with the race.

Shortly after this I was overtaken by a very fast runner.  He was running the full marathon distance, which was two laps of the same course I was completing one lap of.  Bearing in mind I had only been going for 2 hours, he was on for a very fast marathon time, as I couldn’t of been that far from the finish at this point.  Impressive running indeed.

Making it back into the woods I recognised where we were.  I often run the Parkrun at QE and we were at the bottom of the biggest hill that the Parkrun runs down.  Turning right to head up that hill, I knew what a beast it was.  The pink top lady from before was still with me, and she took the lead up the hill.  We both had to walk in places.  Boy was it steep.  About half way up I gritted my teeth and decided I would just run.  I knew how far we had to go to the top of th hill (about 150 metres), and knew once I was at the top there wouldn’t be much more of the course left.  Powering up the hill, I left pink top lady behind.  I was breathing heavily, but summited the hill without stopping.

Turning left, I knew I was on the final descent to the race finish.  Picking up the pace on the downhill section I felt great.  I was going to finish in less than 2hrs and 30 mins (which was my target).  Not only that, I had run a good race.  My hydration was good, my nutrition plan mostly worked and I had not got injured.
Down the final hill and across the line I was done.  2hrs and 22 minutes.  Not bad.  Most encouraging was that after the race results came out I finished 103rd out of 198 runners.  No more finishing last for me.  Perhaps I might make a go of this running thing after all.

TTFN

Snooky

 

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Happily finished wth my bunny medal

Why I run

Since deciding to take on the Ironman in 2013, I have increasingly gained a reputation as a distance endurance athlete.  Those who knew me before 2013 and how I lived my life would laugh at this.  Those who have met me after would know no different.

Never the less I often get asked why I run.  Not only run, but run long distances or challenging races.  So below are the top 5 reasons why I run.

 

  1. I run to raise money for charity.  I support Chestnut Tree House, a children’s hospice who cared for my friends daughter during her last days of fighting Neuroblastoma.  This childhood cancer took her at the tender age of just 2 years old.  Ever since I have raised money for Chestnut, who rely on fundraising just to stay open.  You can read more about Ambers story here.
  2. Running resets my brain.  There is a quote I read once, which simply states “show me a man with a problem.  Once he has run for 2 hours, he no longer has that problem.”  Running give me time to think.  To organise my thoughts and plan.  It is wonderful headspace.
  3. I feel 1000 times better when I exercise.  It took me a very long time to get fit enough to be able to just go out and run.  Not months, but years of effort to get to this point.  But now I can just run for an hour without thinking about it, I rely on that exercise and my body seems to need it.  We are, after all, Born to Run.
  4. Running outside connects you to the world. Whether you are running on pavements through a city or town, or on trails through woodland or rolling hills, running connects you to that world.  You see some amazing stuff whilst running.  Things you would never normally see.  It is a beautiful world out there when you run through it.
  5. Pushing yourself to your limits makes you realise what you really can achieve. Each time you push yourself to your limits, you realise that you really don’t have any limits.  When I started running I couldn’t even run to the end of my road.  This year I am going to run 13 marathons and two Ultra marathons.  Who knows where next year will take me.  I feel truly limitless.

 

If you are reading this thinking to yourself that you could never be a runner, or that running isn’t for you, I would strongly encourage you to think otherwise.  I genuinely was the worst runner when I started.  I got injured.  I consistently finished last in races.  But perseverance and determination has opened up the world of running to me and it really is a wonderful world.

Plus, if it was easy, there would be no satisfaction in doing it.  Right 🙂

 

 

5 things to help you cope with a DNS (Did Not Start)

There is only one thing that I fear more than a DNS (Did Not Finish) and that is a DNS (Did Not Start), yet I am realising these fears tomorrow as I am not going to be running by first big race of the year, the Meon Valley Plod run by Portsmouth Joggers.  This is a very tough 21 mile off road race.  Hilly, muddy, just up my street.  Alas I will not be there.

As I mentioned in a previous post, I have had a cold, but this cold just hasn’t gone away.  It has lingered on and on, runny nose persisting, cough persisting and despite eating healthy, sleeping plenty and doing all the things you are supposed to do I just haven’t shaken it.

I am also still struggling with a bit of ankle pain, following badly spraining my ankle at the Hellrunner in January. These two things combined have meant that since the Hellrunner on the 14th January I have only run 4 times (including Havant Park Run this morning).

Obviously this is not enough training for a 21 mile hilly off road race, so I have taken the sensible decision and pulled out.  I decided this mid-week last week, and am very glad I have done so.  As you can see from my heart rate data from this mornings Parkrun (in the image below), I am clearly still struggling with this virus.  Under normal circumstances my heart rate for a 28 minute 5km would be about 160bpm.  Today it was averaging at 180 and peaked at 188!  Heart is definitely having a bit of a struggle.  This just wouldn’t have worked over 21 miles.

hr

So that leaves me with the thought, how should I react to this DNS.  Well below are my top 5 ideas.

1) Re-strategise and plan for my upcoming 13 marathon challenge.  I need to re-think how I approach Brighton Marathon in 5 weeks time, as I have done nowhere near enough training and do not want to risk injury by trying to run Brighton to fast.

2) Concentrate on the positives – Despite not making it to the start line on my first big race of the year, I am 80% recovered from my ankle injury, my cold will eventually go and I have a big year of racing ahead of me and plenty to train for and look forward to.

3) Keep my eyes on the prize – This whole year is about running 13 marathons including 2 Ultra’s, so I need to keep reminding myself of that.  There is nothing to be gained by being short-sighted,

4) Cross Train – I have a turbo trainer, a weight rack in the garage, a punch bag and plenty of space for Yoga.  I should be concentrating on this and not worrying about running.  I know I can run, I just need to be fit enough to do so.

5) Sleep – Sleep is the master healer, and I do not get enough of it.  Must try harder to get to bed early and get my 8 hours in.

So that is that.  My plan on how to come back from not starting.  Let’s see how it goes shall we.

TTFN

Snooky

Training with a cold – what are my options?

So I have a cold.  I’m a bit achey.  My nose if running like mad. I am sneezing a bit.  My throat hurts.  It isn’t life threatening.  It is not “man flu”.  It’s just a cold.

“WHO CARES” I can hear you shouting at your screens before promptly closing down my blog and going back to Facebook.  Well please stick with me readers, I do have a point.

You don’t need to spend a huge amount of time on Google before you discover that there is a wealth of information out there on exercising with a cold, and nobody can really make up their mind if it is a good idea or not.  Most say “listen to your body”.  Well if I listened to my body all the time I would be lying on the sofa eating Doritos.  I’m not sure my body knows what it’s on about sometimes.

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Yum

So if I am not going to listen to my body, what am I going to do.  Listen to my head?  Well my head says that I should allow myself time to recover.  All well and good, but I do have a 21 mile cross country to run in only 13 days time (Meon Valley Plod – run by Portsmouth Joggers), so my head also says that I should be forgetting about this cold and getting my trainers on.

Of course, the flip side of putting my trainers on and getting out there is that I might take longer to recover from my cold if I go out training.  If that is the case, I am risking not getting over the cold in the pre-requisite 13 days and then having to run 21 off road, muddy, likely chilly miles with a cold.  This doesn’t sound very good either.

So what is the solution to all this?  Well really it is a simple one.  What you should do is procrastinate.  Fill up your time with other stuff (like writing your blog, doing some meditation, looking on Wiggle etc) and that way by the time you get around to running it will be too late and you won’t be able to go.

All I need to do is follow this simple method for the next 13 days straight and I will be in perfect fettle for the Meon Valley Plod.

Hurrah!

TTFN

Snooky

PS – Want to learn how to be a master procrastinator.  I absolutely love this article and it explains it a lot better than I can.  http://waitbutwhy.com/2013/10/why-procrastinators-procrastinate.html

PPS – Please click below to share my blog.  I will love you forever if you do!

 

5 things I would not have known if I hadn’t gotten injured

So it is now about 4 weeks since I got injured running the Hellrunner.  Just a badly sprained ankle.  It still hurts now, but I did manage to go out for a run at the weekend.  I thought I would just do a couple of kilometres to ease myself in and ended up running 12.  Still, I survived, and as long as I don’t try to change direction too quickly and stay on flat surfaces my ankle feels OK.

Whilst I had 4 weeks off running I thought I would concentrate on some other areas of fitness.  Below are the 5 things that I have learn’t through this period.

1. I am very bad at losing weight through diet alone

iuI have been a lot more careful about what I am eating (well at least during the week I have been) and have managed to stop myself from putting on any weight.  I haven’t gained any, but haven’t really lost any.  I eat healthily in the week and it all goes flying out of the window at the weekend.  This seems to maintain some sort of equilibrium; however I would not necessary recommend this method to anybody.  Essentially I have been beating myself up about this quite a bit.  Why can’t I just stay on course with a diet?  Why do I sabotage myself?  Why do I not care more.  Luckily this moves me onto number 2

2. I should stop beating myself up so much

By way of a regular email update I receive from the superb Darin Olien website Superlife, I was directed to this article on the website of Nate Green website, simply entitled “Why is it so hard to stay consistent at the weekend?”  It is well worth a quick read, but essentially says that it is easy to skip out on the healthy habits that you may have formed and be able to stick to during the week when you are out of routine at the weekend.  Now I am an absolute MASTER at this, but took some comfort from the article and have subsequently adopted number 3 into my life

3. I have created myself a shortlist

This is a shortlist of things that I will endeavour to do each and every day in order to keep my healthy habits in check (as per the article above).  The shortlist I have decided on is this:

  1. Get 7-8 hours sleep every night
  2. Do a minimum of 10 minutes meditation every day
  3. Eat a vegan diet, with a minimum of one whole food plant based meal per day
  4. 30 minutes exercise per day
  5. 20 minutes of stretching/yoga per day
  6. Work on your book / practice piano / updated your blog for 30 minutes per day

I should probably break these down a bit more to add a bit more context.

  1. With two children under 4 this is not always in my control, but I will be going to bed earlier at a minimum
  2. I have the Headspace App and this is easy to fit into even the busiest day.
  3. I eat Vegan 99% of the time, but it is easy to eat a fairly poor vegan diet (chips, sandwiches etc).  From now onwards I will make sure that one meal is whole food and plant based entirely.  Nothing processed.
  4. This can be either weights, running, cycling, swimming, whatever.  Just must get my heart rate up for a minimum of 30 minutes
  5. This will either be first thing in the morning or just before bed, but is essential as I do absolutely none of this now.
  6. I have wanted to write a book about my Ironman exploits ever since completing it.  I also have a piano and want to learn to play it, and should definitely be better at updating my blog.  It’s only 30 minutes after all.

4. No more watching TV

Due to being injured I had a very good excuse to just flop on the sofa and do nothing every evening in front of the TV.  I was getting really good at it too.  Often I would fall asleep on the sofa and never even make it into bed.  I was enjoying my lazy lifestyle far too much.  So I decided no more TV.  Since stopping watching it I have achieved far more every evening.  So to allow the 6 things above to happen, TV has had to get out of the way.  Do I miss it.  Not one bit!

5. I can really achieve anything if I just go after it hard enough

You would think that somebody who has completed an Ironman would already believe this, and to a large extent I do.  The difference now is that I spent time educating myself whilst I was off injured.  Looking into the amazing feats of others.  How do they manage them?  What makes them different to me?  You know what I realised?  Nothing makes them different to me.

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David Goggins

I have been hugely inspired by the stories of both David Goggins and Andrew Taylor.  Goggins is an ex Navy Seal, and is widely considered the Toughest or Fittest athlete in the World.  He held the world pull up record (over 4000 in 24 hours), ran a 100 mile running race with absolutely no training at all and has gone onto complete multiple ultra-marathons, triathlons, ultra-triathlons, bike races and arduous mountain ascents, setting new course records and regularly placing in the top five.  His entire attitude is, you only fail if you don’t want it enough.  The Rich Roll podcast with him on is absolutely worth a listen to if you fancy some inspiration from a truly remarkable person.  The best part is, he is no different from you or I.  He just wants it more!

Andrew Taylor is better known as “Spud Fit”.  A genuinely fascinating antipodean who ate only potatoes for an entire year!  He lost over 114lbs in weight, his health improved exponentially and most of all he survived with no adverse affects.  That’s right, a diet of only potatoes for an entire year.  Once again, dedication and a bit of self control and this crazy Aussie did something pretty damn amazing.

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Andrew “Spudfit” Taylor

Both of these guys have reminded me that if you want extreme results, sometimes you have to go through extreme measures.  I want to run 13 marathons in 12 months (including two ultra marathons now, not just one). To many this is pretty extreme, and perhaps it is.  But I am going to go to extreme lengths to make it happen.  I am going to train hard.  I am going to focus.  I am not going to beat myself up every day, but instead do something every day to move me closer to my goal.  I am going to endure, through pain, through injury, through doubt, through fear, through whatever this journey throws at me and I will complete my marathon journey!

Just like Goggins and Taylor, if I want it badly enough I will be able to get it.

Now it’s off to the garage to lift some weights, then yoga, then meditation then bed!

TTFN

Snooky

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Race report – Hellrunner Hell Down South

It’s 0700 hours on Saturday 14th January and my alarm has just gone off.  Must be time for the Hell Down South Hellrunner.

For the uninitiated, the Hellrunner series is either 10 or 12 miles of extreme cross country running.  Featuring the “Bog of Doom” and the “Hills of Hell”, the run markets itself as “Tougher than a Tough Mudder”.

Why oh why would anybody ever sign up to this sort of madness?  Well in my case, my friends Bushy and River and others have done this and it has always been on my list, so as soon as my friend Mark from work asked if I wanted to join in I jumped at the chance.   To coin my usual catchphrase, how hard can it be?

 

Running late

brooks-hell-runner-logoThe Hellrunner was on Longmoor Army Base, which is only about 20 minutes from my
house.  We had been warned by the race organisers that it would take a while to get into the car parking, so I left with what I thought was plenty of time.  Sadly it took a bit longer than I expected to get from the motorway into the venue.  I was in phoning Mark (who was better organised and already there) and he was reporting back that the start was delayed by 10-15 mins.  Luckily, I was not the only one who had underestimated how long it would take to get in. This meant that our wave was due to start at 10.15

Parking my car and checking the time it was 11 minutes past 10.  I had been directed to park quite some distance from the race start, so I grabbed my gear and started to run towards the start.  Over a motorway bridge then through a field I stopped for a quick wee in a portaloo and met Mark outside the bag drop just as the 11.15 wave started running.  Dumping the bag at the bag drop,  Mark shouted to me that we could still go if we were quick, so I tied my shoes a bit tighter and together we ran to the start and we were off.

Not exactly the race start I had hoped for, and I jovially commented to Mark that I was sure that Mo Farah did a bit more warming up for his races than just turn up and go for it.  I had really wanted to do a proper warm up as the trail was all off road and very hilly and I wanted to make sure that my body was ready for the challenge.  Still too late for that now.  I was off and running in my first ever Hellrunner.

 

Catching up the pack

Mark is a great runner and he set the initial pace as we set off over the uneven terrain, pocked with deep muddy puddles with jagged ice floating on the top.  Soon we caught up with the tail end of the runners from our start time and started to overtake a few.  The course was up and down steep sandy banks, and wound few beautiful heathland.  There were a few deep gullys we had to run through, jumping into the black ooze then climbing up the other side.  Despite having cold feet I was loving this sort of running.  I never get much of a chance to run true cross country like this and it was definitely up my street.

As usual the GPS on my watch let me down and started to tell me we had done a lot less distance than I knew we had run, but instinctively I knew we had covered the first mile in a good time and were both carving our way through the pack nicely.  It felt good to be overtaking other people (as usually I am the one being overtaken) and I was enjoying Mark’s company and chatting with the other runners.  Most encouragingly was I felt good. It was great to be out running my first race of the year and as this is such a huge year of running for me, even better to have it underway.

 

Twist and CRACK

Somewhere between mile 1 and 2 there was a short uphill followed by a brief winding technical section though a wooded area.  This section was fairly narrow and there were quite a few runners around still so we had to pick our way through carefully.  Turning right to follow the group my left foot went into a hole that I hadn’t seen, my ankle rolled forward and I heard and felt a double crack in my left ankle.  I immediately stopped, my ankle searing with pain.  Uttering some sort of expletive, I grabbed a tree and stood on one leg breathing heavily trying to recover from the sudden shock.  Mark had stopped next to me and was asking me how I was, encouraging me to try and put some weight on my ankle.  Gingerly I put my ankle down and it was not good.  The pain was intense as I put my weight through it and I was cursing my bad luck.  Never the less, standing around was achieving nothing.  Even if I  was going to be forced out of the race through injury there was no chance of being collected by the marshall in the middle of a wood.  We had only one choice, keep going.

Limping forward at a slow walk I was in considerable pain, but I have had twisted ankles many times playing football and knew that you could sometimes walk it off.  After a minute of walking I sped up into a very slow jog, but each step was genuine agony.  Mark turned to me and said “there is no way you are quitting.  I will carry you over the line if I have to, but we are finishing this” and I absolutely agreed with him.  There was not a single thought in my mind about stopping.  I am an Ironman for god sakes.  If I can complete one of the hardest races in the world, I can definitely run 8 or so miles on a twisted ankle.

Slowly speeding up we continued forward.  After a mile or so more Mark confessed in me that he was struggling with his left knee, so we were hardly fighting fit but we kept on going.  For me, downhills were absolute agony.  For Mark, it was the opposite.  He was OK going down but struggled up the hills.  As this course was almost 100% hills we were making slow progress, but we were still moving forwards.

 

Enjoying the run

Despite my ankle pain and Mark struggling with his knee, we were enjoying the run.  The scenery was breathtaking at times and the course so varied that you never knew what was round the corner.  Hills so steep you were on all fours to get up them, then down the other side grabbing trees and shrubs to slow your descent, the race was brilliant.  We knew we had both the Hills of Hell and the Bog of Doom to come, but to be honest soaking my ankle in a freezing cold bog seemed like a great option to me.

Soon we arrived at the first bog, which is not the Bog of Doom but might as well have been.  Entering into it, the silt was incredibly deep, the water absolutely freezing and there were sunken logs to get your feet stuck under.  Wading through it was not easy, but together Mark and I made our way through.  I thought I had lost Mark at one point as he almost submerged beneath the murky down brown water, but he recovered, I pulled him up and we went on.

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Mark just recovering and avoiding a full dunking

 

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Out of the first bog

Soon we emerged out of the first bog together and on we went.  It was very cold, and the bog had really taken it out of Mark who actually seemed out of breath for the first time in the race.  In fact, I think this is the first time I have ever seem Mark out of breath.  He really is super fit, but the bog had taken it’s toll.  Never the less, we had at least 4 miles to go, still had the Hills of Hell and the Bog of Doom and were both carrying injury, so we needed to get on with it.

 

Devil’s Disco and Hills of Hell

Jogging further on we soon saw a group of cheerleaders dressed all in white and a big tent pumping out dance music.  This was the Devil’s Disco, and as we ran through the tent and grabbed some water and some sort of energy shot I realised we were getting closer to the finish.  Following the tent came a serious downhill, which I really struggled with.  Getting to the bottom my ankle was screaming at me.  I had to take a moment to compose myself.  Surely we didn’t have that much further to go and these Hills of Hell couldn’t be that bad.

Continuing on we climbed more hills and down the other side, ran more single track and just kept on going.  Then we were finally there, the Hills of Hell.  These are essentially a group of extremely steep trails up and down the same couple of hills.  You would slip and slide down one, only to turn 180 degrees on a switchback and go straight back up the same hill on a slightly different trail.  I could tell that Mark was struggling a bit at this point, as every time we got to yet another hill he would say “not another one”.  Luckily I could sense there was an element of comedy in his voice and knew that deep down he was enjoying himself, despite how hard he was finding the race.

Due to my ankle injury slowing me down, I actually felt OK.  Actually I felt good.  I didn’t feel tired or fatigued in any way, just had a very hurty ankle.  I knew how bad my ankle was when we started down a hill and Mark said to me “bloody hell James, your ankle looks terrible”.  I hadn’t been looking at it.  All I could manage in reply was “it feels terrible too”.  We laughed and then carried on.

 

Bog of Doom and done

Cresting yet another of the Hills of Hell, we were told by the marshall that it was the last one, and all we had left was a quick downhill, the Bog of Doom and we were done.  On we ran and we could see the bog, hear the music pumping out and see the crowd.  Tentatively sliding myself into the bog, I was quickly chest deep in very cold water.  Wading through, I was overtaking people.  Joking with Mark that I had found my forte in cross country, I pushed forward.  Waving at the spectators and high fiving the marshall I felt the usual boost that you do at the end of any race.  Despite having to complete the vast majority of the course on a very dodgy ankle I had done it.

I was delighted for Mark as well, who was clearly suffering with his knee despite not complaining about it.  I knew how much he had been feeling it at the end of the race and was pleased we had made it through together.

Exiting the Bog of Doom we were done.  A quick downhill and then over the line.  It had taken us 2hrs and 30 minutes to cover the 10 miles of the course.  2hrs 30 minutes of hard graft.

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Across the line and we were finished the Hellrunner Hell Down South

Collecting my bag and then limping over to Mark’s car we discussed the event and how we felt.  Remarkably I felt absolutely fine.  Other than the ankle, I felt as if I could just turn around and do the whole thing again.  Perhaps I am a bit fitter than I give myself credit for, or just so pig headed that I won’t quit.  Either way it gets results.

2017-01-14-13-00-27Arriving at Mark’s car I had a look at my ankle for the first time and was shocked to see a huge swelling on the ankle bone.  You can hopefully see this in the picture.  Having completed the race the adrenaline was dying down and my ankle was really starting to hurt.

Mark was good enough to drive me back to my car and I drove home.  Consulting with my wife, I decided to visit the hospital in the morning and see what they thought.

Diagnosis has been given that it is a sprained ankle and I should keep off it for 6 weeks. This will seriously dent my training for 2017, but I don’t really care.

I loved the Hellrunner, loved running it with Mark and will definitely be back next year.

Will keep you all updated as to how the recovery goes.

TTFN

Snooky

 

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4 reasons why my diet is the missing link to my training.

As any regular blog readers will know, mostly I blog about training, fundraising or write ups from the races I take part in.

Ever since I stated this endurance racing adventure there has always been an elephant in the room.  Lurking in the background has been an inescapable fact that I have chosen to ignore.  Yes you can train hard.  Yes you can train smart.  Yes you can make sure to rest well and sleep 8 hours a night, but if your diet isn’t on point then you are almost certainly letting yourself down.

1)  I am an unhealthy vegan.

vegan-policeLike most people in the Western world, I probably don’t eat the best diet.  Despite going 99% vegan last year (nobody is 100% vegan…………right???), I quickly found a way to eat a fairly unhealthy vegan diet.

Vegan cakes are easy to make.  Chips are always vegan, and so are baked beans, lots of vegetarian sausages, many pies, take away pizza (with no cheese), etc etc.  Also, almost all booze is vegan, and who doesn’t enjoy a bit of booze?

Plus, it is easy to over eat no matter what your diet is like.  Simply, if you consume more calories than you burn up each day you will gain weight.   And gain weight I did.  Over the Christmas period I managed to gain an impressive 16lbs of weight.  8kg in new money.  That’s a lot to gain in 3 weeks off work.

2) Sometimes I run like the wind………other times I just have wind!

I often suffer with stomach cramps when I run.  If I get my diet wrong before I run, or I go for a run too soon after eating I will almost always suffer from a bad stomach.  This is fairly common with runners or endurance athletes; however when I generally eat badly I feel a lot more sluggish when out exercising.  This clearly does nothing to aide my training.

3) You are what you eat

This is an old saying, but is entirely true.  How can you expect to fuel a machine to its maximum performance if you feed it crap.  If you put dodgy petrol in a car then it runs worse.  Perfectly logical.  If you feed yourself on crap food you will perform worse.  Also logical.

4) 5% of the time this works, every time.

Mo Farah celebrates winning the men's 5,000m final at the European Championships in Helsinki in JuneI cannot remember where I read the following statistic, but it has stuck in my ever since I
read it.  For every 5% of weight you lose you gain 5% in athletic performance with no additional training.  In other words, somebody who is as fit as me but weighs 5% less will be 5% faster.  This makes perfect sense.  You don’t see very many overweight people on the podium at triathlons.  Mo Farah doesn’t look like he is carrying a lot of extra baggage around.

Another way to think about it is this.  My “racing weight”, e.g. my ideal weight for maximum athletic performance is around 168lbs (calculate your own racing weight by clicking here).  This is 76kg for you Europeans. Or exactly 12 stone for us good old Brits.

I currently weigh a whopping 206lbs, 93.4kg or 14stone and 10 lbs.  In other words, I am 38lbs (17kg) overweight.

If I was lined up at the start of a marathon and somebody said to me “would you like to carry round this backpack that weighs 38lbs or not”, I think you can all guess what the answer would be.  But that is essentially what I am doing.  Imagine how much quicker I would be, how much easier it would be on my body if I can shed that unnecessary weight.

 

The moral of the story…..

So the moral of this story is, it is time to sort out my diet, and by proxy my weight.  I am determined to nail this missing link to my training.  I have never paid that close attention before, but this is going to change.  Somehow I feel this might be the most difficult part of any training I have ever done.

Wish me luck

TTFN

Snooky