I’ve loved Witness by Roots Manuva for 14 years but never realised it had a video. And what a video – especially for anybody who gets shown who’s boss by primary school aged parkrunners every Saturday morning….
I’ve loved Witness by Roots Manuva for 14 years but never realised it had a video. And what a video – especially for anybody who gets shown who’s boss by primary school aged parkrunners every Saturday morning….
So ends another year of running with the inevitable highs and lows. A first London Marathon done and dusted, five half marathons, a worsening addiction to the instantly forgotten horror of 5Ks (still don’t enjoy them but somehow managed to do 35. Thanks, parkrun), two yes TWO spells in post-race first aid tents, and a hip injury (more of that later).
My running from May onwards was mainly done in what turned out to be a pair of miracle shoes, sold to me by a crocked professional ice-hockey player while on a shopping expedition to reward myself for completing the marathon in April.
The 4 months leading up to the marathon were plagued with an injury, which at times meant having to hobble my way through the first couple of miles of every run until the pain at various points around my left hip had been numbed away. I’d made several visits to an osteopath who tutted and shook her head but managed to patch me up and get me to the start line. I ran the 26.2 miles (in fact my Garmin said it was more than 27 miles) but it hurt and I wondered whether London might be my running swansong. Until, like a male Cinderella, I tried on those shoes.
I’d seen people wearing On running shoes before, and quietly scoffed at them thinking they were the runner equivalent of the kind of people who bought Sinclair C5 cars, all gimmick and no substance. However, I took a punt on them, sticking with my usual running rule of avoiding any hint of brand loyalty, impressed by the claims of “Swiss Engineering” and sceptical about the little cloud embossed “pillows” on the soles that were expected to cushion my future rides (hip willing).
The first few runs were done alone, in the dark, fearful that fellow runners might point and laugh at my new clown shoes, especially as the sky and mandarin colour combination screamed “look at me!”.
Ignorant of the claims that they provide a cushioned mid-foot landing with a barefoot toe-off (or something), the main thing I noticed was the immediate absence of hip pain. I could just go running again, without the grimacing. Later on I noticed they were light, smooth and people, even non-runners, commented on their good looks. And 450 miles later, with no injuries, I think my feet and On Cloudsurfers are an item.
Like all relationships, a bit of compromise and tolerance is sometimes required. My Cloudsurfers have a few endearing foibles:
1. Laces that don’t “stick” – this seems to be a problem with most running shoes. You lace them up and then they come undone again. Here are another pair you have to double knot to avoid mid-race flappy lace trauma.
2. Those “pillows” don’t work well with car pedals – I now avoid driving in Cloudsurfers as the pillows are like little hooks which cling onto your foot pedals with road chaos potentially ensuing.
3. Not sure how safe they are in the rain or ice – they make a a reassuring squelching noise as you hit and leave the pavement, and although I haven’t ended up face down on the sidewalk yet, in wet conditions I don’t get the impression they’re as grippy as they can be when presented with an accelerator pedal.
Overall the foibles are more like quibbles. Something’s helping me to continue to run slightly faster the older I get and as it’s certainly not careful nutrition and cross-training I suspect my footwear might have played its part. They also still look pristine, even after exposing them to most thee of winter weather.
A long term relationship with a brand of a shoe is a novelty to me, having been around the block with pretty much all the contenders over the past few years. However I’m now so monogamous that when it was time to retire the sky/mandarin ones, for the first time ever, I simply had to go online and order another pair (although in a slightly more sober black and lime colour way as variety is the spice of life) without worrying about size or gait.
So 2014, turned out to be the year when I tried a pair of running shoes so good I bought them twice.
It’s grey and cold in London today and it’s making me look fondly back to last Sunday when it was warm and sunny and I was out and about enjoying myself. And running 27 and a bit miles from Blackheath to the Mall (yes, I know marathons are 26.2 miles, read on).
It felt like a much longer journey to get to the start line of the 2014 Virgin Money London Marathon. This included:
There was a great sense of camaraderie when we lined up in the huge start pens up on Blackheath with hot-air balloons nodding at us in the breeze but once we set off it was the people of London who got us through the mile after mile after mile. There were crowds lining the whole route, initially stood outside their houses, some in pyjamas, but from Greenwich onwards we were treated to the same volume of crowds and tunnels of noise that Mo and co had run through earlier. There were bands and DJs too and I think it was Deptford where I heard Pharrell’s “Happy”. It sounded so authentic, I thought it was a DJ but I did literally “laugh out loud” when I discovered it was a live band with a singer, probably twice the age of Pharrell who looked like he’d spent the last 30 years in the pub.
My paranoia about my stroppy left hip ruining my big day proved unfounded although I could have done without the sudden jabbing pain in my right knee after a mere three miles (I ignored it and it went away). There were other niggles that built up and faded away over the course (note to self: if there is a next time, do those strengthening exercises and stretch more religiously, so boring but you know it makes sense). The heat was another potential spoiler but although I remember it being sunny, I don’t ever remember feeling too hot. However it might be a factor to bear in mind if I want to one day go faster (and I think one day I probably can).
I thought I could possibly do this race in under four hours but had six targets to spur me on:
1. To get to the start line (believe me, there were times as close as 3 weeks before that I thought I might not make it).
2. To finish.
3. To run the whole thing (I used to have a golden rule never to walk during a race, which I’m ashamed to admit I broke towards the end of my 2012 marathon).
4. To beat my debut marathon time (4:28.57).
5. To beat my wife’s marathon time (set in 2004).
6. To go below 4 hours.
It was good to tick one target off as early as 10 o’clock in the morning and I felt on course to achieve all six after three miles, slowing down or speeding up to make sure that I reached every mile marker in 9:09 minutes. However, at the Cutty Sark, the road narrowed, the volume of runners increased and my legs started to slack off. From then onwards I started to watch the likelihood of achieving targets 5. and 6. slip away, trying to balance up the need to go faster with the impact this might have on targets 2. to 4. Eventually I stopped paying too much attention to my Garmin and just soaked up the occasion.
One of the bonuses of London 2014 was that I think this time I avoided The Wall. Seeing those familiar faces at my running club’s water station at mile 20 at gave me a boost but this also marked the point at which walls typically start to appear. Although the option of lying down for a couple of hours would have been very welcome, the legs kept going, especially after the wild scenes at Run Dem Crew’s 21 mile spot which is just like midnight in a night club on New Year’s Eve which goes on for hours.
The Embankment is often described as the “home straits” for marathon runners but I know it doesn’t end until you get to Big Ben. Running along it last Sunday, Big Ben was temporarily Small Ben or the Embankment is way longer than I’d previously imagined. It went on forever, and I wanted to argue back “No I’m not!” to all the people screaming “Keep going! You’re almost there!”. In fact the Embankment was so long, my Garmin told me I’d actually done 26.2 miles when I finally reached Parliament Square and I still had two thirds of St James Park to run around.
And then, after what I hoped looked like a sprint finish, but was probably more like a drunk man stumbling after a night bus, it was all over. And I couldn’t stand up. I kept trying to but my head started swirling around and I had to grab on to the nearest fence. 10 minutes later I still couldn’t stand up without feeling like I was going to faint. Eventually I had to be escorted to the medical tent where I had my pulse and blood pressure checked along with lots of questions about how much water I’d drunk and my medical history (thank you so much St John’s Ambulance, you are now my heroes). Finally I got my act together and was discharged to find my family (including the reigning house marathon record holder) and go for a long anticipated pint of beer.
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.
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.
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.
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.
In which I try to deal with my increasing levels of pre-marathon anxiety by being unreasonably harsh on my fellow pavement sharers
It was during my last longish long run that I spent maybe a bit too much time thinking about pedestrians and how much they upset me after three minor incidents in the space of three miles. So many seemed to want to insist on grabbing my attention in so many different ways:
1. The “we’re joined at the hip, three abreast” pedestrian
These are probably the ones I meet most often and bug me the most. They travel in groups of three and like to take up the full width of the pavement. If a fellow pedestrian is walking towards them, one will drop behind leaving a handy gap for him or her to get by. If the pedestrian is wearing running shoes, they will suddenly become a single, unbreakable unit, oblivious to the world around them, forcing the runner into the road, at the mercy of juggernauts.
2. The “right lads, watch me bring this runner down a peg or two” pedestrian
The we’re joined at the hip pedestrian blocks my way in a passive aggressive way. This type of pedestrian is a bit more “in your face” and wants to interact. My last confrontation of this type was on the same longish run when I thought I was going to have to deal with three teenage boys who were joined at the hip. Instead, one of them put his hand up ready to make contact with my face, a bit like how a police officer would get oncoming traffic to stop. This caused a very sudden change of pace on my part, jarring my up-til-then perfectly conditioned body, and much hilarity for my new pedestrian “friend”. If I have any pains during next week’s marathon, my use of Cockney rhyming slang for “banker” in response to the hand in my face will have been entirely justified.
3.The “pssst, I’m actually an undercover runner” pedestrian
I shouldn’t really complain about these because they mean well, and, if I’m honest, I often fall into this bracket. At the slightest sign of someone breaking into a trot, maybe if they see someone quickening their pace to catch a bus, your undercover runner will adopt a knowing smile, nod and cross to the other side of the road to make sure the runner has ample space to continue his or her noble art without obstruction. More extreme proponents will run into the nearest shop to buy a bottle of water, shout “good running” and offer the water to their newly acquired hero. It’s also handy to carry a large placard with the words “You’re Awesome” scribbled on it to guarantee any passing runner will be reassured you’re not a category 1 or 2 pedestrian.
4.The over-tolerant pedestrian
These pedestrians wrack me with guilt as I run away from them. If they were dogs, on a spying a runner they would drop down onto their bellies and wag their tails sheepishly as the runner passes by. They are not worthy (or so they think). I once slammed into one of these as both of us appeared for different directions on the same corner at about 6 o’clock one morning. He looked like he was on his way to one of those early-start, relentless, on your feet all day kind of jobs. I, meanwhile I was feeling smug for simply having got up early and wasn’t watching where I was going. And of course he apologised. I think I did too, but was wearing headphones so who knows how the words came out.
The “pesky kid” pedestrian
Actually, it’s not so much the pesky kid pedestrians that irritate, it’s the parents of pesky kids who stand by, oblivious to the chaos they leave in their wake, who need to up their game. These are the kind of parents who, when not letting their children ride their scooters or even bikes around supermarkets, let them run riot on canal-side footpaths amongst walkers, cyclists, dogs….and runners. The result is not unlike the opening scenes from a particularly uninspired episode of Casualty. During my almost fateful run there were occasions when I nearly ended up face-down in duck poo or even in the canal as small children, being children, suddenly changed direction by ninety degrees, did pirouettes or hurled themselves onto the place I’d next planned to place my foot. Meanwhile their parents looked the other way, missing the chaos unfolding behind them.
So that’s pedestrians neatly categorised (or is it?). If you’re a pedestrian (and we’ve all been there, even me), maybe sometimes you could try to be a bit more pedestrian*?
* pe-des-tri-an (adjective): not imaginative or unusual;
I tend to worry too much about a lot of things that don’t really matter. Whenever I’m planning for some work related event at which I will either get the credit or the blame, I usually prepare myself to get the blame when in actual fact things tend to work out well. This then clears the decks for me to start worrying about something else!
I like to think that running provides me with lots of time to forget about the things That are bothering me and have to admit that when I’m out on a long run with my mind wandering, I can generate all I kinds of new solutions to the things I worry about. However, just recently I’ve found myself worrying about things that wouldn’t be an issue if I’d stuck to my guns and remained the non-runner I’d been for most of my life:
1. Injury worries
I’m currently training for the London Marathon, having deferred my place from last year because I had a stress fracture. And now I worry I’m injured again. It’s not a stress fracture, it’s an ache at the top of my leg. I’ve tried stretching, ibuprofen and sports massage. I finally went to see the chiropractor who suggested I should pull out of last year’s marathon. She felt that this year’s injury was not terminal and with a few tweaks I could carry on getting marathon-ready. I did carry on, have done two half marathons at good times including a personal best but I still expect my left leg to drop off at any moment (it still hurts). I think about this more frequently than your average man thinks about sex. I need to deal with it!
2. Fundraising worries
These result from 1. I decided to raise money from my marathon efforts for a charity called CALM. Ironically, one of the reasons this charity exists is because a lot of men don’t deal very well with things they worry about. What I’m worried about here is that I will need to pull out of the marathon because of 1. And then I will need to explain this to the people who have already handed money over. This is stopping me from plugging my fundraising efforts and raising as much as I could. I need to deal with it!
3. Beetroot worries
I have learnt to
love tolerate the earthy taste of beetroot juice, the runner’s ambrosia. If you haven’t read the research then Google it now. But I sometimes forget about my beetroot addiction until I notice its unfortunate side effects. After the Reading Half Marathon last weekend, I think I traumatised a number of men I was sharing the urinal with as the Ribena coloured urine streamed past them in the Madejski Stadium toilets. When this was still happening later that evening I still had the words “internal bleeding” popping into my head until I’d managed to perform a reality check. I need to deal with it!
4. Parkrun volunteering worries
This is a new one. Today I volunteered at parkrun because I didn’t want to aggravate 1. and further jeopardise 2. It also meant I could avoid 3. for once and have a huge coffee before going out instead. I ended up scanning the barcodes as the runners finished, which allowed me to have flashbacks to my time as a checkout operator in Sainsbury’s all those years ago. That was until I realised they didn’t have scanners in Sainsbury’s when I worked there. It was that long ago. There were all kinds of glitches in today’s new role: a dodgy finishing token I had to watch out for and in no circumstances scan, people with barcodes which wouldn’t scan, people without barcodes, a moment when I scanned the finishing token before the runner’s barcode (a serious no-no). I am now worrying that some inadvertent error will mean I have ruined what felt like a really good start to the Saturdays of over 50 people. I will therefore not publish this blog until I see the results have been published. Once this has happened I will have dealt with it (until the next time)!
Tomorrow I aim run 19 miles and hope I make it home with two functioning legs. Beetroot juice will be involved and I wonder if the run will give me enough confidence to go all out to recruit more sponsors. I’m also hoping no disgruntled parkrunners spot me, jumping out of their cars to harangue me about their result or lack of it from today. Whatever happens, I definitely expect to generate more things to worry about, to fuel my Runner Paranoia.
I’ve resisted organised religion for many years, but towards the end of 2013 I decided that parkrun is the closest I’ve come to filling my spiritual void. I’ve recently found myself heading off for the same natural high at 9 a.m. every Saturday morning for 9 consecutive weeks.
I’ve got some friends who are committed followers of a more commonly accepted religion. Sometimes when we’ve gone away with them for the weekend, they’ve sought out the local church to go to a Sunday morning service. I used to find this odd, but one Saturday last December, I found myself 200 miles away from home and similarly seeking out the local parkrun. It then felt totally right to find myself doing three laps of an unfamiliar park with 280 people I did not know but with whom I shared a common bond.
Most Saturdays I meet the rest of the regular local “congregation”, a hard core who come every week along with the parkrun-curious and the recent converts. Parkrun is a highly inclusive religion. The only types of people not represented are those who will never quite be able to imagine themselves being up and out at such a ridiculous time on the first morning of the weekend. There are no expectations that people wear their “Saturday best”. Some are kitted out in state of the art gear but others wear whatever they’ve got to hand. I’ve seen one man photographed finishing a South London parkrun wearing stiff leather shoes and the kind of clothes that gave no indication whatsoever of someone planning to go out for a run.
So how does parkrun measure up when compared to the other great religions?:
Formal ceremonies: Registering and printing out your barcode is the first sign that you are considering heeding the call of parkrun. Then there’s the stages of confirmation that include the award of the 50 run red shirt or even the hallowed 100 run black shirt and jacket. Otherwise it’s all pretty informal.
A recognised leader: Paul Sinton-Hewitt, the founder of parkrun is the closest we have to this. His first event in 2004 included 13 runners. He seems oddly overlooked and low profile given that his initial idea has inspired what is expected to be up to 60,000 people running a UK parkrun every single week by the end of 2014. If he turned up at my local parkrun I doubt anyone would recognise him.
The network of Race Directors are the closest we get to “clergy”. They are distinguished by hi-viz jackets, but this is not usually in recognition of the many sacrifices made in their years of training. You or I could get to wear the garments of the “inner sanctum” just by emailing a race director and offering to scan a few barcodes.
A holy book I don’t believe there is such a thing when it comes to parkrun. No doubt one of the obsessive band of “parkrun tourists” (or should that read “pilgrims”?) who try to visit and run every one of the 200 plus events has something in the pipeline, but the weekly newsletter will have to suffice for now.
Sensitivity to blasphemy: One of the things I like about parkrun is its tolerance. We tolerate the quirky behaviour of other non-parkrunning park-users, even the ones who are clearly outraged that we dare to run in their park. The man who kicked a football smack between my legs during my first ever parkrun was only sworn at and wrestled to the ground in my imagination. The man who insisted on walking very slowly slap bang in the middle of the narrow path at last Saturday’s parkrun was not barged out of the way but politely negotiated by 180 runners wanting to get past him. In fact it’s very hard to upset the parkrun faithful, so long as you don’t ever claim to “win” an event or take to Twitter to berate the race director if the results are taking too long to get published.
Hymns: There is no rousing parkrun song of praise, although this one’s crying out for a rework:
Next Saturday I expect to find myself waking up in a hotel miles away from home after a going to a wedding on Friday (along with all the unathletic activity that’s likely to include). The one bit I was apprehensive about was having to miss my Saturday morning “enrichment”. However, after a quick check of the parkrun website, I was amazed to find out the hotel was 1.7 km away from a…..you’ve guessed it. As well as packing my suit and tie, my running shoes will be in my bag. It would be rude not to.