Mark Almond’s Marathon Lessons

The warm weather email three days before the race told us to pay particular attention to our fluid intake, think about our clothing on the day – recommending not wearing running tights – and suggested the most recent weather forecasts predicted temperatures of around 16-17° come race day.

As London basked in temperatures up to 25°, the Brighton Marathoners tackled 21°, whilst those in Paris apparently faced 24°; it was time to curse the forecasters. Such hikes in temperature are not the friend of the long distance runner, though I wasn’t too worried as surely a marathon by the sea would guarantee pleasant sea breezes to take the ‘edge off’ as we went round.

Clearly someone had forgotten to tell the wind makers, as the stretch along the cliff tops usually pleasantly balmy from 11 miles to 14 miles was accompanied not by pleasant, cooling, air flows but by two gents, one with an unplugged electric keyboard and another with maracas, at a roundabout seeking to provide their own ‘cool’ inspiration by bashing out a few supportive tunes for runners as they trotted past. Whilst musical accompaniment is sometimes welcome, these plucky musicians were perhaps not what everyone wanted, thus drawing comments that ‘Soft Cell had let themselves go a bit’.

Digging in, I pushed on, and continued with the comfortable pace I’d managed to that point. It was near this point that I committed a cardinal sin by missing my massed family supporters who shouting, implored me to catch their eye and make contact as I ran past. To ensure my failure was absolute I high fived a complete stranger yards in front of the massed familial ranks, yet completely failed to see them.

Tainted love (oh)…..

I was completely unaware of this, and was becoming a little worried as I approached 13 miles that I hadn’t seen them, but passed another message on at 14 miles that I was ok and that I had missed them – though I was completely unaware of the snub until long after I had finished the race.

April 9th 2017 was my best, and worst, marathon experience. As a best it was my fastest ever, at last breaking the 3½ hour mark, finishing in the top 100 of my age category, and including some of my fastest ever marathon race sections.

And yet between 17 and 19 miles, I have never felt more like stopping than I did this time around.

Sometimes I feel I’ve got to, Run away,

I think the heat took more out of me than I anticipated, and I had to battle myself to keep going and get through it.

Again there’s lesson’s in this, indeed the whole marathon experience. In that ‘experience’, I include the full programme of training which began with half marathon training in late summer 2016, early marathon training from late October, and the key post-Christmas and late winter section slowly building up the mileage.

The key thing was that there was still learning to be had from my eighth iteration of the marathon journey. Despite all the hours put in previously, the mind games, the physical efforts, the miles completed, I still learnt more about the experience and particularly myself from it all. This boils down to the fact that Brighton 2017 surprised me, I didn’t expect it to be that hard. I knew I would have to dig in, push through, but I thought my previous experience would give me more of an edge, give me less to worry about, less to overcome.

Poppycock. Forget that, each marathon experience is different, requires different achievements, will need different obstacles and challenges to be overcome. Therefore it’s about keeping a much more open mind about what you may need to overcome, thus I hadn’t even thought hard about the potential impacts of such temperatures, or the fact that the race might be a ‘warm one’, and therefore hadn’t developed a strategy to properly cope with it. Thus I lost my way, almost, between 17 and 19 miles.

Get away from the pain you drive into the heart of me.

I did enough early in the race to get my PB, but looking at it now it could have all gone very wrong because I didn’t fully account for the unexpected conditions in the way I ran my race. Yes I was successful, but this was in spite of how I ran my race, not the way I actually ran it.

Next time, it’s a little more careful thought about ‘known’ conditions on the day and appropriate, but small, tweaks to the race plan as a result, in this case going off a little slower for the first 5-8km and easing into the race more than I actually did.

This ‘easing in’ is also a lesson for the overall marathon ‘experience’. At the outset I was a little too impatient for early results. I wanted to see more positive signs in my running prior to Christmas when this period was much more about laying some good foundations for success later on. I really noticed that sticking to my plan for runs accompanied by core strength training my times picked up significantly after late January. Having the patience for this to happen is something that hasn’t been there previously for me and knowing when to rest and relax during the training cycle is as important as the training itself.

The key is ‘trust the plan’ and stay patient for its results which are focussed on having your fastest and fittest race, not the fastest and fittest training. Plans can easily be changed, recalibrated, but it is all too easy to feel you need to put yourself under extra pressure because you don’t think everything is going to plan, but ask yourself what parameters you are placing on that.

Are you pressurising yourself because you don’t think you are where you should be and that, in your opinion, needs rectifying? You haven’t had the results you’re expecting, or the race remains seemingly as distant as ever? Being aware of these is important because these are exactly the positions you will find yourself in in the race as well. For me at 17 to 19 miles I was well aware that I wasn’t progressing as I felt I should be. I was wondering whether I should continue because of these feelings, these beliefs.

What I had to do was come back round to my bigger plan, my target for the race and focus on where I was in relation to that target not my exact position at 17-19 miles. Not whether I was slowing up dramatically and asking myself every stride whether I really wanted to carry on. Rather, it was just a phase in completing this bloody thing that I needed to get through – that tough mid-February Sunday run when 15km easy seems like the hardest thing in the world and the prospect of running nearly three times that distance seems like a totally ludicrous proposition, especially at marathon pace.

The final lesson was that I still want to do this. My overall health and wellbeing is so enhanced by this physical activity that I can’t let it go. However the next round goes, I want more of that feeling, or perhaps it’s more of an addiction. Whatever it is, its one I’ll take on again, just to be surprised, just to hear what music the duo play, and to make sure I high five my family members, rather than random strangers. And at least there wasn’t any jelly this year!

Now I’m gonna pack my things and go

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Mantra

My first entry for this blog was 41 entries ago, on the 26th October 2012. Now, as I reach the conclusion of my eighth cycle of marathon training I’m wondering how I feel at the end of all this. Just a longish run, and the obligatory Nan-Jog left till its race day again.

Like those earlier entries, I find myself drawn to Murakami again and his excellent book of wise running words ‘What I talk about when I talk about running’. He identifies:

Usually when I approach the end of marathon, all I want to do is get it over with, and finish the race as soon as possible. That’s all I can think of. But as I drew near the end of this ultramarathon, I wasn’t really thinking about this. The end of the race is just a temporary marker without much significance. It’s the same with our lives. Just because there’s an end doesn’t mean existence has meaning. An end point is simply set up as a temporary marker, or perhaps as an indirect metaphor for the fleeting nature of existence” (p.115).

So fleety one, how are you feeling now?

How’s that temporary marker of the meaninglessness of your existence coming along?

Well, hmm, thanks Mr Murakami.

But then he brings it round, in only the way he can (read the book and you’ll know what I mean) by a further turn of the page….

At this point a new feeling started to well up in me – nothing as profound as a feeling of pride, but at least a certain sense of completion. A personal  feeling of happiness and relief that I had accepted something risky and still had the strength to endure it. In this instance, relief outweighed happiness. It was like a tight knot inside me was gradually loosening, a knot I’d never even realized, until then, was there.” (p.115-116, my emphasis)

The rhythm in his writing, the ups and downs of mood it conveys, and the vision it gives is much like that I think everyone experiences from running.

So what does the end of this training cycle reveal, what does it mean?

Well it should be a sense of achievement whatever that training cycle has brought to you, however injury affected or not, how much of struggle or not it has been. This is an achievement. You’re ready, whatever your body, head, or heart will be telling you, to run and you should visualise your race day. Get prepared to enjoy it, be present to what’s going to happen, whatever the time. Again Murakami helps here:

Competing against time isn’t important. What’s going to be much more meaningful to me is how much I can enjoy myself, whether I can finish twenty-six miles with a feeling of contentment. I’ll enjoy and value things that can’t be expressed in numbers, and I’ll grope for a feeling of pride that comes from a slightly different place” (p.121)

Now whilst I don’t agree with the ‘time isn’t important’ line, we all have our target times, and achievement of these will make a massive contribution to our level of contentment. What’s more important here is the non-numbers bit. The fact running as part of a group you’ve shared some key moments at your weakest with others, forged new friendships through that, connected with yourself in entirely new ways, and persisted with something in a way that you perhaps thought impossible, before you started all this. And even, perhaps on occasion during some of it.

Now stronger, coming from these experiences you can head into race day with a contentment, a satisfaction, pride, a reward to yourself that come race day you will have packed a bag of experience ready for the journey ahead that will leave you prepared for what’s coming. Give you the support you’ll need to get through the pain and the struggles, help you revel in the joy of the experience, and get to the end, the temporary marker, but with a different appreciation of what YOU have been able to do, and what YOU have done to get there, and what YOU will have achieved by getting to the end.

That end is in sight, reach for it.

Run strong.

Relax your body.

Dedicate those kilometres.

Get to that next lamppost.

Get the techno on. Big box, little box

You’re off the sofa. You’ve got the medal. The end is the end. Smash it.

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Some Reassurance #2

Farkin Pedestrians. In the way again, in that bumbling, blocking, way that they do.

Eyeing you up from metres away, knowing you’re coming towards them, yet ignoring you until that last minute. The moment you’re in their face. Then, oh, so, slowly, so, slowly.

Getting.

Out.

Of.

The.

Way.

Thanks, with the turning circle of a fully laden oil tanker, my appreciation is all yours.

It’s a few weeks now to big race day. For Marathoners particularly, it’s now the tiredness, the niggles, aches, the wondering and worrying, really starts to kick in. So far you’ve probably been able to keep it at bay with the ‘oh it’s weeks away yet, plenty of time’ line.

But whatever you are training for, your long race, as it beckons, winking at you, sashaying on the horizon, with its come and get me eyes. But like Jekyll and Hyde the alter ego will also be issuing threats, sending the bailiffs round with their demands for ever greater effort from your metaphorically wrecked body, issuing an enforcement notice for that race pace over an ever greater distance, more than that 19-20k you’ve just done. And that ‘enforcement notice’ looks totally unreasonable, that pace for even further?

That.

Pace.

That……..

Pace?

For almost twice that distance?

No pedestrians in the way though!

This is all completely normal.

These worries, completely normal. The nagging doubts, completely normal. Feeling like you’re dragging a husk around on bloody stumps, thinking on your next long run you just want to jack it in after 8km, feeling tired for most of a run, wondering why you’re still dragging yourself out of bed on a Sunday morning without the lightness you might of felt in the early stages of your training, completely bloody normal.

Wondering why your legs seems to ache in a way you haven’t experienced before, everything feeling tight, piano strings a major component of your legs, scrapes, bumps, grazes from trips, falls from tarmac greeting, musing whether you need new trainers and whether it’s too late to change them before race day, concerned you have run long enough, too much, not enough, not fast enough, not at right pace, worried about your hydration and fuelling, that you’ve tried the right gels, bloks, fuel for the race, or not even thought about it, and now I’m really worrying, yep completely normal.

Thinking through you’re plans for race day and getting concerned about kit options, how best to tie your laces, whether you need some new socks, how chafing is going to be avoided, how to get through the early race sections when it’s going to be really crowded right? Totally, completely normal.

Justifying that putting that right sock on first, then the left, will mean I run a better race. Ahh let’s move on.

Rather than the end of your training answering questions, it seems just to generate more. Provide more reasons to worry, be concerned about the minutiae of the running and racing, and raise issues you hadn’t even thought of till you read some of the stuff above, whoops.

All that is nothing to worry about actually, taper is about to come, and if you plan in some sports massage, some advice from a running coach, and the rest and recovery that taper brings will get you to that start line refreshed, rebuilt, and worrying a little less, perhaps.

But it’s also worth considering a previous blog I wrote in April 2015 which I’ve updated below:

So is this really what you signed up for?

….it’s quite likely you’re feeling battered, physically and mentally, by what you’ve put yourself through.

Many at this stage of the marathon cycle are wondering, worrying about that latest niggle.  Wondering why the most recent long run was so hard accompanied in all likelihood by a series of unfamiliar aches and pains centred on parts of your leg/s you didn’t know existed until now.

Knees ache, calves ache, thighs ache, glutes ache, quads ache, feet ache.

Aches ache.

Tiredness seems to be an item of clothing, and doubt and worry the things that ‘accessorise’ the outfit.

Tightness is a steady state for muscles, and what you thought was going smoothly is now a lumpy, grumbly, maelstrom of potentially revised target times, thinking whether it is even possible, or a devil may care ‘bloody well get through it’ attitude.

Listen very carefully,

pull the screen closer,

closer,

read this in detail and absorb,

pay real attention to this.

Niggles, grumbles, tightness, discomfort.

All at this stage of getting to the marathon is all…well you know the words now, don’t you?

Stay calm, repeat after me – it’s all completely bloody normal.

Most of your fellow runners are likely to be experiencing exactly the same, whether they are saying it or not.  Whether yelping, or not.  Silence hides, much discomfort, many concerns, a multitude of worries, even for the most experienced.

They are just as likely to be worrying that their body is collapsing on them at this late stage, that the start line now seems as distant as it did when the entry for the fast approaching race was made.  Although it may feel like it, there’s a very strong chance your legs aren’t going to come off any time soon.

If we just have a quick look at what you have put your body through since the beginning of January.  Since then, that’s 15 Sundays, 15 of the longest runs, 15 weeks of exertion your legs have not experienced before.  Is it any surprise those legs are protesting now?

With each training cycle being unique, your body is responding to the unexpected.

You’ve loaded it with effort, gels, shotbloks, electrolytes, protein bars, hills, tempo sessions, threshold sections, race pace attempts, veered round pedestrians who refuse to move out of the way, kids on scooters, smart phone readers, surprise shop exiters, bus stop crowds, and belligerent motorists.  Is it any wonder it’s reacted?

It needs some coaxing, some cosseting, some recovery now.  That’s exactly what the taper is for.  Reduced miles, but perhaps more important to cope with all the tightness woe outlined above is the elixir of rolling and stretching.  A programme of full leg coverage – IT band, glutes, quads, calves, shins.  A campaign of care to massage, roll and stretch these key running muscles.

A campaign that’s consistent, persistent and determined.

Funny that, exactly what you’ll need come race day.

You’ve trained to run, now get ready to taper, to recover, to run.

You reassure your body, for it to reassure you.  The training is nearly done.

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Recovery – let’s flood the chateau

Leafing through a well-known interior design magazine recently I came across this gem of nonsense:

Layers of paint and varnish were added to build up the elegantly decayed look…Siouxsie calls the paint effect on the walls ‘flooded chateau’. It was a last minute decision – my heart was telling me I had to do it, even though the walls had been freshly plastered

And yet, rather like Siouxsie, most of our preparation is focussed on the lead up to the event we’re training for. What we need to get in place, be prepared for come race day, have trained ourselves to achieve come the race, rather than what plans might be after we’ve completed said event.

I’m reminded here of all the preparation my wife and I did prior to the birth of our first child. The books pored over, the NCT classes  attended, the discussions with the midwife. All focused on just what the birth would entail and how we (all three of us) would get through it safely.

What we were less well prepared for, was that rude awakening when we returned from hospital with our new born. We carefully set her down in the car seat, asleep, with us perched side by side on the sofa alternatively peering at her and each other.

Then came the realisation.

What do we do now?

For this we were much less prepared, and this is a generation of time, not a number of hours.

So how do we make sure we plan for the aftermath of the event we’re training for?

How does our metaphorical chateau take on our preferred aesthetic experience?

Well, critical to this, and the avoidance of a prolonged period of clunky walking (think the Wizard of Oz -Tin Man’s hesitant first steps). Preparation, which can form part of your long run training. Key to recovery is mobility and stretching, refuelling, hydration and rest.

Some of the things that have helped me in the past have included:

  • #getinthesea – Brighton offers a great opportunity to use the freezing cold surf to bring some immediate relief to exhausted legs. But it is essential to bring some other footwear for this as trying to do it bare footed as I did in my first year risks stranding yourself a few feet from the shore as your feet and legs seize up on the pebbles underfoot.
  • #changeofkit – even on the hottest days finishing can mean you will feel the cold very quickly. Layers and some compression clothing can help. Hats and hoods work well, and don’t underestimate the warming properties of the race bling (short and medal), particularly the warm glow that comes free with the race gong – you’re a five star general now!
  • #goodcarbs – aim for some protein in the first half hour after you’ve finished as this can aid muscle recovery, but the critical challenge is to replenish you’re glycogen stores which will be exhausted. This means looking at some carbs – rice, potatoes, pasta. You’ll probably be more hungry than you’ve ever expected to be and this is likely to continue for a few days as you replace the fuel stores you’ve used up. Make sure you’ve made particular plans for breakfast the day after the race, your mobility maybe restricted but you’re hunger is less likely to be so hamstrung.
  • #hydrate – much like during the race, little and often is a good tactic. With all your refuelling take it slow and replenish your fuel levels carefully. It’s worth considering some drinks that provide options to replace lost electrolytes, and enjoy a celebration as well – you’ve earnt it.
  • #stretchinandrollin – all that stuff you’ve done post long-run training. Don’t neglect it, just cos you’re done. It’s perhaps more important in the time after the race than ever. You may not be able to manage too much in the finishing area, but at least get into your usual routine the evening after. Here the longest training runs will give you clues as to where the real targets will be, remember these and target them ruthlessly in the rolling and stretching you get done post-race. Though expect those legs to be SPICY!
  • #bathelikecleopatra – a hot Epsom salts bath (15-20mins) can aid recovery, though the medal whilst obviously accompanying you in your bath, does not a great rubber duck make.
  • #nightynight – get that head down early- assuming the refuelling and rehydrating doesn’t go too far into the night, but be prepared for the hot legs as your body repairs itself.
  • #facedown – book yourself in, a couple of days after the event, for a sports massage. This can be done before you race so you get a slot in those few days. Often in runner-rich areas around key long race dates appointments go fast, so book early, to avoid disappointment.
  • #therecoverywaddle – on the days after the run do your best to get out and walk, you’ll find your legs will tire quite quickly, for me it’s my calfs that protest the most, but this helps infinitely with getting back to your regular mobility and avoids making stairs (usually down) an epic mountaineering challenge during the next week or so. A few gentle walks coupled with a massage helps get that mobility back again.
  • #laceuptherunners – although you may vow never to run again, the gentle Nan Jog is a key part of the recovery regime, though remember it can be a number of weeks before full recovery and you’ll feel tired very quickly so best kept short.

Plan your recovery into that schedule now.

Next time:

How would you sum up your look…I once described it as ‘edgy glamour with a bit of Miss Haversham thrown in’, but over the years, I’ve honed the ad-hoc nature of my approach to be more sophisticated. It’s still fun and irreverent, but also functional

Sheesh, anyone know how to get the Dambusters in?

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Just Running, long?

With a few long runs under your belt you’re probably wondering just what the long runs are for. Yes a key part of your weekly training routine, working towards being on your feet for two hours plus, getting the distance into those leg, yes all that.

But what is it really all about?

Well it’s about running, well, long? Giving you that chance on return to regale those who will listen that you’ve run x far today, been round to such and such and back again, got over those hills, through randomly emerging pedestrians from shops, avoided phone-focussed totterers, rounded scooting, skating, riding random toddlers, sidestepped woofy mutts, and challenged ranty motorists.

Isn’t it?

Isn’t it just running longer than you’ve run before, or have run for a while. All in preparation for the target race, to make sure you finish the target (long) distance?

Well yes it is, but the long run is far, far more useful than just getting through the distance. It’s an opportunity, a test bed, an experiment, a plain old running exam that used correctly can give you that extra edge come race day.

So what then, should you use the longer distance for?

Well simply, testing everything around race day.

So test that breakfast routine, its timing, its content, the fluid intake. How much you eat prior to running and what you’ll be able to stomach come race day when adrenaline kicks in and the stomach starts its own running race well before you’ve even started?

Check out different kit options for different weathers. What keeps you comfortable, too hot, too cold, too sweaty? Where is your race number going to go, front, back, somewhere else?

Is it just shorts, shorts and running tights, just running tights, will the mankini really work? Where’s the timing chip going to go, on your shoe, left or right, or is it in the race number? Is there even a timing chip? And what about the kit options, post-race, what to change into, and how are you going to get that to the race and most importantly the finish? How big a kit bag are you allowed and what will fit in the damn thing?

Critically, test your anti-chafing routine. In wet weather, or very hot weather damp, moist, soaking kit becomes that much heavier. Heavy kit takes on new exfoliant properties, even dry kit, or seams on kit adopt the same properties.

Properties which go far beyond the smoothing effects featured in those TV ads.

Well beyond.

We’re talking, well…………..

RED F*$K***, Blood Seeping, Raw!  Fire and flames.

Not always, but best avoided if you ask me.

Ouch. And the bloody stained shirt fronts are not this year’s must have. We’ll stay up top, but never forget the undercarriage either. Invest in Vaseline and plasters, use it well, remember the 1, 2, 3, smear to cheer, and lubricate your running success.

Test gels, bloks, preferably the same ones your race organiser is providing, or if making your own check those out too. There’s no disgrace in interrupting a training run for an impromptu toilet stop because something ‘didn’t work out’, or rather because something was about to work out. Use this as an opportunity to see how you benefit from gels and bloks. Whether it benefits how you feel, perform, particularly as the distance gets really long. Do this alongside your hydration routine. Will you take your hydration pack with you on race day, or use the cups/bottles race organisers will provide on the day? If it also involves sports drinks then test those out in your training runs so your body is used to those as well. I found some give me truly terrible indigestion and this is not great when trying to push yourself.

Pay attention to the head stuff as the distance gets long. I’ve written plenty about this in previous blogs. But there’s plenty that your inner dialogue (yep everyone has it) will challenge you, particularly in the tough bits. The long run test gives you the opportunity to hear this stuff, respond internally, and practise routines to get you through the negative stuff when it comes up. If you’ve challenged it before in training you can do it again in the race, and get through it. There’s plenty to learn from it, about you and your running, and your response to challenge. Revel in this in training and your race will be so much better.

What we also lose the sense of, is something a little bit deeper, no I’m not back on the chafing again, it’s something that has come up in a book on running I’ve been reading – Running with the Pack by Mark Rowlands. It highlights how we struggle to appreciate our running as anything other than a means to an end. As the book identifies:

Certainly, that is the way the activity of running is typically justified, both to oneself and others. One runs, so one says, to stay healthy, to stay thin, to relax, to stay alive. The implicit assumption in these answers is that if running is a legitimate way of spending one’s time, then it must be ‘good for something’: that is, it must be useful in some way” (p.xii).

I fully appreciate everything above falls exactly into this trap, because the things above are things that the long run is useful for.

But, I want to end encouraging you to think of the long run as something that is important in itself, it is an experience to revel in, and enjoy, just for the sake of the experience of it. However that experience might be for you, whatever happens during or after it.

It’s just that you’re running long and:

for a time at least, one does not chase value, one is immersed in it” (p.xiii).

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Long Run Training – What the hell have you let yourself in for?

As ever more ludicrous Black Friday offers peppered my inbox, the end of the first week of official long run training was coming to an end. With it was the beginning of a further cycle of months of effort to prepare this body and mind for my target long run – the Brighton Marathon on 9th April 2016, only 19 weeks away.

What is it that will be experienced in those weeks of preparation, and what inevitable changes will it bring?

The first thing to appreciate is the obsession your running training will become. Whether you enjoy it, or not, the whole process of long run training will bring some kind of obsessive focus upon how your weekly programme of training, particularly the long runs, will fit into your regular life and what planning and project management will be required to make that fit happen. It is likely that your obsession will come to dominate the planning of your life ensuring a focus around often fitting your life around the training schedule you are working to. So Saturday nights will often be tinged with the need to be prepared for your long run on Sunday and the fact that may well curtail party attendance or alcohol quaffing. It’s also the case that slowly but surely you’ll start planning your meals around these long runs so that you’re putting in the right fuels. Trouble is you’ll often find a combination that supports a longer run on a Sunday and then seek to stick to that, so the meals become rather samey but you feel well set for your long run whilst others in your family get crushed by the tedium of yet another Spaghetti Bolognese for Saturday evening meal. This will then extend to your breakfast routine pre-race as all the ‘books’ on marathon training reiterate the importance of trying out your planned race day routine during your training so as to avoid any stomach related nasty surprises come race day. Whilst perfectly sensible, this is another part of the obsession and you can see how it starts to become ever more pervasive.

A big change will also come in the stuff you do whilst lying down in your lounge. Pre training much of this lying down will have involved the TV and not much else. Now you will be making space for new ‘tools of the trade’ involving a foam roller, variety of balls, yoga mat, a large rubber band, a range of diagrams on stretching routines, articles on injury prevention and strengthening routines, running magazines, running kit catalogues, running shoe brochures – you get the picture.

Now you’ll be spending vast amounts of time rolling, stretching, manipulating, rubbing, sighing, panting, moaning, gasping and getting in the way of the telly (“You’re not made of glass”) in the pursuit of relief from the aches and pains that will inevitably follow your descent into an obsessive. You will wonder why you didn’t do this before, marvel at how much time it all seems to take, and how you possibly can fit it into your busy life, and how it does feel worse if you don’t do it, but if it just didn’t take up so much time it would be so much better. Doing all the above in front of the telly will also radically alter your TV viewing habits as some kinds of programmes are eminently suitable for prone watching – cooking, wildlife, quiz shows; whilst others are clearly not, particularly anything involving subtitles and especially Scando-Noir involving grisly murder, as key moments will often coincide with manoeuvres designed to bring relief, but also ensure the key subtitles are not within line of sight. Leading to increasingly fraught exchanges along the lines of:

What did he say?

It was on the screen

I couldn’t see it as it says here I’ve got to get my knee here and my thigh there so I was facing the wrong way

Ok” through gritted teeth, “So he said why do you live in the caravan in the forest on your own and the other women said it was because it used to be owned by her grandfather before the terrible tractor accident that her family still blame on the local Doctor.

Ah ok, and why is he carrying the plastic sheeting again……oooooooo that hamstring is tight but I’ve got this great new stretch now and I can feel it easing. Isn’t the telly a bit loud now?

Your living abode will become a kit breeding centre. One or two tops and shorts, and a few pairs of running socks will begin multiplying, evolving into a range of different varieties of the same item, long sleeve, short sleeve, three quarter length sleeve, hi-vis, zippy, no zip, compression, hooded, gloves, hats, warm tops, very warm tops, pre and post-race tops, training kit, race kit, new running shoes.

Kit whoredom beckons as will the identification of a drawer or cupboard specifically for the kit. Laundry routines will be peppered with a range of items of technical clothing, whilst shoe storage will being to be overrun but new and older running shoes alike.

Obsessive purchase of the right running shoes will also enter the lexicon. You’ll become obsessed by their fit, the level of cushioning, do the colour match your running kit, how long before you should replace them, what’s the best way to tie the damn things, can I ‘lock’ my foot into them, how much do they weigh, and even, will they make me run faster?

In-run refuelling options will become part of your vocabulary. Gels, shotbloks, with caffeine, without caffeine, all in a variety of over designed pouches will be picked up by your running obsessive radar. Hydration is critical, but is again delivered in a variety of ways and you’ll find yourself agonising over hand-held bottle options, or hydration pouches carried in small specifically designed rucksacks with tubes and demand release valves, and other bits of plastic that drop off at a moment’s notice. Plain water, a pinch of salt, other ‘electrolytes’, other concoctions to fill it with. To use in training and nowhere else, or take with you on race day? All further queries to be posed to yourself as the training progresses.

Then there is the running watch options…..

And then the look on your loved one’s faces as they see your obsession over take you, seeing the kit multiply, stretching their necks to see the TV, ignoring the cries “yes that’s the spot, what a stretch”, to ask “and what’s for tea on Saturday?

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Why am I doing this again?

This coming Sunday is the Royal Parks Half Marathon.  A race I approach positively as I have trained for it on this occasion. Instead of the usual end of the year ‘oh I’ll just trot round, enjoy the event and not really worry about the time’ thing, I’m setting myself the target of another personal best time (watch that come and bite me on the arse on Sunday). I’m ready and looking forward to a race in cool conditions which will hopefully help my pursuit of my goal.

However, I started thinking about the motivation. Why am I doing this again? Why take on the running of 21km, 13.1 miles, for the 5th competitive time, all at the Royal Parks event.

Yet again.

It was the first half marathon I ran back in 2009 when I was still flush with early racing joy yet to be tempered by the full marathon training experience. Why get back into the training? Why do all the kit stuff again? Why write another blog entry? Why slog up that hill or take on that tempo run?

What is it that keeps me wanting to do this stuff?

It has interesting parallels with some of my work at the moment that involves looking at the reasons why individuals aren’t physically active and the implications of that for their health and wellbeing. Why, when the evidence is so overwhelming of the benefits that physical activity brings and the detrimental effects that can occur if you’re not, do we resist doing something that can bring such benefits to us. What stops people in this situation?

It’s important that I make clear here that I’m not advocating that everyone leap from their chair and start running half, or full, marathons – that’s never been the intention of this blog, rather it’s about helping to make people more active.

I’m looking here at what we can learn from this to identify solutions when we get stopped around any physical activity, or extending ourselves physically. What’s missing that means doing something else is so much easier than the health and wellbeing improving stuff? What’s not there that means we’ll avoid pushing ourselves to be active and spend that time sedentary, not moving? Why sit, not shift?

If I had a solution then I wouldn’t be sat (irony alert) here writing this, I’d have made my fortune already. It is taxing Governments around the world as they seek to address the impending health crisis that will surely arrive unless our lack of physical activity is addressed.

Individually it is solvable. It’s ultimately about identifying rewards, aspirations, motivations, fears, wishes a number of them, varied and exciting, enrolling, that support us across a range of situations, circumstances, and feelings that get in the way of us being physically active.

So why do I do this?

Running brings me joy. I’m not someone that has a particular natural sporting ability and yet I have found that I can be a reasonable runner if I put the effort into my training. What you put in, you get back.

I have come to revel in the positive feelings, the raised spirits, that I get from the running I do and actively miss them when not getting my ‘fix’. It underpins my mental health and gets me out of the low feelings I feel come on if I have denied myself the opportunity to run. I think I’m a better person because I run and it frees my head of the everyday shackles of day to day living, the stresses and strains of work.

I’m desk based in much of my work so the opportunity to get away from that sedentary island is one I welcome and I will actively seek out the opportunity to run in places I visit. New routes, views, and scenery excite me and the chance to see somewhere new or infrequently visited from a different perspective whilst out on a run.

I feel fitter and more alive and my body shape is one that now holds less concerns for me. I love the feeling of tiredness post run, and the draw to more restful sleep it brings. I enjoy the internal feel of the great stretch/roll post run as aches and pains ease and my body acknowledges my efforts. I love the hunger post-effort, the sense of reward of refuelling rather than just eating, the joy a simple, healthy, mix of protein and good carbohydrates can bring, being sated with food rather than just full. Rehydrating and the sense of the body welcoming simple water, no need for extra flavours or additions.

That sense of achievement when finishing the race and the delayed joy when a personal best is confirmed by the official race time. The celebration with others as they complete their race, the camaraderie with training partners, the shared endeavours and training. I enjoy the excuse to get dressed so differently, to choose footwear and clothing especially to run in (welcome to kit whoredom).

I revel in the opportunity it gives me to be healthier, to reduce my risk of certain diseases and to be less scared that my health will deteriorate, and that I will be active for the rest of my life.

And then some days I’m still not sure why I do this, and I suspect there will be times on Sunday when the wondering ‘why?’ runs round loudly in my head, but I’ll keep facing it down till the next time and trust I’ve found my solution (for now).

Work and find yours, it’s there and you know it. Just recast, reinvent, it and find your route to being active the positives far outweigh the challenges of getting there.

Run well, run strong………….

 

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