Man vs Train

If you think this is a bit of a cheesy title for today’s blog, you may have got off lightly. The problem with long distance training is you have far too much time to think when you are on the move for hours with only your headphones company, and as a result I had plenty of equally bad ideas flowing around my head whilst trying out my latest stupid idea on Friday, which included ‘Hitting a Home Run’, ‘(C)analyse This’ and ‘Down & Out Birmingham’.

This was actually an idea I had way back in January when I first began the Chile Challenge and started my current job in the city centre. Quickly realising that I was going to get bored with a 14 mile drive through rush hour traffic if I did it every day, I wondered what other ways I could get to work. Of course cycling is the obvious choice, but the main issues are getting to the office looking even more disheveled than usual (not to mention the sweat) plus the fact that central Birmingham is a terrible place to ride in general, with very few cycle paths and a few too many psychopaths (sorry about that one too)!

Man vs Train

Partly inspired by that crazy guy on You Tube recently who raced a tube train on foot between two London Underground stations (and won!) the idea I came up with was to get the train in first thing, then to run back in the afternoon and see how it compared. Simple. I originally wanted to do this before my half-iron triathlon in June, but like all the best plans never got around to it for various reasons. Then the other day I realised that with the Birmingham half marathon just two weeks away, if I was going to do it any time it would have to be now, and Friday made for the perfect storm: Far better than expected weather for this time of year; roadworks on my normal route into town grinding traffic to a halt all week; a reasonable level of running fitness to actually survive the route without keeling over; and most importantly a casual day at work.

Run in suit

The last of these nearly scuppered things just 24 hours before, when someone mentioned that because one of the head sheds was coming up from London we might have to turn up suited and booted on the day, but fortunately their meeting was off-site, so all seemed ok. Even so, I reasoned I could not turn up in full running regalia (it might be distracting for my colleagues…) but luckily I realised my trail shoes are actually quite smart, and combined with trousers and a plan running top meant it was a simple matter of changing into my running shorts at the end of the day. The final touches were swapping my normal work bag for a trail rucksack, and smart watch for Garmin GPS and I was ready to go!

Having scoped out the route the day before, I decided the best thing to do would be to park & ride from Longbridge. This was the first time I have commuted this way since 2007 and two things struck me: the carriages were much quieter than I remember (maybe I got an earlier train) and the fare was about twice as much as it used to be! Getting in was easy, particularly avoiding the roadworks on my usual route, and I probably took 15 minutes off my usual journey, although I am not quite sure I could get used to this yet…

Bham Canal 4

The return plan was basically to mirror the route back, running along the canal path adjacent to the train tracks as far as I could go. Things did not get off to the best start as there is no entrance to the canal at the nearest station, so I had to run nearly a mile in the wrong direction to get to the Mailbox stop, but it was worth it: The canal looked great in the late afternoon sun, with almost no one around, and I did not even see any shopping trolleys in it – although there was plenty of other stuff in there!

Bham Canal 1

Once I hit the path time started to speed up, and a mile so later I passed my old university flat. It made me realise that 14 years ago today I would have been on freshers week there, and walking this route on a daily basis. Despite it being so long ago, little had changed on the canal, although a lot for me. For a start, back then I was two stone heavier and would not have been able to run even a mile of the route if you paid me. For second, in the days before iPhones even existed, the last time I came this way I would have been listening to my cassette Walkman (ask your parents kids). How times have change, as they say.

Bham Canal 2

Once past the uni I kept going as far as Cadbury World, and then had to leave the canal behind in favour of a more urban route. This meant rather than a simple straight path, I actually had to do a bit of navigation, which never really goes to plan. Although I had an idea which general direction I needed to go, as usual I took one too many back roads leading to dead ends whilst looking for shortcuts. This took me to parts of Brum I did not know existed and probably won’t go back to in a hurry either, and by now the impact of a whole day at work before setting off was starting to kick in.

Bham Canal 3

But then, after hobbling out of yet another anonymous side-street thinking by now I must now be well and truly lost (and with no 3G to check Google Maps) I saw a beacon: Like the Autobot matrix come to light my darkest hour, the unmistakably huge Longbridge Job Centre was just 500 yards away, and with it the car park just one more mile away. This gave me enough of a boost to really run the last part of the route, and before I knew it I was at the finish (or well, the start)!

Bham Longbridge

So how did it go? Well unfortunately I did not actually beat the train, being unable to maintain the required 70 mph for a particularly long time (more like 7 mph!), but I did do 10 miles in 1 hour 45 mins, which realistically was a bit further than needed due to longer start and numerous deviations, stops to refuel, change music, take the odd picture and check the map on my phone. That said, I was great practice for the next race, and you never know, I might have another go before Ironman 70.3 next year.

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