The Unofficial Reading Half Marathon

This is the last post I will do about the cancelled Reading Half Marathon this year.

One of the stories that came out about it was that 100 or so runners decided to do it anyway, icy conditions and all.

I didn’t do that but when I was chatting about the cancellation with some work colleagues this week, it was proposed that we run the route ourselves.

And so on an otherwise unremarkable Wednesday evening, I found myself running 13.1 miles.

The Official Reading Half had fifteen thousand entries. Our event was admittedly a bit smaller with only three participants.

We followed roughly the route of the Half but couldn’t run across Reading University or through Madjeski stadium. We also didn’t benefit from road closures so we had to run alongside all the traffic on the dual carriageway.

The guy in the orange top is a lot faster than me and I will admit that I struggled. I said in my last post that I’ve been having trouble with my knees but I decided that after seven full days of rest, I was good to go again. Nevertheless it wasn’t too long before both my knees and hamstrings started causing me considerable pain. I’m afraid that I had to ask the guys to slow down a couple of times and I needed three walking breaks, especially on the big hill in Whitley. (I impacted their times considerably but they are both stand-up guys and very supportive.)

This was also hopefully my last run in my old running shoes, which I replaced last week with new ones that need breaking in over shorter distances. (The prompt was when Zombies, Run emailed to say I had completed 500k with the app. I realised that I must have done a lot of mileage in my shoes overall, and that may have been contributing to all the little pains and niggles I’ve been experiencing this year. I over-pronate and my shoes supposedly correct that. Project minimalist shoes has been shelved for now; I don’t have time to re-learn my gait before Race to the King.)

On the way over to meet them, I dropped by Sweatshop in Reading and asked if I could collect my medal for the cancelled race. I said I didn’t want a medal unless I earnt it but today I feel that I did.

The featured photo for the post shows the sun setting as we were running.

Silver Linings

Some people may have read my post yesterday and thought I was defending the race organisers of the cancelled Reading Half Marathon. To some extent, I was doing that –  because I do not think it is their fault that we were hit so badly with the snow.

However, as time goes on and they still haven’t put any new information up on their website, I am feeling less and less sympathy for them. People were able to collect race packs from the venue yesterday but again, this was only for a limited time and wasn’t communicated out very well. (I could have driven over but decided it wasn’t worth my time to collect a medal and finishers T-shirt for a race I didn’t finish. The medal needs to represent an achievement, really; otherwise it just becomes a piece of kitsch.)

It doesn’t look likely that there will be any refunds or that the race will be reorganised. I sincerely doubt that there will be free entries offered for next year either. Another, smaller, event was cancelled on the same day and it was said that it would bankrupt the organisers to issue refunds after all the money spent. (Which does make you wonder whether these events get insurance.)

However, I suspect that none of the above considerations are going to stop the participation numbers from dropping next year. It seems that most people aren’t angry at the cancellation but at the lacklustre response. The weather forecast was in place from Monday last week and there should have been time to plan out a goodwill gesture or something, rather than the sponsors having to step in (Sports Direct are offering £40 vouchers to all would-be participants).

This is a shame, because it will damage an event that I really like, on top of the disappointment of not being able to run in it yesterday.

And so on to the silver lining bit mentioned in the title…

My brother came from London to support myself and my running buddy so we played Mario Kart yesterday instead. Whilst I was talking with Running Buddy, I mentioned a specific pain I had been feeling below my left knee and he said that was a classic warning sign of runner’s knee. I said I had been resting up for my taper since last week’s ten miler on Sunday but he said I should rest some more.

So, who knows? Given that I would have been swept up in the atmosphere yesterday, I would have run hard, and maybe damaged it further. Maybe I’ve sidestepped an injury!

I am not detracting from anyone else’s disappointment or feeling that they were ripped off yesterday. I am just trying to keep myself positive by believing that some good may have come out of it for me personally.

In the meantime, this is me in my 2017 finisher’s T-shirt (notice how the sun is shining brightly now that we’re back into the working week!)

20180319_165200.jpg

 

All Revved Up With No Place To Go

I was due to leave my house forty five minutes ago. I was going to go and pick up my running buddy and drive down to the start line of the Reading Half Marathon. But as I was eating my pre-race porridge, he called me to tell me that the race was cancelled due to the snow.

No big shocker there as rumours have been circulating all week that this might happen, and this was the view from my bedroom window this morning…

20180318_080900.jpg

It was a bit of a late announcement though as I checked my phone first thing at 06:45 and there was nothing on the website to indicate cancellation at that stage.

I felt a weird mixture of relief (following on from the Farnborough Winter Half I knew that my feet would get soaked through in the first ten minutes and that’s how it would be for the rest of the run) and feeling a bit deflated: I had actually been getting psyched for this race, watching documentaries like the one about the sub-two marathon attempt all week.

So, like any good millennial, I took to social media to see what others were saying: it was the usual mix of unnecessary abuse, whingeing and general hilarity. There were also some genuine and heartfelt comments.

Corey0695 deserves to go viral for his video showing his reaction to the race cancellation. He’s in the hotel room by the dressing table, and he basically does a backwards flip back into the bed!

I was also amused by all the people talking about having a non-alocoholic St Patrick’s day for nothing.

As for the rest, it’s a sad state of affairs when you have two strangers arguing about the cancellation decision and descending into hurling abuse at each other – not the best use of this miraculous technological network we have invented to bring humanity together and share knowledge is it?

(“You’re a dickhead” “No, you’re a dickhead.” “NO, YOU’RE A DICKHEAD” etc. etc. etc. – yawn!)

A lot of people also want to blame the organisers for the late decision. Yes, I was just about to head out of the door when my Running Buddy rang me to tell me about the cancellation but I can understand that this is a drastic action to take (they have closed half of Reading’s roads and have set up a mini “race village” – a lot goes into this event.) It is therefore also understandable that they wanted to be sure.

I would be gutted if I was already on a train from another city or had paid to stay in a hotel, but why are people so eager to assign blame? Ultimately, it was the weather which has let us down, and until the New World Order develops a machine that can manipulate the weather, that’s not really anyone’s fault is it? (Hopefully I don’t need to clarify the less-than-serious tone of that last sentence.)

 

 

Three more things I like

Marathon Talk

This is a podcast that I sometimes listen to on Spotify. It has a very laid-back feel, and there is a gentle banter between the two main presenters.

They have had some really intelligent interviews recently, especially the one with Murray, talking about nutrition misconceptions. It is really refreshing to hear a view like his which promotes normal, natural eating rather than crazy crash diets.

They have also gone on some epic rants in recent episodes. There was one about the media coverage of women in sport (or the lack thereof) last week.

The format of the podcast is really long, and it is possible to dip in and out, which makes it ideal to have on in the background whilst cooking.

Toe Socks

A recent addition to my running gear, these are socks that separate out each toe, the idea being to stop them from rubbing together on long distances, and therefore to reduce blisters.

I though they would feel weird but I quickly stopped noticing and they genuinely do help.

Touch-screen gloves

I bought some running gloves lately because my hands get very dry in the winter; it’s so bad that the skin cracks open and I get lots of tiny cuts on my knuckles, and I almost never remember to apply hand cream.

So I bought this pair of gloves but didn’t really know what the little gel bits on them were for, until someone at work pointed out that they enable you to still use a smart phone with them on.

And they actually work – no more glove-goes-on, glove-goes-off when unlocking my phone. (Sometimes it’s the small things that make me happy!)

20180128_122348.jpg

 

 

Ultra Training

I have been trying to follow the official training plan for Race to the King, but as always with training plans, I haven’t followed it as assiduously as I could have done. This is for a mixture of different reasons: fear of injury in the early weeks, as I was really struggling with tight calves, dodgy knees and ankles; trying to factor in training for the Three Peaks Challenge as well; the roads being far too slippery over the Arctic blast that we’ve been experiencing in the UK for the last five days or so; and laziness. (That last one is always there to some degree, and can strike at any time!)

This week called for two three milers and one six miler – quite a light week as the plan goes, but even so, I have failed to include that second three miler.

Things started well, with me determined not to let the snow get in my way, and I put in a run on Tuesday evening, braving the cold and taking care not to fall on the icy fields.

I was feeling pleased with myself – despite the weather, I was on fire!

Then I was allowed to work from home for two days as it snowed even more. Trains became delayed for hours on end and there were hardly any cars on the road. British people get very excited with the kind of weather that is commonplace in other parts of the world, and it was the main item heading up the news everyday. We even invented a dramatic name for it: The Beast from the East

Even though Berkshire was by no means the worst hit, we still saw our own little piece of the action. And I got into the general holiday spirit a lot of people seem to have been embracing this week. The word I’ve heard most from people recently is “hibernation”.

Basically, I got lazy. Yes, it had become unsafe to run outside, but if I really wanted to put the session in, I could have walked slowly to the gym and ran on the treadmill in the warmth.

So all in all, a mediocre start for Block One of the training plan, with three sessions missed and some mileages shortened. Two runs have also been replaced with walks. Does anyone know if it’s more beneficial to do a ten or fourteen mile walk than it is to do a seven mile run?

20180304_162323.jpg
I let my fiance’s niece draw a heart and write “love” in the space at the bottom – that wasn’t me!

 

 

Minimalist Shoes – short update

Another day in the gym with my minimalist shoes forced me to take it easy on the treadmill. For a minute or two, I almost forgot I was wearing them and started running as normal.

That’s not good – I’ve been advised time and time again not to do that, but to build it up slowly.

I felt rushed, due to the schedules of other people but as I plan to come here more often, I suppose I should let this one go.

I just don’t like that dissatisfied feeling you get when you leave feeling as if you could have done more.

Apart from some easy treadmill power walking/jogging, I went through some floor work and then told my fiance I would race her to 1k on the stationary bike, as when I saw her she couldn’t have been pushing the pedals round more slowly!

Next day update: I’m glad I stopped when I did. My legs were strangely aching today. I’ve been warned that this happens when getting used to minimalist shoes as well.

I went for an evening run in my “normal” shoes today.

Everyone has a deadline

I didn’t make any New Year’s Resolutions this year. I’ve never made any changes that last longer than a few weeks off the back of them.

And perhaps that’s why my January has largely been more of the same. The things I’m good at, I continue to be good at; the things I’m bad at show no signs of improvement.

I wanted to start writing short stories this year; so far I’ve done nothing, barely even picked up a pen to make notes.

But here’s a thought…

…imagine if what you do in January sets the tone for the rest of 2018. Imagine if doing something in the next five days means you will continue to do it, and not doing that same thing means that it won’t happen for you this year.

If you want to start running, tell yourself that unless you go for that first run before January is out, you won’t go running at all this year. If you want to powerlift, pumping some iron before the month is out means you’ll keep doing it all year.

Why the arbitrary deadline? Well, it’s no more arbitrary than the calendar changing to New Year’s Day. And the sooner you start, the sooner you’ll see progress.

It’s all about setting up a template for yourself and your future success.

I believe that forming good habits is the key. Training is only optimised one session at a time. Stories are only written paragraph by paragraph.

If you’re reading this and you have any sort of ambition for 2018 at all, I challenge you write a post about it and commit to starting by February first. If you link to your post in the comments below, I promise to come and ask you how it’s going on Thursday next week!

In the meantime, I’m off to start writing…

Farnborough Winter Half Marathon

I have never felt so much like dropping out of a race before it even started. 6am on Sunday morning was not a pleasant place to be. I was out late the day before and didn’t get much sleep. On top of that, I ate nothing but junk on the Saturday, finishing off with takeaway pizza. (Never mind a T-shirt saying “Vegan Runners”; we need one saying “fuelled by Dominoes”.)

This topped off a couple of weeks of fast-tracked, last minute training, trying to increase mileage by too much, too soon. I also did a hard training session on the Wednesday before, which may not have been the best plan.

As if all of the above wasn’t enough, it was absolutely chucking it down so we started the event by queuing for the toilet in the rain. We weren’t surprised that the queue for the toilet was so long as we don’t have the best impression of 02:09 events. (See my post about the South Downs Marathon 2017, when they ran out of water on the hottest day of the year.)

The rain stopped a little while after the race started though, as it became small fragments of ice, then light snow.

The thing about running a longer distance is that it doesn’t matter how light the rain is, slow steady precipitation will always soak you through eventually.

I don’t mind admitting that after an hour, I was really quite uncomfortable.

That was around the time that my Running Buddy turned to me and said, “This is your idea of a Christmas present – thanks for that!”

(He conveniently forgot that running this race was actually his idea in the first place.)

The course showcased some nice parts of Farnborough, running alongside a golf course and a country estate. It was all on pavement though and I really felt that the day after.

Despite everything, neither of us dropped out; we just slogged it out to the end, sticking together to the finish line, which we crossed after 2h3m45s.

RB reckons I could have gone faster but the point of this race was to support each other and get a decent distance completed before the end of January. To be honest, I’m happy to get the time I did after my abysmal preparation.

It was when I finished the race that I really started to get cold though. Seriously cold, my hands were completely swollen up and it was all I could do just to walk back to the car (it felt like a really long walk) and sit there with the heater on, thawing out.

It has to be said that at Reading, they give you those little silver blankets to stop you from freezing at the end. There was none of that here, although they were handing out milkshakes and cool race packs.

The thing I would say about 02:09 events, is that they just don’t seem to be prepared for any kind of unusual weather. I have now run one of their events in a heat wave, and one in the snow.

Later on, once I was showered, changed and comfortable again, that was when I started caring about the race pack.

It had electrolyte drink tabs, decent snacks, vitamins for your immune system and a hat!

We went for a pub lunch after that; it’s become something of a tradition. My Running Buddy’s mum came along to support, as she often does. She is a qualified NHS nutritionist and, despite her telling me that she does not specialise in sports performance, I asked her lots of stupid questions about ketogenic diets, the fat burning zone, protein supplements, and so on.

I did all of this whilst tucking into a lamb roast and then a sticky toffee pudding with custard.

(I’ve been taking the vitamins by the way, as ever since Sunday, I’ve started sneezing throughout the day. That’s normally how colds begin isn’t it? Well, as long as I don’t get one of the nasty strains of flu going around the UK at the moment, I’ll be happy!)

Running in the Dark

Last night was a proper run in the dark – pitch-black, no streetlights, darkness. I have mentioned my dislike of running with a head torch before as I fear it makes me look like a bit of a fool, but on Wednesday night, along the Thames Path, it was an absolute necessity.

Slowly but surely, as I take on bigger challenges, vanity gives way to practicality.

I went with an ultra-runner from my workplace.

He recently dropped out of a race at mile 27. We had a discussion about it that morning and we agreed that this is an inevitable consequence of setting yourself proper challenges. To take something on that is actually hard, where there’s a very real chance that you might not actually finish, is great and motivational, but the flip side of that is that you sometimes fail.

I would rather push myself and fail several times in a year than stay in my comfort zone for the rest of my life.

Anyway, needless to say, he is much fitter than me, and so he pushed me to actually train properly. I quite often take a cheeky little break on training runs, slowing down to a really slow jog for a bit, or maybe even a walk.

But there was none of that nonsense with RB3 (running buddy number 3!) He had me doing 8.5/9 minute miles for six miles straight, and told me that I really need to pay more attention to my stats. (I still don’t have a Fitbit or equivalent.)

I did manage to keep up though!

So it seems I probably should be training a bit harder anyway. I thought my legs would hurt the next day but they didn’t. After taking it easy from November onwards, I think I am getting back into the swing of things.

Chilled Synth Running List

This is a response to Eve Emilie’s comment on my post Mid-week Run:

“Wishing you all the best in overcoming these challenges! I would love to find out what songs you enjoying running along to- it would be an interesting blog post to write listing your favorite ones!”

But before I begin, I would encourage you to visit her blog where she gives a thoughtful list of songs that have inspired her in 2017.

I posted about my Zombies, Run! inspired playlist before.

This is a very different playlist, designed on a whim for a chilled evening run:

  • Running Up That Hill – I used to think Kate Bush was a bit of a one-hit-wonder who only did Wuthering Heights in the late 70s, but my brother has been telling me that she’s worth listening to for years; it turns out she’s got an incredible back catalogue and a bit of a cult following as an experimental artist. I particularly enjoyed her latest album, Fifty Words for Snow. It has one or two overly pretentious moments in my opinion but it’s worth it for the overall beauty of her jazzy piano and vocals. Running Up That Hill is right up my street because it is a classic laid-back 80s synthesizer track from Kate’s Hounds of Love album, with a great vocal and unusual lyrics.
  • All In One Night – this isn’t really synth heavy or anything but the general mood of this song just seems to fit the playlist. It’s from the latest album by the Stereophonics. (Quick Stereophonics story: I saw them at the Isle of White festival 2004, which was also one of David Bowie’s last ever concerts, and they were fantastic. The only trouble with that festival was that the music stopped after 11pm, so we made a camp fire and I kept getting passed a guitar, so one of the guys we were camping with gave me what he said was Kelly Jones’ plectrum at the end of the weekend for “entertaining us all festival long”.)
  • Push The Sky Away – this is the final track on the Nick Cave and the Bad Seeds album of the same name. It builds slowly and creates a lot of atmosphere: “And if your friends think that you should do it different, and if they think that you should do it the same, you’ve gotta just keep on pushing, and keep on pushing and push the sky away.” This is definitely not a song that will get your heart rate up, but I like it.
  • The City – just in case that last song put me to sleep, mid-run, this really changes up the pace. My favourite album by Patrick Wolf remains Wind In The Wires, but this song from Lupercalia is just so joyfully exuberant.
  • Heartbeats – this is the original version by The Knife. The Jose Gonzalez cover is truly beautiful but this is a great track in its own right.
  • Only This Moment – quite a cheesy, poppy song in many ways, this is by the band Royksopp and does the rounds on coffee shop sound systems but I like it. (Then again, I am someone who still digs Faithless in 2018!)

That’s it – the playlist is a work in progress. Suggestions to expand the selection are more than welcome!