The Six Marathon Majors

Legend has it that 666 is the number of the beast. If the beast has 3 horns, and each of those horns represents 1 of those 6s, it’s a good bet that for runners, 1 of those horns embodies the 6 marathon majors. How else can you describe the hell one goes through to achieve the hallowed goal of running all 6? I caught up with Junior Robbani, of Run Dem Crew, to find out.

Bengali Bootcamp
Continue reading “The Six Marathon Majors”

Advertisement

Tips for Marathon Runners

Faust 2

After reading Run with Faust’s write-up of the Liverpool Marathon, I’ve been inspired to write a response. I don’t know this man, but his experience reminded me of my own first marathon experience, which scarred me so much I didn’t run for five years afterwards! I’m hardly an expert, but having run four marathons now, I’d like to share what wisdom I have gained.  Continue reading “Tips for Marathon Runners”

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

Cheer RTTB6

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

20x30-BMFI1650

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.

1948

How I Learned To Love Marathon Training

Image

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.

2013-10-06 08.54.41

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.

Image

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

 

 

 

One Week To Go

Bournemouth Marathon Picture

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:

https://anotherwisemonkey.wordpress.com/2013/05/30/my-london-marathon-experience-or-why-i-stopped-running-for-five-years/

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:

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.

#crewlove

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:

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=XufkWIJwTDI

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.

My London Marathon Experience or Why I Stopped Running For Five Years

Marathon Photo

In April 2007 I ran the London Marathon. It was something I’d dreamt about doing since I was a child, when other boys in my school ran the mini-marathon. Instead of being the triumphant celebration that I imagined, I had such a bad experience I didn’t run for five years afterwards. A lot of my friends at Run Dem Crew have run marathons lately, from London to Boston, to Copenhagen to Edinburgh. Some have come back from their exploits covered in glory, some have come back humbled, beaten and bruised. In Boston, we were all reminded there are much more important things than marathon PBs and we saw the power of sport to transcend atrocity. Continue reading “My London Marathon Experience or Why I Stopped Running For Five Years”