Shall we try again…..?

For those of you who remember this blog from before, or even the previous incarnation (known as Iron Snook), you will be relieved, excited and all round thrilled to learn that the blog is back.

For those of you who are reading my blog for the first time, please let me bid you a hearty welcome.

I have decided to start writing this again as we are living in rather crazy times and I wanted to provide a little oasis of sanity, and perhaps hope, as the world falls apart around us.

OK, perhaps this is a bit overly dramatic, but certainly modern Britain looks a lot different than it did a year ago. That being said, some things have not changed. Crucial to this blog, the things that have remained consistent are:

  1. I am a very very very bad runner.
  2. I still have the innate ability to gain 1 or 2kg in weight by just glancing towards a piece of cake. That’s right folks, I don’t even have to eat it any more. I just need to look at cake to absorb its calories. Rather a shit super power, but I guess you don’t get to choose your gifts.
  3. My reach still exceeds my grasp (more on this later).
  4. I am still terrified of failure.
I'm out of it a little while and everybody gets delusions of grandeur. - Han  Solo DOG | Meme Generator

Remember when Han Solo gets defrosted from the carbonite in Jabba’s Palace? In fact I have no idea why I am asking, of course you remember that. One of the best scenes in Star Wars. Anyway, after he is unfrozen and chucked in a prison cell Chewbacca tells him that Luke Skywalker has become a Jedi Knight. Han exclaims in disbelief “I am out of it for a little while and everybody gets delusions of grandeur”.

Well “delusions of grandeur” perfectly describes my current project, trying to run the South Downs Way 100 in June 2021. I have already failed twice in 2020 to complete this race. Luckily for me, Covid came to the rescue and the 2020 summer race was postponed until November, to then be postponed again to June 2021. I was not ready for either of the 2020 races and would not have made the start line.

Despite the fact that I failed to avoid injury and train up to make this race twice before, my “delusion of grandeur” allows me to think, for some unknown reason, that this summer might be different. That for some reason, though I have been physically incapable of making the start line twice before, that history will not repeat itself. That this time it will be better.

You never know though, I might just get away with it. I wrote a training plan back in December and have stuck to it so far. I am trying as hard as I can to get a bit of weight off. I am doing Yoga and mobility work 3 times a week minimum. I am lifting weights regularly to maintain core and muscle strength. I have even given up beer!

Yoda pie chart | FlowingData

So now all I have to do is train. Probably harder than I have ever trained before. I have to eat clean, look after my body, try and improve my mobility, get plenty of rest. I have to maintain a positive focus on my goal, realising that there will be slip ups along the way. I have to enjoy the journey. And as long as I do all of these things, there is a very good chance that I will arrive at the start line in Winchester on the 12th June 2021 in the best shape I have ever been in.

As Master Yoda says, “Do or Do Not, there is no Try”. So I will do the training. I will do all the other things I need to do. Then I will run from Winchester to Eastbourne along the South Downs Way. 100 miles. 30 hours to complete it.

I will succeed. Despite my doubts. Despite the fact that I am a very shit runner. Despite the fact that I have no right what so ever to be on that starting line. I will complete this race.

So here is to the journey. To running in the dark, in the rain, in the freezing wind. To running when you are tired and your body aches. To getting up at 4am at the weekend to run so you don’t impact the rest of the day with your family. To the struggle and the pain and feeling like I am never gonna make it.

I hope you will join me on this journey as I chart it here. I promise not all of the posts will be about Star Wars.

May the Force be with you.

Snooky

Everything is proceeding as I have foreseen

Only the coolest amongst you will recognise where the quote from the title of this blog post is from (hint, the image below is a big clue). For the rest of you it will mean very little, other than the fact that for once in my life, my training is going to plan.

Palpatine - Wikipedia

So far I have run 13 out of 13 of my planned training runs. That is right, I have not missed a single one yet.

“Big Woop” I here all of you runners who stick religiously to your training plans say. But for me, this is quite the achievement.

Under usual circumstances I write a detailed plan, set out with the best of intentions then after a week or so it goes right off the rails and I usually end up just writing yet another plan, to plan for where the first plan went wrong, then not sticking to the new one. Rinse and repeat and hey presto, you have pretty much summed up my approach to training over the last few years.

This time it seems very different. I have consistently trained through tiredness, heat, rain, niggling calves and ankles. I have gone out regardless, and I feel a lot better for it.

The idea or concept of consistency is a fascinating one. Whilst it is entirely logical that if you consistently do a thing over a long enough period you are bound to improve at it, for some reason it has taken me a VERY long time to come around to this idea.

I recently read Arnold Schwarzenegger’s autobiography. In that, he talks about how he convinced James Cameron to give him the role of the Terminator (which was originally supposed to have been played by OJ Simpson, believe it or not).

Pin on The Terminator

Arnold mentions to Cameron that the Terminator is an android (cybernetic organism to be precise) and as such, would not blink when firing off pistols, shotguns or automatic rifles. To add authenticity to the part, Cameron would need an actor who can train himself not to blink when shooting weapons. An actor who can condition his body not to do a thing which it naturally does to protect itself (eg blink when a very loud and very bright weapon is discharged close to the eyes, which are very delicate at the best of times).

Arnold goes on to say that he is uniquely qualified to train himself into this position, as it is just about reps (repetitions). He has lifted tonnes upon tonnes of weights, performing rep after rep to get the physique that took him to 7 Mr Olympia titles.

Arnold Schwarzenegger Mr. Universe 1967 from Austria | Arnold ...

Firing a gun without blinking, argues Arnold, is exactly the same. So that is what he did. He went to the firing range and trained for months on end, firing all manner of different weapons until he could shoot these guns without blinking.

If you watch the Terminator movies closely, in the scenes when he is shooting weapons Arnold never blinks. It is such a subtle thing, but adds to the overall lore of the movie and helps the audience to realise just how deadly this android (cybernetic organism) really is. How unfeeling it is. How not human it is. How it cares about nothing but killing.

An actor blinking as he shot would make him look human. Arnold realised that this was no good, but also that there was only one way to train yourself to be able to shoot without blinking, and that was repetition and consistency.

Whilst I absolutely love this story (Schwarzenegger is a bit of an idol for me) it also has direct correlation to my own training journey.

Have I ever really consistently applied myself to fitness training in the past? The answer to that is no. Have I ever just repped out my training runs. Rep after rep, run after run. No matter what, gone out and completed that run. Again, the answer is no.

For the first time in my athletic endeavours, the importance of just repetition and consistency is clearly obvious to me. The penny has finally dropped.

So here is to a further 17 weeks of consistent training. No missing any sessions. At all. For any reason. Consistent running. 5 times a week, every week, for 17 more weeks.

My body will adapt to this. I will get fitter. Only consistency and repetition will cause this to happen. And who knows, perhaps I will be able to not blink when the starting pistol sounds at 6am on the 7th November.

Here is to consistent training, loving the journey and making the start line.

TTFN

Snooky

What’s the plan then Stan?

Some time ago, I blogged about the benefits of writing your own training plan, rather than just following a set one that you can get from the internet. You can see this post here if you are interested. – Why you should write your own training plan.

In a break with tradition, I have decided to follow my own advice and have created my own training plan for SDW100. Following the always brilliant advice of Jason Koop, my initial focus will be on interval work to try to increase my VO2 max and also improve my overall running speed.

I have always been a slow runner, having come from zero running background and only picking up all this exercising malarkey in my mid 30’s I was starting from a less than strong position. Whilst running 100 miles is not about running fast, increased VO2 max will allow me to run quicker at a lower overall heart rate, which is vital to being able to sustain a decent pace for the 24-30 hours it is likely to take me to complete the 100 mile race.

Tortoise v Hare | When2Pray

After a short phase of interval work (about 5 weeks) I will be moving onto “tempo” runs, where I increase pace during a normal run to a “comfortably uncomfortable” pace and for 10 minutes or longer, then drop back to normal speed. Again this is designed to improve my running speed overall and to push my body to adapt to running more quickly over longer distances.

7 or so weeks of this, then we are into the final phase where I start to piggyback two long runs together, running perhaps 2 hours on a Saturday then 3 or 4 on a Sunday to help develop the longer range stamina. At this point, I will be only training on trails similar to the South Downs Way, will have to include a decent chunk of night time work to practice running in the dark and I will also be running at some very strange times in the day (2am starts, 4am starts etc) to help me get used to running when tired.

These longer runs will also be done carrying all the kit I will be needing on race day, again to help me adapt.

The overall idea of all of this is that I approach race day used to the terrain, used to running on tired legs, used to the darkness and the weight of the kit, whilst being able to maintain a quicker pace at a lower heart rate.

That’s the idea anyway. Am still very far from convinced that 20 weeks is enough time to get fit enough for this. Luckily I do hold a trump card. My ability to tolerate pain seems to be higher than most people and I am also extremely stubborn.

Despite breaking 3 ribs after only 6 miles of the Race to the King (which is 53 miles in total) I carried on and completed the race in a decent time. That was agony, I was only able to take in about a quarter breath and every time my foot hit the ground my ribs sent shooting pain through my chest. Admittedly I didn’t realise I had broken 3 ribs until I found myself in A&E the day after the race, but the fact remains that if I can battle through that, I should be able to battle through whatever 100 miles of the South Downs has to throw at me on November 7th.

Only time will tell I guess. Put in 20 weeks of decent training, make it to the start line with no injuries and then see how I get on.

Should be fun.

TTFN – Snooky

Guess who’s back……back again…

Snooky’s back…….tell your friends.

As Eminem once rapped “I’ve created a monster”, and it appears that I may well have done the same.

The South Downs Way 100 has been moved to November 7th (due to Covid-19). I knew this some time ago and made the executive (and probably wise) decision not to race. Since then I have done barely any training what so ever.

Fast forward a few months and with 20 weeks until the new date, I have decided that I am going to do my best to train and make the start line.

My motivation for this is 2-fold

1 – My usual running buddies of Wendy, Nicky and Freestone are all going to try to make it, so I think I probably should too.

2- The charity that I fundraise for, Chestnut Tree House, has hugely struggled during the Covid-19 pandemic as so many races have been cancelled and then rely on these races for people to fundraise just to keep them open. The SDW100 is on, I have a place, can do some fundraising, so I feel that is it only right that I do so.

And thus the monster is born. Except this monster has to fit what should really be at least 1 years dedicated training into 20 weeks, shed at least 15kg during that time and then “monster” his way across 100 miles of the South Downs in November. Could it rain? Very likely. Could it be windy? Extremely likely. Will it be cold? Definitely. Will I have to run for 14 hours in the darkness during this race. Yes.

I have spent most of my life biting off more than I can chew, then chewing like crazy. If I am honest, this technique has worked fairly well. I have a feeling this time the bite may just be that little bit too big.

Is it possible to train up to 100 mile Ultra Marathon fitness in 20 weeks. We are going to find out!

TTFN

Snooky

Why you should write your own training plan

If you are anything like me, you have probably browsed for and downloaded a few different training plans in your time.

Whether you are trying to run a fast 5km, thinking about your first half marathon, or considering a marathon or beyond, the internet is awash with articles and information about how to train.

Also, if you are anything like me, you download these plans, make a nice spreadsheet, plan all of your runs, then something happens and the plan gets derailed. In my case, I usually ditch that plan, spend ages finding a new one and then go again, only to repeat the same old thing.

Training plans that you find online also tend to be fairly generic. If you want to run faster, you include a lot of tempo and interval work into the plan. If you want to run long, you include a lot of long runs. This is perfectly logical, but does not suit everybody. Also, by the nature of generic training plans, they are geneneric. Sounds like an obvious thing to say, but if you really think about it, are any of us actually generic?

You may have a background in swimming, or cycling, or have run when you were younger but not for years. You may have never run at all, or be a seasoned runner looking for that extra edge. You may be overweight, underweight, tall, short, wide, narrow. You may be an over-pronator or an under-pronator. You may run in trainers, or perhaps running sandals, or barefoot. You may prefer trails, or like the road. You may recover fast from training, or slowly. You may want to run 2 times a week, 3 times a week, 4 times a week (you get the idea). More than likely you are a combination of these things, meaning that no two runners are alike. So why do we all follow similar training regimes? It doesn’t make sense.

I recently read a book that totally changed my thoughts on run training. Admittedly it is aimed at ultra running, but I think that the principles apply to all run training. The book (in case you are interested) is Training Essentials for Ultrarunning by Jason Koop

What is most interesting about the book is that there are no training plans included in it, for the reasons I have set out above. We are all different, so Koop gives you his opinion on how to train and then you make your own plan.

Essentially it is split into three main components. These are:
1) VO2 max training
2) Tempo training
3) Endurance training (long runs)

The logic is that you work on the thing you are worst at first, so if you are not quick (like me) you work on your VO2 max to help you run faster. This then means that when you perform your Tempo runs, you are running further at a faster pace. This then has a knock on effect on the long runs (which are slower runs by nature), as you are reaping the benefits from a higher VO2 max and you can run further at a faster pace with the same effort, due to the increase in the volume of oxygen you can process in a given time-frame.

So I built my own training plan. 3 weeks of VO2 max training (flat out hill interval work) followed by a easier week then 5 weeks of tempo work, then about 4 weeks of endurance training. Then repeat.

Now admittedly I am only a few weeks into this plan, but as you can see from my previous post, I am running better than I ever have already. I have no doubt this is down to the interval work that I have been doing, meaning that I can run further and faster on less effort, making the runs more enjoyable and making me want to train more.

The other massive benefit is that because I have written this plan myself, I feel that I am letting myself down if I do not stick with it. When I am following a plan written by somebody else, I don’t seem to have the same emotional investment in it. But I haven’t missed a single session in 3 weeks so far (despite them being very hard) and I am improving fast, so there must be something in it.

So why not give writing your own plan a try. Or (if you like), send me some details about your goals and what your current strenghts/weaknesses are and I will write one for you. Don’t worry though, I do appreciate the irony in me writing a post about you writing your own plan, then offering to write one for you.

Hope you are all enjoying the heat, and if anybody is at Queen Elizabeth Park this evening and sees a fella in a Chestnut Tree House vest running what looks like horrible hill intervals, that’s me, so stop and say hi.

TTFN – Snooky

Marathon 2 of 13 – The Three Forts Challenge

It’s 0700 on Sunday 30th April and my alarm has just gone off.  Must be time for the Three Forts Challenge.

Those of you who regularly read my blog will already know, I was a bit nervous about this marathon.  The Three Forts Challenge has the tagline of “the tough one”, and this is for good reason.  With over 1000m of elevation over the marathon distance, this was going to be very hilly.  Run amongst the beautiful South Downs, whilst being tough this marathon also had the added bonus of having a cut off time of 6 hours.  Bearing in mind it takes me 5 hours to run a totally flat marathon, I was very concerned I would not make it through the course within the 6 hour time window.

Now the best advice is to always prepare your gear the night before a race and I would strongly recommend that anybody follow this advice.  In my case though, I never ever do, so was scrambling around trying to find all the gear I wanted to take with me.  Having eventually located it all and scoffed down a bowl of porridge, I bid a fond adieu to my wife and kids and headed off to Worthing, where the race would start.

Arriving at the race car park I was faced with the usual group of fellow runners.  All whippet thin, with legs like gnarled tree trunks, my nerves were getting worse not better. I found a space on the grass to sit down and started to organise my race pack.

I was trying something new for this race.  Having had a recommendation from an old golfing buddy turned ultra-runner, I was trying out Tailwind.  You simply add a sachet of tailwind to your water bottle and there is no need to take on any additional food or electrolytes on your run.  No gels, no sandwiches (a personal favourite of mine), no jelly babies.  Nothing.  Having used it on one training run with great success, I was keen to see what it could do during a long race.

Having sorted out my pack, I started upon my pre-race warm up routine when Bushy and Marie showed up.  I knew they were coming to support me and it was great to see them.  Both were very encouraging and said they had ultimate faith in me getting through the race before the 6 hour cut off.  There were going to drive around the course and meet me at various points.  It was brilliant to have some support along.  Especially brilliant that it was Bushy, who was at my side for the vast majority of my Ironman race and without him I would never have finished it.  Shame he was just at the sidelines rather than running with me, but he is joining me later in my 13 in 12 journey for the Midnight Man Marathon, so will look forward to running with him then.

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After a few pre-race photos, it was time for the off.  With the local town crier announcing the start of the race, we were away.  I started a the back (as is my custom), and received hearty cheers from the crowd as we made our way out of the playing field and immediately started to climb up a wide dirt track.  The first climb of the race took us to Cissbury Ring, one of the three Iron Age forts the Three Forts Challenge is named for.  I felt my usual nerves at the start of the race, but quickly calmed down and concentrated on not tripping over as we made our way up single track alongside Hill Barn and Worthing golf courses.  I have played both golf courses, and couldn’t help but think that perhaps I would be better with my 5 iron than my running shoes.  Too late though, the race was on.

As the route continued to climb it opened out a bit, allowing the pack to spread out.  Due to the undulating nature of the route, you could often see way into the distance and I was impressed to see runners already way ahead of me, despite being going only about 20 minutes.  Just before the 5k mark we found ourselves on the top of the first hill next to Cissbury Ring.  There is no fort there, just a circle of trees where the fort used to be, but it was cool to think of an ancient fort being there and I found my mind tracking back to what it must of been like 100’s of years ago.  No road, no power lines, no fences.  Just rolling hillside and probably a lot more trees.

Turning away from Cissbury, we were treated to a beautiful view of Lancing College, with its gothic architecture.  I have always loved how Lancing College looks, but had never seen it from this vantage point.

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Lancing College – not taken from the run route!

The course then made its way down into the valley of the River Adur.  This was the first point that Bushy and Marie were going to meet up with me and I knew it was at the 7 mile marker.  To be on track for finishing in less than 6 hours, I would need to be at this point no more than 1hr 30 mins from race start.  Amazingly, as I jogged towards the aide station after the river crossing, I was only at 1hr 5 mins of race time.  25 minutes ahead of schedule.

IMG-20170501-WA0018
At the 7 mile marker

Emptying a package of Tailwind into my water bottle and filling it up from the aide station, I exchanged a few words with Bushy and Marie about how good I was feeling and how much I was enjoying the race and then I was off.  Bushy kindly pointed out to me “the hill is that way”, gesturing towards the next challenge, the climb up to Devils Dyke.

I genuinely felt great at this point.  I was consuming 500ml of water with Tailwind in it per hour and was bang on this schedule.  I had died not to look at my heart rate whilst running this race and just run “on feel”.  This is something that Tufty (triathlon coach who I owe a lot of my Ironman success to) had encouraged me to do on occasion.  Don’t be slave to the gadgets, just run based on feel.  If you feel good, keep going.  If it gets tough, slow down a bit.  Just keep going.  I had been following this mantra and the race was unfolding nicely.  That being said it was a long way to go still.  The Three Forts Challenge is actually 1 mile longer than a normal marathon (27.2 miles rather than 26.2) so at the 7 mile marker I was only 1/4 distance into the race.

Making my way across a main road I was then on a steep single track towards Devils Dyke.  Walking up this single track, it flattened out a bit into a field which then turned into a road.  This road was fairly steep and most people around me were walking up it.  I fell into step; however I felt good, so almost immediately decided to run.  Starting running, I was overtaking a few people.  This hill was relentless, going on and on and on and on, but I kept running and kept on overtaking others.  I really was feeling strong.  Far stronger than I expected to.   I kept on sipping at my Tailwind and just kept on running.  We then reached an undulating section, where I was confronted with a runner coming the other way.  This was the race leader, who had already reached Devils Dyke (the race turning point) and was on his way back.  I made mental note that this was after 1hr 40 minutes of running.  I wanted to see what time it would be when I was at the same race point on the way back.

After the undulating section there was more climbing across fields where I managed to keep on running and quickly found myself at the turn around point, where once again, Bushy and Marie were waiting.  They both commented about how good I looked.  I must admit I felt great.  No need to get anything from the aide station (due to the Tailwind) so I had a quick cup of water from a very friendly race marshall, bid Bushy and Marie farewell and was back off the way I had come.

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Devils Dyke turnaround point

I knew that Bushy and Marie would make their way back to the River Adur aide station to see me again, so I decided to try and beat them back.  Other than the undulating big, it was almost entirely downhill and I wanted to try and run hard down this section.  Making my way back towards the downhill, I noted the point where I had seen the first placed runner and I was 40 minutes behind him.  “Not bad”, I thought to myself, though tis was less than halfway.  Reaching the downhill I picked up my run pace and flew down the hill, again overtaking many fellow runners.

Picking my way down the final section of single track, my quads were on fire from running downhill for so long, but as I got to the aide station I was very happy to see I had beaten Bushy and Marie there.  They had probably been for a coffee and a bacon sandwich in that period of time, so there was no real victory, but I had been quicker than they expected me to be which I was pleased about.

At this point in the race the route does not follow the same route we had run out, and diverts off into unknown territory.  Finding yet more rolling hills, I once again was overtaking people on the uphill.  Approaching 3 hours of running, I still felt great and was beyond the half way point.  I decided to give Cat a ring at this point just to say hello and let her know I was getting on OK.  I phoned her at the 26km point.  I had been running for 3 hours at this point and had 18km to go.  It was great to chat with her and she was delighted to hear that I was getting on well.  After a quick chat, it was back on with the running.

Climbing again, at around the 28km mark my hip flexors started to really hurt me.  This is common on my long runs and I knew I just had to keep going and it would hopefully pass.  There were very few runners around me at this point.  The race had really spread out and I seemed to be mostly on my own as I wound my way uphill, past a pig farm and onto yet more rolling Sussex hills.  The route of the race is simply beautiful.  I am lucky enough to have been brought up and lived the majority of my life close to the South Downs.  Despite this, I am consistently overwhelmed by their beauty, and today was no different.

During this point in the race I was reflecting back to some chats I had had with other runners earlier on.  People had noticed my Chestnut Tree House vest and asked me if I was fundraising for them.  I mention my 13 in 12 challenge, which was met by all who had asked me with equal praise and admiration.  To all of you who may be reading this who chatted with me about my fundraising, it was great to get your support out on the course and lovely to meet you.

The race climbed on and on up to Chanctonbury, the final of the three Iron Age forts and the highest point I the race.  Reaching this was a great milestone and forcing myself to keep going had meant that I had pushed through my hip flexor pain and was once again feeling strong.  I had kept up the regiment of Tailwind (one sachet in 500ml of water per hour) and I must admit that it seemed to be working an absolute charm.  Having reached the top of Chanctonbury, it was downhill for a while, then we had to climb once again up to Cissbury Ring before dropping back dow to the finish.

At the 4 hour mark it had started to rain a bit.  I didn’t mind.  The fresh rain had that amazing smell that you get when it first starts raining.  It wasn’t raining hard and I was enjoying the run so it took nothing away from the experience.  Reaching the low point before the climb back to Cissbury, I was making my way along a farm side track where I saw Bushy and Marie huddling under an umbrella.  This was totally unexpected as I thought I would see them again at the the finish.  I stopped for a quick chat.  As you can see from the photo, I look a bit the worse for wear, though I felt great.  Hip Flexors were playing up a bit, but otherwise I was in very good spirits.

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Saying goodbye to Bushy and Marie for the final time before the finish, I knew that I had only 8km to go.  Once final climb and then it was mostly downhill to the finish.  The climb up to Cissbury was steep and as usual I was walking it.  It started to level off a bit and I started to run.  My legs felt good.  I was passing other runners again.  This never happens to me, and especially not after being on my feet for over 4 hours.  “This Tailwind really is magic stuff”, I was thinking to myself as I rounded the back of Cissbury and knew I had about 4-5km to go.

Unbelievably, I decided to run hard for this final stretch.  My body felt willing and I had a chance of coming in at around the 5 hour mark which would be brilliant.

Running through the final undulating sections I eventually found myself on the single track past the golf courses towards the finish.  Due to being within 2km of home, there were other runners around me who were also pushing themselves.  I kicked hard and managed to pull away from them.  All of them.  I was flying as I went down the final hill, turned into the playing fields and crossed the line.

5hours and 5 minutes according to my watch.  Far beyond my wildest expectations and also only 3 minutes off a marathon PB (set on a totally flat Brighton Marathon course).  Hang on a minute.  The Three Forts Challenge is 1 mile longer than a normal marathon.  Looking back at the data from my running watch, I was through the marathon distance in 4hrs 55 minutes.  So that is officially a marathon personal best on a super hilly course. I will take that any day of the week.

Finding Bushy and Marie straight after the race, I was simply delighted with my run.  I loved every second of the Three Forts Challenge.  The Tailwind I used for nutrition was excellent.  The course was superb, all the marshals and volunteers were outstanding.  My fellow competitors were friendly and supportive.  All in all a brilliant event in simply stunning surroundings.  I will definitely be running this one again.

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5hours and 5 mins of effort and I am done – and very happy.

One final thought from me before I sign off this blog post.  For the first time ever, the first time in my life, I finally feel like a proper runner.  I was able to enjoy and entire race.  I got my nutrition right, my hydration right, my gear right and as a result I loved every second of this race.  It may seem strange to some, but I had never thought of myself as a decent runner before this race.

There may be a bit more at play than this, and I am indebted to a college at work and his NLP (Neuro-Lingustic Programming) skills, but I will leave this for another blog post.

So I will sign off here.  One very happy runner.

TTFN

Snooky

 

Am I getting slower………….and is this a good thing?

I have read time and time again, that to get better as a long distance endurance athlete you need to run/cycle/swim more slowly.

The idea is that I should be exercising at an intensity that I could hold a conversation with somebody.  That my heart rate is up, but not up too much.  That I am in “Zone 2”, meaning that my heart rate is in that sweet spot for maximising aerobic capacity.

I usually run my training runs with a heart rate monitor, so keeping track of my heart rate is relatively easy.  Using a calculation taken from the Don Fink book “Be Iron Fit’, and having achieved a maximum heart rate whilst running of 191bpm (just after crossing the line at the Great South Run following a sprint finish), I know that I need to keep my heart rate under 162bpm to stay in the magical “aerobic zone”.

Borrowing further from Rich Roll, who mentions in his excellent book “Finding Ultra” the need for him to slow down his training speed to get fitter for the mega endurance events, I have concentrated on keeping my heart rate at around the 140-145 mark.  This feels about right to me.  I am not out of breath, feel like I can run forever at this pace but am still getting a reasonable workout.  At least I think I am.  But there is one problem.  I am getting slower.

Using good old Strava (click the link to follow me), I can keep an eye on my runs and track if I am getting quicker or not.  Almost universally, I seem to be getting slower.  Despite now running 5 days a week and concentrating on keeping in Zone 2, I am definitely getting slower.

I keep telling myself that perhaps this is not such a bad thing.  Perhaps you have to get slower before you get quicker.  After all, I am not trying to break any world records.  That being said, it would be nice to at least feel that I am fitter and faster than I was two years ago.  I simply must be fitter.  There is no way you can do the amount of training I have done over the last two years and not get fitter.  I have done an Ironman for God sakes.  The problem is, the evidence just does not show this.

In April 2015 I was well over a stone (7kg) heavier than I am now, but I ran the Brighton Marathon in 2015 a full 4 minutes quicker than I ran it just a couple of weeks ago.  I am lighter than I was in 2015 and am almost certainly fitter, but I am slower.  All of my runs on Strava are tracking slower too.

If anybody out there is reading this and has experienced something similar, please get in touch and let me know.  I am especially intrigued to know if you did eventually get faster, or if I am destined to be the slowest fit person in England.

I really hope it is not the latter.

TTFN

Snooky

 

Marathon 1 of 13 – Brighton Marathon – race report

It’s 4:30am and my alarm has just gone off.  Must be time for the Brighton Marathon.

The first thing you might wonder is why the hell have I gotten up at 4.30am for a marathon that doesn’t start until 9.30am.  Well I would like to say it is because I like to be super organised, but the real reason is a much longer story.  To save you from all that, lets just say that I was supposed to stay locally to Brighton for the marathon, but due to one of my kids being ill and a few other unforeseen circumstances I had to stay at home in Portsmouth.  So the early alarm call was to give me time to drive to Brighton and get parked before they shut the roads at 7am.

So following my drive to Brighton I was all parked up at 6.30am and meeting with Nicky from Chestnut Tree House for a taxi up to the marathon start, which is at Preston Park.  Whilst loitering around on the street waiting for her, there was an unusual mix of people about.  Littered amongst the lycra clad, bag carrying marathon runners were a few guys and girls who were just getting home from their night out.  I fondly recalled that I used to be one of those revellers.  Now I get my kicks from getting up early and running marathons.  Funny how times change.

Anyway, soon enough I had met up with Nicky and some of the Chestnut volunteers and was on my way in a taxi to the start.

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We were soon set up in our spot by the clock tower, and in dribs and drabs my fellow runners started to arrive.  Some were running the 10k, with others running the marathon like me.  As I watched everybody go about their pre-marathon rituals, pinning numbers to their vests and chatting about how much training they had done, I was delighted to see so many runners supporting the charity which I love.  Chestnut and St Barnabas had over 300 runners this year, which is hugely impressive.

Soon I was deep into conversation (well mainly banter really) with Mark, Martin, Dave and Josh who I have all met through Chestnut.  None of us are expert runners, but we are all equally dedicated to Chestnut / St Barnabas and fundraising for such a great cause. It was lovely to talk to them before the race.  Martin was only supporting, as he has London Marathon in a couple of weeks.  Mark was running the 10k with Dave, Josh and I all running the marathon.

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L-R Me, Dave and Josh

Soon it was time to make our way down to the start corrals and await the off.  There were a lot of people around.  Having not run at Brighton in 2016 I was amazed how much more busy the event had got since 2015.  There were literally 10’s of 1000’s of runners in all shapes and sizes.  I said goodbye to Dave and Josh (who were in a different starting group to me) and made my way into the yellow starting wave.  Each wave is seeded depending on your predicted finish time.  I had gone for a very ambitious 4-4.30 finishing time group.  A 4.30 marathon would probably be my best possible effort, but nothing ventured nothing gained……..right?

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You can see the yellow hoop of my starting group in the distance

Once the white and green waves had gone, the yellow group shuffled slowly towards the starting line.  There was a real buzz in the air, with people cheering and shouting.  Despite this, I had an overwhelming sense of sadness wash over me.  I run to raise money for Chestnut Tree House.  Chestnut care for children with life shortening conditions.  The children they care for rarely make it to adulthood.  I was thinking about those kids, what their lives must be like and the wonderful work that Chestnut do to enrich them and a tear formed in the corner of my eye.  It is an honour to run for Chestnut, and the weight of this honour fell deeply on my soul at this moment.

Slowly as we inched closer to the start it was time to start jogging and over the line I went.  2 years ago I started the marathon far too fast and paid the price, so I started nice and slowly at my target pace of 6:30 per km.  We were off and running, and as we made our way round the park and off towards Brighton the sun was shining and it was a great day to be a runner.  I felt fit (despite my lack of training) and was excited about the race.

Sticking closely to my pace through the first 5km, and then past 10km I was running well and feeling good.  The crowd was noisy and all was well.  Rather amusingly, due to wearing a back pack you could not quite see my name properly on my top.  As you can see from the pictures, it looks like I have Nooky written on my top rather than Snooky.  This lead to many smiles from me as the crowd shouted out “go on Nooky”.  Some people were a bit quizzical about me having Nooky on my top, but never the less the crowd were cheering and shouting my name.

All of this was brilliant. All except for one thing.  It was very very hot.  For so early in the morning (around 10:30am at this point) it was really warm.  The forecast had been for up to 23 degrees.  I had no idea how hot it was, but it was easily 20 degrees at this point and was only going to get hotter.

As we proceeded out onto the seafront for the long slog towards Ovingdean, the heat became very real indeed.  There was a light breeze blowing into our faces, but the sun was relentless and I was ploughing though my water bottle and topping it up at every aide station.  Others were clearly suffering in the heat too, and you could hear the mutterings of other runners all around, all saying how hot it was.  Having almost no experience of running marathons in the heat, I decided to keep my pace steady, concentrate on drinking a lots of water, and keep on going.

Turning around at Ovingdean and back towards the pier to complete the half marathon, I was still feeling good but was very worried about the heat and the impact it might be having on me.  For the relevant pace I was going, my heart rate was about 15-20bpm higher than it should have been.  I took this as a sure sign that the weather was taking it’s toll on me and was starting to fear that I was running into trouble.  Sometimes, it sucks to be right.

Running relatively strongly past the 15 mile marker I started to suffer.  I was so hot.  Ridiculously hot.  It must have been in the mid 20’s (or it certainly felt like it) and I was struggling.  There was no choice but to start a walk/run strategy.  Giving my heart rate a chance to slow down a bit whilst walking was a good idea, and God. knows I needed a bit of a rest.  I continued this strategy through the 18 mile mark, started to feel a bit stronger and picked up the pace.

All the way round my friend Sarah (who was there supporting her girlfriend Liz) had been bumping into me and she gave me a little pep talk as I approached the dreaded power station section.  My hip flexors had given up by this point (as they often do) and I lamented to her that perhaps one day I will get them sorted.  Haven’t managed this yet in 3 years of endurance racing, but you never know.

As I got to the power station the heat started to become very real.  There were fellow runners conking out everywhere.  People were laid on the ground.  Many were repeatedly being sick and there were St Johns Ambulance people all over the place.  Those volunteers do a great job, but I definitely did not want to see one up close.  I knew my wife would be worried about me running in the heat, so I gave her a call at this point.   Usually I would not have my phone whilst running, but I have been practicing wearing my race backpack that I will use on the ultra marathon, so had my phone close at hand.

Cat was very glad to hear from me, and as I walked along talking to her she reminded me that this was my first marathon of 13 this year, and all I needed to do was finish not “kill myself” on the first one.  I took her counsel well, and proceeded with my walk run strategy round the power station.  As we got to mile 22, I tucked in behind a couple who were running together.  The man had an M-dot tattoo on his left calf, meaning he had completed an Ironman triathlon in the past.  I have a very similar tattoo myself, so decided that I would stick with him and he could pace me to the finish.  Sticking close behind the couple for a couple more miles, I then walked the first half of mile 24 before deciding to run to the finish.

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Almost done

As the saying goes, “the best laid plans of mice and men often go astray”, and I could not maintain the run for that long.  I was clearly way more dehydrated than I had thought, so after one more brief walk I ran the final mile and crossed the line in 5:07.

Bearing in mind the ridiculous heat, I was very pleased with the time.  Sadly I felt absolutely awful when I stopped running and had to make my way to the Chestnut Tree House tent in the event village for a well earned packed of crisps and a nice cold coke.  Following on from this I felt OK again, and reflected back on what I now consider to be my hardest ever marathon.  I have run much hillier races, an also run a marathon at the end of an Ironman after swimming 2.4 miles and cycling 112, but Brighton this year was definitely physically my toughest.

I guess I just don’t do too well in the heat.  Still I have learnt some valuable lessons from this marathon, and will take these with me into my next marathon, the Three Forts Challenge, on the 30th April (3 weeks time).  This will pose a whole new set of problems, with over 1000 metres of climbing over the 27 mile course.  Let’s hope it’s not so hot!

As always, I would like to say a massive thank you to the amazing Chestnut Tree House supporters who turned up in the heat to cheer us all on.  Also a huge thanks to my wife Cat, who was busy spamming Facebook with updates as my race unfolded, trying to get the sponsorship money flowing.

So with one marathon under my belt, and 12 more to go (including two ultra marathons), it is time for me to sign off and get my head into gear for the next short burst of training before the 30th.  Hope you are all well.

TTFN

Snooky

PS – if you can please share my website using the buttons below or in the column on the left I would be hugely grateful. I really want to raise as much money as I can for Chestnut and everybody who shares this on Facebook, Twitter or any other social media will be helping raise much needed money for this hugely deserving charity.

Thank you.