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.