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”
A lot of friends have mentioned lately they have lost their running mojo. To a certain extent, so have I. Whether this is due to the summer heat, the constant striving for PBs losing some of it’s lustre or simply boredom, there’s nothing wrong with taking a break.
I haven’t stopped running completely, but I’ve reduced my mileage and dropped the training plans. As a result, I’m still running and still enjoying it. The spark is still there, but I’ve allowed the embers to burn down low for a while before stoking the fire up again.
The first part of this year went really well for me. I won the FlatLine 10 in February and smashed my half-marathon PB in Berlin in March. But after 3 consecutive races not going to plan, culminating in a scorching Hackney Half, it felt right to listen to my body and take a break.
Besides, I knew I was going to Thailand for 3 weeks over the summer. I’m here now, and let me tell you, there won’t be a huge amount of running done in this heat! Out here, I’m all about the yoga, the Thai massages and the swimming. There’s an amazing place called Yogarden just a short walk from my hotel. I’m getting very zen.
I’m planning to run Copenhagen half marathon in September, but there’s little point in starting a training plan in these conditions, so I’m just going to take that race easy. I’d only have 4 weeks to train for Copenhagen after Thailand, so it would be unrealistic to go for a fast time. It will be fun to explore a new city with NBRO and Run Dem Crew, and enjoying that will be my focus.
Although I’m not following a plan, it doesn’t mean I’ve completely abandoned striving to get better. When I was in London, I was enjoying the twisting and turning of the Run Dem Crew elite suicide pace runs. I’ve also particularly enjoyed Jason’s recent track programme of Yasso 800s. I’ve been able to push myself sufficiently hard within these two sessions for my competitive side to feel satisfied, and I’ve enjoyed not having success determined by something as all-encompassing as a goal race. The best thing about the Run Dem Crew runs is the camaraderie. As Charlie often says, running is the least important part of what we do.
In the past three weeks I’ve only clocked up 26 miles in total, compared to 20-30 per week, so it’s a big step down in terms of mileage. I started running again in the summer of 2012 and I don’t think I’ve ever done less than three runs a week since then unless I was injured.
The other thing I’ve been doing in my down time is building up my overall body strength, and in particular my core. I was doing bodyweight workouts and yoga in London. These are great as you don’t really need any equipment, and by deepening strength and flexibility you see benefits in running, will be less likely to get injured, and feel better and stronger in general life. This was prompted after doing an intense hour and a half EnergyLab core workout recently and realising I was a long way from where I wanted to be.
Out here in Thailand, I’m enjoying the very different challenges of running at an easy pace in intense heat. It’s great that I don’t have to do a long run or fit in 2/ 3 recovery runs. It’s just a case of pulling on my trainers, stepping out the door and going. I’ve made contact in the virtual world with some locally based runners and am hoping to run with them soon. The yoga and the Thai massages are helping my body rebalance, as well as building core strength. My body is recovering from the mileage and my joints and muscles are getting a break.
So, losing your running mojo doesn’t mean not exercising. It’s a chance to mix things up and let your body recover and grow. Don’t get down- do other things- swim, cycle, stretch. Running will be there when you’re ready to come back to it. Listen to your body and mind and have a break. Even elite athletes have a month or so off each year. I’m looking forward to building back up to fitness towards the end of the summer, with a renewed appetite for the road, and deeper reserves of energy, strength and flexibility to draw upon.
In the meantime, I’ll keep enjoying the views from my hotel room…
Shouts to Tilly for the track photo.
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”
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. 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. 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. 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. 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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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 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.
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
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.
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.
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.
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
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
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.
In February, Chris McLean, Claire McGonegle, Paul 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
An inspirational route on a beautiful day.
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.
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.
10 laps up and down Swains Lane of pain. Ouch. Maximum respect to all who have tamed this beast.
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 Cole, Tim Jackson, Pistol Pete, Emma Hancock, Ricky 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.
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.
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.
Ain’t no party like a Run Dem 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.
One week to go until I run the second marathon of my life. The first was a thoroughly horrible experience. I ran the London Marathon in 2007, and had such a bad time that I didn’t run for another five years afterwards. You can read more about that catalogue of disasters here:
When I came back to running in June of last year, the plan was simply to lose a bit of weight and complete a 10K. I enjoyed that first 10K so much that I signed up for another one, and within a couple of months I’d joined Run Dem Crew and found myself signing up for my first ever half marathon, and my first Bridge the Gap event, in Amsterdam. That run was the first time that I enjoyed a race from start to finish. Charlie Dark, the founder of Run Dem Crew, says that if you put the work in during training, the race itself is a celebration, and I found that to be true in Amsterdam.
Over the next few months, I had a great time running 10Ks and half marathons, and felt like I’d found my natural distances. The half marathon is more than double the 10K distance, but to me it didn’t feel like such a huge step up. The jump from half to marathon, however, is significant, and I’ve discovered during training just how much of a toll it takes on the body.
Towards the end of the winter, some Run Dem friends, Emma and Tim, mentioned they were doing the Bournemouth Marathon, and they encouraged me to enter. My interest was piqued. I began to believe this time I could have a positive marathon experience- one to neutralise the negative one I’ve had previously. The timing was good. With an early October race date, I’d be able to use the extra free time I would have during the summer holiday from teaching to put in all the extra miles. I took the plunge and entered, and soon several other friends did, too.
Received wisdom seems to be that you need about 16 weeks to train for a marathon. I now see I made a mistake in my approach to the first part of this training. I had entered the Down Tow Up Flow half marathon at the end of July, so I spent the first 6 weeks of the training programme following a half marathon plan. I was running about 25-30 miles a week. After running the race, which you can read about here ( https://anotherwisemonkey.wordpress.com/2013/08/07/down-tow-up-flow-half-marathon-race-report/ ) I switched immediately over to week 7 of the 16 week marathon training.
This resulted in a big jump up in the weekly mileage, to just under 50 miles per week. I listened to my body as I increased the mileage, or at least I thought I did, and tried not to overdo it, but I did find myself sometimes doing three intense training days back to back. The elite runs in Run Dem Crew on a Tuesday were coincidentally getting much more intense, as Jeggi began tweaking our training to include longer bursts of running at suicide pace, channelling the sprit of Steve Prefontaine:
I really need to big up Cory and Jeggi for putting on the fantastic track sessions at Paddington Rec on Tuesdays. Thanks to Charlie for being the inspiration that brings us all together- none of the good experiences with my running family would be possible without him. Also Barbara, from EnergyLabBTS, really helped me develop my running form.
The problem is, when you’re improving every week, it’s very tempting to keep on pushing to the max. One week, I ran suicide pace at Run Dem on Tuesday, then did my long run on the Wednesday, then 9 miles at track on Thursday, followed by the infamous Swain’s Lane of Pain 10 miler on the Saturday. This is a devilish run devised by Barbara Brunner of EnergyLabBTS, which involves running 10 miles down and then back up a diabolically steep hill in Highgate. I actually expected to crock myself that week, and when I didn’t I guess I thought I was invincible.
I was building up the distance on my long runs and everything was going well until the day of my first (and last as it turned out) 20 miler. As I set out that day, my left calf felt a little tight. If there’d been any pain, I’d definitely have stopped immediately, but there wasn’t. It was much more the sort of niggle runners are used to feeling as part of their weekly routine, so I just ran through it. I completed the 20 miles comfortably enough, but afterwards my left calf felt super tight.
The next day, the calf swelled up like a ham, and just like that, I had my first relatively serious running injury. It was a grade one calf strain, but heaven help anyone who gets a grade two or three. It was a pretty scary moment, and I realised that I might not be able to run Bournemouth. I particularly want to thank Manni for his kind words and thoughtful analysis of what had happened when I was feeling anxious about it. I had to drop out of the Run to the Beat half marathon, which was disappointing, but I had a great time cheering on the crew, and was so pleased to see Jeroen, who took my place, set a PB.
Fortunately, a week of complete rest from running, and applying the RICE method of Rest, Ice, Compression and Elevation, was enough for the swelling to disappear. I spent the next week doing very gentle 20 and 30 minute runs, with days of rest in between, and continued the icing. The last couple of weeks I’ve been able to return to my training plan, but have cut down from 5/6 runs a week to 4. I was tempted to try to make up the missed runs at first, but saw sense after listening to advice from friends and family.
So here I am, one week to go and ready to run my second marathon. I had such a bad experience the first time, and consequently ran so slowly, that as long as the leg holds together, I should be able to run a PB. But the time doesn’t really matter. The important thing will be to enjoy it this time. I’m grateful that I’ll even be there, as things didn’t look good when my calf swelled up.
I’ll be in Bournemouth with good friends and I intend to enjoy every moment. Big up to Tim, Emma, Pistol Pete, Dave Cregan, Nathaniel, Leeanne, Noushi and Ric. Sending love to Azra Zakir, who is one of the strongest women I know, and who would be running Bournemouth with us if cicumstances hadn’t conspired against it. I’m excited to see my friends Tunde and Hope, who live in Bournemouth and who I’ve not seen enough lately.
I want that Amsterdam experience of running with a smile on my face. The hard miles are in the bank, the training is done, and now it’s all about tapering sensibly and getting to the start line feeling good.
As Charlie Dark says, it’s not how fast you go, it’s how you cross the finish line.
Wish us luck, people.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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”.
The phrase “hash-tag crew-love” didn’t mean anything to me before August 2012, and if you’re reading this and not part of a running crew, then it probably means nothing to you either. I’m going to attempt to define it below, and I hope that those who know what I’m talking about feel I’ve done it at least partial justice. For those who are presently uninitiated, I hope this inspires you to get initiated real quick- Run Dem Crew’s new season starts on July 9th.
In August 2012 I joined Run Dem Crew, a London “collective of creative heads with a passion for running and the exchange of ideas.” You can find out all about them at www.rudemcrew.com Run Dem Crew is just one of many international running crews world-wide. There are crews in Brazil, Amsterdam, New York and Copenhagen, to name but a few. I’m going to be writing about my experience with Run Dem Crew, but from meeting people who run in crews across the world, I believe my experience is common to the running crew movement, not just Run Dem.
In brief summary, Run Dem Crew’s founder, Charlie Dark, started the crew in a kitchen with a few friends, and it is now a collective of over 200 people. Last summer I’d gotten back into running after a long lay-off, and, inspired by the incredible Olympics, I was looking for some people to run with so that I could keep the momentum going when the nights began to draw in and the weather grew colder. A quick Google search turned up this article in The Independent: http://www.independent.co.uk/life-style/health-and-families/healthy-living/they-fly-by-night-how-londons-run-dem-crew-is-putting-a-spring-in-the-step-of-innercity-youths-7999593.html
This sounded exactly like what I was looking for, so I got in touch with Charlie via email, and after filling out a thought-provoking questionnaire, I was invited to come down to the next session the following Tuesday. In the meantime, this video came out of a track laid down by Ed Skrein, an actor from Game of Thrones, and it served to further whet my appetite: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=kJjCKLC6yLU
The last time I’d run in a group was when I was in the school cross-country team, so I’m not gonna lie, I was a little nervous when I turned up for my first Run Dem Crew session. I walked through the doors of 1948, a bespoke Nike boutique in a Shoreditch backstreet which does not sell the sort of things you’ll find in Sports Direct- www.1948london.com , and was soon made to feel welcome by Charlie. As I got chatting to some other crew members, it was obvious there was a really positive atmosphere in the building and I knew I’d made a good decision. I was excited about running with other people for the first time in years. In a group there is always someone to push you, or put an arm round you. In the crew, this goes further. There’s always someone to find the right words or to high-five you, someone to talk straight and then hug you.
Each Run Dem Crew session begins at about 7.15 pm with housekeeping. On my first visit, Charlie welcomed everyone to the session, and newbies were asked to say hello. Charlie then went on to talk eloquently about a crew member called Rosie, who was gravely ill in hospital. A hush fell over the room as we heard that she had been in a critical state, but now seemed to be pulling through. Charlie told us that a card was going round, and he urged us all to send messages of support to Rosie via the card, or by visiting her in hospital. I was touched by the strong sense of community, and found myself wanting to sign the card, even though I didn’t yet know Rosie.
We went out for a run, and I had my first experience of running Bridges- a range of variations over the many bridges that cross the Thames. I began to notice lots of differences from my normal running experience. For example, at the end of the run, those who finish first don’t go in and get changed, they stay outside, clap the next group of runners in, and form tunnels for runners to run through by joining hands together in two columns- you can see a bit of this in the Ed Skrein video above. The basic expectation that everyone will do this is so different from the ethos that I’ve experienced and witnessed elsewhere in my running career. It creates a really positive and exciting end to your run and builds team spirit.
One of my favourite features of housekeeping is medals. Each week, anyone in the crew who has run a race brings their medal in, puts it down on a table with an few accompanying words on a post-it note. Charlie reads these speeches out, calls each runner up in front of everyone, and places their medals proudly around their necks, while the crew applauds rapturously. It’s a bit like receiving a knighthood. Charlie has pointed out in the past that as adults in society generally, we very rarely take the time to congratulate each other for our achievements. He’s absolutely right to stress the importance of breaking this habit and creating a new one. Medals is often as important and enjoyable, if not more so, than the run that particular evening. There are sometimes tears, often lots of laughs and there is a real shared appreciation of the journeys that each and every one of us is on. That’s #crewlove.
Charlie has kept all of the post-it note essays that have been submitted over the years of Run Dem Crew. One day, someone needs to assemble them into an artwork. There are bound to be certain recurrent themes and messages encoded in that mass of paper. Ultimately, anyone who runs long distances has pushed themselves to do something that most people couldn’t even conceive of. We’re constantly reminded of this through the eloquent words of Charlie and the crew during medals.
Each year, the London Marathon is one of the biggest occasions for runners all over the world. Run Dem Crew supports it’s runners by setting up a cheering station at mile 21. This is traditionally where runners hit the wall, and the impact of seeing the crew out in force cheering you on gives all the runners a real lift. Go to http://mile21.co.uk/ and scroll down to the pictures of the London Marathon cheer squad to get a taste of what I’m talking about.
Charlie himself epitomises #crewlove. He spends so much of his time giving and very rarely takes time to celebrate his own achievements. He is a mentor, friend and inspiration to every one of us. He ran a significant PB at this year’s London Marathon, and the crew got together secretly to make a fuss of him. Charlie is a huge fan of the sadly deceased produced J Dilla, whose impact is celebrated on t-shirts that say “J Dilla Changed My Life”. Inspired by one of the longest-standing crew-members, Paul, we decided to secretly print up t-shirts that said “Charlie Dark Changed My Life” and put a plan into action. Unbeknownst to Charlie, we put these on underneath tracksuit tops etc and wore them to housekeeping one week. At a pre-arranged signal from Paul, we interrupted Charlie’s housekeeping and revealed the t-shirts. Literally hundreds of us were wearing them. Then some of us made speeches in honour of Charlie, thanking him for what he has done for us all. Some were funny, some were moving, but all were as memorable as the man himself. The fact that those who spoke were able to say what they did shows how much trust they have in those around them. There was not a dry eye in the house, but there was also a real sense of satisfaction that we’d been able to go some small way to repaying the love that this man has brought us all.
A big part of the running crew movement is the desire to bridge the gap between runners all over the world. People from other crews come and run with us in London, and I’ve had countless invitations to run with crews all over the world. In particular, the crews come together to organise Bridge the Gap events, where crews from several countries will come together to run one particular race. My first taste was a flying visit to the Amsterdam half-marathon in 2012. I missed out on a lot of what went down, due to work responsibilities, but what I had a taste of was absolutely fantastic. The Dutch running crew Patta really looked after us on race-day, providing us with pre-race nibbles, drinks and djs, while a live tumblr feed on a big screen broadcast tweets and photos taken live on the course of the full marathon, which several crew-members were running. The tumblr feed really helped us all feel an unbelievable connection with friends who were not even in the room, but out there on the streets of Amsterdam running the full marathon, which started several hours before our race. I felt so proud of my friends and was inspired to follow in their footsteps in my own race. Charlie’s words, as we gathered in a circle prior to the run added further motivation:
This was my first crew race, and I won’t forget the brilliant lift I got from seeing the first crew-member cheering me on deep into the route- thank you Bangs. This continued all the way to the end and when we’d finished in the stadium, all of us immediately turned our attention to cheering on the other crew members as they crossed the line. We call it Cheer Dem Crew and the lift it gives you is ridiculous. I remember that in the East London half marathon, my mile splits were unbelievable each time I ran past Cheer Dem Crew. It’s a far cry from my prior experiences of running races alone.
6 months after joining the crew, I was in Barcelona sharing a flat with people I didn’t even know pre-Run Dem. It says a lot about the crew that I felt completely comfortable and I really enjoyed the opportunity to get to know my #teamorange friends even better over that weekend. The atmosphere in a crew is so supportive and positive that friendships are cemented quickly and because you’re constantly pushing yourself to exhaustion, there’s no sense of trying to look cool in front of new people- you all see each other at your most exposed really early on, and with that out of the way you concentrate on supporting and getting to know each other.
At Run Dem Crew, although we celebrate PBs, it’s not about fast times. It’s about family. PBs may well occur, as a by-product of the growth and personal development that the crew facilitates, but the most inspiring journey in Amsterdam was that of Tahirah. She might not be one of our Elite runners, but her achievements were enormous that day and she got a standing ovation in the medal ceremony afterwards.
The crew is the space within which we become architects of our own destiny. One thing I love about running is that what you put in, you take out. If you train hard, train smart, and respond and listen to your body and the advice of others, you will progress. I’ve moved from Baby Cheetahs to Elites in the time I’ve been with the crew. My friend Jason has gone from Greyhounds to Elites in four months. For an explanation of the groups in Run Dem, go here: http://www.rundemcrew.com/groups
There are so many knowledgeable people in the crew. I’m always picking up running science. I’ve become a better athlete, partly through putting down serious work in between the crew sessions, but also through constantly being pushed by those I run with every Tuesday.
Tuesdays have become a psychological cornerstone of my week. A time that I know that I’m going to feel good, celebrate the achievements of others and experience growth, both as a runner and as a person. I’ve learnt to love the meditative effect of falling into step with my fellow runners as we hare beside the Thames, daring the sun to set before we reach Vauxhall, finding my place in this city in the midst of so much architectural and multicultural history, technology and movement. London- the city- my city- is a city with a vibrant heartbeat, a city that runs, a city that is always moving and that moves with you as you run. Tempo runs, twisty runs, darting through Bishopsgate backstreet runs, long, unfit, hungover runs, rueful and regretful cold winter runs. You discern the city’s heartbeat more clearly when you become it, open yourself up to it, sliding through traffic on the tail of whoever has taken on the mantle of leading your group in that moment.
In January of this year, the snows fell heavy and deep. I wanted to go out and run in it, but was too scared that I’d fall and injure myself. Then some crew members organised a run starting in Mile End. I was still nervous, but in a group of 12 or 13, I didn’t let those nerves daunt me. They were doing it, so I could do it. It was one of the most magical and special runs I’ve been on. We bumped into several crew along the way, many of whom joined us for part of the run. The memories of that secret, tranquil world will last a long time.
There are some maxims or sayings that are repeated like mantras at Run Dem sessions. One that struck me forcibly on my first visit was the notion that “The race is a celebration”. That completely flipped on its head everything I’d ever believed about running. I’d always seen races as painful, but Charlie argues that if you’ve done your training right, then on race day you will be able to execute your plan to perfection. It’s true that in running, you get out what you put in, and as I’ve slowly increased my running workload from 3 times a week to 4-6, I’ve gotten progressively better at what I’m doing. I really do run around half marathons with a big smile on my face, because of Charlie’s clever psychological back-flip and the confidence it gives me.
Other important Run Dem mantras are “Go hard or go home”, “Leave it on the road”, “It’s not how fast you go, it’s how you cross the finish line” and, most importantly, “No one is ever left behind”. Two pictures perfectly encapsulate this last one for me.
The first shows Chippy supporting Eliza as she makes her way round the London Marathon this year. Eliza picked up an injury just a few miles in, but Chippy helped Eliza to make her way round the entirety of the course. To quote Eliza, “In a world that is becoming increasingly idiocentric, in a race where runners chase times and PBs, she forfeited her race to ensure that I finished that race in one piece and that I didn’t have to face the pain alone. Her example taught me the best lesson I learned that day:
There is honour in accomplishing great things but greater honour in being a friend.”
You can read the rest of Eliza’s blog post on her London Marathon experience here: http://rundemcrewyoungers.tumblr.com/post/48920627503/london-marathon-eliza-did-da-ting
The second image shows Jeroen helping Akeem to finish the final few hundred yards of the Rotterdam Marathon. Akeem had just seized up and couldn’t have finished alone. Jeroen didn’t think twice, he just put his arm around Akeem and helped him over the finish line like a wounded soldier. That’s some Platoon love right there.
Throughout writing this whole post, I’ve felt like I’m groping for words like a blind man in the dark because I’m trying to express something that is so hard to measure, explain or do justice to. I’ve tried to give the reader a number of tastes of what it is to experience #crewlove. I’m really grateful to be part of Run Dem and can only salute Charlie for getting the movement started. I try to give more than I get, but I just keep on getting and getting. That’s the way #crewlove works. It’s a paradigm shift- something that creates a new landscape of possibility.
I’m going to finish with an attempt at a definition. Please add your own thoughts on #crewlove in the comments below:
#crewlove: hash’tag-kroo’luv, n the euphoria experienced from repeatedly and unconditionally giving and receiving love and support to and from others while you are all in the act of pushing yourselves to the very limits of your being. The hashtag denotes the amplification of this experience through its being shared on multiple social media platforms, forming a kaleidoscopic collage of positive memories and shared experiences.