Feeds:
Posts
Comments

Archive for the ‘Export’ Category

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.

Read Full Post »

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.

Read Full Post »

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!

Read Full Post »

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.

Read Full Post »

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!

Read Full Post »

This week I ‘ave been mostly… running with a group of 30 people in the Algrave, in sunny Portugal. The trip was suggested by my coach, Nick Anderson, as an opportunity for a group of the runners he coaches to get together, have a week of running in the warmth of the Mediterranean and talk about running with Nick, Phoebe Thomas (the other half of RunningWithUs) and Bud Baldaro, a guru of endurance running and the man who introduced me to Nick Anderson.

I can now reveal that I was a little nervous about going. I feared, more than anything, that the week would turn into an adrenaline-fest with everyone trying to run the legs of everyone else and prove that they are ‘the man’! The reality is that I have never met such a wonderful bunch of open-minded, dedicated and thoughtful people in all my life. Apart from a couple of very minor blips the entire week was awash with support, humour, intelligence and a community spirit. And the running, while a little bit repetitive, was great.

The highlights for me were (in no particular order);

• recovery runs, run at 9 min/mile to start and which really genuinely ended with me feeling better than when I started
• two long runs where in the heat and on a hilly loop, I nailed 22 and 14 miles at sub-6 min/mile for extended sections
• two track sessions and a 6km time-trial (on the same cross country course where the recent euro-cross was run) in which I held my own and ran strongly
• running with people like Richard Gregory, Steve Scullion, Dionne Alan and Clayton Payne who are all superb runners and who gave me encourgement as well as a vest to chase
• having time to sit and talk to Nick and Bud about running and training in general and learning more about the sport I love
• discussing the next 12 months’ running with Nick (which was quite an interesting discussion – more on that soon!)
• taking the time to rest and relax between runs
• nailing 3 core and strength and conditioning sessions with Phoebe
• celebrating my birthday with my new found friends (but sadly not with Julie, which no amount of cake and “Happy Birthday To You” could make up for)

The list goes on and on. But the over-riding thing for me from the whole week, is the fact that I was surrounded almost entirely by positive people. The vibe was amazing and everyone was inspirational. I have really come home buzzing with excitement and really ready, both physically and psychologically, for the challenge ahead…. so here is to Portugal –

Read Full Post »

Today I ran a personal best at the Reading half marathon (hooray)… by 20 seconds (oh) which equates to just over a second a mile (erm…) and that has made me think about running, diminishing returns and what it takes to continue to improve.

A couple of weeks ago a compatriot and training partner ran his first race after months of injury and set a new personal best. However when he replied to my text asking how the race had gone, he did so without mentioning the new benchmark (which of course I knew, but I was hoping he’d mention it). And he said he was a bit disappointed. I must admit that I felt like sending an admonishing text back saying that he should be bloody pleased with a PB, but I think I knew, deep in my heart, what was going on. I will explain.

In really simple terms (‘cause I’m a simple guy) the law of diminishing returns states that if you continue to add more resources to a process there will be an initial increasing return that, as more resources is added, will start to tail off. That is not to say that the addition of resources will result in a fall in output (that is known as negative returns) but the rate of returns will start to flatten. A common example given is that of people building a car – add more people to the process and you’ll get more cars. But continue to add more people and you will still get more cars, but not at a proportional rate.

If you apply this to running, it means (to me anyway) that if you add more training you should continue to get faster but at a decreasing rate. Most novice runners – me included – take massive chunks of time off every time they race. This could due to be a number of factors:

  • fitness increases
  • experience increases
  • running economy increases
  • etc

However as the runner races more, each beneficial factor has a less magnificent impact until we are scrabbling around for seconds here and there.

Now I recognise that almost every factor in racing is non-linear – we are not machines after all – and that it is impossible to apply this type of model to human behaviour, the effect of the weather, the impact of illness, etc but I believe that every runner will acknowledge that running is like ‘bungee running’…

Bungee running? I hear you ask. Last year at a festival in central London, my fiancée and I saw a bungee running sideshow – an inflatable tunnel where people are tied to a bungee cord at the open end and try to run up the tunnel to snatch a prize at the other end. The initial few meters are easy (in a running analogy this is the first few races that a novice enters) with little resistance to forward momentum but as the bungee runner reaches the furthest extent of the cord, the effort needed to go further (in our running analogy to achieve a personal best) increases… until they are flung backwards to the open end of the tunnel, exhausted and defeated. Nice.

But there is something on our side. Something that started being discussed in the GB cycling squad and (surprise, surprise after their results in the Beijing Olympics) made it into the lexicon of the then Prime Minister, Gordon Brown; the aggregation of marginal gains. It is beautifully described here and essentially is the process whereby everything that could possibly have an impact on an outcome is systematically questioned and improved, if only by 1%. This, my friends, is where we find out improvement.

So what do I think this means?

I think it means making sure every training session is a close to perfect as possible (note I do not mean as fast as possible, or as long as possible. I mean as perfect as possible).
It means getting a massage.
It means stretching for a minute more or one more muscle than before.
It means going to bed 30 minutes earlier and making sure there are no distractions in the bedroom (well, apart from that obviously).
It means laying out your breakfast stuff the morning before an early run or a race.
It means thinking about everything that one can do that might have an impact in your A-race.

And where does that leave me? Well, I’m quite a long way up the bungee tunnel and the rope is quite tight. But I am not quite ready to slip back, not yet. I know that to get a little further up the tunnel I will have to work harder. But I am also going to work smarter. And I am going to accept that my days of 15 minute PBs are over and that from now on – if I am improving, I am improving and that is all I want.

Read Full Post »