I’m An Aural Convert

I’ve been reading a lot recently about people who don’t run with music, but listen to podcasts instead. “What a backward step for mankind” I thought, “these are the kind of people who apply leeches to cure DOMS and believe the world is flat and they might run off the edge”.

Showing my age...who else had one of these on their paper round? (who else remembers having a paper round?!?!?)

Showing my age…who else had one of these on their paper round? (who else remembers having a paper round?!?!?)

When I first started running one of the big draws was an excuse to plug in to a new album or favourite artist and have an hour of uninterrupted musical application, it’s like Savlon for the soul. I’ve discovered countless new favourites by strapping in for a whole album and committing to see it through while I run, when normally I’d give them a half listen while distractedly getting on with life and never really engage with the music. Then I started to learn how the music could influence my running; I knew about BPM affecting heart rate but I always equated it to dance music. Suddenly I realised I could make a long run easier by planning my music, and avoiding the louder harder rock that saw me picking up my pace in response. Then there were speed sessions…Prodigy, obviously.

You'd run fast if you had this in your ears.

You’d run fast if you had this in your ears.

But something different happened this weekend. Spotify released a playlist of “The Best of British Comedy” and in the early hours of Saturday morning I just couldn’t choose any of the 18,000+ tracks on my itunes to get me out the house…so I took Eddie Izzard instead. I don’t know if I was subconsciously reaching out to the spirit of Eddie that got him through his incredible 43 marathons or whether I was just in need of a good laugh. What followed was the world’s fastest 10 miles, or at least that was my perception!

By the time I’d run 6 miles to parkrun, done that and then put in a fast last mile home I’d ticked off 10 miles, Eddie Izzard and most of Billy Connolly, and it had flown by! I guess there’s something in the psyche that knows how long songs are, and breaks down your progress in to 4 minute chunks. If you get a great track you’ll fly for 4 minutes, something you’re not overly fond of and it’s a 4 minute slog.

So, I’m a convert. I intend to use the whizzy spaceage 4G around here to stream comedy from BBC Radio 4 Extra, I’ve downloaded Serial which everyone has been raving about and I’m open to suggestions for what else I could listen to…this year’s marathon training could be the most educational, amusing and music free yet!

What do you listen to when you run? Any recommendations for good podcasts/downloads/radio plays I should check out? What about audiobooks, and classics?

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Should Marathons Be Accessible To All?

Firstly let’s be absolutely clear on something. I am a firm believer in the inclusive nature of running. I am almost fanatical about getting people to take up running and stick with it through the first few difficult months, until it clicks and they find the love. I am working towards getting qualified in order to help people start running, run better, run faster, run further…I want to teach the world to run!

However, I saw a conversation the other day that got me thinking, and the more I thought the more I got cross, and the crosser I got the less popular I imagined my opinion would be…but now I’m not so sure and so I am asking you, dear reader, for your input.

Should marathons be accessible to all?

The reason I ask is this conversation, which appeared on a marathon’s Facebook page (I’m afraid I can’t remember which and can’t find it now otherwise I would link to my source). Someone had complained that last year they had almost been swept up by the bus after 6h30m on course and with 7 miles still to go. They were demanding the course stay open later for all the slower runners and walkers who couldn’t finish inside the cut off. This got me thinking, are they right to complain? Should marathons be there for walkers and people who can’t manage more than 20 minute/mile pace? Does that undermine what is happening at the other end of the field?

I thought I might be alone in resenting those that had cheapened my marathon achievement, until I found this article from the New York Times in 2009. To précis what they say marathons have become about completing not competing (not necessarily with others but with yourself and the clock). Thousands now turn up on the start line with the minimum training and plod through 26.2 miles, finishing hours after the bulk of the field. They get the same t-shirt, the same medal and the same bragging rights as those runners that committed to a 16 week training plan of speed sessions, ice baths, clean eating and long runs.

Another point to be clear on, I am absolutely not being elitist. I’m yet to break the 5 hour mark in a marathon (but I’m doing everything possible to change that in Edinburgh this May!). I’m not suggesting marathons should become more exclusive, but I do think that they should be reserved for those that put in the work and are there to run. A 6h30m cut off is an average 15 minute mile, that’s enough even for a slower runner who’s wheels fell off at 18 miles to get in, surely?

What’s your opinion on the sanctity of marathons? Should anyone be able to walk 26 miles and call themselves a marathoner or should they be the reserve of the serious, committed runner?

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The Big Pig Funny Jig Wall Run Muddy Fun Jog

Waking up on Sunday with a few hours left in the New Forest it was good to know we’d got another route planned and 10 miles of forest fun ahead of us, but it turned out even better than we’d hoped.

We secured use of the hostel showers for after our run despite being checked out etc – kudos to YHA New Forest, the best hostel I’ve ever stayed in and the friendliest staff anywhere – strapped on the trail shoes and headed out the door. We checked the first few points on the route before starting so we could cover a decent distance before stopping, but made it all of 200 metres before we skidded to a halt. It’s not every day you see a golfer on the first tee fighting off two giant pigs who are chasing him around the golf course!

Massive bacon! The near one chased me and in the background you can see the golfer hurriedly getting a shot away!

Massive bacon! The near one chased me and in the background you can see the golfer hurriedly getting a shot away!

We sprinted to assist, successfully distracting the animals which meant we’d just made ourselves targets! Luckily the golfer was able get his tee shot away and leg it down the fairway while the bacon on legs chased us back on to the path and away. As we were leaving I watched the biggest pig wandering over the 18th green leaving giant trotter prints in the grass. I won’t be taking my golf clubs to Burley any time soon!

Once we were back on our way we easily started eating in to the miles. The route guide was another beauty with fantastic detail so navigation was a simple enough challenge…didn’t stop us taking the occasional wrong turn though. I was amazed at how strong I felt after the exertions of the previous two days and the distance fell away beneath our feet. Not only were we moving well but there was an abundance of energy for banter and bouncing around having fun! So much so that Greg had another go at mastering the most elusive of running photos, the both feet off the ground shot that shows how quick you were moving and how wonderful your technique is. I don’t think he’s mastered it yet!

The "both feet in the air" holy grail money shot for runners...sort of.

The “both feet in the air” holy grail money shot for runners…sort of.

Then we played at running up walls and around puddles; a proper Matrix moment, in our heads at least! Grown men playing about in the mud, and laughing like children…the joys of trail running!

Defying gravity to avoid the mud.

Defying gravity to avoid the mud.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Running some of Saturday’s parkrun course in reverse, we then disappeared in to the heath land and skipped over muddy puddles and slipped our way over idyllic bridges and loved every minute of it, getting back to the hostel 10 miles later with big smiles, sore legs and plans in place for lunch when we got back to Cheltenham.

The perfect end to a fantastic weekend of running in the New Forest, I can’t recommend it enough and I’ll definitely be heading back for more of the same, but hopefully a little drier and a little further! Coming with me?

A very well used route guide!

A very well used route guide!

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Brockenhurst parkrun #78

Coming from the pancake flat parkrunning environs of Pittville Park, Cheltenham, it’s always a shock to be running up hills on a Saturday morning…and Brockenhurst, you’ve got hills!

Greg finds the start line

Greg finds the start line

When a planned weekend abroad fell through I looked for an alternative, and key to my decision making was being able to do a parkrun (I’m on the hunt for my 50th by March!) Waking in the New Forest on Saturday morning to raking winds stripping the trees outside the hostel window, I took to social media to check the forest parkrun would still be on… With worrying course updates coming in from across the country they are obviously made of sterner stuff in Hampshire, there was never any doubt in Brockenhurst, my 45th parkrun was on!

The crowd gathers

The crowd gathers

The course was a single lap which made a nice change, through Wilverley Enclosure (the winter course and conveniently much closer to the hostel than the summer venue!) We were met with the usual friendly crowd of runners, and got a warm welcome as tourists. With minimal fuss (the joys of just 82 runners not 382!) we were sent on our way for a slightly damp, slightly chilly 5k.

The course starts fast thanks to a lengthy downhill, with the local wild ponies paying us no attention as we streamed by. We were promised hills and the course didn’t disappoint. There were some steep climbs to wrestle with but it felt like a good balance between the hard work uphill and the reward of an easy descent on the other side. Although a one lapper there was an out-and-back section that allowed you to cheer and be cheered by fellow runners, which is always welcome. The final hill was a struggle, but there was a great reception waiting at the finish.

A hill. There were several of these.

A hill. There were several of these.

A quick look at the results reveal I finished in just over 28 minutes, which considering the activities of the weekend and stopping for photos wasn’t too bad. More importantly there were 10 PBs on the day (well done all!) and maybe more importantly still there were 13 new parkrunners doing their first ever event. Here’s hoping they will be back soon, I know I’m planning to be one day!

Lovely to meet Catherine from New Forest Runners, who provided the routes for Friday and Sunday.

Lovely to meet Catherine from New Forest Runners, who provided the routes for Friday and Sunday.

 

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New Year, New Plan, New Forest.

Home sweet home - YHA New Forest

Home sweet home – YHA New Forest

This last weekend I was supposed to be driving to Chamonix, drinking excessively for three days and driving home with my good friend Greg. I already had my doubts about the wisdom of this, what with the challenges I’ve set myself for this year starting 2015 by destroying myself probably wasn’t the one. So when the trip fell through and I had a few days to fill I planned a trip somewhere new, and replaced all the booze with all the jogging!

Greg was overjoyed about the under bunk storage, less so about losing at Scrabble though.

Greg was overjoyed about the under bunk storage, less so about losing at Scrabble though.

We stayed in the YHA New Forest, and while this blog is no place for travel reviews rest assured they’re getting all the gold stars on Tripadvisor. The place is fantastic and couldn’t have been more accommodating. We got up on Friday morning well rested with a route planned*, tied our laces, stepped out the door and immediately started our run.

It took us no more than a couple of hundred metres before we got lost the first time, trying to get through the village of Burley. Once we were on the trail though the scenery was stunning, simply stunning. In the Cotswolds where I live trail running means going from view to view, often with miles of hilly woods in between. You get fleeting glimpses of big skies and sweeping vistas then it’s back in to the close confines of the trees. By contrast, the New Forest offers huge expanses of heath land flanked by beautiful woods with glorious graveled paths to ease progress (although we also found a decent amount of mud!)

Beautiful stuff to look at...and Greg.

Beautiful stuff to look at…and Greg.

Big bum, big run.

Big bum, big run.

We went out for over 14 miles of glorious running. A few wrong turns added a few more hills which we didn’t mind at all, the local wild ponies made interesting obstacles and Greg stopped to admire some lewd street art on an underpass.

Almost exactly 5 years after my very first attempts at running, I think this was one of my favourite ever days out on my feet.

Ponies...thousands of 'em

Ponies…thousands of ‘em

 

 

*(thanks to Catherine of New Forest Runners who provided the routes for the weekend after an appeal on the Brockenhurst parkrun Facebook page. Just another example of the running/parkrun community being bloody lovely!)

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