The Race

And so the day finally came.

I can’t really say I was in the best of shapes. And that isn’t to get a quick excuse in early. The race itself was on the third day of a four day weekend trip to London, and on the Friday and Saturday, we had already been hurtling ourselves around Central London by tube and foot at a fairly breakneck pace, walking about 10-12km a day. By the Saturday evening, the night before the race, I was feeling pretty tired. Consequently, we decided to crash out in our hotel room and watch the Eurovision Song Contest. There was a Papa John’s Pizza place across the road, so went to pick up a takeout and chill out.

Alas, as is my way, I worked my way through the lion’s share of an XXL pizza, as well as a couple or three starters, some New York baked cheesecake, and a good litre or so of soft drink. This wasn’t quite the sushi and mineral water that I had planned as part of my fuelling plan. I ended up sliding the empty pizza boxes to one side and collapsing on the bed whilst cradling my rotund core.

I had planned to get up early, at 7am, to go down to the hotel restaurant and get some breakfast inside me. However, the alarm went off, and by the time my eyes decided to open, it was 7.30am and I could instantly tell that my stomach had done a lousy job over the past 7 hours with digesting any of the pizza. Breakfast was going to have to be forgotten about. I did wolf down the remains of the cheesecake however, washed down with an equally sensible quantity of Sprite. Oh dear.

By 8.30am, I was dressed up in my gear and had managed to coax Sarah into a state of readiness. We were off.

The tube station was about 20 minutes walk from our hotel, which seemed like a decent warm up, and as we reached the station, I started to clock a number of other people who were clearly on the way to the startline too. Plenty of those passion pink t-shirts that all the cancer girls wear, and a number of unfit yet athletically dressed girls followed me onto the train. There was a clear lack of men at this stage.

By the time we emerged from the tube station at Green Park, it was evident that there were plenty of runners of both genders (a total of 10,700 runners, I later heard). As we wandered around the park and did our best to get our bearings, a man began to shout instructions over the tannoy system – “If you are a runner with a red number,” he began (which I was, causing my ears to prick), “you should already be in your pen and ready to run.”


It was only 9.30am, and it was my impression that the race didn’t kick off until 10.00am. Instantly, my adrenaline kicked in as I was having flashes of missing my start and missing the race. Nobody would believe me if I told them the race started early. I yanked my race number card out of Sarah’s handbag and fumbled with the safety pins as I panicked and failed to attach it to my chest. I took a breath and let Sarah sort it out, before I gave her a nod, told her to meet me at the same part of the park at about 11.10am, and I set off for the startline.

After passing a lucozade tent and grabbing a horridly warm bottle of Orange Sport, I pushed my way through several dozen pockets of those really annoying meandering crowds, and after about 10 minutes I emerged at the other end of the park and saw some large banners pointing to my pen. I resumed my shoving and reached the pen at 9.42am. Though nothing was happening.

Turns out tannoy man was just eager to get everyone locked in their pens, as he then – with appropriate timing – announced that the race start was still 18 minutes away. Thanks, tannoy man. I was now in the middle of The Mall, stood in the baking heat of the May heatwave with no shade, spare my little running cap. I decided to drink half the lucozade in a bid to up my fluids, as I could feel the salty pizza cheese still sitting at the back of my throat and causing me some pangs of thirst.

The race pen began to fill up, and became clear that the “Red B” group really were the sort who were planning to run a 44 minute 10K. Most were wearing those ridiculous looking baggy racing vests. They were all tinkering with their race watches and doing various different stretches. In the meantime, I think I stood on my tiptoes a couple of times, theorising that that might get my calf muscles warm. Maybe?

After some more waiting and sweating, tannoy man started to announce the arrival of some D-list celebrities in a pen of their own at the front of the pack. A couple of newsreaders, some soap starts, the usual stuff. And then there were various claps and cheers for the arrival of Mo Farah and a number of other elites. The cheers suddenly drew my attention to a fairly large crown built up on either side of the mall, staring at us all like I imagine cattle feel as they are lead around an auction floor.

Before I knew it, the elites were off, the big clock over the start line was ticking, and everyone was pushing forwards towards the front of the pen. The rope was dropped, and everyone started pushing and shoving their way onward. I flicked on my walkman, activated my GPS watch, and took a deep breath.

The run down The Mall was like a mad dash for survival, sort of like the start of the Hunger Games when everyone runs off into the forest (damn, I just revealed I’ve seen the Hunger Games). Unsurprisingly, the pace was brisk. Everyone was doing a pace (as per my watch) around 4:45/km, which would, funnily enough, put them bang on target for a 44 minute finish. However, I was a ticking time bomb. I was inadequately trained, hot, sweaty and full of Papa John’s “The Works” pizza. I’m quite sure that everyone else around me was galloping along with stomachs full of protein shakes and egg whites.

With deep breaths, I managed to keep up for maybe the first kilometre or so, however by the time the race took me down to the embankment, I was ready to take a gulp of my warm lucozade and take a breather. This is where races differ from training. If you stop in training, it’s fine, but in a race, you have about 9,000 or so people breathing down your neck from behind, who very possibly might suddenly come bearing down on you if you stop in their path. Plus, and much worse, is the cheering crowd. By the time I came to a slow jog for the first time, moving to the side of the road, I was passing by a big group of cheering mums, shaking some sort of balloons that must have been handed out. There is nothing worse than having a group of women shake balloons in your face when you, they, and everyone else is acutely aware that you’ve slowed down and you’re tired and could do with some alone time.

However, after an awkward 20 or so seconds, I sped up again. And down. And up. And down. And so on and so forth, until even the four year olds sat on the pavements looking at me could tell that I had no real clue about pacing. I was spamming the turbo button until it ran out, and then waiting for it to fill up again before holding it down all over again.

A water stop eventually came up in an underpass, at which time I took another breather, threw away the remainders of my lucozade and grabbed a slightly chilled bottle of water. Everybody else was taking a quick gulp and launching their 500ml bottles all over the place. It was a warzone. If you weren’t struck by a bottle, you were lucky that you weren’t tripped up by one rolling around. I think I spent the next 300 metres doing a weird hopping dance whilst I stared at the floor and did my best to stay upright.

It was now about 4km in, and about 22 minutes or so had gone by. The time wasn’t bad, and my average pace was looking fairly decent at less than 6 minutes, and consequently a finish time before the hour mark, but I was feeling rubbish. I wasn’t enjoying the race, the sensation of being endlessly overtaken, and the fact that the crowds were constantly staring at my rubbish demonstration. By this point, my brain was seeking out those wonderful “Plan B” options. I ran past an ambulance station, and my brain calculated the process involved in faking a limp and getting carried back to Sarah. However, they were busy enough handing out globs of vaseline, so I forgot that one. At another point, there was a clear gap in the railings and crowds, and I could have just ran into the City. But I had no cash or Oyster card, so I wasn’t sure what I would do. Eventually, 5km came around, and I was turning back to face my destination, and regardless of any plans, they all would require me going the same way, so I concluded I may as well run it.

At 6km or so, I slowed down in unison with another guy. He asked me what the time was, as he wasn’t wearing a watch. It was about 36 minutes I think, and we both joked about how tough we were finding it in the heat. He asked if he could run with me for a while, so I put on a brave face and played pacemaker for about 500 metres, before slowing down again. He slowed down with me and told me his name was Jeremy (not his actual name, changed for this blog), and I shook his hand, enjoying the excuse to maximise some slow-time.

After this point, we kept setting little goals, like “let’s run for 3 minutes more”, or “let’s run to that bridge over there”. We bitched about how long it took to get to the next water stop at 7.5km, and ended up chatting some more. He was from London, and ended up getting the wrong impression that I’d run the Great North Run (don’t ask how). All was well until he said, “I didn’t think I’d be here; this time last year I was paralysed after an accident on holiday.” Well shit, there I was thinking we were similar. “Well, 12 months ago, I was fat,” I decided was my best reply.

We parted ways at 9km, deciding to tackle the home straight on our own terms, and I ended up bumping into him after the finish line and saying goodbye. I dare say Jeremy got me through the second half of the race in one piece, mentally at least.

The heat had been horrible, almost unbearable on the second leg along the river. The day before there had been a brilliant breeze along the Thames, but today it was still and the air was hot and dry. The last water stop had been long forgotten (even though the water guys did very kindly crack some bottles open and spray everyone as they ran past – really cool idea, literally) and I was now constantly keeping my eye on my watch to see how long I had to go.

My legs buckled a bit near Westminster, but as I reached The Mall once again, I managed to keep them moving and run across the finish line.

1.03 was my finish time.

The 1.05.05 on the picture includes the 2 minutes after staggering around the finish line area, before I remembered to click the stop button on my watch. D’oh!

Not amazing, I’ll grant you, and not 44 minutes. Nor was it the 53 minutes that my work colleague did it in, as I later learned, but for me, on a scorching hot day (27 degrees, plus the urban microclimate) with a belly full of pizza, it was a result. As the goodie bag was thrust into my hands and I felt the medal inside, I felt I’d done enough to deserve it.

Yes, maybe I could have been running more instead of wandering along the water stop stretch, or chatting less to Jeremy (who, by the by, Sarah reckons was some mental coping mechanism, and was never really there. He was wearing white, so maybe he was a running angel or something?), but it was my first race, and I did what I did. I’m happy.

Would I run a race again? Honestly, I don’t know. I have no taste for the competitive element. I will never win a run, and that’s a simple fact. And I don’t need to run to get a finish time, because I have my GPS watch which constantly tells me what my times and performance looks like. If anything at all, I simply benefited from the company of a similarly capable soul who managed to keep my pace up and get me through the part of the race where I could have easily, and happily, given up.

Maybe, next time, if I’m in the correct pen with equally (in)capable runners, then I might feel better. Ask me the same question in a few months after I’ve run a bit more and I’ll let you know.

It’s an odd predicament now, as this race was the only purpose my running has had recently. Maybe I need a new target? Maybe I need a new race?


Endgame – Day 10/10 – Heatwave and the Placebo Effect

Heatwave and the Placebo Effect sounds like a great name for an emo band, don’t you think?

Alas, this update is a bit mixed. First of all, yesterday, I picked myself up some new kit. The Nike+ Sportswatch GPS, which was on sale at a running shop in Manchester for one day only. It had a third off, which made it affordable, and a must-have purchase before the big race. This would be an upgrade to my current kit as it means that I would now have GPS mapping of my routes, as well as live pace data from my foot-pod, without having to carry around my iPhone. All good. And hopefully a placebo effect in bettering my running times.

Alas, this wasn’t the case today, for my last run.

I’d been theorising and wondering about everything that could effect my run, from injury to torrential rain, but the man upstairs realised I hadn’t planned for one thing, sending a big ol’ heatwave my way in ready for the weekend. 27 degree heat without a cloud in the sky, and it was going to linger across the UK until well past the weekend. Wonderful.

I decided that I needed to get out and clock in a run for two reasons – 1) to calibrate my watch, and 2) to calibrate my expectations of running in Mediterranean conditions.

After about 6km, I collapsed into the house in a heap. Looking in the mirror, my face was a deep beetroot colour, my forehead and neck very nearly suffering from sunburn. My body was literally pouring with sweat. The drinks bottle I was carrying – ice cold when I took it out, was lukewarm after the first kilometre, and fully consumed after 3km.

This wasn’t at all good. I’d run those 6km in about 40 minutes. Though the time wasn’t a disaster, the state of my body and mind after 60% of Sunday’s run left me a tiny bit nervous.

Even with the placebo effect of a cool new watch, I was a wreck. However, I’d learnt I needed to do two things (at least) on Sunday:

1. Wear a cap

2. Wear sunscreen

As for the lack of water in my bottle, I was planning  a bold move – not bothering to carry one. My theory being that if I don’t have anything on me, then my brain will tell my body to cope. Hopefully it works.

Not the best way to end my 10 day boot camp, but when have I ever been surprised with the way things go in my life…

Engame – Day 5/10

Well, day 4 had to turn into a rest day, purely on the grounds of logic. And maybe 5% laziness.

Today, I decided it was going to be time for my “endurance run”, which is what all the training guides call it when you go out and complete a run equal or longer in time than your race, at a pace slower than your race pace.

Well, I have no idea about pace. I just run. Not very fast, granted, but when you read these guides about “running 80% race pace” etc, I have no idea how you do that. I just run at whatever pace my body finds comfortable. To hell with pace.

Anyway, I plotted out my usual 10K run, expecting to do it in around the hour mark. It was going all rather well, I even managed to have a good stab at running up the horrible hill in the middle section. However, after 6km – obviously 4km from home, which is about 20 minutes or so…well, I can’t think of any clever language to substitute. I needed the toilet. No, not that sort, the bad sort. And I needed to go desperately.

Sufficed to say, I ground to a halt. I could feel that the running pace was “pushing things along”, and so I ultimately wound up in the middle of Newcastle taking on the oddest looking walk I think I’ve ever done. We’re talking straight legged, clenched bum, hobbling along the streets with the most focused look on my face ever. It wouldn’t have taken a student in body language to know what was going on with me.

After what was probably the longest 5 minutes of sheer blind panic I’ve ever experienced, my brain kicked in and I remembered that Morrisons wasn’t far away, and so I managed to  hobble on into the customer toilets. Thankfully, there were no security guards in the entrance area to raise any eyebrows or to awkwardly ask me why I was wanting to use the toilet. In response, I fear I may have just gone there and then.

So…after that, I managed to jog home. Not a brilliant experience, let me tell you. But, what else should I expect with my run of luck?

Before “the incident”, I can’t say it was the most enjoyable run anyway. The last workout I completed on EA Active had a strange obsession with my glutes, and it sent me through an endless cycle of squats, lunges, and exercises disguising squats and lunges, for over half an hour. So, come this run, my derriere wasn’t feeling to good to start with, let alone by the 6km mark.

I keep hoping that next week’s run will be this “perfect storm” of mental and physical state.

However, I just watched this video, and I can’t say it’s made me any more excited.

Endgame – Day 3/10

After yesterday’s little ramble about needing to do something, I did actually wind up putting half an hour’s work into the cross trainer at home, which left me feeling good. Unfortunately, as I had plans, I had to cut it short, and I really felt like I could keep on going a while longer.

Today, I woke up with a few mild aches again. However, after spending the majority of the day wandering around the Trafford Centre, my body felt like it had sorted itself out. A lunch of Nando’s also left me feeling like I’d fuelled up appropriately for a good run, so at 4pm I headed off to the gym.

Today, a new problem struck however – overheating.

After about half an hour / 5km run, my muscles felt good, but I was just burning up, and so I had to call it a day. Without a heart rate monitor strapped to my chest, I can’t be sure, but I got the impression that my heart would have been going pretty rapidly and not too sustainably.

It wasn’t until I got back into the car afterwards to drive home, that I saw myself in the mirror realised that I really was bright purple in the face. Not very sexy, Gaz.

I think it really was just a temperature thing, as I was sat there driving home in the car, I wasn’t out of breath and I didn’t feel my chest pumping or any fresh sweat pouring off of me. It just seemed to be the close, warm air of the gym stifling me. At that time, I really could have gone back for some more punishment.

Clearly the lesson to take away from today is the need to get back on the roads for the remainder of these running sessions. I rarely ever get back to my doorstep with sweat patches on my tops when I run outside, thanks to the airflow. Hopefully I should find more success out there than I did in there today (cue the man upstairs moving a couple of stormclouds across my area for the next week.

Another lesson I learnt today – as a bit of an experiment if nothing else – was that there is no way I can re-establish a running pace after coming to a full stop. After my half an hour of running, and then the 5 minute cool down, the treadmill came to a halt, and after the requisite 10 second reset time, I kicked the treadmill back into full speed to see if I could actually go again.

Well, my legs weren’t happy at all, to put it mildly. I think I ran for about a minute before I wrote the experiment off as a failure. Or in this case a success, as I now have a very vivid memory to take to London with me. No matter what, I cannot stop, even for a quick breath or sip of water. I’ve just got to keep jogging and keep warmth in my joints.

This will be the first and last time I refer to myself as a Formula 1 race car…however, I now feel that my body is sort of like a Formula 1 race car. If you let your tyres go cold, then you haven’t really got a chance. And if you’re engine overheats, well you haven’t really got a chance then either.

I need to do a session on EA Active tonight and I’ll call that a day I think.

Endgame – Day 2/10

Today, I ache. I ended up doing my EA Active workout last night – as promised – and it, combined with a gym session, and the previous aches, have left me feeling rather useless.

You don’t see rest days slotted within montage clips, do you? And for that reason, being a man who believes that television, movies, video games and comics are based upon, or sufficient evidence to support a way of life, I’m not going to back out of doing at least something today.

There is also some strange twisted truth to muscle aches however – they make you feel rather ripped whilst you continue to feel the burn. Your biceps keep their rigidity for longer periods. It’s a sort of twisted way for your body to tell you that the suffering is worth it.

The morning has already been lost to a lie in and a bit of grazing in front of the TV before Sarah had to go to work, coupled with a naughty bacon and fried egg bagel. And I’ve already made some plans to be places, so I’ve got about an hour or so to do something. Mentally, I could quite easily excuse myself out of doing anything, and physically, I’d be more than happy.

Adding in some adaptations to my methods as each of the next 10 days goes by, today I’m making sure I up my fluid intake. Hydration has been the reason for a number of poor runs in the past, so I’m not prepared to lose performance because I didn’t have enough to drink. Similarly, today is the last day of the current food shopping supplies, and tomorrow I intend to stock up on those boring yet recommended foods. Oily fish and rice seems like a decent lunch for the next 8 or so days, and if it fuels me up, all the better.

Right, I’ll get to it…

Endgame – Day 1/10 (2)

So the gym didn’t go too well.

No sooner had I posted the previous blog entry, did I decide to down a big cup full of my special protein-y energy milkshake stuff. Straight before the gym. Not a good idea.

Taken about 17 minutes before I got onto a treadmill. I’ve already used the “Milk was a bad choice” gag once, but it’s even more appropriate this time.

Sufficed to say, my stomach was making all kinds of crampy sensations during my run. I hit 5km and had to call it a day. Plus, what with my legs still aching (this is getting ridiculous), I figured 5km is better than nothing on my first day. Took about half an hour at a 10kph-12kph variable, which isn’t my race pace, and isn’t too impressive all told.

I started off during my gym session on the vibration plates, figuring they’d sort my legs out. A fakey-bakey girl was already on another plate when I got there, and as I did my usual subtle glances, I could see she was doing lots of rather worthless 10 second blasts (the god damned instructions are right next to the plates and they say at least 30-60 seconds per rep). And she kept doing that until I’d finished my 5km. I have no idea what she was thinking, as she then sauntered of to get changed looking rather pleased with herself. Amazing.

What is equally amazing is that the music videos that are pumped out around the gym haven’t changed in well over 6 months. I’m listening to my own walkman whilst I work out, but the eyes need to gaze at something, and I’m under the impression I’ll get in a lot of trouble if I constantly gaze at the girls.

From what I can tell, all the music videos are for dance / hip hop sort of stuff. It’s really weird watching these videos without the music. I’m not sure the music would give them context (it wouldn’t for me anyway, seeing as my radio jumps between Radio 4 and Jazz FM), but take this video description as an example (money for whoever can tell me the song!) – a rather angry looking blonde woman is in a nightclub (isn’t that how they always are) – she starts pushing and shoving a dark handsome bloke around, then some suited up men in giant unicorn heads appear, the woman turns all sultry in a psycho sort of way and then tries to stick her tongue down a unicorn’s throat. Cue more anger directed at the camera, and then the woman and the man have a laser battle using guns which are basically their own fingers, playground-style. The lasers blow up some unicorns and then the screen fades out. W. T. F?

If you spend time looking at these “female artists” who are making music these days, and watch these music videos, they are all really angry. They’re all pushing blokes around and looking utterly dissatisfied with their lives atop giant high heels in big brightly lit caverns full of flashing lights and giant diamonique. And somehow these things are brainwashing girls into thinking this is cool. No wonder I used to be so terrified of going out and “trying to pull” – girls are basically being told to look at a bloke as if he just spat on her. And I wouldn’t be surprised if the girls spit back in some videos. Nasty stuff.

In other gym news, it seems that hipsters are starting to infiltrate my little realm. Today, on a treadmill a couple down from me, was a hipster girl with a mullet-cum-mohawk. A mullet-hawk, if you will. And she was wearing stupid hipster glasses whilst jogging. I couldn’t see, but I’d put money on her using a CD or tape walkman, just because.

Finally, I want to let you in on a little tip. Sarah rolls her eyes constantly at the very sight of this, but here is my secret weapon for getting through tough times in runs. I call them…air guitar recoveries. I think the title speaks for itself. Your walkman plays a guitar-laden track, and you lay down some air riffs whilst running. From where I’m looking, I’m sure I look freaking awesome. Drums work too. But only in smaller doses. Typically, an air guitar recovery – sorry Air Guitar Recovery TM – can go on for up to 20 seconds, then you need to refocus on your form. But, after 20 seconds, you’ve gotten through the hard times and you’re good to go.

Unless you filled your belly full of milk less than half an hour earlier. Stupid Gaz.

Anyway, time check – 6.50pm. Need to fit in another EA Active workout and that’s Day 1 done.

Endgame – Day 1/10 (First Half)

Doesn’t Endgame sound rather epic?

Actually, it sounds like the idle title of the final book in a fantasy trilogy. However, it is also the title of the 2-part finale of Star Trek: Voyager, which is never a bad thing.

Nonetheless, the next 10 days of this blog are hereby going to be all titled Endgame.


Well, the evening after I wrote my last blog entry (2 nights ago now), I decided that enough was enough, and I couldn’t hang around and wait to get back into motion and restart my training. I popped EA Active 2 on my PS3.

I haven’t mentioned this game / program before, as I incidentally bought it for Sarah something like 2 Christmases ago, and ended up having a go at it myself for a couple of months. Nowadays, its ended up in bargain bins (and the game itself notified me that the online serves are now turned off, so that means a sequel is looming, or the franchise has been binned. I’m not sure which), but I have to say it’s a bit of a hidden gem.

In the box you get the software, which looks a bit like a HD version of Wii Fit, and you also get three sensors that you have to attach to your biceps and right thigh with stretchy velcro straps. They all contain gyroscopes and the left bicep one also contains a heartrate tracker. As well as being three big lumps of white plastic protruding from your limbs, they also have bright blue LEDs on them, making the whole thing totally classy and not in the least embarassing.

Unless you’re David Beckham, who can make anything look attractive. (And I just realised, you don’t wear the arm sensors on your biceps. Crap).

However, once you get over the looks of them (and work out how to get the straps feeling comfortable) you actually realise that the sensors are really clever, and the workouts are actually really good.

There are hundreds of different sessions you can bolt together to make a full workout set, or you can ask the system to set once up based on your needs. Plus, there are two that it recommends and are ready out of the box – a 3-week “Cardio Kickstart” or a 9-week “Total Body Programme”.

I stuck on the Cardio Kickstart based on my time constraints and set the intensity to High. It came up and told me the first session would be 21 minutes long, which sort of let me down, and as I’d laced my trainers up and set myself up mentally for a full hour. The kit also comes with one of those elastic resistance bands for certain exercises, but you can (as I did) set it up so I used my heavy hand weights instead. (Like Beckham, above)

Let me tell you, I was glad when the cool down came around after 20 minutes. The system really does have you tripping over yourself, and the sensors make sure you can’t cheat. At the end, I’d apparently burned 140 calories and the heart tracker showed that I was well over 160bpm for most of the session. Good stuff.

Unsurprisingly, my enthusiasm came back to bite me the next day – yesterday – in the form of some rather crappy stiffness and cramping in my thighs. That would be from the squats she had me doing. (She being the other Woman I now also listen to. Let’s call her Simone to save getting caught up in feminine nouns and pronouns).

Today, being the first of only ten days I have to get things going, funnily enough, my thighs are still giving me some trouble. I’ve ended up going into town, hoping a good stroll might loosen things up. It has, a bit, but not much.

However, should I have been fine and raring to go today, hoping to hit the pavements and get a road run in, the man upstairs has yet again taken it upon himself to scupper that little plan. The last few days have been rather gorgeous. Today? Hail, of all things. And because the temperature isn’t too low, it’s all making some rather lovely slush everywhere. A real deathtrap for running.

However, positive mental attitude to the rescue – I’m off to the gym as soon as I’ve published this entry. I’ve got to do something…