Friday, October 26, 2018

PW - Personal Worst

My first marathon was a little over 20 years ago and was London in April 1997. I finished that day in 4hrs 20minutes. I really don’t remember much about it at all, I don’t remember finishing or how I felt that day or indeed the day after. The next time I ran a marathon was something like 15 years later, in Gloucester, where I did my PB in 3:15:00 flat. I am very proud of that time. While I always dreamed of running sub-3 I don’t think I ever really had the drive to do the training that would take, I feel I’d be susceptible to injury and with each passing year I obviously am a year older.

Yesterday morning I ran a marathon and it struck me last night that I had run a personal worst, a PW if you like. 

I thought this would really bother me but it doesn’t because it’s all about the context of the run. The first thing is that I am proud that I finished it not least of all because while I am always training I had done no specific training for this. No long runs, no taper, no structure. 

For the last few months I have been ticking along at an average of around 35-40 miles a week, sometimes I have hit 50miles but rarely. It’s the long runs in marathon training that you need and I hadn’t done any. I felt really strong up to around mile 20/21 and, while not running fast, felt smooth and in a rhythm. I felt that I could keep that going. It was then that I started to slow down and throw in the odd walk break. I was fine for energy, I hadn’t hit the wall I had just run out of strength.

This is where experience and a certain amount of knowing how to suffer comes in. I would say I know how to suffer, the experience I had at the Wendover Woods 50mile taught me many things including how to do just that. More than that though it was how to suffer without being reckless. I was struggling but I wasn’t injured, there was no lasting damage being done, it was just muscle aches which is something you’d expect. With that in mind it becomes just about completing the distance. Mentally this takes the pressure off; I know I can do that, I know I can cover the distance I know how my body feels and reacts and so I just got it done.

There’s ego here too. It felt good to be able to run that distance almost off the couch. Miles in the legs and experience essentially got me through.

A little over 20 years from my first marathon I ran a personal worst – best of all I don’t even care.

Monday, August 13, 2018

what is is with being vegan?

I have had a beard for around seven years now. During that time it has been various lengths and bushiness but ever present. This is relevant as it actually predates the beard fashion by a couple of years. Something people do not know and why should they? 

When I get asked about it and say that I have had it for a while I get sideways looks as if to say, “really?” 

The point of this is that while there are trends, I also ride a single speed bike to work wear statement glasses and run ultramarathons, not all things that we do were as a result of a trend. What has this got to do with eating a vegan diet?

I have been vegan for a little over three years now. It started, like most, with a move to vegetarianism and there was a moment. There was a flash of lightning that came from a Rich Roll Podcast and specifically episode 160 on July 19th 2015 and an interview with David Carter. It was this that prompted me to make the full change and remove dairy from my diet. 

On reflection it seems weird that you can be vegetarian and still consume eggs, milk and cheese. I stop short of describing myself as vegan as on occasion I do eat some dairy, never in the pure form but sometimes in cooking. I always try to avoid it but if there is little option then I will. If you want to label me I am >99% plant based. There’s a t-shirt slogan right there.

What I experience a lot is a sense of defensiveness that I get from people that ask me about it. I do not go around banging the drum for this at all but if I am asked I will explain my motivation and the impact that it has had on me and my health.

How do know there’s a vegan at a cocktail party? Don’t worry they will tell you.

When asked I normally cite the following reasons and outcomes;
  • RRP Podcast and specifically the David Carter interview
  • Netflix documentaries; Cowspiracy, What the Health, Forks over Knives etc
  • Injuries from running that have a connection to consumption of dairy (tendonitis issues that milk is known to inflame)
  • Stopped dairy and injuries cleared up, skin better, feel much better (generally feel much less gloopy) and have abundant energy
  • Weight is consistent and not an issue
  • Recovery from long runs is amazing
  • Read some books (China Study, Eat and Run and some blogs and posts by vegan runners; Mike Wardian, Rob Krar, Sage Canaday etc etc)
  • Immersed myself in the online culture (, Neal Barnard MD, Ray Cronise etc etc etc)
  • No-one will ever tell you to eat less fruits and veggies
I explain this, largely I feel, without prejudice. Remember I have been asked about this, I am not the idiot at the cocktail party.

When I start talking I notice that almost without exception people get defensive and judgemental of themselves but as though it was coming from me. I then find myself apologising for something I have not done and explaining that while it works for me it isn’t for everyone. My wife is around >75% vegan but my kids really are not all (although they do like vegan ice-cream and soya iced coffee) as it should be they do what they want. So why do people get defensive?

I think the main one is animal rights. You might have noticed that I omitted this from the list above. Being totally honest this was not part of the agenda for me when I started out. It was a selfish motivation that was almost exclusively around me being a better runner. However as I have gotten more involved and consumed more vegan materials online you cannot fail to be affected by animal cruelty that takes place on an industrial scale. I do not reference this unless asked as it is emotional and provocative. The vegan at the cocktail party I suspect would reference this almost immediately. 

When you are described as vegan then this is where people immediately leap in terms of motivation and why you would be. They know about it and like much of human kind choose to ignore something that counters their version of their life. We all do this on a wide range of topics and choices. This doesn’t make us wrong it makes us human. We love nothing more than what we know our are bad habits being validated however tenuously. Someone shining a light on that makes us uncomfortable and by extension can often make us defensive. We feel the need to defend our way of living even though it is not under attack.

So if you ask me why I’m vegan and I answer your question remember that you asked me and I am just answering your question. I’m not selling anything and it comes with no judgement from me. 

Anything you feel as a result of that is down to you as is any action you do or do not take.

Oh and i get my protein from the same place a gorilla does. 

Thursday, July 26, 2018

Gloucester Groundhog - 22nd July 2018

What happens when two runners watch the Barkley Marathons documentary on Netflix? 

The Gloucester Groundhog is what happens.

Inspired by the documentary The Barkley Marathons: The race that eats its young the Gloucester Groundhog is a 5-loop challenge on a route of around 9 miles, each with 1,300ft of elevation set in and around Cranham Woods. It’s a really challenging route with variety of terrain and some good hills. The premise is pretty simple and just like it’s Barkley big brother. The challenge is 5 laps within cut-off or there’s a 3 loop fun run option. The cut-off is a very demanding 9 hrs. To make it even more interesting you have to navigate and at each mile (more or less) find a book and rip out a page with your corresponding bib number.

So far so Barkley.

Sunday 22nd July a few, 10 runners, gathered in a parking spot on the edge of Cranham Woods with the start to be given at 0900hrs. A race briefing at 0845hrs and that was it we were off. Straight up the hill from the start to the first book. It was then a turnaround back to the start to then head up on the road parallel with the woods. Across Painswick Road and onto the second book.

Groups quickly formed with one of the runners racing off at the front, I was in a pair just behind with then a larger group just behind. There was another pair that, i think, were predominantly walking the course.

Running with a mate is always good but when you spend more time talking than paying attention you can go wrong very easily and then not really understand that you have. Jez and I ran straight past the location of book 2 not seeing it at all. Book locations were indicated with pink rope. Some were easier to spot than others. This one eluded us and we ran past, probably a good half a mile past it. Only realising our mistake when the larger group of runners came through. We headed back and eventually found it. Acknowledging the time loss we figured we could make up the ground.

If we had been paying attention maybe we could have.

After the second book we set-off running again finding the third book with not too much issue. It was, though, here that we should have been concentrating on the map. We missed the turning down the hill for Watery Lane instead ending up on the main road down to Upton St. Leonard's. We were quite far down the road before realising our mistake. We turned around and orientated the map to then see that we were parallel with where we needed to be but some distance away. Between us were houses fields and barbed wire fences. We found a route across a field, hopped over a barbed wire fence, over a couple of stiles and onto Watery Lane where we located the book.

It was then back on road into Upton St. Leonard's. We made another mistake here. You’re not surprised at all are you! There was no visible rope although we could see from the ma where we were and that there should be something around. We met with the two walkers at this stage who were hunting too. It took us quite a while here to find the book. Later we heard that someone had taken the pink rope! To give an idea of how wrong we had gone at this point the walkers had done around 6.5 miles and Jez and I had covered closer to 11.

Back on course and running again we found our way to Nut Hill and located the book (a cheeky little up and back) it was then across Painswick Road and up towards Coopers Hill. You might not know Coopers Hill by name but if I said Cheese Rolling you might know where I mean. This is the site of the annual May Day Gloucester Cheese Rolling festival which can only be described as bonkers.

The views across Gloucestershire as you head up Coopers Hill are just amazing. You can see right across Gloucestershire as far as the Black Mountain in Wales, then moving your gaze to the right, The Mayhill with it's clump of trees perched on top a little further and it's The Malvern Hills with then everything in between. 

Uphill still the road gave way to trail and a steady if relatively short climb to the top. In the woods at Coopers Hill there are old walls and pathways. The book was located on a wall that has become part of the pathway. There was now one book remaining. The pathway leads towards a farm where it was through the gate and down onto a road that bisects the wood. There’s a footpath on the other side of the road that you pick up after which it is a nice down-hill towards the last book. The last book was difficult to find and another cheeky out and back. The footpath then deposits you by the Scout Hut in Cranham. It was a short up hill on the road towards the start/finish.

We had covered around 15 miles and taken 3hrs 45 minutes or so!! Any hopes of completing 5 laps had evaporated.

There was time to replenish supplies and head out again although this time in reverse. The advantage here was that we now knew the course and more importantly where the books were located. The second loop was without event as evidenced by the improvement in time where we ran around 1:45 for the loop. Quite slow for 9 miles but we had an additional 6 miles in the legs and also quite a lot of mental tiredness from searching for books and getting lost. It all takes a toll.

The third loop was where things changed dramatically. By now it was a long day and with this amazing weather we have been having it was a very hot and very long day. Lap two finished with the up and back that we did on lap 1 as lap 3 was a repeat of lap 1 it started with the up and back. All part of the Barkley plan to mess with your head and break you.

We started running and ran most of the loop down to Upton. Here with tiredness and heat catching up we started to walk the up hill section. It was around here, just at the top of Nut Hill that I started to have difficulties. I was suddenly overcome with tiredness and fatigue. Not just over come but over whelmed. I was doing massive yawns and putting one on front of the other was a huge effort. I was panting despite moving at a snails pace. I was craving water and only had 0.5ltr of Tailwind with me the thought of which made me feel sick.  As I struggled up the hill Jez got me to check my blood sugar, which was absolutely fine, and encouraged me to sit for a bit. I did but was worried about doing so as I felt like I could just fall asleep and knew that this was probably not a good thing.

I managed to take some Tailwind on board, gagging as I did so, and did start to improve. It was short lived and I was all over the trails. I was also between two road so getting support would have been far from simple. I was resolved in my mind to getting help at the road crossing by the farm which was probably less than half a mile. Making it there and feeling improved I knew I could finish. It was a slow walk down the hill towards the final book. The RD had come up the trail to find us noting that we had been on the third loop for quite some time.   We explained, or maybe Jez explained, that I had been having some difficulties and needed water but that I would finish. He headed back to the finish while we set about locating the final page from the final book.

Down to and through the scout centre it was then a short uphill to the finish, Jez helpfully pushed me up here, then the fence post to have completed three laps and the fun run.

Once done the RD handed me a bottle of water, I sat down and made my way through it. Also eating watermelon that was still available. I immediately felt better and set about chatting about what had happened and how it had been. I talk a lot but even I felt myself talking too much! Buffs were handed out (these are great by the way the Gloucester Groundhog branding is great). It was then into the car and home (I should point out that I wasn’t driving).

I got home and had some food and more to drink then a little nap in the garden. It was probably an hour and a half after finishing the event that i went to the bathroom to shower and hopped onto the scales. I was down 5.5lbs on what i weighed the day before. and that was after taking on around 2.5 of fluid post event and having eaten. Dehydration is the only answer for that kind of weight loss and explains why i felt so bad. I was probably down closer to 7lbs when i finished the event and i only weigh 148lbs anyway! 

The issue was i think on the lead up to the event and not during the event itself. Like a lot of people i have been busy in work so probably not drinking enough and i was in the car all day Saturday with family stuff so just not hydrated enough on the start.

Pretty serious though and a lesson learned for sure.

Looking at the Strava file post event Jez and I covered 33.5 miles. The fun run should have been closer to 27 miles. On running a loop last night (3 days after the GG) it actually measured as 8.6 miles with 1,306ft. An efficient fun run would barely be a marathon!

As the first holding of this event it was really great, the RDs did a fantastic job of organising, hosting and looking after everyone on the day. Their energy throughout was incredible. The runners were all in the spirit of it and no-one was able to complete the challenge, the best on the day being an excellent 4 laps. Look out for this event next year – it’s demanding, challenging and far from easy. 

That Netflix documentary has a lot to answer for – see you next year!