Have You Ever Learned How To Run?

26.2 miles is a long way to be alone with your thoughts and during the recent Copenhagen Marathon it was just me and them for most of the course. I wanted to share with you one of the things that kept rolling around my mind though as I rolled through the streets of the Danish capital…

As part of my “40 before 40” I recently started a beginner’s canoe course. Let me talk you through how the first session played out…

  1. An introduction to canoeing and where we would be safe to do it once we’d finished the course
  2. A guide to kit, what we would need, what it might cost, why we use it and where to get it
  3. A tour of our canoes including details of how to adjust every last lever and clip to make it fit like a soggy glove
  4. An explanation of the paddle, how to hold it, how not to wave it around and hit people with it
  5. Advice on how to position weight and how to maintain as much contact with the canoe as possible
  6. Instruction on what to do in the event of a capsize
  7. Demonstration of how to empty a boat of water
  8. Demonstration and practice of how to lift and carry a canoe safely.
  9. Demonstration and practice on dry land of getting in to and out of a canoe once it is afloat. So that’s eight things, in depth, before we even got to the side of the training pool. Next…
  10. How to paddle slowly forwards, sometimes in a straight line
  11. How to make small adjustments to direction so you don’t go in to trees
  12. How to do huge great turns to avoid ramming whales
  13. How to go backwards…without looking…and without rear view mirrors (the assumption is that if you’re going backwards nothing behind you can be as dangerous as whatever you’re escaping from)
  14. How to go forwards fast
  15. How to stop going forwards fast, fast. (It involves lots of splashing)
  16. Capsize training
  17. How to get out of a boat which is afloat and back on to poolside, which inevitably became more capsize training.

All that in one hour, but it has set the standard for a lifetime of safe, efficient paddling which should improve my enjoyment of the sport and also keep me safe from injury and potential drowning.

Then I compared it to the first time I went running…

  1. Put on old Nikes
  2. Sprint up the road for 800 metres
  3. Be sick in an alleyway and cry/limp my way home

I thought about all the other sports I’ve ever played. I spent hours each week perfecting the art of scrummaging and throwing line outs in rugby, I faced 100 identical bowling machine deliveries to practice my forward defensive at the start of the cricket season (and another 20 to practice whacking the ball for 6 but that’s not the point). I’ve built my golf swing by paying attention to every minute movement it entails from the moment I approach the ball to long after it has left the club face and I even got some netball coaching involving how to jump and catch for a charity tournament many years ago. In all these sports I was taught how to do the actions needed to be the best I could be – at throwing, pushing, catching, jumping, hitting – and yet one thing was missing from all the coaching I ever received.

CiRF-booklet

Running. No one ever told me how to run. No one told me the most efficient way to run around a rugby pitch, conserving energy for when it mattered. No one ever taught me the fastest way to run between the wickets on a cricket square. Certainly no one ever taught me to run over long distances – all the training advice I could find was on how far to run, how fast to run, whether it should be up hill or down dale – and I imagine that is true for the vast majority of us out there who are pounding the pavement every week.

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So maybe now you can see part of the reason I am so excited to be qualifying as a running coach with England Athletics. All that untapped potential in every runner, who has been dashing around without ever knowing how good they could be purely because no one has ever explained to them how to run well.

I can’t wait to start coaching people and watching them succeed, pushing the boundaries of what they thought possible whether it’s more speed, greater distance or even just ease of running. It’s exciting to think I’ll soon be making people better runners, one step at a time…

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Who James Met: Steve Edwards – Marathon Man

At the time of writing, Steve had just completed his 726th marathon with an astonishing average finish time under 3hrs 16 minutes. His book “The Man Inside The Machine” is available now.

NAME: Steve Edwards – Marathon Man

LOCATION: Almost Athletes AGM

BEEN RUNNING FOR: Since school, but distance running for 35 years

HOW DID YOU START: Whilst running 400-800m on track as a teenager I saw a poster for the first Coventry Marathon and thought “why not?”. After that first one it was definitely “never again” but the feeling didn’t last!

FAVOURITE DISTANCE: Unsurprisingly, 26.2 marathons

FAVOURITE RUN/RACE: There’s lots, too many to pick one outright, but a few that come to mind…Stockholm, New York (for all the tourist hot-spots you pass), Tromso Sun Race – starts in the middle of the night and by 3am you’re in a bar celebrating in bright sun!, Chicago for the fantastic organisation and infrastructure and closer to home Windermere.

FAVE BIT OF KIT: I run in asics Gel Cumulus shoes and have done for years, besides that my rehab kit is probably most important; foam roller, tennis and cricket balls and a small rubber ball for rolling the soles of the feet.

DREAM RUN: A marathon in my home town, Moreton-In-Marsh

DREAM RUNNING PARTNER: Other than my wife Teresa who has been so supportive, in a few years when he’s old enough it would be my grandson Farren. He’s 8 at the moment so it may be another 10 years!

RUNNING ASPIRATIONS: Initially it was a marathon, then t was 100 marathons, then 500…the target now is to complete 1,000 marathons with an average finish time under 3hrs 20.

FAVOURITE INSPIRATIONAL QUOTE: Never underestimate your potential, follow your dreams.

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parkrun reports: Bicester, Gloucester North and Little Stoke

As part of my 40 Before 40 I’ve been on the road in recent weeks ticking off some parkrun tourism. Here’s a brief rundown (pun intended) of the last three…

Bicester parkrun – 16th April (inaugural)

A quick stop-off on the way to Brighton Marathon (involving a mad dash to Milton Keynes to get the first of three trains to Brighton…the things we do to fit in a parkrun!) the first week for Bicester was a very cold, very wet one!

Lots of tourists braved the foul weather to join the locals including my good friend Ian, who’s first parkrun experience hopefully hasn’t put him off for life! The start was a little muted as people froze waiting for the off, but once away the marshals on course were brilliant. A three-lapper it was ankle deep in either water or mud for most of the way. In the summer It will be a lovely, flat and fast course with enough turns to keep it interesting. Didn’t hang around at the finish, needed a hot shower and a cuppa before the travelling continued, and no one was brave enough to get a camera out so no photos but hopefully the runners of Bicester will turn out in their droves over the summer and enjoy a great venue.

Gloucester North – 23rd April

Pete, Mum, Me and the lovely RD

Pete, Mum, Me and the lovely RD

I took Mum over to Gloucester for her first go at ‘voluntouring’, and the team there were just wonderful. Really welcoming group, led by ED Pete who is very enthusiastic and a very friendly RD who’s name I didn’t catch. Glos North had an enforced change of course when the original became unusable thanks to flooding, but actual the alternate course is a lot of fun and more popular so I hope it stays. Weaving between and around school buildings interspersed with rounding football pitches it deserves its fame as the zombie apocalypse course! Another three-lapper but with enough corners and changes of scenery to keep it interesting and lots of encouraging marshals. There was also cake at the end, some of the best I’ve ever enjoyed at a parkrun, and as this one is on my doorstep I’m sure I’ll be back.

Little Stoke – 30th April

We all know the tale of Little Stoke and their sad situation, with the executioner’s axe hanging over them it was time to pay a visit before it was too late. (Unless something dramatic happens Saturday 28th May should be the last run at this venue)

The unexpected Cheltenham parkrunners on tour!

The unexpected Cheltenham parkrunners on tour!

We unexpectedly bumped in to several other Cheltenham tourists which was great, but the atmosphere was a little stilted. Knowing the run was ending and with all the media hype recently tourists seemed almost apologetic about being there; I guess there is an element of morbidity about getting it done before the final death knells, a bit like gatecrashing a funeral. The local team were all very nice though, and you can’t blame them for being a little less enthusiastic than usual. The start was a short walk from the briefing then off on the first of three laps, although you cover some parts of the course four times. Mostly flat or downhill this was a fast, simple course. The tarmac path was quite thin in places, and one section had a number of tree roots pushing through, but I couldn’t see any evidence of the damage being caused by parkrun that has so enraged the Parish Council. The route actually passes the Council’s offices so on each circuit I made sure to boo them, although they were closed it still made me feel a little better!

Little Stoke supports park running just not parkrunning!

Little Stoke supports park running just not parkrunning!

What was surprising was how running focused the park is! There is a big Run England board announcing the 3-2-1 route which shares the same paths as parkrun, and the statue of a runner in the photo above is opposite the doors of the Council office! It is very clear that running is welcomed here, just not parkrun, and this move by the councillors can only have been an attempt to extort money from what they incorrectly see as a wealthy organisation. I fear they will be too stubborn to accept defeat and allow the parkrun to continue, which is a real shame, and I just hope that in the next elections there is a large change of personnel and possibly parkrun are invited back to a wonderful location.

Next week Bushy Park, the home of parkrun, then staying in Cheltenham for a while before Copenhagen towards the end of the month, so my tourism days aren’t over just yet…!

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Run Report: Paris Marathon

I’ve written before, somewhere on this blog, that you can’t negotiate with a marathon. When you get to the start line of a 26.2 mile run you’ve either done the training or you haven’t. I hadn’t.

So let’s not make this run report about my race – disappointingly slow and very much more complete than compete – and let’s look at what the Paris marathon had to offer…

The weekend starts with the marathon expo and number collection. Getting a race pack was easy (assuming you had all the necessary paperwork; convocation, medical certificate, passport, 2 references and a photocopy of your butt) and the team on the desk where exceptionally helpful when I wanted to change my start pen thanks to my lower expectations. The rest of the expo was the usual brands, all big stands and flashing lights, but very few bargains and of course everything was in French! The food court was far from impressive too so we soon left and found a lovely Italian for some traditional French pizza.

Come race day and getting to the start was incredibly simple. No Metro closures or diversions so my train went from 100 metres outside the hostel to 100 metres from the start line at Arc de Triomphe…except I then had a 20 minute walk to get to the baggage drop anyway! Worth noting you can only access this from the far end of Avenue Foch so Porte Dauphine is a better station to aim for. Once finally in the marathon set up though everything flowed smoothly and I was soon in the starting pen watching the clock.

I’d heard horror stories about being held in the pens for ages and people urinating in the crowd etc, but there was none of that. The different waves of the marathon had staggered start times, so no one was trapped in the pen for more than twenty minutes or so, and there were plenty of toilets available. The front of my wave went off exactly on time but as usual it still took a couple of minutes for the back of the pack to cross the start line.

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The route takes in much of the best of Paris. Passing the sights of the Champs Elysees, Place de la Concorde, Bastille and bois de Vincennes (with an insane man-made mountain for the monkeys and goats in the zoo!) the first half of the course is mostly well supported. I had the pleasure of sharing these 13 miles with two friends, Malc who is well in to 70+ marathons now and Rachel who was seeking a hefty PB. They were an absolute delight to run with, I hope to do it many more times.

I was struggling at this point, a dribbling mess in fact!

I was struggling at this point, a dribbling mess in fact!

Turning back towards the city you soon reach halfway and the banks of the Seine. It was here that I let Malc and Rachel go, after sitting with them at 4:30hr pace I knew I didn’t have another 13 miles of that in the tank so I made the choice not to push to hard and risk blowing up completely. It was strange to suddenly be running alone, but following the river for a few beautiful miles, again with good crowds and loads of amazing bands playing brilliant rock covers, it was nice to just take in the atmosphere for a while. Once I knew I was on for a slow run I took the time to dance my way past a group in a tunnel playing Proud Mary and stopped to hi-5 a band covering the blues classic Sweet Home Chicago!

After the elation of the river comes the relative loneliness of Bois de Boulogne, also site of the first Paris parkrun (I’m sure other sites will follow), and despite the best efforts of Paris’ gay running club to brighten up the miles this section became a slog. I imagine if I’d been fitter and more comfortable at this point actually the tranquility of the parkland would have been lovely though! Again I relaxed all thoughts of time and chatted with other runners to while away the miles. I heard several stories of people running in memory of loved ones, a couple on their honeymoon and a Frenchman declared in broken Franglais that men of our size shouldn’t be marathon runners then promptly stopped. He almost broke me, but actually I just got angry and powered through the next mile! I’m sure I’ll revisit that comment in a future blog post though…

13054437_10154053945602226_923337663_o13072099_10154053946132226_349427979_oOut of the park and it’s a short dash to the finish through crowd-lined streets. Once over the line the same efficiency from the start line sees you with medal and t-shirt in hand and back to the baggage claim in moments. I missed the water bottles at the end, and after running 26.2 miles in 20+ degree heat I could have done with one! Luckily my ace support crew were soon on hand with a bottle of fizzy cider to spray in victory and quash the thirst. (Kudos to the crew for getting around Paris and being on hand with motivational signs, hi-5s and even a cheeky glug of wine exactly when it was needed! Best support crew in the world!)

12963522_10156718254220117_8394205967160661648_nThe marathon was mostly brilliant; the course was interesting, varied, not noticeably hilly but there were some very quiet spots where some people may have struggled. There were also sections of cobbles which we don’t often run on, but they weren’t really an issue. The biggest concern on course was the feed stations, which were plentiful and well stocked but also a minefield! There were orange segments and bananas, chopped but not peeled, so there were fruit remnants all over the floor. Those cartoons of people slipping on banana skins, they are very much based on fact! It was impossible to go past the feed stations and next hundred meters at any kind of pace for fear of landing on your arse!

That aside though, Paris marathon was fantastic, and the city is beautiful and well worth a visit. In fact I think I’ll be going back there soon for more tourism, and who knows, it may even be for 9th April 2017!

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Run Report: parkrun Bois de Boulogne

I couldn’t go to Paris for the marathon (review to follow!) without taking part in the newly established Paris parkrun in the city park of Bois de Boulogne.

Cheltenham parkrun on tour

Cheltenham parkrun on tour

The locals haven’t quite got to grips with parkrun yet and so the field is normally a modest 20-25 runners, but on marathon weekend the crowd swelled with 176 turning out! It seems that the volunteers and runners are usually Brits abroad, in fact one marshal was heard to comment “we’ve even got two French runners this week!”, but when the Parisians do discover this gem of an event it should take off quickly.

screenshot_2016-04-09-07-08-04_1.jpgThe course is flat and fast, on tarmac and hard-packed trail and (with a little imagination) in the shape of a heart, which was much commented on by the travelling tourists who love parkrun! The volunteers were fantastic and managed the swell in numbers with ease, with bilingual briefing and one of the friendliest marshals I’ve ever encountered! (although they will want a second scanner when they have that number of finishers regularly)

 

With the guys from Southwark parkrun

With the guys from Southwark parkrun

With the marathon looming most runners took it easy and all were wearing their club colours or parkrun milestone t-shirts. It was great fun chatting on the way round, enthusiastically thanking the marshals and dodging the bemused dog walkers and park users. One of my personal highlights was being shouted out by a fellow runner who recognised me and gave me a very excited greeting. It took a moment before I realised it was Laurent, Run Director from Southwark parkrun which I ran at Christmas! It was great to see him again and have a catch up, a true example of the wider parkrun family and how it brings runners together.

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Claire keeps the tailrunner company

Support at the finish was fantastic, with everyone staying to cheer in the last runner (our own Claire from Cheltenham) before the majority strolled the 800 metres to the outdoor cafe for coffee and croissants and more chat. Thoughts quickly turned to the 26.2 miles of the following day, but it had been a perfect start to a weekend of running in “the most beautiful city in the world”.

There are rumours of a second parkrun on the horizon for Paris at the beautiful Bois de Vincennes on the other side of the city. If this event is anything to go by that might just be worth travelling for on its own.

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