Who James Met: James Cracknell OBE

James Cracknell OBE is a double Olympic gold medallist and endurance athlete with credits including rowing across the Atlantic in 49 days (with presenter Ben Fogle), racing to the South Pole and being only narrowly beaten by Norwegians and being a GB age grade triathlete. He has run several marathons and finished 12th in the Marathon de Sables (making him the highest placed Brit in the event’s history). He now owns RunJOy Ltd who provide half marathons in Cheltenham, Exeter and Weston-Super-Mare.

James Cracknell OBE, Olympic and endurance hero.

NAME: James Cracknell

LOCATION: Prince of Wales Stadium, Almost Athletes track session

BEEN RUNNING FOR: I did some running as part of my rowing training, shuffling up and down the towpath, and then after the 2004 Athens Olympics when I retired from rowing I took on the London Marathon the following year. That’s when I learned, about halfway round, that there is more to it than just running. The speed work and training etc which I hadn’t done. That’s why I’m at the track now!

HOW DID YOU START: After the faff of rowing where you need a boat and water and other people who turn up late, the ease of running and time efficient manner made it the obvious choice. A pair of trainers and you’ve got all you need. When my eldest was born and sport wasn’t the only priority there were suddenly other time pressures, and running was the easiest way to fit in exercise.

FAVOURITE DISTANCE: Well I think as every runner knows, any race you do is always too long! I think I’m best suited to the half marathon, my 10k time and splits would suggest I’m better going longer but a marathon is too long.

FAVOURITE RUN/RACE: I enjoyed New York Marathon, because I could run it very differently. As an Englishman there I could do it very anonymously and just concentrate on my running. There wasn’t as much fancy dress and things, it was a very serious run, in fact in my starting pen people were discussing the weight of their trainers! I was like “they’re size 13, does that help?”. So I enjoyed New York although it is tough through the quiet sections on the way to Manhattan.

FAVE BIT OF KIT: I think a pair of shorts is the crucial thing. I have lots of kit and toys but a decent pair of shorts with inner shorts, not a net, and a singlet that isn’t too baggy are keys to happiness. Anything that doesn’t chaff! All chaffing is needless pain. (If you haven’t read James’ book about rowing the Atlantic “The Crossing” do so. That man knows about chaffing!)

DREAM RUN: I love running by the sea or by water, that’s always nice. In terms of races I’d like to do there’s an ultra marathon in Badwater, Death Valley which is a brutal test, you do it with your own support crew. It’s 135 miles in 50 degree heat all in one go, that would be interesting.

DREAM RUNNING PARTNER: I’m quite unsociable when I’m running, just head down going for it, I’m not one to chat. My East German coach used to tell me if you’re talking you aren’t working hard enough so maybe that’s why, although he wasn’t a track and field coach so not sure why I still listen to him!

RUNNING ASPIRATIONS: Well the aim of the race series is to get more people running, that’s what drives me. It’s not about getting runners to chip a few seconds off a time, it’s helping build more activity in to their lives and see the benefits of running. Then they can get more out of their children and grandchildren, I believe if we don’t bank some fitness in our thirties and forties, then you’ll start withdrawing in your sixties and there’s nothing there. You need to build up some credit so I’m hoping people take on the challenge of our half marathons and fitness becomes habitual and helps them through life as a result. For me personally, I’ll always want to chip a few seconds off my race times but that’s no longer my focus.

FAVOURITE INSPIRATIONAL QUOTE: Abraham Lincoln said a great thing, as well as abolishing slavery and many other accomplishments! “If I had six hours to chop down a tree I’d spend the first three sharpening the axe”. That’s perfect for endurance running as well, you can’t attack a marathon with a blunt axe so spend the time preparing!

Entries are now open for the Cheltenham Half Marathon on 30th September 2018. Click HERE to book your place.

 

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Who James Met: Kristina Schou Madsen

I met Kristina in May 2017, when we recorded this interview. Since then her running has gone from strength to strength with another National title and podiums around the globe. As I write (almost a year later!) Kristina is preparing to break the world record for a trip up and down Kilimanjaro! Kristina also runs a city race series and virtual race series, learn more at Kristina Extreme Running.

Kristina Schou Madsen

NAME: Kristina Schou Madsen – Danish National Trail Running Champion

LOCATION: Cucugnan, France, ahead of the Trail de Cathares mountain race.

BEEN RUNNING FOR: I did my first half marathon in 2008, very unprepared but I’ve been running every since.

HOW DID YOU START: It was actually a bet, a drunken bet! I was at a party and a friend said “Kristina, I bet you can’t do a half marathon…”

FAVOURITE DISTANCE: Somewhere between 70 and 90km, I like the long runs, they suit me better.

FAVOURITE RUN/RACE: Not sure about having favourites but the 2013 Everest Marathon was epic, that was my first race under extreme conditions. That meant a lot to me and inspired me to do more of this kind

FAVE BIT OF KIT: I’m sponsored by Hoka, Garmin and CEP, and a nutrition company 32GI so I need to be faithful to them all, but my favourite kit is my running shoes. As long as I have those I can run!

DREAM RUN: I would like to do the four Beyond The Ultimate events. I did the Jungle Ultra last year (which she won!), and I have plans for the Desert Ultra. Then there’s only the Ice Ultra in Sweden and the Mountain Ultra which will take me back to the Himalayas.

DREAM RUNNING PARTNER: In the desert I am hoping to run with Susie Chan, who is a very nice and interesting person I met on the Jungle Ultra, so I’m looking forward to that. I meet a lot of nice people all the time through these adventures, so the next new friend will do.

RUNNING ASPIRATIONS: I’m not setting goals for 5 or 10 years, I think that changes all the time as I change as a human, getting older and more experienced. So instead, I’m figuring out on my way and not looking too far ahead. As long as I always have the next thing in mind I’m happy.

FAVOURITE INSPIRATIONAL QUOTE: (laughs) Tits to the valley! (this was our rallying call for the downhill sections of the mountain half marathon that weekend, where Kristina finished 4th despite taking it easy and doing a 2km detour)

 

 

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40 Before 40: #4 Jump between Adam and Eve on Tryfan

One of my 40 before 40 challenges, listed HERE

Adam and Eve, the two iconic stones that make up the true summit of Tryfan in North Wales’ Snowdonia mountain range, have long been a favourite of the more adventurous mountaineer. Legend has it that any hardy hiker brave enough to leap from one to the other receives the freedom of Tryfan. I’m not sure what I’d do with the freedom of Tryfan but I set out to earn it anyway…

The hulking mass of Tryfan and the north ridge.

The walk is a demanding one from the start, with no chance to find your legs before you start climbing straight from the roadside of the A5 at Llyn Ogwen. Initially steep steps worked in to the hillside in tight turns, the climb soon reaches a level traverse of the mountain were decisions need to be made. The prescribed wisdom is to stay as central as possible on the North Ridge and climb, needless to say, I didn’t. I was climbing with Greg who liked the look of the long line of scramblers making there way up a thin crack in the rock face, but the more I watched the more I realised that long legs and rangy arms would serve you well on this section, neither of which I possess! We weren’t alone on the mountain (far from it in fact) and a confident voice proclaimed a less crowded and less demanding route to the left…so I followed him and his two friends. Our journey left continued leftwards, and even though we were gaining height slowly I was conscious of the nagging advice of the masses at the back of my mind. I fooled myself that actually, given the sheer scale of the mountain, even our long diversion was still relatively central all things considered. I was wrong.

We eventually turned up the face of the mountain and started climbing in earnest. There was something resembling a path but it would often peter out to nothingness, only for one of us to find something that looked path-like a few metres away.  We toiled on, gaining height gradually, until reaching a point where it seemed we’d climbed ourselves in to a dead end. A few minutes of clambering around horribly exposed rock outcrops and peering in to long drops all around us and we were starting to think retreat was the only option.

Greg killing time taking selfies at the summit, having gone the right way.

Greg to the rescue! Having followed the masses and stayed central to the North face as suggested he’d reached the summit and sat waiting. Getting bored of that he’d found his way off the back of the mountain and down to where we were waiting, albeit the other side of a very thin gap between rocks with an overhang and 1,000 foot drop. As cruxes go this one was a beauty, but with lots of contortion and passing of bags and poles we managed to all squeeze through on to the last reaches of a different gully and Greg led us to the summit from there. I have to say, even if we had committed to the crux and got beyond that ourselves we would have been unlikely to find the summit for some time. It was only thanks to Greg approaching it from above and seeing the obvious line that a route was possible at all, from below there were several impenetrable rock faces to be overcome.

With the summit safely made it was time for sarnies and Star Bar, a chat with some of the many other climbers there that day and to watch people toying with the step between Adam and Eve. If you read about it online you’ll learn that the stride needed to clear the gap is a mere four feet. What is harder to imagine is that on one side is a short drop to a boulder field and guaranteed broken bones and the other is a fall of several seconds to certain death. It is also hard to picture the space for landing and take off, both roughly a square meter, on an angle and uneven. If it sounds like I’m making excuses, maybe that’s because I am. I didn’t take the leap.

Adam and Eve, they don’t look very threatening from this angle…

Once I was able to see the challenge I realised that even climbing on to the stones would be a struggle, but then to make the leap would be a feat of athleticism, balance and bravery I just didn’t feel capable of. However, I wasn’t disappointed. I was sat on top of one of the greatest mountains in the UK, having scrambled and climbed up there via a very testing route and had done so comfortably and without fear. I realised that while the challenge may have been to jump between the two summit stones actually the achievement and pleasure was in getting there, in the journey to be in a position to make the leap. I didn’t need to cover that last 1.5 metres in order to have achieved something special that day.

In our usual way we came down via an unmarked route, taking the shortest line between two points which involved reverse scrambling, leaping over bogs and plenty of “I think it’s just over there…”. All in all a truly magnificent day in the mountains.

When I got home I measured out the distance between Adam and Eve in my hallway and attempted to leap it. I made it, just, with millimetres to spare but plenty of carpet to cushion my fall if I had come up short. In hindsight I think I was wise, but I’ve been practicing my leaping and landing since then and one day I will go back…

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40 Before 40: #1 parkrun in 40 different locations

One of my 40 before 40 challenges, listed HERE

Only 39 venues as yet, but more to be added very soon! Love the conversations this t-shirt starts…

As of 27th Saturday I’m pleased to report I have enjoyed the hospitality of 40 different parkrun venues with 40 different parkrun volunteer teams, and I learned a few things along the way…

Every parkrun is the same…you turn up, run and present your barcode. It’s as simple as that. It doesn’t matter where in the world you are, the process is universal. That simple fact means there is never any worry or doubt about approaching new parkruns, you can travel with complete confidence.

Every parkrun is different…and that’s what makes tourism such fun! Every briefing is a new experience; some brilliant, some inaudible, some full of laughs and some short and to the point. Then you start running and every course is different; I’ve run along rivers and crossed streams, across open fields and through thick woods, over logs and under bridges, on tarmac, woodchip, sand and snow. Some courses are more scenic than others but every one is special and has something about it that you’ll remember.

Sign of the tourist. Keep an eye out for anyone wearing the infamous “cow cowl”, only available to parkrunners with more than 20 venues to their name.

Touring with friends is ace…because you can enjoy the road trip and post run cake, as well as the excitement of planning your next tour.

Touring on your own is also ace…because it is very easy to make new friends on a Saturday morning. You are all there for one thing so you already have something in common, and I haven’t had anything but the warmest of welcomes at every venue I’ve been too. If you do tour alone, talk to people, it makes the whole experience ten times better.

But parkrun tourism isn’t all good, I have found two distinct downsides to heading out on the road of a Saturday morning…

Missing home… I adore Cheltenham parkrun and all involved with it and recently managed my 100th run around Pittville Park. But thanks to tourism there have been many weekends away from my home run and I have missed celebrating milestones with friends or being there to support my fellow core team members when they needed it. As much fun as tourism is sometimes I wish I wasn’t heading away from a run with 400 friends.

Finding somewhere amazing… I’ve run some beautiful courses and met some amazing people through parkrun tourism (big shout to Poolbeg in Dublin for topping the table in both categories) but I am unlikely to ever go back which is sad. If I’m in Dublin again in future there are several other venues to go explore so chances are I will never enjoy another Poolbeg parkrun and coffee with the friendliest people in the world. I know we should be happy it happened not sad it’s over, but it’s impossible to ignore that some courses are better than others and warrant a second visit…maybe when I’ve completed the other 600+ venues!

So to conclude, as I’m always asked for favourites when I reveal my travels, parkrun tourism is mostly amazing here’s just a few highlights you may wish to explore yourself…

Poolbeg – on a horrible rainy windswept morning I met the most amazing people for a dramatic run around the bay. I wish I could go back regularly.

Bushy Park – the home of parkrun, with over 1,500 runners most weeks. Everyone should go at least once to see where it all began.

Vejen, Denmark – one volunteer with a carrier bag of kit turns up at 8.55am and a parkrun happens. Highlights the brilliance of the concept and how simple it can be.

Medina, Isle of Wight – An overnight trip with ferry rides, dodgy B&B, hunting an ever-changing parkrun course followed by lunch on the seafront, amusement arcades and giant ice creams in the rain. An epic 24 hour tour with good friends, go do it soon!

The brilliant Run Director at Poolbeg on a truly foul freezing day, but still parkrun puts a smile on our faces!

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Running Around Denmark

Over the last 18 months my heart has been well and truly stolen by Denmark. I’ve been lucky enough to visit Copenhagen three times now, and on this trip I stuck around for a while to see more of the country and it is just as wonderful everywhere I went. While on my travels I was able to get four runs in, and while I could wax lyrical for days about how wonderful Denmark and the Danes are here’s just a taste of what we got up to with our trainers on…

Faelledparken parkrun

My Denmark touring squad

Unsurprisingly, at least to any regular readers or those that know me and my travelling companions, we built our flights around fitting in some parkrun tourism. First up was my second parkrun in Copenhagen (I should have run one in October last year but I got drunk and fell off a curb instead). Faelledparken was just a mile or so from our accommodation, and also the site of the following day’s Copenhagen Half start so it was an obvious choice. As with every parkrun I’ve ever visited, from the moment we saw a volunteer in hi-vis and someone in lycra we felt right at home. Chatting freely with locals about the course, how the half marathon preparations had affected the route etc it was another perfect example of how the parkrun family is a global thing and we are all a part of it. The briefing was delivered in flawless English by our Danish Run Director, and we joked about trying to do our own briefing back in Cheltenham in Danish if we ever had a tourist make the return visit. Unanimous agreement was that we had no chance!

The run itself was three laps of the park on hard packed trail, pretty enough but nothing much of note other than the site traffic and buzz of a race village being built. The support each time we passed the finish was fabulous and the welcome when we finished was lovely. As a group we had the first and last finisher, a feat we’ve been trying to achieve on our travels for a while so well done Si and Claire!

When you find the people that bring you balance play with them often!

Copenhagen Half Marathon

Look at those happy faces at the sunny start!

A half of two halves! (does that make it quarters?) The race started in glorious sunshine and although the race village was a little muddy the day promised to be perfect for running. The organisation was great, which we’ve come to expect from Copenhagen races. Everything from entering online, collecting numbers (and shopping!) at the expo and bag drop off and finding our start pens was incredibly smooth. I’d put myself well back in the pens, struggling with what I now know to be plantar fasciitis I hadn’t been able to train for any kind of fast running so it was a slow social run around the closed streets of the city for me. I planned a run/walk strategy (run 1 mile, walk .1 of a mile) from the start which would mean swapping positions with Claire throughout the race, so she insisted we trade insults every time we pass. I can’t possibly share any of them here but the first 6 or 7 miles went by in blur of profanities and smiles with awesome support from the sides of the course.

A photo from the finish line after the worst of the storm had blown through

Then, somewhere around 7 miles, the apocalypse started. It is difficult to explain how extreme the weather was but it was certainly the most unexpected and fierce storm I’ve ever witnessed. In the space of a few minutes we went from spots of rain to flash floods, the water falling more powerfully than my shower! Hail stones the size of marbles (or maltesers or minstrels or peanut M&Ms, we initially measured them in chocolate) were pelting the exposed flesh of runners and we ran for cover rather than towards the finish. I moved behind a tree, then behind a thicker tree and eventually huddled at the foot of a concrete pillar seeking protection from the onslaught. I’m glad I left the tree cover as moments later the most thunderous crack and bright sky heralded the arrival of fork lightening. The storm raged for a few minutes before passing as quickly as it arrived, but it had left its mark on the course. The last 6 miles were blighted by icy surfaces, flooding across the course, washed out water stations and a sudden lack of enthusiastic cheering from the crowd! What was peculiar is that as the course wove its way through the city there were obviously areas that had avoided the downpour completely as spectators in t-shirts stood on dry pavements, but all too soon we would be back in ankle deep freezing water again a few streets later.

Claire risks instant death by lightening strike to demonstrate the race village swimming pool!

As I approached the finish line, considering breaststroke rather than a sprint finish, I heard an announcement that the race had been abandoned! The timing mats had been washed away and the storm we had run through had passed straight through the race village leaving it under several inches of water. I later learned that several people had been hit by lightening and the organisers were understandably concerned about the storm returning and the effect of a lightening strike on the newly formed lake with thousands of runners stood in it! Luckily the back up timing system still recorded an official time (2:24)but it was never about the time I just wanted it recorded that I survived and persevered! I also chased down a woman with a bundle of medals. Yes, I risked my life for race bling! We didn’t hang around in the icy water, and headed back to the hostel cold, wet, excited and satisfied. I’d definitely run another Copenhagen race, they’re great!

Kolding Night Trail

I look better in the dark!

The main reason for extending our trip this time was an invite from our friend Kristina, Danish National Trail Champion and ultrarunning bad ass, to the event she was hosting in her home town in the middle of Denmark. The Night Trail offered 6 and 12km courses, or for the chosen few there were 20 marathon places up for grabs. As the name suggests, it didn’t start until after dark so we found ourselves stood in a field at 9pm listening to a race briefing in Danish this time, with no idea what we’d let ourselves in for! I was signed on for 12km, which with my injury probably wasn’t the wisest move, but Kristina asked if I’d mind being tail runner for the race so I had an excuse to take it easy!

Making friends is what running should be about.

We were warned about the mud and treacherous terrain, but to be honest it was no worse than a Wednesday club run in Cranham! Running by head torch is always exciting though, every time I do it I pledge to do more and I never do. I had a great time making friends with runners at the back of the pack, learning Danish (some you’d say in polite company and some you definitely wouldn’t!) and enjoying the terrain. At times it was frustrating being stuck at the back, there were plenty of bits of the course that just screamed out to be run fast, so I think I’ll have to go back and have another go some time! We left the park about 11.30pm as the organisers settled in to a long night of supporting the marathon runners, the last of which didn’t finish until 4:30am!

Vejen parkrun

Our final run of the week, another spot of parkrun tourism and a classic example of how different two parkruns can be. At home in Cheltenham we arrive at 8am with an army of 20+ volunteers and a trolley of kit plus two big bags and more. In Vejen a guy turned up at 8:50am with a carrier bag and did the whole parkrun himself! Of course we are usually catering for over 400 runners, whereas our visit boosted Vejen’s numbers to 14! There was a little confusion about the course as they had changed it the week before and weren’t sure whether to keep the new route or not, but we were assured it would be impossible to get lost so swiftly set about showing them how wrong they were! A few hundred metres of tarmac led us in to a wood, which we knew we would be running around three times. Ahead of us the path continued alongside a ploughed field, so logically the turning to the right leading in to the trees had to be the correct choice. By this point myself and Malc were happily bringing up the rear with no one else in sight but we set about the journey through the woods full of gusto and confidence. Another few hundred metres and we spotted the leaders, coming the other way, looking at us with much the same confused expressions we must have been wearing! A quick about turn and we soon learned that just beyond the turning we’d taken was a second turning, or as it should more accurately be known “the right turning”. We were taking it very easy anyway, but the addition of nearly an extra kilometre meant we were out there a little while. I still think it was a touch unnecessary to send out a search party after us, but it was nice to have some company and chat to the locals over the last kilometre.

And so ended 9 days and 4 runs in Denmark. I’m already planning my next trip, there are four more parkruns to visit and a new one starting just over the water in Malmo which is a simple day trip from Copenhagen. Lucky that, as I’ll take any excuse I can to go back to the city I love.

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