Well here we are. Two posts in three days. Having mentioned I a ribit run was imminent in my last post I thought it was only right to let you know how it went.
A 05:30 start on a Saturday morning is not typically the way I like to kick off my weekends, but was necessary given the two and a quarter hours it was going to take to get to the start of the run. The premise of this one was quite simple: run from the highest point in Greater London south of the river to the highest point north of the river. This meant starting in a rather isolated spot called Westerham Heights, not far from Biggin Hill airfield.
The destination was Bushey Heath, a spot I know reasonably well having taken it in on the couple of runs down the Edgware road I have done previously. Accompanying me today was a friend from my running club, Kate Rennie, who has a 100km race booked in later in the summer and wanted to ramp up her training.
The weather was mixed throughout the day, starting muggy, then wet and then eventually clearing to blue skies as we passed out of central London. It was great to have company and we got to Croydon without much fuss or effort, having passed through surprisingly rural landscapes in the process. The next milestone was to get to the river, which took a lot longer than expected, although we did pass along Streatham high street, which claims to be the longest in Europe (2 miles).
I had been managing a few niggles in my left leg all morning and by the time we crossed Vauxhall Bridge I was feeling pretty spent. We tried to pass Buckingham Palace but were thwarted by D-Day memorial activities, so proceeded to Marble Arch for a Pret a Manger recharge. This gave me the boost I needed to set out along the Edgware Road, but it only lasted until Colindale, at which point I suffered a major energy crash and was feeling the effects of the sun. I shuffled on to Burnt Oak and then decided to call it a day.
During all of my mini dramas Kate simply trotted along beside me, and when I hopped on the bus to Bushey station she upped the pace and beat it there. 39 miles for her, 32 for me. Not my proudest moment but a nice day out all the same. I'm going to need to man up if I'm going to get through the future challenges I've set myself.
I admit I may have neglected this blog over the past two months. It's like with many things I try my hand at; good for the first few months and then it falls by the wayside when the next shiny idea comes along. This time it was wedding planning that came along, which as excuses go is one of the better ones I've had, so I'll make the most of it while I can. By means of recompense I've now made Dreamweavers: Awakening freely available as an ebook. And what the hell, I'm feeling generous. I'll even get Under the Arches sorted out and available at no cost too. How's that?
Running-wise I've actually achieved something. 3 marathons in fact. The first was under the 'ribit' banner and went from my house to the Westfield Centre in Shepherd's Bush. The second was a last minute entry to the Milton Keynes marathon, which was a mixed affair involving lots of sunshine, a couple of written-off portaloos and a surprisingly respectable finish of 3 hrs 33 mins. Finally there was another 'ribit' run, this time retracing the steps of the original 1908 Olympic marathon and involved plenty of sunshine but no portaloos.
Tomorrow it is 'ribit' time yet again, with a trans-London run of 35 miles plus in the offing. I'll let you know how it goes, but in the mean time enjoy the free stuff and by all means spread the word.
So over a month has passed since my swash was buckled at Berko and a few things have happened in the interim.
My feet are mended, as far as any damage due to barefoot tomfoolery is concerned. In fact after a couple of days of extreme discomfort they became tolerable, albeit rather unsightly (more so than usual, that is). A few weeks ago I made a proper attempt at running the half marathon (with shoes and everything), but after recovering from a chest infection and the better part of three weeks with no running it was a disappointing effort.
So after all my progress over the winter there's no PB to show for it, but I'm not unduly concerned. In fact the whole idea of PB chasing seems a little nonsensical to me at the moment, which has led me once again to ponder what running means to me. If you go by what is posted on social media it seems that everyone is either training or racing. Is anyone out there actually running? I mean for the hell of it. Because they enjoy it.
When I've spoken to friends who cycle about running in the past they've told me they like being able to go places in a single ride. I generally countered by saying that I go places too, which is true. I've run to London several times. I've run from Carlisle to Newcastle. It's perfectly possible to get out and see the country on foot but I'm not sure many runners are actually doing it.
I wanted to run at least one marathon this year. Either Milton Keynes, Abingdon or both. But as I'm saving for a wedding and given the cost of entry for marathons is going up and up I've decided not to. And I've come up with a different plan.
Over the next few months I'm going to get out there and do some long runs. 20, 30, 40 miles, the distance doesn't really matter. Rather than build mileage by plodding around the same old routes I'm going to set myself some challenges and go out and see a bit of the local area. Moreover, I'm going to open these challenges up to other people.
And so I've created 'run it because it's there' (or 'ribit' for short). It's a Facebook group for people wanting to get out there and run without the pressure of training, racing, PBs or inflated entry fees. A few of us have already run from Berkhamsted to Milton Keynes and there are now several runs in and around London in the diary. Maybe there are people out there doing this already, or maybe this is just what the running community needs. Either way, I'm going running and everyone is welcome to join me.
Oh, and people have been reading 824 and reviewing it on Amazon. Some like it. Others, not so much. Take a look and judge for yourself.
Okay. I'm not doing this deliberately. It's not my fault I came down with a cold the day after my London run, effectively putting paid to any PB aspirations for the Berkhamsted Half Marathon. A
nd a day trip to Aberdeen during the week probably didn't help my slim chances of a recovery.
Back in the summer, when I was still persisting with my Vibrams, I had the notion of building up to running Berko barefoot. I was also speculating how I could follow up my infamous mankini run from last year. But the Vibrams really weren't doing it for me so I scrapped the idea and joined up with the GVH. But when the man-flu got into full swing it all suddenly came flooding back.
We have a fantastic costume shop in Berkhamsted and I knew they would be able to sort me out. When I had got what I needed I called up my other half and confirmed she would be able to do my make-up (a request met with a sigh and, I suspect, a roll of the eyes). To be fair she did a fantastic job.
So it was that Captain Jack Sparrow lined up (at the back) for the start of the race. Once again I appeared to be the only one who had 'got the memo', with the rest of the field a kaleidoscope of singlets and shorts. That's not to say I'd made a massive faux pas, nor that I cared if I had. Sometimes running, and indeed the people of Berkhamsted, can be a little too serious.
Running in costume scores points with the crowd. Running barefoot, it seems, scores points with the field. In fact had I not chosen to ditch my shoes I'd probably have felt like I was taking the piss. Somehow the two together made sense and the overwhelming majority of fellow runners were very supportive. The running style the whole affair enforced upon me certainly raised a smile (hopping around to find the smoothest pieces of tarmac got the arms waving a way that was most in keeping with the character I'd assumed).
So, what is it like to run a half marathon barefoot? Not bad, at first. Over the first seven miles I'd have to say I was more worried about how my calves would feel come the finish. With a little care I managed to reach a bearable level of discomfort with my feet and could just plug away at it. One interesting observation was that uphills were much easier than downhills. Running forefoot keeps you springy as you climb, but with no protection the descents have to be treated with caution. The risk of hitting something sharp with your legs running free... Let's just say you don't want to go there.
The course was damp in places, which did a good job of cooling my feet. However, it was when I got a damp feeling in my foot with no puddles around that I realised the race was starting to take its toll. Layers of skin were starting to delaminate and blisters were forming. After that it was just grin and bear it. I continued to get great support from those around me and while I couldn't make the most of the final mile of descent, I did manage a mad, arm-waving dash for the line.
My feet are now in pieces, but I have a new-found appreciation for the white lines down the middle of roads. 2 hours on the button is better than I'd hoped for and I have learned a lot. Principally that running shoes are underrated.
Today was not about me, despite the fact I did most of the work. Today was about Tom Smith, university friend and soon to be best man at my wedding. But not before he's cycled deep into Asia, along the Great Silk Road, as part of a journey that will see him circumnavigate the world. For more on this wonderful adventure and a fantastic blog to match, head to http://www.crazyguyonabike.com/doc/RollingEast.
So where do I come in? Well, having put Tom up for the night at the end of his third day I offered to accompany him as he rolled gently into London. On foot. Given the apocalyptic first couple of months of weather this year we were surprised to be blessed with a truly gorgeous morning. Once we'd warmed up it felt like May-time, as we retraced a route that I had run little more than a year previously. We passed through Hemel, Kings Langley and straight on into Watford, where we stopped off at my fiancee's workplace so that she could say a last goodbye to Tom.
From there we headed south out of Watford and took on our only serious climb of the day. Up through Bushey we had close to two miles of incline to negotiate. Up until this point Tom had been freewheeling, and with a half marathon already under my belt I was glad that he was going to need to put some effort in at last. At the top he unveiled some epic chocolate brownies that went down a treat, especially given my legs were starting to feel the strain. Dropping down into Stanmore we caught a glimpse of the London skyline, before stopping at the top of the Edgware Road and setting up Tom's GoPro camera to capture a timelapse of the remainder of our journey.
The Edgware Road provides a fascinating cross section through London. It's like peeling back the layers of an onion and finding every one different. The changes are imperceptible and yet every few hundred yards there's something new. The GoPro ran out just as we reached Marble Arch but hopefully when Tom gets the chance to edit the footage it'll show what I mean.
Arriving in central London it was overcast but not raining. Rather than take the direct route to Westminster Bridge we took a detour from Buckingham Palace to Trafalgar Square to make sure Tom's bike got itself a little bit of culture. After a little over five hours after setting off we reached the bridge and posed for photos in front of the London Eye and Big Ben. By this time I was shot to bits and in need of serious sustenance. We'd covered around thirty miles and the burger and beer that awaited in Leicester Square were more than welcome.
We said our farewells on the Euston Road. Tom will be back in April for his sister's wedding, hopefully having made it as far as Istanbul. While I have another ultramarathon under my belt, my efforts pale into insignificance compared to what he is taking on. I can only wish him well and read his blog entries with no small amount of envy.
Time for a writing update...
Last year I started work on volume 2 of the Dreamweavers saga. So far I have approximately 30,000 words typed up and an initial edit done. However, that project has been temporarily shelved while I scratch an itch that has been bugging me for quite some time.
I have tentatively started work on a brand new novel that I'm hoping to use to combine a number of concepts I've been toying with for a story based in a near-future setting. I don't want to say too much more at this stage, as these whims often come and go quickly and I end up returning to established stories. That said, I have done a fair amount of scoping work for this one due to the complexity of the subject matter and the narrative, and if I can do the concept justice it could be an intriguing work.
So at last we've come full circle. Today I had my first official 'cross-country run' since school, back when running was to me a muddy smear at the bottom of the list of sporting aspirations. Actually muddy smears featured quite heavily in what was another eye-opening experience in the world of club running.
This should have been my second XC race but I failed to locate the start in time for the Slough edition of the Chiltern League XC. And so it was that I arrived in Milton Keynes to aid Gade Valley in their bid for promotion to division 1 of said league. The turnout was great, with nearly 30 runners from the club competing.
I arrived to find almost all of them huddled together under the small club tent as a 20-minute squall lashed Campbell Park. The junior runners were already going and the ground underfoot had already been churned up quite significantly. Shouldn't be a problem for those of us with spikes though, except I don't own spikes, so definitely a problem.
The course was three and a bit laps of an undulating circuit with a few small inclines and one particularly nasty drag. with a kick at the top. I'd heard that the standard of runner at these events was good, and so it proved at the start as the pace was pretty hot straight from the horn. It took all of thirty seconds for me to realise how disadvantaged I was going to be in my trail shoes. As we crossed a small stretch of tarmac there was a 'clack clack' of spikes all around me, while I was all but silent.
I spent the next thirty-six and a half minutes slip-sliding my way around the course, keeping away from the worst of the mud wherever possible. It was absolutely knackering without me ever building up a really good head of steam. I put that partly down to the level of concentration I was having to sustain to keep upright, but mostly to the fact that those were five very tough miles.
Still, there was more of a smile at the end than ever there was at school. Next season the spikes will be out and then we'll really see what these legs can do.
Can you judge a race by its toilets? If so, then the Watford Half has to be up there. Portakabins with faux-walnut panelling? Not even the curiosity that was the female urinals at London 2010 could top them. Certainly makes a pleasant change from decimated portaloos, although there were a few of these dotted around too. I'd always recommend moving the heavy stuff as soon as practicable after arrival at an event as leaving it to the last minute can be a particularly unpleasant experience.
Enough about the bogs. Let's move on to the weather. Sunshine! Unexpected, but not at all unwelcome. Given the race was cancelled in 2012 due to bad weather and was particularly cold last year, it was positively balmy.
So all in all the build-up was really rather pleasant. Looking back, however, I probably should have put in a few more training miles.
The first mile went to plan - about six minutes and I was surrounded by the guys I run with on a Thursday. From that point on it felt like it was going to be a long morning. On the first hill they began to draw ahead, then on the second I was passed by a guy with a truly phenomenal afro (putting my fake one at Berko last year to shame). By halfway it was looking like a struggle to get near a PB, although a sub-40 minute 10k was welcome. Even the net downhill on the second half didn't save my morning. I managed to reclaim a few positions in the final sprint for the line, but my legs simply weren't up for the kind of pace I was looking for from them.
I must give special mention to the guy on the tannoy as I approached the line, who recognised the Gade Valley colours I was wearing and claimed that the rest of the club were already in their tracksuits. It's nice to have a bit of banter and the marshalls and supporters were similarly 'encouraging'.
Hopefully a few more miles on the legs will sort out my pace in time for Berko, but I'll take the 1 hour 28 minutes and top 10% finish for now.
Before committing to an up-to-date blog of my running and writing activities it is probably worth having a recap of what I've been up to since I completed 824, a book which conveniently covered my running history up to the point it was released (April 2013). I'll start with the running...
824 finished with a friend and I running the London Marathon dressed as a camel, a move that generated a surprising amount of press, even reaching the opposite side of the world!
Following London I backed right off with the running while I considered my next move. Over the summer I ran once or twice a week and by the end of it I realised I was getting SLOW. So I took the long-delayed decision to join up with the Gade Valley Harriers in an attempt to jump-start my fitness.
I spent the autumn trailing behind their best runners for run after run, but finally seemed to make a breakthrough at the beginning of 2014. I still have to flog myself round every fraction of a mile that I run with them, but I do at last seem to have regained the pace I had in 2012. Tomorrow we'll find out just how much of it, as I take on the Watford Half Marathon for the first time since 2010. Target time is 1 hour 24 minutes, which is two minutes quicker than I've run before. I'll let you know what happens...
As for the writing?
I started on the follow-up to Dreamweavers: Awakening in the first half of 2013 but had to down tools for the latter half to concentrate on a new job. Over Christmas I typed up everything I'd done thus far and figure I'm about a third of the way through it. I can't really put an estimate on when it will be done, especially as I have a concept for a technological thriller that keeps rearing its head and nagging me to work on. I'm in the process of scoping it out in more detail to try and establish whether it is worth pursuing ahead of the new DW. Once again, I'll keep you posted...