More Things I Like

Continuing in the same vein as my other “things I like” posts, here are some things that I have liked recently…

The Joe Rogan Experience #1027

Joe Rogan interviews Courtney Dauwalter, who won a 238 mile race by a considerable distance, and what’s more, she seems to have done it with more than a bit of the half arsed spirit about her, shunning diet plans and not really being able to give much explanation of how she managed it. Joe jokes throughout that her diet plan appears to be beer and nachos.

But the flip side is that she has some serious, serious grit. Think of the baddest bad-arse you know and then add some extra bad-arse on top of that. I won’t go into detail as it would ruin some of the surprises in the podcast but Joe pretty much nails it in his description of her as “savage”.

 

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This is a National Geographic documentary that has made it onto YouTube. It covers the attempt made by Nike last year to see whether it was humanly possible to run in a marathon in less than two hours.

Taking the concept of marginal gains to a whole other level, we see the efforts of three of the greatest marathon runners in the world. Especially impressive is Kenyan runner, Eliud Kipchoge, who did manage a time of two hours and twenty five seconds. He trains well, he eats well, and he has good form. But the thing that got me was his complete air of stoicism as he runs. This was a timely reminder to someone like myself (who isn’t always as positive as I could be on the longer runs) that mindset is incredibly important in big events.

 

Worst Training Run Ever

We knew and accepted that we had to prepare for a marathon. We knew we had to get a long distance run in, and we have enjoyed the canal path that runs from Newbury to Reading before.

On this occasion, it was just unfortunate that it happened to rain on us THE ENTIRE TIME.

 

Here’s what it looked like:

If this looks grim to you, it’s because it was.

It was absolutely horrible.

We were even given every chance to bail as Lil’ Sis’ dropped us off at Newbury station and, seeing the downpour that was going on, offered to pick us up at any point along the route.

But we carried on…

…and on…

…and on…

…for the entire twenty one miles. The paths were so muddy we were forced to walk several sections, simply for our own safety. It was sometimes a case of putting your foot down and watching it slide away from under you.

It ended up taking us four hours and twenty minutes. We were also soaked to the skin and pretty cold by the time we finished.

Was all this just to get extra man points, extra grit, extra hardcore runner credentials?

Here’s the point where the post is supposed to take a turn and I tell you about some profound realisation that came to me whilst I was out in the elements. I then end on an inspirational quotation. But unfortunately that didn’t happen. We got the mileage done and considered ourselves lucky not to have come down with colds afterwards.

Don’t get me wrong, a run like this does help your training and does show you, once again, that you can always do more than you think you can. It builds character, but sometimes character building is a slow burn; it happens without any fireworks, and in a very low key way. It plays itself out against the grey, rain-drenched backdrop of the Newbury canal path.

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The Magna Carta Marathon

This was the first Magna Carta Marathon and we knew from early on that this was going to be a small scale event as we collected our race numbers, which were in the single digits.

By “we”, I mean me and my Running Buddy, to whom I was a bit of a let-down by wanting to walk parts of the course, having only prepared with a single twenty one mile run, and prior to that not running any distance farther than a half marathon this year.

This was taking half-arsing it to another level!

To be fair, this wasn’t a deliberate refusal to train, but I keep getting issues with my knees, hamstrings, ankles – basically every part of my legs – whenever I try to increase my mileage. This is something that has been gradually getting better since replacing my trainers, which I’m guessing were long overdue to be changed.

On top of my poor preparation for the race, I had a mini-meltdown before the event, because I forgot my music player. 26.2 miles seemed to become instantly longer without any tunes, and to make matters worse, this was a race that allowed – even encouraged – headphones. The director even told us during his health and safety talk, if you want to listen to music on this course, there’s no road running, so fill your boots.

Those were his exact words: fill your boots. I was not impressed with myself.

But there was semi-good news – my Lil’ Sis’ would be coming to support and she said she would bring her mp3 for me to listen to during the last loop. I say “semi-good” because our musical tastes aren’t exactly what you would call aligned but you take what you can get when you’re a muppet and FORGET YOUR MUSIC PLAYER!

The race was five loops along the side of the river in Egham, taking it’s name because it was the site where the Magna Carta was signed. The first two loops were only a couple of miles each and then there were three or four six mile loops, which obviously became increasingly more difficult.

Not everyone likes loops, as it can be quite depressing to be covering the same piece of ground for a third or fourth time, except being more exhausted each time you get there. However, for me, I find that they help me to calibrate my run, and pace myself.

At the aid stations, I discovered a thing called Tailwind, which the race director apparently swears by. I thought it tasted disgusting to be honest. It’s hard to say whether it helped me, but taking that, combined with generally hydrating at every aid station, meant I managed to avoid the headache I sometimes get after running really long distances.

We met a lady who was wearing a one hundred club T-shirt. (The one hundred club members have run at least one hundred official marathons.) She said that she had actually run 281 marathons, but unfortunately they only give you a T shirt after the first 100. She also told us that she would be running another marathon the very next day. (Yes, these people really do exist! She makes my Running Buddy look sane, and he can’t wait to enter a one hundred mile race next year – he has already asked me to be his pacer for the last thirty miles.)

Strangely, the lack of music didn’t affect me as badly as I thought it would and I returned a marathon PB of 5h17m50s, which is still really slow – a fact that can be easily explained away by the consideration that I was never really that good in the first place! On top of that, this was only my second actual marathon (third if you consider the one I dropped out of). I crossed the finish line in quite an upbeat mood and then it was off to the nearby Harvester for a pulled pork BBQ burger.

 

 

 

Successes in 2017

I said I would post more often, and not leave it another several weeks again.  But then it was all work-stress, preparation for Christmas, getting sick, etc. etc.

I haven’t even run in my new minimalist shoes. (I know!) When you’re busy, it’s just easier to stick with what you know, I suppose, and what I know is shuffling along in the same old shoes, with the same old gait.

At least it’s better than not running at all though.

One thing I did do is pick all my medals up from a pile on the floor (where they had been languishing) and start to show them the respect they deserve by displaying them properly. The medals you see in the photo represent competitive races I’ve completed, and in one case, a race I dropped out of.

Training often encourages a tendency to always be looking forward to the next thing, which is good, and at the moment would be the Farnborough Winter Half Marathon for me.

But sometimes it’s  good to take the time to celebrate previous achievements.

This rack of medals represents how far my running has come in 2017, since I began training for the Reading Half Marathon, as most of the medals were acquired this year.

Left to right, we have:

  • Dash in the Dark – this was a really well organised, 10k, around the woods, with a lot of neon bling on display from the competitors and the organisers. (I did sport a few glow sticks myself). I really enjoyed this event and there was something really special about following the trail of glow sticks around a moonlit woods. This medal was particularly cool because it lets you know that you entered the event during its very first year. (Long may it continue…)
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(Yes, that is tinsel around the medal rack.)
  • The Rutherford Appleton 10k (last year’s event)
  • The Hurt (2015 event)
  • The Henley 10k (2015 event – this was held on the same day in October as the Rutherford 10k, which I entered instead in 2016 and 2017)
  • Windsor 15k (the red and white medal) – this was three loops of Dorney Lake, a man-made lake, built for rowing. It wasn’t particularly scenic but I quite like events that do circuits because it helps me to pace myself effectively. It was also an unusual distance and slotted in quite nicely as an intermediate step before the Reading Half. The 15k distance wasn’t the only event being held on the day, although all of the distances focused on doing loops around the lake (you guessed it – each loop itself was roughly 5k)
  • The Brixton 10k – this was a great event – two loops around the park in London. Lil’ sis’ and I signed up at the last minute so that we could visit our brother in Herne Hill for the weekend without sacrificing a weekend training run. I have to admit, it’s one of the most colourful medals I’ve been awarded though.

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The Farnham Pilgrim

Whilst I was thinking about possibly signing up for a 10k, maybe when the wind blows in the right direction, my Running Buddy has completed another marathon.

Despite my lack of support on the day, he has kindly agreed to answer my questions about the event:

 

I know you have fond memories of this event. Can you tell me a bit about why that is and whether it lived up to your expectations second time around?

I have fond memories of the event as it was my first marathon, and it certainly lived up to my expectations this time around. One of the reasons I love this event (apart from the fact that it is well run – thanks organisers and volunteers) is that the course is difficult, and not suited to PBs. This means that the people running it are more relaxed and they’re running for fun, which makes it a great atmosphere. The take-themselves-too-seriously crowd (who are, of course, more important than anyone else there) don’t show up¹.

What was your time, and were you happy with it?

I was aiming for 04:45 but came in at 04:52, which I was happy with. I had the pace perfect for 04:45 but ran out of steam at 22 miles. So I’m happy with the performance but there’s room for improvement.

What is it about marathons that appeals to you so much? Are you still thinking to join the 100 club?

The marathon distance appeals to me because it is difficult. If it goes badly on the day, or you don’t prep correctly, you won’t get around the course. Even when a marathon is going well, it is difficult.

I do hope to join the marathon 100 club but I still have a long way to go. I think it’s a lifetime goal, and could be a great achievement.

How was your recovery? Do you have any advice to anyone new to long distances?

The recovery was good. I haven’t run for a week. My standard recovery process is two pints in a hot bath watching Netflix. (I’m not sure that this would be recommended by the pros.) The more events you enter, the quicker the recovery becomes. But from what I have read, the most important thing is take in calories within twenty minutes of finishing, and then to eat a full meal within two hours.

 

¹I don’t think my Running Buddy is getting at first finishers here, or anyone who races for a time. We are astonished by the times some runners are able to achieve, and we know that there’s incredible dedication and discipline involved!

It’s just that at this point we’ve both seen an awful lot of arrogant arse-hats, who look down on anyone attempting the event on an amateur level, as if they don’t deserve to be there.

The thing is, that without all the middle-of-the-pack and back-of-the-pack runners paying their race fees, there wouldn’t be an event at all – Half

 

Finishing Race to the Stones – the 100k Ultra Marathon

In some of my posts I have referred to “my running buddy”. We often do long distance training runs together, and sign up for many of the same races. In this post, I interview him about what it was like to compete in the 100k (62 mile) Race to the Stones, if only to prove that he really does exist, and isn’t some Tyler Durden style hallucination, although when it comes to running he is equally as bad-arse as the founder of fight club. (And yes, he has the same T-shirt as me but that doesn’t mean he is me – I’m far too lazy to run 100k.)

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Why do you hate your feet so much?

Most runners have a love-hate relationship with their feet. They love what they can do for them, but they treat them with abuse. But not looking after your feet is like having a car you never bother to service. It will catch-up with you in the end.

(As background to this question, Running Buddy’s feet are covered in blisters and one is the size of two fifty pence pieces. He has also just informed me that he lost two of his toenails. We thought we would spare you the photos.)

Part of the reason that you have such large blisters was the rainfall early on in the race? We have now raced in extreme (for the UK anyway) heat and pouring rain? Which do you prefer?

The rain is better if you’re prepared for it but the heat just drains you! If you’re running a long way and there’s even the slightest chance of rain, you need to have a spare pair of dry socks with you. I think this is one of the areas in which our lack of ultra-running experience showed.

I ran the 50k version of Race to the Stones as this was my first attempt at such a long distance and I thought I would see how I handled that, but what you did could technically be described as running two ultra-marathons, back-to-back. What’s wrong with you?

How do I answer a question like that?

It’s like that part in the Barkley Marathon documentary when the guy says it’s not really a challenge unless there’s some chance that you might not finish, that you might, in fact, fail. You’ve got to test yourself in a way that’s relative to whatever level you’re at.

How did you feel when you left me at Basecamp*?

*Basecamp was at 51k and marked the finish of my run, but only the halfway point for Mr Buddy.

I felt good actually – ready to get some more miles in and not dwell on the fact that it was only halfway.

You keep saying you slowed me down but the split was actually eight hours for the first 50k and nine hours for the second.

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What would be your advice to someone contemplating their first ultra?

Bring clean, spare socks and stuff your face continuously! Eat whatever you can get your hands on and in your stomach at each and every pit stop. And don’t leave eating until later on: after the ninth pit-stop, I saw a woman trying to eat and then just throwing up in a bush afterwards.

So you were trying to replenish all those calories so you wouldn’t hit a wall. How many calories did you burn overall?

According to my Garmin, it was well over 9000, nearer to 10,000.

The Race to the Stones follows an ancient English path. What were you favourite parts of the course?

All of it, the general scenery – I didn’t end up seeing many of the landmarks. The field of gold was good; everyone was fresh and enjoying it.

How many days do you think it will take you to get back to normal?

Actually, I’m contemplating going for a run tomorrow. (This was the Tuesday after the Saturday event.) The only restriction is the state of my feet at the moment.

Do you want to do the Ring O’ Fire in September?

For the last two days, I’ve been thinking, “I’ll never do another ultra again”, but now I’m thinking that 100 miles has to be the next target.

I will need to work out a way not to get horrible blisters though.

Do you have anything else to add?

Yeah, Race to the Stones was a great event, really well-organised, and the pit stops were amazing.

The atmosphere was great too. There was a real sense of camaraderie and no-one judging anyone else.

Three things I like…

The Barkley Marathons: The race that eats its young

(We watched this on Netflix but it is also available elsewhere.)

This is the documentary of one of the craziest races in the world. The “official” race is five loops of a twenty mile trail (competitors often quote a very different mileage). The entry fee is less than $2 and when you are successful in your application (having passed an entry exam), you receive a letter of condolence. Seriously, it is really entertaining and inspirational. You should watch it!

Haruki Murakami – What I talk about when I talk about running

This is a gentle, understated book that offers real insight into a lifetime of discipline as a long distance runner. I love both running and writing, and fully understand Murakami’s view that they somehow go hand in hand as complementary activities.

The Guardian Long Reads – The Sugar Conspiracy

I listened to this as a podcast on Spotify but it is also available as an article on The Guardian’s website.

This is not only about nutrition, but also the dogma and entrenched cronyism that can sometimes hold back the scientific community and put the brakes on human understanding. You will probably be quite shocked.

I would recommend the Guardian Long Reads podcast in general. These are really in-depth looks at several topics relevant to the modern world.

 

(I didn’t want to fall foul of Copyright law, which I know absolutely NOTHING about, so I have included an irrelevant, but hopefully not altogether unpleasant, picture of one of my runs to accompany this post.)