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If I may…

It will not come as a surprise to many people who have visited this site before when I say that running has become more than a hobby or a way of keeping fit for me. Indeed running has changed my life beyond recognition and I owe much of what I am now to my discovery of the simple act of running just before my 30th birthday.

Now aside from running a fair bit, I also love reading about running, writing about running and, if it is appropriate, advising people about running. It is also true that the inner-geek in me loves to look at and try out new running kit.

I would also love to earn my living through running and help as many people as possible to discover the wonders of running, fitness and sport in general. So I have made a decision, that my personal ramblings are not really a route to achieving my goals – let’s face it, this blog is pretty self indulgent! In order to further my plans for world domination – a world where everyone runs by the way! – I have decided to launch a website where I will focus on the things I discover as I indulge my love of running (and much, much less on me, thank goodness). So please, please come and have a look at the other site and give me all the feedback you can, positive or negative.

You can now find me here: http://www.simonfreeman.co.uk

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Watford. Not somewhere I go very often and when I have been there, the high street seems to resemble the identikit jumble of fast-food joints, cheap clothing retailers and disaffected youths just hanging around that is so typical of our town centres these days. On arriving in Watford last night, this prejudgement was not in any way altered by what I saw.

But I climbed on my bike and headed off along the A412 St Albans Road, for an appointment with pain and suffering – my first track race since school days and the first time I had ever raced over 3,000m. My coach, Nick Anderson, has been badgering me to come to the Watford Harriers open meet and run the 3,000m, in order – he says – to get out of my comfort zone. On arrival at a really lovely venue, I was greeted by a field full of athletes – a really wonderful sight.

There were a few older athletes, me included, but by far the majority as far as I could see, were junior athletes, up to 18 years old. As I weaved my way through the runners sprawled on the grass watching the action or warming up for their event or cooling down after it, there was a wonderful buzz of excited voices. Everyone was friendly, greeting those they were to compete with like the friends they clearly are, sharing thoughts on the nights races and talking about aims for the events that were to come.

My race came and went. I had a great time and I think I gave a good account of myself.

But the real eye-opener for me, was how many dedicated, fit and competitive young people there are who are prepared to come to Watford on a Wednesday night – and in the case of the runners in my race – wait until after 10pm before they get their opportunity for pain and suffering. After reading Christine Ohuruogu’s comments yesterday (you can read my response to that here) I had a bit of a feeling of despair; that the task of really exciting youngsters about athletics, the Olympics and sport in general was an impossible task – but after last night my spirits are soaring. Talking to the parents and coaches making up the very, very vocal support last night, I realise that for them the task is keeping children and young people engaged in athletics and for that I think we need super heroes and in that case the Olympics will, I’m sure, deliver. So if you fancy trying racing on the track for the first time or returning to the track or, if you are already racing on the track, you fancy racing at a friendly open meet, get yourself along to Watford and marvel at the fact that we have not lost an entire generation from sport… it’s just that the ones in Watford town centre don’t know what is going on 3 miles up the road.

Christine Ohuruogu has been interviewed today – one year before the start of the Olympics in London in 2012 – about her thoughts as the Games approach. She told the BBC that she thinks that young people remain unengaged with the Olympics and that ‘”I think that is a shame and there is more that needs to be done over the next year to make sure we include our all young people.” Ohuruogu’s comments suggest she feels a key aim of London’s Olympic bid – inspiring more young people to get involved in sport, both at school or college – might not be met.’ You can read the article here. And I think she is wrong.

Actually I don’t think she is wrong, but I think there is a danger that the current set of political leaders think that by throwing a huge amount of money at the Olympics, they can turn an entire generation of youngsters from x-box playing, fast food scoffing couch potatoes into Olympians of the future. Sorry, but I just don’t think that works.

And I also think it is rather patronising. There are hundreds, probably thousands, of hardworking coaches and teacher and community leaders, some paid, some voluntary, who have tried for decades to get and keep kids involved in sport. My inspirational friend and mentor Charlie Dark set up the RunDemCrew to help others, and especially young people, discover the way that sport can be a power for good. He did not do that because there is an Olympic Games just around the corner, he did that because he realises the amount of work there is to do and it needed to start immediately.

So sorry Christine and Seb Coe and all the others who are responsible for what I am sure will be one of the most amazing events I will witness in my lifetime – the problems that we face in society, that sport can help to tackle, are not new – they are at least in part the legacy of under-funding in education and a general dismissal of young people for past decades and decades. And one two-week spectacle is not going to reverse the trend of young people losing the motivation for and interest in sport – only decades and decades of hard work and dedication is going to do that. So if the Olympics in 2012 is a catalyst for that, then great. But do not think for one minute that because you set up a few taster sessions and put on a good show next year, your responsibility to young people has been discharged. There is much, much more work to do.

Double or quits?

Recently I came across an article by Duncan Larkin on the Running Times website questioning the benefits of double days and instead singing the praises of only running once a day – you can read it here. Now many runners, me included, believe that the best way to increase mileage – which results in weight loss, improved running efficiency, capilliary growth, increased cardio-vascular efficiency, etc – is to run twice-a-day as many days as possible. Indeed I know that before Ryan Hall met Matt Dixon he was sometimes running three times per day. One of the things that Matt suggested to Ryan is that he reduced the number of runs he was doing. OK so I know that is an extreme example, but the article by Larkin describes the incredible results of Yuki Kawauchi, who became the first Japanese runner to cross the finish line at the 2011 Tokyo Marathon in 2:08:37. Kawauchi works full time and can only manage 1 run per day.

Generally my weekly programme is;

Monday – one run
Tuesday – double day: easy run and then session
Wednesday – one longer run
Thursday – double day: easy run and then session
Friday – rest day
Saturday – double day
Sunday – long run

However Larkin’s article quotes Marathon Performance Training Group’s elite coach Brad Hudson, who says that the key is to run for more than 80 minutes, which triggers certain physiological changes that are ideal for endurance athletes and especially marathon runners.

So what to do? I love my long and mid-length runs and would happily drop a 30 minute recovery run in order to fit in at least one more run of over 80 minutes. But then that could easily be the route to injury if the increased mileage is not managed carefully. Actually I suspect that my coach will increase my mileage as we approach the Seville marathon in February and that will probably mean at least two 80+ minute runs per week, so I probably don’t need to worry. But for those of you considering double days but wondering how to fit them in, how about adding to one of your existing runs and making that a mid-length run. Who knows… maybe 2:08:37 could be on the cards!

Dear Readers, I hope you will allow me to indulge myself (I usually do on here, so that’s nothing new!) but I would like to write about something not directly related to running – my wedding. On Saturday 9 July 2011, my beautiful fiancée and I were married in the stunning Swiss countryside near where she was born. It was a really lovely day – the best day of my life in fact. And it started with a run.

Running is a massive part of my life. I often run ten times a week. Social activities can and do take a back-seat or are manipulated to allow for running. I think and talk and read and write about running all the time. So when my wife and I were planning the wedding, she was not surprised – indeed she was totally supportive – when I suggested that I should organise a group run for anyone who fancied it on the morning of the wedding. Unsurprisingly there were quite a few people up and ready to run at 9am…

The place where we held our wedding ceremony is in a valley and so we set off at a very easy conversational pace up-hill, through the trees in the beautiful sunny, cool summer morning. The run was perfect. Easy to navigate, it meant that those who wanted to had back early could easily find their way to where we started. It was a gentle up-hill which meant that it was reasonably hard work but nothing so excessive. We ran slowly which meant that there was talking all the way, which was absolutely appropriate for a pre-wedding run. And it was significantly quicker on the way back than on the way there.

We got back to some bread from the local bakery and jams made by my wife’s Mum and aunties and a feeling of total relaxation and happiness (at least I did!) and the run was followed by the best party I have ever been to. What a wonderful start to married life.

Oh, and our honeymoon? Running and hiking in the Alps around Chamonix. Perfect!

 

Earlier this week I heard U2’s hit “Where the streets have no name” on a radio being played in another room. Suddenly I was reminded of the classic YouTube video – well it is a classic as far as I am concerned! – of the dual in the sun. This was the 1982 Boston marathon in which Alberto Salazar and Dick Beardsley ran the entire distance neck and neck, finishing within two seconds of each other. The video is quite amazing, especially towards the end as the commentators get ever more excited. Check out the crowds and the impressive array of technology used by the television companies to broadcast the race, which goes some way to illustrating what an important sporting event it was.

Equally compelling viewing is the video that usually pops up to the side of the race coverage video – that of Dick Beardsley describing the end of the race from his point of view and, I guess, with the benefit of hindsight.

What strikes me about Dick’s monologue is what he thought during the final few hundred meters of the race. Dick Beardsley had been leading the race, albeit only by the length of his arm, for most of the 26.2 miles. However Alberto Salazar was the favourite and, as Beardsley acknowledges, Salazar  was considered to have the better kick, so it was no surprise when Salazar dropped the hammer with less than a kilometer to go and passed Beardsley just as his hamstring cramped up.

Dick could have eased up at that point. With a cramp in his hamstring and against one of the greatest marathoners of all time and certainly of his generation, Beardsley knew that second place was his and there would be no shame in that. But he didn’t…

Instead he put in one of the fiercest comebacks in any marathon and with only a few hundred meters to go, Beardsley went for the win.

So what does that mean for us? Well I think the simple lesson is don’t give up. I know that in the end Dick Beardsley did not win the 1982 Boston marathon. But he did know as he crossed the finish line that he had given his all and exceeded everyone’s expectations of him, perhaps even his own expectations. I think that the way he raced and didn’t give up also illustrates the kind of man he is and the level that he was training at. He gave it his all and this is what I think that everyone should do, whether that is running the first 10K or the 100th marathon, giving it all allows us to find out what we really are capable of.

So have a look at the videos and remind yourself of your aim. Then in every way you can make sure you give it 100%… you never know U2 might find out that you are capable of more than you ever thought possible.

As I have mentioned before, some time ago I was lucky to have the opportunity to attend a talk given by the dynamic duo – Liz and Martin Yelling. You can read about the event here.

The talk wasn’t really aimed at people like me. It was a talk organised by the Yellings’ primary sponsor Adidas for a group of people who had won an opportunity to be given some high-level training tips and a free pair of shoes after a pretty cursory gait analysis. But Liz or Martin – I can’t remember which – did talk about something that is pertinent to everyone who runs and wants to be the best they can be. They asked us to each think about how big our training budget is. It is an interesting question; what are you prepared to give up in pursuit of your ultimate achievement?

Smoke? Well you’d better give that up. Junk food addict? A salad might help now and then. Three square meals a day? Might have to swap that for more smaller meals throughout the day. Working eighteen hour days? A job that takes less time will be required. Avid clubber out every Saturday until the wee small hours? That’s not going to help with the long runs on a Sunday. Getting married in two weeks?…

Well, I am getting married in two weeks, to the most beautiful woman I have ever met. And it is, without doubt so far, the most important thing I have ever done. It isn’t something I do every day. Indeed I never intend to do it again. And it takes time and commitment to organise a wedding – ask my fiancée because she is doing most of it. But I also have quite a bit to contribute and that is taking up both time and mental space.

The reality is that there are only 24 hours in a day and so as the wedding takes up more and more time, something else has to give. It isn’t going to be work – we are in a recession and every business needs to work harder than ever at the moment just to stay afloat. Oh and I have a wedding to pay for! Sleeping and eating are two of my favourite activities so they have to stay. And Julie and I have already stopped going out much!

So running is going to take a back seat for a couple of weeks. I will still try to run every day, unless I can’t… and then I won’t. The truth of the matter is that for the next fortnight I have no idea what my budget is, so I will spend when I can and when I can’t, I won’t. I think that one of the characteristics of my running has been a lack of flexibility and that has been useful to a degree. But foregoing parties and meals out and nights in and dancing and drinking is all well and good, because they will come round again. But the wedding… that is a once in a lifetime thing and I am going to do everything I can to ensure my new wife has a wonderful day.

It’s only two weeks after all and then I’ll start training for the Bristol half… I’ll have a HUGE budget by then!