Posts Tagged ‘Blackheath’

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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Flora London Marathon 2009: Race Day – part 1

Flexing the guns pre-raceI made it to race day without injury. The previous day, on a very, very easy jog around Blackheath, I’d lashed a couple of footballs back to some kids playing in the park and immediately thought, “Why the hell did I do that?”. I’d avoided injury so far, why risk it the day before the marathon? Perhaps I was being overly cautious, but short of lining the walls of my flat with cotton wool, I’d done everything in my power to make sure my body was at my peak of physical fitness. My vitamin C levels were through the roof, I’d had pasta 3 nights running and the only exercise I’d done the day before (besides the short jog first thing in the morning) was the washing up.

Come race morning I was fired up. I had two slices of toast with jam (I decided to skip the baked beans as the previous day I’d tested a tin of Tesco’s finest with flatulent results) and a banana, topped off with a carbo gel and a lucozade sport I’d bought at the Expo. Surprisingly, I didn’t feel nervous. I’d had a good night’s sleep and felt I’d done all I could to prepare. We got to the red section at 9:15am (fully lubed-up with Bodyglide and two small circles of Compeed over the nipples). The race started at 9:45am so I took some time to take a look around at my surroundings. Not surprisingly the queue for each WC was 30-people deep. The sun was out in force so most had a bottle of water and everyone was smiling.

The gate to get across the road to the red section was closing at 9:30am so I said my goodbyes and made my way across. I was immediately instructed by Ant (or Dec) that the baggage lorries would be closing imminently and it was last call to get your belongings in before the start. I wasn’t prepared at all and bundled all of my stuff into the bag and quickly dropped trou for some last minute Bodyglide action – much to the dismay of an elderly lady runner behind me. At least my arse couldn’t look any better after all the training! I then had to sprint to my allocated lorry before it closed (of course it was at the opposite end of the line) and then dive into the urinal queue before the start of the race (which was now about 60-people deep). Lesson learned – get there earlier next time.

Mam, me and Uncle Ed

I started in zone 6 (out of 9) which meant there were quite a few runners in front of me and by the time the start had commenced the sun was really shining and it had started to get quite hot. This was it. Four months of training had led up to this point and I was keen to get going. We crossed the line 10 minutes after the official race start and started plodding down Shooters Hill Road.

I immediately needed a wee. You have to get a decent amount of fluid down before the start of the race (especially as the sun was out) so this was expected. I’d been told that needing the loo at the start of the marathon was often just a sign of nerves and that I should hold out for a few miles (if only to avoid the large queues at the start). So I kept going and took the whole experience in. The road was so congested with runners that you just couldn’t go at any different pace than that of the crowd. Luckily, the pace was perfect; a gentle jog to ease us in to the first couple of miles. The weather had meant that the crowds were out in force and all of the windows of the houses that lined the road towards Charlton were full of spectators. An elderly gent running to the right of me had a sign that read ‘Hip Hip…’ on one side and ‘Hooray!’ on the other, which he would spin back to front towards the crowd. Brilliant.

The first 5 miles went by in a flash. The red group had now merged with the blue and green (without any booing) and we were making our way into Greenwich to the Cutty Sark. I’d now spotted the blue line on the road, which maps the shortest distance of the course and I was doing my best to stick to it. Impossible. The sheer volume of runners prevents you from doing anything other than what the mass says. Darting in and out of runners at different paces would only use up vital energy and I was keeping a pretty good pace. In fact my first three 5k times were very consistent and I was running at around the 9 or 10 minute mark and feeling great (if a little unsettled by the growing urge to urinate). The Japanese Taiko drums were incredible as we went under the bridge just before Greenwich. I found myself with goosebumps and could have used that feeling of adrenalin much later in the race.

The fansThe crowds really were amazing and the volume of people had now picked up to two or three deep along both sides of the road. Having my name on the front of my vest really helped as the encouragement is 10-times more effective if someone calls your name. As we turned the corner at the Cutty Sark everyone did their best to avoid Matt Baker. I’ve run around this area a lot and I was wondering how they would avoid the steep steps at the back of the ship next to the entrance to the Greenwich walkway. A ramp, genius. I passed the Justgiving team at this point (squashed up against the barrier) and gave them a wave but none of them saw me. Never mind, I was coming up to mile 7 and the first MS Society cheering point (where I knew Sally, friends and family would be). I saw them from a mile off. Sally was balanced precariously on a fence and my Mam and Uncle were both waving fiercely and cheering. Along with the support of the MS Society crowd, this was a fantastic lift.

After spotting a gap in a fence where a group of male runners were urinating, I stopped for a 30-second pit stop. I’d managed to hold out until mile 9 and probably could have gone on longer so it was definitely the nerves and anticipation of the race that had made me want to go so early on. I did feel for the female runners queuing up to use the portaloos though. If I’d have stayed still for any longer than the 30 seconds I did then I’d have probably seized up quite badly.

After the first really big milestone, Tower Bridge and the half way point, I’d managed a time of 2:11:26 (on course for sub 4 and a half hours) and I was feeling pretty good. I was now into my third carbo gel of the day and I’d kept very hydrated. It was hard not to stay hydrated as the volunteers handing out the 750,000 bottles of Vittel throughout the day were absolutely fantastic. Every time I wanted a drink I was handed one. The only gripe I had with the organisation throughout the whole day was at around mile 11 when the crowds were not controlled and had encroached heavily on the road, narrowing the course for the runners. This caused a massive bottle-neck and meant everyone had to slow down to almost a walk.

The second half of the course didn’t go so well. But that’s another story…

(see part 2)

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Eager or Anxious?

Watch out for me on SundayI am now fully immersed in marathon excitement/frustration/anxiety. There are 4 more days to go until this is all over and every part of me is wishing Sunday would hurry up and get here. The lack of exercise is driving me slightly loopy. I’m constantly fidgeting, doodling and finding every excuse to move around. Today I ran up the stairs at work as fast as I could like a little school boy, taking three steps at a time. I even jumped ahead with my checklist and bought my 7 DVDs to watch on Saturday today. One of which was Run Fat Boy Run.

Although I’m ready and raring to go, a side of me is wishing I had longer. I have no idea what I’m going to do with myself after the marathon is over and done with and apparently I’m not alone with this feeling. There is actually a condition called post marathon depression, where a person, instead of feeling relief and a sense of achievement, feels empty and falls into a lull. I’m sure I’ll be feeling the former, plus I have a 10k race booked in after (in which I’m hoping to break the 50-minute mark).

Over the past few days all I’ve done is research the London Marathon in a bid to get a feel for what the experience is going to be like. I don’t want any surprises coming my way on Sunday. In doing so I stumbled across the London Marathon media pack, which contains a multitude of brilliant facts about the marathon – like the following:

  • The most money raised for charity by a single marathon runner was £1,841,138
  • This year over 150,000 people applied to run the marathon, around 50,000 normally get accepted and around 36,000 actually start
  • The most common profession amongst this year’s runners is teaching/education
  • 159 of the runners will be celebrating their birthday on race day
  • 300 litres of blue paint will be used to paint the line on the course that represents the shortest distance
  • 750,000 bottles of water will be distributed throughout the course
  • The fastest time run in a Santa outfit is 3:12:27!

However, this is the most worrying fact…

  • Number of urinal bays at the start = 400

Lets say that out of the 36,000 people that normally start, 20,000 odd are men (this year the number of men out-weigh the women at around 3-1). Lets also assume that every man will need the loo at least once during the build up to the start. That equates to 50 men per urinal! This is probably why the London Marathon magazine in the starters pack contains this picture…

My garden is near the start line!

I’ve always been one for toilet humour.

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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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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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Marathon training begins:

…as it seems to have done for a lot of others!

Last week marked week 1 of a 16-week training programme for the intermediate runner. As an intermediate runner I should be comfortable with ‘4-5 hours a week and have previously completed a marathon or 10k race’. Last year I ran in my first race, the BUPA London 10k, and ran a fairly respectable time of 55 minutes.

Before Monday I hadn’t run until before the Christmas break so I’m feeling a little soggy around the mid-section. I’d normally combat this by ‘sucking in’ but trying to do that while running for 1 hour+ is a joke. To be fair, it’s not like I’ll be grabbing any phone numbers as I whisk by (crawl by).

I’d managed to secure a place in the London Marathon 2009 back in November. I applied through the open ballot registration immediately after the 2008 marathon but apparently you either have to be Gordon Ramsey or have run in a marathon a few times before to even dream of getting a place this way. The 10k I ran was for Diabetes UK (I’m a type 1 diabetes sufferer) and I raised just under £600 for them but that didn’t count at all and I couldn’t secure one of their 80 places. I then managed to secure a place running for the MS Society (my sister-in-law suffers from MS), but not before I was denied a place at first and had to be put on their ‘reserve’ list. I thought the hard part was supposed to be the marathon itself!

This week I’ve done 4 hours training. 2 of those were on the treadmills in my local gym. I love running on the treadmill, especially when someone glides up next to me all confident, runs for 20 minutes and walks off bright red in the face, breathing so hard that his personal trainer can hear him while he’s creeping off to the changing room for a cigarette (I would have used the word ‘fag’ but my gym is gay friendly). I look over all smug out of the corner of my eye and mouth ‘pah’.

But the 2 hours of outdoor running leave me feeling pretty pathetic. My attire consists of a grey hoodie, jogging bottoms and a black hat (I look like Rocky) but in the area where I live (Blackheath – the starting place of the London Marathon) there are some supreme athletes. They must be on the same training schedule as me because the number of joggers I’ve seen this week has tripled, and their pace is twice that of mine. I see one of these joggers every morning on my way to work, he passes me at the same point on the pavement. He’s always bounding past and it’s gotten to the point where we exchange the slightest of nods as if to say,

“Morning Ronald McRunner. Legging it again today I see?”
“Yes, I’m awesome.”

I either need a jogging partner (to keep pace with) or I’ll have to start following one of these supreme joggers around as they run. If I’m not in prison for stalking this week I’ll let you know how I’m getting on.

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