Doing her dad proud

My 8 year old daughter has recently signed up to run a half marathon – of sorts. She will be running the schools’ half marathon challenge in Plymouth and will be running a mile a week with the final mile taking place on the half marathon weekend on the Hoe (where the main event starts and finished).  This has really caught her imagination, and has reignited her desire to come running with me – which I am obviously overjoyed about.

Despite the looming threat of ‘Storm Doris’, an after school family run was all but img_0537demanded. So after school, we pop home to get our running kit on and head over to Saltram House (a local National Trust property), however not all of us are quite so keen to go for a run in the Plymouth mizzle.  So the two of us head to Saltram for a run around the grounds and down to the river. Despite the threat from meteorologists it’s a lovely night for a run, a bit cool but not too cold or windy and the trees protect us from the worst of the rain.

She is noticably excited as we set off – she skips, bounces and grins like a cheshire cat.  I try to calm her down a bit – without wanting to piss on her parade – and we jog around the grounds while we chat and generally just be silly.  Running as it should be, fun.

We make it as far as the river, before having to turn back for failing light.  It’s been a whileimg_0544 since we last ran together, and I honestly can’t believe how much more resiliant she has become, she is able to run much further and was able to push herself much harder, wanting to get to pointmarkers despite obviously working hard.

Famous Danish beers don’t make running buddies, but if they did she would be it.

Mojo? Mojo? Where for art thou Mojo?

I dare say it happens to all amateur athletes at some point, probably around this time of year. Possibly even every year.

This year however, it feels far more acute. This, I think, is mostly down to having a plan laid out to follow. I’ve been working with Laura at Fryfit for 12 weeks, and I am, genuinely enjoying the increase in focus and img_0038structure. That is once I get myself out the door and actually doing it.
I get my weeks plan on a Thursday or Friday, and I will quickly make a mental plan of how it will fit it – usually swimming on Tuesday and Thursday, run at lunchtime and evening turbo on a Wednesday and weekend run and ride. I feel that this gives me a good blend of family time and training time. The problem is come Tuesday evening – usually quite late after getting the kids to bed after my daughter gets home from Brownies – I just can’t be arsed. I will just sit on the sofa having an internal battle and then re-jig the week in an attempt to justify having the evening ‘off’. I just seem unable to get myself going until I really have no option other than to either do it or drop sessions.

Typically, this coincides with another loss of discipline – eating. It goes something like “Im too tired/it’s too late/I can’t be arsed to go swimming tonight… I may as well have some biscuits with that cup of tea” or “Ooh, fish and chips for dinner?” (Laura, if you are reading this, I am NOT eating biscuits – or fish and chips – while writing this). I definitely find that this is a secondary issue, and once I sort out my training mojo the eating habits always come into line fairly quickly. But that doesn’t help now.

But, and this is the crux of it, how do I rediscover that mojo – that spark. img_0140Initially I have given myself a break – if I’m not feeling it I’m just not feeling it. I just need to deal with the training guilt in a way that doesn’t include custard creams. There is little to be gained from forcing myself out in December if I’m still resenting training come April. But I can’t live in this training hiatus for too long – see previous custard cream statement.

Fear not, for I have a plan – he tells himself. Usually I would just enter one – or a few – cross country races. It isn’t quite that easy at the moment, I’m having a few issues with a knee niggle which has been hampering the time and millage I can committee to running at the moment. This leaves one option, the bike. And one bike in particular.

At this time of year, for road cyclists, it’s all about cyclo-cross. My plan is to enter one pure out and out ‘cross race, the Lovecrossed in img_0048Gloucestershire. What awaits is an hour of mud based threshold suffering (in the best possible way) in the grounds of the country house in Poldark, with the added bonus – and potential argument fodder – of a couple’s race. The second race I’m eying up to kick start my training hunger is the Battle on the Beach held in Pembrey Country Park. It differs from a standard cyclo-cross format in a few ways, primarily the time spent racing. This is far more of an endurance event, comprising of around 45km of racing over sand, single and double track. The idea of the event is that whichever bike you choose (mountain, cross or fat) there will be sections where your bike is perfect, others where it is img_0243less appropriate. I have read a race report from a previous year where a guy on a fat bike barrelled into a puddle in the single track section of the course. The puddle however was far deeper than he anticipated – about a foot deep. The extra air in his tyres caused the bike to stop abruptly ejecting the poor rider into near orbit.

So, with a couple of races I mind, I really hope that I reignite my fire. Before the custard creams and fish and chips have irreversible negative effects on not only my fitness, but also before my clothes shrink too much more. And if my knee sorts its shit out I may be able to race a bit of cross country too. What? A man can dream.

Happy Christmas all, I hope you get all you hoped for, be that presents, family time, lots of food or your mojo back.img_0292

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!

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.

Dad Running

I have never really been one for ‘this is my best run because…’ until yesterday. Yesterday was my best, most rewarding run.  It wasn’t long, fast or special for any reason other than the company I was keeping.

My soon to be 7-year-old daughter has been keen to come out for a run with me for aIMG_20151101_120139 while, and this has been accelerated by my training for the Eden Marathon.  First things first, Sunday morning we head into town to buy her first pair of ‘proper running shoes’.  Nothing special, but something more suitable than the daps she currently has to wear to the park.  She was surprisingly excited about buying them, almost as excited as me.

The plan initially was for her to wear them in the house for a few days to make sure they were comfy and then go later in the week.  That plan didn’t last.  Once we got our proper parent-children duties done (i.e. homework) the words “Can we go for a run now” positively explode from her gleaming, smiling face. How could I say “No”? So I suck up the remnants of the cold I’ve had for what feels like an age and get changed into my running gear.

We head out the front door, stop for a couple of pre run photos then have a little stretch while my Garmin gets a fix.  While stretching – which she is far better at than me – I ask her where she wants to go, “Around the block” is her instant reply, even the news that it requires running up ‘that’ hill isn’t enough to dampen her enthusiasm. So off up the hill we go.

IMG_20151101_162710Once we get to the top, I drop back to get a picture, but before I can she has stopped to check on me.  Once I get the desired picture, we jog, we chat, and we even put in a little sprint at the end.

Roll on next weekend, so we can do it again.

Up and running

It’s taken a while, but I finally feel like I’m training again.  It all started while I was driving home from our post Bontride family holiday, way back at the start of April.  I’d had a week of recuperation; feeling refreshed and was looking for the next target.

I can wholeheartedly blame my wife for what came next.  I was unsure what to do next, a triathlon was my first thought.  I have had a half ironman in my sights for a long time, ever since I started racing triathlons, actually it’s the full fat ironman that I have been eying up, but with young kids I can’t – or won’t – justify the training time.  My thinking was an end of season olympic distance building to do a half next season. This is where my wife intersects and alters the direction of my thinking; suggesting I do something I haven’t done before, something like a marathon. A marathon, hmmm.

A quick check of dates and a clear favourite is found.  The Eden Marathon, running in October should give me plenty of time to get my running up to it; I haven’t run consistently for the best part of a year, so I know I have some work to do.  The positives of doing the Eden Marathon are that while I’m running the wife and kids have something to do, you get a pasty when you finish, and – as the Eden Half was my first half marathon – I know what to expect.  The negatives are – having run the half a few years ago – I know what to expect, a tough hilly multi terrain race into my running unknown. I have done tough, hilly multi terrain races before – Drogo 10, Oh My Obelisk! and Man Vs Horse spring to mind – but these are 10 milers and half marathons. This is the big daddy, the go to running test (note: for this the notion of ultras has been removed to add grandeur).

IMG_20150514_155218By the end of April I had paid my dues and entered. What came next was a flurry of training plan downloading and panic training.  I will admit that panic training nearly six months prior to an event is absurd, in the extreme – but I really haven’t run properly, or at all if I am totally honest, for a year and I wanted to get fit enough to start training! Over the next few weeks I run, and I run and I… feel a tightness in my calf, give it a week, run some more. This kind of continues until it goes properly and I accept that I have pulled my bloody calf.

I have given it three whole weeks of rest, by rest I mean no running – at all. Gingerly I’ve started up again. 4km, rest. 5km, rest.  I build up to 10km and, beginning to regain a bit of confidence in the calf, I start to double up on runs and a pattern is beginning to form.  This feels like training.  Actual structured, not just panic, training.

I have noticed that while I was struggling with my calf, particularly when I was running again but not really trusting it, I found a whole other topic to think about.  This displacement centred on the use of music.  When I train (running) I always go alone, and as a result I listen to music.  I have however never been tempted to race to music.  Then again I have never run a marathon either.  Running for a couple of hours without something to listen to is palatable, but what about four hours or more? Would I send myself mad with my own company? (I’ve sent my wife mad, so why not myself?).  One of the reasons I haven’t thought about racing to music is I like the camaraderie, the gallows humour and the support from the crowd – even at smaller races you get an impressive amount of friends and family willing to brave even inclement conditions to cheers on their loved ones, and as a result create an atmosphere for the other ‘athletes’ too.

The other thing that began to concern me, as it still does, is my weight.  I’m no DTS (Danger To Shipping, a ‘medical term’ used by doctors to be disparaging subtly on the ward) but I am defiantly carrying too much timber to drag around for 26.2 miles.  I have no idea, and have no desire to find out, what my body fat percentage is but it’s higher than I would like it to be.  As the mileage goes up I hope the bulk goes down.  What will help this is that the training feel good factor will hopefully replace the ‘oh look a biscuit’ factor.

So this is where I’m at.  I am well behind on where I need to be, where I want to be, and Runningwhere I might have been if I hadn’t got injured – or accepted I was injured from the start.  Breaking the 10 mile barrier has been a milestone.  Up to now the longest training run ever has been 10 miles (or just under), so when I clocked a run which was – admittedly only marginally – over 10 miles is quite a psychological boost, I’m now into uncharted training territory – which training for your first marathon should be, surely.

https://www.strava.com/activities/376281750/embed/a2bab0f5df5337d98bbd59565d11b839d217c808

It’s not quick; it’s certainly not pretty; but I’m getting there. It’s just a matter of will I get there in time? Time, as they say, will tell

Training Begins

Training has begun. Well, sort of.  The mental idle was of going off for hours of glorious cycling in the best of the end of summer weather. However, I am mindful of starting too hard, that and I haven’t managed to make the time yet.  The last thing I want to do, however, is get in some great, long training rides in over the next few months and be physically and mentally fried by the new year and barely be able to look at a bike come March.

wheel2

The ‘plan’ for the time being is little and often, in addition to commuting into work. So far I have managed to get out a few times a week in my lunch break for a ride.  This has consisted of getting as much altitude gain into a 20-odd km ride as possible.  Luckily, where I work has a fair few hills close by. They aren’t what you would call big hills, but they make up for that with gradient percentages in the double figures.  Most of my lunch rides recently have consisted of laps around the Forder area of Saltash, in Cornwall.  In particular this has been multiple laps of an 8.4km loop. This loop (veloviewer 3D representation below) has a couple of 15% plus sections of climbs, a couple of longer drags and a couple of dodgy descents (gravelly and under tree cover).  I plan to use this loop as a fitness test over the coming months to see what affects the training is having.

loop3

The crowning glory of the training thus far has been the least impressive in terms of data. Over two consecutive weekends the stars aligned and I went off for a ride with the kids in the trailer.  Not far, not quick, but a mini adventures both of them (in the eyes of a 4 and a 5 year old anyway). The first trip saw us make our way up to the fringes of Dartmoor National Park hunting for wild ponies (no ponies were harmed in the writing of this blog) and had a packed lunch in the wilds of Devon.  The following weekend we set off for new found cycling territory in the woods at Tamar Trails near Tavistock, unfortunately no wild Dartmoor ponies here but we did spot a few Gruffalos. I think they were only  about 30 and 20-odd km respectively and took the best part of the day, but just great fun once you give up on the idea of going quickly or particularly far.

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Where to start (training for this)

If I’m honest I haven’t really considered the training aspect of this challenge yet, not properly.  I’ve been concentrating mostly on the logistics – route planning, potential kit requirements, navigation etc.  The question of how to get enough training done, without it leading to a divorce, has been thus far untouched.    

With a wife, two young kids and a full time job, day long training rides are not likely to happen.  I currently cycle around 100km a week to and from work and bump that up with a ride once or twice a week, either a longer route to or from work or in my lunch break, leaving my weekends mostly free. This is enough training for me to blag a 100 mile day without completely falling apart. But 247 miles is different to 100 miles, very different.  

My first port of call for training advice was the BCTTT forum (http://forum.bcttt.com/index.php).  This is a Triathlon forum that I go on and has a wide array of athletes from sprint/standard distance triathlon racers, to double ironman, 100 mile ultra-marathon runners and long distance time trialers. So if anyone is going to know how to train to go long it should be these guys. Most of these super endurance err… enthusiasts, I’ll go with enthusiast, suggested a technique of accumulated fatigue, where rather than going for one long training session, of say 150 miles, you do two shorter higher intensity work outs to simulate the feeling of a longer effort. For example, one eventing spending a couple of hours doing intervals on the turbo, then going out for a ride the next morning when your legs don’t really feel up to it, I think the term used was ‘character building’.  This way I could use the turbo on say a Friday night and on Saturday if we are going out as a family I could cycle to where we are going (this method of cycling to family jaunts has served me well in the past when training for triathlons).  So it seems that ‘accumulated fatigue’ may be the way to go.  I also hope to mix up the training burden between the road and the trail. For some reason getting soaking wet and filthy on a mountain bike seems far more appealing.  

I also think a few training events may help with motivation for those cold, wet miles.  If I have some shorter, more manageable events to be training for it might take the pressure off a little. As it stands every time I throw my leg over my bike I see a huge ‘247’ flash up in front of me.  Below is a list of races that I could use to break up my training and take the pressure off ‘bont ride’.  The chances are, given my level of organisation and the probable ‘Wife Added Tax’, that I won’t do all of them – it’s pretty much nailed on that I won’t to be honest. If, however, I can do 3 or 4 of them it would definitely help with the build-up.    

Potential races to build up with:
6 October, Hell of the West, off road sportive (100 km) *edit – cancelled*
18 October, Mr Pickwicks Autumnal outing (206km Audax)
26 October, Dartmoor Devil, Audax (100 km)
8 November, Mr Pickwick’s Cymraeg Cyrch, (209km Audax)
15 Novemver, Wiggle Purbeck Hill-a-suraus (42 km)
16 November, The Stinger, off road duathlon (5km, 20km, 3km)
6 December, Kings, Castles, Priests and churches, Audax (205km) *unlikely*
11 January, Oh my obelisk, Trail run race (17km)
8 February, Soggy Bottom, XC MTB race

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