The start of something new

Well… the end of 2016 is upon us and what have I achieved with my running over the past 12 months ? I’ve ran over 2000 miles, I have 2 more marathons under my belt, found a lovely new half marathon which is going to become a regular on my calendar, a few new races that I’ve found challenging, and a old favourite that I couldn’t imagine not doing, but most of all I’ve found a new love … trail running.

I’ve always enjoyed getting out there on the trails but it’s really taken off this year, I ran a sort of trail marathon this year (along the Thames path) and enjoyed every step of it. I now look forward to Sunday’s when I can get my backpack on and go and explore. I love the feeling of finding new things, running though the mud and woods, reaching the top of hills to find fantastic views but most of all I love the freedom.

Freedom … some people will ask what I mean by this and I’ve got to say I have become a lot less obsessed with the data on my Garmin, so much so I’ve changed the screen to a different format. I’m not so worried about pace anymore and have started looking more at things like elevation and heart rate.  While I will always enjoy a road race, and running on the roads is a must to get training done, I now think of that as time I’ve spent to improve the time I can spend on trails.

I’ve enjoyed my new found guilty pleasure so much I’ve signed up to my first ultra marathon in 2017, I must be completely out of my mind (and lots of people have pointed this out) but I’m really looking forward to running my first 100km in the summer. I have so many questions about how I should go about it, so many things to try out and loads of new places I want to run. I haven’t a clue how it’s going to go but I’m going to start writing in my blog more again and keep you updated.

Anything you would like to throw out there in the way of advise (apart from don’t do it) feel free to comment, in my book you never stop learning so I truly welcome it, or follow my Instagram or Twitter accounts (links are in my blog) to see in pictures how it’s going.

Wish me luck …

I do enjoy a challenge. 

Like most runners I speak to I’ve got to say that I do enjoy a challenge, the question is how do we challenge ourselves with things that will help us to push and improve ourselves as runners,  but not be totally unachievable, because if you total miss your goals this can become demoralising and have a negative effect on our training.

The thing that we probably push ourselves the most with is racing, which is as a long term goal which involves a set period of training usual over many weeks or months, but I  like to also try to and set myself short term goals just to keep me on top of my training. One way I like to do this is by entering challenges on Strava. While Strava is mostly considered a cycling app I find that the running challenges can be very beneficial to my training therefore every month I enter the total distance, 10km and half marathon challenges but recently I have started entering the hill climbing challenge as well.

This month for example I have signed up to run 3500 metres of hill climbing, now I can hear all you people that live in the countryside with big rolling hills saying “is that all ?” but I live in London, which is not a place that is well known for its hills, but now every time I get out for a run I am actively looking for hills. Will this help my running ? its to early to tell at the moment but I’m certainly doing more hill climbing then Ive done in years, is it driving all of the people I run with crazy because I’m now always looking for hilly routes or shouting “oh there’s a hilly over there shall we go that way ?” …  probably……. but as I said to one friend the other day “when they run a hilly race, they will be thanking me”

I also belong to two running groups on Strava called UK marathon chat and UK run chat which both have a weekly distance challenges were you can compare how your doing against other runners (and both are brilliant twitter groups were people can exchange tips, answer questions and general help support other runners) I find this does motivate me to get out the door some days knowing that if I get that run in I can see myself jump up that leader board a few places. It also sometimes has me sitting there staring at the computer in total amazement at some of the distances people run in a week !

I feel that challenging myself more will not only improve my running but also improve my confidence while running, I have already began looking at hills a lot more positively,  where they used to worry me a bit I now feel more relaxed about them and have learned, what I think, is a very important lesson ….. sometimes you are running up a hill at the same speed you could walk it, so walk it ! there’s no shame in it and the energy that you save getting up at the same speed only  makes that downhill a bit more enjoyable.

The run commute

I used to have trouble fitting training into my busy day and the thought of getting up at the crack of dawn to go running just didn’t appeal to me and then one day it hit me … why not use all that time I spend sitting (but mostly standing) on a packed train getting to or from work more constructively and run. 

I live 8 miles from my place of work and to be honest at the beginning I was a bit daunted by the idea of running, but needs must so I took the plunge. Now, according to Strava (and we all know if it’s not on Strava it didn’t happen), I’ve run to or from work over 100 times and I say that with a little bit of pride, but also it has been a hard learning curve into discovering some important things about the run commute that I felt like sharing.

1. Invest in a good quality rucksack, I have tried may different ones during my journey and each time I have discovered something important such as having  somewhere handy and easily accessible to keep your phone, you will get a call and it’s just annoying when your phone is in the bottom of your bag. Make sure your bag is waterproof or has a cover, I have got into work more then a few times to find wet clothes awaiting me in my bag, which is not a good start to the day. Make sure the bag has the capacity that’s right for you, I have had to big and to small and both are very annoying. And the most important, make sure it fits you correctly, to big and the bouncing will drive you crazy and to tight will just rub everywhere.

2. Explore, I’m always trying to find new routes home and now choose between about 5 or 6 routes ranging from 8 to 10 miles, saying that I’m also not afraid to cut a run short, you have to listen to your body and do what’s right for you on the day, yes it can be a bit annoying at the time but if things are not going well its the right thing to do to sometimes avoid injury.

3. I use the time run commuting to catch up on podcasts, I love listening to ultra running podcasts like The Ginger Runner and Ultra Runner Podcast who both do some really good interviews and reviews, but I don’t get to carried away with them because running the same route a lot can cause complacence and that leads to getting hurt and safety is always the most important thing.

4. If your training for a race incorporating your speed work into your run commute is, with a bit of planning, quite straight forward. Work out your wam up and cool down times and then divide the time in between for the session you have planned. Don’t have the time for that ! Then use traffic lights, road junctions or lamp posts as targets and sprint to them, use the next one as a cool down and then repeat, you’ll be surprised how well this works

5. Keep a change of clothes at work, you will never know when you will need them and they are always handy. 

The most important thing is to just enjoy it because without enjoyment in our running what’s the point ? Now get out there and give run commuting a go, you don’t know what your missing. 

Parkrun is a wonderful thing. 

Parkrun, in my opinion, is a wonderful thing. Every Saturday morning at 9am thousands of people stand on the startline at one of the 392 Parkruns that take place in the UK and get ready to run 5k. It’s not just in the UK this happens, there are over 2 million people registered to run globally, just think about that figure for a moment, over 2,000,000 people are registered to run 5k every Saturday, that is just mind blowing. 

Now I love a Pakrun, but because I work on Saturdays I’ve only ran 7 in the 18 months I’ve been registered, but I’m always amazed by the variety of people that turn up to run week in, week out. I tried a new run last week and there was a lady celebrating her 100th Parkrun and they were all done at Southwark Park, the level of commitment needed to do this deserves a medal in my opinion, it means come rain or shine every Saturday for over 2 years this lady has put on her running gear, got to the park and ran 5k. While this amazes me there was also a guy running with a 250 Parkrun shirt on, I get a headache just thinking about that. 

I try to visit different parks for my runs but the level of commitment from the volunteers is always the same, they are like a family  all working together to put on an event for their community. I’ve never been a regular anywhere but I’m always surprised by the friendliness of the people, I always have people come up to me and chatting and there is never a sense of elitism that really bugs me at some events, there are just genuine people who are just there to enjoy themselves. 

The other thing I love about Parkrun is that it’s not a race, it is just about you against yourself and this is what I think has made Parkrun such a success, if you want to push yourself you can but equally if you just want a gentle jog it’s not a problem, there is no pressure. This is what I think makes the variety of people so broad, from your club runners in short shorts and vest to the little old lady in her jogging bottoms and cotton t shirt, everyone is equal, everyone mixes and there is a noticeable lack of egos. 

I was reading a triathlon training plan the other day and I was amazed to see that for a speed session on a Saturday they said do a Parkrun, when an event makes it to part of a weekly training session in a national triathlon magazine training program you know something is working and that a winning formula has been found. 

Anyway, while I won’t be ordering my 50 Parkruns t shirt anytime soon I am going to make sure I get to that startline on as many Saturday’s as I can and continue to try as many new parks as I can get to , I just hope that you enjoy Parkrun as much as me and if you’ve never run one, register today and get down to your local Parkrun, you won’t regret it. 

Have you been running in Hyde Park lately ?

I love running in London, once you’ve conquered the crowded streets of the city and west end, battled across busy roads packed with cars trying to get into that inch of space that will get them home 5 seconds earlier, you reach the most amazing open green spaces that you can imagine, filled with history and new things to discover.

To get there I use the “where does that road go” method of running, when I leave work I go to the end of the road and turn right, that gives me a straight road to Hyde Park just over 2 miles away, but this road takes me straight though Oxford Street and nobody in their right mind is going to do that ! So I take the aproach that as long as I’m running in that direction it doesn’t matter how many side roads I take I’m going to end up at (or near) Marble Arch, so that’s what I do, yes my Strava route looks a bit strange, but it’s the most painless and least congested way to go.

Once you hit Marble Arch and (after risking life and limb battling across the roads) you get into Hyde Park it’s like being in a different world, your surrounded by trees and bridle paths and straight away you feel more relaxed and just fall into a comfortable pace. No matter how many times you run there you can always take in new places, you can explore the Italian Gardens, look at sculptures at the Sepentine Pavilion, run past Kennisgton Palace, do a loop of the Sepentine or just people watch while you run. Looking at one of the maps on every corner gives you the fastest route to where you want to go, but sometimes you just want the stresses of the day to melt away and its just nice to follow one of the smaller paths and just see where it takes you.

Because I have to get back to Charing Cross to get my train home, my runs always take in Green Park and St James Park as well. Green park is nowhere near as much fun to run in as the other 2 and is really just a cut though, but St James Park is another great park to run in, just follow the lake for a great loop (don’t forget to check out Duck Island Cottage along the way) or run along The Mall with Buckingham Palace behind you and pretend your finishing the London Marathon.

But all good things must come to a end, and when you reach the end of The Mall you find Trafalgar Square where once again you get hit by the wall of cars and people rushing around and you suddenly realise your back in the heart of a busy city.

So if your thinking of visiting London bring your running gear and explore our parks, you won’t be dissapointed, if you live in London and have never done it nows the time to get out there, but just one last thing, keep an eye out for Parrotts !!

I love road running but …

It’s been a crazy few months that felt like I’ve been turning up at a race most weekends,  I have also rediscovered the joy which is cycling (and got some reasonable distance in) but what I’ve discovered most about myself recently is that I’m never happier then when I’m running on a trail.

I’ve always know this but a couple of recent runs has really hit this home to me. A few weeks ago I joined a group called the London Midnight Runners for a run from Regents Park to Richmond, this is something I’ve always fancied doing so when I saw it I jumped at the chance. They were a friendly and mixed group of runners and the miles just eased by, but as soon as we hit the river pathways I felt so relaxed and comfortable running along, without a care in the world really, that I knew deep down I was doing something I loved.

The following week I did the Chislehurst Half Marathon, this was the first running of this race and I can certainly say that it will become one of my must do races. A lot of it took in the local nature reserve and although I do go there quite a bit, this was the first time I’ve done the whole of the outside and inner pathways including the field, it was a beautiful experience in wonderful surroundings and reaffirmed my love a running in nature.

I have also started exploring the Regents Canal and Regents Park in my runs after work, I can get a good 6 – 7 mile run in, jump on the train, and still get home at a reasonable time. While this is not true trail running I sometimes have my breath taken away by the fact that somewhere so peaceful and relaxing can be smack bang in the middle of London.

While I understand the importance of road running and racing, and would never give it up, I’m now looking for more trail races to do and places to visit for my long runs that are a bit more exciting then just plodding along on the pavement. But living in London this might become quite hard and mean I have to travel more to get my runs in, I live by Oxleas wood which is the place my passion developed in, but I’ve explored most of these paths so I think now is the time to get a bit more adventurous.

My London Marathon 2016. 

After months of training and 6 weeks of worrying that I’d done to much (I’d done a marathon, half marathon & 15 mile cross country race in that time), on the 24th April I stood on the start line of the London Marathon for the 2nd time. The only thing that haunted me from the 1st time I’d done it was the 25 mile mark, this is where my garmin sounded the mile, but the marker was nowhere in sight. As you may (or may not know) when you run a big city marathon like London, unless you stick like glue to the route sprayed on the road it very likely that you will be running more then 26.2 miles and on that day I ran 26.75 miles (is that a ultra then ?) and I’ve always remembered that. So this year I decided to turn off the mile notifications on my garmin and only have it showing the time and average pace and work by the markers for my mile splits. This (for me) was a brave idea but I was going to give it a try. 

I was on the Green start line because I had a sponsors place (massive thank you to TAG Heuer) so only had to wait 4 minutes to get over the start line which was great considering last time I ran it took nearly 25 minutes, this ment this year there was no waiting around in the cold to start. 

I’ve got to say my pacing strategy worked well, I was passing the mile markers nearly bang on the times on my pacing band but still enjoying the atmosphere. I grew up in Greenwich so running around the Cutty Sark is completely mind blowing, the people and the nosie just carries you round, it doesnt even feel like your running. The same goes for Tower Bridge which once again is just a wall of  sounds and cheering. 

My pacing was going brilliantly until, you guessed it, mile 25 ! I hit this 1 minute 20 seconds behind my target and I decided  not to try and push the last mile to hard and to just enjoy it. Running past Buckingham Palace and down The Mall is considered, by some, to be a life changing experience that has seen grown men brought to tears, and I just lapped it up. I wanted to break the 4 hour mark but finished in 4:01:26, still a PB but I now know breaking 4 hours is not far away. 

One thing that has come up a lot this year is the subject of cheating, there was a number of people who just disappeared from the split times and turned up again with times that were of Olympic qualifying standard. This is just something I  don’t understand, when I look at my medal I see the result of all my hard work, my runs in the freezing cold and pouring rain, the times I just didn’t feel like it but forced myself out of the door. I see every high and low of my training and feel full of pride for what I achieved, but what do they see ? Just a constant reminder of the fact that they got their medal by cutting short an iconic route and cheating themselves.