Two more things I like…

Fat, The Fight Of My Life

Yes, this is a reality TV show, but it’s pretty low-key and non-sensationalist. The trainer, who the programme is built around, seems genuine and likeable.

And the members of the public who go on there…WOW! I have so much respect for these people. I have never really been more than a couple of stone overweight and I know how lethargic that made me, so to go through the journey of losing eleven stone when your starting point is twenty nine stone is something I cannot even hope to understand.

My takeaway from the programme is this: if they can pull it off from such a difficult starting point, then what’s my excuse for being lazy?

(I watch this on Sky Living but I’m sure it’s available elsewhere too.)

Mind Over Marathon

This is a two-part BBC documentary that has sadly been taken off iplayer, although clips are still available.

It does a really good job of introducing the link between physical exercise and improved mental health. As with many things, this has been known anecdotally for years, but I think the science is catching up more and more.

I am not a neuroscientist but I have a strong belief that physical wellbeing and emotional wellbeing are inextricably linked.

One theme that seems to come through again and again on these shows is the sheer joy of moving around, of being able to engage in a basic level of activity and the improvement in quality of life that it brings.

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First steps

Mr Wrecket gave me a very thoughtful shout-out the other day, and, considering that he was the one who made me finally start a blog, I think it would be wrong not to return the favour. This post is an awesome cocktail (or dirty pint, depending upon your perspective) of seething social commentary and useful hints on the world of publishing.

Fantasy Road

first-steps-2

Good Morning you ‘orrible group o’naysayers! Today, is a great day! Why? Because its one more day closer to friday than yesterday!

Done much today? nah? not surprising. Realistically all people do from the moment they wake, is repeatedly spam pointless shit on their social media page… “OHMIGODZ TOTES JUZ MADE IT TO THE TOP OF DUH STAIRS, DIDNT EVEN AV AN BRAIN ANEURISM OR NUFFINK. ALL BY MYSELF TOO!” Shut up. you didn’t? thank you so much for sharing this, I feel enlightened already; who even needs buddhism when I have your majestic self to stimulate my breadbox.

Incase you haven’t realised by now, yes… I have a real problem with all of these social media sites, I’m absolutely certain there must be a direct link between IQ and social media use; the more time you spend on it, the more you turn into a potato.

Anyway, down…

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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.)

 

 

 

Anyone can play guitar…or run

When I was in secondary school (that’s high school to most of the English speaking world), my physical education teacher used to be well-known for being a complete cop-out when it came to giving end of term grades. Basically, everyone, unless they were really exceptional, got a B+. I suppose he figured that if he gave everyone an A he would start to be scrutinised to see how much thought he was actually putting into his grading system. On the other hand, a B+ was not the kind of grade anyone could complain about.

Fortunately, I was really exceptional and managed to escape his extraordinary capacity for sitting on the fence. That’s why he gave me a C.

Fast forward fifteen years or so and I am well on my way to becoming a halfway decent, middle of the pack runner.

But my experience in school has made me well aware that starting to exercise can be very daunting when it is not something you feel confident about doing, or when you don’t have any experience (or worse still, when you had a bad experience with sports at school).

I have seen a lot of articles online about how to start running, but too many of them seem to involve some kind of commodification of what is essentially a free activity…

So let me state this clearly: running does not need to be an expensive hobby. Although it might help, it is not necessary to have a fitness tracking watch, and running gels and electrolyte drinks only become more important once you get up to longer distances.

Even getting a good pair of trainers can wait until later. The most important thing when starting out is simply to leave your house and get out into the world.

So here is my special secret formula for how to start running.

Are you ready?

Here it comes…

Just. Start. Running…

…rummage through your drawers, find any old T-shirt you have that you feel you can wear in public, get your most comfortable pair of trainers, pull on a neglected pair of shorts or trackie bottoms, and leave your house (remembering to take your door key with you of course). Walk to the end of the road, and then start power walking. Up the pace until you naturally can’t walk any faster without breaking into a gentle jog. Ignore your paranoid inner-voice…

…those people are looking at me, they’re judging me because I’m running and they can see that I have a gut!

Actually, they probably don’t care about you. At all.

Either that, or they’re jealous that you’re getting out there and doing it.

Maintain the gentle jog for as long as you feel you are able to without having a heart attack. Listen to your body.

Then walk again until you get your breath back. (This is called active recovery.)

Then repeat as many times as you feel able to do so.

It really doesn’t matter if your first attempt is less than a kilometre. You may not even enjoy the feeling that it gives you straightaway. You might, in fact, hate being out of breath, lightheaded and sweating. But I guarantee that once you have come home, showered and rewarded yourself with a drink and a cheeky little snack, you will be positively glowing.

A word about the photo: I took this on holiday in Cornwall. I went for an early morning run along the coastal path to seek out the lighthouse. (You can just about see it in the distance.) All of the scenery photos on this blog were taking using a simple point-and-shoot smart phone camera during runs. This is one of the many joys of getting out there.

 

Thoughts on my first week of blogging

It has now been a week since I started this blog, although I wrote my first post a few days before actually publishing it, when I was still toying with the idea of blogging.

So I decided to take a little bit of time out from writing about running and do what I think is referred to as a “meta-post”.

This is because I wanted to share my experience so far with the WordPress community, which I have to say has been overwhelmingly positive. I have been working hard to get my posts out there and have had some really good feedback already, including well-intentioned practical pointers for improving the site. (A special shout-out should go to Raj of XDrive here, who reminded me to remove my social icon widgets until I was actually using them. This made me go through and check what other parts of the template I hadn’t personalised as well.)

I have also tried to make it a rule to check out the websites of bloggers who have expressed an interest in my site. (I’m curious to see who all these other bloggers are, and what they’re about.) This means I have read things, seen stunning photographs (and even heard music) I never would have come across browsing Facebook or the BBC news website. These have often been things that are quite removed from my own experience, and, without being too corny, I feel that my world has expanded just a little bit because of them.

Some savvy marketing people might say I have been networking hard.

But I don’t see it that way.

The trouble is, I hate the word “networking”, because to me it has always had that connotation of looking over someone’s shoulder at a party instead of really listening to what they’re saying. (You know, that clichéd check to see if someone more influential has just entered the room. It’s a trope that’s used in a lot of films, and for good reason – it’s a genuine satire on something that really does go on.)

In short, the way that networking has been explained to me has always made it seem highly disingenuous.

My friend summed it up very well in a text he sent me when we were at the same graduate recruitment fayre:

The joy and wonder of meeting new people reduced to a single word: networking

So perhaps it’s time we turned the concept on its head. To pull out another piece of business terminology, let’s give “networking” a re-brand. Let’s call it “engagement”, or “human connection”, because it just sounds nicer to me, and it removes that unwelcome sub-text of “I’m only talking to you to see what you can do for me”.

To me, the best part of engagement is that the interaction itself has intrinsic value: it enriches the lives of both people involved just that little bit, regardless of whether it opens up an opportunity to promote your own project or not.

The three things I take on a run

For runs of an hour or less, I don’t take water. Yes, hydration is important, but it can become something of a neurosis, and most people should be able to easily be out for this length of time without needing a drink. Plus, carrying a water bottle is a pain in the arse!

I normally have a glass of water when I get back though, and either a chocolate milkshake (this is always being recommended as a recovery drink in Runner’s World) or a home-made smoothie. (I have a frozen smoothie mix from the supermarket, which I blend with apple juice. It has kale, spinach, mango and kiwi fruits in it. I like it because it has fruits but the kale and the spinach balance it out so that it produces less of a whopping sugar spike!)

So coming back to my three items, number one is my door key, handily detached from the other keys so that it doesn’t jangle with every step.

The second is a five pound note; this is my emergency money. I like this because it is the new plastic style note, and is therefore more sweat resistant than the older notes. (Yes, I really do sweat so much that even the stuff in my pockets isn’t safe!) I know that this won’t help anyone who is not from the UK, but having a contactless card will also help to avoid carrying coins, which, again, will jangle incessantly as you run, attracting all sorts of unwanted attention from people in the park. I prefer the note though because you can spend it in shops that haven’t yet joined the contactless revolution.

(Funnily enough, the only thing I have ever had to buy with my emergency fiver was a drink.)

And that brings me to my third item, which is a bit of a cheat because it’s my mobile (+headphones). This is for emergencies and music, and Zombies, Run!

The Zombies running app tracks my stats, just like any other running app, but it also immerses you in a post-apocalyptic story, set to your own music, as you run. I turn on “chasers”, which means that occasionally I get a warning that zombies are closing in on me, and unless I temporarily increase my speed by a given percentage (adjustable in the settings), they will catch me. This is good for HIIT training, but a bit of a pain when I am waiting at the traffic lights.

(It even has a groaning zombie sound effect which is very disturbing on a deserted early morning run.)

For runs that are longer than an hour, I do need to take my mobile hydration system! This is a running pack with a “bladder” and a tube (ok, a straw) so you can sip little and often. My bladder has a one litre capacity, which is good for about a two hour distance.

It looks really cool.*

The little backpack it comes with can also carry a few extra items, including a light rain jacket (a must on long runs, because in England, the weather will switch from pleasant to chucking it down in twenty minutes or so), and you can use the side pockets for energy gels and hand wipes (the salt content of your sweat really starts to build up at this distance).

Apart from that it’s just a hyper-awareness of how silly I look, a nagging sense of self-doubt and a general awareness of my own inadequacy as a human being. (Whoops, I meant a positive attitude, and a sense of wonder at the ever-changing landscape around me.)

*It really, really doesn’t look cool.

(This post was written in response to the word prompt, “jangle”.)

The ups and downs of preparing for an ultra

So, Race to the Stones is in just over a week’s time and I am wonderfully under-prepared as always. Of course now there’s nothing I can do about it. There isn’t enough time to cram in any serious training. I may do some shorter distance runs over the weekend but basically the taper needs to start early next week; any later than that would be an act of self-sabotage.

I am only going to do 50k of course. Let’s keep it real. I’m not one of those nutters doing the whole 100k. Then I’ve opted to camp over because I’m hoping it’s going to be epic. (I have an image of the atmosphere of a music festival campsite in my head.)

I haven’t planned my lift home, I’ve probably not read two or three important emails that have gone out from the organisers, and that’s before we even get into my approach to the official training plan.

The line I’m telling myself is that I’ve done a marathon distance now and the longest run on the training plan is only a half marathon distance. But I’ve only done it once, and then there are all those smaller runs and cross training sessions I conveniently forgot about.

I think the bottom line is that training for a marathon or an ultra takes an awful lot of time. That’s what people don’t seem to tell you. There’s a lot of talk about the commitment required but it doesn’t really get the point across. So let me set the record straight: training for an ultra will take up half of every weekend, and most of your evenings, for months on end. If, like me, you faff about a bit on a Saturday morning before getting out of the house, then you won’t start your run until mid to late morning. Then, if the run is taking you four hours plus, you won’t finish until mid to late afternoon, and that’s before you’ve even showered or eaten, something you might not do straight away because you will have monged out on the sofa for an hour or so once you get through the door.

Then you’ll be too knackered to do anything for the rest of the day, and you will ache the next day, meaning you’ll probably do less than you would have done on the Sunday as well.

And that is why I’ve found myself not quite so crazy about doing every single one of the evening runs as well. Did you know that the official training plan for Race to the Stones recommends six days of exercise a week?

How many times can you answer co-workers’ question about your plan for the evening or weekend with “I’m going for a run” before you turn into a running bore?

The truth is, I’m looking forward to breathing a sigh of relief once the event is over. I then hope to re-assess my approach to running. Am I really a distance person? My best times have been on 5ks, 10ks and the Reading half marathon.

Is this what they talk about when they say don’t burn yourself out with over-training? But how can I be burnt out if I haven’t bothered following half the training plan?

It reminds me of a detail from a book I’ve been reading lately, Running with the Kenyans. The author points out that they basically live the “eat, run, sleep, repeat” mantra, and that’s why they’re so damn good, whereas Westerners tend to pigeon-hole running into a slot on an already packed schedule.

We have so much shit to do every single day of the week: eat breakfast, turn up to work, hoover the house, renew your driving licence, go to the pub, discover whatever show someone has told you is the new, most epic, must-see show ever made since Game of Thrones…

Running is supposed to be a break from all of that, not another item on the to-do list.

And I’m sure that if all goes well on the day, as soon as the buzz starts kicking in, I’ll remember why I do this and start loving it all over again. Then I’ll come home all excited and sign up to another one.

(I’ll keep you posted.)