Archive for September, 2012

27
Sep
12

marathon training – passports, tickets, money…

Safety pins, micropore tape, passport, ibuprofen, vaseline, short sleeve top, long sleeve top – this scenario will be familiar to many of you. There are items of running gear spread out over the bed alongside the above. There is a small suitcase on the floor that looks way too small for what is required. I am standing over this random array of stuff trying to check off in my head everything that I will need for my 4 days in Berlin for The Berlin Marathon.

I am excited and a little bit scared. My 10 day taper has so far consisted of a 13km run, a 16km run, half an hour scampering about at a gentle pace and finally, later today, a little 20 min jog with Hauling My Carcass before we set off tomorrow morning at an horrific hour for the airport.

The 13km run before the weekend was horrible. I felt sluggish from start to finish, wasn’t enjoying it and, worse, I had all sorts of little aches and niggles in my knees, ankles and the soles of my feet. I had one of those dark moments of self doubt… “If I feel like this for 13k, how am I going to get through 42k??”. Fortunately, Saturday’s 16k was a fabulous affair – it was a clear, crisp morning. Not too hot but with a clear blue sky – and the running came easily. For the first time in a good few weeks, I was actually enjoying going for a run. The past 16 weeks of running to a schedule had stripped any trace of enjoyment from my runs and made them feel like a chore, an obligation. So to bound along effortlessly in the sunshine was a revelation. All of a sudden, 42kms sounded like a long way but definitely do-able.

So here I am, days away from a race that has been planned for the best part of a year. It is the latest in a series of adventures for myself and Hauling My Carcass that began back in 2008 when we decided “maybe we should enter a half marathon, you know, just for fun.”. It has seen us travel about Europe to run in races that have been both euphoric and challenging in equal measure, to places that have been interesting and cool and has given us some great fun and plenty of anecdotes. This time tomorrow, we will be in Berlin, dragging wheeled suitcases noisily through the streets in search of our accommodation for the weekend.

Now where was I… Garmin? Check! Lucky socks…?

Soundtrack to this post: Bobby Womack – The Bravest Man In The Universe

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18
Sep
12

Xero Shoes

Here’s something a little different this week. Rather than bore you with yet another blog about my Marathon training (the taper begins this week so only 24kms were run on Sunday, thanks for asking…), I thought I might try out a pair of Xero Shoes which are now available in the UK through Born Barefoot.

Anyone who has read Born To Run (which, by now, is probably quite a lot of you), will be aware of the Tarahumara tribe in Mexico who run in homemade sandals consisting of a sole and a cord that fastens the sole to the foot. They cover enormous distances and “running related injuries” are practically unheard of. The Xero Shoes are a modern day take on those sandals and the kit I ordered contained a pair of pre-cut soles, some cord and a metal punch.

There is something inexplicably exciting about assembling your own shoes and once you have the kit, it is just a case of logging on to www.invisibleshoe.com, watching the instructional videos and then creating your own footwear from the kit of parts. The videos are easy to follow and have many different tying and customisation options once you have the basic construction complete. I opted for a “slip-on” style which allows, once the cord has been adjusted, the sandals to be put on and taken off with no additional tying.

They are more comfortable than you imagine they are going to be too… I have now done a couple of short runs with them and, once the initial adjustments regarding the “lacing” have been done, they stay on remarkably well. It is an odd sensation as you run – the sole affords some protection from the ground but the feel of the breeze over your feet makes you realise how much shoes shelter your feet from the world around them. For me, they are perfect to take on holiday somewhere hot – they take up virtually no space in a bag and it means you could get out and run (virtually) barefoot without your feet getting too hot or the soles of your feet roasting on hot tarmac.

The kits are available with either a 4mm sole (the ones that I have) or with a slightly thicker 6mm sole. Normal running shoes are designed to be changed after about 500 miles – Xero Shoes are guaranteed not to wear out for an astonishing 5000 miles which means they should last 10 times longer.And they cost about a quarter of the price of a normal running shoe.

Born Barefoot are also stockists of Vibram Five Fingers (I have been eyeing up a very nice pair of Vibram Spyridon Ls for after I complete the Berlin Marathon and I can start running sensible distances again) and next day delivery on the Vibrams is free.

10
Sep
12

marathon training – week 13 – dunstable 20 mile challenge

I’d had a good week. I’d trained well and ran a fast 8k training run, knocking 4 minutes off the time I had set at the beginning of my marathon training 13 weeks ago. I was set for the Dunstable 20 Mile Challenge that I had entered, along with a friend of mine, in the hope that it would be something a bit different for our final long run before our respective Marathons in 3 weeks time.
There were 2 small flies in the ointment – The first was that we were both out the previous night at the magnificent Africa Express gig in Kings Cross and much of the energy in our legs had been used up by a solid 5 hours of dancing. The second was that temperatures were forecast to be between 25 and 27 degrees on race day. Gulp.
So, with 6 hours sleep in the bank, I arrived in Dunstable and collected my race number and stored my bag at the start. The facilities were exceptional, clean, bright, lovely toilets, helpful organisers. I had printed out the directions that would guide us round the course and the talk on the start line was of getting lost and perhaps accidentally ending up on the Marathon route. There are 3 concurrent races all starting out on the same route – a Half Marathon, the 20 mile Challenge and a Marathon. Competitors quickly chatted and made friends with anyone who was running the same race as them – the thinking being that they could either help each other round or at least recognise someone running the same route to know they were going in the right direction.
So for the first 6-7 miles, everyone runs the same route – out of the park and straight up the downs, the steep, chalky inclines giving way to fantastic views across the countryside as gliders swoop overhead. The 3 routes then split and the fun begins. Instructions are as good as can be expected but much of the time you are following a bridlepath and looking for just a gap in the hedge which signals the next turning. I took the executive decision that it was better to stop and check the instructions frequently and sacrifice some time rather than bowling on and risk going the wrong way, potentially adding miles to the route. There were check in points along the route and also water stops. Every one of the helpers was lovely, asking how we were doing and plying us with water and jelly babies. Parts of the route are really tough – either because of the inclines or because of the ground underfoot – a recently harvested wheatfield on an incline is difficult to traverse in the midday sun, especially if you’re not sure that your are heading in the right direction. From about 7 miles in, we hooked up with a few other runners and decided to work out the route democratically, stopping and deciphering the instructions at each potential intersection. This also helped us grab a moments rest and some respite from the blazing sun.
At about 17 miles, things started to look familiar again and we split off from the others to complete the run. People out for a day on the Downs shouted encouragement and we arrived back at the race HQ after a punishing downhill and a bit of last mile confusion as we headed to the finish.
All the organisers cheered us over the line, we got a celebratory “Buff” emblazoned with the race name and people couldn’t do enough for us. Free tea, coffee, sandwiches and cake had all been laid on for all the participants and there were showers too if we wanted. This has to be one of THE friendliest races: organisers seemed genuinely interested in our thoughts and it was more akin to getting back to a friends house to find that they had made lunch for you rather than arriving at a Race HQ.
It is a tough course (I was more than an hour and 20 mins slower than my previous 32km) and is, at 33.9km / 21 miles, slightly longer than anticipated. From the general air of camaraderie amongst the runners and the attitude of the organisers, it is clear that this is a race for runners organised by runners. Tough… But I wish every race were as well planned and enjoyable – I cannot recommend it highly enough.
So, 21 miles in the blazing heat, across tough terrain is possibly the best bit of last ditch training I could do. If I can do that, another 5 miles with reasonable temperatures in Berlin and a flat course should be do-able.

Soundtrack to this post: Suffer – M.anifest

04
Sep
12

marathon training – week 12

After my tough 32kms long run last week, I had been having an email flurry with My Running Life about possible causes. It was suggested that I was perhaps starting too quick. So, on this weeks 24km run (which by comparison to my other recent runs was short so I was actually looking forward to it!) I decided to monitor my pace a little more closely. It turns out that I am going off fast – my schedule says dictates that I should be hitting 6.17mins per km whereas my first few kms were run at between 5.30 – 5.40 so about 40 secs too fast. I tried to reign it in but I find it very difficult to run at a pace that does not feel natural. And I have to keep checking the Garmin which I find off putting. I did however manage to slow it down to around the 6min/km mark. The route had a couple of quite nasty hills but with a km to go, I thought I’d just go for it and run as fast as I could. I was nudging 5min/km for the whole of my final kilometre and finished 2 mins and 7 seconds faster than the last time I ran the same distance. And I didn’t feel like I was about to die! This has boosted my confidence as I was feeling a bit deflated after struggling on the previous weeks long run.
This coming Sunday, I have another 32kms run however this should be a little different.
I had a call from a friend of mine who is running the Loch Ness Marathon and is at the same stage in his training as I am for Berlin. He suggested we run our 32km long run together and also suggested that we do it as part of the Dunstable 20 Mile Challenge. So on Sunday morning, I’ll be setting off on an unmarked, unmarshalled 20 mile route. Runners get given a number and a printed sheet of directions and off they go. I am looking forward to it as it’ll be something a bit different, I’ll have someone to train with and I don’t think I can be too precious about times for once as I suspect that we will be stopping to check our directions every once in a while. I also have a sneaking suspicion that it’s proximity to the Dunstable Downs will means that it may be a little hilly but am fortunately too scared to try and find out the elevation in advance. See, ignorance really is bliss…

Soundtrack to this post: Flux Of Pink Indians – Progress




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