Chichester Challenge

10th July 2011, a Sunday morning, 06:10, I beat the alarm clock by ten minutes.

We were staying at the old man’s so were at least in Sussex to begin with. Got my shit together, had the little ladies’ clothes laid out, reluctantly woke them from their sleep but they seemed happy enough to be up and at’em and about to head out on our adventure. An hour’s drive south and we arrived in Lavant near Chichester.

Soon after the beginning of this year, after I’d got back into running, Frankie would ask to join me on my long runs. So with Alex too, we started doing the parkruns (an organisation I can’t speak highly enough about) together. We were obviously slower than me on me tod but it was extra exercise, an opportunity to let Kate have a small lie in of a Saturday morning and good to involve them, getting them to see what running was all about. When I then did the Brighton Marathon in April, Frankie asked when she could do a marathon too. She was outgrowing her pram so we didn’t really have an option, if we were going to do it, we best get on with it. I told a few people that I’d be doing this. Why do I do that? So that I’m then less inclined to back out on the quiet.

So just after 9am on that sunny day we trundled off across the fields around Chichester. Within 5 minutes, we were lost. A herd of about 50 of us realised we were heading in the wrong direction (actually I didn’t have a clue and would have quite happily just carried on meandering regardless). Collectively turned around, stumbled around a cowpat laden field then repicked up the path. Even at that stage I was already thinking that just one extra metre more than was required was not welcome, let alone 5 minutes’ aimless wanderings in some shitty field. Back on track again we were then cramped between a fence and the edge of some impenetrable field as the human traffic made its way at the pace of the slowest man (or woman’s). Once the paths opened up a little we got into a steady pace and were properly away.

Naturally I was pushing the old Phil&Teds Classic – surely a firm favourite amongst marathon-pushing-fathers (or -mothers). In the stowage area of the pram we had crammed in: about 4 litres of Ribena, a couple of bottles of milk, Fruit Shoots and water; ham sandwiches, flapjacks, chocolate crispy cakes, a pram rain cover; 3 coats; 2 jumpers and a puncture repair kit. Most of that was gone by the time we made it round.

Running through the woods, over roots, fallen logs, brambles, nettles, mud, puddles (“muddle puddles”), flint stones, I realised fairly quickly that I’d bitten off a lot to chew. I had emailed the organiser before booking our entrance to confirm whether we are even allowed to enter in our chosen format. ‘Doug’ replied trying his best to deter us but said it was up to me but he was unable even to give us the route to peruse as lots of the course was on farmers’ land that they didn’t want people practising on before the event.

There were 5 checkpoints to go via.  It’s always nice to have some lights along the way towards the end of the tunnel. Somewhere between the 1st and the 2nd, I decided that it was acceptable (soft?) to only run on the flats and downhills and we would walk the uphills. We were constantly overtaking then re-overtaking a friendly bunch of 3 middle-aged runners who also very kindly helped us with the 2 or 3 stiles that sprung up when we least wanted them to (i.e. during the race). I shouldn’t mark them out as friendly in particular as everyone we encountered was great – much camaraderie going on all day long. Which is one of the things I love about entering races – it’s not really competing against them, well not at my level it isn’t. It’s competing against yourself whilst encouraging your fellow runners to keep digging deep too.

Both ladies were perfect throughout. For me, trying to hold a conversation about absolute bollocks with a 1 and 3 year old whilst you sweating your socks off, can’t really hear what they’re saying and are generally feeling quite puffed is a ninja test I won’t forget quickly. By around 1pm Frankie was the person initiating the countryside ‘hellos’ to walkers coming our way. They did me proud as ever. Alex didn’t get out of her seat for the full 6 hours, 21 minutes and 30 seconds. Anybody else would object to that. She’s a good girl that one. And heading up 2 rather severe hills I have to admit to asking (telling?) Frankie to get out of the pram and walk up. She’s a good girl that one. How lucky I am to have my girls. What a great day out.running girlsA couple of weeks after the run, when Kate next needed to use the pram, she asked me why I did nothing to fix the sheered front tyre and puncture. Eh? I wonder how long that had slowed us down for?

My perfect girls

And here I’ll make a prediction: One day these girls will run their own marathon.

Run.

Run.

Run.

Run.

Run.

Run.

Run.

Marathon Tunes

I spent hours coming up with this list and getting it in order. Then hours listening to it yesterday at the Brighton Marathon 2011. Am still hobbling.

There’s more beats in the second half, for when the going gets a little harder. It worked out for me yesterday. There are moments when a tune comes on and you just smile and put your foot down. I love that feeling.

The The, This Is The Day
Prince, Let’s Go Crazy
Status Quo, Down Down
Interpol, Evil
Arcade, Fire Neighborhood #1 (Tunnels)
MGMT, Kids
Kings Of Leon, Sex On Fire
Bloc Party, Tulips
Arcade Fire, Rebellion (Lies)
The Postal Service, We Will Become Silhouettes
LCD Soundsystem, All My Friends
Muse, Take A Bow
Red Hot Chili Peppers, Can’t Stop
Queen, Don’t Stop Me Now
Black Eyed Peas, Pump it
Electric Light Orchestra, Mr. Blue Sky
Feeder, Buck Rogers
Friska Viljor, Gold
Marilyn Manson, The Beautiful People
Fine Young Cannibals, Johnny Come Home
Kele, Tenderoni
White Stripes,   Seven Nation Army
Erasure,     Blue Savannah
Vampire Weekend,   Cousins
Queens of the Stone Age, No One Knows
Editors,  Bones
Erasure, Love To Hate You
Sisters Of Mercy, Temple Of Love (1992)
Bloc Party, This Modern Love
Eminem, Lose Yourself
Johnny Cash, Hurt
The Killers, Mr Brightside
Muse, Time Is Running Out
The Killers, Human
Bodyrockers, I Like The Way
Jim Steinman, Stark Raving Love
Malcolm Mclaren, Double Dutch
Survivor, Eye Of The Tiger
Lostprophets, Last Train Home
Muse, Stockholm Syndrome
Battles, Atlas
The Chemical Brothers, Under The Influence
Benny Benassi, Satisfaction (Original Album
The Chemical Brothers, Hey Boy Hey Girl
Benny Benassi, Inside Of Me
Fuck Buttons, Bright Tomorrow

[ pdf download version ]

Getting Marathon Fit In Under Three Months

The marathon’s about being in contention over the last 10K. That’s when it’s about what you have in your core. You have run all the strength, all the superficial fitness out of yourself, and it really comes down to what’s left inside you. To be able to draw deep and pull something out of yourself is one of the most tremendous things about the marathon.

Rob de Castella

I’ve always gone through peaks and troughs of fitness. This time around, the lull had overstayed its welcome by maybe 3 years if I’m honest. Having children fills your time (oh, really?) and committing yourself to a challenge is the main way I’ve found I can motivate myself (but even that’s failed in the past). My cousin and I had regularly mooted going for a run together then never got round to it, then her indoors started (constructively) taking the piss out of us for saying it and not acting upon it. So late January, in the cold of this nasty winter we’ve just left behind, we met up at the local park and went for a run. And it was ok. Then a week later we went again, and it was ok too. Then we agreed to run the Brighton Marathon on the 10th April 2011. We set out to run 5 times a week and we kept to it.

To be honest, I should also say that I wasn’t starting from zero. There was a bit of residual fitness left over from cycling to and from work last summer, about 25 minutes each way about 4 days a week for a bit under 6 months. I have to give credit to the Parkrun organisation. My elder sister introduced me to the Brighton one some time around the autumn last year and I was really impressed by the way it was run. It’s a free, timed 5km run on a Saturday morning. They’re all over the country. Your times get emailed to you later in the day, they get collated on their site and it’s a really good atmosphere amongst the ‘competitors’ (except it’s not so much about running against them but beating your own personal best). I’ve done both the Brighton one (over 100 people) and the Hackney Marshes one (about 35 people) now. The whole set up is an excellent yet gentle way to get people moving.

Bullet point advice for starting out in your training:

  • Get a training partner. Even if you end up running at different paces, just saying “I’ll meet you at the tree at 9am” forces you not to let down your buddy, so gets you moving where otherwise you’d roll over and sleep some more. That said, a couple of days I couldn’t make it for whatever reason so used a rest day or got an a.m. one in and then a p.m. one later that day.
  • Write up a training programme. We based ours on one of the ones offered by the Brighton Marathon organisers. Don’t write it in stone as you can’t judge how you’ll develop but use it as a framework to keep within.
  • Document. You can see how you’re improving which in turn motivates. I use of Google DocsMy Tracks (a Google GPS app) and more recently  Daily Mile (like Facebook but for excercise). The GDocs spreadsheet log shows I ran a total of 50 runs, ran for just under 57 hours and covered over 700 km. (I’ve given up on the GPS for now as my phone was irritatingly slow to pick up a signal). Counting up those numbers makes you feel like you’re getting somewhere.
  • Listen. I got into podcasts and then later on some fast tempo music. You’re going to spend a long time out there, so best make use of that time and either educate or entertain yourself. The BBC has some of the best ones that I know of, in particular I got into Desert Island discs for their inspirational guest list. I’ll upload my marathon playlist once I’ve finalised it. [Update: here it is, Marathon Tunes]

The weekly training schedule took the following form:

Monday: Rest

Tuesdays: c.1 hour (3 laps of the park)

Wednesday: 1 hour

Thursday: 1 hour 20 minutes

Friday: Rest

Saturday: Parkrun 5km

Sunday: Long run. Increasing weekly from 13km up to 39km then dropping as we close in on the marathon.

The great thing about this training is that you can eat as much as you like and you’ll burn it off. I do avoid eating for at least 2 hours before a run though. I have cut right down on booze – there’s no pleasure in going for a run with a hangover and you’ll notice a difference that even a couple of pints makes to your performance the next day. Boring as I am, I was even dry on a good friend’s stag do I went on last weekend. And finally, as unpleasant a subject as it is, I will mention pooing: So there’s no unpleasant surprises during a run, I always try to go the first thing in the morning. You also don’t want to run with a heavy gut, and no one wants to have to do a Paula.

This weekend is it then, we’re 2 days away and I’m feeling nervous. I’ve just watched the timelapse course video again and that’s making me more nervous. 26.2 miles is not a short distance. I have a time in mind but haven’t done a properly long run for nearly month now so gauging where you’re at is not easy. For me, this marathon will lay down a further milestone for where I really am and what I have to beat next time. Yep, I’ve gone and darn well booked another for next month. Again, without doing that, I know me, I’ll just sit down and have some more pies.

Looking further on, there’s others I’m considering to keep that challenge up there. That’s it though, yesterday I ran my final run before this Sunday’s Brighton Marathon 2011.