Tuesday, October 27, 2009

Confidence Crisis

I am now three weeks into my training program for the Thames Trot ultramarathon. The training program I am following is an 18 week one so I am still looking at 15 weeks and more than 700 training miles to run.  

It suddenly seems quite daunting and I am having the first experience of nerves and frankly am also a little scared! The main reason for this is that 50miles suddenly seems like a hell of a long way - who was I to think that it wasn't!!! I realised this on Friday when having run 13miles I realised that that represented a quarter of the distance that I need to be fit enough to run.

Prior to my starting the training programme I was running around 20-25 miles a week with one long run of around 12-14miles. There was no pressure because there was no goal. I was running because I liked it, it was keeping me fit and I was able to. Now the emphasis has changed and I am running because I have to. I still love it and feel good when I am out on the road but the mental aspect is completely different.  

I am now running prescribed distances on prescribed days, taking rest days even if I don't want to; it feels more like work than fun. This is ridiculous really as I am still doing what I love just that whereas before when on a run I may have gone out to run 4miles and ended up running 6 I now have to have a planned route to achieve the mileage that I need to in order to meet the programme. Rather than running where I want and for how long I want I am now slave to my Garmin.

Another factor is that as the distances increase I am running laps – I have lived in my house for more than 8 years and so know all of the loops very well having run them literally hundreds of times. As my distances increase I am using laps so that in the event of getting into difficulty I am no more then 2-3miles from home as opposed to being 10miles away. The familiarity of the laps does make me think sometimes why do I need to run it when I've run this a hundred times before? Psychologically it is different, rather than just working to be generally fit the focus and workload is taking a toll.

I have also done some research into the Thames Trot and seen that there is an element of navigation required. This is another cause for concern as I am rubbish at map reading and have a limited sense of direction!! My brain just does not seem to work in that way!! This is another blow to my confidence.

So I am starting to talk myself out of it a bit. Some friends have entered the Mayhill Massacre which I did last year and was a great event. It is the day after the Thames Trot so off my radar currently, also there is the Gloucester Marathon at the end of January that I am starting to consider as a more realistic target. I could do both of these instead right?

I do still want to do the ultramarathon though and so this is a crisis of confidence. Which must be natural for a daunting event? A bit like entering an Ironman triathlon or even stepping up to do your first 5km race. It's the unknown.

On the positive side I can feel myself getting much stronger as a runner. I am running consistently faster despite the increasing distances. In the three weeks so far I have run more than planned and each week improved on my avg. time per mile. This Saturday just gone I ran two laps of a 7km route I have with a 1second difference and both of them under 30minutes. This is a run that I previously, on an easy pace, would look to complete in around 31minutes.

Plan Miles

Actual Miles


Avg. time per mile













There will come a point where the time per mile starts to increase in line with increasing distances, and I am not suggesting that I would be able to cover the 50miles at anything like the pace I am hitting in training but I am pleased with how it is going.

I hope this is just a very natural mini-confidence crisis and that once I hit some longer runs (20-25miles) I will get a boost from that. I have still not yet entered the 'race' yet and while in this mood I will not be doing so.

Plan B currently looks attractive!

Monday, October 12, 2009

Inspiration & Perspiration

This weekend was a great one in terms of motivational performance and all you need to understand about what drives athletes both pro and amateur.

On Friday it was Brett's moment of glory with a self-supported "Iron-Baby". This saw him complete the Ironman distance Triathlon locally in Texas, supported by a couple of friends and his family. The route he took passing his house multiple times so he could refuel etc….that fact that he completed the 'event' is not what makes this remarkable but that he had to pass his house around 10 times on the bike and run and keep going despite, I am sure, the temptation to stop! He tweeted during the event and raised over $1,000 for charity – hats off. He also trashed the frame of his bike but them's the breaks!

Next up it was the Ironman World Championship at Kona Hawaii. The birthplace of triathlon. There are two levels to interest for me here, first as someone who has completed triathlons (although never Ironman) I am interested in the event and understand it's relevance and meaning. Secondly as a Brit we have Chrissie Wellington. Considering what she has achieved she is pretty much an unknown in the UK. Her achievement, 3rd consecutive win and setting a new women's record time, did not register on Sky Sports 24hr news coverage and got a footnote on the BBS Sports pages of its website. Truly incredible when you consider what she must put into being in the shape that she is in and that she is a world champion. If it were Paula Radcliffe she would be feted (I have nothing but admiration for Paula Radcliffe by the way) by all and receive huge coverage. I can understand that triathlon is not mainstream in terms of coverage but surely a workld champion deserves better…

The third performance is from Dean Karnazes in the Chicago Marathon, a race so good he did it twice! He ran the first lap in 03:52:17 then the second one in 03:57:28. He tweeted as he ran and talked about eating pizza and stopping at Starbucks for coffee etc. If you have read his book you will know what this guy is capable of and how he refuels on the run. The only problem he seems to face is getting calories on board (hence the pizza on the run) and I guess he needs to sleep occasionally!

Three great performances; each showing plenty of guts, determination and dedication. You cannot do what any of these three did without having mental strength to match and exceed anything you can train the body to do.

Oh and I bet they had smiles on their faces too…

Monday, October 5, 2009

It's TV but not as we know it...

Last night I watched the season finale of True Blood that has been on FX, this same show premiere's on Channel 4 later this week. A great show; excellently written and acted and with movie quality production. This seems to be true of an increasing number of TV shows.

Initially it was 24 that set this tone for blockbuster event TV. A 1hr episode contributing to a much broader storyline, multiple characters interwoven into the plot and none of them indispensable (except for the hero of the show Jack Bauer). Unlike the Star Trek of old where when they beamed down to a planet the unknown character was the one who would not make it back in these modern shows any of them could be dispensed with. This makes watching them more tense, realistic and sometimes even shocking when a central character is removed.

Since 24 the list of these types of show has grown, Lost, Fringe, Saving Grace, The Riches, Lie to Me, Spooks, Dexter, CSI, Bones, The X-Files and the latest kid on the block, Flash Forward. And those are just the ones I watch.

Their forerunners were shows like Airwolf, the A-Team, Knight Rider, Auto-man, Kung-Fu. These were Saturday evening shows – mini-movie's of the time. I would suggest that the evolution of these modern shows has taken place in line with improving digital capability. When you can buy a home movie recorder that records in HD for less than £500 what can the professionals buy and use. Similarly digital editing and effects are much more sophisticated and also cheaper – you don't actually have to blow up the car!

The hour format could also be an evolution in line with available time. We live in a cash rich/time poor society. Who can sit more than once a week and watch a movie? Oh to have 90mins plus to spare. But the hour format (more like 45-50mins with Sky+ and ffwd on ads) can be managed into a busy schedule. So the themes get grander and the production more sophisticated and the audiences, presumably, grow.

The writing in these shows is excellent and not overshadowed by the visuals. The budget has not just been spent on a digital editing suite. I think that this might owe a debt to shows like Cheers, Frasier and Friends. These shows had long runs and yet always remained consistently very funny and are replayed endlessly on a multitude of digital channels. Having a team of writers working on the show all contributing and generating new ideas clearly maintains the quality and freshness of the programmes.

What are your favourite shows and why?

The journey of 800miles starts with a two mile run....

Monday 5th October - it is 18 weeks until the Thames Trot and the first day of my 18week training plan. Day 1 is a 2mile run which is easy enough, looking forward if all goes to plan I will be covering around 800miles (or 1,287km, or two pairs of running shoes) over the next 18 weeks. Looking at my schedule the high mileage weeks are around Christmas which will call for extra discipline and will power. A glass of red wine or a run in the cold and dark? 

I haven't entered the race yet and while I start training I will be doing further research into the whole Ultrarunning scene and the Thames Trot specifically. I am not sure what to wear for such an event, what to carry and so on. A quick glance at the ratings for the event on Runners World indicated that it was snowing or had snowed at last years race. Now I am thinking that 50miles is hard enough without the weather being bad too. I had not even considered what the weather will be like in February until I read that review. In some ways so long as it isn't wet I guess cold is ok as it could help with not overheating and it is sometimes easier to keep warm than cool. The flip side is that it could be freezing! 

I did the Mayhill Massacre last February and that was cold, wet and muddy. It was a great event, really well subscribed to and managed on the day, the distance is 11miles up over the Mayhill and then back round to the start via the logging trails. Logging trails which are foot deep tyre marks in thick clay filled with freezing cold, muddy water. The biggest problem on race day isn't keeping warm but more keeping your shoes on - no elastic laces at this race! At the finish I felt battered, because of the conditions, the run is only 11 miles but is so demanding due to the terrain and conditions. At least the Thames Trot is a flat course! 

Another consideration I have for the Thames Trot is my diabetes. This is also the biggest concern for my family who are asking questions as to how I will control this during such an event. The answer right now is that I don't know. Well actually I have an idea but the fact is that over the next few weeks I will learn how to control it. Since being diabetic the largest event that I have done is a half marathon and a number of Olympic distance triathlons. In training so far I have run up to 15miles so just another 35 to consider! What I am saying is that as my body learns to go beyond what I am currently capable of I will learn how to manage my blood sugars. Currently I can manage for up to around 3hrs and so the same principles should apply beyond that. I will be carrying and using my testing kit on training runs and undoubtedly through the event itself. Along with a large supply of shot bloks and gels. 

What I will quickly understand is whether I am physically capable of such a feat and also whether I can manage my diabetes through these demands. I am looking forward to this immensely and even if I decide the Thames Trot is too far too soon I will learn a lot over the coming weeks. If that decision does come to pass there is a Plan B! The Gloucester Marathon in January and of course, the Mayhill Massacre again in February.