Therapy on the trails.

Road races and training on them can be relentless on both your mind and body. It is amazing to see how far you can push your body and how fast you can become, however, months of training can take its toll.

Recently at the back end of a training cycle and the beginning of preparations for another, I suffered a freak injury. A varicose vein in my leg burst when I knocked it walking into my children’s bedroom in the pitch black of night to answer the call of “Dad, I need a wee !”. Waking up the next morning to a hemotoma the size of a tennis ball on my leg and loss of feeling in my toes.

After a visit to hospital, my GP and then back to hospital , I was cleared of any blood clots and was assured rest and compression would heal it in time. However, I was told not to run for two weeks and then build gradually from walking – all runners will know this is not as easy as it sounds.

Running is my escape. It is my way to process my life, let go of the nonsense and more importantly, keep my depression from the door. So two weeks of rest set off the unraveling of my mental health. I didn’t see it coming and although I started to run, it was ‘conservative’ and couldn’t ‘train’ as I normally enjoy: no hill sessions, no speed work or even racing. Running is my ‘medication’ and through the injury I wasn’t getting my full dosage.

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After reading an article online about trail running, I remembered how much I enjoyed the few, short trails runs I have done. Maybe this could be the way to go. In fact the trail shoes I had bought 6 months ago had probably been only worn twice. It was time to dust them off.

The local Stoke running community has a wonderful ‘Trail Tuesday’ community and although I haven’t joined them to run, I follow them with interest and picked up a few great looking locations. So, as the ‘mojo’ was beginning to return,  I got in the car and ventured out of my comfort zone.

Now after four trail runs, I have found the love for the off road. In a busy, working parent, family life, I have promised myself at least one trail run a week. The benefits of this will help my mental health through the cathartic benefits of being in open countryside but also help my running as well.

Mentally, the open countryside gave my head ‘space’ , it was peaceful and beautiful. Each step required thought and consideration. The path (or lack of it) made you process your running form. You had to alter your stride, jump, duck and dive around objects. My brain began to think quicker and more fluidly and almost started thinking one step ahead. But occasionally it went wrong. I ended up in ankle deep mud or on my backside more than once. The experience was rejuvenating. It wasn’t all about how fast I’d cover the distance. It was the event and challenge of covering the distance.

On trail, you can’t be precious over pace. The hills can be massive, the terrain can be unfriendly and uneven and the route can be … well , made up. Also you are working different muscle sets that road running just doesn’t use. Lateral motion of running on trails as you duck and dive around the terrain and as your ankles and hips roll to compensate the tree roots, the mud or the brambles, will work ligaments and tendons that are only used to moving forwards and back on the roads. All this plus the increased elevation will be just as good as a gym ‘leg’ workout.

Personally, trail running is beginning a new chapter of my running story. It will play out alongside my road running and fingers crossed will all benefit the overall goal- getting my mojo back.

 

 

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Parkrun tourism – Birkenhead

Parkrun is an amazing thing. It is inclusive. It is free. It is worldwide. The list goes on. So when the family are away for the weekend, it was an opportunity to take a road trip to the Wirral and take in a new Parkrun and meet up with some UKRunchat friends.

FullSizeRender It meant an early start so the alarm was set for 5:30 AM and after a coffee and breakfast I hit the road (which is pleasantly empty at that time of the morning). By 8 o’clock , Id arrived and was walking around when I found Jon (@jon_rumley) one of the Birkenhead Parkrun core team. Soon after Brian (@BrianShenton54) joined us. The last time I’d seen Jon & Brian was at Shrewsbury Half back in June, so it was great to catch up.

As the core team started setting up, Brian and I went for a warm up lap. Brian was pacing 24 minutes today so we discussed pacing strategies and the route as we went. This was really useful, as I noticed the nice, wide start down the left side of the park. Great for getting off to a good start. The route itself was really flat. There is a little incline about two thirds around the mile lap, but soon drops down to the start/finish line.

It was great then to meet up with Gemma & Ann of Team Green along with Gemma’s daughter Ava – a future funnel manager in the making.

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The race briefing was soon finished and we were given the go. The wide park path was great for spreading out the runners , buggies and dogs. After half a lap, Brian was politely informed that his 24 minute pace was a bit fast so we went our separate ways and I pushed on. It felt good to be pushing the legs and lungs over the shorter distances again after marathon training. Between now and Christmas, shorter distances are the primary focus.

At the end of lap 1, I spotted fellow TeamGreen member Jay, who was spectating today before his 10k race tomorrow. It was great to spot so many familiar faces and it helped over the rest of the course. I finished in 21:40. Not a PB but the quickest for a long time.

After the park was tidied up and the squirrels could have their field back, we walked down to the South Park where the cafe can be found. A great facility to have close by. A coffee and ice cream was deserved after a lovely morning. Its the small things that sometimes are the most worthwhile.

FullSizeRender (1)It was great to visit somewhere new and it certainly wont be the last time I visit Birkenhead Parkrun. The core team should be proud of the event they obviously work so hard to keep running with such smooth organisation, inclusive support and friendly smiles.

Well done Team Birkenhead.

Gloucester Marathon-the one that got away!

It was taper week after the hard training and of course the maranoia kicks in – the head ache, the sore throat… it’ll be fine, its all in my head!

Strangely, after talking to many marathon runners, this is not uncommon, however, I think my immune system was at a low and I caught a virus – the fever started and a trip to the doctors was needed. I was hoping they would tell me to pull myself together and there was nothing wrong. Or as my UkRunChat compatriot @firsthurdle put it to “man up”.

But the news was not good – tonsillitis…antibiotics needed and rest. Not what I wanted to hear 3 days before a marathon. After all the training, the time pounding the roads…I was gutted. The grieving process automatically kicked in. There were tears I wont lie.

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Yet I knew deep down I knew it was the correct decision to announce my first ever ‘DNS’. I had to remember my health long term was more important and with my body run down so much even attempting to run would have longer terms effects – so I ‘manned up’.

If i’m honest the thought of signing up to another marathon at the moment is the last thing on my mind. I went from training for Manchester straight into training for Gloucester. As much as i enjoyed the momentum and I definitely got stronger over the longer distances – I truly feel wiped out. It felt the last few runs were because ‘I had to’ rather than ‘I want to’ – the mojo was weakening and that is not what I started running for. Times are important to me and I will always work to do my best but if I’m honest I want to change the goals for a while. Concentrate on a different target and get that smile and runners high again. I will become a sub4 marathon runner, I will be back, but for now the shorter distances have my focus.

New Targets:

Aug-Dec 2017

1)Train for a Sub45 10k (target Kidsgrove10k)

2)Introduce a ‘Couch to 5k’ program to GoTeamRunningClub

3)Increase Core & Strength – 3 x week

Running: A Metaphor for life & mental illness.

I have started and rewritten this post a few times, in my head,  over the last 48 hours. I wanted to put down on paper how much running has helped ‘grounded’ my depression in the hope that some people may begin to understand, others may relate to the medley of emotions and a few may find strength to ‘keep fighting’. Yet no matter how many times I penciled the words in my head, it felt like a call for help or that I wanted sympathy- I can assure you this is not how I intended the post to feel. I have come to terms with my own condition and have written about it many times. This post is purely to try to put out there, what being a runner has taught me in the hope that it may help in some way. So here goes…

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As many of you know, depression and anxiety come in many forms and there are no two people that have exactly the same ‘symptoms’ or experiences, yet reading about it and talking to others, there certainly seems to be cross overs. With this in mind, I found strength in knowing I wasn’t ‘alone’ in this plethora of mixed up emotions.

Previously, I have written personally how my own anxiety stemmed from trying to be a ‘perfectionist’ . Trying to be the perfect father, the perfect husband, the perfect teacher and how that clearly is impossible to achieve. This is a viscous cycle as the depression eats away at self esteem and I continued to beat myself up about my failures. However, alongside the physical health benefits of running, there are so many psychological benefits to.

As I became a ‘better’ runner and took my running more seriously (which I will come back to), it showed me that no matter how much it hurts or if things didn’t go to plan. I can achieve things I never imagined before. If we keep pushing forward (and it feels like small steps at times) good things will happen. We will continue to put one foot in front of another, we put those doubts in our head and aches in our bodies to one side and we will push on. This metaphor for life surely can be found in every-bodies life, regardless if they suffer from mental illness, physical illness or just had a really crap day.

It is here where it is important to mention the support network friends & family can become. I am open about my own issues and regularly talk to others about it. Yet, I still find some people don’t ‘understand’ mental illness. People don’t have to understand, they just have to respect that it is there. Modern society has broken down barriers to mental health more than ever before but there are still so many stigmas that go along with it. By just respecting it happens, it is real and you can’t just ‘fix it’ , people can help. Listening and respecting others interpretations , even if you don’t agree with them, is vital.

The running analogy is clear here again. The running community comes in many shapes, sizes, abilities and club colours. I am always in awe of how it breaks down those social barriers and stimulates physical health. Just take a moment and look around at the next Parkrun or local race. All those people in one place. From every walk of life, every social background with different religious beliefs and different political beliefs. Yet we all find common ground- we love running! Just imagine if we can take that message into life.

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Going back to my own training, the running community in its physical form and also the online community has opened doors to me. I have met those from different local clubs and those from the wider running world. Every single person has added to my running experience. From that friendly nod of respect as we pass running down the road to those who shout support regardless of your club shirt. But why does this relate to depression?

It shows me, I’m not alone.

Recently, my anxiety has become more about a feeling of isolation or loneliness. The bizarre thing is, I’ve never had more friends or been as sociable – blame the running. Those ‘grey’ days will be there, but I know just like in my running , I will push through. I cant explain those feelings yet but I know even if I run a Parkrun, where I know nobody at all. I am not alone. We are runners!

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In the near future I am doing the Leadership in Running Fitness course and I hope this has a few benefits. Obviously, I love running and the primary goal is to help other runners and support those wanting to start. This will be self beneficial as well. I am not confident in new social situations and become reclusive to avoid these feelings. But as I mentioned above, runners are a supportive lot and I can overcome these feelings.

However, I hope it also helps me relay how running can be used in all forms of everyday life. It doesn’t matter how fast or slow we are, we are all moving forward. We may get injured or have spells of depression. But we are runners! We stick together and we help each other get back to moving forward! One step at a time.

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Kalenji Trail Bag Review

I have been looking for a hydration solution for a while and have been using a water bottle belt recently. However, as runs get longer and the weather gets hotter the two 175ml bottles just weren’t enough. As well, with gels, phone and keys to carry along with possible buffs, hats, sun cream etc, space and comfort were things to consider.

With the power of Twitter at my finger tips, people recommended many jacket and camelpak type solutions. A bit of research into the ones that caught my eye and I found most to be £60 plus, until I stumbled upon the Kalenji Trail Bag on Decathlon.

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This offered a 2L water bladder (included), two chest pockets for 500ml bottles (not included), two large conpartments in rear for kit with starts at 9L and can be increased to 14L by simply loosening the zips, seperate pockets for phone in the back and two side zip pockets for essentials during the run. All of this for £25. It seemed too good to be true.

My only experience of using a water bladder previously had been uncomfortable and awkward to run in, however, on my first outing using the Kalenji, I found it exactly what I had been looking for without needing to break the bank.

IMG_0861 A steady 8 mile run with my club on Wednesday night gave me a perfect opportunity to try the bag before a long run. Hopefully this would give me insight into places the rubbed, pockets that were accessible during the run and well as working out how the bladder worked and how it all felt when worn in the heat.

I filled the bladder up and wore two bottles on the front to test how it felt while at capacity. This was overkill for 8 miles, however I would rather find out about the bag on a shorter run than left to a 20 miler at the weekend. My findings were simple- it was easy to adjust and make tight enough to not feel the bladder at all. The side straps and front adjustable straps were strong and didn’t need tightening mid run and most importantly, the bladder didn’t move or slosh about on my back at all. It was extremely light and well supported on the back.

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This bag will now join me on my long runs during marathon training and I may well use it during the race itself as I have the confidence it will not effect performance and will provide hydration where and when I will need it. An Ultra may not be far away either.

 

Market Drayton 10K

This is always one of my favourite races of the year for many reasons and this year was no different.

 

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The car park opened at 8:30 and was easy to access , although if you are much later than 9:30, you would struggle. However, there is a park and ride service provided which many runners used successfully and they ran all day to help the 2500 runners and their families.

Tshirts were to be collected before the race – something I personally dont agree with but it makes it quicker at the end and is also a clever publicity ploy as there are spot prizes for some runners who wear their t-shirt during the race – next years publicity shots done!

The event has a small festival/fayre feel to it and has many stands and pop up food and drink vans along with Bird of Prey exhibitions and bouncy castle etc for the family. We happily stayed around for 2 hours after the race finished.

There were plenty of toilets and although busy there were no issues.

Many children took part in the kids fun run (this sold out as quickly as the adult race) and they recieved a great bag themselves including a medal, sweets, pens, swimming vouchers, and a gingerbread man. Not bad for 200m! I was particularly proud as my eldest son held back and helped a younger runner, encouraging them to the finish line. He has the ‘Runners Code’ already blooming (see previous blog post).

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The full race began promptly at 11AM ( a funny time to fuel correctly for) after a warm up from staff at the local gym . Here is my only criticism of the whole event, The start was a huge bottle neck. There were pacers with signs but there didnt seem to be any logical layout and the 70 min pacer crossed the line a few minutes before the 50 min pacer. I know chip time is what they were going for but for the benefit of many runners wanting to use the pacing service there needed to be more of an order to this,

The first 2km were busy and lots of watching your step was required. However, the impressive local support was already in high spirits including the local church giving out water (much needed in the heat of the day) before we even reached 3km.

I was aiming to pace club mates around at 55 mins (8:45m/m) , hard to do initially but soon we found the steady pace. Some pushed on and others dropped back, but one thing that sat with me was the support for all runners. Many local clubs run this race and I am impressed with the ‘Stoke on Trent Running Scene’. Regardless of who we run for, we look out and encourage each other.

The winding route through the housing wasn’t particularly interesting until we reached the town centre itself. It was here that that the local support was amazing. Steel bands and music around the town easily distracted from the job of running in 20 degree heat.

A few hills provided a test in the last few miles and I was impressed with the camaraderie of the runners who spurred each other on. The finish line was in sight and the new amendment to the last section was greatly received. It was more direct and those around me felt it helped to produce a strong finish.

The race is close to the Muller Yogurt factory and as you cross the finish, you are handed the first item of the bumper goody bag – 12 muller corners. Random, but amazing! Pumpkin Latte is a new flavour on me.  Then an enormous pork pie, water and a bag containing a medal , bandana, mars bar, sweets, pens and beer vouchers- redeemable at the beer van on site!!! Great idea. Although more tan 3 staff is needed for 2500 thirsty runners.

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Market Drayton 10K is a great event for every runner and their families. It is a well organised and supported race which other local race organisers would be wise to look at. Value for money was first class.

The Runners Code

The post Marathon restful week has allowed me to do something which I’m determined to more of – helping other runners. Whether it be beginners or those who want to up their distances, I’m pledging to be there to support them.

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In just a week, my eldest son has found a local 2k kids run called ‘Potteries Active Kids’ – it is a great event that encourages the next generation of runners but also just supports kids wanting be be active. My son was pleased as punch with his own ‘PB’ and even got a photo with ‘PB Pikachu’. What I loved was that the parents were used as marshals, the children could see at least 2 marshals at any point. So for my boys and the others, I’m going to volunteer as much as possible.

Also this week, a friend and colleague has joined us on a club run and then came to the local Parkrun. We were all beginners at some point and I think its important to remember that  fact- we were all nervous and full of self doubt and I’m sure we all have a ‘hero’ that stepped up and made us feel welcome. So again, I’m promising to do this more – run with other and help in any way I can. Before the marathon, I paced a group at the local park run and this is something I’m definitely wanting to do more of. The joy of seeing others achieve PB’s is just as, if not more, rewarding than getting them myself.

All the above is my personal view, however I believe that the running community is so supportive because we all try to follow what I describe as the ‘Runners Code’. Running at a slower pace to support others, mustering back to support friends at the end of a race, and passing on experience and know how. All this is regardless of club colours, age, gender and experience.

I think as humans regardless of running experience we can learn a lot and transfer these qualities into all walks of life.

 

Manchester Marathon

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It has been over a week since completing The Greater Manchester Marathon and reading many other blogs about the occasion and new challenges has motivated me to open back up – after all, I did one ‘Training Post’ to then become lost in the 16 weeks of marathon training and all that it holds including lack of time to blog.

Over the last 7 days, it has felt good to let the accomplishment of completing the marathon in a PB time settle in. The hard work paid off and although I was aiming for 4 hours- a chip time of 4:07 wont bug me too much considering the heat on the day. I could look back and beat myself up for walking at mile 17 to remove my base layer or slow down to run for a short while with a guy who was clearly struggling. But deep down, I know those little things are irrelevant considering the journey I have been on over the last few years and the progress I have made. In truth, helping others with their own running goals has become my new mantra.

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The race itself was amazing. From the pre-pace build up, the buzz around the city and the organisation of the event, I personally cant fault it. When booking the marathon nearly 9 months ago, I heard horror stories from last year about car parking and baggage drops so already planned to get the train up and stay over the night before – minimizing the stress and worry. This worked brilliantly, as the Metrolink was efficient and cheap (only £8 for the family pass over the whole weekend). With my eldest sons birthday around the corner we used it as a family trip and took in some sights and the National Football Museum. The only blip was that the hotel wouldn’t provide breakfast until after 7:30am which for a 9am race start was too late. No major problem as porridge and bananas can be bought from any supermarket.

On race day, I woke up bright and early with enough sleep to feel excited about the day. Having already practiced the tram journey to Old Trafford, this was straight forward hopping on the Metrolink like seasoned Mancunians. Spotting a few familar faces including Bill Andrews on the tram settled the nerves.

We arrived at Old Trafford in plenty of time, we sat in the nearby Costa and soaked up the atmosphere – my boys love watching other runners and especially the elite so they wanted to be near the starting line. A bit of a wait to use the toilet was endured but then the race focus kicked in and I said my good byes to the family and joined the masses in the Pink pen.

I thought the waves to begin the race was a great idea as it gave everyone space in front of them to find their own pace early on. I found mine slightly behind the 4 hour pacer and enjoyed looking around the sights and people we passed in the first 3 miles. I found myself ahead of the pacer by mile 8 and felt OK so just went with it – in hindsight maybe this came to bite me but again it was only seconds so I wont worry too much.

Miles 10 – 13 went quickly and seeing family in Altrincham was a pleasant surprise as we looped around passing runners going the other way. Seeing Paul Addicott and his pacing party made me smile – that boy knows how to make running look fun. An inspiration to help fellow runners.

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This is where the sun came in force and i regretted wearing my base layer and by mile 17 I decided a quick wardrobe change was needed. I whipped it off and got my club shirt back on pretty swiftly, feeling better instantly and plodded on. Although I think the little stop tampered with the pace as the 4hour pacer went past me and I struggled to kick on. I focused on the training and work I’d done as well as why I started this running journey in the first place. Although slower I got back into a rhythm.

As the sun continued to beat down miles 21-23 were tough and I made a mental note to train further on my long runs next time. I took more water on than I maybe needed but at the time felt was necessary. The chance of 4 hour had gone but I kicked on and promised myself to not leave anything out there so pushed hard for the last 2 miles. This wasn’t fast by along way but felt good not to let the marathon beat me.

Crossing that finish line was emotional as 16 weeks of thinking of this day had consumed me and the pride on my kids faces was a tear jerker ( although my youngest was disappointed when he realized I hadn’t won the race).

Finding club mates and the isotonic beer was great and after a few photos and picking up the goody bag, it was time to slowly make way back to the tram station and home.

The Greater Manchester Marathon is definitely a race I will do again. Maybe not next year but certainly soon.

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Marathon Training – Week 1

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It’s official, the marathon training has begun! 16 weeks of increasing the mileage ready for the big one.

This year it is Manchester Marathon. I’ve heard some horror stories about last years logistics especially the car parking, however most runners I’ve spoken to can speak highly enough of the actual race, especially the crowds that come out to support.

So with the hectic work schedule of the last week of school term, Tuesday morning i joined the 5am club and got out for a gentle 4 miles before the rest of the world woke up. It is a strange time to go out for a run. Your body is still in sleep mode but the brain has kicked in and the determination to start this journey id in full flow. There were no injury hangovers and although my legs were a little heavy through the reduced amount of recent running, I was happy to be back at it.

On Wednesday, I decided to do my long run of the week. It coincided with my running club 8 miler and I knew that the social aspect of club runs would help push through the longest run of the week. As always a quick pint and chat after made the whole thing seem quite enjoyable.

By Thursday, I had caught a cold. Luckily it was only in my nose and eyes so I dosed up on paracetamol and popped Olbus oil on my sleeve for clearing the airways mid-run. Strength Training and two more runs finished the week and all in a I felt accomplishment in the fact the week was completed.

With Christmas Day falling on a Sunday, next week will need some juggling and compromise on my part- if training has taught me anything it is ‘balance’. I love having a plan and I love having it in black and white (plus other colour coded delights) in front of me but, life can sometimes be more important. If I have to miss a few miles to ensure my kids and family get the Christmas they want then so be it. But ill definitely be back on the road by Boxing Day.

Run…Selfie…Post…Repeat

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Being injured sucks! As runners we know this, the body is used to our routine, the mind needs the endorphin’s and the soul just needs to run! However, during these injured weeks, I had been inflicting more misery on myself by checking other runners social media  and Strava and watching just how much fun they are having doing the thing that I cant.

It made me think, just how much we as a running community and myself personally use social media. Why do we use it to post about our training, our races, our injuries?

Close running friends have an on going joke about how we must upload to Strava or the run didn’t really exist- but then I go and post to Facebook, Twitter and Instagram. But why? The simple answer after much thought is just because… I can. I’m proud of my journey and the accomplishments achieved along the way.

The running community is there to offer advise and support when needed but it also offers reassurance. It is a simple process when analysed- we as human beings need positive reinforcement. We do something and we want to be told we are doing well…achieving.

Social Media is just that, ‘social’. It is personal and although many people will raise their eyebrows the next time they see a ‘RunSelfie’ or ‘Strava Upload’, I for one will click ‘LIKE’ because something so simple and easy to do, will give that runner a pat on the back. A little bit of support no matter where they are in the world.