Do you even gym, Bro?

I was recently asked by a friend what gets me out in the winter, and I’m often met with derisory comments from work colleagues for leaving the house at 6am to run to work in inclement weather.  Essentially wouldn’t it be saner to join the gym? This got me thinking, why would I join a gym? The obvious reason is that they are relatively expensive for something that I don’t really enjoy, but there are more nuances to it than that.

I can see the advantages to the gym, I can, and this is in no way an attack on people who use them.  They are warm, dry and have a myriad of different bits of kit for me to embarrass myself on, and there’s the crux of it. They are warm and dry because they are indoors and I like to be outside.

IMG_20160115_175824Running outside offers me so much more than just a cardiovascular workout. IMG_20151122_183914 During the week I tend to run on the road and watch the world going about its business as I go about mine.  I love the visual impact as the sun goes down and the lights come on.  At the weekend I try to get out the city landscape and hit the trails.  This doesn’t always mean leaving the city, I’m lucky living where I do that I have a number of nature reserves and wooded areas within a couple of miles of my front door.  These little pockets of ‘wild’ offer the trail running experience without having to drive all the way out to Dartmoor.  Dartmoor is an incredible, beautiful place which offers amazing running options and is worth the drive but it isn’t always a viable option.

When running on a treadmill with nothing to look at but a magnolia wall – or IMG_20150926_102349worse a mirror – I feel I’m missing something.  Early morning runs offer so much visual stimulation, from the changing tones of the sky to the chance of a – brief – sighting of the cities shyer inhabitants, most notable for me a fox darting across a graveyard and one summer I had the privilege of seeing an adder basking in the mid-morning sun (admittedly the adder was some way out of Plymouth).

The only indoor training I do is cycling on the turbo trainer.  I don’t particularly enjoy the turbo but if definitely has a place within the winter training arsenal.  I IMG_20160211_214838have blogged about using a turbo trainer before (which can be found here: http://wp.me/p4NbsO-1g) and won’t go into that again.  What I find with the turbo is I can get two hours’ worth of real riding into an hour on the turbo.  Having said all that given a choice of a two hour ride out in the cold (or even the rain) and an hour on the turbo I would take the two hours on the road.  I actually rather enjoy cycling in poor weather for a couple of reasons; one of them is that I genuinely feel it makes me a better bike handler.  There is also a feel good factor from getting back from a ride in bad conditions.  Provided to can keep yourself warm and dry these rides have a true feel good factor. The feeling that a lot of people will have had a look out the window and gone back to bed.  To quote Sean Kelly “To know if the weather is too bad for training, get your kit on and go train, you’ll know when you get back”.  I particularly enjoy riding in crisp cold conditions.  The type of day where it’s so bright you have to wear sunglasses but so cold you wouldn’t even consider leaving the house without having your ears covered.

Other than the physical and technical benefits to cycling and running outdoors, it also gives me a chance to de-frag.  I think I am a better person as a result of the time I spend outdoors.  I have more patience and generally I think I’m more fun to be around.  In fact when I’m being a bit snappy with my wife she’ll ask me if I need to go out for a run!

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A Family Affair

Forgive me reader(s) for I have procrastinated.  It has been a very long time since I had anything even remotely interesting enough to warrant writing a post – and arguably I still don’t.

I think the biggest development has been an increase in little runners in the family (note: same number of children, just both come running).  My 5 year old son had become more and more vocal in his annoyance that going for a run was either a solo or a dad/daughter affair.  I had come to the point that I had run out of reasons, proper reasons, why he shouldn’t.  My main reason was that this is the only bit of one-on-one I manage to consistently get with my daughter.   He is fascinated withIMG_20160130_112842 bikes and riding them and has happily helped me build him a bike.  We started off buying a cheap kids bike on eBay – which was a bit too big for him. We stripped, re-painted, upgraded and renamed it – giving it that personal touch.  Then once he was just about big enough he was riding it.  My daughter on the other hand isn’t so keen on the bicycle.  She is learning – and is doing well – but she just isn’t that into it, nor is she so keen on falling off.  With this in mind, I had pigeon-holed running as ‘daddy/daughter’ and cycling as ‘daddy/son’ one-on-one time.  So, once it was clear that a) he wasn’t going to let this go, and b) she was happy to include him it was a done deal.

20160102_102409Off we went around the block – the same route as the first daddy/daughter run.  It was incredible how well they cooperated, listen to instructions and most importantly both enjoyed the running – and my daughter genuinely seemed to enjoy having her brother join in too.

Since that wonderful, sunny winters morning we haven’t all been out for a run together.  This is due to a couple of reasons.  One of those reasons is I am trying to get them cycling as often as possible, but also I am waiting for them to ask me again.  I am conscious that I want it to be something that they want to do, so I don’t ask them if they want to go for a run , it has to come from them – I don’t want them to feel at all pressured to do it.  The weather may have played a part.  It has been a little wet recently, and I think this has put a little dampener on their running ambition.  But the interest is still there it seems.

Since the Santa Run in December I have been looking for another race which is suitable for the kids to run too, and then it came to me.  I had been half looking at a 9km night run organised by the National Trust.  Now a 9km run is definitely out of their range, but there is also a 2.6km option. Perfect.  A little bit of digging and kids are welcome.  Family entry booked, a proper race experience for the whole family.

The day of the race arrives, and there are equal measures of excitement and trepidation. The latest storm has hit, and – luckily for the Lake District – Plymouth appears to be at its epicentre this time.  In the morning I am emailed with the warning that a decision on the race will be made by 2 pm.  Finally the email arrives, and the final decision has been made – the race is off.  To be fair to the organisers it is probably the right decision, with trees being blown over and heavy rain over the moor.

We inform the kids that the race has been postponed – and subsequently cancelled.  Their disappointment is obvious, and I make an effort to lessen the blow by promising to look for more races we can do together.

The following morning the weather has calmed down significantly, the wind has dropped and there is even a hint of sun.  First out the door is IMG_20160207_104108me and the boy, who declares he wants to go for a long run.  A longer run it is then, a hilly two km later as we turn for home he still isn’t satisfied and wants to keep going, I – joking – suggest we throw in some hill reps on the way back “YEAH!… what are hill reps?” you’ll see my boy, you’ll see.  The prospect of running up two steep, but fairly short hills didn’t deter him, and the grin was smeared across his face as he plummeted back down them again.  He’ll be a fell runner by his 6th birthday.

Upon our return, I swap son for daughter and head out on the same route – minus the hill reps.  The improvement in her running is amazing, and it isn’t that she is getting quicker.  It’s the increase in confidence.  Knowing she can get to the top of the hill before having a little walk or running up to the road because she knows we’ll have to stop there anyway and have a breather.   The most pleasing improvement however, is that she is now confident enough to tell me to slow down.  Confidence has always been an issue for her, never really willing to back herself, so I love that she now has the confidence to tell me we are going too quick. I couldn’t be prouder.

On a personal level, the running has begun again in earnest.  I have entered two ‘spring’ half marathons four weeks apart, the Forest of Dean spring half in mid-March and Plymouth’s half in mid-April.  I am really looking forward to both for very different reasons.  The Forest of Dean will be my youngest sister’s first race and being able to run it with her is going to be a real joy.  Plymouth on the other hand is all about the time.  I set my personal best there a couple of years ago and running it again should be a good indication of where I am at.  Up to this point I have been concentrating on base training and some hill work, but it’s getting close to the point where some speed work will be required.  This is not my favourite aspect of training; I generally like to just lace up and run but needs must and if I want to get a time that I am happy with now is the time to put in the hard work.