Are you a Run-Faffer?


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I lay in bed early this morning, trying to sleep through Mrs Run Don’t Run making heavy weather about whether to go on her usual Sunday morning bike ride or not. It involved a lot of text messages, peaking outside to check on the iciness of the roads, and then, once the decision had been made to get the bike out, a lot of careful weighing up and mind changing about food, drink and the most ideal kit selection. As soon as she returns, I’m planning on immediately heading out on my long run, but you can be fairly certain that it won’t be the smooth handover of a carefully drilled triathlon relay team. For I am a run faffer. To faff is “to muck about, wasting time doing something not necessary.” It’s a real word and a genuine affliction- it must be because it’s in the Urban Dictionary!

The thing is, you might be one too, especially at this time of year. Check out the tell-tale signs:

1. Over-careful route planning – you want a route with no hills, which you’re not bored of, which needs to be familiar enough to avoid getting lost, with no likely puddles to mess up your box fresh new trainers, and it has to end outside your house after exactly 9.5 miles because that’s what your programme says. Cue consulting of maps, cutting bits of thread to measure distances.
Potential Faff-Factor: 60 minutes

2. Deciding the kit you wear has to match, or at the very least, doesn’t clash. This informs the perfect choice of socks. However, you can only find one.
Potential Faff-Factor: 20 minutes

3. Taking extra care over your hydration needs, especially before a 3 mile recovery run. Insisting on filtered water, from the fridge, in your favourite “lucky” bottle which is nowhere to be found, although other vessels are available.
Potential Faff-Factor: 10 minutes

4. Killing the time waiting for your breakfast to go down by snacking.
Potential Faff-Factor: 180 minutes

5. Easily locating your iPod, but then having a last minute wish for a new playlist (cue switching on of creaky old computer, loading up of massive music library, hand-picking of new tunes, sorting into gradually increasing BPMs with a nice bit of slowing down towards the end for your warm-down)
Potential Faff-Factor: 60 minutes

6. Announcing every run, no matter how trivial, on a range of social media.
Potential Faff-Factor: 10 minutes

7. Last minute clothing shuffle when the promised “mild conditions” turn out to be permafrost.
Potential Faff-Factor: 15 minutes

8. Watch-fiddling – entering a new work-out, switching from imperial to metric “for a bit of variety” then spending 10 minutes stood outside, losing the benefits of tell-tale sign 9.
Potential Faff-Factor: 20 minutes

9. Doing a thorough warm-up (the most beneficial faff, and naturally the one I’m least guilty of).
Potential Faff-Factor: 15 minutes

10. Reading running blogs about faffing, thinking “Yes, I do some of those, but he’s missed out the most important faff which is…..” then not being able to remember your log on name or password to add it as a comment under said blog.
Potential Faff-Factor: 10 minutes

So are you a run-faffer? Can you suggest even more ways I can take even longer to get out of the house?


My Fantasy Race

Yes, a bit like fantasy football, if you could specify the ingredients for your perfect race day, what would it look like?

1. I wouldn’t have to spend months planning for it, just keep those running legs ticking over every week and one Saturday, after say, a big glass if red wine, I’d say to myself and anyone else in earshot “That 10K I was half thinking about doing. It’s tomorrow morning, and you know what, I think I’ll do it.”

2. I wake up, in winter, in daylight. It’s just before 9 a.m. and I have still have time to get some porridge down me and fire up the espresso machine. Then spend an hour “pre-race faffing” – getting kit ready, changing my mind, losing stuff and finding it again.

3. In a last minute change of plan, I decide to drive there, risking spending too long trying to find a parking space in a busy part of London. I arrive and find a perfect spot, right next to the gates of the park.

4. I walk the 20 metres or so to the race HQ, wait in a line of one to sign up and get my race number. I pick up my free race t-shirt and am advised to “try it on, if it doesn’t fit, bring it back and I’ll get you a medium”. Passing on the free pre-race massage, I’m ushered into the baggage drop area, ask if I can drop my baggage later and then brace myself for the pre-race toilet stop turmoil. There is a queue of one person to join. Later on I see someone else waiting in a queue of one. Someone from the running club apologises and points out there’s a second toilet around the corner. This is 20 minutes before the race starts.

5. I pass on the plates full of home baked cakes, the tea, coffee and water and head for the start. It’s a dry, cool, autumnal day and after a surprisingly effective group warm-up, we’re off. Four laps around a flat park. My watch is set to a target time I know I could achieve on a good day. Every time I check it, it tells me I’m ahead of schedule.

6. There are 12 marshalls stationed around the 2.5 mile laps. Once I get over the shock I experience in every race (“yes, it’s me, I used to avoid running with a passion, and now I’m running. Outside. In a race! And I’m not last!”) I notice that the marshalls are holding placards with little messages for us runners. Usually I’m cynical about motivational messages, but today some of them make me smile and, how should I put this, motivated?

7. I also imagine that the course must have some hills somewhere, but they’re too subtle to notice. We must be going uphill at some point because there’s a nice long incline towards the end of each lap. I give up checking my watch. I’ve still got time to spare. I’m soon on the fourth and final lap. I overtake a couple of people who’d overtaken me on the third. My energy’s running low but I have enough to step up the pace a lot sooner than I’d usually entertain.

8. Then all too soon, it’s over. There’s a little machine into which I type my race number and get my time on a slip of paper. I’ve done lots of races before but I’ve never got to use a gadget like that before! (It was like the first time I used a Dyson hand-dryer) Almost three minutes faster than my target time. My second PB of the year. I’m beaming.

9. I’m back in the clubhouse. The massages are still free, the chocolate brownies have gone but there are still cakes. Apple and cinnamon or banana and ginger, I’m on such a high that I choose the banana one, the devil’s fruit. And I like it. I pick up a certificate, an Oyster card holder and some more water. I head home – it takes 20 minutes.

That would be my fantasy race. Only I actually did it this morning. I’m going to think long and hard before I let anyone know which race this was and where it took place. In case it was all a dream.

Keeping going


Today’s inspiration

I sometimes think I’m making up for lost time with this running malarkey, cramming in as many variations on the basic “going out for a run” as possible, signing up for races, buying kit and gadgets. If I’d got into running before my forties I think I might be a bit more laid back. Today I’d ventured out primarily to exorcise the demons from last weekend when I’d blown up at mile 8 of a planned 11 mile run and skulked home in disgrace. So I was pleasantly surprised to get through my new 8-miles-in psychological barrier and keeping going until my Garmin said I’d done exactly 13.1 miles. A cheeky half marathon I’d never planed to do at a gentle pace and even a burst of speed in the last half mile.

This got me thinking – how long could I have kept going today, and how long could I keep running into the future. So I’ve done a bit of research to see how sensible I’m being. My first stop was an article by Jeff Galloway Your best running may be after forty. Well full marks for the title – (conveniently overlooking the fact I barely ran for a bus for the previous 25 years) I did my first 5k at the age of 44, and have gone on to deliver more than just the odd PB, Jeff’s spot on there.

Jeff also goes on to advise Avoid continuous use of muscles, tendons, joints , suggesting people of my age should do strenuous exercise every other day. I think I’ve learnt this lesson from the foolish days of Janathon earlier this year when I challenged myself to go running 5 days a week. I succeeded, but also succeeded in getting a stress fracture so I’m consciously avoiding high-volume challenges now (Juneathon?, not on your nelly).

Break up your workouts in segments to reduce aches and pains? Not sure I’m keen on that idea. He suggests doing a couple of shorter sessions a day rather than something longer and tougher. For me that would mean more dawn-starts and I have to fight to get out most evenings, so one session every now and then isn’t something I can take for granted.

He recommends us mid-life crisis runners Use walk breaks. That’s always been a bit of a no-no for me. Ever since watching hundreds of “runners” walking the last couple of miles of London’s Run to the Beat half marathon a few years ago, I’ve scorned this practice. I told myself “Imagine – they go into work on Monday morning and tell everyone “Oh, I did a half marathon yesterday” when in fact they’ve just been out for a bit of a stroll.”This was, of course, until I did my first marathon and again tutted and gradually became more incensed at the (usually older) people who walked up every hill. When I wanted to lie down and hibernate at mile 20 and then could barely walk, let alone run for much of the remaining 6 miles it was a different story, especially as the uphill walkers then cruised past me and were standing around admiring each other’s medals as I collapsed over the finish line. So maybe one day walk breaks will be a useful strategy but for now I hope to just make damn sure I can run for more than 22 miles before I tackle the London Marathon next April.

A longer warmup is advised. Does walking down the stairs and putting on my shoes count as a warm-up? Hmmm, I thought not. I’ve got two excuses for not warming up: 1) the same reason I have for not breaking up workouts into segments – I like to exaggerate about how busy and important I am so I don’t have time and 2) I think I’ll look silly, jogging past the neighbours, high-stepping, kicking my own bottom and doing that Morecambe and Wise dance. There are periods of time when I take an almost religious approach to post-run stretching (currently I’m more agnostic and have to force myself to lie on the floor and go through the tedious motions) and I try to con myself into thinking that the stretching compensates for my warm-up phobia. However, I think Jeff might have a point here so maybe I need to learn a warm-up drill that to the untrained eye looks like I’m just walking down the street.

Apparently forty-something runners should Avoid all-out exertion. Jeff says “Running at your limits, after a certain age, can produce lingering fatigue and permanent aches, pains, and damage.” I tend to avoid training plans that use “RPE” (Rate of Perceived Exertion) to measure how hard you train – not “scientific” enough for someone who spends hours poring over the lovely bar charts my Garmin produces. However, I do think I tend not to spend much time running at the higher rates (9 or 10 out of 10) – the feelings I have when really overdoing it tend to remind me too much of the burning lungs and nausea of my teenage running experiences. When it comes to racing however, I love to beat my previous self and sometimes really go for it. I also like running intervals, not too fast and with the reassurance that very soon I’ll be getting a rest. So long as the subsequent fatigue doesn’t linger, I’m afraid I’ll be carrying on with this bad habit, Jeff.

Finally he says we should Control injuries and fatigue by taking action immediately. You can’t argue with that although my immediate action when I started to get the symptoms of a stress fracture was to go out running every few days to see if it still hurt (it did). I’m not sure this is the kind of “action” Jeff had in mind. I think it helps to have access to the right kind of experts to provide the right kind of advice when it comes to injury which can be expensive and time consuming. As I get older I think applying Jeff’s approach to fatigue is helpful. Last Sunday I never wanted to run again, didn’t think about it at all on Monday and on Tuesday evening did the slowest recovery run ever. I “recovered”, did some very satisfying intervals on Friday morning and today surprised myself by proving I could still cover a half marathon. Forcing myself to do five sessions this week was certainly not the right response.

So unscheduled days off when tired, subtle warmups and maybe strategic use of the occasional bit of walking it will be, if I’m to keep on keeping on. Any other tips would be much appreciated.