Wednesday 30 January 2013

Tag! You're it.

My friend Mike recently pointed me towards this quite amazing story about 10 friends who cement their friendship with an ongoing game of tag. For one month out of every year, the game is on and the person who is "it" can use whatever underhanded devious tactics they choose to tag one of the others. Whoever is "it" at the end of the month must carry with them the shame of being "it" for the rest of the year. Such dirty tricks include bribing family members and friends, hiding in bushes, breaking into houses in the middle of the night, and anything else that an aspiring stalker might have up their sleeve. Fantastic!

So I got to thinking; how could we adapt this into a country wide game of Ultra Tag? Essentially the game would be tag, but within the confines of an ultra race, and with elements of the old university game of Assassin thrown in for good measure. If you are "it", then you would have an opportunity to tag another player at the next race that you ran at, but for the tag to count you would also need to beat them to the finish line! Here is the game as I see it:
  1. The "tagger" is the player who was it at the start of the game. The "taggee" is the player whom the tagger has targeted.
  2. The tagger has from the moment the race starts until he crosses the line in which to make a tag of another player. 
  3. Players must download, print off, and wear a specially designed target on their back somewhere visible by people approaching from behind during the race.
  4. Only runners wearing this visible mark are eligible targets.
  5. Once the taggee has been tagged by the tagger, there are no tag-backs. But then the race is on!
  6. The taggee has two options to avoid being "it"; they can either tag another player (in which case they become the tagger in the above scenario), or can race and beat the original tagger to the finish.
  7. If the taggee succeeds in beating the tagger to the finish line, then the state of being "it" reverts to the original tagger once more. However, if the tagger crosses the line first, then the taggee is it. This will be updated on the website.
  8. If multiple tags have been made, then the outcome of the tags will be decided based on the order of finishing.
The last rule is just because there is kind of a branching structure to the tagging that might depend on who beats whom in the race. So if Player A is "it" and tags Player B, but then Player B tags Player C, and the finishing order is CAB, then Player B would be "it" at the end of the race. This is because whilst they tagged Player C, Player C beat them to the finish. So we go back one tagging, and find that Player A successfully tagged and beat Player B. So the result of the race is that being "it" goes from Player A to Player B.

It's not as difficult as I've made it sound, honest! It's just a bit of silly fun really! But the more players there are, the more fun it will be. If you fancy playing, then email me with the following information, which will be published on a separate page on this blog for all other players to see:
  • Your name
  • A recent photo (preferably of you running so that people can recognise you at races)
  • A list of all of your upcoming races for the year (where other players might be likely to find you)

This is only a rough idea for the rules - if anybody has any suggestions for ways in which they can be improved then please comment below. 

Who's in?!

Monday 28 January 2013

New Balance MT110 Review

The New Balance (NB) Minimus Trail 110 (MT110s) have been around for a while now, having been released at the start of 2012 to general critical acclaim. The Minimus are a popular series of lightweight minimalist shoes from NB that have generally received rave reviews, and the trail series (the MT100 and the MT101) have been developed closely with Anton Krupicka and Erik and Kyle Skaggs, three of the top ultrarunners in the US. I really liked the sound of these when I first heard about them as the minimal drop from the heel to the toe plays to my forefoot running style, and when I finally found that they were available here in the UK for the low low price of £30, I just had to grab a pair.

I have been using these regularly for over 6 months now, and have probably run over 600 miles in them, usually on groomed trails but also with the occasional run through incredibly sloppy mud, knee deep in river water, or on rocky hilly terrain in Wales. Also, they work surprisingly well on road. 

It's probably a bit late in the day to be writing this review, but I have just purchased a pair of Salomon Sense Mantras which I am in the process of putting through their paces and they will inevitably get compared to these. 

Tuesday 22 January 2013

Is Marathon Running Bad For Your Heart - Redux

Okay, this has bugged me a little bit and I had to write a post as a comment on what I have seen. I have previously commented on some of the research that has come out over the last few years suggesting that - to coin a sensationalist media-friendly phrase - Marathon Running Is Bad For Your Heart. I recently saw this TED talk from Dr. James O'Keefe M.D., where he discusses many of the same ideas. As a cardiologist, he used to exercise regularly as the generally accepted standpoint is that exercise is good for your heart, and the more the better. But he and his colleagues have since found that over-intensive running may in fact be bad for your heart. Instead we should all be running not too fast and not too far.

Now, as an ultramarathon runner, I am obviously biased in my opinions. However, I do know a fair bit about data analysis and (more importantly) interpretation. And based on what I have seen in the literature, I have yet to see anything that makes me particularly worried.

So let's have a play-by-play of the content of the video. Granted, the point of TED talks is to make a complex subject understandable by non-experts so this isn't a scientific presentation as such, but in this presentation you can see issues with the argument. I apologise for how long this post is, but I want to be thorough in my assessment. I do not claim to be an expert in the area of cardiology, and I certainly haven't read all of the literature (I just do this in my spare time for fun after all), but nothing that I have seen in these studies has suggested anything more than one possible interpretation of the data.

Tuesday 15 January 2013

You're Only Cheating Yourself

This Thursday will see Oprah Winfrey interview Lance Armstrong regarding the part that he played in the doping scandal that has swept the professional cycling world since the release of the USADA's damning ream of evidence against Lance, the U.S. Postal Service Pro Cycling Team, and indeed much of the pro-cycling community. I won't go into any details about it here, as people far more knowledgable than I have already dissected the report, and the conclusion seems to be pretty unanimous: the US Postal Service Pro Cycling Team did indeed run "the most sophisticated, professionalized and successful doping program that sport has ever seen". 

Despite the evidence against him, Lance has always avidly denied cheating, decrying the USADA report as a "government funded witch hunt" (isn't that the same government that funds the USPS team?). But, lo and behold, news has leaked out that in the interview shot on Monday, Lance has finally admitted to cheating. Apparently witch-hunts aren't such a bad idea when there are witches abroad... 

(Hmm, that Terry Pratchett book was set in Lancre. Lancre... Lance... Coincidence?! I think not.)

Sunday 13 January 2013

UltrAspire Impulse Waist Pack Review

The Christmas holidays were fantastic fun, with plenty of food, wonderful company, and general good cheer all round. To ensure that we remain jolly for as long as possible, a few friends and we celebrate our very own holiday ("Fakemas") on January 2nd. It's basically all of the best parts of Christmas all over again, with a big emphasis on awesome presents. This year for Fakemas, I was very happy to receive the UltrAspire Impulse waist pack which was on my letter to Santa this holiday season.

There are three main ways to carry fluid and equipment around with you during an ultramarathon. The first is to use a handheld bottle, which has the benefit of being very minimalist but does not allow you to carry too much additional equipment. The second is to use a pack, which has the benefit of giving you scope for carrying additional gear but does mean you have the additional weight and the inconvenience of carrying something on your back. The third option is to use a waist pack, which sits somewhere in the middle as it allows you to carry more equipment but leaves your back unencumbered, preventing overheating and reducing potential chafe points. 

Until now I have never found a waist pack that I liked the look of, since typically they seem quite bulky compared to the very well designed ergonomics of the Salomon S-Lab hydration vest that I normally use. The Impulse on the other hand is very minimal (at only 232 g), consisting essentially of two bottle pouches and a belt with a couple of pockets.

The waist belt is quite minimal, with two bottle pouches connected by a small belt, with a few additional pockets

Monday 7 January 2013

Potential Idea - Ultrarunning Holiday Camp

In my last post, I alluded to a mysterious event that I was hopefully organising later in the year. After a meeting today, it looks like I am good to go and can finally start actually organising things. So here is my idea:

Ultrarunning Holiday Camp!

A few months ago, Jen and I went for a little weekend break at Center Parcs in Elveden forest (in Suffolk), which if you've never heard of it before, is a holiday park in the middle of a forest with lots of activities to do like swimming, archery, sailing, etc. (kind of like a posh Butlins). There was a little trail loop around the perimeter of the park of roughly 4 miles which I ran a few times each day. I jokingly suggested it would be fun to have a weekend break with a bunch of ultrarunners, and could organise a race there.

Being me, I took it one step further, contacted them, and have now accidentally become an event organiser. I have also been in contact with Richard Felton, who organises the UK Ultrarunner of the Year Awards, and have arranged to hold the awards ceremony at this event as well, so there will be a bit of a do for anybody that likes to get fancied up in their glad-rags.

Given how close-knit the UK ultrarunning scene is, it seems like a social event like this could be a fun way to spend a weekend, and would also allow people's families to get involved as well. I know that Jen would love to meet some of the people that I talk about all of the time, but doesn't feel like hanging around while I run a 100 miler to do it! While we're all running, the running widows/widowers can get together to talk about how stupid we are!

So the weekend will look something like this:

Everybody arrives and checks into their accommodation, people taking part in the race collect their race packs, we have a few drinks.

Race day! The race will be a timed race, probably of 10 hours, with runners aiming to run as many loops as possible. Then the evening will be the Ultrarunner of the Year Awards gala dinner - think 'The Oscars', but with smelly runners instead of glamorous celebrities.

Activity day! Chill in the pool, go to the spa, have a go at archery, ride a horse, the choices are endless! Okay, not strictly true, but there are a lot of things to do.

Check out, say goodbye, and head back to the real world.

I'll also hopefully be able to arrange some other things, such as talks, training sessions, some form of mini-expo if any companies are interested. I may be getting a little ahead of myself here!

It will be held towards the end of the year (most likely the weekend of the 9th and 10th November), but need to work out the best date for avoiding clashes with other races (such as the Winter 100 and Brecon Beacons Ultra) and with the holidays. Again, I will release official details once they have been finalised.

But for now I need an idea of who would be interested in this event. I have no idea of costs just yet, as it is a bit of a chicken and egg situation - I need to know rough numbers to get an idea of cost, but people won't know if they want to come without some idea of how much they will have to pay. A rough back of the envelope estimate is about £200-300 for the whole weekend (bed and breakfast for 3 nights, race entry, ticket to the awards ceremony), with other options available for non-running family members, or people that just want to come for one day for the race and the awards ceremony.

For now it would be great if people could give me some idea of whether or not they would be interested in coming (regardless of cost), and if so how many people (family members, spouses, partners, etc.) they would be likely to bring. If you're interested, just leave a comment below or send me a message on Facebook. You won't be held to anything, I am just trying to gauge the interest! Is it a good idea, or will I be left at the party all on my lonesome?

Saturday 5 January 2013

Centurion Running End of Year Analysis - 2012

I recently performed another bit of analysis, this time using the Centurion Running data from throughout the year as a kind of retrospective study of 2012, and also to look for any interesting trends. This wasn't anywhere near as in depth as the survey that we ran for the South Downs Way (there'll be more of that later this year), and the data that I used was just the checkpoint times available on the Centurion Running website. Despite this being a relatively simple look at pace profiles, we actually found some potentially interesting things, particularly relating to dropout rates. 

The nice thing about having access to the checkpoint times and not just the finishing times is that it gives us more scope to look at trends in pacing throughout the entire course. Also it is very useful to be able to pull out the dropout point of runners who were unable to complete the course, as I believe that this has highlighted some potentially quite interesting points relating to how runners are able to decide on which point to pull out at. I plan on doing something similar with the Western States data that I have played with in the past to see if we see similar trends to those shown below. More on that in a few weeks.

The report can be downloaded from the Centurion Running website here, but I have added the report below as well. Enjoy!

1 Introduction

2012 has been a fantastic year for Centurion Running. Following on from the inaugural North Downs Way 50 mile and 100 mile events in 2011, this year has seen a full timetable of ultrarunning events including the Thames Path 100 miler, South Downs Way 100 miler, North Downs Way 50 and 100 milers, Winter 100 and the now infamous Piece of String Fun Run. With the completion of the Winter 100, we have reached the end of the racing season and include here a retrospective for the main races in the Centurion Running 100 mile event calendar.

For the South Downs Way 100, we ran a survey of runners in a pilot project to look at factors relating to successful ultramarathon running completion. In 2013 we hope to roll this survey out to the other events to build up a database of information for 100 mile runners and allow us to look for interesting trends amongst the people who choose to run 100 mile events for fun. Please keep your eyes open for more information on this in the new year, and please take part as the more information that we are able to collect the better the findings will be.

For now, enjoy the holiday season and have a wonderful New Year. Happy running everybody!

Thursday 3 January 2013

New Year Plans

And so we come to the end of 2012. It was a pretty epic year all things considered, and as my friend Herbs pointed out, "2013 must be shitting itself". The Olympics and Paralympics showed the world that we're actually pretty bloody good at sport (but unfortunately convinced them that we suck at music), my sideburns doppelgänger Bradley Wiggins did pretty well in his little bicycle race, the Queen is still going strong despite our best efforts to give her hypothermia. So what will 2013 have in store for us?

I don't know, but I have an idea what the year will hold for me. It's going to be a pretty exciting year with the birth of my first child in a few weeks, and running will have to take second fiddle to some ultra-fathering. But I have a few plans in place and will have to wait and see if any of them pan out.