My legs making my brain shut up

Anyone who is into cycling has heard of Jens Voigt. The legendary tough guy of Grand Tours who thrills fans with his breaks and his willingness to turn himself inside out in an effort to win a stage.

Probably his most famous quote is “Shut up legs” which is what he says to himself when his body tried to ease up in a race.

But when running I think I must be the anti-Jens Voigt because my legs aren’t the problem - it’s my stupid wimpy brain. Here’s a recent internal battle I had during an interval session on a treadmill.


Legs: Well this is going well. I feel like I’m flying. I might actually be faster than Quicksilver at this moment in time.
Brain: I need to look at the stopwatch.
Legs: Back off. You know it’s not over yet.

Brain: Need to. *checks stopwatch* Oh noes! There’s still 40 seconds left.

Legs: So what? We are Kool and the Gang right now.
Brain: Negatory. Ribs hurt - I think he’s getting a stitch
Ribs: He’s right. I defo hurt right now. So bad.
Legs: Brain’s fooling you Ribs. He’s trying to make you make me stop.

Brain: Ooo I am not. You take that back
Legs: Brain! Make Torso stand up straight!

Brain: *mumbles*
Ribs: Woah. That is loads better.
Brain: 20 seconds left. I can’t take it - I’m going to make Stomach throw up.
Legs: Do it then.
Stomach: Don’t bring me into this. I’m always on a light trigger anyway.
Brain: But there’s people watching. It’ll be embarrassing - you can’t really want me to throw up?
Legs: Look you fun-loving money-crusher. Throw up or shut up - we are doing this.
(nb: this was written before the watershed)
Brain: Aaargh. Arms have started to feel funny.
Arms: We don’t mind. It never lasts long.
Brain: I have spots in front of my eyes
Legs: No you don’t that’s a fly. We are doing this.
Brain: Woah. Only 5 seconds to go - may as well stop now.
Legs: I will come up there and kick you in the frontal lobe if you make Hands touch that dial.
Brain: I’m so thirsty.
Legs: *growls*
Brain: Wait a second. Wahey - we made it. I feel so alive
--- As the treadmill slows from 21 kph to 6kph, Nirvana’s Jesus Don’t Want Me For a Sunbeam comes on my headphones ---
Legs: See. Work hard, get your reward.
Brain: No way! You did not make that happen.
Legs. It’s Karma dude, it’s fucking Karma (nb: that sentence was written after 9pm)
Brain: I love you man.

Numbers, numbers everywhere.

I don’t want to bore you.
Meaningless metrics
I started this blog for me really but it’s been gratifying to see the number of people reading my blog and commenting on Twitter and Facebook.
So I don’t want this just to be a list of my training each week - it’s boring for you and for me.
Anyway, I have something on my mind and want to talk about Metrics. Some runners love them, some hate them.
But I’ll start with a quick summary of the week. This was a strong week of running which opened with a 23km long run.
I racked up a few decent runs to work and back and had my best ever interval session on the treadmill on Thursday. I’m able to hold higher speeds for longer and still have a strong ‘cool down’.
But on to metrics. One thing that is very important, in my career as well running, is to make the important measurable rather than making the measurable important and I think that is something people get wrong in all walks of life.
As I finished my treadmill run on Friday I knew that 8 - 10 more minutes more could have brought me above 50 miles training for the week and I was tempted. But to me that extra distance would have just been ‘junk miles’ - running with no purpose my run that day was just a gentle session aimed at getting my legs moving and then doing some stretching..

I will bust a gut to stick to numerical targets in long runs (ie distance covered) or in intervals (how long you hold a threshold split) but when it comes to adding a bit here or there to meet a notional target that might sounds important I can’t see the point.
We have so many ways of measuring these days with GPS watches and heart rate monitors but we need to save them for the quality runs and I think I’ll stick to my plan of making the important measurable.
But this week also showed me that I need not to think of measuring as something to do during and before my runs, I also need to do a bit more planning planning in my long runs.
I am keen to keep increasing my long runs by a few kilometres each week to make the step-up natural. But this week I got close to home and realised that I was going to come in at the same distance as the previous week.
I soon learned that adding distance to the end of a run is difficult - it’s hard not to retrace your steps and psychologically it’s difficult running past your house and back again and I found myself checking my watch far too frequently - what felt like a kilometres during out to be 250 metres and it took the pleasure out of the previous 20km.
I ended up with a good run but a more important lesson learned.

Top 10 Bugbears in Running.

My posts for the past three weeks have mostly been focussed on the details of my training. But now I’m into Week Three the extra miles have made me tired and grumpy so it’s time to post my Top 10 Bugbears in Running.

10. Headphone zombies: Walking to work is good exercise; music is motivational. I realise it smooths the commute if you can tune in when you walk but, for the love of all that is holy, try to walk in a straight line and don’t scream when someone overtakes you and wrenches you from the little bubble that you’ve been existing in for the past five minutes.

9. Bleeping watches: I had to run four miles of the Highworth 5 next to someone who had clearly been over ambitious when setting their virtual race partner. This meant their watch was blaring out “TOO SLOW, TOO SLOW, TOO SLOW” beeps every five seconds. The runner couldn’t hear though - they had headphones in so it was only the rest of us that had to suffer.

8. Overtakers who cut in: In a race it’s usually a sign they’re regretting the overtake already but still you nearly end up in a faceplant and have to check your stride. Here’s a thought: Overtake, do a shoulder check and then, if you are clear of the person you are overtaking, move back inside.

7. ‘Amusing’ revealing costumes: It seemed a good idea to put on that mankini or French maid’s outfit didn’t it? But now’s it’s cold, and you’re paranoid the crowds are laughing at your bits, and your fellow runners are sick of watching your wobbling, hairy buttocks. Think it through people, think it through.

6. Smug ultrarunners: We get it, you’ve ‘run’ 50 miles or maybe more but do you have to belittle everyone else’s achievements? “A marathon? That’s a sprint to to me”, “I don’t get out of bed for a 10km”. It’s horses for (running) courses Smugo and, yes we do all experience schadenfreude every time you post on Facebook to say you ‘got pulled out’ at 70 miles and failed to finish again.

5. Faddists: “No-one who knows anything about running wears shoes with thick soles (AKA “I’ve read Born To Run in the past five months), “Road running just means you're a sheep and a slave to the corporate machine (AKA “I’ve read Run Wild in the past five months). They’re great books and the authors are passionate advocates for specific lifestyles but when we see you limping along in your Vibram Five Fingers or wading through mud with sheer misery on your face just so you can ‘be part of the movement’, we generally feel pity. And we titter. A bit. On the inside. And sometimes on the outside a little too.
This actually is me. But only for illustrative purposes

4. Runners’ selfies: Do we have to see a picture of you every time you leave the house with running gear on? You’re not fooling anyone you know, we all suspect that it's just for show.

3. Triathlon runs: I love Triathlon and I love the fact that because I am a rubbish swimmer and average cyclist I spend most of my run flowing past people. But they’re never the right distance. The 5km run at Blenheim Triathlon is 5.4km and the 10km at London Triathlon is (or at least was) 9.4km. I can see a bike route is hard to get spot-on but when its a multi-lap run just sort it out will you? Thanks.

2.Supposed to be 10: But can't think of any more because

1. Running is AWESOME

Week Two: Finding a dead body and overcoming challenges

I thought I had found a case for Morse and his sidekick Lewis
After the euphoria of the first week of training, the nagging self-doubt in my brain expected a crash - a yang to my ying, a cloud to my silver lining.

Day one on Sunday felt anything but a good start as my 6.45 alarm pierced a hangover. We’d been at our friends’ house the night before and all of my pre-event promises of ‘I’m in training’ melted away and by midnight I was well-oiled. Not ‘lashed’ you understand but beyond what is sensible for what lay ahead.

But I dragged myself out of bed, switched on the head torch and lumbered out. The mild nausea and general shabby feeling was quickly forgotten as 2km in I spotted a body in a ditch.

Having been a news journalist for 15 years and an aficionado of Inpsector Morse it felt like a moment I had been expecting for a long time and I had to take long, deep breaths to summon the steel I needed to walk over.

My heart was beating so fast I felt dizzy as I rolled the corpse over. The shock of seeing the head loll to one side was a fierce but short-lived flame as I realised it was a scarecrow. We had very high winds the day before and it must have been blown from the field nearby.

No-one saw me make a huge fool of myself but it perked me up a treat and I resumed the run at a much higher pace. It was another lovely long run mixing roads with some trail running around Boars Hill - one of the few high spots in the disappointingly flat county of Oxfordshire.

After an hour my pace slowed and I realised that this was going to be a long, steady run as a night of beer and wine and too-little sleep does not make ideal prep. Still, I enjoyed it and started the week with a solid 20km under my belt.

My plan had been to run home from work on the Monday. But as I sat at my desk and looked at the pouring rain and strong winds I thought again. I was sure that I could make up the mileage on another day.

But then the realisation hit me that this was what I always told myself. I always give myself an ‘out’ - an excuse not to run, not to hit the peaks of training that you need to scale if you are to reach your potential. I remembered the words of champion ultrarunner Scott Jurek in his book Eat and Run: “Sometimes you just do things”, and it was enough; on went the headtorch and off I set.

It’s 13.9km to run home from work and I enjoyed most of it. My resilience as a runner is increasing every week and I recover more quickly than ever before but the last three km were tough. High winds, cold rain and stiff calves made it tough going but meant that I felt all the more smug when I got home.

I stiffened up a treat that night but, with my bike stuck at work, had no choice but to run back to work in the morning (which had always been my plan anyway). I backed off the pace and made it a very enjoyable and easy run.

I wanted to put in an interval session at the lunchtime but my mind was completely split. Am I risking injury? Am I doing too much too soon? But my thoughts went back to Jurek and I headed to the gym for my second run of the day.

I don’t always love treadmills but when its cold and raining, just slinging on some headphones and smashing out some high pace can be satisfying. I kept it short and sweet and only ran 4km but still managed four, one-minute intervals of very high pace. I made sure I did 20 minutes stretching and, safe in the knowledge that Wednesday was a rest day, was pleased that just three days into the week I had amassed nearly 38 km including a long run and an interval session.

I had a training course on the Thursday so couldn’t sneak off at lunchtime and I had a squash in the evening so couldn’t run when I got home so didn’t want to run in to work on the Friday morning. But, buoyed by the news that I will be running alongside Paula Radcliffe in the London Marathon, I decided to run home, play squash in the evening and then drive to work in the morning.

I was so badly beaten by my 64-year-old opponent in the squash match that needn’t have worried too much - I barely broke a sweat. My legs felt a bit heavy but I was beaten on skills (ie I have none vs he has lots) so the training could not be blamed.

Driving in on the Friday was a novelty ( I usually cycle every day) but I was pleased that I had managed to find a solution. I went eyeballs-out (runners’ speak for maximum effort) on the treadmill at lunchtime and finished the week on a real high.

I ran a total of 45.8miles (73.7km) this week which makes me feel like I might be becoming a ‘proper runner’. But even more satisfying was the way my training plan was challenged but I found a solution.

Taking the easy way out has been a bit of a recurrent theme in my life. Maybe it’s time for a change.

A poetic start to my London Marathon training

Me (right) finishing Abingdon in 2011
Week One of my training for the London Marathon has been completed.
It was a relief to finally get it under way. I was very surprised to get the acceptance notification in October and have been swinging between 'itching to get started' and 'what have I done' ever since.

But it started well. I have decided to roughly follow the Advanced training plan found in Runners World. It felt a bit cocky to go for Advanced but I am prepared to put in five days training and my 10km times show that I'm a decent runner these days.

I say roughly follow the plan because I have to work out what I can fit in and when, and a rigid plan worked out by someone who doesn’t know me or my situation is not going to work. So I am following the intensity of the plan but working out on which days I should do which activity.

I started on Sunday, January 4 with a long run. I like to get my long run out of the way on the first day as it takes the time pressure off the rest of the week.

My alarm rang at 6.45am and I donned a head torch and headed out. It was stunning. I started in the frost-spangled dark watching my breath form dense clouds in the beam of my light and soon the sky came to life with a stunning light blue with orange-tinged contrails arcing over my head.
It sounds poetic and it was. I startled a family of deer as I ran through woodland near Youlbury Scout Camp, was mocked by some cocky pheasants and challenged to race by a squirrel who scampered along the branches high above me.
My run even brought sunshine into my kids’ mornings as they loved the sight of Daddy walking into the house with two inch icicles hanging from his beard.
It was a great start and my pace was good. I completed 19.2km at 4.38min/km pace which was pretty satisfying. This is only my second marathon and follows Abingdon Marathon in 2011. I was pleased with my 3.37 then but this time I am hoping to sneak under that magical 3.15 that would make me Good For Age and guarantee a ballot-free entry for the next year.
After the good start that I did nice steady runs home from work one day and back in the following morning. That should have been 13.9km each but as I hit 9km on the evening run a cheery toot told me that my wife and kids were passing in the car and common sense told me that this was fate telling me not to go too big too soon.
I played squash on Tuesday. Probably not the best sport for a marathon runner in training as it’s pretty high impact but what can I say, I love it! I also think that all that lunging must be good for the legs.
I forced myself to rest on Wednesday and then smashed out an intense interval session on the treadmill. A good build with 6 threshhold minutes in the middle with a solid cool down. It was inspiring to run so fast and have to force myself to stop.
I was pretty wiped on Friday so settled for an easy five km followed by a 15 minute stretch in the gym and then closed the week off with a 5km at Harcourt Hill Park Run. I arrived nearly a minute late but still ran as fast as I could in the high winds and ploughed through the field.
All-in-all a very satisfying week which totalled six runs, racking up just over 38 miles.
I didn’t keep a training record of my Abingdon Marathon prep but I’m pretty sure that I only hit that mileage in about week 9 or 10 and the interval work was never as high quality.
It’s a long way to go but exciting to get off to a good start.

No fitness resolutions this year

2015 marks the first January in a decade none of my New Year’s Resolutions have anything to do with exercise.

Me (Number 3) at Eynsham 10k in 2014 - showing the need to work on my game face. Picture by Barry Cornelius
For the last 10 years I have always pledged to run more, swim more, bike more, stretch more, squat more or some such exercise-related promise. Not this year. This year feels different because I’m different.

In the last 12 months I’ve transitioned from someone who wants to get fit and maybe get a Personal Best in the odd race to an athlete whose fitness is a constant 80 %. I am now motivated to top that up with a structured training plan in the build up to a race; as evidenced by the fact I PB’d in every triathlon I completed in 2014.

I compete in five or six triathlons a year but running has become a stronger-and-stronger discipline for me. I finally ducked under the 40minute mark for a 10km in November 2013 with a 39.41 and have kept my pace at about that ever since (actual times vary owing to course profile, weather, course length etc).

But the biggest event in 2015 – my A Race to use the proper phraseology – will be the London Marathon. I have entered eight times and thought that I was destined never to get in but finally I received the long-awaited acceptance magazine.

So this meant my motivation was even stronger over Christmas – traditionally a period when my hard-earned fitness drops considerably – and this year I managed to limit the calorie intake while keeping up three runs a week over the Christmas fortnight.

I have mapped out a 16-week training plan based upon, but not strictly adhering to, those found in Runners World. I have a 10km race at the end of February and a 20km race booked for the end of March and am interested to see how fast I can go with serious training to build on 12 months of consistent fitness.

That’s where my New Year’s Resolution of 2015 also comes in. I am a writer by trade, for newspapers and magazines, a blogger for fun but one who has let life overcome the urge to write for far too long. What better to blog about than how much I’m enjoying the build up to the London Marathon?

This blog won’t just be populated by my training talk – I am far too opinionated to let other opportunities pass me by – but it has been the spark I needed to get writing.

Thanks for reading. Comment if the spirit moves you.