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. Continue reading “From Dib Dab to Dibaba”

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.  Continue reading “Paris Marathon Training Update”

Hackney Half- A Celebration

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Today, in the scorching sun, we ran, cheered and celebrated Hackney, my friends and I, in a celebration of community by community and through community. Hackney took me into its arms when I needed a new start in life. Years later, so did Run Dem Crew. So it was fitting I should run the first mass-participation race in Hackney surrounded by the family I’ve chosen. Continue reading “Hackney Half- A Celebration”

Cheer Dem Crew

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If you do not run then you must cheer. Such is the mantra at Run Dem Crew, a London family of creative heads who run marathons led by their mentor and crew-founder Charlie Dark. Last Sunday I spent the day cheering on runners in the Brighton Marathon, and with the Virgin London Marathon about to drop this weekend, I wanted to try to capture what Cheer Dem Crew is about for those who might be new to it.

Sunday April 6th was the date of the Brighton Marathon. It had been in my diary for some time, as several friends in Run Dem Crew were running it, raising money for good causes including the Teenage Cancer Trust. Paul Bains and Claire McGonegle had gone to great trouble to take care of the logistics of getting over 20 of us to and from Brighton, choosing the best spots to cheer from, and booking a pub for drinks and food afterwards.

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I was up before 7.00 and met the crew at St Pancras Station at 8.15. Paul had organised group-save tickets, so we paid just £5 each to travel to Brighton and back. It was good to see familiar faces and to meet some new ones. Two of the crew had hardly slept after big nights out, but you would never have known it from the enthusiasm they showed all day. The train journey was full of jokes, interspersed with checking the progress of our runners in Brighton and Paris on the race apps. Danny Wood was smashing it, coming through the first 10K in 41 minutes. All our runners looked strong, and we were eager to catch up with them in person.

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Once we reached Brighton, we had a fair walk to the first cheer spot. I was excited to be back in town as I lived there for 3 years while at the University of Sussex. As the seafront swung into view we could see the runners streaming past. Paul had identified a good cheer spot that the runners would pass at Mile 14 and then again at Mile 18, where things often start to get difficult. We’d brought with us four large Run Dem banners, and were quick to get them set up. Glancing at the app, we realised we’d missed Danny Wood through Mile 14, so some of use positioned ourselves on the other side of the road to make sure we caught him at Mile 18. We’d just gotten settled when suddenly Emily Ackner came through Mile 14 looking incredibly strong. At this point, Cheer Dem erupted in the first of many explosions of noise, high-fives, whoops and cheers. Emily’s face lit up and it was hugs and gunfinger celebrations all the way before she sped off. Next was Nathaniel, just a couple of minutes behind, and from then on in it was non-stop shouting and cheering. At Run Dem, we don’t just cheer our own runners. Anyone on the course gets a healthy dose of crewlove. To add to the voices, we had whistles, a cow-bell and high-fives.

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Soon Danny came powering through at Mile 18, looking like an absolute don, completely in control. Once Emily Ledbrooke and Deborah had come through Mile 14, all of the crew switched to the other side of the road to catch our runners at Mile 18. We stayed there till every crew-member had come through, as at Run Dem, no one is ever left behind.

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Our final cheer spot was just a short walk away on the seafront at Mile 24. At this point, many runners were reduced to walking, and cheering can really make a difference. One member of the crew was almost overcome with emotion when they passed through, and Paul Bains ran a little of the way with them to make sure they were ok. Some of the cheer crew were already beginning to lose their voices, but we continued shouting and cheering for all our worth. As Deborah from the crew approached, Jason and I decided to tunnel up on the course for her. This is a Tuesday night crew tradition: when we reach the mid-point of our runs, the first group to finish forms a human tunnel for the next group to run through, and so on, creating a tunnel of noise and good vibes. The course wasn’t too crowded at this point, so we hastily got one together for Debs to run through. This may be the first time this has ever happened during a race, and I hope we can continue it when the course isn’t too congested this Sunday at VLM. Finally, after almost three hours solid cheering, our work was done. We assembled for the traditional crew photo and headed off to get food at the North Laine pub.

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Props to Claire for organising an excellent post-run venue and meal. As each runner from the crew arrived, they were treated to a hero’s welcome, to the surprise of the other punters. The endorphins were flowing as freely as the ale while we shared photos taken on the course and hugged and congratulated our friends. A good non-running friend of mine who lives in Brighton came to join us for lunch, and she was so inspired by what she saw that she has bought a pair of trainers and signed up to do Parkrun this weekend.

Heroes

The journey back was full of weary fun. I really enjoyed getting to know some of the newer crew-members better, and eventually we rumbled back into St Pancras and Jason and I got the bus back to N16 together. Getting off the bus outside my home, I went into a shop and bought a Mars bar. When I opened the Mars bar I found out I’d won another Mars bar, which just about sums up an awesome day.

Supporting other people running marathons is one of the most rewarding things you can do. You get back what you put in tenfold. Words can’t express the transformation in a runner who has been broken and is walking, locked in their own internal mental struggle, when they hear you shouting their name. I lost count of the number of times on Sunday these lost, troubled souls looked up, made eye contact and were transformed by the strength of human warmth directed towards them from the crew. In today’s modern, fractured society, the sense of goodwill that is shared on a marathon course is increasingly rare and precious. Many people running marathons are doing so in memory of loved ones who have died and it’s all too easy to become caught up in the burden of feeling you are letting someone living or dead down if you’re struggling to complete your race. But that’s why the marathon is such an inspirational distance. It takes you beyond the limit of human endurance and then asks “What have you got?” Cheer Dem Crew is as much about making sure that no runner has to go through their struggle alone as it is about celebrating the triumphs of those smashing their way to PBs.

Big ups to all the crew who held it down in Brighton, Paris, Manchester and elsewhere on Sunday. Big ups to Cheer Dem for having our runners’ backs. Here, in the words of those who ran the races, is what it means to the runners:

“Having never experienced a Run Dem Race before, I’m beyond words and can’t wait to repay the cheer dem vibes next weekend. Thanks to everyone who cheered/hi 5ed and everything in between. Buzzing.” (Danny Wood, who finished in a PB of 3:20:00)

“The support at 24 miles was next level. Thank you SO much guys. I was really struggling to run at that point and from then I just got faster. Huge thanks to Paul Bains for your lovely words and excellent organisational skills!! You’re all the best.” (Michelle Allen)

“You guys were awesome, so grateful to see so many supportive smiling faces. Thank you cheerdem and bring on London!!” (Emily Ledbrooke)

“Total inability to get to sleep, still buzzing and can’t get over you guys’ efforts with all the support. So grateful, thank you. Next weekend’s gonna be immense.” (Emily Ackner who finished in a PB of 3:47:44)

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All of which brings me to the plans for this weekend. Cheer Dem Crew will be based at Mile 21 of the London Marathon course, cheering on Mo Farah in his bid to win the race, all of the crew, and every single runner that comes through. We base ourselves at Mile 21 because that is traditionally where runners hit the wall. There will be over a hundred of us bringing phenomenal vibes to that section of the course and I can’t wait. Check out mile21.co.uk to see what went down last year, and to follow remotely on the day if you can’t make it personally, as the feed will be updated in real-time.

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To get involved, come to housekeeping at Run Dem Crew tonight, or email Mile 21 mastermind Chevy at chevyrayrough@gmail.com

There will be a sign-making, fund-raising session taking place at Shutterbug in Shoreditch from noon this Saturday, so come down if you can to help prepare banners and personalised signs for our runners. Later on the Saturday Night Ninja Crew will be putting the signs up on the route pre-race. This has to be done late enough in the day that they won’t be taken down again.

Then on race day Cheer Dem Crew will convene at Docklands Tyres and Exhausts, 767 Commercial Road, E14 7HG. It’s just before Mile 21. Come early and be prepared to lose your voice, shed some tears and feel goosebumps as the adrenaline takes you on a rollercoaster of emotions almost intense as running the race itself.

Virgin London Marathon this week is gonna be insane, jubilant, emotional. It will be the ultimate manifestation of #crewlove in 2014. If you’re running, as Charlie says, you’ve done the hard work in training, so the race is going to be a celebration. For those not running, this is a great chance to give back a small portion of what we get from being in the crew. Bring it on.

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Photo credits: Ash Narod, Cara Conquest and Mark Fleming

FlatLine 10

Flat Line The FlatLine 10 is a race/ training event organised by EnergyLabBTS. It involves 10 suicidal laps of a one mile course up and down the steepest hill in London- Swains Lane. This beast of a course will tame even the most talented runner, but the sense of achievement on finishing is incredible.

The hill is well-known to cyclists but it is unusual for runners to make more than one ascent during a run. For those who understand the technical aspects, the maximum gradient is 18%, height gain is 63 metres and the distance we climbed during Saturday’s race was a third that of Mont Ventoux, one of the most gruelling climbs in the Tour de France. Doing this on bike would be difficult but running it is either heroic or foolhardy. 2014-02-01 09.17.29 As my alarm woke me early on race day, I had serious doubts about doing the run. I felt tired. It had been a stressful week, so I hadn’t been sleeping well. My quads felt tight after changing up my training plan, and I was tempted to crawl back under the duvet. I’d publicly committed to going, though, so I dragged myself out of bed and got ready.

As I headed to the top of Swains Lane on public transport, the day dawned crisp and bright. By now I felt glad to be alive and knew I’d made the right decision to race. I bumped into my friend Felix as we headed up the hill, and we noticed how our heart-rates quickened just from walking up. Barbara from EnergyLab gave out our race numbers and we did our best to keep warm while the other runners arrived.

This was a small event, with a maximum entry of 30. The road was open during the race so we had to be mindful of traffic and pedestrians. I was surprised to learn that Richard Keller, who had won the previous event, would not be running. I’d raced in that August edition, and Richard had set the tempo. There were other fast runners, but none of us had really considered this a race until it was declared one on the Facebook Event page. Still, we all knew we would be pushing each other when the first descent began and the adrenaline kicked in.

First and foremost, though, this event is about the sense of achievement you get from completing it. The camaraderie on this course is amazing. You run so many loops that you’re always making eye-contact with the other runners, and everyone is going through the same pain as you. We all support each other, and that helps get us through. Running is not about being better than someone else, it’s about being the best you can be and that includes helping others. 2014-02-02 16.18.27 As the race began, I settled in behind Manni and Felix, who went out hard on the first downhill- our pace was just over 5 minutes per mile on the descent, but it would be much slower on the way up. This race is notoriously difficult to pace because you are always climbing or descending but you can build up a head of steam on the descents, particularly in the middle where the drop is steepest. My strategy was to go as quickly as I could downhill each lap, and then climb steadily, taking smaller strides but maintaining a quick cadence on the up-hills. I told myself there would be no walking, no matter what.

As we passed Karl Marx’s tomb and reached the cone at the bottom of the hill, I was third. We began to climb, and my small steps took me into second place towards the crest of the hill. As we began the second descent, I swept past the leader, and suddenly, for the first time in my life, I was at the front in a race. I was very surprised, but beyond a fleeting thought about what it would be like to run without someone pacing me, I didn’t have time to think about it. I concentrated on accelerating as quickly as I could through the descent, making sure I kept my footing over the speed bumps. I felt certain the runners behind me were on my shoulder, so as I began the next climb I was stunned to see I had built a gap between myself and second place. I knew my climbing skills were pretty good, so for the first time in a race ever, I dared to dream about winning.

The next few miles were a blur. Nods and cheers of encouragement from me to others and from them to me. Claudia yelling that I had a big lead. Concentrating on breathing, form, counting, looking at the top of the hill each time I had to climb. Trying to shake out the limbs and land on the forefoot each time I descended. Throwing my gloves and running hat on the ground at the top of the fourth mile. And the growing realisation that victory was possible. 2014-02-02 16.17.52 With that came nagging doubts. What if we had gone out too fast on that first mile? What if my body just refused to keep going? The only way was down, and to lose from this position would be hard to take. But this race is so challenging I couldn’t think those thoughts for long. I could feel my muscles working hard on the ascents, while the down-hills were equally demanding. Your body is constantly under assault. And that’s what makes this race so special. It’s comparable to completing a marathon. You cannot stay in your comfort zone when running the FlatLine 10. Because of that I salute everyone who takes it on.

As I hit the penultimate lap I had built up a lead of about half a mile. I called out to Richard, who was taking photographs, asking him to pace me on the final lap. The temptation to stop running and walk up the hill was getting very strong, and I knew Richard wouldn’t let me give in. He pushed me hard on the final descent, talking all the while about good form, encouraging me to beat his course record. I knew that was beyond me. My body was crying out and I just wanted to get over the finish line, but I’m grateful for his support. As we made the final ascent, he urged me to sprint, but my body wasn’t having any of it. At last, we reached the top and for the first time in my life I learnt what it feels like to win something. 2014-02-02 16.20.02 There was pain, sure, but there was a huge sense of happiness, no little pride and a new-found inner confidence. As I stretched out, I couldn’t help beaming. I thought about the injury I’d sustained in September, which had set my training back three months. I’d trained through December to catch up, preparing for the Berlin Half Marathon, but my body hadn’t been able to do what the training plans were asking. Then I hit January, and pow!- it just clicked back into shape. I felt a deep sense of satisfaction that when I’d been putting those miles in, I’d been laying the platform for the feelings I was having at the top of Swains Lane. Consistency of approach is what reaps rewards in running. I hope I can apply this lesson in other areas of my life, too.

Steve Layton was the next person over the finish line, meaning Spurs fans finished first and second. Sorrell was the Queen of the Hill, being first woman home. Over the next 45 minutes the rest of the runners completed their race. Everyone finished. There are so many inspirational and incredible stories. Chris Cannon was doing his first proper run of the year. Azra Zakir had spent large portions of 2013 unable to run due to ITB pain. Melissa has grown so strong since having a major health scare a few years ago. One runner tried to end her race at the top of the hill with three miles to go. Others gathered round, supported her and gave her the self-belief to finish, which she did in style. 2014-02-02 16.18.44 2014-02-02 16.18.38

Best of all, Claudia had baked cake for all of the finishers, and as we nursed our aches and pains, we made light work of eating it.

2014-02-02 16.19.51 FlatLine 10 is a superb event, in spite of the severe DOMS I’m experiencing as I write this. Full credit to Barbara and Claudia from EnergyLabBTS for their organisation, and to Richard for the photographs and slideshow. It’s the camaraderie that makes it special. Perhaps it will grow and become a sanctioned race. In the meantime, I urge you to come out of your comfort zone and test yourself next time it’s on. The Run Dem Crew mantra is “Go Hard Or Go Home”. You’ll have to go a long way to find a harder or more satisfying run than this one.

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Swim Dem Crew

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Whisper it quietly, but there’s a new fitness movement under way. It started a few months ago in London when Nathaniel Cole, Emily Deyn and Peigh Asante decided to take the ethos of the running crew they love so much and apply it to swimming. Swim Dem Crew was born.

Swim Dem Crew was born out of Run Dem Crew- a running family of creative heads all striving to better themselves through pounding pavement, track and trail. If you’re not familiar with them, check out my blog post on #crewlove.  As well as running together in London, the crew hook up with other running crews around the world several times a year to race marathons and party in international cities. I’m excited to see if Swim Dem Crew can branch out like this in time, perhaps with triathlons.

Nathaniel, Peigh and Emily are old-school members of the crew, and each have gone through their own personal transformations. They are exponents and examples of crewlove and brought boundless energy and enthusiasm to the opening Swim Dem session. Peigh only learnt to swim recently but can really move, while Nathaniel and Emily both look like fish in water.

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Last Saturday, at London Fields Lido, the first Swim Dem Crew open swimming session was held. I was nervous as I made my way across the park. I hadn’t been swimming with more than one other person since I was about 12 years old. Being of slight build, I was having doubts about the sanity of taking my top off and and swimming on a cold January day in an outdoor pool. I was also wondering how the family nature of the crew would translate to this setting. When you run with friends there’s lots of opportunity for chat, but with our heads in the water I was worried we would just be swimming endless lengths repetitively, barely talking to each other.

My swimming skills are pretty basic. They’re normally only dusted off when on holiday, but I had been swimming occasionally for the past couple of months as part of my rehab from a running injury. Thankfully, my fears soon evaporated like the steam rising from the heated pool in the crisp morning air. As I arrived I caught up with My-Ha and Luke, and before I knew it I was chatting away with Nathaniel.As we made our way out to store our things in the outdoor lockers the cold was biting, so we kept moving, showered and got into the pool as quickly as possible.

Nathaniel explained their would be three groups- Tadpoles, Dolphins and Sharks. All three groups would be swimming 20 laps of the 50 metre pool, so we’d be swimming 1 km in total. This was to be done in 100 metre bursts in separate lanes, one for each group. Tadpoles had 4 minutes to swim 100 metres. If you finished early, you had more time to recover and chat before the next 100 metres. Dolphins had 3 minutes for each 100 metres. Again, swimming quickly gives more rest time. Sharks had 2 minutes for each cycle. How you manage to rest and do that is beyond me.

I opted to swim with Tadpoles, and was looked after superbly by Peigh. We swam a warm-up lap, and then set off doing our first 100 metres. I found we were comfortably able to swim the distance in about 2 and a half minutes, so there was plenty of time to catch our breath and chat in between reps.

As I looked across at the Dolphins and Sharks moving gracefully through the water, I was inspired to develop my technique and move up groups soon. There were 16 of us swimming, mostly people from Run Dem Crew, but the age varied from as young as 7- Sacha- who was there with his Mum and crew member Sanchia- to (ahem) myself. It was great splashing about with Sacha in the shallow end each time we completed our reps.

I had a really great time. I don’t think I’ve been swimming with that many friends since a kids’ birthday party when I was 12. The different groups were well thought out and the balance was right between pushing to become a better swimmer and having a good time. The crew are really friendly and anyone is welcome, although tiny Speedos, as one male crew member found out, are not part of the uniform. I think this video gives a good indication of the vibe.

Swim Dem Crew is going to visit lots of different London venues over the coming months, so there’ll be a chance to get involved for anyone based in the capital. It’s happening every Saturday at 10am. I believe the next one is in London Fields again, and then after that there is talk of Crystal Palace. If you want to find out more about the crew, hit them up on Twitter or Instagram under the @swimdemcrew handle.

London Fields Lido is also well worth a visit. It’s quite spectacularly beautiful in the crisp morning air, and I can’t wait to see the seasons change as I swim under the trees that tower over the pool. The session cost £4.65 for adults and  £2.80 for children. The lockers are 20p.

So don’t let anything stop you from joining the fun. Get yourself down to the next Swim Dem Crew session and join a group of runners who love to swim. I’m proud to have been at the first open session, and I’m sure by the summer the numbers will have gone through the roof.

There aren’t many better ways to spend a Saturday morning. It would not surprise me in the slightest to see other swimming crews popping up in cities across the world. Bring on the first Swim Dem Crew Bridge the Gap.

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It’s Not The Destination, It’s The Journey That’s Important

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July 1st 2012 was the date of my first race since the 2007 London Marathon. A difficult recovery after an operation had given me a new found gratefulness for the fact that I am able to put one foot in front of another. I could not have seen then how running would transform my life. It has taken me to Amsterdam, Barcelona, Bournemouth and soon Berlin, but the friendships I have made through running will last beyond memory.

Last Sunday, I went back to that Regents Park course and ran 10K 9 minutes faster than that day in 2012, but the first race will always be the most special to me. I keep the race number hanging on a wall in my flat.

In order to see how far you have come, you must remember where you came from.

2013- thanks for the #crewlove

Run Dem PixlrChevy

2013 has been a year of huge growth for me and so many others through running with Run Dem Crew. Today I’m going to pick out some of the many highlights of an amazing year. Thank you all for being part of the journey.

#CDCML

Charlie

The day we gave back to Run Dem Crew founder Charlie Dark, who has given so much to all of us, was a special one. Charlie was presented with his own hard-won marathon medal, and we gave speeches explaining how he has changed our lives. Big shout out to Paul Bains for organising it all without word getting out. This day will live long in the memory.

The night the Olympic Park was our playground

Run Dem Playground

It meant a lot for us to finally be able to run to and through the field of Olympic dreams, and as dusk fell our inner children escaped for a few glorious Peter Pan moments as we took over the adventure playground.

#dibabalife

Track

What went down at Paddington Rec this summer was nothing short of beautiful. Every week we arced like shooting stars across the same cinder track that Roger Bannister trained on to break the 4 minute mile. Massive props to Jeggi Elinzano, Cory Wharton-Malcolm and Knox Robinson for the training plans and  Tirunesh Dibaba for the inspiration.

#dibdablife

Dib Dab Life

A certain member of the crew had us cry-laughing  this summer when he asked “What’s all this about dibdablife?” It was the hash-tag dibabalife that he was referring to. The term dibdablife has now become synonymous with The Only Fools and Horses approach to training.

Housekeeping

Paulie

Always the most important part of Tuesday evenings at 1948, housekeeping is our opportunity to remind ourselves why we run as we come together as a community. The medal speeches are always a highlight but special mention goes to Paulie Roche for his New York Marathon epic, combining comedy and tragedy in equal measure. To quote him:

“Make pain your friend and you will never run alone.”

Targets, PBs and Medals

2013 Medals

We all have our own goals in running. I’m grateful that, through a lot of hard work, I was able to meet all the targets I’d set myself at the start of the year. These are the medals (and fridge magnet) I was able to win in 2013. Each of these achievements is special to me in it’s own right, but I would never have found the determination to achieve all this without the crew. My victories are your victories. Thank you.

5K target- sub 20. I managed 18:55

10K target- sub 40. 38:31.

Half marathon target- sub 1:30. 1:26:45

Marathon target- sub 3:45. 3:21:10

Cheer Dem Crew

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Cheering on other runners is one of the most rewarding things you can do. I’m particularly grateful to everyone who had our backs in the East London Half. It was a pleasure to be part of the Cheer Dem massive on other occasions, especially the London Marathon and Run To The Beat. Big ups to Chevy Rough and Paul Bains for being Cheer Dem organisers extroardinaires.

#teamorange

Orange

In February, Chris McLeanClaire McGoneglePaul Bains and I shared an apartment decorated entirely in orange as we took on the Barcelona Half Marathon. There were PBs and good times all round. Bridging the gap never felt so good.

When we chased the sun to Greenwich

Greenwich Run

An inspirational route on a beautiful day.

These guys

Junior & Jason

I knew Junior Robbani and Jason Lawrence before Run Dem and I owe my running journey to Junior, in particular. He dragged me round Clissold Park when I was out of shape and at the beginning of my transformation. They’ve both come a long way as runners in 2013 and have been making positive moves in their work and personal lives, inspiring me with each decision they take. They ran in Barcelona, too,  and I can’t wait to follow their exploits when they take on the Tokyo Marathon next year.

The Elites

Elites

I’ve got so much love for the Run Dem Elites. Each week we push each other to be the best we can be, and there’s a special camaraderie that develops between you and the group you run with. For me, no Elite has been more inspirational than Sorrell Walsh, blazing a trail for other women to follow and ready to take on the Country to Capital Ultra in January.

Flatline 10

Swains Group

10 laps up and down Swains Lane of pain. Ouch. Maximum respect to all who have tamed this beast.

Bournemouth Marathon

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This was a special one for me. The last time I ran a marathon I hated it so much I didn’t run again for 5 years. I was privileged to run this hilly course with Noushi, Nathaniel ColeTim JacksonPistol PeteEmma HancockRicky Diaghe and Dave Cregan. On a course with many double-backs the #crewlove kept us going. The picture shows a guy called Michael I met during the race. We didn’t know each other before, but we bonded over those 26.2 miles and crossed the finish line hand in hand.

Ghostpoet gig

Ghostpoet

As Charlie says, “When you do well, I do well”. This was never more evident than when Ghostpoet took the stage at his triumphant homecoming gig at the Village Underground. As he surveyed the crowd, ripped and confident, I wondered how much of a part Run Dem had played in Ghostpoet’s personal and artistic development.

Blogging

Angel

2013 for me was the year of the blog. I greatly enjoyed reading other crew-member’s blogs, in particular http://www.bangsandabun.com and http://www.runangelrun.co.uk In April, I took the plunge and started my own blog. My post on #crewlove proved most popular and I wanted to say thank you to all my readers for dropping by.

https://anotherwisemonkey.wordpress.com/2013/06/30/crewlove/

Ain’t no party like a Run Dem party

Party

When Cory Wharton-Malcolm picks up the mic,  Josey Rebelle is on the decks and shot dem crew are on the dance floor, there’s no better place to be than with the crew. The family that plays together, stays together. Berlin, here we come.

Thank you all for an amazing 2013. Here’s to 2014.

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How I Learned To Love Marathon Training

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Marathon training sucks. There, I’ve said it. You train for 16 weeks to run a race that will take most mortals somewhere between 2 and 6 hours. 2 and 6 hours! Many of us struggle to concentrate on one thing for more than five minutes in this fast-paced, multi-tasking society. Why would you do something repetitively for such a long time? You sacrifice junk food, alcohol and social gatherings in order to bank the miles and ensure race day is an enjoyable experience. On the journey, you may get injured, hopefully not too seriously, or at least miss some training runs due to ill health. It stands to reason that in 16 weeks of regular commitment to exercise, there are going to be some troughs as well as highs. But this time, I think I cracked it. I actually enjoyed the training process, and most of the race itself. Here’s how…

1) Find a good training plan and stick to it. I got my training plan from the Runner’s World website (http://www.runnersworld.co.uk/training/). Hal Higdon also has some good ones over at http://www.halhigdon.com/. Pick one that’s the right level of commitment for you and stick to it. There’s no point picking a 6 day a week training plan if you’ve only been running once a week. Received wisdom seems to be that 3-6  training runs a week is required- with 3 being the minimum: one tempo run at a pace outside your  comfort zone but which you can sustain for the duration; one track or hill session, involving shorter intense bursts interspersed by brief recovery periods; and one long run, in which you gradually increase the mileage each week. I made the mistake of over-training during the build up to Bournemouth.

6 years after my last marathon experience, I chose to run the Bournemouth Marathon because my friends were doing it and because it would allow me to do the bulk of my training over the school summer hoilday (I’m a teacher) when I would have more time to recover. However, I was enjoying my training so much I got carried away, and ended up doing crazy blocks of really intense training back to back (read all about it here… https://anotherwisemonkey.wordpress.com/2013/09/28/one-week-to-go/ ). This resulted in my left calf blowing up like a ham five weeks from the race. I was fortunate enough to recover well enough to be able to run, but I’m sure I hit the wall after mile 18 because I had to massively reduce my training load over the last 5 weeks. Consequently, I’m sticking to 4 runs a week for the forseeable future (down from 6) and building more yoga and strength training into my training plan.

2) Set yourself challenging but achievable goals and be easy if you can’t quite reach them. The marathon distance is not a joke. Just completing the distance is a significant achievement in itself. Nevertheless, some of my friends running Bournemouth seemed a little down after the race because they hadn’t quite reached the time they wanted. I felt exactly the same after my previous marathon experience (which you can read about here… https://anotherwisemonkey.wordpress.com/2013/05/30/my-london-marathon-experience-or-why-i-stopped-running-for-five-years/ ). They really should be incredibly proud of themselves, as it was a tough, hilly course and a very hot day, which makes a huge difference over such a long distance. Factors on race day such as the weather, the elevation on the course, the amount of sleep you got the night before- are all going to affect you.

I was really lucky this time around, in that I’m a much fitter person, and a much better runner, than I was last time I attempted the marathon distance. Unless things went disastrously wrong, I was going to get a PB. But there is an art to not getting too hung up on your time, so I made that my main objective for this race. I was determined to enjoy the scenery, take in what was around me, and smile my way round. Running along the Bournemouth coastline was more beautiful than I had expected, and race day dawned warm and sunny. I’m glad that I got to see Bournemouth at her best, and will definitely be heading back there next summer to chill out on those glorious sandy beaches. Bournemouth Map

3) Get plenty of rest in the run up to the race. Obviously, I had some enforced rest through getting injured, but I also made sure to taper properly in the last 3 weeks. I was very tempted to run a 20 miler at the end of my first week back from injury, but on the advice of my friends and family, I decided not to. A good decision. I also managed to get plenty of long sleeps in during the week of the race, winding down earlier than usual during the week and hitting the hay early. There were some bad germs going around at work, so I made sure I took every precaution possible to avoid catching a cold. I dosed myself up on vitamins and ate as healthily as possible.

I’m glad I’d stocked up on sleep, because the night before the race insomnia struck, caused by the excitement, and perhaps the pressure to do well, in the marathon. I haven’t had this problem with half marathons or 10Ks, but it’s affected me both times I’ve run a marathon. The distance is so much further than what I can comfortably run, so I was anxious to get to sleep, and this of course prevented me from sleeping. In the end, I only managed two hours, in separate 1 hour blocks. In the end, not being able to sleep was a blessing in disguise. I expected my body to hit the wall sooner rather than later, and saw every step I took as a bonus. I was glad to have gotten two hours, rather than none, and I had no qualms in allowing myself to walk from mile 18 onwards.

4) Have a race plan. Mine was to run roughly 7 minute miles for as long as I could, and then to allow myself to walk if I hit the wall. I managed to hit my target pace for 18 miles. There was one really hard uphill mile where I fell behind, but I was able to make the time back up on the downhill on the other side. This plan took all the pressure off me. 7 minute miles were fairly comfortable compared to the pace we often run in Elites at Run Dem Crew. It also meant that when the wheels came off, I’d gotten to mile 18 in such a quick time that even if I walked the rest of the way, it was probable I would still PB. This really freed me up and gave me permission to walk and enjoy the scenery.

I want to stress the fact that us relatively faster runners in Run Dem elites have struggles in races, too. I actually walked several times over the last few miles, and had my first experience of cramp in a race. My heart and lungs were ready to continue, but my legs just didn’t have the strength. It’s something I can work on for the future, and I was happy to accept where I was at on race day. I discovered an unexpected plus side to walking. You get cheered on more vociferously by the supporters along the route, and if you actually start running again, they raise the roof. On discovering this, I may have deliberately slowed down to a walk just to get the cheer when I started running again. The Bournemouth supporters were a lovely, energetic lot, more than happy to high five you as you ran, and I’m grateful to them for helping me to the finish line.

High 5 Asics

5) Enter with friends. Before I joined Run Dem Crew I used to race on my own and it can be very lonely. It’s so much easier to enjoy training and racing when you are doing it with other people.  There’s a real camaraderie from the shared experience of putting the miles in, especially on those long runs. On race day, and in this case over the whole race weekend, my experience was made so much more enjoyable because it was shared. It was great just hanging out with mates, eating good food, exploring Bournemouth and celebrating after the race. It was a happy accident that the course featured a number of double-backs. This meant that we all got to see each other multiple times during the marathon, and helped lift spirits when they were flagging. Double-backs are not great for fast times, but having said that, I’ve set PBs on double-back courses and a friendly face goes a long way when you’re questioning whether you can complete the distance.

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The inaugural Bournemouth Marathon was a really good race. The views along the coast were beautiful, but I’m definitely going to pay more attention to the elevation chart in future, and incorporate more hill training when appropriate.

Bournemouth Elevation

Pete, Tim and I muscled our way to the front of the Orange race pen, which made for an exciting start. We had a great view of the elite runners speeding off into the distance and it felt great leading out thousands of others after the starting gun. That said, the 10am start meant that we were running during the hottest part of the day. I’d favour an 8am start next year to avoid this, with the half marathon starting later.

There were moments when I questioned my sanity as I ran with a parched throat past people enjoying ice-creams and lollies on the seafront. Next time, I’m putting a pound in that little pocket at the back of my running shorts. On the subject of nutrition, after mile 14 I couldn’t stomach any more Clif Shot Bloks, which I was using to top up my energy on the course. Anyone got any recommendations for an alternative? Throughout the race, I kept the notion this was supposed to be fun in the forefront of my mind, and did everything I could to keep it there.

 The medal is a really nice bit of bling. It looks different from all my others, and that’s fitting, since this was an important race for me. 2013-10-06 15.54.40

I crossed the finish line in 3 hours, 21 minutes, which was 1 hour and 5 minutes faster than my previous marathon PB. I finished hand in hand with a guy called Michael. I’d never met him before the race, but we kept passing each other during the race, and supported each other as if we were old friends. We bonded over those 26.2 miles.

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The amount of training required for a marathon is prohibitive, so I don’t plan on doing another marathon for at least a year. Still, I was able to even up my previous negative marathon experience, and look forward to also doing an ultra some day. In the nearer future, I’m looking forward to running plenty of 10K and half marathon races over the next few months, and will be involved in X-Country for the first time since I was at school. I feel strengthened through the knowledge that I’ve been able to have an enjoyable marathon race.

Here’s to the next one, because over the past few months, I’ve revised my opinion about marathons.

Marathon training rocks. There, I’ve said it. Bournemouth Thumb

 

 

 

Down Tow Up Flow Half Marathon Race Report

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The Down Tow Up Flow half marathon is a scenic multi-terrain run along the banks of the Thames. Multi-terrain in this case included running through fields, along trails and on road. It is run in opposite directions each year, hence the name. This year, it was run “Down Tow”, from Marlow to Windsor. I’d heard good things about the beautiful setting, and had never run a a multi-terrain race before, so when Dave Cregan suggested it, I agreed.

My weekend began with Charlie Dark’s excellent remix of The Hare and the Tortoise. This was a children’s show which took place in the Olympic Park as part of the Open East festival, which marked the handing over of the park to the public. For me, the highlight of the performance was the “Big Belly Man” poem, which had me cracking up and the kids and their parents fully engaged. However, the wisdom in the old fairy tale was something I should have heeded more carefully, as I set out for this race like the hare but finished like the tortoise.

I found myself getting out of bed at 6am on the Sunday of the race, which shows how much my life has changed in a year. I had my usual pre-race breakfast of porridge and fruit toast, and set off at 7am to Paddington, where I met my friend Richard. We boarded the first of two trains and on the second one Richard took the opportunity for a power nap, impressively keeping my coffee upright. This proved to be a clever race strategy, and I’ll try to incorporate it into my routine in the future.

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We arrived in Marlow and promptly set off in the wrong direction from the station, followed like lemmings by all the other runners and supporters. After a few minutes, my Spidey-sense started tingling, and a quick look at Google Maps confirmed we were going the wrong way. Cue amusing mass turn-around of people.

On arrival at the start line, the main down side of the organisation became apparent- there were huge queues for the toilets. Picking up our race packs was easy enough, but the PA system wasn’t working properly, so it was hard to make out what was being said. A fairly lame aerobic warm-up followed, so we spent most of our time chatting to the birthday boy, Dave Cregan- and My-Ha, who was returning to the scene of her first ever race a year on. Those are my only gripes with the race organisation, however. Once the race actually got underway, it proved to be an excellent event.

As I set off after the gun in the first wave of runners, I was feeling good. Various people had said that this wasn’t a PB course, and that had only made me quietly determined to try to prove them wrong. I quickly settled into 6.30 min/ mile pace, knowing that if I could maintain it for the whole course, I’d get a PB. I felt comfortable, avoiding the temptation to run the suicide pace of the front pack. 6.30 is roughly the average pace of elite runs with Run Dem Crew on Tuesdays, so when the adrenaline of race-day is pumping, it’s pretty easy to cope with. The difficulty would come later, when running beyond the usual Tuesday distance. We sped out across a field before hitting the path beside the river, negotiating several kissing gates with relative ease. I hadn’t heard the expression “kissing gate” before this race, so that’s one of many things I learnt from the experience.

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The field was competitive but quickly stretched out into a line, so there weren’t issues with trying to find space early on. However, I quickly realised how much harder my legs were working compared to normal in order to cope with the uneven running surface. Running on uneven roads in Hackney, I thought I knew all about challenging surfaces, but this was another level. My calves and thighs felt like they were getting a serious workout, akin to the feeling in the gym when you’re lifting weights at your threshold. I wondered how this would affect me later in the run.

Mile 3 was a little trickier, as we ran along a dappled trail and safely overtaking became impossible. I was mentally prepared for bottlenecks like this, as the race organisers had explained that this would occur on their website. Although I was forced to drop below 6.30 pace for this mile, I didn’t worry about it. I’d resolved not to try to make the time up elsewhere- I’d just get back to 6.30 on the next mile if possible.

We then hit the first of two bridges on the route. This was a big surprise. I’d never encountered bridge climbs in races before, where you have to actually run up the steps before you can cross the bridge. We do this very regularly when running with the crew, but we often stop at the end of the bridge to allow others to catch up. Stopping wasn’t an option here, and it made a big difference, tiring me out. I’ve just done a bridge session working on cadence with Barbara, my coach, and I’m going to incorporate these into my runs as often as possible now.

Still, with that mile behind me, I was able to resume normal service for miles 4-6. I was enjoying the beautiful scenery and in a good place physically and mentally. It felt good to be racing along the Thames, and I was looking forward to passing Eton Dorney, scene of the Olympic rowing competition, later in the run.

Nevertheless, the bright sunshine began to bother me a little, so I was thankful for shady areas when we ran through them. I have a vague memory of possibly seeing some balloons tied up along the route at this point- more on this later- but I didn’t pay much attention and just continued focusing on my running form and pace.

Miles 7 and 8 proved to be somewhat harder. Despite my best efforts, my pace began to slow. I tried to focus on my cadence and form, moving my legs as quickly as possible, but 6.30 pace was beyond me. I accepted this and thought that it would be alright if I could stay at 6.36 or so for the rest of the race. I’d not been able to do many long runs in my training for this half marathon, as I’d had a succession of bugs, so on reflection, it’s not surprising that my body began to slow down once I’d gone beyond my usual six mile distance. In a way, that makes the achievement of completing this race even more special.

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However, from miles 9 to 13 my pace got slower and slower. At this point, I have to be honest and say that no matter how tranquil and beautiful a course is, when you’re suffering, you don’t really notice or give a damn. I didn’t even notice Eton Dorney. I was getting overtaken with increasing regularity, and I began to worry that Richard, who had set off in the second wave five minutes after me, would overtake me. I wryly reflected on the moral of the hare and the tortoise and felt like a living example of it.

Mile 11 was a 7 minute mile, and I have to admit that at that point, I really considered stopping and walking. I was physically tired and my legs felt like lead. It was just no fun as the sun beat down ever stronger. However, knowing that I’ve entered the Bournemouth Marathon, which takes place in October, I was able to take this humbling experience on board as a warning sign. I knew that I had to get my long run training up to scratch from now on, because the marathon distance will be on another level entirely. I also remembered a conversation that Charlie had had with Simon Freeman when running a PB at a recent marathon, that went something like this:

Charlie: It hurts!

Simon: It’s meant to hurt!

(Suddenly, it all falls into place for Charlie and he speeds home like a veritable running god).

Somehow, I managed to keep going, but I slowed still further on lap 12 and 13, to over 7.30 min pace. However, when I came to a sign that said 400m to go, I briefly rallied. Looking at my watch, I saw that if I ran a 60 second 400 metres (practically impossible, I know) I would still be able to PB. I picked up the pace as much as I could, but rounded a corner and found that we had to climb two sets of stairs in order to cross another bridge. The 400m started after that. I knew a PB was now out of the question, so I just kept picking my legs up until the finish came in sight.

A really nice touch in this race was the organisers call your name out as you’re approaching the finish. I’ve never experienced this before and I have to say that it really gave me a lift as I hit the home straight. I may have finished like the tortoise, but I was still smiling as I crossed the finish line. I picked up my rather fancy medal and gulped down several cups of water. I’d completed the race in a not too shabby 1:27:51, and was more than happy with that, all things considered.

About 5 minutes later, Richard crossed the line in a very similar time, and we lay down on the bank beside the Thames enjoying the sun and rehydrating. Dave finished a few minutes later, and was pretty whacked- he’d found it really challenging in the heat. We chatted with some other runners and I was able to buy ice creams for me, Richard and Dave. Then, like an angel from Heaven, a friend of Dave’s arrived with a cool-box full of food for the birthday boy, and we eagerly dug in- except for Dave, who was not feeling up to it, sadly.

It later emerged that this friend had gone to great lengths to help Dave celebrate his birthday. She had tied balloons on every mile marker on the course, and had even phoned the race organisers the day before to find out where would be the best spot to put a large banner (see below). Unfortunately, Dave, Richard and I had all completely missed this, presumably because we were so focused on the race. It was an absolutely lovely gesture, and we all felt a bit sheepish about not having taken it in properly. Once Dave had recovered, he was driven out to go and appreciate the efforts that had been taken.

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My-Ha finished and we all posed for a picture on the winner’s podium. The race winner came through in a beastly 1hr 14 minutes, and I had come 20 places behind, averaging 6.45 pace. I learnt a lot from the race. I’m looking forward to doing more off-road running, more long runs, and working on my cadence on those stairs.

All in all, this is an excellent event. The organisation at the start could have improved, particularly in terms of toilets, but the race is lovely and the marshals and the organisation at the end was as good as I’ve experienced. The medal is clearly all kinds of awesome. I suspect that I would have enjoyed the race more if I’d been able to do more long runs, and am on the case with my preparations for Bournemouth. I whole-heartedly recommend this race if you’re thinking of doing it next year, when it will be run in the opposite direction, “Up Flow”.

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