Friday 26 December 2014

Christmas Day parkrun

Our plans for this years Christmas break, as I'm sure is the case with many other folks, were to see both of our families.  This would involve driving the length of the country to get from one family home to the other.  My parents got the short straw this year and Christmas No.1 was scheduled in for Sunday 21st December down on the South coast.  Along with the standard Christmas Day traditions, my family indulged me by joining me for a run along the sea front.  I think this was a product of me being a total running bore over the past year and they finally submitted.  I was joined on a 2.4mile run by my Wife, Dad and Brother (@The_Dogfish) which was a bit of a career highlight for me.  My Mum and Daughter were in support, walking along the front and collected Dad on the return leg to shorten his efforts.  I'm so proud of them, especially my Dad and Brother who were very much out of their comfort zone but intend to start doing a bit of running, starting off by taking it easy under my instruction.

It was on the 345mile, 8hr journey from the South Coast to Newcastle where I read Mark's latest #RoadToSub20 blog post and a realisation crept over me of just how far behind the prize I was.  As stated in Mark's post, the most recent direct competition between the three of us was on the 1st November at Brockwell Park where my time of 22'07" fell 1'07" short of Tommy's offering.  The numbers paint a desperate picture but this is no paint by numbers situation.  That day at the finish line, Tommy looked spent. I probably did too but felt like I'd not had a great run.  You know the runs, where you give it your all but due to some unaccounted for variable the figures fall short of the perceived effort.  In essence I felt sure that my training was coming along better than the times suggested.

It was decided in that moment the Christmas Day Newcastle parkrun would be my proving ground where I would give it my all and try to realise a time that reflected where I felt I was with training.  On 28th December 2013 I'd got a time of 23'40" at Newcastle so my initial plan this time around was to aim for 22mins.  On the day I was happy to see how many people were out in fancy dress, I would have liked the parkrun website to have included a 'fastest Santa' icon on their results pages.  Maybe next year.  Also a huge thank you to all the volunteers who gave their time on Christmas morning to help us lot run around a park.

Jennie and I preparing to run. The Father-in-law looking firmly in charge of my Daughter.

I very much enjoyed Newcastle parkrun, it's a very open course on the Town Moor, with a downhill finish and is a single lap, pretty rare in my limited experience.  And the results are in.... 21'03" taking more than a minute off my previous all time best parkrun time!  I don't quite know how to explain this other than it was just one of those days where everything came good.  I think run times have a tendency to do this, even if you have a regular training pattern I believe that the body has good days and bad days, so when the moons aline you get a great performance followed by a lot of trying to replicate it.  This was a fantastic way to start Christmas Day and I'm still on a high from such a surprise improvement.

1 minute 3 seconds to shave off the time, the #RoadToSub20 continues.


Follow my progress on social media

Nike+ ---> Search Ade808

Wednesday 24 December 2014

The one where Mark stops writing in the third person

The first time that Tommy, Adrian and I competed together after the wager was made, it was a disappointment.  It was my first Parkrun back following my time out from exercise mentioned in a previous post, and I declared that I would be deliberately taking it slow, so as not to do myself any further injuries.  This was partially true, but a bigger contributing factor was me not wanting to show how much pace I'd lost.

With that disclaimer, it meant that it was a straight race between Adrian and Tommy to determine who was the favourite for the #Roadtosub20 crown.  In truth though, there was no race.  Tommy easily claimed victory in a time of 21.43 with Adrian a minute and fifteen seconds behind.  A realistic benchmark, or just a bad day at the office for Adrian?  The second race would surely be closer...

It was...but only just.  Two weeks later and Brockwell Park was the venue for the second 'three man shootout'.  I turned up with a dreadful cold, and naively assumed that I could still run a PB...I couldn't and I spent the rest of the day in bed, regretting my decision.  Adrian was out for revenge, but could only manage to finish 65 seconds behind Tommy who stormed home in exactly 21 minutes.

This has put Tommy as favourite for the title, but leaves him with an interesting dilemma: the nature of the bet means that the longer it runs, the bigger the prize (rules here).  So it is in Tommy's interest to delay his attempt to the very last moment he can.  In theory, the perfect tactic is to identify that a competitor will break the 20 minute mark, and then slip in a week before and do it.  Of course, this is a risky strategy, but the ball is in his court.

I mentioned in a previous post that this bet might be all over by Christmas.  Given I'm typing this on the 24/12, then that won't happen.  However, it is looking like spring/summer of 2015 is a realistic target for all three men to break the 20 minute barrier.

Merry Christmas to all the runners out there.  And to Tommy: have another mince can afford to.

Friday 7 November 2014

Trip report: Bupa Great South Run 2014

It has been commented upon that the cobwebs on this blog have well and truly set in.  Well here I am, having a virtual clear out by reporting on my experience of the 25th Great South Run in Portsmouth.

I had a very firm goal in mind.  My training runs would often return a pace of around 8:30 minutes per mile.  The 10 miler on the 26th October would be furthest than I've run in a good few years but it will also be a lot flatter than my training runs around Hilly Fields so I figured I could maintain the 8:30m/m for a goal time of 1h 25m.

Given that we were staying down on the south coast we thought a little parkrun tourism would be in order.  Bognor Regis was the chosen course and we were 4 strong, raring to get a new parkrun destination under our belts.  The course could be described as hectic, it's a 4 lapper (well 3 and a little one) but it has to be said that the marshalling was excellent and at no point did I question which way to go.  I did see one girl head into the finishers funnel on lap 3 only be be told by her dad to keep going, that must have been heart breaking for her.  

Me and my friend Jo smiling prior to setting off.

All the literature sent through in the post suggested that we should aim for an 8:30 arrival (same as my target pace) to avoid the traffic associated with 25,000 runners descending on the city.  We thought that they were erring on the side of caution and so we aimed for 9:00.  After getting stuck in the traffic associated with 25,000 runners, we finally made it to the start line with about 20 min to spare.  Not the most stressful journey I've had but we certainly cut it a little close for comfort.

I took my place in the orange wave with a fair amount of nervous energy.  I'd received some encouraging messages from some of the Hilly Fields parkrun crew which helped but I'd not run more that 8 miles in training and was anxious about how the last 2 miles would pan out.  Jo Pavey fired the starting gun and we were off.

I have to admit that I was caught up in the moment as everyone raced away at a blistering pace.  I was running 8:00m/m and going backward, I couldn't bring myself to slow down any more.  Anyway, I was feeling good, let's just hope that I don't pay for this further on I thought.  It took until mile 2 before I started making progress through the crowd, and it felt good to be overtaking people again.  I maintained the 8:00m/m pace and decided to do so for as long as possible.  Why break the habit of a lifetime, start fast and hope to hold on. I pushed on enjoying the scenery, the ambience and the supporters lining the route.  Kids at the side held out their hands for sweaty high fives as runners passed by.  I obliged by high fiving a couple of kids in a row only to hear one of the parents say 'better wash your hands later', good advice I'm sure but they could have waited until I was out of ear shot.

Miles 5 - 7 were awesome!  Lucozade had set up a distribution station just after the half way mark and as I swigged from the bottle I couldn't help but to exclaim 'Sweet Nectar', it truly was the most welcomed drink / sugar hit.  Then I passed my support team consisting of my daughter, wife, dad and Mark Isham of #RoadToSub20 fame (still in recovery) and was spurred on by their cheer.  I was flying, the endorphins were rushing, I was gonna win this whole race!

Then my legs started to tire; it started gradually but it was definitely noticeable.  By mile 8 as we turned onto the sea front I was sure that I'd stared too fast and I was getting my comeuppance. What would a real runner do I pondered? Press on and ignore the pain, only 16ish minutes to keep going if I stay at this speed.  The distance markers came slowly, 1 mile to go, 800m, 400m, through a chicane and the 200m marker and finish were in sight.  I had no sprint finish in me, I was spent but elated to cross the finish line in 2655th position with a time of 1hr 20mins 20secs.

I found my support team and we waited to cheer on Jo who started in the green wave.  In doing so I heard a shout from the sea of runners 'Adrian - BrockleyPoker' from Roni, a fellow Hilly Fields parkrunner who also beasted her target time. Congrats to her.

What a fantastic day.  The event had the slick organisation you would expect from such an established brand and I had achieved my primary objective.  Being into the numbers and stats, as I am, I couldn't help but feel a pang of disappointment not to go sub 1hr 20mins which would have equated to a sub 8:00 pace. I was, however, buoyed by my 5k splits:
  • 0 - 5k = 25:17
  • 5 - 10k = 25:03
  • 10 - 15k = 24.31
I'd achieved a negative split which, given that I thought I started out too fast, is very encouraging.  I very much hope I can sign up to the 2015 race and maybe I can aim for sub 1hr 15 if I keep improving.  There, it's on the internet now so I guess I have to do it!


Follow my progress on social media

Nike+ ---> Search Ade808

Thursday 16 October 2014

The Importance of Infection Control

Mark was feeling glum. He had watched the last of the summer weather fade into autumnal gloom. He’d sat by, unable to maintain the progress that his competitors were making, with Adrian breaking his PB, and Tommy revealing his innovative training plan (more on both those subjects in separate posts). His brand new running shoes had sat in his hallway gathering dust, as for three weeks he had barely left his sofa. 

It was not for lack of willing – far from it. Instead, it was inability. A minor, but nevertheless disruptive operation had prevented him (on doctor’s orders) from doing any exercise. And for the period afterwards the thing he missed the most was not his colleagues, nor a Friday night beer; it was running. There were mixed opinions on the speed of Mark’s recovery. The doctors were pleased that everything was coming along as well as can be expected, however Mark’s belief was that his recovery was painfully slow. The thought that his #RoadtoSub20 counterparts were getting further and further away from him (and that he was powerless to prevent it), was difficult to take. 

In many sports it is often the performance of others that determines our own success (in football for example, a striker could be marked out of the game by a defender that is better than him or her). Stating the obvious, running is such an individual endeavour that one can only be accountable for one’s own performance. And any ground lost to opponents is challenging to make up. 

During his period of invalidity he’d dabbled with Parkrun volunteering, both marshalling and barcode scanning (resulting in him unknowingly scanning the barcode of a British record holder). This salved his conscience, but did little to satiate his desire for athletic improvement. But things were looking up: the healing process seemed to be nearing its conclusion. The volunteer roster at his local Parkrun for this Saturday was full, meaning that there was no space for him. Perhaps this is a sign that it is time for his return? 

This left him with the kind of dilemma that proper athletes all over the world experience: Is it better to come back early (but run the risk of setting an injury off again), or delay the return until it is absolutely clear that no damage will be done? Doctor’s instruction was that no exercise should be done for 4-6 weeks…but what do doctors know? 

It is striking that this is even a factor in Mark’s mind. A year ago, given the option to put his feet up for a month, he would have done just that (although in truth it would have been difficult to tell that he was doing anything different from his normal life). Indeed it is a testament to how infectious the running bug really is. And seemingly no amount of post surgery antibiotics could clear it up.

Tuesday 16 September 2014

What is Tommy doing?

In a previous post to this blog, Adrian identified the strategic similarities of this bet, and a game of poker.  In it, he outlined how he suspected that Mark might have shown his hand too early, and he felt (in the spirit of fairness), he should do the same.  

In fact, he recently revealed his 5K track time (which is the fastest surface one can run on).  It indicated there is still some work to do.  But he has been setting PBs left right and centre at Parkruns. 

Mark his continued his startling improvement, although Adrian got revenge from the Swindon experience, beating him by 20 seconds at the Hilly Fields Parkrun (the name indicates the difficulty of the course), setting another PB in the process.

But the third competitor is noticeable by his silence: just what exactly is Tommy's plan?  Since this blog has started, he has run precisely zero Parkruns.

This could be for one of two reasons
  1. He is training in secret, and keeping his powder dry
  2. He can't be bothered
Early indications show that he has adopted option 2.

Either way, it gives the same conclusion.  If he realises that a sub 20 time is within his reach, the it may be in his interest to hold back, until the others get close, thereby increasing the size of the prize.  Of course this is true for Adrian and Mark as well. 

Time will tell whether this tactic pays off for Tommy.  It probably won't.

Friday 12 September 2014

A valuable lesson from Eastern Europe...

As I write this I am sitting in a generic hotel room, in the beautiful (but currently very wet) city of Budapest.  Perhaps it is the generous local hospitality (Palinka), or the fact that when one is travelling on business one spends more time thinking about home, but I felt moved to add another post to this blog.  No doubt for our committed fans, the near fortnight of silence has been deafening, and difficult to take.  For that, I apologise.
It has been an interesting two weeks.  My preparations for the Great North Run reached their climax when I returned to the site of my inaugural Parkrun, and defeated my 8 year-old nemesis (The Story so Far), by a clear three minutes.  I reflected on my improvement with some pride, knowing that my #RoadToSub20 competitors had both opted for a lie in on this particular Saturday morning.
In truth though, my real focus was a long way north, as I was frantically wondering if I was going to be able to make from Newcastle to South Shields without the help of St John’s Ambulance staff.  I remind you dear reader, I had only started running at the beginning of this year, and had never run anywhere close to 13 miles before.  I was (by my own admission) horrendously under-prepared.
But time waits for no man, and the day came.  In spite of issues with equipment, I took my place on the start line with 50,000 others.  It was a warm day.  Sunburn became an issue before the gun had even fired, and organisers were suggesting it may not be a race for personal bests.
What happened next was something of a blur.  Great North Runners are made to feel akin to rockstars, with the wonderful people of the northeast lining the streets, handing out water, sweets, oranges, and, in one case, beer.  What I do know is that I made it round, in just a shade over 2 hours (32 seconds over to be exact), and a mere 12,333 places behind Mo Farah (he got a better start then me, and I was always struggling to catch up).
Two days later, and I’m on a plane to Budapest, legs still aching, but still feeling the pride from my achievement.  On arrival, I meet a whole load of locals, and it turns out that running is big business in these parts.  Nearly all of them listed it as a hobby.  I got talking to one about my antics on the previous weekend.  In near perfect English she said:
“Aha, I am running a half marathon in a couple of weeks’ time, with two other friends.  We are each doing 7km of it”
I wondered if that really counted as running a half marathon, but nevertheless I remained polite and engaged her in conversation further.  It turned out she was also new to running.  Others in the group joined in, and we shared our stories of why we did it (ranging from “I felt I had to do something active since I sit at a desk all day” to “I just need to spend some time away from my wife and children occasionally!”).  Of course, all of us were different standards, and had different targets.
I reflected on this, and a startling moment of clarity hit me: In running (as in any sporting endeavour) we don’t compete with others, we compete with ourselves.  If we continue to see an improvement we are happy, if we don’t we get angry, unhappy or despondent, possibly to the point of giving up.  But if we keep going further, faster, or both we have succeeded, regardless if we are last in the race.
Adrian, Tommy and I are lucky, in that the three of us are broadly similar in our athletic ability, but in truth, there are so many variables that decide this, and most of them we have no control over.  We simply seek to control what we can.
So, really what amateur athletes need to identify, is how they can get the best out of themselves.  For the three of us, it is a friendly wager, but for others it might be that they can one day make it all the way round a half marathon with their friends, or that as they get fitter they spend more time out of the house and away from screaming children.
Perhaps the age old adage associated with sport is the best one here: “Always remember why you started it in the first place.”  So I wish my 8 year-old competitor well, and I hope that, no matter how good she gets, she always remembers why she does it.

Sunday 31 August 2014

Know when to hold'em, know when to fold 'em

If you have found your way to this blog through Twitter then there is every possibility that you've astutely deducted from my Twitter handle BrockleyPoker, that I’m partial to a game of poker every now and again. Poker is a beautiful game that requires strategy and guile. You manoeuvre your way around your opponents deceiving, trapping and if you’re good enough, outplaying them to win cold hard cash.

Why am I telling you about poker on a running blog you ask? Good question. I’ve played poker with Mark Isham before and he’s a sound player, he plays his strong hands well and gets rid of the rags, a winning strategy in the long term. However, when it comes the #RoadToSub20 bet that the 3 of us have entered into, Mark’s strategy has let him down. In short, he’s shown his hand too early. Let me elaborate…

Let’s be clear about this, there is more to running quickly than running quickly. To shave the required minutes and seconds from our 5k times will take a well thought out training routine. But almost more importantly, like in poker, we must manoeuvre our way around our competitors, using psychological warfare to convince them that they have the upper hand so they think that they don’t need to train.

On Saturday 23rd August, Mark and I were attending a wedding, and as has become a bit of a tradition we used this as an excuse to do a bit of parkrun tourism. Swindon was the location and Mark set off at a good pace. Historically I’ve been significantly quicker than Mark, pretty much only because I got into running a little before him, but my times were always a minute or two faster. Having caught up with him half way round the first lap I managed a breathy ‘You started fast’ to which I got a reply ‘Just trying to get round some of the traffic’, a reasonable response. As the run progressed we both settled into a rhythm and although the pace felt quick, I didn’t feel beyond my aerobic limit. Coming towards the latter part of the last lap I was thinking that Mark would be sure to tire soon, after all, how could he keep up with me when I kick home for the finish? Up the slight incline towards the end we go and finally Mark fades (Inevitable, I thought smugly), I push on towards my victory slightly disturbed by what a valiant effort Mark had made. Then ~400m to the finish line when I’ve cranked it up to maximum I hear heavy breathing and a long stride catching fast. I was astounded that Mark had so much left in the tank to kick so hard for the finish line. I had no response and had to settle for the runner up position. In the end Mark ended 5 positions and 9 seconds ahead of me.

On the car journey back to the hotel Mark reveled that for his training for the Great North Run he’d been doing interval training and long runs. Ultimately he’d adopted a properly structured training regime! The cards are well and truly on the table, Tommy and I now have a clear view of what we’re up against.

There is a small twist in the tale. I too had dabbled with interval training. I’d attended a training session with Kent AC at Ladywell Arena and plan to go weekly. I had intended to keep this information from my competitors as part of my devious strategy but Mark’s overly enthusiastic run got me thinking. Is this bet, like poker, about deceiving your competitors for financial gain or is it about spurring on your friends to a shared goal? Clearly it’s about the money. But on reflection, I am aware that others don’t have as much gamble as I do so I decided to ruin my strategy and come clean to the fact that I am taking this bet seriously and plan on putting in the work.

The #RoadToSub20 continues.

Friday 29 August 2014

The story so far...

Since the wager was made, a number of things have happened. This should bring you almost completely up to date. First, some background.

It’s fair to say that Mark has always been late to pick up on fads, fashions and hobbies. He often walks a line dangerously close to being deliberately contrary. And that was the case with running. Adrian and Tommy had been taking part in Parkruns for a number of weeks before they finally persuaded habitual nee-sayer Mark to join them. And it was a long way over 20 minutes. In fact, Tommy and Adrian had been finished for some time when they eventually saw Mark giving every last fibre of his being in the finishing straight to narrowly beat an 8 year-old girl.

But that sparked interest in Mark. And a desire to improve. Talking to the others it became clear they had a similar experience. The thrill of beating one’s PB after training hard (and the disappointment of getting slower following a week of over-indulgence), is a drug that is difficult to quit, and all three men had become addicted.

Adrian, Tommy and Mark were all around the age of 30, all in reasonable (but not excellent) shape and all agreed that they wished they had got into running much earlier in their lives.

And perhaps that is the point of this blog: if it can convince others to take up the hobby earlier then it is a success. Or perhaps we are just three blokes with too much time on their hands, and no creative outlet.

It was (by coincidence) exactly 6 months after Mark’s inaugural Parkrun that the bet was made. By that stage it had become something of an addiction (in many cases a Friday night on the town was declined in order to get a good night’s sleep for the next morning).

At the time, Tommy was the quickest and fittest. He opted to cycle to work, whilst the other two spent too much time in their cars. But, he is crippled by that most destructive of injuries for runners: laziness. Many a time he has opted to remain encased within his duvet while the other two have got up and ran.

Adrian was second quickest. Last time competed against Tommy he finished only 5 seconds behind. However, he has recently had a child. This is great news for Adrian, but even better news for the other two, as the sleepless nights and constant fretting has slowed him down.

Mark was, by some measure, the slowest. But, he is by far the most stubborn, belligerent and competitive of the three men, and is training for a half marathon. This has sped him up markedly, to the point where he beat Adrian for the first time last week. More on that from Adrian later.

Looking at the athlete profiles, the winner should be a foregone conclusion, but make no mistake, this will be close. We don’t have any idea who will win, or even when the time will be registered: it could be all done by Christmas, or we could still be talking about this in 2016.

The #RoadToSub20 continues.

Tuesday 26 August 2014

How it all began...

And so it came to pass that on the 11th July 2014, at the Wheatsheaf Pub in Tooting, a wager was made. Three slightly drunk men, egged on by their sober friend, decided to monetise their running challenge.

The men’s names: Adrian Dracup (asbestos killer extraordinaire), Mark Isham (serial cricketer) and Tommy Ferguson (hot nerd). All three had been running for some time. All three had been doing Saturday morning 5ks. And all three had general thoughts that at some stage it would be nice to run one in less than 20 minutes.

It was the occasion of Mark’s girlfriend’s birthday. People had flocked from all points across South London to pass on their good wishes, give middle-class gifts and eat burgers out of brioche buns. But it soon became clear that something was troubling Adrian:

“There must be a way we can gamble against our running” he exclaimed.

An anxious crowd was questioning: “But how?”

Over the next hour debate sparked among the group. What potential was there? Would the spirit of competition destroy the friendship they had forged? Does that even matter if there’s the potential to win cold, hard cash?

Finally a consensus came. Each competitor would put a pound a week into an account held by Adrian. This would continue until one of the athletes finally completes a 5k run in under 20 minutes. The rules governing this are few, but important:
  • The time must be completed at an official Parkrun event. This ensures that the times are independently awarded. 
  • The location of the event is unimportant. Part of the skill is knowing which event is the fastest. 
  • The athlete does not need to declare beforehand that they are attempting it on a given day. 
  • The first person to run the distance in less than 20 minutes wins the whole pot, as well as adulation from their competitors. 
  • If multiple athletes run under 20 minutes on the same day, the quickest wins the pot, regardless of respective difficulty of the run 

So, £3 per week, into a central pot, winner takes it all. The #RoadToSub20 begins.