Archive for the ‘Fitness’ Category

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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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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Why Am I Gaining Weight?

During Christmas 2008 I stuffed myself. I’d been up North for the festive season and just before I returned to London for the new year I weighed myself. 13 stone; the most I’ve ever weighed. I was gobbling down roast dinners like they were canapés and even after I’d had my fill and the gravy was seeping through my pores, I’d still find the room to stuff down a tube of Pringles.

Knowing full well that come January I’d be on the highway to health, I assumed that a little overindulgence would do me no harm. My first week of training alone would cover 4 hours and 5 minutes of running time so I felt confident that, if I stuck to the plan, the pounds would fall off. During the second week of training I dusted off my IKEA scales in the bathroom and had a peek at the oscillating numbers in front of me.

13-stone, 3 pounds

Not to worry. My clothes and the change in my pocket could account for that. Plus, these scales were different to the ones I’d used back home. But, this morning (week 4) I weighed myself on the scales again (this time, straight from the shower)…

1312

I’ve gained half a stone in one month. What the hell?! I was supposed to be losing weight, not putting on the equivalent of a new born baby! After turning to the net for comfort (no, not like that) I soon calmed down. Apparently there are two reasons to account for this:

  1. Muscle mass is denser than fat
    Hopefully, during marathon training your legs accumulate muscle mass. Muscle tissue will weigh 18% more than the same volume of fat. I wonder if Rick Waller used that excuse with his agent, just before he left Celebrity Fit Club. “I haven’t been eating more, I’ve just been working out too much!”
  2. You’re eating more
    Running is one of the fastest way to burn calories. But, by running your energy levels will deplete and hunger will set in, hard. Before long, breakfast alone isn’t going to get you through until lunch and you start to snack.

I think both of those apply to me. My legs look and feel more toned but I do have a bit of a pot belly. Although my metabolism is normally high I have been getting hungry by 11:30am (hungry is an understatement. I’d eat the pencil shavings on my desk if I could). Snacking can’t be avoided so see this page for tips on healthy snacks for runners. Just to clarify, I am not personally recommending peanut butter spread on apple slices.

For me, weight loss is not the reason I am running the London Marathon (you’d know this full well if you’ve ever spotted me inhaling a big bag of Kettle Chips) but for those of you who are taking up running to utilise a few more belt loops then you can follow these steps to avoid hunger.

Well done to About.com for featuring 3 times in this post. I should get paid for these plugs. I accept cash, cheques or chips…

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Treadmill Running:

'Checking it's real' at the Finsbury Cancer Research 10K 2008We’ve just had one of the coldest weather spikes in British history. For the first weeks of January 2009 the weather was so cold that worried pensioners up and down the country were given an extra £25 per week to help with their fuel bills.

Now, technically I’m a northerner. When I was a wee bairn I’d be fetching logs in for the fire in a pair of flip-flops and a tank top. But, one of the things they don’t tell you about moving to London is how hot the city can get and you quickly become acclimatised to it. So this cold spike hit ‘us’ southerners quite hard. I have a pair of jogging bottoms but they’re heavy and I haven’t quite plucked up enough courage to sport these ninja tights I keep seeing people wearing (I still look like a pigeon). So, to keep warm (and for convenience sake), I took up treadmill running at my local gym.

There are several advantages and disadvantages of running on a treadmill. But before we get on to these we first have to follow some rules:

  1. 20 minutes only at peak-time.
    From the hours of 5 – 7pm (in most gyms) you may run for a maximum of 20 minutes to allow others to have a turn. This rule is not displayed anywhere in the gym but is widely known (by everyone except yourself and will unwillingly be instructed to you by some know-it-all). I got thrown off the treadmill half way through a 40 minute stint the other day by a guy who then ran for 15 minutes at just above walking pace and did nothing but check out the local talent. Seething. My view is, if you can’t get to the gym fast enough to get a free treadmill then run faster.
  2. No comparing.
    You must never look at the runner next to you to compare their speed setting to yours. If you do you will instigate a level war. This is where you nonchalantly increase the speed of your treadmill to one setting above that of your neighbour. Your neighbour will respond but only when you’re looking the other way. This will continue until one party can take no more and hits the dreaded ‘Cool Down’ button.
  3. Look straight ahead.
    Look behind you or turn your head to the side at your peril. Your body will follow the direction of your head and before you know it you’ll be on the edge of the belt or falling off of the back.
  4. Let go of the hand-rails
    This is fine while walking, but if you hold on while running (some treadmills have heart-rate monitors that require you to hold on to two metal sections of the hand-rail) you’ll end up looking like either Frankenstein or the Lone Ranger.

If you follow these steps you’ll be able to reap the advantages of running indoors. You’ll be avoiding frostbite (in all seriousness), wind chill and, in wet weather, chafing. For advice on Winter running see this article from About.com. In the case of marathon runners, your training will take place in the Winter months. Then, come April and race day, the sun decides to shine like it did in the London Marathon 2007. All of a sudden you’re out of your comfort zone. You’re not used to the dry and hot conditions and you become dehydrated. Running indoors will acclimatise you to that heat.

The treadmill will also be softer on the joints than running on tarmac and can help you keep up the training while trying to relax those jarred bones. However, some experts tell us that it can be too soft on you. It’s all in the physics. When running on the ground, your legs are working hard to drive your centre of mass forward. You accelerate as you push off (when your leg is behind you) and decelerate as your front leg meets the ground. On a treadmill your centre of mass is static and your legs are positioned to keep your centre of mass stable. In essence, the ground is moving your legs, dramatically decreasing the work load. Where a treadmill is good for overall fitness, it may not be as beneficial to the competitive runner.

I’ll be sticking with it until the sun decides to shine after work. If it’s not your thing then I suggest you go out and buy eight treadmills and make yourself a kick-ass music video

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Recovering From Injury:

Unfortunately I think I’ve purchased my trainers and special double-layered socks a week too late. As a result of continued running with bad blisters (and adjusting my stride pattern to compensate) I think I’ve picked up a mild knee injury. It doesn’t feel that bad at all when I’m running (in fact the there is strangely hardly any pain at all). I only seem to feel it when I’m walking down hill or down steps. It one of life’s little ironies that I live at the top of a hill.

Greenwich Park

Injuries are a marathon trainer’s worst nightmare. I’ve been sticking to the training schedule like glue (see the useful sites page) and don’t want to be playing catch up in a few weeks time after I’ve recovered. It’s been hard enough getting used to the schedule and it’s only the 2nd week.

Runner’s World have a great section on dealing with injury and from it I’ve taken two key points:

  1. No complaining.
    Stay positive. Injury at some point is pretty much inevitable to those who are undertaking a marathon. The average marathon runner will complete over 500 miles of training runs in that 3-4 month build up to that big Sunday (over 800 for an advanced runner). That’s an average of 1,000,000 individual steps to avoid slipping on some grass, dodging a puddle or hopping over an uncontrollable Jack Russel on a long leash. The law of averages has to catch up with you. Complaining about it is only going to piss off those around you. Keep your cool, get better and carry on.
    .
  2. No slacking.
    Unless you’ve broken your back the chances are that you can still exercise and keep yourself active enough to stay in shape. If you have bad sores or blisters then use the stepping machine. If your upper body is injured then get on the bikes. Lift weights, walk, stretch or row, just maintain your basic level of fitness so that when you do recover you haven’t lost any ground. If your training plan says a 30 minute run then do something else for 30 minutes and don’t eat any differently to how you normally would.

I’m not sure if this knee ailment is going to cause a problem or not. I’ll keep a support on it but I think I’ve diagnosed it. I swear, all you need these days to be a doctor is a blackberry and google in your bookmarks. Google search ‘my knee hurts when running downhill’ and the second search result is this. Patellofemoral Pain Syndrome. Easy. Use this link at work when your colleague asks you a silly question. It’ll go down a treat I promise.

How is it treated? Ice-pack, ibuprofen and a knee support.
I’m such a wuss…

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