Monday, 24 September 2018

Fontainebleau Diary 2018 - Part 3: A Tale of 25 Bosses

So, day 3. A rest day.


You may recall that last year Kelly ran Le Circuit des 25 Bosses by himself in the pouring rain, nearly resulting in us sending out a search party.  Well Liz had mentioned the possibility of us doing it this year, but starting at the adjacent car park rather than running all the way there and back from our Gite (and we were staying much closer this year than last!)  15km is a distance I am comfortable with, and at the top end of Liz's distance plan for this year.

 I know I can do 15km in around 90 minutes, but considering the terrain I doubled that and set expectations to about 3 hours, and we decided to set off between 9 and 10 in the morning so we got most of the running out of the way before the heat of midday, and so we had the afternoon to do other things.  Andy and Kelly decided to join us on the run, which was reassuring as Kelly had run the course before and both of them had watches where they could upload the route for that extra bit of navigation just in case it came to it - the circuit is marked with regular red indicators on rocks and trees, but it helps to be prepared.

The morning broke and it was time for the pre-run rituals - coffee and a banana, pack my trail pack with nutrition, water, and a few extra layers just in case, and we head to the car park at Croix Saint Jerome. We set off in high spirits, and before too long we are running up and down rocky undulations and climbing the first proper hill, giving us a taste of what was to come.  Breaking above the treeline for the first time treated us to an amazing view, although it was very hazy with lots of moisture hanging in the humid air so we weren't afforded the spectacular views which I'm told are possible on a clearer day.  Before too long we found ourselves at Le monument de la Résistance à Noisy sur Ecole - a very large Cross of Lorraine erected in 1946 to commemorate the efforts of the French Resistance during World War 2.  A searchlight was located on this spot to direct an allied drop of supplies for the resistance which was parachuted into a sandy clearing and hidden away in the Cave of Rochebelle.

After posing for a few photos we were on our way again, climbing subsequent hills and sometimes getting sight of the monument as a great indicator of how far we had come.  At one stage I was in the lead of the group and was picking my way down a rocky track when a French gentleman stops and speaks to us.  Now I'll be the first to admit my french is not great, so just about managed to communicate that we were English and after a bit of mental effort on both sides we managed a conversation - "Are you sticking to the trails?" he asked, and I answer "oui" thinking he was making sure we didn't stray off the path.  It turns out that he wanted to know if we were running the trail and when we said yes he started talking with enthusiasm about it at it transpired that he helps to maintain the circuit, was 70 years old, and runs in the forest every day and that running must be good for you because he was still here.

We talk for a while longer about climbing (he is/was also a climber) and the history of the area, before he turns around and says come with me, I'll show you more.  We set off and he is surprisingly nimble, keeping up with him is hard work at times - not due so much to his speed, but his sure-footedness on the terrain and his ability to read it, flowing effortlessly with nature (a lesson for all of us there I feel).  As we run, walk and wait we establish that he is a part of Les Amis de la Forêt de Fontainebleau and along with his retired friends maintains the red route markers as well as performing hard work to reduce the impact of people on the terrain, particularly erosion control.

Along the way each time we crested a hill he would point out the hills and climbing areas visible from that hill, as well as stories of the history and geology of the area, and how it is quite unique in having been created from a relatively small sand bar under the sea many many years ago, which turned into stone at a very cold temperature which created the hard sandstone so typical of the region, and the reason we were there.  This area feels very special, very unique, and very beautiful, and to have a local guide who was so knowledgeable give up his time to run with us was amazing.

As we continued he showed us the many and varied bivouac of the forest - some are dangerous due to cracks in the rock above and some are safe and you can go inside and see well crafted stone fireplaces, beds, shelves, and the like.  Those that are dangerous are labelled with good reason, as along the way we also saw where a roof has very clearly fallen. Some of these bivouac, such as that at Rocher du Potala, are very well known and easy to see and others are hidden where you would only find these if you knew where to look, so we were very privileged to have been shown them, and to have had some of the rock engravings pointed out to us - some being a lot older than others.

Eventually it was time for him to leave us - he had received a phone call a while back which appeared to go something along the lines of "Hello, I found some English people to run with.  I'll be home soon" and we snuck a short break in.  My watch had been beeping every kilometre as we travelled along, and every time he had said "time for tea?" - at first I thought he was under the impression it was an alarm, but as we continued I realised this was his sense of humour playing on English stereotypes and right now a cup of tea would have been, well, spiffing! I'd already shared out my emergency fun size packs of haribo, and eaten two energy bars, and I was flagging.

Before too long my water ran out too, and I realised just how badly I had underestimated the challenge of this run.  It had definitely moved from the territory of Type 1 Fun and into Type 2 Fun, and was in danger of becoming Type 3 Fun. I was determined to finish it though, and even to run where I could.  I led a section for a bit again, and it really is a challenge following the tags to navigate your way through the forest; as soon as you catch sight of a marker you have to interpret it to understand the direction you should take and have your eyes up for the next one.  It really is a breadcrumb trail and when trying to move at speed you have to be constantly scanning and thinking and your route takes you over, around and sometimes through rocks and trees - if you go very far at all without seeing one you NEED to backtrack if you don't want to end up very lost!

The last few hills were particularly hard work, and with a mouthful of Kelly's water I had a caffeine mocha gel which gave me a brief burst of go - but the uphills were all definitely walking now as were most of the downhills due to technical terrain and some of the flats as it was just hard work.  Such was my state by this point I was getting a little bit emotional, and I am grateful to Liz's hugs and motivation for keeping me going.  At one point we had to mantle over a rock on the top of a hill, far more akin to bouldering than running, and it took me a while to psyche myself up to do it then I needed a lie down.

Eventually though we were on the sandy main path back to the car park and from somewhere my legs moved me faster, getting me to the gate in time to take a photo of the rest of the group finishing.  Utterly exhausted but so so glad to have finished we made our way back to the gite where a much needed drink of water was consumed, with the second glass going straight over my head.  What had been somewhat optimistically forecast as a 3 hour run had taken us 6 hours, albeit with diversions and a guided tour of the secrets of the forest thrown in for good measure.

Would I do it again? Absolutely!  Will I prepare better, take more food and more water next time? Definitely!  Will I think I can do it in 3 hours> No way!

That was a great rest day, even if not really a traditional definition of rest.  It was nothing that some beer, bread and cheese, a hot shower, and wine and a barbecue couldn't shift.  Coming up next: a return to climbing for the last two days.

Monday, 17 September 2018

Fontainebleau Diary 2018 - Part 2

Day 3 of the climbing holiday, and we decided to go to Rocher du Potala - Liz, Ceri and I went here last year and really enjoyed it, I got a few blues on that trip and was keen to try and get some harder stuff this year.  I also decided to try out my new action camera, a WaspCAM ROX 9942 which I managed to pick up cheap earlier in the year (half the price of that Amazon listing) to video a few climbs.  I started out warming up on some Yellows and Oranges with Liz, Ceri, Sheila and Lolly which gave me a great opportunity to test the camera.

After one yellow and two oranges it was time to get moving on the blue circuit and get a bit of good climbing under my belt. Unfortunately although the circuit had been updated in 2017 the topos on are not using the new numbering, and only Andy's 2018 edition of Fun Bloc had this circuit in so mapping problems got a bit tricky and there are still two I haven't managed to marry up.  After cribbing some beta off Andy and Kelly who had already done a few of these while I was warming up I got a number of problems under my belt, and after trying a traverse a few times with Andy and Kelly I decided I needed to go and climb something to keep my head in the game.

I wandered a short distance away and found a nice little bit of rock in Astérix and decided to set my camera up and give it a go. It was an interesting problem with a combination of slopey holds to palm down on and crimpy holds on a balancey concave slab. If felt very much like some of the shoulder heavy inside corner problems sometimes set at The Climbing Works which are great fun when you crack them.  The practice must have paid off as I flashed it on sight, though I wasn't sure I was going to as at the point where Andy and Kelly wandered over I was precariously balanced and quite contorted - one of those moments where you have to be careful how you breath lest you topple over backwards off the rock!  Once I'd got the foot up it was all over and I topped out before supporting Andy while he worked out how to approach it - a theme of the holiday was how differently all of us climb and where our strengths and weaknesses are.  With a niggly should this wasn't an ideal problem for Andy, but he got it done.

We carried on climbing long into the evening here as I think we were all in the zone and feeling quite psyched - Liz had an orange traverse she was projecting, Kelly was working on Acid, and other people had their own favourite bit of rock to tickle.  Andy and I found a nice big lump of rock with interesting problems on, though sadly quite a few of these don't match up with the topo so I don't know much about them. A particular highlight for me here was La Farissure - a 5+ wall climb with some nice cracks on it which again needed shoulders:

The as yet un-named Blue 16 was not quite so straightfoward. The start was fine, but I seemingly struggled to work out how to get over the rounded top so resorted to stroking and fondling the rock until I found a way to handle it

We joined Liz looking at her Orange traverse for a bit, had a look around some other bits, before finding another fun problem - also a traverse - to play on.  This was a really nice way to end the day.

If anyone can tell me the name of this problem I would love to know, as Liz was doing really well on it - completing all the technical moves and just lacking the strength left in her arms to mantle the top out - and wants to put it on her "to do" list.

Three days of climbing done. A "rest" day to follow.  I'll let those quote marks pique your interest as to just how restful it was...

Sunday, 16 September 2018

Fontainebleau Diary 2018 - Part 1

I'm conscious of the fact I haven't updated this in quite some time; I started writing about running and climbing to give myself something to focus on and at the start of this year I made the decision to run for fun not for targets. Part of that fun was letting go of obsession with statistics, training plans and whatever else which led to a more relaxed view on documenting them too. I've run a few races this year and am keeping up with it, just not pushing speed, distance and training plans. Maybe there will be a retrospective of the year at some point.

 Anyway, this is a climbing update. September always marks the annual group trip to the iconic forest of Fontainebleau, the home of bouldering, to spend a week in the forest with bread, cheese and rocks. This year it was the earliest we have been for various logistical reasons, and on Friday 31st August we converged on The Norman Guesthouse in Dover for the 3rd year in a row, where Laz remembered us (if not our names) and we found a delightful micropub in The Lanes to refresh ourselves before heading for a curry at The Virsa. Saturday morning saw Laz treat us to breakfast before it was time for the ferry and we were on our way.

After a long and rather warm drive south through France we arrived at Gîte La Rochetine on the outskirts of Noisy-sur-École - ideally located for the Trois Pignon area.  Once settled in went for a 6km run in the forest to stretch our legs after the drive before settling down to a dinner of pasta and a glass of wine.

So, Sunday and time to climb. We decided to go for an area we had not tried before in La Ségognole where we met up with two of Kelly's climbing partners of old, Jim and Lolly, who had made the trip down from Bristol a few days before us and were staying in their vans. Historically the first day has been a day of getting carried away and climbing a whole load of problems at a relatively easy grade, but this year I decided I wanted to try a little bit harder and set my eyes on problems in the Red Circuits and/or Font 5 difficulty. I ended up getting 13 Yellow and 13 Orange problems - yellows being mostly Font 2 or 3 and Oranges Font 3 or 4 - but I was also really happy to pick off Calvaire from the Red circuit, a crimpy arete climb coming in at Font 5; what a great start to the day!  I also decided that this was the perfect place to do a bit of lunchtime yoga, with a Tree in the Forest

The second day of climbing saw us return to Canche aux Merciers, a location we last went in 2015 which was my first trip to Font. That year I climbed Yellows and Oranges, and one Blue (the Blue circuit at Canche is mostly 4s and 5s). This year I got 11 yellows and then knocked out 8 blues - definitely demonstrating my climbing progress in 3 years. 3 of these were rated 5-, but enough time has passed that I can't remember any specifics.  So that's two days down, and doing really well on my target of pushing myself to climb things which stretch me a bit.  Oh, and two days of lazing in the sun eating lunch too :D

Friday, 22 December 2017

2017 Percy Pud

Apparently it's nearly 3 weeks since I ran the Percy Pud - how time flies!  I've been busy, and I've not always been in the right head space to write a review.  In a lull amid the pre-Christmas frantic rush though I have found time to put my thoughts on the race into words.

I've been aware of the Percy Pud for a while, being a long standing fixture in Sheffield organised the the Steel City Striders - in fact this year was the 25th anniversary of the first running of the event.  Last year the event was on the first weekend after I had moved back to Sheffield, and starting as it does in Loxley it's practically on my doorstep, just over 2km away.  I ran my first parkrun that weekend but already had a desire to run the Percy Pud, so you could say this marked the culmination of an amazing first year in running.

I'd run the return leg along Loxley Road a few times, as I would often go out along Loxley Valley Trail and back on the road after the slog up Stacey Bank, but one Thursday lunchtime decided to recce the whole route, so ran from my house to the start, did the full course, and then ran all the way back, making it a nice 14km run.  Obviously the roads were open so I was only on the pavement, and there was a lot of wet leaf fall, but it was good to get a feel for the route. I found the outbound Loxely Road stint really hard work as it's uphill and undulating, but then I really enjoyed the road around the back of the reservoir out to The Plough and back despite quite a headwind, and Loxley Road return was the old familiar route.

When I entered I decided I was going to aim for sub 50 minutes, having run 50:01 at my first 10k in May, so submitted an estimated finish time of 49:49.  Come the day of the race I met up with Andy, Liz and Kelly G and we made our way to the start area.  It dawned on me I had to walk a long way down and was surprisingly near the front, positioning myself between the 50 minute and 45 minute pacers. After the usual standing around for a bit a horn sounded and we were off.  I started my watch as we headed under the arch and ran with the pack, jostling for space a little but nowhere near as bad as Amsterdam.

The start was fast, I was happy. I was passing people, I was keeping up with the 45 minute pacer.  This was good, I was really enjoying myself! But still, this first bit was my least favourite and there are 10 of these kilometre things to do so don't get carried away.  I'd been working on my cadence and technique, so I was trying to bear that in mind keeping my pace high while ensuring that I felt my heart rate and breathing were under control and not at the ragged edge. The first KM went quickly in 4:24, the second even faster in 4:16, and I was at the dam wall - the bad bit was done!

I'd noticed on the first leg that not everyone was using the hills - this is Sheffield, surely everyone has had plenty of practice - but this meant that I was overtaking all over the place on the short sharp downhill segments and still absolutely loving it.  OK, settle in for the mid section. Eyes on the prize, don't blow it all early, keep that breathing in check.  We were being encouraged over to the left hand side of the road by now to make space for the returning runners, and the KMs kept falling - 4:24, 4:46, still amazingly good times for me and still WELL on target.  Just after the 4km mark I saw the pace car, followed shortly by a few lone runners before the pack came past.  Tricky hairpin turnaround at the 5km mark, take a gel on board before the water stop, and it's homeward bound.

Not long after turning I heard Andy shouting encouragement as he headed towards the turnaround, and shortly after I spotted Kelly G and Liz, returning the encouragement to them.  Everyone was looking good. My legs were not tiring and the pace was holding high, before I knew it I was at the dam wall and knew that once I had the small climb out the way I could push for the finish.  2km to go and I was beginning to feel it, but I could see the 45 minute pacer in the distance and slowly but surely I was gaining on him.

Drive up the hills, use the downhills for speed, inching ever closer.  With the finish almost in sight I passed him just as he was telling those around him they were well on course to hit 45 minutes, and then the finish line appeared and I could see the clock - gun time was on 44:50 and that was it, I started sprinting for the line. I crossed on a gun time of around 45:03 so was confident I had smashed my target and finished under 45:00. I felt weirdly emotional at this point - happy and yet really close to tears.

I collected my t-shirt and Christmas Pudding, got a drink of water, and headed up to see the others finish.  Andy had already crossed the line by the time I got there, and I saw Kelly G and Liz finish. My Chip Time in the official results came through as 44:31, utterly blown away with that.  Turns out we all had a really good race:
  • Me: 44:31
  • Andy: 47:17
  • Kelly G: 49:43
  • Liz: 55:21
And we weren't the only ones - the male and female course records both fell (there was a £1000 prize for each of these) with the Male winner being Andy Heyes in 29:42 and the overall second place finisher was Scottish Olympian Eillish McColgan in 32:23 - breaking her own record from last year and setting the second fastest 10k in the country this year.  The first quickest?  Her performance at Leeds Abbey Dash.  Hmm, seems a fast race... maybe next year?

Friday, 8 December 2017

Guest Blog: Run with Kick

No, not a guest author here but rather a guest post be me elsewhere.  I've been a part of the Kick Community for a while now, and have run several races proudly wearing my Distance series Half Marathon technical tee, unlocked over the summer when I extended a Tramlines Recovery Run to 21km to ensure I was ready for Amsterdam.

A while back Jon from Kick was asking for community contributions to a new blog he was planning to launch as part of the site, and I expressed an interest.  Once I got back from Amsterdam I decided that I would write a story of my journey to becoming a runner, and happily Jon was pleased with it and decided to publish it. Read more over on the blog:

Monday, 16 October 2017

2017 Amsterdam Half Marathon

I've just run my first Half Marathon. 12 months ago I couldn't even run 5k reliably, it's been quite a journey.  This particular event happened because back in April Kelly D signed up for the full Amsterdam Marathon and when I commented on how much I love The Netherlands he replied with a link to the Half Marathon. Oh.  With Liz and Andy on board as well for the half we booked flights and hotels, the commenced our training plans.  My training plan went well, I didn't always have time to follow it, but I got some decent distances in and Endomondo was telling me that based on my Cooper Tests I should be able to do it in under 2 hours, then 1:50, then 1:45 - needless to say I was terrified!

After my last training I run I decided that my goal was simply going to be under 2 hours, and on a good day if I could handle a pace of 5:25-5:30 min/km I Should be able to nip comfortably underneath that. Before I knew it race weekend was upon us, and we flew out to Schiphol on Friday. After checking in at our hotel we took a quick tram trip into the middle of Amsterdam and had a mooch around while looking for some food. Somehow we managed to avoid all the roads full of restaurants but we eventually tucked in to an Italian then had a couple of beers before returning to the hotel for some much needed sleep.

A slow start to Saturday and we went to the race expo, collected our numbers and event t-shirts and countless flyers for other European marathons, and went to hunt pancakes. Or attempted to - getting a tram was hard enough with them being full to capacity, and then the one we did manage to catch broke down half way to the centre, so lunch was instead in a very nice cafe before catching a different tram to the centre where Liz and Kelly went to the Body Worlds exhibition while Andy and I chilled out on the harbour where we were treated to the sight of the Stad Amsterdam sailing past. we headed back in to the centre searching for poffertjes but were again defeated and after trying and failing to meet up with Liz and Kelly we went to the tram stop, only to see them glide by on the tram when the driver didn't bother letting us on.  Cue a long wait while the next one was overloaded and no more came for an age, but we eventually made it back to the hotel for dinner.

And then it was race day. Kelly was up and off early to do the full marathon while the rest of us had breakfast in the hotel, avidly refreshing the live timing, pleased to see Kelly making really good progress in the marathon. Final preparations were made while watching footage of the elite runners on TV, then we made our way to the stadium for the start. This was my first experience of a mass start event on such a scale, but I'd followed my hydration strategy, got my gels in my running belt, and hat against the sun. Ah yes, the sun. I'd been looking forward to an autumnal race, possibly even with some light drizzle, but as the race day got closer the forecast had been getting warmer and warmer and by this point there were official temperature warnings from the event organisers as it was over 20 degrees in full sun.

We saw crowds beginning to move so headed to the starting pens, found pour spaces, then stood and waited. And waited. There were at least three full pens in front of us, and with over 15,000 runners it took quite some time before we could even see the start line, never mind cross it, but eventually the moment came.  I had done as best a recce of the route as I could on Google Maps in advance, but with so many people that didn't help for most of the course, though there were major landmarks I had memorised. The first 5km or so went in a blur as I found space to run in and soaked up the atmosphere - live DJs, samba and drum bands, great signs such as "I'm Very Impressed" and a man singing "You'll Never Walk Alone" in an operatic style from the top floor of his house. The first major landmark on my mental list was at the end of this section where you run up the start of the A2 motorway before turning off immediately on the first exit, heading into an industrial area where the first refreshment station was located.  I grabbed an Isostar drink without stopping, and after throwing half of it on my face I mastered the art of drinking while running.

My pace up to the end of k6 was good, sometimes hitting as fast as 5:09/km but never feeling too fast and I thought I was in for a really good chance of smashing my goal. On the hot back straights of the industrial area I was trying to maintain around 5:25/km, building a cushion to my goal time and always keeping an eye on the overall average pace - knowing I needed to keep this under 5:40/km. I could feel the neat getting to me at this point though, so decided to relax a little until the next water station where I would take a gel and cool down, my pace dropping into the 5:30s - still the right side of goal though. Don't overcook it, you've got to finish the race and you are not even half way yet.  At the 10km water stop I realised I had not disabled auto pause on my watch - damn, I no longer have my easy ready reckoner so I need to account for that. Added mental load I really didn't need.  At this stop I accidentally washed my gel down with Isostar not water, so was still feeling rather thirsty - I took several sponges and soaked myself to try and help with cooling.  All this meant that I had a rather slow KM here.

From this point it just felt really hard.  The field was getting more bunched and not less bunched, I was finding it hard to get the space I wanted to run at a comfortable pace, and ended up having to run at someone else's pace and I think this took more energy than running at the pace I wanted to.  I kept looking for space and using it, but constant changing speed and direction was really wearing. The course felt narrow, and elbows were jostling - other runners were clearly feeling this too as I heard a lot of frustration around me.  I was still carving through the field, but it felt like I was overtaking people who were clearly aiming for a slower pace than me which didn't make sense given the starting pen system. Splits were 5:38, 5:45, 5:52, 6:16 - it was getting away from me.  In this time I had re-hydrated, getting the hang of water stops better now, and had stuffed a sponge under my running hat - which really helped with the cooling.

Out the corner of my eye I caught sight of a windmill and I knew where I was again - running along the canal I was basically on the home straight with just over 7 km to go.  Another gel on board, washed down with water this time, and the course opened up a little.  The crowds were also filling out a bit now and bizarrely I got a massive boost from river traffic encouraging us with their boat horns. I gave a person dressed as a lion a massive flying high five, looked at my watch, and saw I was still within pace - I'd mentally adjusted my target to 5:37 to offset auto pause and I was on a course average of 5:36 at this pace.  I couldn't get my pace to stick for the next couple of kilometers, I was still failing to hit target. For the 17th kilometre I forced myself to pick up the pace and keep it high for the full km, and I think this tactic saved my race. Soon we were in the Vondelpark and I knew I just had to keep going.  5:37 race average on the watch, if that dropped to 5:38 I was going to have to throw everything at it and damn the consequences.

In the park I spotted a collapsed runner receiving treatment from medics and signalled those behind me to move over, and made it out of the park on the run towards the stadium, constantly checking my watch. Suddenly I could hear sirens behind me, it sounded like the were on the course, and soon the police outriders came through.  Everyone was great, moving to the sides and shouting ahead to warn fellow runners, but suddenly a marshal was stopping all runners on the right hand side to allow the ambulance to turn off the course - obviously not what anyone wanted, but the health of people who are suffering is much more important.  As soon as the ambulance had cleared the junction I sprinted to catch the crowd I was running with, catching the marshal by surprise and he had to jump out of my way.  OK, I recovered that hurdle, and I can almost smell the stadium.

That's the 20 km arch! 1.1 km to go. Come on Martin, pick up the pace, you can do this.


For the first time in over 10 km I was back under (revised) target pace, running at 5:30/km. The finish is rather special, taking in 200 metres of the track inside the 1928 Amsterdam Olympic Stadium - running on the soft track felt so good on the feet after 13 miles of pavement pounding and although I had no sprint left in me I upped the pace as best I could, dropping to 5:12/km.  Finally over the line as fast as I could (there was quite a traffic jam ahead of me) and I stopped my watch showing less than 2 hours, letting out a guttural roar of "yeeeaahhhhss!".  Keeping walking, breathing, I nearly stopped on the grass but I knew all water was outside the stadium so I went through medal collection, and feeling rather spent in the hot queue was desperate to get out, but I was doing OK.. I got my phone out and already had a text message confirming my time - 1:59:49 - that 17th kilometre decision had made the race for me!

I got out the stadium and consumed half a banana, a bottle of energy drink, and a cup of water, then went to get my medal engraved - despite fears this may be a time consuming experience which risked delaying our flight it was a model of efficiency, and I was soon heading back in to the stands to join Kelly who had been watching us finish. I chatted for a while as I recovered, then went to reclaim my bag - on the way out I met Andy up to join Kelly after he had finished not far behind me, and in a fit of good timing as I returned with my bag I saw Liz walking towards the stadium exit.  While she queued to get out I had a quick wash down (I was organised and had a damp flannel in my bag) and switched running shirt.

We met up with Liz at medal engraving and after a bit more resting on the banks of another canal we headed to the metro to get back to the hotel, change into something more suitable, and head to the airport. We had yet another pancake related failure as the pancake oven was broken in the cafe we headed to but thankfully on the way back down to the station for a rather dreary sounding Burger King we saw another place, grabbed a table, and tucked in to some much needed refreshment.

Boarding the plane the cabin crew congratulated us (yes, we were still wearing event t shirts and medals) and it was a stress free trip back to Manchester (where everything was closed, turned off, or broken) and a train back to Sheffield, finally getting to bed around 1am.

Scores on the doors - well done everyone! :

  • Kelly (Full Marathon): 3:23:50
  • Me (Half Marathon): 1:59:49
  • Andy (Half Marathon): 2:12:10
  • Liz (Half Marathon): 2:29:18

[Full Results]

So what next?  I was thinking about whether a marathon would be achievable next, but after Sunday I am not so sure; that was really hard work and I don't know if I am up to doubling the distance yet.  My plan would have been to enter York next year which gives me nearly 12 months to train, but right now I am thinking about being more conservative and in all likelyhood the Sheffield Half will be the next road race for me apart from the Percy Pud, after a bit of a trail running fix of course.  Mind you, it's possible all this will change if Kelly decides to enter a race in another country I want to visit (*ahem* - although it's a pricey one)

Sunday, 17 September 2017

On Why I Run

While running a pretty tough but rewarding 15km loop recently I got thinking about why I run. I was never a sporty type at school, and would more than often be found in the last group to be picked for football teams, staying in front of the ball in Rugby to avoid having to take part, and falling in ditches in an ultimately failed attempt to get out of cross country.  When we got to sixth form and could do off site sports I chose Golf in the summer and Squash in the winter, mainly because they were a fair distance away and we went via McDonalds.

Looking back on it if we had some coaching in P.E. I may have gotten into it better, but no one told me how to run.  That may seem a stupid statement to someone to whom running comes naturally, but there was absolute zero guidance on body position, stride length, cadence, or any of the other things runners obsess over. It was simply a case of those who had natural talent joined the teams, those who were of a driven personality type pushed themselves, those who enjoyed sport had fun, and the rest of us resented both the unguided physical exertion and the mocking and humiliation we attracted.

Anyway, that was then and this is now. The first run of my adult life was on January 1st, 2014 as a result of seeing Kelly D try and get as many people out for a New Year run as possible. I had recently separated from my wife and was trying to work out who I was again - nothing was off the cards.  I was reconnecting with people I knew 10 years previous, this was happening, so I gave it a go.

I ran 2.19km in 16:07, with an average pace of 7:21/km.  It was awful - the ground underfoot was slippery mud and I was totally unprepared for it, walking in places because when I tried to run my feet went from under me. I ran three more times that month, getting up to 6:52/km average pace, and then stopped.  I can’t recall why, but apparently I restarted in June 2015 with a 4.68km run in 29:18 and managed to run once or twice a month with an aim to get a 5km in under 30 minutes which I achieved in October. Through 2016 I was very lax again and it wasn’t until I moved back to Sheffield in December 2016 that I got into it properly with Hillsborough parkrun just down the road and the encouragement of Liz. The rest is history, and you can read more about it right here.

Back to the original question: Why do I run?

It goes without saying that exercise is good for you, and I knew I needed to do more of it.  Over the years my weight had crept up to over 13st and my waist to 34”, I remembered having a 30” waist and losing weight had the added benefit of making climbing (which I had also got back in to) easier.  Exercise was only part of the game, I also had to adjust what I ate. The weight slowly came off and I got to 11 stone and a 30” waist (weight has crept up a bit since but waist hasn’t so I assume it’s gobe to muscle somewhere).  My general fitness and stamina are also much higher which I’m really happy with, and has had additional benefits for swimming as well as the aforementioned climbing.

But this isn’t the only reason. Running is physically hard, and walking could have delivered similar benefits with less wear on the body, though it would have required more time.  Running also gave me something to measure myself against, especially with parkrun.  I’m not an ambitious type when it comes to comparing myself to other people, but I do like to track my own progress and see improvements.  Seeing my times come down quickly at parkrun was a real boost, and the community of Strava made it easy to track how I was doing when I went on runs by myself, and soon I was adding in more runs whenever I could - including the work running club. I still surprise myself with things like signing up to the Amsterdam Half Marathon though.

Running is also a brilliant way to get out in to the countryside, or the urban landscape you otherwise wouldn’t explore.  I’ve run many KMs along the rivers and canals around Sheffield, I’ve entered races which have taken me up dramatic hills in the Peak District, and I am lucky enough to live near some beautiful spots like Rivelin Valley, Loxley Valley, Upper Don Valley and with a bit of effort the Peak District itself. The run which inspired this post had a fairly tough climb taking up most of the first half, but it rewards you with stunning views in every direction across the peaks, even when you turn back and face the city it doesn’t dominate the landscape, instead nestling in the hills for which Sheffield is famous.  I was taken with just how lucky I am to live near here and was very grateful for it.

But (and well done if you are still with me, I know I am quite a verbose writer - largely because this is as much for me as it is for you.  Hopefully this section will help make this clear) there is more to it than that. Something much more important.

You see, running is good for the head.

Well, for my head anyway - I know everyone is different.

I said earlier that I was trying to work out who I was again, and one of the things I have discovered is I am a lot less mentally resilient than I thought I was.  The precise details are for another discussion, but I am prone to prolonged periods of introspection and self doubt which manifest in anxiety and despair, and I needed to get a grip on this as it was leading to destructive behaviours.  I was drinking too much, and I wasn’t looking after myself.

Running at parkrun gave me a regular commitment which meant I was more likely to do it rather than find reasons not to.  I’ve discovered that I am far more likely to do something if I have told other people I am going to do it as I’m far more inclined to let myself down than I am others, and running as a social activity meant I also got the support and encouragement of my friends - people who are massively important to me and to whom I owe a lot of gratitude. Being able to return that by running with people and offering then encouragement and support is equally as rewarding.

It turns out it goes further than this though, and that’s why the run which inspired this post was entitled ‘Resetting mind and body’. Getting out on to the roads and trails turns out to have a really valuable benefit which I had not foreseen.  It takes a while to get there, but after several kilometres you hit ‘the zone’ where the running has become second nature, you are moving easily and efficiently without having to think too much about form, function or the effort of making your body move; all of these things are occupying your brain to some extent but not fully, and I reach a state where I am able to attain clarity of thought.  Maybe it is the fact that your heart rate is already elevated and your breathing intense, but things which maybe cause anxiety and confusion when sat on the sofa become easy to think about logically and analytically with objective analysis. When I find myself on the sofa fretting and sinking into a spiral of negative thoughts, getting out on a run will at the very least distract me, and hopefully allow me to figure out what is causing these thoughts in the first place and how to address them. I can only assume this state is not dissimilar to the state people seek to acheive through meditation, maybe one day I shall try and find out.

So yeah. I run because it makes me feel good, and feeling good is important.