No Human Is Limited

Brilliant song, lyrics and all…it’s like 3 songs in 1…”This is the beginning of the rest of your life…” – listening to this while writing.

Where were you when…?

I have not yet lived long enough to see a human set foot on the moon, or England win the world cup, but on Saturday 12th October I watched and cheered as Eliud Kipchoge ran 26.2 miles in 1:59:40. I am not a massive spectator of sport, but this was such a thrilling event and I feel very lucky to have witnessed it live – even if it was on my laptop in the kitchen, and not in Vienna at the finish line.

Regardless of what anyone else writes or says about it “not counting” (Maffetone? WTF?), the man is a living legend. Five years younger than me, a world record holder and Olympic gold medallist. He radiates wisdom and kindness, and he’s a grafter. As much as I applaud his athletic feats, his work ethic and devotion to his family and team are as good a reason to admire the man.

I might be a bit cynical, but I can’t help imagine a whole team of INEOS marketing people sat around a big table in a boardroom meeting and coming up with, “no human is limited.” It might just be that hearing Eliud say it so many times in the build up and then at the finish, it seemed so rehearsed. That could just be due to him speaking in English and feeling the need to replicate certain phrases exactly? Regardless, I agree with the sentiment. I think the majority of limitations we face are self-imposed, or forced upon us by others – but they’re not real. So if there are no limits, how high am I going to aim?

The Year Ahead

I don’t consider myself one to boast, but I am really proud of my athletic achievements over the past year. There were no 1st places, gold meals or sub 2 hour marathons, but whether it was the London marathon (3:24), my first two triathlons (2:52 Olympic), the Spitfire Scramble (3rd place) or the Three Peaks Challenge (23 hrs 51 mins), I have given them all a good go. More importantly, I’ve got some great memories from taking on these challenges and I think they have changed me, made me a better version of my imperfect self.

I don’t do these challenges for medals, and would swap these for a decent photo from the event any day – but luckily I have both in most cases.

I have blown right past my original goals of being at a healthy weight and developing a regular exercise routine. I can’t see myself slipping too far from this new personal baseline I have set – it’s just part of who I am now. I am a runner. I run most mornings, in a fasted state, using the Maffetone method.

Touch wood, I haven’t had any heart issues for over 18 months, and hopefully the reveal device implanted in my left pectoral can be removed soon. While the doctors are doing that, they can sign my doctor’s permission slip for the Paris Marathon! I had to pull out of this in April 2017 because the cardiologist advised me against running a marathon. I’ve since been given the all clear on that front, but haven’t entered Paris since. Yes, I could have lied and signed this myself…I’m sure they don’t check…but it just didn’t seem like the sane thing to do!

So my athletic calendar for the next year looks like this:

10 Week Shred AND HEAL – now – christmas

Between now and the Christmas holidays, I am going to be SUPER STRICT with my diet and exercise routine to focus on the following:

  • Build an aerobic base using the MAF method – running (4-5 times a week, 20-60 mins) while keeping my heart rate below 141 bpm
  • Lower body fat percentage (from 20.5% body fat to 15%) – eliminate alcohol, refined sugar and most carbs Monday – Friday
  • Greater hamstring flexibility – daily morning loosening exercises, post-run and evening stretching
  • Eliminate lower back issues (pain/injury) – daily stretching, foam rolling and exercise
13/10/19…20.5% and 72kg. I don’t worry about my weight, but the amount of fat I’m carrying goes up so easily if I don’t watch the SUGAR/CARBS…damn you sweet tooth! Sober October is a doddle however.

paris marathon – APRIL

On Sunday the 5th April 2020 I hope to be running in this event. Not for a time, just for the mileage, the practice, the experience…so no pressure whatsoever. This is really exciting for me, as the stress is taken out of it. I will still set some sort of goal (even splits, or negative splits?) and I don’t like the idea of running for more than 4 hours, but still, no pressure.

This is all leading up to my big goal for 2020…Berlin…a sub 3 hour marathon!

Royal Windsor Triathlon (Olympic Distance) – JUNE

In mid-June I will be taking part in this event for the second year running. Obviously I would like to achieve a better time than last year (2:52), but my main focus for the event is having good technique in all three disciplines, rapid transitions and injury-free completion of the event.

I want to put in some decent mileage on the turbo, and get some swim coaching and analysis. As part of my cross-training for Berlin I would like to swim once a week (pool until the lakes open) and cycle (indoors until spring) a couple of times each week.

I will do a sprint distance triathlon beforehand – hopefully Thorpe Park again, as I really enjoyed that I could take my family to the theme park afterwards. But any sprint to dust off the cobwebs…and check my gear all still works (and fits)!

Spitfire Scramble – JULY

I cannot believe that our team came third last time! I know I can do better, if I can sort my back out, and keep up my running mileage after any triathlons or spring marathon. I think that this challenge is little bit insane, but I know where I went wrong last time and I can fix those issues. There may be other issues next time, and I’ll learn some more, but I think mainly, the mileage (done sensibly) could be really beneficial for Berlin.

Berlin Marathon Sub 3 Hour Attempt – SEPTEMBER

I want to run a sub 3 hour marathon (have I mentioned this?) – just once – then my competitive days are over. I can retire happily with a 2:59 to my name…I have unfinished business with the marathon distance otherwise!

I don’t think I could rule out running another marathon afterwards as I enjoy them too much, but it would be great to get a place as a pacer, or just jog the distance in various marathons around the world – like I intend to do in Paris – and take in the scenery and crowds.

…AND THEN…?

Well, there are so many other things that I am tempted to do and I can’t do them all. But if there really are no limits…?

Iron Man? But definitely a half Iron Man first! Oh, and the lottery win to fund the whole thing!

White collar boxing? Blame “Rocky” films, or doing my university finals in York Hall, this is on my bucket list. That said, there are more enjoyable ways to lose brain cells.

Brazilian Jiu Jitsu? Safer than boxing. Other late bloomers here include the late, great, Anthony Bourdain and local legend, Russell Brand.

Astronaut training? Once I’m over my fear of flying and being in confined spaces. Just kidding. I’m not scared of these. The countdown to my next career has begun! Although I would settle for a holiday in space to be honest…not sure I’d want the job full-time.

Cooking? DIY? I could do worse than devote some time to learning some skills that could actually be of some benefit to other people – namely Laura! I’m very envious of those people who are handy in the kitchen or good with tools!

Back to University? Engineering? Creative writing? Another lottery win required. And the qualification is not really what I’m after. It’s more the skills and confidence (that bits of paper often bring) to put them to good use.

Police force? Detective? Armed forces? Being chromatically challenged, these were ruled out at an early age, and unless they have developed a procedure for correcting it, they’re still not on the cards. Not to mention Robyn’s pleas not to do anything that could get me hurt in the line of duty. I concur.

Writing? That novel is in me….somewhere…itching to get out…the trouble being the lack of physical fitness necessary to complete it. I have an excuse to put it off. I’ve a friend who completed their first Iron Man at age 50!!! So that can wait 10 years! Frank McCourt (‘Tis, Teacher Man) didn’t publish his first book until he was 66! So I can put off writing anything for even longer!!! Anyway, for now I will reading daily and writing AT LEAST weekly…getting ready for the muse! And nanowrimo is next month! I will definitely be blogging about my annual DNF at this challenge! I do get the t-shirt each year (my 2019 tee has already arrived from the US), and I write something every day throughout November…but I lack (have lacked…past tense) the mental and emotional stamina to stick with my characters and their stories. Maybe this year will be the first time I hit the 50,000 word target over the 30 days on November?

We shall see…

PEAK EXPERIENCE

” A peak experience is a moment accompanied by a euphoric mental state often achieved by self-actualizing individuals. ” Wikipedia

In my 39 years on planet Earth, I have wasted far too much time. I’ve lost days to worry and hangovers, months to traffic jams and train commutes, and quite possibly years to re-watching Jaws and the Rocky films (not to mention other favourites).

Realising that I’ve got the same 24 hours (86,400 seconds) as everyone else – and who knows how many of those are left – I do my best to make the most of that most precious resource, time.

A big RED FLAG for me is any extended period of wishing I was somewhere else, in timepast or future – or locationwork versus home. I’m not talking about the occasional stroll down memory lane, or dreaming of an anticipated future event. I’m referring to the daily, mindless, Walter Mitty-esque state of not focusing on the task at hand. Maybe because it’s so boring, painful, scary…or even too easy? More likely though, it’s that I’ve forgotten the bigger picture that the task in front of me contributes towards…or I don’t care enough about that particular picture.

One of the greatest benefits I have reaped from endurance training, is that it has doubled as a mindfulness practice. I try to be “here and now” when I’m running, and the rhythmic breathing helps with this. I leave my earphones at home, and apart from my breathing, I may take my metronome to work on my cadence. The big picture for me of breaking a 3 hour marathon and then just continuing to be a lifelong plodder, keeps me focused. I find it much harder to replicate that mindfulness with swimming and cycling, and my attention wanders. It’s something I need to work on.

My latest challenge, required extended periods of present moment awareness. The level of physical fitness needed to complete The National Three Peaks Challenge is not to be sniffed at, but more demanding is the mental toughness to endure the hours of sleep-deprived hiking and ability to remain focused during each blister-producing step.

NATIONAL three PEAKS CHALLENGE

The National Three Peaks Challenge consists of the following. Hike up the tallest mountain in Scotland (Ben Nevis), England (Scafell Pike) and Wales (Snowdon). Oh, and drive between each of them – in 24 hours or less! The clock starts as you start hiking up your first mountain, continues throughout all hiking and driving, ending only once you have descended the third mountain. There are no rules about the order in which you tackle them. Some people drive as well as hike – which is pretty bloody stupid – driving tired is not a sensible thing to do. I’m no angel here, but I certainly wouldn’t choose to take on this hiking challenge AND drive myself. So if you are going to attempt this, find yourself a driver!

“He’s all talk,” is hopefully something that will never be said about me. I’m not one of life’s spectators. That said, for a variety of deep dark psychological reasons, despite being a “doer”, I am also a “delayer”.

The motto “completion, not perfection,” gets me started, on most things. The mantra, “one more step/word/rep/note” gets me to the end, of most things. But sometimes, completion isn’t good enough for me. My first marathon (4 hrs 13 mins) gnawed away at me, and although I’m proud of my 3:24 PB, I don’t think I can stop now until I see 2:59:59. I have other bees in my bonnet…so much to put right…and then write about! SPOILER ALERT: The Three Peaks Challenge is another one of them.

Anyway, I first thought of taking on this challenge in October 2014, with my cousin and a friend. We bought hiking boots and started training, but didn’t get as far as purchasing a compass or a map, finding a driver, or actually hiking up any mountains! So I was definitely deeply in the “delay” stage at this point.

In December 2017 at work I was given a Secret Santa gift of a compass and the OS Maps for the National Three Peaks. It’s amazing how that little push helped overcome the inertia that had prevented any serious progress three years earlier.

In June 2018 I actually managed to hike up all three mountains (Ben Nevis – Scotland, Scafell Pike – England, and Snowdon – Wales) with a group of people from work. In hindsight, the group was too big (opinion), as was the mini-bus (fact – couldn’t get over a humpbacked bridge at Wasdale Head) and many members of the group had underestimated the physical and mental demands of the challenge (fact). After late returners from Ben Nevis, an additional 2 mile walk each way at Scafell Pike and a detour to drop some of the group off at Liverpool train station, whilst on the way to Snowdon, we finished in about 30 hours. To soften the blow, we did have a sip of Moet at the top of Snowdon and watched the sunset before descending – which was a great memory.

So we were six hours over the target. We had failed and ended up arriving at work, straight from Snowdon, at 8 am on Monday morning and having to limp and shuffle around work the whole day. It was frustrating that I felt fit enough to have completed the challenge within the 24 hour limit, but was held back by other factors. It would be over a year before my next attempt.

LONDON TO FORT WILLIAM

Weeks of excitement, training and equipment gathering have resulted in my usual pre-event insomnia. I eventually manage three hours sleep, and reassure myself with the thought that I can have a nap during the ten hour car journey from London to Scotland. If that fails, I have seven hours in the Travelodge before our first hike up Ben Nevis.

Most of my kit…there was more!

The car journey conversation proves too interesting to zone out from, and thanks to road works and traffic, 13 HOURS LATER, we arrive in Fort William. I have missed my opportunity to nap in the car, and now we have just four hours until we are due to set off for Ben Nevis.

13 hours for what should be a 10 hour journey…nothing I’m not used to!

Thankfully, those four hours are the deepest sleep I think I have ever had and I am woken up at 04:15 am to the flashing of every light in the hotel room. Our driver Mark has hit the correct switch first time, but due to the delay has decided to switch that one off and try the others, tutting as the light show continues. It was a great start to the day – laughter and good spirits – and gratitude that none of us suffer from epilepsy.

BEN NEVIS

The mountain weather reports over the last week have shown everything from snow and rain, to thunder and lightning, and yet we are blessed with a calm, clear and dry start. It’s 05:14 am and dark, so head torches are turned on from the start. Mark takes a photo of Simon and myself outside the visitor centre before we start my Garmin, and we’re off across the bridge and up our first mountain!

We have dressed for the worst conditions and as a result, find ourselves needed to take a layer off less then 10 minutes into our hike. I don’t remember sweating so much, so early, on the treadmill – but my legs feel fine, so onward we climb.

We are both surprised to be the only two hikers in sight, as every hotel and hostel is fully booked. Where is everybody else? The three hikers who whizz past us moments after that thought clearly aren’t the full answer to that question, but it is quite handy to have their head torches lighting the way.

I am diligent about my fuelling and hydration, eating half a snickers or muesli bar every 30 minutes, and washing it down with a few sips of water through the hose attached to my 2 litre bladder pouch.

I am feeling very smug about my £5 hiking bag – a charity shop find, worth £50 brand new – and unlike the first time I hiked up Ben Nevis, I am carrying two hiking poles. These are most useful for the downward journey, but I think even going up they are taking some of the incline work off of my legs. Any arrogance I feel about being so well-equipped (for a change) is knocked out of me half way up Ben Nevis, as I look at my map holder for the first time and realise I am looking at the map for Snowdon! Good job the path is VERY clear.

I am expecting snow at the summit, like there was in June 2018, but it’s all rock and fog. We make it to our first trig point (1345m) without incident, stopping for a quick photo and to put that removed layer back on – along with gloves. It’s amazing how quickly the weather and temperature can change, so I can see how easy it would be to underestimate the perils of hiking. It’s not just the cold either – we are walking just metres away from a sheer drop of hundreds of metres. The cairns help keep you on course, but if the fog is really bad, it would be very easy to….take a much quicker route to the bottom!?!

Reached the summit of Ben Nevis in 2 hrs 30 mins

I am about to make my way back down the mountain when Simon points out that my bag, containing my water and other essentials (you know, like food, the map and compass) are still resting on the trig point. I have taken them off to put my jacket on and forgotten all about them. Yet another example of me being more “barely grilling” than Bear Grylls. Did I ever mention the time I drove two hours with a friend to go camping, and forgot the tent?

We are on our way down, and I am getting back into a good rhythm with my hiking sticks and breathing, at times even having a little trot – letting the hiking poles and gravity do most of the work. Soon enough however, the masses of hikers we’ve been expecting to see on the way up are blocking our path down, sitting across paths, RESTING?!? Many are wearing charity t-shirts (well done guys), many don’t look up to the challenge if they are aiming to complete all 3 peaks in 24 hours, and of course there is more than one supermodel-action man couple suffering together. I briefly wonder if any proposals will be made at the peak, or relationships will be over by the bottom…and decide against asking Laura to hike up here with me one day (Lucky escape?!?!).

Once we are out of the clouds, the scenery stops me mid-stride. Even to a chromatically-challenged person such as myself, the greens and blues look unreal – it’s like we’ve landed in Oz. We are hiking against the clock and have already lost time due to the dawdling do-gooders (seriously, well done guys) but we are willing to sacrifice a few more seconds on some selfies.

My photography skills, and the rapidly changing light, don’t do the views justice

I have left one walkie talkie with our driver Mark and I am trying to communicate through the other one, “Come in Silver Fox. Over.” Unfortunately, he is not responding and we later find out that he is watching the rugby elsewhere and has left the walkie talkie in the car. This is a bit of a relief as I am concerned that the “silver fox” comment has offended him! Interestingly we pick up some of the organised groups’ radio signals and hear their instructions to “speed up, slow down,” and unless I’m mistaken, they share my opinion about one hiker I’ve passed on the way down, “she’s not gonna make it.”

We have escaped this poor hiker’s fate on mountain number one, completing the hike in 4 hrs 34 mins, to be met by – NO ONE! Mark, expecting us to take 5 hours, is “on his way”. I am concerned that this is going to be a repeat of my last attempt to complete this challenge, but he appears in 5 minutes, giving us time to stretch. We grab our fresh clothing, have a quick change and then we are off to the Lake District.

Very happy with how low I managed to keep my heart rate.

SCAFELL PIKE

The drive to our second hike is uneventful…beautiful…but thankfully, no traffic or drama. The weather reports are the best they have been all week and after our first hike being so dry, we can’t believe our luck.

As we approach the starting point I recognise the humpback bridge that halted our minibus in June last year. We drive over it without any issues and negotiate the narrow road towards Wasdale Head. I recognise the starting point, as we drive straight past it, and Simon’s GPS agrees, so we turn back. It’s a 60 second delay, as opposed to a 2 mile hike to the start as it was on my previous attempt.

I start the Garmin a few minutes after the start as I am more concerned with trying to get my beef jerky out of my running belt. There is a fast-flowing stream that we have to cross, which I don’t remember from last time. Simon puts on his gaiters – I don’ t have these, but I managed to get across and stay relatively dry. Upon reaching the other side, I turn around to make sure the GoPro is pointing towards Simon as he makes his crossing. You never know, it could be worth £250!?! But alas, no slips, falls or splashes…so no You’ve Been Framed reward.

More great views, and happy to be doing this in the light – don’t try Scafell Pike in the dark!
Cloudy at the top.

We complete the hike in 3 hrs 7 mins (more likely 3 hrs 10 mins), and Mark is ready and waiting this time (there was no rugby to watch). He even responds on the Walkie Talkies and lets us know that the other groups have arrived and are beginning their ascent. Rather them than us – it’s getting dark. The hardest part is coming down, again because of the focus you have to maintain about where you put your foot next. You are always one dodgy placement from a moving rock and twisted ankle. We stop briefly to give another hiker some paracetamol, and pass the three hikers from Durham, who we had already beat coming down from Ben Nevis.

I started the watch a few minutes (3 max) late…so call it 3 hrs 10 mins.

I feel a bit queezy as we make our way along the country lanes, and open the window. Mark offers to pull over, but I’m concerned about wasting time and not actually feeling any better for it. We continue driving anyway, and eventually I fall asleep in the back of the car, waking up feeling far less nauseous.

SNOWDON

I don’t really want to relive this part. Even writing about it is exhausting. I would rather watch the GoPro, but even that won’t do it justice. I am scared that I will forget how horrible this last mountain was a will hike it in these conditions again (highly unlikely).

We arrive at about 00:20 on Sunday morning, well aware that we need to be finished by 05:14 and that our original route (the 4 hour Pyg track) is too dangerous due to the high wind, and so we are going to have to take the Miner’s track which is longer.

It starts off as quite gentle rain, but that doesn’t last. It just seems to get heavier and heavier until you just have to accept that waterproofs have their limits. Each step is now accompanied by squelching as well as pain.

We are warned by a couple, who initially ask “Are you going up Snowdon?” that the conditions are treacherous, that the paths are like lakes and the wind is 50-60 mph. The subtext of this brief conversation is clearly, “YOU’RE F****** NUTS, DON’T GO!” but we push on.

The track does indeed resemble a waterfall in parts, and is easily lost as alternative tracks seem to appear. Without the GPS, we would have been miles off course in no time and this would have jeopardised our chances of completing the challenge even more.

A bit further up the mountain, Simon has pushed himself so hard that he is physically sick. I think to myself, “That’s it. It’s over. I can’t leave him. We’re rational human beings. This is crazy, highly unpleasant, uncivilised even…Simon is very sensible, he’s gonna call it a day.” Did he F***! “Just give me a minute,” he says before 10 seconds later, gathering himself and continuing the ascent. Absolute LEGEND.

I don’t have any photos of this hike, not even at the top. The GoPro footage and the Garmin activity are all the proof I have that we did this…but somehow, in the crazy wind and belting rain, with just a metre’s visibility, we made it to the trig point.

The trig point at Snowdon…it was too wet and windy to risk taking out my phone, so the GoPro footage and Garmin are all the proof I have that we made it!

That was after I found myself one step from the edge of the mountain and a sheer drop to who knows where (I know it was down, which is a good enough justification for my screams to “STOP! GET BACK” to Simon on the GoPro). The screams are muffled due to the waterproof casing and wind, and the drop off is not really visible due to the fog and rain – but check the Garmin. I come right to the start of a seriously steep altitude change!

On the way back down we are off course as much as we are on course. We both fall at various times, and slide down the scree of the steep mountain edge. I hurt my hand on a rock during one of these falls, so much so that I can’t make a fist even now without wincing.

We are so off track at one point, that whilst looking for the track, my boots splashing around on the ground below me, Simon reveals that I am in the lake! I shine the head lamp a bit further, and what I see confirms that I am indeed on the shore of the lake.

I jump out and get back on the track, which is a lot more uphill that we remember. I turn to Simon and say these exact words, “Si, we have to do this in the 24 hours. I can’t do this again. I won’t do this again.” The GPS reassures us that we are on the correct track and finally we see some lights. Not sure how far away they are exactly, and with time running out, we decide to jog. Not for long though as Simon has gone above and beyond what his body is willing to do already.

We wade through the huge puddle at the gate and Simon closes it as I stop the watch at 05:05 am, just 9 minutes to spare. I felt like Phileas Fogg (although, out of the two of us, I was more likely the Passepartout character).

The challenge took us 23 hours and 51 minutes (05:14 Saturday, 05:05 Sunday) with the final mountain taking 4 hrs 28 mins. I remember Snowdon being the easiest hike of the three last time, but without question, it was the most testing this time around.

over the hill(s)

This challenge is over for me now. I wouldn’t feel any happier doing it in 23 hours and 50 minutes or any other number. It’s done. Big Boss beaten. Game completed. One less bee in my bonnet! One more article posted.

To rid me of any post-event blues, I have entered the ballot for the Berlin marathon and I am keeping my fingers crossed for the London ballot as well. I am easing myself back into MAF running and I’m in the process of cleaning up my diet – starting with Sober October and a Low Carb High Fat diet, five days a week. I also have a place in the Windsor triathlon next June, so I need to keep swimming (will seek some coaching before next season) and cycling (need to set up my turbo) in mind.

FANCY THIS CHALLENGE?

I would recommend this challenge to anyone but:

  • Get a driver (a fast, reliable driver, with a working SatNav)
  • Use a decent GPS – maps are no good in thick fog
  • Choose your time of year wisely – weather is unpredictable, but there are some “no go” times of year
  • Wear boots, not shoes or trainers
  • Use two hiking poles
  • Loads (daily) of slow (2-3mph), long (1-2 hours), 15% incline treadmill work will get you fit enough
  • Don’t underestimate how hard the descent is. You work just as hard braking yourself from speeding down. It’s so easy to step on a loose rock and twist an ankle = game over.
  • Hike one for training – I chose Snowdon over the summer. A different trail, but it was still good preparation
  • Head torches are ESSENTIAL (spare batteries)
  • Don’t climb Scafell Pike at night…Ben Nevis and Snowdon are much easier terrain
  • Blister plasters are ESSENTIAL
  • 3 x protein drinks for post hike
  • Waterproof gloves and jacket, and trousers
  • Have a change of clothes for each mountain and one for afterwards
  • The official medals are quite cool – I have ordered 3 of these for Simon, Mark and myself – just to add to the collection!

Not quitting…

…just been taking a really long break!

After that amazing summer break, writing anything publishable has been the furthest thing from my mind – well, that’s not true – I actually thought about it a lot (as is my way), but couldn’t bring myself to the keyboard! Totally defeating a primary purpose of writing this weekly blog i.e. developing a daily writing habit.

I fully admit that from late July, until midnight on the 31st August, I was off the reservation. My consumption of sugar, alcohol and social media made any progress in terms of fitness or writing non-existent. As my mileage and word count plummeted, I managed to shrug off the initial guilt I felt with the following affirmations: “Everyone needs a break,” and “all work and no play…bla bla…” and finally, “you can start again in September.”

And despite the staggered start to my September training due to a heavy work schedule, I do feel renewed, revitalised and focused entirely on my big goal: to run a sub 3 hour marathon in the Berlin 2020 marathon.

Sunday 1st September marked the beginning of this new chapter, with my first (hungover) mile run in my recently purchased Mizuno Wave Riders. They are as light as a feather, comfortable, and smell great…for now! I am particularly attached to these trainers already, as I had to go all the way to London to buy them due my local Runners Need shop closing down. As I’m taking my running seriously, I even purchased two pairs at once (road shoes, no longer trail), which I intend to alternate, so I am properly equipped for Berlin.

Running will take a temporary back seat to hiking (15% incline on the treadmill) in the run up to my next 24 hour three peaks challenge…but after that, it’s all about getting up to 40 miles a week of Maffetone-style (141 bpm) training until Christmas.

Triathlon: not for me…yet?

The relief I felt upon deferring my Dorney Lake Season Finale place to next year’s Windsor Triathlon instead, was huge. The event had hung over me like a cloud all summer (when I actually remembered that I was doing it). Even at my current weight and fitness level, I had no concerns about being able to complete it, but I most definitely would have been slower than my previous Olympic triathlon.

Although I enjoy a triathlon event itself, the training is an absolute ball-ache!

Open water swimming, I only have the opportunity to do twice a week – those days and times are determined by the organisers – so this is uber-inconvenient. I talk myself out of going to the far more flexible swimming pool, on account of them being essentially different sports! I shit you not, put me in a pool and although I’ll be bored, I can get into a rhythm and get my laps done. Shoe horn me into a wet suit though, and dunk me in a lake, and I’m thinking about getting out half a lap into the session.

Cycling, not to mention the attire, is not really for me. I can do it, like swimming, but I alternate between being extremely bored and petrified of the passing cars. “Am I there yet?” is the thought that most occupies my mind.

Running, I have not lost my love for – but I managed to start skipping even that, in order to work on the other two disciplines (which I also ended up skipping).

Ultimately, triathlon is something I will come back to, as I have enjoyed it…but I need more time, money and flexibility in terms of my work schedule. The first two I can wrangle, at a cost…the third isn’t currently possible.

Next Summer

I am going to have to be a lot stricter with myself next summer, as the Berlin marathon is held at the end of September. I can’t afford to be 6.2 kg over my racing weight for my first true sub-3 hour marathon attempt.

Of the many temptations that summer brings, alcohol is the easiest to resist. Sugar, the hardest. Late nights, somewhere in between. Training is easy, as long as it’s running and I get it done early. Any sort of late night, even without alcohol, results in a later start and the possibility of missing my window for running. I can run in the afternoon or evening, but it’s just far less likely to happen (statistically speaking).

I love getting up early, before any traffic has built up and polluted the air, before Laura and the kids are awake and wondering where I am. I don’t need a lifeguard, or lights, or to worry about drunk drivers or algae. Running, is my thing. It’s simple, primal, basic…but pure and productive.

I have at least one triathlon booked in for next year (as a result of deferring this year’s Dorney Lake Finale), and I would like to improve my performance in the swim and on the bike. This comes down to technique with the swimming, and plenty of Turbo training throughout the winter which I will need help setting up.

POST-BERLIN

I have something completely different planned for after Berlin. My marathon days will be over…but I may well do a half-marathon every now and then. I will be pursuing other fitness goals, more in alignment with my health goals.

I think the mental side of endurance training is incredibly important and transferable, but the health benefits from chronic cardio have diminishing returns after an hour or so, and HIIT is looking like the more economical route to health and fitness.

It comes down to specificity. Ultimately, my main endurance event is “life”. Marathons, Iron Man or Cross-Fit won’t necessarily prepare me for “life”. They’re fun, and if I can train for them without incurring an injury, I’ll take part. But I am totally aware of how much more difficult that is going to be post-40.

Lots to look forward to and get excited about…and lots to write about, every day…and back to one article published each week.

Family Holidays – Part 1 – No Longer An Endurance Event

This blog is two weeks (and a day) late…I know…I’m sorry. And I say I want to be a writer!

I have mentioned before that I am a lifelong procrastinator, and I will write an article about my woes in that department, one day…

Spoiler alert: I love my family. I fully admit how lucky I am to have them (for the most part).

That said, this huge chunk of unbroken time together each summer (AKA the family holiday), used to be far more akin to an endurance event than what I grew up thinking of as a holiday.

In the early days of family life, although I never dreaded the run up to a holiday – of course, it was an escape from work at least – by the end of each trip I felt like I needed another break just to recover!

Making the switch from the facade of “mature professional” to the equally foreign “family man” used to be exhausting and frustrating. I would struggle to change gears i.e. switching from discussing the Big Bang and the fate of the universe, to Big Bird and the fate of Elmo. Quite a change of pace – a bit like mental interval training!

Well, I don’t feel that way anymore, for a number of reasons…

the kids are older

I am not what you would call, “child friendly”. The little gits seem to sense this and gravitate towards me. “What? I don’t know what you want? Get your mum to translate for you…” (actual transcript of a conversation between one year old Ralph and me).

I wholeheartedly admit to keeping them at arm’s length for the most part, but now they can tell me what they want/need, I don’t mind as much. It’s far less scary and stressful – I would say even exciting? So maybe it’s not children…maybe it’s just babies/toddlers?

Anyway, I’ve gotten much better at recognising that anxious look that Robyn gets, or the dance that Ralph does, when they need the toilet. I routinely ask them before we go anywhere, to use the loo to avoid accidents, embarrassment, or the worst: having to leave the front of the queue for a theme park ride you have waited for an hour to get on.

they are so much more interesting

Babies are cute…I suppose…on a YouTube clip, when they’re not crying…but my God they are dull. Puppies win in my opinion.

Those baby years are long gone, and for quite some time now, my 6 year old Ralph, has been a practical-joke-playing, outdoor-activity-loving, Nerf gun assassin….basically the son I’ve always wanted.

And recently, on a two hour car journey with my 9 year old daughter Robyn – which I thought would be silent except for the sound of her Kindle Fire – she asked, “So dad, once humans are extinct, what’s next? What comes after us?” Mind. Blown. And a can of worms opened!

Now, there are some cons to this. I do have to remind myself “no head shots” during Nerf wars with Ralph, and I may have to explain to Laura where Robyn’s recent nightmares about Artificial Intelligence and aliens have come from – but I know which stage of parenting I’ve enjoyed most so far!

I AM READY TO ADULT

Robyn beat me to this…I am now playing catch-up. As long as I stay ahead of Ralph, it’s fine.

The point is, that despite being 21 in my head, and admittedly an immature parent, if my body were a breakfast cereal, it would be Rice Crispies i.e. it snaps, crackles and pops with every move. This is not the only signal that I’m getting older, but it’s the hardest to deny. That daily, dad-strength, physical reminder, is the slap my adolescent brain needs.

Perhaps the mindset I’m developing through endurance training is transferable – and I am learning to just embrace the pain? Being able to tolerate lactic acid seems to have increased my ability to handle responsibility and self-sacrifice. Better late than never-never.

the short window

I listen to a lot of podcasts, one of my favourites being hosted by the awesome Tim Ferriss.

Two topics he has discussed which really resonated with me were:

Developing the ability to distinguish between “opportunities to be seized” versus “temptations to be resisted”. I feel I’m getting better at this, and seeing these holidays as opportunities to be seized, whilst resisting the various temptations that get in the way of being a good parent, has made me far happier.

Career progression, material gain and winning the Joneses Olympics might appeal on a primitive level, but I can jump on those treadmills at any age. Whereas, whilst I understand that I’ll always be a parent, they need me most right now…and not for much longer.

Bringing me to the second related topic. Ferriss talks about an article written by Tim Urban entitled The Tail End. To simplify and focus on the part most relevant to me: by the time our children finish their Sixth Form education and are off to university, they will have spent up to 80% of their in-person time with us, their parents.

I’m halfway through the majority of my time with Robyn, and I’ve got only slightly more time with Ralph. Their childhood is therefore most definitely an opportunity to be seized and other than the temptations I’ve already listed, I need to resist believing the lie that they will always be here at home, wanting my time and attention.

Do we have your attention?

My Oxbridge place and Olympic medal windows closed long before I even realised they were an option, but I think I’ve woken up soon enough to make a go of this parenting lark. Hence, my training takes place early in the morning while they are still asleep. I do what I can with them in the evenings and at the weekend. And holidays these days…I do my utmost to make them enjoyable, and not just endurable.

the end

But after procrastinating on writing for so long, I’m on a roll now, so I’ve written about some of this summer’s highlights (so far).

CAMPING – MALDON

I absolutely love camping. I would even go as far as to say that I love camping as much as I love running. I am incredibly grateful that, although my wife isn’t quite as enthusiastic about it, she will accompany me with the children – without complaint. She even plans a lot of our camping trips, packs the car, books it all up, etc. Last summer we camped all the way through Germany and Austria to Lake Garda in Italy. How lucky am I?

Lake Garda mornings, run then swim, beautiful!

I know that camping is like Marmite for most people, but for me it is the “system restore” my mind and body needs, at least 3 or 4 times a year. No TV, laptop or email. My phone goes on flight mode: it’s now for photos only, and any tip-of-the-tongue answers cannot be Googled – I’ll just have to think that little bit longer. I occasionally give in to this temptation, and Googling will be followed by the premature posting of holiday pictures, increasing the likelihood of us returning to a burgled home. More on this later.

Tense situation – it didn’t end well for the 6 man tent!

Earlier this year we lost our 6 man tent due to camping in Maldon during THE most versatile day (in terms of weather) that I have ever experienced during my nearly 39 years on the planet. The poor tent did OK with the bright sunshine, showers, heavy rain, wind, sleet, hail and snow – all in the same 6 hour interval – it was the thunderstorm and mini-hurricane overnight that finished her off. We woke up in a sort of, fibre glass birds nest, leaving us no option but to dispose of the wreckage – once we had wormed our way out.

But did I stress out? No. I can’t control the weather. The previous weekend had been the hottest of the year so far, so this freak climate change reminder was out of my hands.

It was disappointing that our tent didn’t last as long as our previous one – two seasons is not great value for money – but I had seen it coming. In my haste to up-size, I had bought an inferior brand (Skandika) and over the past two seasons I had paid the price, deservedly, with ripped zips and cracking fibre glass rods, etc. I have vowed to buy the Vango equivalent next season.

Sitting down prematurely – gazebo wasn’t up yet!

So for this summer we are down to a 4-man pop-up tent which is a joy to erect (oo er missus), and goes down just as easily (enough said). OK, it is smaller, but the speedy set up means drinking can commence that much sooner (another highlight of camping).

So we are camping, yet again in Maldon, on the hottest day of the year. Before you wince – let me correct the image in your mind’s eye. I’m not sweating in a hot tent, covered in insects. I’m sat outside, in the shade of a gazebo, my feet in a ice cold paddling pool and a beer-filled cool box at my side. There’s even a bit of a breeze coming off the estuary. The kids – sufficiently slathered with sunscreen – are running around like lunatics with water guns – in sight, but mostly out of earshot – everyone’s a winner! What more convincing do you need that camping is fun!

Water fight!

Once it cools down, and after my siesta, I play football, cricket and willingly become a target for those bearing water guns. I make repeated attempts to make Robyn laugh throughout, but she’s practising being a teenager, so whereas poo, bum and willy are enough to have Ralph (and his dad) in fits of laughter, Robyn’s giggles are harder won.

The evening is spent in conversation with some lovely people, eating barbecued meat and drinking red wine – campers and glampers all getting along – and the kids are off being kids, with the minimal need for conflict resolution and reminding of manners.

Then out of nowhere, a storm hits, and everyone scurries back to their own abode – in our case, minus the gazebo, which like our last tent, has not managed to weather the storm.

Does anyone else see a giraffe bowing, Lion King-style? Gazebo or gazelle?

outdoor activities day – GRANGEWATERs

I am not the biggest fan of theme parks. I enjoy the rides, but waiting in queue after queue – which is inevitably in the pouring rain or sweltering heat – is not my idea of a great day out.

And the fact that my two children are still too vertically challenged to be allowed on most rides means that theme parks are probably something we will enjoy more at a later date (especially if I’m loaded enough to fork out for fast passes).

Anyway, what I’m saying is that there are far more appealing alternatives, one of which being outdoor activity days.

So we spent the day rock climbing, on “the leap of faith” (or as Ralph likes to call it, “the leap of death”, which does nothing to relax those participating or watching), paddle boarding, kayaking, sailing, doing archery and being pulled in a dingy by a speed boat!

Robyn took to paddle boarding like a pro, and made up for her reluctance to climb. Ralph was fearless throughout, scaling walls, leaping from a narrow pole to grab to trapeze a good 10 meters off the ground, shooting arrows with Hawkeye-like precision.

Ralph Hood – brother of Robyn.

It was as awesome a day as it sounds, and hardly any queuing involved. The staff were so enthusiastic and friendly – it was a lovely day out. But why they haven’t got a cafe baffles me?!? Four out of five stars! A coffee and muffin away from five stars!

CARAVAN – CAMBER SANDS

I have got great memories of Camber Sands, as my parents would take my brother and me to Pontins when we were kids. The betting shop has now gone (much to my dad’s dismay) and been replaced with a Pie and Mash shop (much to my brother’s delight).

Major diet deviation, but worth every calorie!!!

Here the diet goes to pot. Laura forgot my Nutribullet blender beaker, so my morning smoothie is missing…so as if in some sort of tantrum, I go full “fish and chips, ice cream, cream teas, cake” mode…undoing my efforts from earlier in the summer. No biggie right now. But grams mean seconds, kilos mean minutes…I’ll never go sub 3 until I can stay disciplined ALL SUMMER. Next summer I will have to give this a better go, as my Berlin marathon sub 3 hour attempt is at the end of September 2020 (I’ll be 40 years old).

When the tide goes out, the beach there is one of my favourite places to run. Just not with a mobile phone full of holiday photos! I did my utmost not to drop the phone as jogged along, then took it out for a selfie, sweated on it and the whole thing crashed! Deleting weeks of snaps I had yet to download onto the laptop for the family album. I had posted some on Facebook, and had some more on my SLR camera, so all was not lost.

One positive outcome from this tragedy, was my realisation of how much time I had been spending on my phone since camping! Not at the expense of the kids, but I admit I retreated into my phone as soon as Laura wanted to talk about buying a caravan, getting a new carpet, or anything remotely “adult”. I have since disabled Facebook on my phone, and after this week I’ll only be using Instagram at the weekend (lets see how long THAT lasts!!!). Laura has postponed divorced proceedings – and I have since talked her out of buying a caravan.

The kids are not so into running yet, unless it’s away from me when they (read Ralph) have done something naughty, so instead we brought some kites and a dingy.

The kites – the price of which I will not reveal, as it says more about my stupidity/guilt than it does about the only toy shop in Rye – were great fun. Other than the momentary loss of one of the fibre glass rods, and the much longer period spent untangling the kite strings.

The dingy was more of a concern. It doesn’t look it, but when they first got in the sea was quite choppy, and the current dragged them along the coast. I kept having visions of being on the news, cold, wet and shaking after having been rescued mumbling, “I thought we’d be OK, we were only close to the beach, and then…”

It did calm down eventually, but not before one wave threw Robyn out of the boat, causing her to scratch her arm on the sea bed.

I used to worry that I was not vigilant enough with the children around water, and maybe I have been lax with swimming pools, but not with the sea. Every seagull is a dorsal fin, every wave is Jaws launching his attack. Needless to say, if I ever do complete a half iron man or full, or any other kind of swimming challenge, it will be in a pool, river or lake! Kona is out!

conclusion

While the kids are in school, and they get six holidays – October, Christmas, February, Easter, May and the summer – we need to make the most of these. I don’t need a bigger house, better car, more toys, but I admit I need to make enough money and take enough time off work to enjoy these holidays.

This is our 80% time (if Tim Urban and Tim Ferris are to be believed) so I will act as if that is the case. Of course, I’m secretly hoping that this is a worst-case-scenario, and that we will have plenty of time together even after they have both flown the nest.

Summer’s Here – Goodbye Will Power?

Recovery week

I know, I know…this post is late. I normally post at 06:00 am every Monday morning, but now I am officially on holiday. That probably means that the next few posts will also be late – well, better late than never!

After last weekend’s Spitfire Scramble, it took until Wednesday to say convincingly that I felt physically fine….well, as “fine” as I had been before the Spitfire Scramble! My lower back still ached if I sat down for too long and I was in desperate need of an intense massage, stretching and spinal manipulation of my neck and back.

Instead, of those productive “post race” measures, I ate and I drank. I just couldn’t find it in me to be merry!

In the morning, instead of my usual healthy green smoothie – which was far too much effort to make – I drank what remained of my Lucozade sport and protein drinks – despite the promise to myself to reduce my sugar intake (if I remember rightly my exact words were, “I am never eating or drinking that s*** again!”). “I need to stay hydrated”, shouted the devil on one shoulder, “what’s wrong with water FFS!” whispered the angel on the other. “Electrolytes”, was the devil’s response.

If I managed to get into work on time, I ate a fried breakfast before my morning meeting.

I drank copious amounts of black coffee to stay awake and focused (read, semi-functioning) at work…and more than a few chocolate biscuits were consumed, also in the name of “productivity”.

Lunch was whatever sandwiches were left on offer, and some sugar-laden desert to follow.

In the evenings, after a carb-laden dinner, red wine was my poison of choice. Half a bottle – nothing excessive, not for a drinker – I on the other hand, not being a drinker, become a bit of a liability i.e. I get the kids too excited just as my wife has settled them for bed (did somebody say NERF WAR?!?!?), or eat anything and everything in the fridge – forgetting my usual 7 pm eating deadline. Will power? Gone. Fitness? Decreasing. Body fat? Increasing.

By Friday night I came to the conclusion that, recovery week was over and a long hard look at myself in the mirror was necessary. Thankfully, I’m part of gen X and not some melt who doesn’t believe in a bit of “tough love” as and when needed. I also have some reliable people around me to give me a slap or kick up the arse if that fails. Here’s what came out of those conversations.

reading

I normally read, or at least listen to an audiobook every day for at least 30 minutes. I couldn’t bring myself to do that after the race. Instead I put on the radio, but invariably ended up skipping from one channel to the next, never listening to a song the whole way through. There’s so much crap on there now – I can’t stand the adverts, or the DJ waffle, or “the news”. I have a shockingly limited CD collection in my car…another thing that needs remedying.

Anyway, I’m committed to making reading part of my daily routine again – especially over the summer, while I have so much time. I need something life-affirming or inspiring, so I’ve downloaded Atomic Habits by James Clear. Using one technique from this book, Implementation Intentions, my goal is as follows:

After waking up, I will read a book (or listen to an Audible audiobook) for at least 15 minutes every morning in my chair.

meditation

I know why I stopped this temporarily. I just could not focus – or I ended up nodding off! The last race took so much concentration, “one more step – you can do this – one more lap,” over and over again in my head – not to mention the sleep deprivation. I just didn’t have it in me to follow my breath for a minute or do a longer body scan – which is a great shame, as it’s exactly what I needed.

So as well as reading, meditation is going to once again be part of my morning routine. Even if (like Chade Meng Tan in Search Inside Yourself suggests) it’s just for one breath, maybe I can extend that to one minute, and build back up from there.

After I have read, I will meditate for at least one minute every morning in my chair.

writing

My journalling has been reduced to daily to-do lists and body fat percentages. Considering that these journals are meant to be left for my kids to read, I wouldn’t be surprised if they found their way into the bin shortly after my departure. There is plenty going on in my head – even if I’m emotionally flat-lining right now – and I function far better when I get most of that mess out of there and onto a page! It would be far better for me to brainstorm these weekly blog posts rather than write a stream of consciousness…but more time consuming (I felt the weight added to the task by making it too laborious).

I have ideas for two novels, whole plots, characters, titles…but I have yet to commit, even to ten minutes, of writing these stories down.

I think “writing” could be replaced with any creative endeavor, any attempt at story-telling. It’s understandable now that the band has folded, that I want to blog, vlog or write a book or two. I need that creative outlet…but maybe starting is just a bit overwhelming? I know, I know, “break it down…” but even that first word, “break” sounds like a lot of effort! To read. Really, writing, seems an insurmountable task.

Anyway, each day I am committed to writing “something”. A blog post, a scene in a novel, a song (blimey, that’s been a while). Something.

After training (triathlon in 8 weeks) and breakfast, I will write for 30 minutes in my journal or on my phone or laptop.

family photo albums

Every year I put together an album of our year, September to August. It’s a time consuming activity, but the reward is worth it. Laura loves that I do these each year. We normally have plenty of great memories to look over, and we’re onto our 11th album this year I think?

What photos do I want to take this August?

What photos do I want to see in next year’s album?

This is something I need to be working on each day – photo album 2018-2019. Taking photos of our family holidays, sorting through the masses of blurry and ugly pictures, selecting the best for the finished product. No Photoshop. No filters. Not as standard. Not to date anyway.

After the kids have gone to bed each night, I will complete one page of the photo album on my laptop.

Family photo albums – an annual summer project for me

sleep

This should probably be goal number one. I’m turning off my 4:30 am alarm. At least for a few weeks. I’m going to try to get to bed by 9 pm most nights, but that is definitely harder when there’s no work the next day – the temptation to stay up watching Netflix is much stronger without an early morning commitment.

If I want a nap in the middle of the day, I will bloody well take a nap (but not after 3 pm or that will mess up my 9 pm bed time plan). I can’t do without sleep like I used to. I don’t want to go without sleep, like I used to. I no longer see those all-nighters as heroic or worthwhile feats of endurance and will only participate in these in the rarest of circumstances i.e. seeing old friends, or suddenly being inspired to write (not just to meet a deadline).

I will go to bed at 9 pm and wake up no later than 6 am.

diet

As I’ve said on more than one occasion, my weight is not a concern. My body fat percentage and how much (little) of that weight is muscle, is something I want to monitor though. And not just monitor, I want to have some goals in this area – like being 70kg (ideal running weight for my height) and sub 15% body fat.

I no longer want to be He-Man or be considered for a role in The Expendables, but I’m not willing to submit to dad bod mode (just yet). I admittedly suffer from being skinny-fat, and my diet is one reason for this current state of affairs.

I have a sweet tooth, love carbs in all their incarnations (rice, pasta, potatoes, bread) and add to that beer, red wine or whiskey and the likelihood of me consuming even more carbs to excess is 99.9%.

I will restrict my carb/refined sugar and alcohol consumption and increase protein intake to reduce body fat percentage and maintain muscle mass. Ideally I want to be 70kg and sub 15% body fat – I’m currently 75-ish kg and 21-ish % body fat.

20th July 2019, 75.7 kg (PM weigh in), 21.9% body fat

exercise

My third and final (this year) triathlon is in just 8 weeks, and it seems a sensible goal to get closer to the 2:45 mark this time around. It’s a goal…it doesn’t get me excited or fired-up, but it does give me a reason to do some cardio every day (swim, cycle, run).

It’s a more immediate target than the Berlin marathon, which is over a year away…or my second Spitfire Challenge, which is a little less than that – but it’s a triathlon. I’m still a runner at heart.

I am more excited about improving my swimming technique, and finally committing to adding some strength training into my weekly routine. Cardio alone is not going to improve my skinny-fat situation.

I will train (swim, cycle, run, strength training) every morning after reading and meditating, and before eating breakfast.

1500 m swim, 42.4 km cycle, 10 km run – must fuel my training, and work more on technique.

play

A close second to sleep, is PLAY! Ralph has just started to learn how to play chess, Robyn is into magic tricks…these are tiny windows of time that I need to make sure I don’t miss. Ralph asked me to go Jump Giants with him yesterday, after he had been with Robyn – and I am grateful that I’m fit and well enough to do that. If I was older or in worse shape, I might not be able to. Robyn wants to go to an escape room with me, and is still hooked on Rebecca Zamolo YouTube videos. I need to put together another treasure hunt for them. While they’ll still enjoy that sort of thing. They both want to do mini-driving lessons. They will both enjoy camping over the summer.

I want to be present for these experiences with them, capture as many of them as I can without losing that presence for too long, and I want to drag myself away from whatever else I’m telling myself that I would rather be doing.

I’m sure Laura has fun things she wants to do as well, and I want to be a willing and enthusiastic party to these (Saturday’s Tribute Festival was one such example).

summer schedule

And so, despite not being at work, I clearly need a routine. I’ll need to flesh this out a bit – the devil is in the details – but so I don’t completely waste the next few weeks, this is what my days are going to look like.

  • Sleep 6-9 hours
  • Read
  • Meditate
  • Train (swim, cycle, run, strength training)
  • Write (journal, blog, novel)
  • Diet (clean, low carb. high fat/protein)
  • Play (whatever they want e.g. chess, tennis, football, Jump Giants)
  • Photo album (once they’re in bed or otherwise occupied)

summer goals

  • Refreshed and rejuvenated – not hungover, stressed, dreading the return to work
  • Wiser – doing some things differently, being more effective and efficient
  • Calmer – less type A, still motivated and goal-directed, but with less urgency
  • Triathlon-ready
  • A few chapters of my novel written
  • No more sugar binges and an added bonus would be 6 pack abs due to lower body fat %
  • Great memories of fun with Laura and the kids
  • Great photos of our year, complied in an album, delivered for our birthdays

Spitfire Scramble 2019

A Reluctant racer

To be perfectly honest, I was not looking forward to this challenge. I have been in a bit of a funk for some time and this has resulted in little enthusiasm for, or consistency with training. This could just be a bit of “sporting burnout”, or maybe it’s work, diet (poor recently), sleep, hormones? I’ve got my suspicions, and have put corrective measures in place to dig myself out and get back on track.

At my best, I run 4-5 times a week, cycle once or twice, and swim once. If I’m really on fire, there will be a body weight strength training session or two thrown in for good measure (this happens as frequently as the proverbial “blue moon”).

My training leading up to this event was sporadic and of poor quality. I lacked the mental discipline to stick to a MAF pace, as I knew there was so little time to prepare for the event. I just chose to focus on getting a few 10 km runs in wherever possible (all morning workouts are fasted – I earn my breakfast).

After the triathlon on 16th June, most of my time in the gym has been spent stretching and doing core work – but I did manage a few runs in the build up to the Spitfire Scramble.
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Open water swim with Hadleigh Plungers

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Apart from this event, having booked myself up for a triathlon on the 15th September, I have managed a 22 mile cycle into work (and done the same back) once – and I’ve been open water swimming twice since Windsor. I have completely plodded along at my own pace with these – no speed in mind – just happy to be doing something other than running.

weekend of the event – 24 hours of thinking “how does jack bauer do this?”

It’s Saturday morning and despite the lack of training in the run up, I’ve got an inkling of what could be called “excitement”. I have woken up at my usual 04:30 am, despite not needing to wake up until 07:00 am at the earliest.

I use this extra time for a last minute trip to Tesco for spare head torch batteries and food supplies. I also take advantage of a 2 for £8 book offer (Billy Connolly’s new book and something on serial killers – just mixing things up). It dawns on me that I’m probably going to look pretty unsociable reading a book during a team event with 4 other blokes, but I pack them nonetheless. There’s bound to be a quite moment, I tell myself.

Laura and the kids are just planning to drop me off with my massive cool bag and the camping beds borrowed from a friend of one of our team (weirdly, that friend lives literally just around the corner from me, same side of the same street, but 37 doors down). But then, we’re informed that there may be spaces for the kids to sign up to do a mile race! Robyn isn’t interested, but Ralph is all over it! He absolutely smashes his first race ever – and I am so proud that despite almost stopping, he didn’t even walk ONCE! He ran the whole thing, and paced himself much better than his spontaneous “Dad, I’ll race you” efforts.

27th out of the 59 children who ran! At 6 years old! He didn’t stop to walk once!!!

the course

The course is 5.75 miles of off-road trail running. There are some paved sections, and gravel paths, but you also have some woods with precarious tree roots (marked with illuminous paint) and slippery grass sections like at the 3.75 mile mark as you run past/through the campsite. The worst part of all for me – Ingrebourne Hill – a short bit of incline work right near the end of each lap. If you’re not worried about your time, then this is a great place to stop for a selfie with its amazing view of London at night.

3.75 mile mark. The first lap was SO HOT!

The TEAM

So the running order is Gary, me, Kieran, Liam and finally Noel (no, the Gallagher brothers are not running this event), kicking off with a first lap in the midday sun. The heat you feel as you pass through the open fields, is uncomfortable enough (apparently, it was 10 degrees hotter last year!) but there are also a couple of awkward low bridge gates to negotiate. You get some shade as you wind your way through the woods, but then have to stop yourself from tripping over the raised tree roots as you whizz down the steep-ish decline (all fine during the day, but during the two night laps, this is the part I’m most concerned about).

Kieran has been the driving force behind organising the event – for this I am both grateful and resentful, in varying percentages throughout the weekend. Liam has provided us with a tent – which took up all of his weight allowance on his flight in from Glasgow! Noel has a nifty little notebook, which he uses to make a note of our start/finish/lap times in…which is great, until he goes for his run…and we realise that none of us were looking at the clock (that may have happened the second time around – I’m pretty sure we were all on point during the first lap – but my mind has turned to mush).

12 hour clock, 24 hour clock, block capitals, mixed case…it’s far less consistent than our lap times!!!

We slap a high-vis wrist band onto the next runner’s wrist at each lap – easier to carry than a baton for this relay I suppose – although I still see some fails i.e. people missing the next runner’s wrist, or the next runner holding out their hand to take it instead of the “slap and roll” technique.

By lap 3 my back is in agony and my right knee injury has reappeared to haunt me. A 15 minute massage gets me back into some sort of running condition, and I manage to run laps 4 and 5 as a double lap, in the dark. Before laps 4 and 5, I drench myself in ice cold water from a 2 litre bottle, and change outfit. Cleanliness and new clothes…WHAT – A – FEELING!!!

Running at night is weird…without a swag bag, or the police giving chase…it just seems strange. Maybe it’s some prehistoric part of my brain kicking in and reminding me that unless I’m being chased, or I’m chasing potential food, I should be conserving energy in a safe little hovel somewhere? The quiet, apart from my panting and the crunch of gravel beneath my swollen feet, is definitely part of that strangeness. The world disappearing each time my head torch refocuses elsewhere must also contribute. Maybe under less sleep deprived circumstances, it would all seem far more normal.

I sleep* for a while after my double lap, and really don’t think I’m going to be able to do any more – but I can’t let everyone down, or miss out on a medically supervised chance to push my body to run 34.5 miles in a 24 hour period! (*when I say sleep, I mean “pass out”. Only regaining consciousness to 1) the realisation of how cold I am, covered in cool sweat in the sleeping bag or 2) the high pitched buzzing of a mozzy in my ear. My body is now covered in bites).

Apart from some sanity saving banter (tellytubbies, toilet lice, and suspected sex tents) as sleep deprivation takes its toll, I am cold, damp, angry and feeling very pessimistic. I have not trained enough mentally, forget physically, for this event. I am disappointed with my lack of resilience. My whinging. MAN UP!!! I take a last minute vow of positivity, and limp along for my 6th lap. I’m done, spent, finished. I’m praying that the pain will go away and that there won’t be any lasting damage.

We all end up running 6 laps each, except for Gary who heroically pulls a 7th out of the bag! LEGEND. We end up in 3rd place, winning ourselves a trophy each, on top of the medal we’ve already won.

An amazing effort, by a great group of lads – but that 3rd place is a BIG PROBLEM. Knowing that none of us had trained optimally, or dieted, or restricted our alcohol consumption in the run up…it begs that inevitable question: What if? What. If?

Like a successful bank robber…I’m out…I’ve done my last job…I’m off to live on my ill-gotten gains somewhere sunny, and drink Sangria (out of a third place trophy). But I’ve read too many of those novels, and seen too many of those films. I know that when the call comes, closer to the time, about that ONE LAST JOB…as hard as it is to imagine right now…I will find it hard to resist. I know me. I’m shaking my head at myself already.

Suggested improvements to the event:

  • Live music – the DJ was great and the music selected was enjoyable, it would just be even better if the recorded music was broken up with some live local acts. I’m sure some young bands would be willing to play without needing payment (we played T-Fest for free each year).
  • Mosquito/Gnat warnings and deterrents – it would have been useful to have had that warning in the starter pack. I go camping a lot, but there was a particularly high number of blood suckers at the campsite. Some citronella or spray on sale somewhere could be a good money earner for them.
  • Bring back the Spitfire flyover. I was informed that it is too expensive to do, which is a shame. I was looking forward to the event’s namesake flying overhead at some point.
  • No ball games after 19:00 KIDDIES!!! They were only slightly less annoying than the mosquitoes! We had all escaped our own children, only to be annoyed by someone else’s!!!

Things I would do differently:

  • Bring multiple changes of clothing, i.e. socks, pants, shorts, t-shirts, and a towel
  • Use their shower shuttle service every second lap
  • Use their massage service very third lap
  • Run multiple times a day in training (try a three 10 km run on a Saturday or Sunday)
  • Eat little and often. Protein (20-30g) straight after each lap. You want nutrient-dense food, not big, bulky, hard-to-digest, “make you feel sick while you’re running” slop.
  • Carbs two hours before your next lap. Drink some coffee for it’s laxative effects and later, skip rope for a few minutes, if you’re keen to “unload” before your next lap
  • Have a 20 minute power nap, straight after your protein and before your carbs
  • Take gels or cliff blocks on each lap
  • Bring your own food. OK as the noodles, burgers and chips were, they’re more of a spectator food – but also quite pricey
  • The Spitfire Scramble t-shirt is the only “team t-shirt” you need. Other than that, wear whatever you’re comfortable it and this again, keeps the cost down
  • NO DOUBLE LAPS!!! Not unless it’s my last two. Stopping and starting is a killer, but I’d still have recovered quicker from a 6 mile lap than a 12 mile lap!
  • Toothbrush and paste. My mouth felt disgusting my the end.

Left to right: Kieran, Liam, Noel, Deano (me) and Gary. Legends, each and every one of us!!! HA HA!!! What if…?

Knowing Thyself – Dealing With Post Race Blues

Blues, NOT “D”

Writing is hard! Keeping this up on a weekly basis is no joke. This will be brief and I will be looking at my schedule to make sure future content is of better quality!

Before I begin my weekly blog post, let me just be clear – I am not a doctor or mental health professional – I can only speak from personal experience and I am purposely using the word “blues” as opposed to the “D” word. This is not to belittle anyone else’s experience – but to put my own low mood into perspective, and in the right position on that spectrum of emotion. It’s also not “advice”, it’s just what I do, for me. You do you, is basically what I’m saying.

I have a tendency towards “Darkness”, in mood, humour, superheroes (Batman rules, sorry Iron Man), and at times this makes the “9-5, 2.4 kids, yes sir, no sir” kind of life quite challenging – but I can get myself out of bed each day (usually on time) and into work (usually on time) and I am generally sufficiently productive, despite a lifelong procrastination habit.

Coincidentally? I wear a lot of black, grey and blue (mainly because I’m colourblind and there is less chance of a colour coordination disaster), and I don’t feel compelled to wear the trendy summer colours. I do own purple suit – but I bought it believing it was navy blue ( I deserve a parking badge, this is definitely a disability). I have been told that red looks good one me, but I wouldn’t go out of my way to purchase an item of clothing in that colour – as it would probably be green or brown anyway. Also, red = anger, aggression, etc. and like Dr Banner, I try to distance myself from these. Don’t make me angry. You wouldn’t like me when I’m angry.

Anyway…post race blues…I suffer from this, despite kidding myself that it is NOT A THING, or that only weak people experience it. I have read plenty of “how to” articles on avoiding or overcoming this experience with actions such as “booking your next race” – which works by the way, to an extent, but most of what I’ve read seems a bit like the “hair of the dog” advice to someone with a hangover. Maybe with good reason.

THE SUDDEN VOID

Whether you have trained for 6 or 16 weeks, you have dragged yourself out of bed or to the gym after work, with your race in mind. You want your performance on the day to be your best (yet) and you want as few excuses or nagging self-critiques as possible when you cross that line. As you look over your splits, or analyse your Garmin report online, you don’t want any regrets about the training sessions (missed or half-halfheartedly completed) before race day. “I wish I would have….” or “I wish I hadn’t…”.

So far, despite my none of my performances being impressive in the big scheme of things, I’m incredibly proud and satisfied with my progress ( I was 36 when I ran my first half-marathon and full marathon, so I’ve been an endurance athlete for just 3 years). I haven’t had these negative thoughts, post-race, because I have trained as well as I could have – in spite of work, family, injury, etc.

But even without these kinds of thoughts post-event, after any effort lasting more than 2.5 hours I have too frequently found myself physically, psychologically and emotionally empty on Monday morning. Part of it must be down to the recommendation to rest and recuperate, which I’m sure my body appreciates but my mind rebels against. My mind misses the routine. It misses having a target. An objective. A follow-up mission. A reason for getting out of bed. My sporting ikigai. I think the repetition acts in a similar way to meditation, where the chaos that is my inner psyche is calmed before the day ahead.

Our mind can be our own worst enemy though. It’s not always to be trusted. So my plan of action is as follows.

3-4 Events per year

I need to rest after an event. This needs to be planned just as thoughtfully as my training.

If I wake up full of energy, I am allowed 10 minutes of cardio maximum, to flush the lactic acid and get me mobile – but that’s it. I can spend half an hour stretching – but no more.

That way I’m out of bed, maybe even at the gym before work. But my body gets the rest it needs, without breaking the mental routine.

Last year I ran 3 marathons in one year – each 4 months apart. Obviously that’s no big deal when people like David Goggins or Eddie Izzard have run that distance day after day…but anyway…3 events like that was plenty (if not slightly too much for me).

But I do love a challenge…at least the idea of one…so I followed the marathons up with my first sprint triathlon, and a week later my first Olympic distance triathlon. I and have now passed the point of “too much” and it’s not over.

Next weekend I will be running the Spitfire Scramble, as part of a five man team. It basically consists of 24 hours of running 10 km laps of a country park.

This will be followed by the Olympic distance triathlon, Season Finale on Sunday 15th September. And a few weeks later, I will complete the national 3 peaks challenge in 24 hours. That’s it then. I’m done. No more…for a bit!

I messed up this year. I have taken on too much, in an effort to avoid the void. I’ve over-committed myself. It puts unnecessary pressure on my mind and body…but what is the alternative?

Waking up with no goal? No purpose? No immediate reason to train, or to be disciplined with my sleep and diet? No reason to abstain from weekend binge drinking or binge eating? No reason to do any more than the bare minimum – which I don’t think will be sufficient any more to achieve those highs that have kept me exercising.

PROMISE TO MYSELF

In September I’ll be 39, and it is definitely time for me to be a bit more sensible about these things.

3-4 events is a maximum, and the longer those events are, the fewer I should be doing, and the more spread out they should be. Recovery is key now I’m getting older.

I have two marathons (Rome and Berlin) in mind next year, which will mean short triathlons if I do any.

I must become more fat-adapted, as I’m sure the sugar I consume during these races is another reason for the post-race hangover.

I must not be greedy. I just need enough of an objective to keep me training. I don’t need to race more than 3-4 times a year. Yes I would love the new PB, I’m not so bothered about the medal, and I do like the goodie bag at the end! But enough, is enough.

Signing up to these events feels good. But before I purchase my ticket in future, or agree in a drunken stupor to some insane challenge, I will have to pause. Stop. Wait. It’s not just about whether I can afford the event financially or whether my calendar is clear that weekend. What about the time commitment? What about the energy? What about the mental space it fills up?

Life itself (marriage, parenthood, career) is THE overarching endurance event, the one that I have to have enough in the tank to PB in each year. All else is a distraction.

This article should have been entitled “Pre Race Dread” as I’m 99% certain I will be booking another event straight after the 24 hour Spitfire Scramble this weekend! Unless saner heads prevail!

I am dreading this run. I love running. I love camping. But if I wasn’t part of a 5 man team, and it wouldn’t be letting them all down, I would definitely be pulling out of this weekend. I just don’t feel up to it psychologically. I’m sure my legs will cope and recover well enough. I just need to find that mental carrot (or stick) that will keep me going.

Next week’s post will be all about my experience of the Spitfire Scramble…and as you can see, it’s going to be a challenge for me – if not physically, then in every other way!