Archive for the ‘Sports’ Category

A message to Usain Bolt’s competitors…

Picture from thor_matt83 via FlickR

Picture from thor_matt83 via flickr

…lose the bling!

This week has left biologists and statisticians speechless as Usain Bolt smashed his 100m record by over a 10th of a second (a video I have watched an extortionate amount since Sunday).

His closest competitor, Tyson Gay, ran a 9.71 (pretty close to Bolt’s previous record-breaking run in Beijing of 9.69). In short distances like the 100m, a tenth of a second is an age. Technological advances in sports clothing have given us lighter shoes and aerodynamic materials, designed to streamline the body. In a sport where every hundredth of second counts, an athlete’s weight is crucial.

So why, in the name of all that is holy, would the elite athletes drag themselves down with the unnecessary jewellery that the 100m finalists were wearing on Sunday?

Here comes the science bit, concentrate…

Lets say that, during his 100m final, Usain Bolt is running at top speed (roughly 12.44 metres per second*) by the time he reaches 60 metres. Bolt reached 60m in 6.31 seconds and he weighs 86kg (it’s amazing what you can find out online). That’s an acceleration of just under 2 metres per second, per second.

Force = mass x acceleration

172 Newtons.

Add a watch (10g), a bracelet (7g) and a gold chain with a ring around it (15g) and the extra force required to accelerate to top speed is an extra 0.064 Newtons!

OK, in reality that isn’t very much, in fact it’s the equivalent to a slight breeze. But in a sport where a race is cancelled if there’s a tail wind blowing at more than 2 m/s then this is a significant difference.

If…

  1. that meant nothing to you…
  2. you don’t believe me…
  3. you think I got my maths wrong…

…then check the table below. Usain and Gay (sans jewellery) came first and second.

Bet you wish you’d paid more attention in physics class now eh?

100 Metres Final

  1. Usain Bolt – 9.58 – NO BLING
  2. Tyson Gay – 9.71 – NO BLING
  3. Asafa Powell – 9.84 – WATCH, BEADED NECKLACE
  4. Daniel Bailey – 9.93 – CHAIN NECKLACE WITH A RING ON IT!
  5. Richard Thompson – 9.93 – CHAIN, WATCH
  6. Dwain Chambers – 10.00 – WATCH
  7. Marc Burns – 10.00 – BRACELET
  8. Darvis Patton – 10.34 – WATCH

Lose the bling...

* Calculated using the time it takes for him to run between the 60m and 80m marks during his 100m final.

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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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The Eastbourne Half Marathon – part 2:

…and off we went.

Sally’s advice went right out the window. I was looking at my watch every 2 seconds to check my mile marker times, the first being 9 minutes 30 and the second was the same. I was already behind and although this was playing with me a little, I kept to a very strict, even and steady pace. In the first 2 miles everyone went past me. I was passed by two girls dressed like Arnie in the film Predator, a 70-year-old man and the lady in the dalmatian outfit. There were only around 1000 people in the run and by the time I’d gotten to the start line I was fairly near the back anyway (it had taken me a minute or two to get through the start/finish line and start my stopwatch). At mile two I took a look behind me and there were only a hundred or so people behind me.

Just as I was thinking, ‘I’m going to come last‘ I hit mile 2 and the incline started. The Eastbourne run has two or three great sections where you run along the beach front and you can see for miles. I could see the approaching incline in the distance ahead of me, after which the runners were turning right, around a corner. Keeping the pace as even as possible I carried on in to a series of back streets and parked cars. The hill became a little steeper, evened out for about a minute and then started to climb.

Bricking it before the race

What I saw in front of me could only be described as a mass organised hike. The gradient had steepened so much that the runners who had overtaken me in the early stages were now all walking. In the stretch of road in front of me I could see roughly 100 runners and literally 8 of them were running. However, I was runner number 9. I was feeling great and passing so many people that I opened it up a little just to show off!

Bye bye Arnold Schwarzenegger! Peace out Pongo. See you later granddad!

After a mile of this the road U-turned sharply and uphill immediately became downhill. At this point I simply switched off the engine, extended my stride slightly and let the hill do the work. My pace was ridiculous but I was using half the energy and mile 3 – 4 went by in about 7 minutes. After a quick drink, which I had to queue up for, I made it to the bottom of the hill and started the 4-mile straight along Eastbourne’s beautiful coast-line. At mile 6 I was starting to feel a little tired and it was at this point that I took a look up and saw my girlfriend waving with her camera poised so I swiftly changed lanes to greet her. She’d been sat there for a while so I gave her a little pose and a wave to the camera, before realising that the lens cap was on and she’d missed my hilarious pose. I discretely pointed it out as I ran past only to hear an “Oh bugger!” behind me.

Trying hard not to laugh too much (my co-runners were all in hysterics) I pushed on. The support from the spectators at Eastbourne’s coast line was fantastic. Without my headphones on (obviously), I clapped back to all those who clapped me and although it wasn’t quite the half-a-million road-side onlookers that the London Marathon can expect, it was much appreciated. There was a troop of boy scouts handing out drinks, 2 bagpipe players and a hareem of rowdy women. What more could you ask for?

The latter stages of the race were situated around the suburbs of Eastbourne (where the spectators were now waving from their balconies) and Eastbourne’s Sovereign Harbour. At mile 8 I started pushing a bit harder to try to improve my split times. By this time the race had spread out a lot, to the point where the front-runners were returning to the finish line in the other direction (very demoralising). However, the traffic was bad as the roads had turned to pavements and the harbour’s tight, twisting paths and pedestrian bridges acted like bottle necks. A car turned into a side road and cut the path of myself and a fellow runner, who immediately unleashed on the marshal (whose job it was to prevent this) in the broadest Scottish accent I’ve ever heard.

“Youeer suppawsed to keep the f***ing traffic oot of ewer bliddy way you f***ing cretin!”

A little harsh maybe. The marshals are all there voluntarily and had, so far, done a fantastic job co-ordinating the direction of the race. The Scottish man then tried to engage me in conversation, which was just the motivation I needed to run a little faster. I’d like to thank him for that.

At the 10-mile marker my watch read 1 hour and 35 minutes. I’ve run 3 miles in 25 minutes before, but not at the end of a 10 mile run so I gave it my best and seeing Sally (lens cap now off) really spurred me on. She took a little video:

This’ll be important in the London Marathon so we’ll have to organise some strategic positions for her on the 26th April.

The last half-mile went on for absolutely ages. You could see the finish line but the course looped around the field where everyone had gathered at the start and my 2 hour time eeked away from me. With just enough energy for a last dash sprint I crossed the line, received my medal, grabbed a banana and went thirsty (the organisers had run out of water).

Just finished

Final time: 2hours 2 minutes 35 seconds

I’m off London marathon pace, which is disappointing but I don’t think that’s too bad for my first one. With 2 months training left before the big day I’m sure I can improve. Thanks to all of the Twitterati who posted congratulatory messages after the run.

**If you’re thinking of competing in next year’s Eastbourne Half Marathon then see Runner’s World for a few reviews**

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The Eastbourne Half Marathon – part 1:

I looked through my training plan a month ago and saw this:

Sun 1st March – Half marathon race. Good effort + warm-up and cool-down

Unless I wanted to be racing against my girlfriend I’d have to book into an event sharpish. It wasn’t absolutely imperative that it had to be a race but the training guide I’ve been following has been really useful and until now I’d really had no reason to push too hard. I’ve been clocking up the hours and miles alright but I’d not really gone that extra mile (literally in this case as the most I’ve run so far is 12 miles).

I went straight on to Runner’s World, typed in the date, distance and my postcode and the first official event that came up was the Eastbourne Half Marathon. Done. Two weeks later my running number arrived in the post. It had a wire loop on the back with a timing chip attached to it. Fancy. It also came with a 16-point sheet with the details of the day and a map of the course. The course details were as follows:

“The route is mainly flat with a hill between 2 – 3 miles…
…as you pass through the harbour, there are several tight turns and three pedestrian swing bridges…
…there is a small gravel slope which may be slippery.”

Sounds simple enough.

Yesterday, we arrived at a sunny Eastbourne, dropped off our bags and headed straight for the legendary Beachy Head. My girlfriend had foolishly told me prior to our trip that Beachy Head is a notorious suicide spot and at every opportunity I got I would walk up to the cliff edge, test the cusp with a few good stamps of my feet and peer over. This is what I saw.

Taken tentatively from the edge

Gulp! After dicing with death a few more times (and one hair-raising gust of wind) I’d seen enough and we made our way back down the hill in my girlfriend’s car. However, as we came back down we noticed yellow arrow markers stapled to trees and road signs and quickly realised that this was the hill between 2 – 3 miles! To say the gradient was steep was an understatement. In our car it looked like we were in a roller-coaster (I felt like raising my hands above my head)! Now, I do occasionally exaggerate to make a story more interesting but you’ll see later on just how steep this hill was.

Dinner that night consisted of pasta at Zizzi’s, 2 diet-cokes and an early night so I could lie there, not sleeping, thinking about the race the next day. I’d already decided that I was going to try and aim for marathon pace. If I’m aiming to finish the London marathon in under 4 hours then I’d need to do the Eastbourne half in under 2. This meant an average of just over 9 minutes per mile. With this hill throwing me a curve-ball I was a little concerned but Sally (my girlfriend) had some good advice and I calmed down. “Just pace yourself and don’t even look at your watch in the first few miles. Focus on getting up that hill comfortably and you can push in the later stages.”

Nom nom nom... 7am and an early rise at our beach-view hotel (courtesy of lastminute.com and a shrewd girlfriend), a quick shower and a healthy, carb-fuelled breakfast (fruit salad, bran flakes and 2 slices of brown toast). The waitress, looking at my order, said, “Are you running today? I don’t know why all these people do it, especially on a Sunday!”. Thanks for the confidence boost love, now go and get my breakfast.

Back up to the room for some lashings of Bodyglide. I was wearing my MS Society vest to try it out in preparation for marathon day. A buddy of mine had told me to use the Bodyglide around the armpits where the vest would rub as he hadn’t done it on his marathon run and the chafing was unbelievable. I duly obeyed.

We set off for the start line, about a mile away (a nice warm up walk) and could already see my competitors, some of whom were warming up by running in the opposite direction. This got my nerves going and my legs started feeling like jelly. There were around a thousand runners when we got there, from all ages, shapes and sizes. The previous day my Mam text me and asked me how many people were running. “1000”, I said. “So you might win then?!”, she said. What had happened to the ‘it’s the taking part that counts‘? I found it a couple of minutes later as a man dressed in a Spiderman outfit and a lady dressed as a dalmatian joined me at the start line. After a quick warm up from three cheer leaders on a stage (which I didn’t take part in as I’m self-conscious as hell) it was 10am and we were off…

It was cold and really sunny...what?!

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Running With Headphones:

I’m a bit of a music snob. When the mp3 player came out I never thought it would catch on. “Lossless audio compression my ass”, I used to say. But as headphones got worse and worse and standards became lower and lower (to the point where listening to music through a mobile phone speaker on a bus has become acceptable) I became more and more wrong. I have never bought an iPod. I refuse to pay money to a company that has made billions out of selling mp3 players but never put any of that money into improving the sound quality and upgrading the standard headphones that come with them. I told you I was a snob.

I own a Zune and listen to music regularly while on my training runs. Like many others, I have an armband (a stretchy one made by Nike) that carries my mp3 player. Now there are a couple of questions that I’ll try to answer in this post. Firstly, is listening to music good running decorum? Secondly, if you do listen to music while running, what type of music do you listen to?

Firstly:
This is actually a widely debated subject in the running world. There are hundreds of different pros and cons of listening to music on the go. I’ve listed just a few here and you can make up your own mind.

Pros: –

  • Motivation
    Runs can be long and, depending on where you run, a little boring.
  • Keeping rhythm
    Some people base their foot strokes on the tempo of the beat they’re listening to. This is a very good method of keeping to a strict pace.
  • 2 birds with 1 stone
    It doesn’t have to be music you’re listening to. You could be catching up with the week’s news, listening to a football match or learning another language while reaping the rewards of a running session.
  • More energy
    There’s nothing more uplifting than hearing your favourtie tune and that can reflect dramatically in your running.

Cons: –

  • It’s unsafe
    Being unable to hear traffic, other runners or strangers in the dark is a serious disadvantage.
  • Missing out on your running community
    If you live in London then this won’t apply to you (because nobody talks to anyone else down here) but keeping your headphones in alienates you from fellow runners.
  • Timing
    For those that have a good sense of rhythm listening to music can throw you off your stride or affect your breathing patterns.

Here’s where I stand. I completely agree with the timing disadvantage. One thing I’ve noticed when I’ve run without headphones is that I can regulate my breathing by counting how many steps I’m taking. At the beginning of a run I’ll breathe in for 3 steps and out for 3 steps. As the run progresses and the intensity increases I’ll shorten that to 2 steps. This has meant that I’ve not over-done it in the early stages and achieved a good overall time. If I’m listening to music that goes out the window. I can play the drums (like a god) and the music I’m listening to really affects my rhythm and ultimately my breathing. Working hard at uni

Running with headphones in can be unsafe but only if you have the spacial awareness of Stevie Wonder. Just turn the volume down a little bit and if there is someone lurking in the dark waiting to grab you then chances are you can run faster than them anyway! The most danger I’ve ever been in from running with headphones in was when I was on a treadmill and caught the headphone cable with my arm. It pulled my mp3 player from the little holder in front of me and I nearly broke my neck trying to jump over it as it shot out the back of the treadmill, smashing into it’s component parts. Thank god for shock testing.

I love getting away from it all and blasting out some tunes on my training runs but I completely disagree with listening to music during an actual race. This was actually banned in some races in the US, albeit for the wrong reasons. I will definitely not be sporting an mp3 player during the London Marathon. If half-a-million people can take the time to come out and give their support then I’ll damn well listen to them. Heck, there may even be a bit of music as you go round. During the BUPA London 10k there were some awesome Banghra drummers at 3k and 7k, at the Finsbury Cancer Research 10k there were 2 guys with a digery do and a djembe and at the Nike Human Race there was a band playing at 2k (they sucked but that’s not the point). But to not give the supporters the courtesy of your attention is bad form.

Secondly:
I won’t spend too long on this because I’ve rambled on for too long but which songs you choose while training is crucial. If you haven’t heard of Nike+ then it’s basically a chip that you place in your shoe that syncs with your mp3 player. You can set it to play your ‘power song’ when you reach a certain time/distance to give you that extra boost to complete your training (along with a load of other nifty features). Unfortunately it only works with iPods (damn me and my laurels!). The reason I’ve plugged Nike+ so hard is because of their current top-10 list of power songs (some inspiration for your playlists here) that consist of songs like ‘Eye of the Tiger’, ‘Don’t Stop Me Now’ (awesome) and ‘Firestarter’.

I’m not going to embarrass myself too much by revealing my playlist choices as my music taste is somewhat eclectic (stretching to anything from Simply Red to Bone Thugs-N-Harmony) but I do have one suggestion. James Bond theme tunes. When Tina Turner broke into the bridge in ‘Goldeneye‘ during my run back from Canary Wharf I’ve never run with more determination or vigour…

Enjoyed this? Check out the Headphones for Runners reviews.

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London Marathon Training: Week 6

The wall.

Last Saturday was my longest run so far; about 12 miles. Not even a half marathon and I was knackered, although I was pushing quite hard. The snow made it interesting and I came close to breaking my ankles about three times. At about mile 10 my body started to feel quite heavy and I could only really manage a slow jog, just above walking pace (about 8 kmph for those who use a treadmill often). Annoyingly, at mile 9 I was feeling fantastic and was bounding along like Neil Armstrong so why the sudden lull? 

The Berlin Wall - or what's left of it...

Stupidly, I was so keen to get the long run out of the way on Saturday morning that I didn’t eat or drink enough. I had 2 slices of toast, a glass of water and a dash of insulin. In retrospect this was hardly enough to last the best part of 2 hours but I guess there’s no substitute for experience so next time I’ll kick-off a little better prepared. But it did get me thinking about the body’s energy supply and the dreaded ‘wall’ I keep hearing about.

For those that are not aware, the wall is best described as a virtual barrier the body struggles to get through once it has depleted its energy supplies. During a marathon race, usually at around the 20-mile mark, the liver and muscles run out of the much-needed glycogen supplies that provide energy to the legs and arms. Once this happens the body will switch to another energy source, fat. Unfortunately, burning fat for energy is far less efficient and the body grinds to a halt. Symptoms? Exhaustion, weakness, dizziness and even hallucinations. Check out this poor bloke who hits the wall in the final 200m of the London Marathon. I don’t like the look of that at all; the body not even having enough energy to walk like a normal person. 

Annoyingly, most marathon training plans won’t actually set you off on a full 26-mile practice run before the big day. In fact, almost all of them cap off the maximum distance at around 20 miles before tapering off a couple of weeks before race day. So we’ll never actually experience the wall until we’re being watched by half-a-million people, at which point you’ll probably just want to curl up into a ball and die!

So how do you prepare for the wall? Think P.C.D. (no, not the Pussycat Dolls. But hey, whatever works for you).

  • Pace
    Keeping to a steady pace during a run can be very difficult. The top athletes have pacers who tag-team around the marathon course keeping the athletes bunched together so they don’t travel too fast and burn out at the end. There may even be pacers within the masses that you can run with (Runner’s World offer free pace groups). Alternatively, wear a bench-mark bracelet that you can pick up on the day that will give you your correct split-times that you’ll need to stick to.
     
  • Carbs
    Many marathoners (marathoni?) will over-load on carbs during the two days up until the race and decrease their training regime to allow the body to store the glycogen levels for the big day. Also, consuming carbohydrates during the race is a must. Most sports drinks will suffice but some also like to experiment with sports gels at around the 15-mile mark and pre-empt hitting the wall.
     
  • Determination 
    If you do ‘bonk’ (another cracking term for wall hitting) then you’re not going to get through it without a little will power. Having your friends and family there at mile 20, cheering you on will give you a huge boost so make sure you round up your friends and get them to shout inspiring abuse at you at strategic points around the course.

Two pints of Golden Syrup and a pack of sugar please.

Apparently, experiencing the wall is similar to the effects of hypoglycemia due to the low blood-sugar levels. I’m diabetic and have had my fair share of hypos. They’re not pretty and I’m understandably nervous but I’m sure with some experimentation I’ll be OK. If any of you have any suggestions, tips or previous experience then I’d love to hear from you. Although I have had a lot of practice at hitting real walls (I live with my girlfriend), I’m in new territory here.

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