Monday 28 March 2011

Run everywhere. Cycle everywhere else. - 21.03.11 - 27.03.11

I don't really have a car, so this has become somewhat of an unofficial mantra of mine. It's ironic really, because it would make a great bumper sticker! I occasionally steal Jen's little car, but in general she uses it for getting around. It's great when you're used to it, because commuting becomes a great way to keep fit, and it's a good way to fit in some long runs during the week. This week has involved a fair bit of cycling, with less running than usual, in an effort to ease into my taper.

With only 4 weeks to go until the marathon, tapering is a good idea to allow my legs to store up the energy that they're going to need to get me all the way home. This week was my first "easy week", getting progressively easier until the final week where I will hardly run at all. So instead of doing two 22 milers at the weekend, I only did one. But because I now consider cycling to be a nice day off, I decided to use my Sunday to scope out the route that I will be running overnight to make sure that I won't get lost on the day.

So at 8am on Sunday, my long suffering fiancee Jen, my crazy friend Dan (not many people would be up for a random 40 mile cycle ride in the middle of nowhere...), and I rocked up to Waltham Abbey ready to burn through the 40 mile route to Royston. Jen isn't stupid, so left the boys to it and went home to do something more productive with her day. With guidebook in hand, gps watches tracking our route, and google earth guiding from on high, we set off along the Greenwich Meridian Trail.

My first reaction; holy crap that's a lot of hills! I wasn't expecting quite so many, being a citizen of Cambridge, one of the flattest places in the country. My second reaction was that a) the route was really well planned out, and b) seemed like it was going to be fine for running on. There were one or two sections over churned fields that may be dangerous, but I now know where these are and will likely walk them to avoid turning an ankle. Similarly, now that I know about the hills I have changed my walk/run strategy to walking the hills and running the flat.

But as good as it may be on the day for running, it was certainly not made for biking! I had brought my old mountain bike out of retirement for the day, and it was looking a little the worse for wear... The gears were seized (although kicking them seemed to work), the seat needed some bodging, and the hydraulics were shot, but it went forward which was the main thing. It was a good bike at one time, and has done me proud over the years! And it didn't disappoint on the day, handling the bumpy undulating surfaces without falling apart.

Reading the map was interesting while cycling (one handed over bumpy terrain trying to focus on a description of the surrounding flora and fauna was fun), but it went surprisingly well. Other than an early point where we could not quite place where we should be (but google earth soon set us straight), an a couple of false starts, route finding was straightforward. I should remember the route on the day, and if not it is good to know that a combination of the book and google is good enough to set me straight. If I can follow the map while cycling, doing it while running should be simple enough!

The speed was slower than anticipated due to the terrain, and we didn't make it as far as I had originally hoped, but we covered the main overnight section to Royston - a total if about 38 miles. Despite the hills, I have come away feeling vey positive about things, and now Dan knows the route in case anything happens and I need saving! It's now only 3 weeks until the marathon, so I say bring it on!

Cycled 2.5 miles (park and ride to work)
Cycled 16.5 miles (work to home)

Cycled 2.5 miles (park and ride to work)
Cycled 16.5 miles (work to home)

Day off!

Ran 2.5 miles (park and ride to work)
Ran 16.5 miles (work to home)

Cycled 2.5 miles (park and ride to work)
Cycled 16.5 miles (work to home)

Ran 22 miles

Cycled 38 miles

Running 41 miles
Cycling 114 miles

Tuesday 22 March 2011

Who would have thought eating and walking could be so hard...

I had two important things to train for this weekend: eating and walking. These may have been the hardest part of my training schedule so far!

A quick calculation (weight in kilograms x distance in kilometers) tells me that I need to consume at least 13,000 calories to last me through the 112 miles of running. That's quite a lot, especially as I will be on the move for pretty much the entire time. I confess that I am not generally very good at watching my nutrition for running. Gels and things are so expensive, it was better for me to get used to running without them to avoid the costs of going through 6 or 7 a week. I ran my 50 miler a couple of weeks ago on a small bowl of bran flakes and a banana, and managed quite happily with just my sports drink to keep me going. But I want to do this run properly and not drop out, so I decided to practice eating the sort of foods on the run that I will be eating on the day.

So I rolled out of bed on Saturday morning at 5am, apologised for waking Jen up again, threw on my running gear, and packed my breakfast: 2x Jam sandwiches, 3x big bits of the most calorific chocolate flapjack ever made (by Jen! Thankyou hun!), a Mars Bar, a PowerBar Ride bar, a tub of pasta, 2x PowerBar carb gels, and 1L of PowerBar Energize isotonic sports drink. The breakfast of champions! I headed out the door on my usual route, heading towards Cambridge on the guided busway. I know that route like the back of my hand now, and while it is a little boring running the same route every time for 4 or 5 hours, I tend to not notice and pay more attention to my iPod. Currently I am listening to episodes of the Nerdist Podcast, which keeps me nicely entertained as I go. I'm running out of podcasts on iTunes now... The plan was to eat something every 3 miles or so, and I stuck to that nicely. Each time it got to food time, I whipped the first thing that I found in my bag out (without slowing down - a real knack!), and ate on the run.

A lot of people have trouble with this, particularly with solid foods, as their stomachs don't like the combination of a lack of blood flow, a large amount of churning, and then suddenly being asked to digest a big mound of sugar. Luckily, my stomach has had a lot of practice at eating sugary foods and so didn't complain once! The only thing that I would say is that dry foods are not a good plan. My flapjack was just right, but I could see that a drier version would be quite unpleasant after 25 miles. I will have to see how things look later in the run, but certainly things felt good and I was happy that these were good foods to eat on the run. I will prepare a lot of food on the day (more than I need), and pretty much go for whatever I feel like (or whatever I feel I can eat) at the time.

I made it home from running just shy of 30 miles in under 4 and a half hours, even with my fueling. I felt pretty full, and didn't drink my obligatory post-run Nesquik milkshake quite as quickly as normal (seriously - best recovery drink ever!), but after about an hour later I suddenly felt really hungry again and ended up refueling at KFC. All in all a very healthy day!

The next thing that I needed to practice was walking. I am notoriously competitive. I'm not particularly proud of it, but it's something that I have always had (I blame my father!). The nice thing about running, particularly as I typically run on my own, is that the only person I am competing with is myself. So in a race, the main thing I care about chasing is my PB. But I will still always spot a few people ahead of me that I have to take down before the end of the race - I would be sprinting it anyway, this just gives me something to focus on! Doing this in the St. Ives 10K last year resulted in a 3-way race between me, the guy I was chasing down, and a third guy that had come from the back to beat both of us! That'll teach me...

But this is a natural reaction that I have that I really need to curtail if I am going to go the distance in April. If I get overtaken by a banana in the marathon, my first reaction will be "Oh no you don't!", followed by breaking my pace to take them on. A bad idea when I've got another 86 miles to go... So my aim on Sunday was to run the whole distance again, but using the run/walk strategy that I will be using for the run home. That is; run for 25 minutes, walk for 5 minutes. So again, I headed out of the door at 5am to tread the well worn tracks of the busway, with my watch set to go off every half an hour for a 5 minute walk. No matter what. This was very, very difficult for me. I am very stubborn, as many people will tell you. So usually I will want to carry on going. "But I don't need to walk, I feel great!", I will tell myself. So I had to force myself to walk, even if it resulted in me getting overtaken by a carrot (which actually happened!). I was expecting this run to take much longer than normal (I was running a bit slower than normal, and was walking), but actually made it in in only 5 hours - only half an hour slower than the day before!

There were lots of people out and about on Sunday, and surprisingly more than on Saturday (when the weather was absolutely lovely). I got a chance to chat to some of them, and unsurprisingly they are also training for London, taking advantage of the busway for their last long run before tapering. I love seeing runners out and about, and it's nice to feel part of a community. People will always say hello as they run past, and are generally very approachable for chatting about things. One person even asked me for a lift to London on the day! I can't tell if there are more runners around these days, or if I'm just noticing them more as it has taken over my life... I hope that they all have a fantastic day on the 17th, and have a really good race!

Monday 21 March 2011

Only a month to go... 14.03.11 - 20.03.11

Well we're getting ever closer to the big day now. This time in 4 weeks, I will be in the process of recovering from the longest run of my life, having been on my feet for over 24 hours straight. Eek! It's all going to be completely worth it though, and the sponsorship grand total is already at over £1,700! It truly is phenomenal the response that I have gotten, and everybody has been so generous. I just hope that everybody knows how much I appreciate it. If you would like to add to the total and push me over the £2,000 target, please sponsor me at

It has been a week of logistics, and making sure that everything is sorted for the big day. The first important thing was equipment. My kit bag is now all sorted, and I have found the gear that performs best for me. My main criteria has been comfort and reduction of chaffing. If you have ever suffered from rubbing during a long run, you will know how uncomfortable this is. I have taken to wearing Nike DriFit Pro compression shorts and Nike DriFit Pro hypercool base layer top under my normal running gear, which (together with a generous supply of Lanacane) prevent all of the nasty rubbing that could make things very unpleasant. Plus my Salomon Advance Skin S-Lab hydration pack has now pretty much paid for itself, and if you're running long distances and need to carry plenty of liquids and food I can thoroughly recommend it.

Also this week, I have finalised details of the route with my support crew, uploaded the route to my iPhone and Garmin Forerunner 305 (technology makes it much harder - but not impossible - for me to do something stupid and get lost), and arranged a finishing line for when (if?!) I arrive in St. Ives. This started off as just a couple of people holding a ribbon, then collecting donations from whoever is around, but has now turned into something of an extravaganza! Well, okay, maybe that's an overstatement, but it turns out that it will be market day during the Easter holidays, so there should be plenty of people about. The Town Mayor is even coming along to meet me which is really nice of him! I just hope that he doesn't mind shaking hands with a very sweaty man... If you're about, I am aiming to get into town for midday on Monday 18th April, and it would be great to see you! Although I'm not entirely sure how good company I will be...

Being so close to the race, it is getting towards the time in my training program where I need to start thinking about tapering. For those not up on their running slang, the standard way to train or a marathon is to build up your training over the 4 months before the race, but for the last 2 or 3 weeks you reduce the mileage to pretty much nothing to conserve your energy stores for the big day. This week has been my last full on week, with a good number of miles put on the clock. This week will be a bit more chilled, then there will be just under 3 weeks to really reign it in before VLM day. It's going to feel very strange...

Cycled 2.5 miles (Park and Ride to Work)
Cycled 16.5 miles (Work to home)

Ran 2.5 miles (Park and Ride to Work)
Ran 16.5 miles (Work to Home)

Cycled 2.5 miles (Park and Ride to Work)
Cycled 16.5 miles (Work to Home)

Ran 2.5 miles (Park and Ride to Work)
Ran 16.5 miles (Work to Home)

Cycled 2.5 miles (Park and Ride to Work)

Ran 28 miles
Played badminton

Ran 28 miles

Running 94 miles
Cycling 40.5 miles

Tuesday 15 March 2011

The route

I have mapped the route for the day out using Google Earth, which you can view by looking here. The route consists of the London Marathon route, followed by the return journey split onto 10 sections spanning between the intervening villages (where I will meet up with Jen to replenish my pack). I have worked out approximate timings (which should be an overestimate if anything), and they look something like this (the pages correspond to Book 2 of the Greenwich Meridian Trail book by Graham and Helda Heap):

06:00 - 07:00Drive from St. Ives to Redbridge tube station
07:00 - 08:00Tube from Redbridge to Greenwich Park
08:00 - 09:45Marathon preparation
09:45 - 13:45Run the marathon!26.2
13:45 - 16:00Walk/run through London to join the GMT31.1
16:00 - 19:30Run through London to Waltham Abbey48.94 - 21
19:30 - 22:00Run to Stanstead Abbot58.124 - 31
22:00 - 00:30Run to Standon67.131 - 37
00:30 - 03:00Run to Wyddial75.738 - 41
03:00 - 05:00Run to Royston82.942 - 47
05:00 - 07:30Run to Orwell91.648 - 53
07:30 - 09:30Run to Hardwick99.254 - 57
09:30 - 11:30Run to the guided busway106.6
11:30 - 12:30Home straight into St. Ives112.3
12:30 - 14:00Celebrate and fundraise in town

100 Mile Playlist

Training for the run has been comparatively easy when compared to organising a fund-raising gig. Running I can do. It's juts putting one leg in front of the other over and over again. Organisation? Now that's a real challenge! I arranged this little soiree to boost donations, promote the charity, and get the word out about the run in April. Being a drummer myself, I have been in many gigs over the years. But being a drummer, my job is usually to turn up, keep my mouth shut, and hit things in something approximating "time". I'm very good at turning up at least... But never have I been involved in the ins and outs of setting up and organising a gig. Still, there's a first time for everything!

Arranging the details was actually much easier than I had feared, helped a lot by the fantastic response that I got from the people that I contacted. First of all, we were offered the music room at the Portland Arms in Cambridge for free by the owners Hayley and Steve, and the bands that I contacted were very quick in showing their support. I was worried that I would need to use my charm to sway them into playing, so who knows what I would have done if that had happened! I was incredibly pleased with the line-up that I was able to put together, with three big local acts and a band from back in my University town of Leamington Spa featuring the brass section from my old band; Stupid, Stupid, Stupid and Steve. All in all it was a nicely eclectic mix, with (if you'll pardon the cliche) something for everyone.

The night was kicked off in style by Cambridge-based singer and song-writer Aidy playing a semi-acoustic set with his backing group. Aidy has written so many songs that it is difficult to pigeon hole him into any one genre. Last year he wrote, recorded, and released a song a week for the whole year, and they all have their own unique sound (check out his website to listen to all 53 of them, along with the rest of his extensive back catalogue!). I would say that he falls into the Indie/Alt-rock category, with a voice very similar to Billy Corgan (of Smashing Pumpkins fame). It was a great opening to the night, with songs like the haunting sounds of Not Your Day, and "love ballad" (I can only assume...) Washing Machine being particular favourites.

Following on from Aidy were The Titanics, a 9-piece funk and soul outfit hailing from my old haunting ground of Leamington Spa. I was really looking forward to seeing what my old band-mates Matt and Tim had been up to - and boy was I not disappointed! Coming to the stage in matching 20's speakeasy-era attire, the audience were treated to a three song opening segue that well and truly brought the promised Mighty Funk and Soul to the Portland Arms. With a 3-piece brass section, keyboard player, guitar, bass, drums, decks and singer, they were forced to spread out off of the stage to give themselves the room they needed to bring all of their energy to the performance! They played a combination of classics, bringing their own flavour to the whole experience, as well as one or two of their own songs. Singer, Ruth Taylor, owned the stage with an absolutely incredible voice, and the band were incredibly tight and clearly all having a lot of fun playing.

Next to take to the stage was Lexie Green, a Cambridge-based singer/songwriter who is incredibly well known in the area, and is a regular on BBC Radio Cambridge. She has an absolutely amazing voice, and her own brand of bluesy Americana (which she calls Tex-Lex) is a fantastic combination of catchy rock numbers and more vocal-led bluesy numbers. What's more, she is an absolutely lovely person, and kept the atmosphere fun and friendly, engaging with the audience throughout. I had been listening to her fantastic album, Twenty Ten (available on iTunes), all morning whilst out running and had Leave Me Sleep and Fast Cars and Big Guitars stuck in my head. Hearing them live did nothing to dislodge them, and I'm still humming them today! Lexie is currently in the running for the Best Female Vocals at the British Blues Awards, so please check out her music and vote for her!

Headlining the event were local Cambridge-based Indie band Isaac's Aircraft, who are one of the top acts in the area at the moment, and are (I suspect) about to break out into the mainstream Indie scene. They are already making big waves on the scene. Their first single, Friends and Foes, went straight into the BBC Indie Top 30 when it was released, they have supported bands like the Zutons and Amy Winehouse, and they are currently sitting at number 1 in the People's Music Awards Indie/Rock vote (please vote for them if you haven't already!). Surprisingly this was their first time playing at the Portland Arms, and they took to the stage to a great reaction from the crowd. Lead singer Zak Thomas had a great rapport with the crowd, at one point jokingly describing himself as "Richard Ashcroft on acid" (isn't that just Richard Ashcroft?!). However, the tone of the band is much more upbeat than The Verve, with piano-fuelled tunes like Steady On and My Baby Did Me Wrong. They have a new album coming out in May, so keep your eyes open!

Overall the gig was a huge success. It was great to meet all of the bands - thanks to them the whole evening ran incredibly smoothly despite the potential logistical nightmares. The crowd was amazing and were genuinely supportive for my fundraising efforts, and overall we raised a total of £350 towards the Epilepsy Society! This puts me up to £1,580 in total, which is utterly astonishing, so thankyou so much to everybody that came along and supported me! I had a fantastic night, and I hope that everybody else did too. Now that the hard work of organising the gig is done, it's just the small matter of the run to go now...

Tuesday 8 March 2011

The grand plan

Just a quick post which I meant to put up last week regarding my final plans for my run in April. I had originally planned to cover the distance in two legs, taking a well deserved sleep on Saturday night. The main reason for this is that Jen, my long-suffering other half, is acting as my support crew on the day and her idea of a good time does not include 24 hours of following her idiot hubby-to-be around in the car. However, with a little bit of rearranging, I have managed to sort things out so that my parents can take me into London and keep hold of my first set of supplies, leaving Jen to meet me outside of the dreaded M25 and do the night-time part. So I am free to do the whole thing in one continuous go. Yay?!?

So, the plan is to run the London marathon on the Sunday morning, then slowly make my way through the backwoods of the South East home to St. Ives overnight. I'm aiming for a sub 4-hour marathon, which should be quite comfortable and give me an opportunity to really enjoy the race and take in the sights. Makes a change from gritting my teeth, blocking everything out but the metal, and headbanging my way through the finishing line like usual! I figure by the time I'm done, collected my hydration pack and supplies from my parents, and made it through the various crowds to join the Greenwich Meridian Trail about 6 miles away, it will be about 4pm. It's then an 18 mile run to the outside of the M25 where I will be meeting up with Jen for the first time for my first equipment check. The plan is then to run the remaining 60 odd miles in about 10 mile segments, meeting up at the various villages on the way just to make sure that I am still alive. I just have to hope I don't scare the villagers...

I will work out an official itinerary closer to the time, but I should get into St. Ives by 10am the following day. I figure if I call it midday, that gives me a buffer zone in case anything goes wrong (touch wood!). I am in the process of organising to do some fundraising in town on the Monday lunchtime when I arrive, and I will hopefully have a little finishing line to break through as well - sad I know, but it should make a good photo! If you happen to be off work on Monday 18th April, AND you happen to be in the small village of St. Ives, Cambridge, AND it is lunchtime - come and say hi!

All in all, the fundraising is going really well at the moment. Thankyou so much everybody that has sponsored me already, it really is going towards a fantastic cause! I have raised over £900 already, and have my charity gig this Saturday (12th March) at the Portland Arms, Cambridge which I am hoping will raise another £500. Plus whatever we take on the day from passers by will all add up, and it really feels fantastic to be helping out, if only in my small way. It has been amazing to hear the stories of the other runners who are doing the marathon for the Epilepsy Society, and terrible to hear the toll that epilepsy can take on some people's lives. It really cements how lucky I should consider myself. I wish everybody running in April the best of luck, and hope that their training is going really, really well! I'll see you in 6 weeks!

Monday 7 March 2011

50 miles down, many more to go... 28.02.11 - 06.03.11

So it has been a relatively relaxed week this week - but for good reason. First of all, I was on holiday at the start of the week and was busy with postering, interviews, and writing a paper. Secondly, this week was my last really long run before the actual event. The plan was to head out in the middle of the night and get half the distance under my belt to practice night-time running with no sleep and covering much longer distances than I am used to. Up until now, my longest run has been about 33 miles which I did last year. This was the run that was responsible for my knee problems that put me out of the game for 4 months, but my recent training has seen me running this once or twice a week with no issues. This is mostly due to the stretching and strengthening advice of my physio, Chelsea (thanks Chelsea!).

It's funny, but I never really prepare for things anymore. I probably should have shoveling pasta into my body all day Saturday, but instead I started the day with a fry up at a greasy spoon cafe with my fiance Jen, and had beef stew for dinner. And that was it really - I just didn't really think! For the main run I think that I will be a bit more careful to plan my food for the few days leading up to it, but I do like the fact that I don't need to think too much to do these things - my brain just can't think that far ahead!

We finally went to bed Saturday night - only to be woken up 3 hours later to begin my ordeal. I was surprisingly wide awake when my alarm went off. I wonder if it's a throwback from my PhD days, when 3 hours sleep was a weekend lie in! I snuck out of the bedroom, past a rather confused looking dog, and began to get ready. I was testing some new gear today - a new set of trainers, new socks, and some nice tight base layers to reduce chafing. It's a bit unpleasant to talk about, but if you have ever suffered from this problem you will know exactly what I am talking about. Now imagine that over a 50 mile run... My Salamon hydration pack is fantastic in that regard, and I have yet to suffer any problems unlike my Camelbak, which I often get issues from over long distances. I filled up the 1.5 L water bladder and a couple of bottles of carb drinks, stuck on my headtorch, pulled on the brand new trainers, and headed out into the night.

As you may imagine, it was pretty quiet out there. It was lovely! 50 miles is a bit difficult to plan out for a new run, so I had decided to just do my usual route down the guided busway. It may not be terribly interesting after the hundredth time (don't get me wrong, it's very pretty down there), but it's a nice clear 28 mile round trip that I know very well, has nice clear points to judge distances, and I have no chance of getting lost down it. So the plan was to run the full distance, stop off to change into a new set of clothes (practicing for the main run) and replenish my supplies, then head out for a further 23 miles.

I had originally planned to do this in a walk/run fashion, walking for 25 minutes, walking for 5 minutes, to make sure that my legs didn't die on me. But I changed my mind and decided to run the first section in one go (but at a slightly slower pace than normal) to get used to my plan on the day to run the marathon properly before the more tactical run home. This actually went very well, and I made it back to the house in about four and a half hours with no issues. It was very strange to see the sun rise as I finished running almost 30 miles... A quick stretch, a refill of my carb drinks, a change of socks and base layers, and I was out of the door again for the next leg.

So this was it. I was in unfamiliar territory at this stage. I was a bit stiff getting going, but actually once I picked up momentum things felt good. I am using a different gait for these long runs than I have done previously for half marathons and the like. I don't pick my knees up quite so much, and it's more of a high cadence/low impact run. This works nicely and protects the knees from all of the jostling that might otherwise occur. Once I was going, I was pretty happy at a fairly speedy pace (~ 9.5 mins/mile). I was a bit more careful this time out to walk some sections, so at every road along the pathway (about every 2 miles) I took a short walk before getting going again. As before, there was a definite stiffness to shifting from walking to running, but once the momentum was there it felt absolutely fine. I found it very hard to hold back my natural competitive nature (which I know is stupid...) when I was overtaken by another runner on the track. It's pathetic of me, I know, but I have always had that streak in me. I blame my father! Instead I merely enjoyed the lovely sunny weather (although it was bitterly cold and I regretted leaving my hat and gloves at the house), and saying hello to the myriad friendly runners and dog walkers that populate the path on a weekend morning.

I made it into St. Ives at about 11:30 to meet up with Jen and our dog Max, and we walked back home together as a warm day (although, given the temperature, I use the term loosely!). The whole distance (~51 miles) took a total of less than 8.5 hours (not counting the half hour change over half way). So pretty much bang on 10 mins/mile, which I am very happy with! I did my usual stretch, making sure to stretch out my IT band to avoid any knee problems, and had a nice manly lavender scented bath.

And I felt surprisingly good! No blisters, no chafing, no niggles, my legs felt good to go again. I even had a run with the dog the following morning and cycled to work. Given that in 6 weeks I need to do the same again... twice... plus a bit... it's maybe lucky that I feel like I could keep going! I'm really happy to have found a forte like this. I never would have considered long distance running to be something Now let's see how I feel after 112 miles...

And things look good with the new gear, which is great! I think that I have sorted out my equipment for the day now. Although, as Jen pointed out, I have now put the new trainers through an eighth of their lives... It's an expensive hobby running!



Cycle 2.5 miles (Park and Ride to work)
Cycle 16.5 miles (work to home)

Run 2.5 miles (Park and Ride to work)
Run 16.5 miles (work to home)

Cycle 2.5 miles (Park and Ride to work)
Cycle 16.5 miles (work to home)

Rest day

Running 51 miles

Cycling 38 miles
Running 70 miles