The Bumpy Road to Paris

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Paris marathon training has not been going well. I’ve hit a number of bumps in the road. The first five weeks and the last five weeks of my eighteen-week programme have been like night and day.

The first five weeks I did every single training run. That’s 6 runs a week, 30 runs in total. In terms of my heart and my muscles, I was able to complete the runs just fine. But the jump up from 10K training to full marathon was too swift. I got metatarsalgia- bruising of the bones on the base of my feet. As a consequence I took half a week off training, which helped. I made a decision to reduce my weekly runs from six to five, and felt pretty positive moving forward.

The following week I got ill with a cold and so had to miss all my weekend runs, as well as a Ghostpoet gig I’d been looking forward to. Not ideal, but these things happen so I was philosophical about it. The week after I was back at it, completing all five of my training runs in spite of still carrying a bit of lurgy, and felt as if I was moving forward positively at last.

The week after was an unusual week. It began with running 9 miles at suicide pace with Run Dem Crew elites on Tuesday. I was beasted after that so opted not to do an easy run the next day. On Thursday I went to Track Mafia and ran another really hard workout, doing 6 x 800 at a pace outside my comfort zone towards the back of the fast group. Since I was running FlatLine 10 on Sunday, I then opted not to do an easy run on Friday or Saturday. I now regret this, but it made sense at the time. FlatLine 10 is 10 miles up and down Swain’s Lane, one of the steepest hills in London. There is no flat running, and I knew it would be exhausting. It was a great experience as usual, but I have to admit I was hugely tempted to stop running and walk the last couple of times up the hill. I’m glad I held out and hope that will stand me in good stead out on the Paris Marathon course. FlatLine does wonders for the mental side of your training, but there’s a physical hangover the following week. As I’d skipped the recovery runs I ran just 26 miles that week, even if all 26 miles were done in extremely challenging conditions.

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On the following Monday I was determined not to make the same mistake of not getting my easy runs in, so did a very leggy post-FlatLine recovery run. And then I was ill again, this time with a horrible stomach bug. It was completely unrelated to the last illness, and kept me bed-ridden and unable to eat for days. At the end of it I’d lost half a stone and my sum total of running for the week was 3 miles. I’d seen my avatar slide way down the Strava February MTS rankings;a competition in which you take on your friends to see who can run the most miles in a month.

As this week has come around I’ve found myself understandably sluggish on my runs, and needing more recovery time than normal. I wasn’t able to eat a full meal from Tuesday to Sunday of last week. As a consequence, I was only able to manage 3 miles of a scheduled 10 at marathon pace yesterday. In time I know I’ll get back to my best, but I’ve had five weeks now of hitting bumps in the road after an initial five weeks of smooth running. I’m worried more about the lack of running at marathon pace than the mileage missed over this period. It effectively leaves me four weeks before my taper, so I have four weeks to get marathon pace comfortably back into my legs over distance. It’s achievable, but I really hope there are no more hiccups on the way.

I’ve really missed Run Dem Crew the past two weeks. Well-meaning friends and family have booked me tickets for things on a Tuesday. Much as I am grateful and have enjoyed the theatre trips, I’ve hugely missed the psychological boost of being with the crew on a Tuesday. Run Dem is like a happiness fix. It also provides an opportunity to run well above marathon pace with the elites every week, which is something I feel my body needs at the moment in order to get itself back into shape.

I know I’m lucky to be able to run as fast as I do. I know that my bad training weeks are someone else’s dream week. But I really hope I can stay illness and injury free between now and Paris so I can give myself every chance of running the race I know I’m capable of when I’m out there. Here’s to a happy and healthy finish to training.

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New York State of Mind

Sometimes when you least expect it the things you’ve been searching for come searching for you.

This week I found out I’ve qualified to run the New York Marathon. When I ran 1:24:17 at the Berlin Half Marathon last year, New York was the last thing on my mind. It was Mother’s Day, and as I ran I was thinking about the strength and love of the woman who brought me into the world. I was over the moon with my new PB, and that, I thought, was the end of that…

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Until last Sunday when I followed a link Dan Maskit had posted on the Run Dem Crew Facebook page. It shows the times you need to run to get guaranteed entry in this year’s New York marathon. I was suffering with a heavy cold that day so thought I must have made a mistake when it appeared to say I had qualified due to my Berlin Half time. I shook my head, turned the computer off, and didn’t return to it till the next day.

At that point, upon seeing I hadn’t been delirious, excitement kicked in. I have a significant birthday coming up, and it’s opening all sorts of doors for me as a runner. I quickly filled out the application form. I didn’t expect to hear back for a while, so was not prepared for the endorphin party that would be triggered when I checked my emails late on Tuesday night and saw the message below. Sleep was not on the agenda for some time after that.

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From a very young age New York has always held a strong attraction for me. My Mum says when she took me to the Natural History Museum as a four year old, which was also my first tube journey, the first thing I said on coming out of South Kensington station and seeing all the tall buildings was “Are we in New York now?” One of my favourite TV programmes at that time was the original live-action TV Spiderman show, and over the next few years as breakdancing crossed over into the mainstream I became obsessed with all things New York. The Roxanne wars were hotly debated in the playground (Shante for life!) and I even set up my own breakdance crew, picking up all manner of bruises throwing down moves to electro compilation soundtracks.

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Sadly, this is not my breakdance crew.

When I finally made it to New York for myself in 2004 I wandered around like I was in a movie set, gawping at everything. I was running back then, and Central Park was my playground. I barely slept, saw Dead Prez, Immortal Technique and Talib Kweli live as well as tonnes of theatre and some jazz. When I took the taxi back to JFK my driver was moved to say “You’ve done more things in this city in one week than I do in a year! This is like a wake up call for me… After I drop you off, I’m gonna go home and take the wife out on the town. You only got one life, buddy!”

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I was unable to take part in the New York Bridge Runner’s 10 Year Anniversary Bridge the Gap last year as it fell during term time. Fortunately, the marathon is in half term, although I’m going to have to ask my boss for an extra day off or else I’ll have to fly straight from the race into my classroom. Fingers crossed!

I’d actually booked a trip to New York in May as a birthday celebration, and I’m thrilled to be going twice in one year. Last time I went I almost moved over there. I’m really looking forward to following in the footsteps of Paula Radcliffe, who I remember watching dominate the New York marathon 10 years ago. I’m hyped to get the chance to run with the New York crews, catching up with Jeggi from Black Roses, Adam from Orchard Street Runners, and meeting Mike Saes, the godfather of running crews and founder of Bridge Runners.

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I’ve been entering the ballots for the World Marathon Majors since 2013 with no luck and while I’ve been pleased for my friends running Tokyo, London, Berlin, New York, Chicago and Boston I’ve also felt a bit left out. It feels so good to have made it in by virtue of my own hard work. Charlie Dark says if you train hard, the race is a celebration. Back in Berlin in March 2014 I didn’t realise my runner’s high would extend into 2015. Life is one big chess game.

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Before New York I have the significant matter of the Paris Marathon, at which I am attempting to qualify for Boston, the only marathon in the world for which there are no charity or ballot places; you have to be fast to get in. If I’m successful, I will run Paris, New York and Boston within a year. I’m loving how running is taking me all over the globe.

That said, it’s the simple things that matter, and today’s Irish Breakfast Club 17 miler with Junior and Jason was great. Kate and Jason had baked some delicious peanut butter cookies for us on finishing. You know you’ve been putting in work when you accidentally invent the new season camo-edition Run Dem shoe tags on your long run.

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Paris and New York soon come. Boston won’t qualify for itself.

“In New York,
Concrete jungle where dreams are made of
There’s nothin’ you can’t do
Now you’re in New York
These streets will make you feel brand new
Big lights will inspire you
Let’s hear it for New York, New York, New York”

If you’ve enjoyed reading, please take a moment to vote for this blog at the 2015 Running Awards.

From Dib Dab to Dibaba

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Roll up, roll up, for one man’s journey from Dib Dab to Dibaba. Over the next three months, in an occasional series, I will chronicle my friend Junior’s attempt to transform himself from a man sometimes seen munching through a six-pack of McCoys to the owner of an abdominal six-pack as he trains for the London Marathon. 1375148_10153404053600273_602942809_n

You have to go back to the summer of 2013 to find the origins of this story. The hashtag #dibabalife was trending within Run Dem Crew. I first saw it being used by Jeggi Elinzano, co-coach alongside Cory Wharton-Malcolm at the Thursday evening track sessions at Paddington Rec. As we pushed each other to complete ever faster loops around that 400m “O”, Jeggi would shout “Diamond League” in reference to the elite athletics meets on British TV that summer. The hashtag #dibabalife would fly about on social media for a few hours afterwards, as we celebrated our hard work and the dream that one day we would be able to run with a fraction of the grace, speed and guts of any of the Ethiopian Dibaba sisters. Tirunesh_Dibaba_Bislett_Games_2008 Towards the end of that summer, Junior asked me, “Chris, what’s all this about ‘Dib Dab Life’ on twitter?” What could I say? There’s something endearingly Junior-esque about mistaking a reference to elite endurance athletes for Sherbet Dip Dabs. barratt-dip-dab-821-p

Last weekend, that all came back to me as Jason and I helped Junior through a 10 mile training run along the River Lea. We’d crushed a marathon-pace nine-miler together the previous weekend, but this time he found the going tough, even walking a couple of times. At the correct, slower long-run pace, I’m confident Junior can eliminate this, so if he hits the wall in the marathon, he will cope. Boats_on_river_lea I’m calling our intrepid trio the Irish Breakfast Club due to my heritage and the high quality black pudding served at Aran’s Cafe in Stamford Hill, our regular post-run nutrition-stop. To be fair, Junior doesn’t eat the stuff, but it’s as good a name as any. While we ate, we talked Junior through a training plan that will get him ready for the London Marathon in 3 months time. Junior has a challenging time goal in mind, so I explained what pace he should run his different training runs at, and now it’s up to him. Consistency is key. IMG_3852 Success is in Junior’s hands. He has the backing of the Run Dem family and of Irish Breakfast Club. The challenge is for him to commit to the rest of the training plan, getting the runs in at the required pace on the days when the sofa calls and he doesn’t have Jason and me to pull him along. Knowing how determined Junior can be, I’m backing him for success.

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This weekend Junior, Jason and Paul Bains are hitting the hills of Gravesend as our hero takes on 12 miles. Wish him luck. Junior is raising money for Sense, the charity for deafblind people. You can sponsor him here.

Paris Marathon Training Update

There’s been a slight setback this past week but generally Paris Marathon training has been going very well. I’m well into the sixth week of my plan, and for the first five weeks I managed to complete every scheduled training session. My fitness has improved and I feel physically stronger.

Last weekend, for the first time in this training cycle, I was lucky enough to do my long run with friends. Junior had just secured his place in the London Marathon, which is two weeks after Paris, and was scheduled to do a 9 miler. I had 14 miles to do and Jason, who’s running the Tokyo Marathon for the second time next month was down to do the full 20 miles. We decided to head down to where the River Lea passes near my home in Hackney, and to enjoy the forecast good weather with the benefit of a flat course, enabling us to focus on form and pace.

I enjoyed pacing Junior through his nine miles with Jason. Junior was strong over the first five, but then the doubts set in. Jason and I had warned him we wouldn’t let him reduce the pace or stop, and we were as good as our word. I could tell from Junior’s running form that he was physically in a good place; the need to stop was all in his mind. He powered through to the start of the eighth mile, but then psychologically it became even more tough for him. In spite of this we were able to help Junior keep the pace up so that he finished within 5 seconds of his target pace, as we’d agreed.

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We stopped to catch breath and high five Junior, then Jason and I headed East towards the Olympic Park. We accelerated to our marathon goal pace, but all too soon I had to peel off and leave Jason to carry on his longer run alone as I headed home. I slowed slightly over the last half mile, but it was all uphill, so no worries there. Jason powered through and managed to complete his 20 miles in sterling fashion.

There’s a challenge on Strava where you see how many kilometres you can run in the month. I’m near the top of the leaderboard of my friends due to to the heavier training load, but it has contributed to a niggle that has not gone away, and which eventually led me to listen to my body and take a few days off running this week. I seem to have bruised the metatarsal bones on the bottom of my feet through increasing my pavement pounding too quickly- the right more than the left- leading to a dull ache that I initially ran through. I have flat feet, which may have exacerbated the problem, so when it didn’t go away, I took the first half of this week off, and then did track yesterday. The feet feel much better, and although they’re not 100%, I think I’m alright to push on with the training plan. I’m permanently swapping one of the two scheduled easy runs for supplementary training, as my plan had me running six days a week and I want to reduce my load. I’m also getting some trail shoes so I can run on softer, more forgiving surfaces. Watch this space for news of trail running with Chris McLean and co.

Hal Higdon claims you won’t have time to cross-train when doing his Advanced Marathon Plan, but he doesn’t know about me. Having read a lot about the need for supplementary strengthening and stretching work in Advanced Marathoning, I’ve been doing my best to incorporate some yoga, bodyweight and core training into my routine. I actually enjoy and look forward to stretching and foam rolling these days- crazy. I’m making an effort to get out to Paddington Rec for Track Mafia on a Thursday whenever possible, and will be putting hill training or threshold runs in on those Thursdays when I can’t make it. I’m also keen to get back to the yoga classes at 1948 on a Monday once my social diary calms down from February. I’m also keen to find a tune-up race or two- I hope FlatLine10 will be back in February, and I’d like to do a half or 15/20 miler as well if I can find one. Any tips?

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So, six weeks in to Paris Marathon training I’m enjoying it, am listening to my body, have built an endurance base and am ready to move into the next cycle. I’m so excited about hitting the streets of Paris with Run Dem Crew. Bring it on.

If you’ve enjoyed reading, you can vote for this blog at the 2015 Running Awards here.

Three Is The Magic Number

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It’s that time of the year when we look back at what has gone before and think about what 2015 may hold. These are a few of my favourite things from 2014.

Favourite Race

3) Greenwich Mo Running 10K

This race always has a great atmosphere and is a fantastic finale to the running season. This year over 160 of us entered from Run Dem Crew thanks to Glenn Hancock. It was great to see Warwick get on the podium.

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2) FlatLine 10

This leg and lung-buster gave me so much confidence for the races that were to follow. Once you’ve mastered 10 laps of the steepest hill in London, other challenges seem more manageable. And I won.

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1) Berlin Half Marathon

The Half of the Homies. What a weekend. Berlin Braves looked after us well and this Bridge the Gap event was a pleasure from start to finish. The endorphin high after setting a new PB on this beautiful course lasted for days.

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Favourite Album

3) Nobody’s Smiling by Common

Although Run the Jewels made a late surge for the best hip-hop album accolade, I’ve been rotating Common’s disc on a regular basis since its release in July and it’s easily his best since Be. He was great live, too. Somebody’s smiling. Me.

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2) Everybody Down by Kate Tempest

What a year for Mercury Music Award nominee Kate Tempest. I was lucky enough to see her live twice, performing poetry, and at first this poetic hip-hop record with a great band passed me by. But repeated plays have revealed an incredibly deep and rewarding listen. The fact she’s written a novel continuing the stories of the main characters, to be released in the future, only further serves to whet the appetite before I see her perform this set live. In the meantime, I’m directing my GCSE Drama students in devising a play inspired by her work.

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1) Everyday Robots by Damon Albarn

Damon and I have history. The stories I could tell you. All of which made the release of Damon’s first solo album very exciting for me. He didn’t disappoint. Seeing him live in the Albert Hall backed by Leytonstone’s Pentecostal City Church Choir brought it all full circle.
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An honourable mention must also go to Slowdive, who made an old man very happy by reforming. I was lucky enough to see them at a secret gig- their first in 20 years- and was blown away by the emotional power of these songs I’ve listened to since my teens.

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Favourite Play

3) Titus Andronicus by Bold Tendencies

Shakespeare’s bloodiest play is not for the faint-hearted. Nor was this apocalyptic production, set, Mad Max-style, in a Peckham multi-story carpark. Harrowing and comical, using parkour and beatbox, this was a revenger’s tragedy for those who like their Tarantino uncut.

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2) A Streetcar Named Desire at The Young Vic

Bruising, truthful and unflinching, this was a powerhouse of a performance. The revolving set made us voyeurs as we watched the slow-motion detonation of all that southern belle Blanche Dubois held dear. Gillian Anderson lived up to the hype in the theatrical equivalent of Breaking Bad.

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1) The Drowned Man by Punchdrunk

What can I say. This show changed my life. The last time I experienced a show as profound as this was twenty years ago and it set me on a life path I’ve been on ever since. Set in Hollywood in 1962, The Drowned Man was an immersive performance set over four floors of a disused building. There were over 200 rooms to explore and 32 characters to follow. You could literally go wherever you wanted during the 3 hour show but you always left feeling you wanted more.

The Drowned Man was the best thing I’ve ever seen in any art form. Its beautiful symmetry, the David Lynch motifs, but most of all the touching and tender performances of it’s thrilling cast, kept me coming back for more. I saw it 8 times and when it closed, my thirst was still unquenched. Thank you, Punchdrunk.

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Favourite Movie

3) The Lego Movie

Freakin’ awesome. Finally got around to watching this as I flew thousands of miles to Thailand and was hugely entertained and occasionally moved. Ever since they began making computer games, Lego have managed to find the perfect balance between action, pathos and humour. Bring on the sequel.

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2) The Grand Budapest Hotel

I watched this with Pistol Pete in the front row of Hackney PictureHouse on a mahoosive screen. This zany Wes Anderson comedy has more going on than a Where’s Wally picture, so having our noses pressed up against it made an intense experience exponentially more mind-blowing. Rip-roaring fun.

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1) Boyhood

What a movie. Boyhood is the ultimate Richard Linklater film, taking his aesthetic of following characters over a number of years and through meandering conversations and distilling it down to its purest form. The movie follows the life of Mason from 5 to 18 years old. It was filmed over 13 actual years and the cast age as the time passes. Beautiful, poignant performances by all involved, but particularly new star Ellar Coltrane and an old favourite, Patricia Arquette. The soundtrack was glorious, too.

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Favourite Blog Posts

Finally, thank you to all who’ve been reading my blog this year. You’ve also been voting in your droves for anotherwisemonkey to win blog of the year at The Running Awards, so thank you again. These were the posts you enjoyed the most in 2014.

3) Swim Dem Crew

It was a pleasure to write about the inaugural Swim Dem Crew session. Emily, Nathaniel and Peigh have gone from strength to strength this year, and it was amazing to see Nathaniel and Danny put their skills to great use by completing 30 triathlons in 30 days during November. Here’s to an amazing 2015.

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2) FlatLine 10

Several people have told me they’ve run FlatLine as a consequence of reading this blog post, which is the ultimate compliment. I had an incredible time running it and can’t wait to go back in 2015 and test myself again.

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1) Elevating Women’s Running

The incredible feats of the women in Run Dem Crew this past year have been inspirational to so many. I began writing this post because I was in a really bad mood and needed to snap out of it. Little did I know I was about to break the internet as traffic to my site went into overdrive once it was published. So glad to have drawn attention to just a fraction of the amazing things happening at Run Dem Crew. Well done, ladies.

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2014, thanks for the memories. See you in the next one.

Mo Running, Advent Running and Paris Marathon Training

So this is the first post in a long while, and hence it’s a bit of a hotchpotch. This is partly due to marathon training- I’ve increased from 4 to 6 runs per week and have covered 86 miles so far in December. Add to that a seasonal dash of the sniffles, a big show at work and everything good and bad to do with Christmas, and it’s easy to see where the time went.

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Thanks to everyone who’s been voting for this blog at the 2015 Running Awards. It’s great to be on the final shortlist. You can vote by clicking on Vote/ Publications & Online/ Blog/ anotherwisemonkey here. I really appreciate it.

2014 ended with my last goal race of the year- the MoRunning Greenwich 10K. This is a relatively challenging, hilly course, but it’s one of my favourite races of the calendar as the camaraderie and support is second to none. A huge “Thank you” to Glenn Hancock for organising a team of over 160 Run Dem Crew runners; this is a MoRunning world record largest ever team, and it was such a joy to be never more than a minute away from eye contact with someone from the crew on this well-designed course.

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Cheer Dem Crew were fantastic, and it was a real pleasure to join them as soon as the race finished. Giving back to other runners felt great, and stayed until the very last runners had crossed the finish line. My favourite moment was walking Rachel Bonner’s father back up the mother of all hills as he completed a 10K alongside his daughter having just flown all the way from Oz two days before.

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My friends James Poole and Claudia Schroegel launched Advent Running this December. The concept was simple- run every day from 1st to 25th December for 30 minutes. The idea was featured in The Guardian and really took off, with over 1000 people taking part across the globe. It’s been inspiring to see everyone’s posts in the online community, and there have been spot prizes every day for the best photos. Expect to hear more from them in 2015.

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Finally, I’ve begun training for Paris Marathon this month. I’m really enjoying it and am reading an excellent book called Advanced Marathoning, from which I’m learning a fair bit about nutrition and other aspects of training. It still feels strange running at a much slower pace than when I was training for 10K, but I’ve been able to handle the increase in mileage pretty well, and for the first time in my life I’ve made stretching after the run (including foam rolling) a regular habit. It’s hard to see where I’ll find time when I’m back at work to fit in 3 core training sessions per week in addition to the 6 runs, but I’ll do my best. I’m looking for some races to enter in the run up, and currently thinking about Brighton Half in February. Any ideas?

Shout out to Sarah Waite for the MoRunning photos.