Run Don’t Run 2014 London Marathon Freebie Guide

If you thought the only reward you got after all those early morning starts, Sunday long runs, visits to physiotherapists/sports masseuses/osteopaths/podiatrists and generally wearing out your shoes was the chance to slog around London with 35000 other people then think again. For this week and probably this week only, a Virgin Money London Marathon race number or finisher’s medal pretty much gives you the keys to the city (well, access to lots of free stuff). Most of these offers were harvested off Twitter so it might be wise to double check terms and conditions beforehand.

Free Travel

Transport for London are offering free travel on the Tube, bus, London Overground, tram and Docklands Light Railway for all runners in the big day, from early morning until 5pm. To qualify, show your race number.

Those coming from further afield are entitled to free travel on any Chiltern Railways services on Sunday, 13 April. To get the free travel runners just have to present their official Marathon tabard or race number to ticket inspectors.

Free Services for Runners

If you need a bit of last minute intervention to get you to the start and finish line, Runners Need are offering free Kinesiology Taping for marathon runners courtesy of @SixPhysio @TheOnlyWayIs_UP on Friday 11th April between 11am and 2pm at their Strype Street store (E1 7LQ) near Liverpool Street station. Holborn and Southwark Street branches are also offering this service (contact stores for details).

Over 70s running the marathon qualify for up to 3 months free membership at the Jubilee Hall gym in Covent Garden. The gym has the latest Life Fitness Engage series treadmills as well as almost 100 other pieces of cardiovascular and strength training equipment to keep runners in the groove.

Free Food

MEAT liquor are offering a free burger to medal holders on race day plus 50% off for official volunteers. MEAT liquor is at 74 Wellbeck Street, London W1G 0BA

Meanwhile Gourmet Burger Kitchen in Jubilee Place, Canary Wharf are offering a free burger to all London Marathon 2014 medal wearers, valid April 13-15th. They’re also throwing a mini bottle of Prosecco. Supporters eating with you will also get a complimentary bottle of Prosecco when they order a main from the menu.

From 7th April runners with a Marathon number can have a free meal at the Mayfair Pizza Company The offer runs until Friday 12th April and Mayfair Pizza Company is at 4 Lancashire Court, New Bond Street.

For other marathon free food fests, the Daily Telegraph has these and a few other places for the likes of Peruvian style breakfasts, macaroni cheese, grills and post-race cocktails.

Free Sightseeing

The Shard are offering the first 100 medal holders turning up from 13th to 17th April free entry to London’s highest viewing platform. They’re also offering a 20% discount for friends, family, and supporters who accompany a medal holder. Offer details and terms and conditions are here.

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Alternative Running Role Models #6 – Joe Strummer out of The Clash

20131203-231758.jpgWalking up London’s Edgware Road yesterday, I spotted that somebody had decided to name a suitably urban subway after the late, great Joe Strummer, lead singer of 1970s/80s punk icons The Clash. As my daydreaming shifted back to thoughts of what running I might be doing later that day, I suddenly remembered a story I’d otherwise forgotten. In 1982, after poor ticket sales for the band’s Combat Rock Tour, their manager hatched a plot for Joe to suddenly go missing to generate a bit of publicity.

The plan was for him to fly off to America but I guess that as the band were “so bored with the USA”, Joe ignored instructions and hot-footed it to Paris. While hiding out in the French capital, Strummer claimed to have got around to running the “French Marathon” which later turned out to be the one in Paris. Joe’s training for this iconic event? A 16 week Runner’s World “Sub 4:00” plan with lots of cross training and carefully scheduled rest days? No, the Strummer Strategy was:

You really shouldn’t ask me about my training, regime, you know….Okay, you want it, here it is: Drink 10 pints of beer the night before the race. Ya got that? And don’t run a single step at least four weeks before the race … But make sure you put a warning in this article, ‘Do not try this at home.’ I mean, it works for me and Hunter Thompson, but it might not work for others. I can only tell you what I do.

imageSo are these the key elements of the perfect if radical marathon training schedule? Extreme hydration following an extreme taper? The jury’s out because there’s an element of doubt over whether Joe actually completed the 26.2 miles. In pre-internet days I guess you might have been lucky to track down your results in a local newspaper, none of this permanent record on the website business we take for granted today. Unfortunately neither Joe’s stage or real name appear in any official results.

However, presumably buoyed up by his Parisian challenge, there are photos of Joe taking part in the 1983 London Marathon with an actual race number. Although you shouldn’t believe everything you read in newspapers, it seems that Joe was somehow sponsored by The Sun who claim he completed the course in 4 hours and 13 minutes (nice vest by the way).

Anyhow, it goes without saying that Joe Strummer, spokesperson of a generation and alleged marathon-man, we salute you!

For a comprehensive analysis of Joe Strummer’s running career, check out this site.

Race Don’t Race Report #2: The BUPA Great Birmingham Run

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I really must work out how to remove that “gloomy” filter from my camera

Birmingham, as any self-respecting Brummie will tell you, has more trees than Paris and more canals than Venice. On Sunday, I discovered, it also has more hills than Hillsville in Hillshire.

I’d been wanting to do this races for a couple of years, ever since coming across it by accident during a visit to Cadbury’s World, in my one time home town of Bournville. I’d trained for it without the usual total devotion to a programme but had managed to fit in a few long runs, including a slow, wet 13 mile effort just over a week ago.

Birmingham was buzzing when I arrived with traffic jams into town and helicopters overhead. After some chaotic attempts to leave the baggage area with everything I’d need over the next couple of hours, I finally lined up with 19,999 others and was set off into the City Centre by super-swimmer Ellie Simmonds.

This was my first “big city” race and being cheered by hordes of enthusiastic Brummies was probably the closest I’ll ever come to scoring a goal in front of the Holte End at Villa Park (in fact I went to Villa Park later that day and most of the team looked like they’d not be scoring in front of the Holte End any time soon either). I was then in for a long trip down Memory Lane of sights that either still exist or have long since disappeared or transformed into something else. Before leaving the City Centre I’d spotted:

  • Snobs, in the 1980s this was one of the few Birmingham night-clubs that didn’t insist on a suit and tie. Amazingly it’s still up and running and not exactly living up to its name
  • The Navigation Chip Bar, once the host of Birmingham’s first Space Invaders machine, unfortunately vanished and replaced by a smart office

The nostalgia opportunities during the long flat journey to Bournville took my mind off much of the discomfort that running half marathons can entail. Just before Cannon Hill I got to heckle a spectator brandishing a huge West Bromwich Albion flag apparently thinking this might spur us on. “Up the Villa!” I shouted, learning in the process that sustained physical exertion makes my accent about 10 times more Brummie than usual.

At Selly Park we were diverted up the first hill, turning left at the end of the road my grandparents used to live on and past a big old walled convent. In my school-days I’d always wondered about what went on inside that big old building. Now was the chance for the Sisters to connect with the passing runner, perhaps with a Nuun sponsored water station, but unfortunately the gates remained locked and the mysterious convent remains just that.

Then it was back down to Pershore Road, and towards Stirchley, past the swimming baths (the post-swimming chips and curry sauce outlet was no longer there), along the edge of a series of streets with the same names as the Green section on the Monopoly board and then the potential main highlight for me: Cadbury’s. This giant settlement devoted to chocolate had a big significance in my first 16 years. I’d gone to primary school directly opposite the Willy Wonkaesque factory. The parents of most of the kids in my class worked there and several times a week our playground would be overpowered with the smell of chocolate.

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Sneak preview of next month’s Runner’s World cover star

Today Cadbury’s was quiet, but the Bournville villagers were out in force, several rows deep, including my sister and two nephews. The sight of them brandishing cameras made me immediately think of the Woman off of the Front of Southern Running Guide and here is the result of a moment of lapsed concentration.

The next stage involved a welcome downhill stretch to the 10K point and then it was back towards town with some fairly major diversions. Firstly into Cannon Hill Park, home of the Midland Arts Centre. Years ago I’d gone on countless school trips there to see puppet shows with the fluorescent painted marionettes animated by people in black cat suits (that we had to pretend we hadn’t noticed). I didn’t spot the amphiteatre where I’d climbed up the wall to see some pretty special gigs in the summers of the early 1980s. Is it still there?

A long fairly unchallenging stretch through Balsall Heath seemed to go on for some time – I think the race organisers wanted to keep us in suspense because we all knew that some kind of hill was imminent around miles 10-11…

…And then it arrived. After we’d dropped down into the tunnel at Lee Bank Middleway, we made our way back into daylight and the up the incline towards Five Ways. It was a hill but I’ve known worse and I could soon see the top. However we then turned off the main road and onto the bottom of a second slightly steeper hill. My legs were protesting and I fought off the temptation to walk. At the summit, a woman was handing out Jelly Babies, but it turned out to be the second of three or four summits. I was expecting to start seeing mountain goats and people in lederhosen – was my first experience of running at altitude to be in the West Midlands of all places?

I knew all prospects of a PB or anything close were now dead in the water but I kept going. It was all rewarded by a flat or possibly slightly downhill dash along Broad Street to the finishing line and the huge crowds prompted me into “sprinting” the last 100 metres.

I’ve frequently been reliving this race in mind since Sunday. It was odd trying to maintain the right pace to make sure I could keep going for the full 13.1 miles and still achieve a respectable time only to be confronted by such a huge challenge so close to the end (there are currently 427 comments about those hills on the Birmingham Great Run Facebook page). I’m relaxed about my time (some 7 minutes slower than my “Rogue Run” PB) because I’m confident I could do another half marathon in a few weeks time, somewhere else, and go a whole a lot quicker. Those hills are now a distant memory and I can see myself coming back for more.

My Rave Runs #1 – Porthmadog & Morfa Bychan Loop

Hazy view to the west

Hazy view to the west

Do you have a Rave Run? Like the runs they have two-page photo spreads for in Runner’s World? I do, and today I did mine for the third or fourth time.

I visit the Llyn Peninsula in North West Wales once or twice a year and would come here more often if it wasn’t for the 5 hour drive from London. I’ve experimented with different routes around here, which despite the stunning scenery is quite a challenge because they don’t generally get around to laying pavements for smug city-based runners like me. So I tend to have to mix it up with speeding cars on country lanes which just so happen to be A roads.

My favourite route starts in the little cove village of Borth Y Gest, dodges through the holidaymakers buying buckets and spades in Porthmadog, before heading out towards Criccieth on the A497. This bit was always the worst, with much dicing with death as I skipped on and off the uneven grass verges to avoid collisions with oncoming lorries. However, this year the wonderful Gwynedd Council had kindly installed a super-smooth tarmac path which cushioned my ride all the way to a little side road. Here I go left, away from the fray through quiet, shaded country lanes which cleverly disguise the fact that I’m meandering my way up to the top of a big hill. As I ascend, cows and sheep gather in adjacent fields to cheer me on, although I’m sure today the sheep were bleating “M-A-A-A-A-D” at me.

The summit is the “raviest” bit. To the west, Criccieth Castle can be seen watching over Cardigan Bay. To the west, fields, more fields, more Cardigan Bay and I think you can also see Harlech Castle to the north. Although it’s Wales, the sun’s always shining up here and after taking in the view, it’s an easy descent into the camp sites of Morfa Bychan (aka Black Rock Sands).

View to the east

View to the east

Then it’s a slalom along the coast, the flatness lulling me into a false sense of security. If you haven’t fuelled up properly, there’s chip shop, possibly deliberately put there to get you salivating 2.5 miles before you get to the finish. And then, at some point around 6 miles, there’s that hill, one of those that’s short but not sweet. One that gets drivers worrying whether they have enough gears. One that has a false summit (more of a base camp than the top of the hill). After the respite of the descent, there’s another one. This route is hilly.

After one more downhill, I’m back in Borth-Y-Gest for a warm down along the seafront while trying to maintain an “It was really nothing” expression on my face.

This 7.5 mile Rave Run gets better every year (although I don’t). If I lived here and did this a couple of times a week I think I might be ready for anything (well, maybe not including ultra marathons or obstacle races).

Rave Run #1 - The Route

Rave Run #1 – The Route

Mad Dogs and English Man running under the Jamaican sun

A two week sabbatical from running came to a brutal end on the morning of 16th August. Despite eight days of sterling support from my unofficial Jamaican sponsors, Wray and Nephew and Appleton, some particularly noisy neighbours roused me early from a night of fitful sleep. After accidentally thinking it was a cloudy start to the day, as well as hoping that the Caribbean sun was slightly less harsh as 7:30 in the morning, before I knew it, the smuggled-in running shoes were on my feet and raring to go.

Visions of fartlek between palm trees, dodging falling coconuts were wide of the mark. Instead it was east along the busy A1 from Salem, getting that inevitable run directly into the recently risen sun out of the way first. There were people everywhere, making early starts to their long working days. I was conscious of all the horns being sounded as cars sped past me, thinking this was the Jamaican drivers having a good laugh at the only person on the island foolish enough to be out running in such conditions. In fact they were communicating with their waiting passengers and each other as they passed me by. Everyone might have been laughing, but if they did so it was too subtle for me to notice as the sweat poured down my face.

    Highlights of My Jamaican Run:

1. Approximately 0.75 miles: three yard dogs spot me entering their territory and run barking after me down the street. Fortunately their inability to run in a straight line gives me the edge and I leave them in the dust.

2. Approximately 0.9 miles: Two small children coming back from the shops stop to interview me: “Are you trying to run a mile?” Me: “Yes, more than a mile – watch out Usain.”

3. Approximately 1.5 miles: I spot a massive Ackee tree which gives me three seconds of much needed shade.

4. Approximately 2.0 miles: Three men in a bar at 7:45 a.m. marvel at my sweaty apparition: “Look at the white man!”

5. Approximately 1.0 miles to finish: More running directly into the Caribbean sun with my 5K finish line coming in and out of focus through the haze as the Toyotas, minibuses and huge trucks zoom past.

Running through that heat was like running through treacle, but I’d done it: 5K in a tropical climate at a not too bad pace. The plan was to repeat the ritual a couple of days later but then I happened upon my best excuse not to run in a long time: sea urchin spikes lodged in the ball of my right foot.

AIEEE!

Race Don’t Race Report #1: Mersea Round the Island Race

The view from the start

The view from the start

Before the race started as we stood on the beach admiring the view, a runner asked us where the start of the race was. We pointed at a hoarding hammered into the sand – it was a beach start. He seemed surprised so who knows how he got to hear about the Round the Island Race – all the publicity mentioned the challenging sections on the sand and shingle beaches.

I knew about the beach bit but I’d guessed that the majority of the race would be on concrete sea walls and country lanes. I was wrong – it was mostly on beaches and long stretches of uneven coastal paths which sapped the energy out of my legs as I scythed my way through the long, coarse grass.

I’d chosen this event partly because I like half-marathons, but was a bit nervous about doing a normal, full-on race because I didn’t want to be too rudely reminded that I wasn’t nearly as fit as I’d been last year before my little lay-off. This was 12.2 miles on all sorts of terrain and so long as I finished, it was going to amount to some kind of a personal best and something to spur me on for the future.

I’ve also got a fantasy about one day travelling to the Caribbean to do the Nevis Triathlon – a swim in the warm sea followed by a little cycle and run around an island under the shade of palm trees and avoiding the lure of the beach bars. In the meantime, here was a chance to run around an island an hour’s drive outside London, although the prospect of sunshine, let alone palm trees, was remote.

However, the sunshine duly arrived and the race started off with an immediate kilometre or so trying to find which part of the beach, the damp sand or the loose stones, gave the most traction while the sun beat down. It was immediately tough, so I took it easy.

There were then stretches of road, my attempt at relaxed breathing undermined by then occasional whiff of tired sea food and then it was those coastal paths. Every time I thought I’d got into my groove, the organisers insisted on throwing in the small matter of another stretch on the beach which became harder and harder so that during the last couple of miles, although I kept on running, I was barely lifting my feet and managed to stub my toe on some of the thoughtlessly placed stones I’d failed to spot.

I got the chance to remind myself of the thought that goes through my head during every longer race: those last couple of miles seem to go on forever. So I had to try to will myself on by comparing the distance to go with something more familiar and reassuring (“Only a parkrun to go….on sand”, “it’s just like that bit you do for the first 5 minutes of every run at home, except your feet hurt, the grass has made your legs itch and you desperately want to walk”).

Finally the pastel beach houses which told me that the end was near loomed into view, and after my traditional “false finish” (where you think the finish line is just around the corner but it turns out you’ve got another 300 yards to go), I turned a sharp right and managed a “sprint” to the finish line.

Unlike the more urban races I normally do, I had the chance to slump under the welcome shade of a big tree and watch the remaining runners stopping their personal clocks while I assessed the damage: two blisters, bruised middle toe nails and a particularly attractive tan-line from my ankles up.

Round the Island Race 30-06-2013 jpgThere’s nothing quite like the Round the Island Race. Big skies, constantly changing scenery, clockwork organisation, friendly locals in a classic English seaside resort. All trying to cover up the fact that for me (and many of the other runners I spoke to), it’s quite a challenge which I just about overcome. I think I might come back next year.

Running Away

Apparently you can pay someone to escort you on a running tour of Barcelona and when planning my 4 day getaway a few weeks ago I momentarily thought about booking up. Then I remembered the main reason for yet another visit to the city: To stand in a windswept concrete exhibition space on the edge of town. drinking beer, eating junk food and watching upwards of 30 bands from dusk to dawn for three nights on the trot. Yes it was Primavera Sound time yet again.

This was the ultimate “not conducive to running” weekend and could have served as a an extreme “taper” to end all tapers, undoing all the hard slog that had got me back into running over the past couple of months. Yet for the first time in 6 years, on this occasion I took slightly fewer clothes to allow me to fit my running shoes into that precious hand luggage space with the express intention of doing a quick trot around the Catalan streets on the Sunday morning.

The pre-run build-up was unorthodox. Saturday night ended at 5:30 a.m. on the following day after hours of tapas and “hydration” around the city centre followed by a meticulously planned night catching bands on various stages at the festival. The pre-run nutrition was a chicken kebab in the small hours.

I woke at about 11 a.m., took a few swigs of water, pulled on some clothes-that-wick and then left my sleeping friends, sneaking out to see what Barcelona looked like before midday. It was actually a good day for a gentle run – grey with the occasional drop of rain. I had the idea of doing 5 miles. I headed up Diagonal, a long carriageway which just happens to traverse the city diagonally. The middle of the road is a wide strip of concrete specifically for cyclists, walkers and runners. My aim was to get to Gaudi’s unfinished Sagrada Familia cathedral to address the fact that in 6 years of annual visits to the city, I’d failed to ever pay a visit, despite it being probably the most iconic of Barcelona’s buildings.

Objective achieved!

Objective achieved!

My pace was gentle but not ridiculously so. I was pleased to note that, although it felt like it had taken me weeks to return to something like normality with my post-injury running, a few days of bad living hadn’t caused me to regress too much. I reached the cathedral and got some understandably strange looks from the hundreds of tourists as I weaved my way through them. After making it around the block, I had the welcome downhill stretch towards the coast to enjoy.

I have noticed the beachside runners more and more over the years, originally thinking “Maniacs” and more recently thinking “Hmm, maybe I’d be up for a bit of that”. Now I was finally joining them, starting off near the big copper fish, then heading away from the city, past palm trees, volleyball games and the smell of grilled seafood wafting out of the beachside bars.

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That big copper fish

By the time I returned to Diagonal, I’d done over 6.5 miles and could have gone a bit further if it wasn’t for the street-stall selling freshly-fried churros. Feeling extra pleased with myself, I ordered the ones that had unnecessarily been dipped in chocolate and ate the majority of a large bag of them before returning to the apartment. The usual Barcelona lifestyle then resumed, but it was good to have kept my running mojo ticking over and to add another dot on my worldwide map of runs. And now I’m wondering when I might be able one day fit in that nice little 10K the city hosts on New Year’s Eve when I could maybe do the hedonism and running in reverse.

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The route