Archive for the ‘Health’ Category

The World Won’t Let Me Train!

Snow in BlackheathI’m writing this post from the comfort of my bed this week. A culmination of the cold weather, over doing it at Christmas and marathon training have resulted in a sustained period of man-flu and (eventually) two days off work.

After my doctor basically told me to stop being an idiot, stop training, take some paracetamol and go to bed, I’m now halting my marathon training until I’m back up to full strength.

It’s a tough little conundrum. Like last year, I’ve taken on a 16-week training plan for this year’s marathon. Some don’t think that’s enough but 5-6 runs a week for 4 months will do me plenty.

I’d kept up a fairly decent 10k pace before beginning my training so it wasn’t too much of a shock to the system once starting. But how in the name of all that is holy am I supposed to train in the worst snow Britain has seen for decades, not get a cold and have any chance of beating my time last year?!

Read the rest of this entry »

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REVIEW: Sony Walkman W Series

Sir Jog A Lot sells out…

James BarnardLast night I went for my first, post-marathon jog. In 4 weeks I’ll be re-running the first race event I competed in, the Bupa London 10K. I’ve set myself a target of getting round in sub-50 minutes. Last year I couldn’t quite break the 55-minute mark but after training for (and completing) a marathon I should be Señor Speedy Jogales.

First things first, I need to keep my level of fitness exactly as it is. I’d had 9 days to recover from the marathon (which I’d spent eating and drinking myself into a stupor) so I went out on a 3-mile jog around Blackheath. As I mentioned in a previous post, it’s important to have another goal or milestone to focus on after the marathon to stop yourself getting the post-marathon blues (sometimes caused from the lack of endorphins produced during regular exercise). Plus, this time Sally is running with me, so I’ll have a bit of extra encouragement.

I also had a new toy to play with. Just before the marathon I was approached by a digital PR chap who had “an opportunity that I think might interest you” and two weeks later this bad boy arrived in the post; an mp3 player designed specifically for running folk.

Herein lies the dilemma. Do I keep my integrity, send the mp3 player back and continue to write the SJAL blog posts for free (or without perks), or do I sell out, review the thing and keep it? From the title of the post you can guess what I did! To be fair, I’ve already plugged a fair few websites and running products and if this PR agency thinks that my audience (you guys) would benefit from whatever they’re trying to get in the press then I’m more than happy to review it.

So here goes… my first review:

I ran the three miles with the Sony Walkman W Series and it was the fastest three miles I’ve ever run (something like 21 minutes). Unfortunately, the reason for my speed wasn’t due to the inspiring music that had been pre-loaded on to the device, but simply because I didn’t want anyone to see me with this thing attached to my head.

Sony_W_SeriesThe mp3 player is built directly into the headphones and the cable that connects the two, wraps round the back of your head. The theory behind it is brilliant. It gets rid of the annoying dangling cables (that you’d normally have to tuck underneath your shirt) and allows quick and easy access to the controls so you can play, pause, change track and adjust volume really easily. In practice, however, the device is clunky, uncomfortable and a little unsightly. I’m quite a self-conscious person (for the longest time I had issues running in a pair of shorts that show any leg above the knee) so I felt uncomfortable wearing a bright white device* that resembles two bluetooth headsets. You can’t even cover it with a hat because your hat won’t fit!

If this doesn’t bother you (and you have the right shaped head) then you’ll love this device and you’d have no reason not to. The sound quality is brilliant. The headphones resemble the MDR inner-ear series (I have a pair of these and the sound quality is unmatched for the price) and once the device is securely in place there’s no moving it. I’m no Paula Radcliffe head-bobber but the W Series stayed in place throughout my run. It charges in 3 minutes (using a slick little docking station that comes with it) and can hold 2GB worth of music (about 500 songs).


The player also features the new ‘Zappin’ function, which will play a snippet of the chorus of each of your songs (much like a TV advert for a Ministry of Sound CD) until you tap the button and ‘Zap In’ the song you want to listen to. Clever. It sounds cheesy but it’s a very cool way of choosing songs without having a screen in front of you to see what you’re listening to and it’s a lot of fun to play around with.

My advice, try before you buy. The cable that connects the two earpieces doesn’t have much give and if your head isn’t quite the right size then it’ll feel odd and you’ll be constantly trying to adjust it, rather than focusing on your run. I was so busy trying to adjust it that I nearly locked myself out of my flat.  It’s a shame because the concept and the functionality works so well.

Sir Jog A Lot rating: 3/5

* The W Series also comes in black, purple, pink and yellow

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Running a Marathon With a Cold:

My girlfriend was ill with a nasty cold last week and my punishment, for not looking after her better, was to get the cold myself. Obviously, being a guy, mine was ten times worse and forced me to take 2 days off work. I also didn’t run for 4 days as a result.

Too run or not to run...

Just before I felt it coming on I did my biggest run so far (and ever). After this it would mean tapering down all the way to the marathon. The 20 miles took me 3 hours 20 minutes. Again, not a great time but at least I managed to squeeze an extra mile in to that time slot. I’d prepared well for the run. I’d had beans on brown toast for breakfast and this time I’d taken 3 carbo gels with me that I’d bought the day before from the London Marathon shopin Covent Garden.

To be honest, I didn’t really feel any effect after taking them. It was a pretty hot day during the run and I had to ration the water in the bottle I was carrying as it’s not very big. Apparently it’s important to get your water intake right while taking the gels so maybe this had something to do with it but I still felt knackered at the end and couldn’t keep a decent pace. In hindsight, this is probably because I was on the verge of the WORST COLD EVER, and I’ll finish the marathon (I’m sure of it) but I really don’t think I’m going to be able to complete it in under 4 hours.

This, coupled with the fact that being ill has stopped my training, has meant that this has been a tough week. I’d wanted to keep training so badly during these past couple of days (especially as the marathon is now less than 3 weeks away). I nearly followed the ‘neck rule‘; if your ailment is above the neck (sniffles, head colds, ear infections) then running will most likely not do you any harm and if your ailment is below the neck (injury, coughs, stomach aches) then running won’t do you any good. I’m not sure if there is any scientific theory behind this rule but I rested up nonetheless.

Apparently, the volume of runners that pull out of the marathon due to illness is quite high. Here’s a fact that’ll put a smile on couch potatoes across the land. Endurance training causes a rise in the hormone cortisol which causes stress. This stress can affect the immune system, which can make you more susceptible to infection! So basically, because I’m eating better and exercising more, I’m more likely to get a cold than Fatty McFatterson of Cheeseburger Land!

Of course, I’m exaggerating (I’m not well). The key difference is the volume of exercise. Running for anything longer than 90 minutes causes blood sugar levels to drop to a level where this hormone is more prevalent. Marathon runners exceed this regularly in training and as a result, towards the end of their training, many marathoners pick up a cold.

This wouldn’t have mattered to me if I’d picked up this cold the day before the London Marathon, I’d still have blamed my girlfriend. I’m terrified that something bad is going to happen between now and the big day and I won’t be able to run. I’ve stopped playing football in case I pick up an injury, I’ve stopped drinking so I’m never running on a hangover and I’m taking a Berocca every day to keep the vitamin-C up. 17 days left to avoid twisting my ankle walking off a pavement…

Next week I’ll be attending the Justgiving pre-London Marathon Meet-up at the RIBA, London. Hopefully I’ll see a few fellow bloggers there to watch the 4 speakers, Monty Halls, Simon FosterSally Kettle and Vanessa Galeshare their tips on fundraising. I’ve got £200 to go…

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Other Forms of Exercise:

Let’s face it, after 12 weeks of running 4-5 times a week, you start to get a little bored. I’ve changed my running routes that many times that I could probably pass ‘The Knowledge’ exam section for the South East of London. I could tell you, without hesitation, all 6 TV stations that are on in my local gym between 6pm and 7pm weeknights and (because I’ve read the text on my treadmill so many times) what the average heartbeat of an 80-year-old man running at 65% would be. Let’s just say, maybe it’s time to change things up a little.

Wednesday night, 45-minutes hard-effort. I plonked myself on a treadmill, ready to set off, only to turn around to see a work-colleague warming up for her spinning class. I went over.

“How long is this class?”, I asked.
“45 minutes”, she said. “You should join me!”.

It was a sign. My blisters needed a bit of a break and after my 19-miler things were a little chafe-tastic. My buddy showed me how to adjust the seat and the instructor came around to show me the ins and outs. I knew that the seat had to be low enough so that at the moment your pedal is at the bottom of its revolution, your knee joint doesn’t lock out. But that was about it. Turns out it’s a dangerous game this spinning. The pedals are connected directly to the flywheel at the front, which means that if your feet come out then the pedals will continue spinning, entangling your legs!

We set off, my colleague on the bike immediately to my left, and I was determined not to be shown up. I’ve been running well for 12 weeks now so I should be fairly competent at this! I thought it was just going to be a case of pedalling at different tempos. ‘Pedal fast, now pedal slow.’ But after a series of different positions (standing, sitting and squatting), tempos (sprint, three quarters and in-time with the music) and resistance (the dial at the front making it feel like you’re riding through treacle) I was absolutely spent.

No good...

I’d managed to finish well but I’d stupidly not brought a towel with me and I was sweating so much I couldn’t see. I have a new-found respect for those that do that twice a week as it can be killer on the knees. I was obviously a beginner. My seat adjustment was slightly too high and at the sprint sections it meant that I was bobbing up and down on the seat like a jackhammer. I bruised my tail bone as a result (back to running for me).

On Thursday nights I’ve changed my running for a weekly game of 5-a-side football. Our company sponsors a league, playing our clients. Our boss keeps telling us to let them win but at the moment there’s been no ‘let’ about it. 6 games and no victory so far. Again, when we started (6 weeks ago), I was adamant that my marathon training would give me an advantage over my colleagues as half of them haven’t done any exercise in a year! Again, I was wrong.

Football is a completely different type of exercise to long-distance running. The constant stopping, starting, sprinting, walking, twisting and turning is killer on the joints and I initially grew tired quite quickly. Changing up the routine to include football once a week has really developed my quads and, 6 weeks after starting, I can now last the 30 minutes at a pretty quick pace. Unfortunately, being able to run fast doesn’t make you a good footballer (and I’m probably the reason why our team isn’t winning). With football, however, there is a very high risk of injury so I think during the last three weeks of training I’ll have to stop and let the ‘new blood’ come through.

4 weeks to go and I managed a new PB with a 10k run yesteday. 51 minutes. Bring it on…

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Marathon Pace:

I got up this morning and ran 19 miles. It kicked off immediately with a celebrity spot as Richard Bacon jogged past me! I wonder if he has any old Blue Peter badges knocking around? He deserved one with the pace he was running at. He’s probably Ebayed the lot of them though.

This was my biggest run so far in training (and ever) and the first 2 hours went really well. I thought I’d try out chomping on some jelly beans as I ran today to give me a bit of a boost in the latter stages. At each hour mark I had about three. I’ve never eaten them before while training and really had no idea of the amount you’re supposed to eat but I didn’t really get much from them. Maybe three isn’t enough but I have to be careful with my sugar intake, being diabetic.

I ran from Blackheath to the O2 dome and then back through Greenwich to Canary Wharf. From there I ventured into Central London and ran over Tower Bridge. After I hit Waterloo Bridge (after running along the embankment) I was making fairly decent time. I didn’t set out to break the land speed record but I thought I’d give it a good go. However, after 2 and a half hours of running, I hit a spell of extreme tiredness.

Jelly bean fun...

The previous Saturday I ran for 2 and a half hours and couldn’t go on any more. I blamed this on not preparing well enough. For breakfast I’d had a boiled egg, no water and didn’t go for a pee. So by the time I got back I was dying of thirst, bursting for the loo and my blood sugar was so low that I was almost experiencing those hallucinations I mentioned in ‘The wall‘ post. But this week I’d had a hearty breakfast, hydrated well and had my magic beans so I should have been fine.

I know this is my first marathon event but I really want to do it well. Apart from a 6-year spell when I smoked, did no exercise and ate what I want (ah University – leaving home never felt so good), I’ve always considered myself to have a pretty good base-level of fitness. I’m not sure why I so desperately want to complete the FLM in under 4 hours but now I’m not so sure I’ll be able to complete it in under 5!

Today, after 2 and a half hours, the same thing happened. My legs tensed up, my pace slowed and at any slope I ground to a halt (and by any slope I really do mean any slope – stepping up on to the pavement was agony!). With a bit of will power I stopped myself from walking and continued to jog, but my 19-miler took me 3 hours and 20 minutes! Miles off the pace.

My worry is that I’m not training enough. Here is the guide I used before I picked my training plan:

Intermediate:
“Who is this plan for? You are already a runner, you have been running for a minimum of several months, you have probably completed a 10k or half marathon event, you are currently comfortable with training for approximately 4-5 hours per week, you may have already completed a marathon and are looking to improve your time.”

That suits me perfectly but I’ve noticed something. My training plan sets your daily targets in minutes run, not miles.

Essentially, I could have been following this plan to the exact detail and have never really exerted myself! That’s a harsh reality to face, given that there’s only 5 weeks of training left so today has been a tough day (and not just because I can hardly move).

Runners World Pace Guide

There are two points that I can console myself with and relieve a bit of pressure.

  1. Running through central London is the worst. Constantly stopping and starting to make room for traffic, STUPID bloody tourists and ignorant men with a dog on a leash is a pain. Getting back up to speed after you’ve been running for three hours and had to stop is unbelievably hard.
  2. It was bloody hot today.

It might be time to start finding out my split times. I have one more long run to do before tapering down in preparation for the main event. Lets see if I can break 9-minute miles and still have enough at the end. Visit Runner’s World for a great pace band that you can print off, cut out and wear on race day. Mine’s on the right.

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Sir Jog A Lot – The Movie:

So you may have noticed that I haven’t written a blog post for a little while. This is because I’ve been hard at work in the ‘studio’ creating Sir Jog A Lot – The Movie!

This year, Justgiving have a competition to create a video that promotes your fundraising efforts for the London Marathon. The prize is a £100 donation to your Justgiving page. Last year Gwan Yips won £500 with this effort (obviously the credit crunch has hit Justgiving as they’ve cut their prize by £400). With my fundraising target still in the distance and sponsorship drying up I thought it couldn’t hurt to sacrifice one Sunday to create an entry for this competition…

…and here it is:

Possibly the most embarrassing Sunday of my life (parading around London like a lunatic and getting filmed doing it) but I console myself with the thought that it’s all for charity. Anyone can do this and I encourage you to give it a go. I made this with a digital camera and Windows Movie Maker and it’s a fantastic way to drive traffic to your sponsorship page.

However, if you are going to do a video then wait until after Friday (as that’s when the competition closes)!

If you’re interested, the backing track is from a song called ‘Mr Munchies’ that myself and a couple of  old school friends, Paul Child and Thom Hawkins, wrote when we were 16. It comes with lyrics too and if you want a copy then let me know. Be warned: The lyrics are very childish, rude and resemble any song by Afro-Man.

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Marathon Training Routes:

I went home this weekend. On Friday night after work I broke the land speed record in my girlfriend’s car while she slept the entire way to my home town of Horncastle, Lincolnshire. Big birthday celebrations on Saturday night so I needed to get the long weekend training run out of the way on Saturday morning.

I set off for my 2 hour and 25 minute run at 9am and decided to leg it to the neighbouring village of Tetford and back. I knew it was roughly 6 and a half miles to get there so I’d do a loop around the village to up the mileage a bit. Here’s how it looks from above:

Horncastle to Tetford and back
I regularly use Google Maps to map my training routes after my runs and see my how far I went. I bought a fairly decent stop-watch at the beginning of my training but it’s no Garmin Forerunner. Along with a piece of software, these GPS watches can plot your route, work out split times, average speeds and give you a virtual runner to run against! Who needs friends? A few of my fellow marathon bloggers have been having fun with these watches.

As you can see from the aerial picture, Lincolnshire is a pretty agricultural county. If you’ve never been in a tractor, built a scarecrow or used the phrase “Now then” then you’re not ‘Shire’ material. The countryside and views along this run are incredible. I’ve gotten used to the constant hum of London so I wasn’t prepared for how quiet it would be. It’s quite eerie. I popped in the headphones after 10 minutes of running and plodded along for what I thought was going to be quite a chilled, peaceful run.

I would never have thought in a million years that I would struggle to find a decent running route in an area as arable as this. The problem with any run over 3 miles from Horncastle is the absence of a path. The roads were narrow, windy and lined with 6ft tall hedges that obstruct the view of anything lurking behind a corner. Like, for example, a 6ft, lanky jogger. The 4 or 5-mile stretch of road to the village was also pretty hilly. So my chilled, relaxing, picturesque jog across the countryside turned into a fartlek, hilly endurance race. Through the bendy sections of road I was sure I was going to end up as road-kill so I would charge through to the straight as quick as I could, and by the end of the run legs turned to jelly.

Canary Wharf from Greenwich Park

It can take a little while to find a decent training route. There are a few good like sites that you can use to compare your training runs with others, such as the FLM Training Route Planner, Gmaps Pedometer or the Nike Route Finder. The irony is that by the time you’ve found yourself a decent route you probably need to change it as you extend your distance or to prevent yourself becoming bored. Try to explore as much as you can and keep your route varied. Also, from time to time change the surface you’re running on and make sure you include a hill or two in there somewhere.

A couple of people have asked about my routes so if you’re interested (and live in southeast London) then I’ve added mine to the Gmaps Pedometer. It’s pretty random and darts from one place to the next but you get to see Greenwich Park, the 02 Dome and Canary Wharf (parts of which are on the marathon route itself!). Click here to view it (thanks to Phil for recommending Gmaps Pedometer – a very useful running tool). At the weekend Canary Wharf is like a ghost-town so there’s no need to worry about traffic or tourist-dodging.

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