Saturday, 26 February 2011

Wishful shrinking

I've been on holiday this week; although, instead of getting away, February half term tends to be the time when I get my sh*t together and catch up with all those jobs I've ignored since Christmas. It's nice to do this at a leisurely pace but it does make it one of the most expensive weeks of the year: Car MOTed and taxed, hair cut, dentist visited, flights booked and races entered. It might have been cheaper to go to Vegas for the week.

Earlier in the week, I was chuffed to get an entry for the Henley Swim in June, which prompted me to get my wetsuit out of the wardrobe, remembering that the last time I wore it I pranged the backside on a bit of barbed wire attempting to slide safely into the lake at Eastnor Castle. I should have been more reckless and just jumped in; it would have saved me swimming 1500 m with a torrent of water gushing around my arse. So this week I also got around to contacting the highly-acclaimed Snugg Wetsuits and sending the sorry article for some restorative patchwork around the rear-end.

The last time I wore this bad boy was in 2007: I don't remember being child-sized myself, but the wetsuit definitely appears to be so (pictured with my trainers for scale) and it's clear that I must have been significantly smaller back then to squeeze myself into it and retain near-normal circulation in my limbs. Alarmingly, it seems I'm going to need to undertake a considerable task before June if I'm to avoid either buying a new wetsuit or having to employ a lady's maid to hoist me into it. There is, of course, the added bonus that any progress made towards getting in that wetsuit should also help my cause for London, given the lessons learned at Dublin Marathon.

It's just a question of finding a way to do this now. You see, I really like food. Oh, and I really hate diets. To give you an idea of why, I'll give you a synopsis of some of the diet advice that has made an impression on me in one way or another over the past 10 years:

(1) Tyrannical rowing coach: "YOU'RE A BIT FAT. EAT LESS!"

(2) Fat Fighters slimming club: "Eat as much as you like as long as you categorise all of your food as brown or white and don't eat potatoes on the same day as meat and give all the naughty foods a cute, phonetically-confused names, like "vyce", "gylt" or "glutoneee", so you make sure you hate yourself a little bit when you eat them. Oh, and please pay £5 a week for us to tell you that."

(3) Lovely boyfriend: "It's easy: calories out must exceed calories in.... it'll help if you stop raiding the fridge for cheese all the time too.""

Now, being told I can't do something I want to do never sits well with me and generally makes me even more determined to prove otherwise; whereas being given permission to do something I would very much like to do does little to encourage any sense of restraint or moderation: two virtues I was hardly blessed with. As such, although I've managed to lose weight following the advice of both Diet Gurus (1) and (2) in the past, I've learned very little about a healthy and sustainable attitude to food in the process.

I can, of course, see that the nitty-gritty of lovely boyfriend's no-nonsense scientific equation makes perfect sense; however, it can be hard to swallow (if you'll pardon the pun) such sane and sensible advice from someone a) close to you, and b) whose only ever need to count calories has been in an attempt to gain weight. Added to that, the idea of scrutinising everything I eat for its calorific value sounds a bit miserable.

I do realise that there is no magic solution and, ultimately, some hard graft is required, but I know that any changes I do make need to be both realistic and sustainable, particularly as I would like to continue eating cake. So I'm proposing this radical plan:

Eat what I want, but only when I'm hungry. Then, stop when I'm full.

Simple, eh? We'll see about that.

I promise I won't inflict an exhaustive account of this process on you, but I'm hopeful that the public shame of the occasional blog post might provide me the virtual kick in the arse that Janathon did. Again, we'll see.

I wonder whether I should leave the creepy, headless wetsuit figure hanging next to the fridge though, just to make me think twice about the cheese-raiding.


Sunday, 20 February 2011


Watch me ... watch me! I got it! Watch me ... I got it! HEY!
I got somethin' that makes me wanna shout!
I got somethin' that tells me what it's all about! Huh, I got soul and I'm super bad!

(James Brown, Super Bad)

The Godfather of Soul has made a fairly frequent appearance on my running playlist ever since I raided lovely boyfriend's collection of 70s funk albums for my iPod; however, I did without his shouts and screams today and settled for a nice, long natter with Mr Lumpy Badger over the course of a 15.7 mile run instead. For the badger boy, this was the furthest he'd ever run (go Badger, go!); for me, this marked the end of 8 weeks of London training so far, which entitles me to a little more marathon reminiscing.

Following Amsterdam 2005, I was certain that I had to run another marathon and, more importantly, that it had be better than the first experience. My lunatic friends were reassuringly keen for another adventure too, so we settled on a weekend away to run Dublin Marathon in October 2006. Luckily, my failings at Amsterdam were solely due to my own inadequacies, so that was fairly easy to remedy; I consulted the Runners World "ultimate" training schedules and decided to put in the advised 16 weeks of hard work, instead of the 10 weeks of faffing and denial I'd resorted to previously. In pursuit of marathon fitness, I also managed to lose about 10 kg; now that doesn't sound a lot when you're packing to meet Ryanair's uncompromising baggage allowance, but it definitely felt a lot when carrying said baggage to the youth hostel and it was comforting to know that I wouldn't have to carry that additional mass around another 26.2 miles.

In Amsterdam, we learned a lot about appropriate preparation on the day of the marathon (or at least about inappropriate preparation). In Dublin, we learned exactly what to do the day before: namely, a trip to the Guinness factory for my first ever pint of this nutritious, yet delicious, sports drink. In fact, this is a pre-race ritual I have grown very much accustomed to since (the pint, that is, not the factory). We were organised enough even to sort out some breakfast for the race morning and looked very wise and experienced as we chowed down on muesli and yogurt, instead of pastries and cold coffee, at 6am in the hostel common room; all the more, we took pity on a nice Swedish man who was eating a very sad looking banana for sustenance. We saw him later that day and found out he'd run the race in about 2:30, we hoped, in part, thanks to our mercy muesli.

The start in the centre of the city was a big improvement on the train journey to the outskirts of Amsterdam, but the crowded streets made it slow going to the start line; still, chip timing saved any worries and it wasn't long before we were on our way on what has remained my favourite marathon to date. Everywhere the course went, there was cheery support: from shouts of encouragement to hand outs of sweets and lollies. The course went through one estate where the local children had devised dance routines to keep the runners going and families had set up makeshift water tables outside their houses. It might be a stereotype to say the Irish are friendly, but with this evidence to go on, what else do you expect me to say? The training had also paid off, meaning I could enjoy the distractions whilst maintaining a halfway respectable pace. I finished in 4:07, a 40 minute improvement of my Amsterdam time, and the finishers' photo had much bigger smiles than the one taken 12 months previously. I'm a long way off a run like this on April 17th 2011, but knowing that I can enjoy a marathon this much is enough to keep me going with my more pedestrian pace for now.

You'd be right to wonder how the weekend could have got much better, but it did. James Brown had taken his "Seven Decades Of Funk World Tour" to Dublin that weekend and, passing the theatre, we managed to score some last minute tickets to watch his gig that night. The bouncer was very apologetic that our seats at the front on the balcony were "too dangerous" for us to stand up and dance on; we grinned and accepted his apology, happy to rest our weary legs and let the late, great Mr Brown do the dancing. What a show! I think I might consider using his "cape routine" in a race one day as a tribute.

Lessons learned by running Dublin marathon:
smileyMarathons are fun.
smileyA few kilos make a big difference.
smileyGo to see aging soul legends while you have the chance.

Sunday, 13 February 2011

A half, in quarters(ish)

Today was Wokingham half marathon: a great event that I'm very fond of running (well-organised, chip timing, scores of cheery marshals and loads of loos). This year, it was perfect timing for some London training so I gratefully accepted a lift from the Badger Clan and lined up in the drizzle to do my first half since October 2008. Rather than subject you to a full-blown race report, I thought I'd summarise my main thoughts during the very enjoyable 2 hours 10 minutes and 54 seconds that I spent running in the wind and rain this morning:


That healthy kick of realism in the 4th phase was fine with me. There's a lot of work to do in the next 9 weeks; however, more optimistically, it's nice to know that a lot can be done in that time. Meanwhile, today's efforts have been celebrated spectacularly with a pint of Guinness and a stonking feed at the pub. Perfect Sunday.

Friday, 11 February 2011

Carry on Running

At yesterday's track session, I received a rare compliment about my running style:

"You have a lovely quick running cadence and the quietest feet here tonight," remarked our coach as he jogged casually alongside me mid-interval.

"Thank you!" I spluttered and panted, surprised yet flattered.

"You're making me breathe quite heavily now."

Oh er, missus.

Sunday, 6 February 2011

White noise

Please accept our apologies for the interruption to transmission this week. Our engineers have been working on this as our main priority and we hope to restore normal service following Janathon.

Conveniently, a particularly busy week at work fell after, rather than during, Janathon and enforced a brief pause in training and blogging. With legs feeling much better for the rest and Sunday here again, I was raring to go again this morning. Ever supportive of my running efforts, lovely boyfriend initiated a conversation about my training aims for the day:


If you've read this far then I presume you have better manners than lovely boyfriend and won't tune out completely to this update; however, I may try to catch you out, so do try to keep your wits about you.

Indeed, Wokingham half marathon is just next week: an opportunity for some pre-London miles with the distraction of a race atmosphere and some different roads. Gah! The sky has just turned purple! I certainly have no PB ambitions but it'll be good to see how the distance feels now. After last week's accidentally long run, I thought today would be a good chance to test out the effects of the Janathon mileage with a shorter effort. Woah! Look! A flying monkey! I thought a direct comparison with January 1st would be most telling, so I set my GPS to bleep after 10K and off I went. It certainly was blowing a hooley this morning, but I powered on in the Force 9 gale and managed to shave a very satisfying 3 minutes from my hungover New Year's Day shuffle. Behold! A man running backwards! I loved Janathon and I hope the mileage has established a good base for the year, but there were times when I thought I was just training myself to run slower and slower. The aim for February is to run less but run better. So far so good.

For the record, I actually saw a man running backwards today. I wasn't sure if it was a training drill or whether he'd succumbed to the effects of the headwind.
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