My First Marathon (Andrew)

I don’t remember why I entered the Edinburgh Marathon 2003. I was running regularly, four to five times a week, and, having just started a new job as a trainee lawyer, I would use my lunchtime to get out the office and run four miles. Ha, I would think, you can’t chain this free spirit to a desk! 

There were only a handful of people who were known as runners. One man invited me to run a 10k with him and on the way there he explained how he would unstitch his trainers, cut the fabric and stitch them back together to get a lighter more comfortable shoe. When I asked him how fast he expected to run the race he explained in minute detail the exact second he was aiming for and the likelihood of hitting it depending on the prevailing wind and humidity. He was a real runner. And by real runner I mean a twat.

Another office runner had run the London Marathon the year before. How did you do that? I said. “One foot at a time,” he said, “how else do you do it?”. I liked his attitude and I think it was him who inspired me to enter the Edinburgh Marathon because how hard could it be when it was just one foot at a time. If I’d only asked the other man, I would have known exactly how hard it would be – roughly 138,799 feet harder.

To prepare for the race, I tried to follow a marathon training programme with regular long runs and increasing distances each week. That programme lasted about one week as I’ve never been good at consistent long runs. Instead I would try and run my regular four-mile lunch run faster on the basis that if I could run part of the race faster then, when I slowed down, my average would still be okay.

I managed one 20 mile run before the marathon – and I was feeling confident. Not only was I not drinking I’d also given up sweets. No chocolates, no cakes, no donuts, no sugar. It was horrible and I’ve never done it again – you need a treat when you eat. 

I can’t remember who was meant to run with me. In my mind, Iain was always running it, but I also know that he never intended to finish it and was planning to quit at the half way point. But what I didn’t know was that he had been drinking the night before – though I should have guessed when he had a bacon roll and a packet of yum yums for breakfast. You need a treat when you drink too…

I was excited to run. I was ready. But I also knew that like Iain I would be running on fumes. Though his were at the start and mine would come when I hit ‘The Wall’. 

There’d been a lot of talk about The Wall before the race. I’d checked with the London Marathon runner and he explained how at some point I would feel like I couldn’t run any further and no matter how much I tried I wouldn’t be able to push on. It was like hitting a wall as you would just come to a stop.

For me that happened at mile 16, which just goes to show the difference training can make. His wall was at mile 20 because he’d trained more. Mine was at mile 16 because I thought if I could run a half marathon in 1 hour 40 minutes then I should just double my time and I’d be home in time to have a mid-morning kilo box of Quality Street.

Instead, at mile 16, I felt all energy leave my legs. I switched to a walk/run strategy of walking 10 miles after I’d already ran 16 miles. In the last mile I tried to run when I saw a man in a diving costume ahead. After checking he was running by spotting his race number – you can’t be too careful in Edinburgh on a Sunday morning when stags are stumbling home – I tried to beat him with the thought that I couldn’t lose to a deep-sea diver. Not knowing at this point that he’d started seven days ahead of me I was gutted to lose the final sprint on the Meadowbank athletic track to what I thought was a man who managed to run faster than me in wellies and a snorkel. 

My original aim was four hours with the thought that I should probably beat 3 hours 30 minutes as that would still be slower than two half marathons. In the end, I walked across the line in 4 hours 11 minutes. Just behind the diver and just ahead of two rhinos. 

And within 30 seconds I’d ended my ‘no treats’ fast by eating an entire chocolate muffins in two bites.

Winner, you are a Loser (Andrew)

How do get slower by going faster? There’s a riddle for you.

If you’re a physicist then you would probably talk about how time slows down the faster you go and you’d try and convince me that Interstellar is a great film and not a deeply silly film about a mumbling Matthew McConaughey knocking over a bookcase for three hours. If he can push books then why doesn’t he push a keypad and type out his message?! It should have been called InterTheBin.

If you’re a novelist you might say how time slows down when you’re about to get shot. That life flashes before you’re eyes and you might have some meaningful flashback or revelation. Which isn’t true. The closest I’ve got to being shot is standing on a football pitch as a mishit ball shoots straight to my groin. The only thought that went through my head was “don’t scream like a girl when it hits me!”. It did and I did. I think I still speak with a falsetto.

But in triathlon going slower by going faster describes what happens when you’re moved up a coaching group. On a Wednesday morning I’ve been quite happily swimming in the masters lane – a lane for people who swim 1 min 53 seconds per 100m or slower. There’s also a performance lane for those who swim 1 min 42 or faster.

I swim around 1 min 50 seconds which means I swim at the front of the masters but I’m not fast enough for the performance. I’m like Matthew McConaughey’s accent – neither fast nor slow but some drawl in between.

Until today.

Today I was ‘promoted’ to the Performance lane permanently. I now swim at the back of a bunch of swimmers who all swim faster than me.

I also need to swim further. As they swim faster they cover more distance in the same time as the masters lane so will swim, for example, 150m instead of 100m.

“You won’t go faster unless you swim with people who are faster than you!”

Which was nice of the coach to say but I’d never asked to go faster or further as, again like Matthew McConaughey, I’m quite happy with my limited range.

Instead I spent this morning slipping further and further behind people who could swim much faster than me and while I was going faster it sure felt like I was going an awful lot slower.

How fit is fit? (Andrew)

People always say they’d like to be more fit – but what does that mean?

If you watch the Olympics you’ll see the finest athletes in the world (and shotputters). Fast athletes, strong athletes, one who can run for hours and other who get tired after sprinting 100 metres. They’re athletes. They must be fit. Yet, what is fit? Can they all be fit when they all excel in different areas?

That’s why I think there’s no right way to define fitness. One person’s idea of fitness can be completely different from someone else’s ideas. Instead, I’m sure we can all agree that there are instead many wrong ways to describe fitness and these include:

Mirror fit

This is the type of fitness that means you looks good in a mirror selfie (which isn’t a selfie – it’s a photo of a mirror!). You’re someone who doesn’t like t-shirts with sleeves. And never runs, because, if you did, you would know that the sleeve is the perfect thing to use to wipe the sweat off your face. Or a dribbly nose, when you have a cold.  Compare this with…

Frit fit

You can run, you can cycle, but no matter what, you will never ever take your top off especially when standing in front of a mirror. …

Coffee fit

This is the type of fitness that only requires you to own a hoodie, a takeaway skinny latte and to stand beside the free weights while someone else lifts them. You do your drinking in the gym but compare this with…

Cake fit

You can run, you can cycle, but not matter what you do, you eat an entire chocolate cake when you get home because that 5 minutes on the treadmill meant “you can!”

But most of us are, I suspect, are just normal. We’re not mirror fit, coffee fit or any type of fitness but “bit fit”. As in we like to do a bit and we’re… well.. a bit fit!

The Funk (Andrew)

James Brown had the funk. In fact he had over 37 songs with the words funk or funky in them. Which is a lot of songs to talk about what it feels like to get stuck in a rut while training and not feel like going out.

For the last couple of weeks I’ve been struggling a bit with running. I’ve managed to keep to my long run at the weekend but my weekday runs have lagged. I don’t have my normal rush to get changed when I get home and to head out.

I’m in the funk.

I think it stems from trying to do too much in February. I had two half marathons in four weeks, the Glentress Trail and Balloch to Clydebank. In between I managed two weeks of training with no breaks for a rest, including three days of running more than an hour each night. It was too much. And I knew that at the time but, I was away for work, and one of my colleagues kept asking if I wanted to go out and I couldn’t say: “I feel a bit tired tonight”.

I’m a guy. We don’t get tired. 🙂

But, it was a bit much and has led to a couple of weeks where my motivation has put it’s feet up.

Not me, I could run for miles!

That’s the guy talking again. 🙂

So, having identified that I’m in a funk, I’ve diagnosed the only known cure. Just like James Brown, we just need to “Get Up!” when we feel the funk.

Sitting down doesn’t help anyone. Sometimes you just need to get out and try and change things. A new route. A new distance. A new time to go out. Shake things up a bit and see what happens.

In my case, I’ve tried a few flatter routes to counteract the hills I was trying to run in preparation for Glentress. Some simple routes that make me think how easy it is to go out.

Cheat runs as I discussed here.

But, most importantly, just “Get up!”

Massage Mishaps (Andrew)

My clothes are neatly folded and I’m lying face-down wearing nothing but my pants. There is an awkward silence as a pretty young girl in immaculate make-up considers the word “groin”.

It’s at this point I regret  my choice of Bugs Bunny boxers. Her eyes flick down and I feel less than magnificent.

It’s not uncomfortable. This is not my first massage, but it is my first with a woman.

Normally, it’s Steve the Physio. Steve the Physio is practical. Steve the Physio doesn’t do small talk. “Groin?” he asks. And when I nod, he roughly pulls my legs apart and, before going to work, sternly tells me to “Cup the balls, and pull them back”.

Which is not a phrase I’ve ever had to use, not that it would fit any other social situation.

“Andrew, can you pass the English mustard?”

“First, cup the balls, and pull them back!”

“Andrew, do you have any spare change for the bus?”

“FIRST, cup the BALLS! And pull them back!”

“Andrew, is this extended flight of fantasy becoming increasingly laboured”

“CUP THE BALLS AND PULL THEM BACK!”

But Steve the Physio is on holiday, and last week I was presented with the slim and attractive Muriel, and the thought of asking her to work the groin is making me feel ever so uncomfortable. Not that it should. She’s a professional; I’m a customer; and this is NHS approved physiotherapy clinic not a cat-house (which is second only to a duck-house in dodgy MP expense claims).

I think of saying nothing. Saying nothing is okay during a massage. No one expects a running commentary or political discussion. Small talk is fine. In fact, anything is fine, except for “ooooooh!”, “aaaaaahhhh!” and “just a lit bit”.

But my inner thigh has tightened and, if I am to resume running, I need her fingers to work their magic. So, when she approaches, when she lays her gentle hands upon my back, and asks “According to Steve’s it’s normally your groin that’s the problem, is that right?”

I don’t say: “Yes, if by problem you mean it’s too big!”.

Instead I nod, glad that she has gotten the G word out of the way and I can relax safe in the knowledge that I’m not going to embarrass myself by making some well intended but sexually sounding overtone to this young girl. Everything is going to be okay.

Until she says “So, where should we start?”

And I say, without thinking: “Cup the balls and pull them back!”

Zwift Racing (Andrew)

It’s the end of January and I’ve already raced three times without leaving my house once. Every Saturday morning I’ve entered the Norseman Race Series on Zwift.

Racing on Zwift is a great way to keep your motivation up when training indoors. Not only do you get all the normal race feelings of “I’ve not prepared for this”, “why is everyone faster than me” and “Dear God, why did I enter this?” but it’s warm, so you don’t mind (as much!).

The Norseman Race Series is 12 week series of races over Zwift’s biggest climbs including, Alpe Du Zwift, the digital version of Alpe Du Huez.

I’ve been to Alpe Du Huez. I saw the Tour De France three years ago and walked from the base of the climb to corner 7 so I think I know exactly what it’s like to go very slowly up a very big climb. 🙂

And, though I’m basing this on memories of a hot French day three years ago, the climb in Zwift seems to be a very faithful version of the real climb, even down to the Scotsman at the side of the road walking up and wondering if he’s brought enough water for five hours on the side of a mountain. (This last bit may not be true).

The climb is not normally open for all Zwift riders. You have to be level 12 and above. Which I didn’t know, because I didn’t know that the experience points you collect had any bearing in game. So, if you want to try the climb then you need to enter a race unless you’ve already reached level 12.

If so, having others racing up the mountain is a great way to get to the top yourself. You can’t help but pedal harder when someone overtakes you, and you can’t help but pedal faster when you get near the finish and see someone just ahead of you and you decide that they are “going down!”.

Some tips for racing on Zwift:

  • Warm your legs up at the start and make sure you’re ready when the flag drops. I started one race 10 seconds before the start and, by the time I’d started spinning my legs, everyone else had blasted off.
  • Don’t use power ups. That’s cheating. Even if it’s allowed in the race, it’s still cheating – it’s digital doping! Don’t do it!
  • Do use real life power ups. If you’d have a gel in the real world and you’re racing for an hour or longer, have a gel with you too. It’s not doping if you can actually eat it and get a power up (unless what you’re eating is on the WADA banned list, then don’t do it either!).
  • Make sure to enter the right race. I’ve also tried some shorter races and these are categorised by power so that people race with others of the same ability. Races are graded A – E with A to D being increasing power and E being everyone. Of course, I entered a D. And got left behind…

Entering races on Zwift is fun and does give a sense of achievement missing from a normal session – unless your normal session finishes with a lap round the house, arms aloft and shouting “Championee!” in which case, well done you! 🙂

Getting Started On Zwift (Andrew)

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A few weeks ago I bought a smart trainer. Until then I had a dumb trainer, it would only do what I told it, and I told it to “woah – take it easy, there’s no need to go too fast!”

What I needed was a trainer with a PHD. That’s a trainer with a Pedal Harder Damnit attitude – and a smart trainer seemed the answer. A smart trainer is one that links to a laptop or tablet and adjusts your workout as you ride. And not just to make it easier, as I would adjust it, but it also makes it harder (damnit!).

With the trainer sorted, I knew I needed a training programme that would help me ride smarter too. I had a look at a few but Training Peaks seemed to require a spreadsheet and Sufferfest had the word Suffer in it’s title and who wants to suffer? Harderfest maybe? PushYouALittleBitMoreFest? But not Sufferbest? You might as well call it Quitfest. ‘Cause that’s what I’d be doing…

Instead, I tried Zwift on an iPad linked to my trainer because it promised I wouldn’t suffer as I’d be using it like a computer game. And, instead of spreadsheets like Training Peaks, I’d see a wee rider cycle round New York’s Central Park and the centre of London. It would be like Mario Kart!

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The first time I used it, I didn’t know what I was doing. My wee man on screen was surrounded by other riders. I tried to ride round New York’s Central Park and keep my speed around 20mph. And I didn’t get it. It was slow. The trainer would increase resistance as I rode up hills and I didn’t understand why because I’d just drop the gears to make it easier and then –

– someone shot past me and I thought “follow them!” and then

– a group formed around me and I was in a peloton and we’re all doing 25mph and I’m thinking “I can’t be dropped”.

– then I’m climbing a hill and a message is telling me that if I keep this pace I’ll be in the top 50.

And I think “Now, I get it!”. Zwift is for folk who need a bit of competition to motivate themselves. It’s a game of jealousy and better my neighbour. Even though you don’t know the people around you, you suddenly want to be better than them just because they’re real people too. You’re no longer training on your own. You’re not just Mario – you’re also racing Luigi!

Since then, I’ve spent around 10 hours on Zwift trying various routes and features. But, despite the ability to customise my wee man on screen, I’ve point blank refused to do so. I know I can change the colour of his socks but why would you?! This is Zwift not Barbiefest.

In a few weeks I’ll report again and see how a month of Zwift compares to a month of trying to cycle in Scotland in December.

Challenge Roth (Andrew)

Next year’s race is sorted. “Challenge Roth!” I said. Roth as in cloth, as in moth. “‘I’m doing Challenge Roth!”.

And I’ve started to read blogs and race reports of what it’ll be like and I’ve kept thinking:

“Yay, Roth (as in moth) will be fun! Can’t wait to go to Roth (as in cloth)!”

Except this week when Iain told me it was pronounced Rote. As in wrote. As in goat.

Challenge Goat.

That’s what I’m doing.

Challenge Rote.

And my first lesson as part of looking at what training I’ll need to do for next year is a simple one – get the name of the race right.

Runner, Heal Thyself (Andrew)

When I started running at university I would run on a treadmill for 20 – 30 minutes on a Monday, Wednesday and Friday. Over a year it became part of my weekly routine as I was studying for my final exams. Then, one day, my knee hurt.

“That’s nothing,” I thought. “A wee run will fix that!”

I’d pop up to the university gym and, after five minutes, the pain would start to fade, and, after 20 minutes, it would be gone.

“See,” I thought, “it was just a wee niggle!”

And by the time I’d have my shower, my leg would fall off.

Not literally. I’d topple. But it might as well have as I couldn’t use it for the rest of the day. It wouldn’t bend. I couldn’t put weight on it. I would hop from gym to library to home until…

I’d wake up in the morning, my knee would hurt and I’d think:

“Really, it’s nothing, a wee run will fix this!”

And I was a cripple for a month until I realised that a ‘wee run’ will only fix this if your problem is an escaped lion and you need to get away fast. If your problem is a damaged ligament then don’t run on it!

You need to follow the RIC (Rest, Ice and Compression) program not the RIC (Run, Ignore, Crawl To Bed) program.

Yet, 20 years later I’ve learnt nothing. Last week I pulled a muscle in my abdomen. Not sure how, think it was twisting to lift something while sitting in my chair at work, however, when I noticed it was sore I thought immediately:

“It’s nothing, a wee swim will fix this!”

And I went swimming. An exercise that requires you to continuously twist and turn.

Because there’s nothing like putting out a fire like pouring more oil on it and shouting “Burn, baby, burn!”

It was stupid.

And on Tuesday I ended up in the minor injuries clinic complaining that I couldn’t turn my body to the right or pick up any weight with my right hand.

Which was also stupid because, despite being a clinic for minor injuries, the doctor listened to my story and immediately said: “We don’t do abdomens.”

Which made me think: “What do you do? Left ankles only. Just the right elbow? How can you distinguish between different parts of the body? You’re a doctor, your meant to do everything.”

He sent me to my GP who’s sole advice was “If it hurts when you twist to the right then don’t twist to the right!”

Genius.

But she was right because she was just telling me what I already knew – if you’re injured, then don’t do twice as much as you did before in the hope that more means less. Rest. Ice. Compression. And don’t go for a run.

Lets talk about fun (Iain)

Did you have a type 1 fun weekend? Or maybe it was type 2? Hopefully it wasn’t type 3!

I thoughtthe only thing that comes in types 1,2 or 3 is diabetes. That is until I read Mark Beaumont’s new book about his 80 day around the world cycle trip. In it he says the number one quality he requires in a support person is that they enjoy type 2 fun.

Fun can be categorised! Although categorising fun does seem to remove the fun from fun.

Type 1 Fun

This is fun that you experience whilst doing an activity and once you’ve finished it you still think of it as fun. For example, a post race pint of beer is fun. You’ll have fun drinking it and you’ll never regret it afterwards.

Type 2 Fun

This is fun that doesn’t feel like fun whilst you are doing it but afterwards you’ll be glad you did it. For example, if you don’t go for a pint before a race you might miss out on fun but when you wake up fresh the next day you’ll be glad you didn’t.

Type 3 Fun

This is fun that is miserable whilst you do it and afterwards you’ll wish you hadn’t done it. This is when you do go for a pint before a race and then have another and another…the next day you race with a hangover. You’ll hate it whilst doing it and afterwards you’ll wish you hadn’t done it.

The interesting thing about type 3 fun is that over time it can become type 2 because you might forget how miserable you felt and might actually be glad you did the race.

Most fun experts seem to stop at 3 types. I’d argue there is a fourth type

Type 4 Fun

Fun that is fun at the time but afterwards you’ll completely regret it. Which sums up any time I’ve been to Krispy Kreme.

Mmm….donut!

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