2020 Vision

Having spending the last few posts looking back over recent years, it is time to look forward to what is going to be happening in the Chile Challenge world in 2020.

2020

Kicking off the year will be the Solihull Half Marathon, aka a way of making sure all that winter training has done enough to get me at least halfway around the capital. This is a new event for me, but in a good location that is pretty personal for me, right by where I got married. Although relatively small, it looks like it has all the things I look for in a race like chip timing, water stations and of course the promise of a goody bag!

Solihull

At this time of year there is a bit more limited choice of events at the right distance, but this one is right in the sweet spot, three weeks before my main race. Whilst I am not actually following a formal training plan, mainly because a 9 month old baby makes it near impossible to stick to any kind of schedule that tells you when to run, I have done enough big events by not to know how and when to build up my distance to (hopefully) peak at the right time, so this half will be a good test of how much I have learned.

Image result for london baby gif

Then it is the biggie: London Baby! I will be writing plenty more about my thoughts on this one as it gets closer (68 days to go at time of writing) but for now it is hard to put into words how excited I am just to get a place in this, one of the world’s most famous races. After numerous of  failed attempts to gain a ballot place over the years (about 25 applicants for each place, and  have the losers t-shirts to prove it) I am so proud to be running for Bowel Cancer this year, a cause very close to my heart, and one I have a long history with going back to the start of this blog in 2014.

Bobby

After that it is a bit of fun to calm things down in Rough Runner, an old favorite in a new venue. I wrote about this here after first doing it a few years ago as my first ever OCR, and it was a real laugh. Like the Wolf Run it is a sort of team based cross country run, but the obstacles are based on classic TV shows like Gladiators and Total Wipeout, with all sorts of giant inflatables to negotiate, walls to climb and everyone’s childhood dream a Travellator to run up at the finish line!

Gladiators

And that is it for now, although I am sure I will tuck in a few other treats as the year goes on and write about them on here. In the meantime please take the time to check out my my sponsorship page where all support will go towards the Bobby Moore Fund for Bowel Cancer Research and keep me going around those London streets in April!

Catching up on 2019

Bringing things up to date, 2019 was a mixed year for challenges: fewer races than usual but some new and interesting things to talk about.

From a training perspective, the big new thing at my gym last year was the release of a brand new, purpose built Blaze studio. Touted as ‘the next big thing’, Blaze is a fantastic form of HIIT – High Intensity Interval Training –  short sharp bursts to get the heart rate pounding and maximise calorie burn, while building endurance and strength.

BlazeBlaze studio

The concept is simple, a 45 minute class with 3 x 3 minute rounds in 3 different zones. Firstly a treadmill, usually set as steeply as possible with (if you are lucky) alternating sprint/walks, or otherwise brutal climbs like the training montage in Rocky 4. The middle is a strength zone with dumbbells and a bench to do anything from squats to flyes, planks to deadlifts. The last (and best) is a full length punchbag, for all kinds of kickboxing drills, punches, knees and even some crazy floor work to really de-stress.

drago

To bring it to another level, all participants wear combat gloves and My Zone heart rate monitors (regular readers will know I am a sucker for new kit), with everyone’s performance projected onto the wall and coaches patrolling the room shouting encouragement,  over the music. Activities are targeted by zone, yellow being 80% of Max HR and Red being 90%+, with a goal to spend 12-18 minutes of the session in the red, while recovering as quickly as possible inbetween. It is massively addictive and I loved it instantly, a great way to keep up and track fitness all year round, with an unofficially competitive edge as it is near impossible not to compare your stats to others, which only pushes you on further.

blaze graph

On a slightly calmer note, I managed to get in a bit of diving last year, although not quite on the same levels as usual. This was neither the warm Caribbean sea nor the icy quarries of the midlands, but some more unusual venues. First up was an old fashioned hard-hat experience, diving indoors in one of those brass screw on helmets from back in the day as seen in films like Men of Honour, and wow did those guys have it tough. Not only did the helmet weigh an absolute ton, but the set of lead boots accompanying it ensured it was only possible to shuffle around with all the grace of a moonwalking elephant. My 15 minute experience went by in a flash though, and is highly experienced for any diver if only to realise how good we have it now!

The second part of the day was spending time in a real life decompression chamber. These things allow divers who have been to higher depths and pressures, or worse managed to get themselves DCS, aka ‘the bends’, and looks more like something you might see in a space station than hospital. In the end four of us spent half an hour simulating a deep dive to 50 metres, before the system slowly perfectly decompressed back to atmospheric pressure. And yes, all of the expected side effects did happen, from squeaky voices to nitrogen narcosis! A great experience, although hopefully one I will never have to actually do for real.

Dry Dive

Back on the racing trail it was two more familiar events that anchored the year: Velo 2  and Great Birmingham Run number 6!

The first Velo was my longest race to date and really tough, involving 8.5 hours cycling 100 miles up and down hills around Staffordshire, Worcestershire and the West side of Birmingham. This one was more of the same, but on the East side, taking in the sights of Solihull, Coventry and Warwickshire, with plenty of countryside to accompany the concrete. In fact one of the highlights was riding through the cobbled streets in the centre of Cov: who knew it was such a great looking place from that angle! 

The last race of the year was the Birmingham Run, which is really more of an annual tradition, and as mentioned the sixth in seven years (including the marathon). By now these have all blurred into one, but it is always a decent day out and supportive crowd, and I was happy enough that at least it did not tip it down like the previous year. Since October I have been ramping up my running in prep for the Marathon, moving from around 10k per week to closer to 20k by the end of the year, but more on that in future posts…

Because by far the biggest thing to happen last year was the birth of my beautiful baby daughter Isla in May!

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PS. Sponsorship link https://fundraise.cancerresearchuk.org/page/james-and-the-marathon-challenge, with more to follow soon!

Flashback to 2018

With two years to catch up on since the last review, now seems as good as any to catch up on what has been happening in the meantime. First up 2018, which was mainly about two new things: Family Running and Obstacle Races.

As with most crazy ideas, our first was probably concocted following a few Christmas drinks, after we discovered the Wolf Running team were launching a new event in the South East. Being fairly close to much of my family we thought it would be a good plan to enter our own ‘Wolf Pack’, and the next thing we knew six of us were lined up for the inaugural Spring event in Sussex on a chilly April weekend.

Wolf Run

So what memories of the event nearly two years on? Mud, mud and more mud. This was the first obstacle race any of us had done before, and it did not disappoint. Wolf is actually a (possibly reverse engineered) acronym for Woods Obstacles Lakes & Fields, with an emphasis on natural features where possible, and the lakes in particular being an unexpected delight after a particularly freezing winter (some readers might who remember the ‘Beast from the East’ just a few weeks earlier), with the initial swim (trainers and all) hidden behind a slide which landed you right underwater with no time to back out, to the extent the subsequent mud baths were almost a relief to warm the bones, with a good bit of cross country to stretch it out over 10 km.

As an added bonus, we were lucky enough to be joined by three real England Rugby legends and World Cup winners, Mike Tindall, Will Greenwood and Neil Back, who were part of the race sponsorship. Running even part of the course with them is one of the biggest honours I have ever had, and my youngest sister particularly enjoyed them hauling her out of the rope climb. And yes, that is genuine royalty Mike Tindall doing my drinks round below!

Although this was my wife’s first major race, for some reason she liked it enough that before we knew it, we had entered all four seasons of the wolf: Spring & Autumn down south with the wider family, and Summer & Winter closer to home in the Midlands. The good thing is the courses naturally changed with the seasons, the Summer one being a pretty scorching event where you were always hoping for a dunk, through to Winter requiring multiple layers of clothing and ideally a portable radiator. It was all worth it though as we did feel we had really earned our Alpha Medals!

Image result for wolf run 2018 alpha medal

Having a new found taste for mud, I also decided to check off another legendary event: Tough Mudder. Right from the kick off you could tell this was something special, walking in with AC/DC blaring out, all of the entrants kneeling together to say a Prayer (not a joke, “I will uphold the Tough Mudder values of teamwork and camaraderie…)” and even fireworks and flares going off as we crossed the start line.

Despite both being OCRs (Obstacle Races to the uninitiated) it could not have been more different to the Wolf, with the obstacles mainly man-made but much more challenging and many requiring teamwork to get past. The legendary ice-dives, barbed wire and ‘Mud Mile’ still give me shudders some 18 months later, as does the sight of a guy I had been running with getting thrown about 3 metres by the electric eel tentacles!

The final climb was pretty cool, requiring contestants to literally create a human pyramid on each other’s shoulders to reach the summit (see below pic) before crossing the finish line and reviving a well-earned orange headband.

Between all these races we also managed to fit in another local one, Gung Ho, which was more of a bit of fun at 5k with inflatable obstacles, a massive hill in the middle, but most importantly another new headband (seeing a theme here!)

Gung

As part of the training for the Alpha Wolfs, I also managed to talk my wife into joining me in some outdoor run training, perhaps helped by some more exotic locations in the Dominican Republic and Mallorca, and even managed to persuade / trick her into a couple of out and out running races. The first was the Birmingham 10k on a baking hot summer’s day in May (that Caribbean training coming in useful) followed by an even more impressive Birmingham Half Marathon on the polar opposite, an October morning with bucket-loads of rain (spot the difference below). Oh yeah, and for the half she was two month’s pregnant… but more on that in the 2019 review!

2018 was not all running about in fields and ice lakes though, the other massive part of that summer was becoming a PADI Divemaster! This involved a number of weekends dealing with increasingly stressful teaching situations, beginning with learning how to manage newer divers underwater and boost their confidence, culminating in escorting some genuine first timers around the bottom of a lovely flooded quarry in Tamworth (not a million miles away from an ice lake but at least with a dry-suit on this time)! On top of that we had to spend numerous evenings at the bottom of a pool practicing skills like mask removal, equipment changeovers and rescue lifts again and again to get them up to demo standard.

Being honest the only bit I really felt I smashed was the various timed swims, some of them in full kit and others regular front crawl, much more like my normal training. After a month of full on training and another month or so to draw up a ludicrous underwater map of the quarry, I finally ‘got my stripes’ and graduated as DM, ready to be let loose in the world of scuba training. But as it turned out things went in a slightly different direction in 2019, but more on that next time…

 

Maximising The Old Gym Membership

As I have mentioned numerous times, the first few of months in every year can be a nightmare for us regular gym goers, as overnight the average class attendance doubles or even trebles with well-intentioned part timers making their annual appearances. Unfortunately it has been exacerbated this year by the new online booking system my gym in Bromsgrove, which seems to have allowed folks to book onto all manner of sessions the minute they become available and then not bother to turn up, meaning classes I have been going to every week for the last 12 months suddenly tell me they are full, whilst others I have squeezed into often turned out to have loads of spaces on arrival.

maximise membershio

For some reason, this barrage of bookings only seems to have taken place at my particular gym, so as a result the wife & I decided we would take the opportunity to try out the others in our local area. Now there are five David Lloyd gyms around Birmingham , all within about 30 minutes of where we live, and although our membership gives us full access I had only tried out a couple of them before. So following last month’s investigative journalism report, I decided to make it my mission to  explore the others in the first few months of 2016.

jules & vincent

First thing I have to say is that they are all pretty similar. And that is a good thing: DL is one of the top gym brands in the UK and you would hope they are all of a good standard. But the more time I spent in each, the more it reminded me of the conversation between Jules & Vincent in Pulp Fiction when discussing Europe. So just like my gym, they have he same shit over there that we have over here, it is just… the little differences. Example… well here you go:

First on the list to visit was Worcester, a relatively new place which opened a couple of years ago. The location is great for access, straight off the motorway and next to the Warriors rugby club, although a little out the way for me to visit regularly. Now one of the first things I do when using a new gym is check out the equipment on offer, and this inevitably results in one of two feelings – jealousy or superiority. On this basis the fact that Worcester is a few years old now actually work against it, as most of the other clubs have since been through a refurb, so some of their kit now seems a little dated, although it is a great looking gym overall.

old equipment

We got onto a Body Attack class which was taken by one of the instructors we had trained with occasionally back home, and quickly discovered another of the aspects of our place had followed us: the cliques. I suppose all places will have these, and being a regular in Bromsgrove probably means I notice ours more than others, but this had a classic group of ‘regulars’ bunched together at the front, with their own special moves, shouts, in-jokes and so on. Not that this was an issue though as everyone still gets on with the class, but I know that it can be a bit annoying to others in the class when you go regularly.

Next on the list was Solihull. For some time I had been confused, as although I had been there before, when I looked online there seemed to be two addresses provided. I subsequently learned that there are actually two clubs in town, and more confusingly they are pretty much next door to each other!

The first of these, known as Cranmore, is clearly the posher of the two, with a really smart gym area on a sort of mezzanine floor surrounding the pool. You can also tell it is a fancy place by how smart it looks, particularly as there seems cleaners working there than there are members of staff in other places, and as a result the  studio floor seemed to have been polished to within an inch of its life! During our Body Combat class I nearly broke my neck numerous times during the kick tracks, and actually had to change to my reserve trainers the second time we visited to avoid a Bambi on ice situation.

bambi

Despite this obviously huge budget, I still had to smile to myself when one of the most common problems at our place arose: the air con. Now this is hugely important in a gym, where you have 20 or 30 people working hard and giving off a lot of heat. It turns out that wherever you go it always seems to either break, or have a remote control more complicated than something you would find at NASA, and as a result the room will be either freezing cold, or hotter than the sun. In one of our classes the other week it got so bad that the mirrors started to gradually fog up, starting in one corner and visibly creeping along the walls like that bit in Jurassic park where the raptors breathe on the glass, giving the impression we were in the steam room, which is ironic as I later found out the actual steam room downstairs was out of order. Now I know why… To be fair, there always seems to be something broken at our gym, be it the audio equipment, microphone, batteries, air con or fan. But being British we don’t get annoyed -in fact much like the weather it is something of an expected conversation and ice breaker.

raptor

I mentioned earlier about gym cliques, and had I been carrying my DL bingo card I would have easilly achieved a full house here. All the clichés were present and correct: gangs of hulked up guys hanging out by the mirrors, cheering each other on to grunt out one more rep. Check. Overly made-up girls, walking on the treadmill whilst gossiping on their phones to their mates to tell them how hard they are working out. Check Check. And of course my favourite, the competitive Solihull Dad, pushing his kid (who was around 5 or 6, although I am guessing as all kids look pretty similar at that age) into length after length whilst he prowled the side of the pool. The poor fella was only around 4 feet tall and at points looked like he was barely above the water, but fair play to him as he kept going. Maybe a future Olympian in training?

One way DL seems to like to try and justify our huge membership fees is by having TVs in the changing rooms, which basically show Sky Sports News on a loop. Now this is reasonable enough to give you something distracting whilst changing, but I would add a special message for Cranmore, that it does not make it a place to congregate especially to watch the results, particularly when I am trying to change next to it!

After checking out one of the clubs in town, it seemed only right to try out the other, known as Solihull Fitness, so we booked onto an Attack class one evening. From the outset it is clear this is the poorer relation, as for a start the gym area seemed to be furnished with the cast-offs that were replaced last year in our gym – I wondered where all that Technogym stuff had gone! As a mitigating factor I did notice that they had a Corby trouser press in the changing area, although I am not convinced anyone had ever used it (for any overseas readers, a Corby trouser press is one of our proudest British inventions, which does what it says on the tin). They were also the only place I had been where you could hire (for £50 per year!) your own locker. £50, seriously… just to have the same locker each time?! I have never experienced a shortage at any other gym, but who knows, maybe they had to sell some of theirs to the other place…

enter dragon

The class itself was good fun, although notably the studio was lined on all four sides by mirrors, which was a little distracting. It was probably for the best we were not doing a Combat class as I had all I could think about was the hall of mirrors in Mr Han’s lair from Enter the Dragon, and any minute I was about to be attacked by a dude wearing a claw!

The last place on our list was DL Dudley, which was a bit of a trip into the unknown being on the other side of Birmingham. The only thing I knew about it was from one of our instructors who teaches in both clubs, who loves to use an interesting motivational tactic to spur us on by  regularly telling us we are being quieter than her other class in Dudley, seemingly alluding to some sort of hitherto unspoken ancient rivalry between us and our Black Country cousins, in the belief that will make us shout ‘Kiai’ a bit louder. I assume it works both ways, so if some sort of civil war breaks out between our two towns we will know who to blame… Still, it seems to work, well for me anyway, although as I am often one of the only guys in the class I do feel I have a bit of a duty sometimes!

civil war

The club itself seems to be huge, with loads more facilities including what seemed to be a built in hotel. Funnily enough we did not actually go to a class there, but wanted to visit the shop having had a voucher for Christmas, and it did have a decent range of gym kit (as a regular gym goer you can never have too much merch!). We took the chance to have a wander around afterwards, and it was big inside too, but seemed a bit lifeless. Despite it being a Saturday afternoon there did not seem to be many people there, and it lacked some of the atmosphere of our gym, although saying that, they seemed to be advertising all manner of events on site, from comedy nights to tribute singers, so perhaps the locals don’t venture in until after dark.

So there you go, all five David Lloyd clubs in the my part of the West Midlands visited. Having been a member of mine for nearly 10 years now it has been interesting to see some of the others, as well as quite reassuring that not only is mine one of the smartest, with the best equipment, but all of the niggles and problems that come up are the same everywhere else. Now we are approaching the end of February and booking system seems to have eased off, so I can actually book onto classes without having to plan 10 days in advance each time, I guess I will spend a bit more time closer to home, but it is nice to know there are other options available,  and I am sure it won’t be the last time I visit some of these clubs in the near future.

And Now For Something Completely Different (ish)

Usually I write on here about triathlons and fitness training, but for now something a little different. The last month has seen two of my most regular events – the Dorney Triathlon & Great Birmingham Run, which I have completed 7 times in the past between them – have come and gone without me. I do enjoy both events, but last year discovered that part of the fun of competing is to find new races around the country to experience different courses, crowds and competitors.

My plans for this September & October had initially revolved around the Rugby World Cup, but after England’s dismal performances that ended rather earlier than expected… so I have been keeping busy doing a few other things.

First up was football. Now those of you who are avid readers (Hi Mum) will know I tend to play twice per year against my colleagues from our Manchester office, but we managed a bit more this time in persuading some other teams to take part in a mini tournament. The venue was the lovely Power League, in the shadow of Spaghetti Junction in Brum.

power league 2

Despite the extra teams, we were only actually five actual players for the team, meaning we had just enough to play, but also it was gong to be an absolute killer! Using a round robin format we were able to play 4 x 20 minute matches each, alternating in each position, with the keeper usually reserved for whoever was most exhausted. Fortunately our opponents were also light on subs, but on the downside most had around ten years age difference on their side, and these were the sort of games where youth won over experience.

To be fair we did start well, going ahead in the first game, but we probably started a bit too hard, and over time ran out of steam. The ‘kids’ managed to pull back to a draw, and to be honest it was a bit downhill from there… Still it was a good laugh, and certainly good for fitness. There is a massive difference between team sports and individuals, where the stop start nature of running around the pitch is hugely important, and any opportunity to take a breather and recover a bit of energy is worth its weight. Even so, the team aspect really spurs you on, to the point that where at times where you would otherwise want to just stop and rest, you are able to keep yourself going in the same way the crowd can spur you on towards the end of a triathlon or marathon.

A few weeks later we managed a second match, up in Manchester against our old enemies. The team was exactly the same, so arguably we now had some decent experience playing together, however we were once again up against a fairly sizeable age gap. It is funny that in triathlon the peak age for longer distance racing is in your 30’s. Well believe me, in five aside football it is definitely in your 20’s! This was a full hour match with just a 5 minute break in the middle, so by the end of it our team looked a bit like the walking dead, with one literally needing to check back into hospital soon after. Still we had a pretty close game at something like 14:12 and it was for charity, so technically everyone was a winner.

The other way I managed to district myself during the weekends was scuba diving – something most people enjoy a lot in warmer waters – but which needs a certain type of lunacy to get into in a British quarry in October! Funnily enough, this has actually been a slightly warmer time of year for these parts recently, and inland waters tend to be warmer in Autumn than Spring after having all Summer to get the temperature up.

padi rescue

But this was no laid back diving experience, but a two weekend Padi Rescue Diver course. As a brief explanation, this is a diving qualification based around safety, providing training to be able to help both yourself and other divers who are having problems. After a fairly intense first few days learning first aid, CPR and various rescue methods in the classroom and pool, we hit the lake for the second weekend.

As mentioned, most scuba experiences tend to be very relaxed, in fact deliberately so, but this was about as full on as you can get, From the first minute it was clear we were being assessed, getting immediate bollockings for taking too long to kit up and any minor issues with our set up such as lose air hoses, etc. The fact is, that in a water emergency, every second literally counts, so you need to be both quick and accurate.

From then on, myself and my four colleagues were well and truly put through our paces, going through numerous rescue scenarios, both at the surface and underwater. One aspect of this was needing a decent level of fitness, as there were a number of times where we had to tow our instructors across the lake (nearly 10 minutes swim in parts) whilst simultaneously providing rescue breathing.

Rescue Divers

After an exhausting first day, things did not let up on the second. This was our ‘live’ scenarios, which were sprung upon us in increasingly devious ways. Without going into too much detail, and example was that after a fairly intense practice session we all got out, de-kitted, and settled in for a hot drink at the cafe. A few minutes in and a random stranger approached us to say they had lost their dive buddy and was getting worried. We twigged on of course, but had to rush into action like some sort of Baywatch rejects, rushing to get on our kit whilst asking questions to work out what had happened. We then had to swim the lake in pairs, descend and search the bottom until we could find our ‘body’, bring them to the surface, tow them back whilst providing breathing, get their scuba gear off, lift them out of the water and then provide further CPR and emergency oxygen. About 5 minutes after we finally finished and dragged ourself to the cafe, someone else appeared and we had to go through it all over again!

Still, it was all worth it, and I am proud to have passed the course and can now call myself a Rescue Diver. My next step may well be Divemaster, but I need to see how I can balance that against the triathlon season. Still I certainly feel more confident, and whilst it is one of those things that you hope you will never actually have to use, at least if I do I will be that bit more capable.

Race Report: Great Birmingham Run – 19/10/14

Sunday had something of a bittersweet feeling, as it was not just my final race of 2014, but the culmination of a hell of a year.

Bupa Great Bham Run

This was my second consecutive Great Birmingham Run, which unlike most of the others I have completed this year meant I actually knew what to expect for most of the course, and it did help out a lot. In particular the dreaded hill section (around miles 10-12) which although it still hurt a lot, I was more prepared this time around to conquer it.

The Build Up

I spend the day before getting into the zone by watching back-to-back Dark Knight movies: something about the music really helps me psyche up, and I took this all the way through by listening to the soundtrack on the way to the race (the Hans Zimmer one rather than Prince!) and watching Gotham afterwards! In fact I actually ran most of the course alongside a guy dressed as Batman, accompanied as always by Robin, Bananaman and … er Luigi!

Things started well in the build up area when I spotted a Soreen van with samples of my favourite malt loaf. Much to the embarrassment of my long-suffering wife who had kindly come along to be my supporter/driver/ photographer/kit carrier, I then attempted to fill my bag with as many free samples as I could to ensure I won’t need to worry about my mid-morning work snack for the rest of the month. I even got a photo outside it, although implore you not to stop reading just because of this. I will be writing more about my take on sports nutrition soon, but all I will say for now is this is about as good as you can get during longer distance races.

After a week of not being able to train outside due to rain, and with Hurricane Gonzalo due to reach us just days later, I don’t think anyone had expected it to be sunny. I hold my hands up here in that is was probably my fault – most of the races I have had this year have ended up being much hotter than planned, so I guess the sun just has it in for me. Obviously I had not brought sunglasses or cream, so another unintentional Monday morning red face was inevitable. Still, it was better than it raining.

Batman RunningBham Run Soreen

The Start

As usual there was a great atmosphere around the course, and it was great to see that the official starters were two of my local heroes – Triathlete Jodie Stimpson (see Commonwealth Games blog from July) and Warwickshire batsman Ian Bell – both of whom looked even smaller in real life than on TV.

There are so many people in this race that you are split into separate left and right sides, with a staggered start. Unfortunately I ended up on the left which meant having to wait an extra 10 minutes or so before I could get away, so I had a lot of hopping about on the spot to keep warm. Ahh, that brings us to the group warm up – Something we seem to escape in triathlons, presumably on the basis most people are well prepared for their race, or possibly the fact you start in the water – But I digress. Those who have done similar events may be familiar, a Mr Motivator type guy  gets hoisted up in front of the crowd with a banging soundtrack and goes through a series of stretches, squats and general lunacy, to make sure everyone is ready. It is a bit of fun, but I was fairly capable myself, and as mentioned it was another half hour before I actually got to cross the start line.

Now the important bit – The whole race was televised live on Channel 5, and whilst most of the focus was on the elites at the front there were a few clips of us real racers, and having Sky+ the whole thing I did what everyone does in such situations and watched it back later to see if I could spot myself. Amazingly I was in the only clip they showed of my wave starting, with real pictorial evidence below (I am circled bottom left). Now I am not quite going to suggest it is going to get me VIP entry anywhere soon, or even time to apply for Celebrity Big Brother (although it probably would qualify me). That said, autographs will be available on request.

Bham Run C5

The Race

Looking back at my last blog, I had banged on about how much I liked my GPS watch. Obviously this was an ideal time to be using it, helping me work out how fast I was going to pace myself, and more importantly how much further I had to keep struggling on for! Unfortunately this was the one time it managed to let me down: I had expected it to take a while to lock onto satellites, being surrounded by fairly tall buildings and not to mention thousands of others trying to do the same, so I switched on about 15 minutes before the start, but it just would not connect. Even as I crossed the line I still had no luck, and in the end it took another quarter of an hour before it finally worked out where I was. This meant that I had already clocked up 3km: far faster than planned and using up more energy to boot, as well as giving me a bit of mental arithmetic to do working out where I really was. It also messed up the pretty map I have shown below, as I managed to teleport halfway across town from the start line!

Birmingham Run Map

As well as my superhero chums there were plenty of other costumed wonders in this race such as Wolverine & Spider-Man, and even one guy who had a caged gorilla suit like the one in Trading Places, but the headliners in Brum are always the Wolverhampton Jamaican Bobsled team who do this every year in full costume. They start in the first wave and I guess the early downhill plays into their hands, but I assume Sanka is on brakes and slowing them down, as I caught them up around the same time my GPS found me. Fair play for the commitment though, as I would not have wanted to wear this get up in Sunday’s weather.

Birmingham Jamaica

I suppose I should say a few words about my own performance in the race. It is a road course, and it is hard to get too lost or really do anything unusual. The biggest difference between a running race and triathlon is you are allowed music and headphones which is great for motivation (power song was Noots by Sum 41), but as just about everyone else has them you don’t get quite as much interaction / banter as in a tri. On the other hand, with 20,000 participants you are a lot more squashed together so at least this is not quite as lonely (as say the Avenger when I spent nearly an hour without seeing anyone).

A word needs to be said about the support for this event though, as it is fantastic. The race goes through a lot of residential areas, and there were tens of thousands of people out and about, cheering us on, and even offering drinks and sweets to keep people going. It really is the best part of this race, was enough on its own for me to have done it again this year.

And the hill. As mentioned it is the one part of the course everyone talks and worries about. The TV commentary describes this as one of the toughest half-marathons on the calendar, which is a surprise as you would not have thought of Birmingham as being particularly undulating. There is a small hill just after the 3 mile mark, which this year caused me no trouble, and if the main hill came then it would probably be ok. But it comes after 1o miles, waiting until your legs are already well and truly shattered before rearing its long neck and finishing you off. But this year I was prepared, or so I thought.

There is a golden rule in racing that you should not try anything for the first time in the race, be it clothing or nutrition. I always adhere to this, and in a triathlon earlier this year I received a new energy gel in the goodie pack, which looked perfect for this race: a Gu Double Espresso gel. A small pack, it had a fair bit of caffeine in it and looked just right to help me up the last section. Having consumed well over a hundred different gels this year I did not expect it to be any different, so downed it at the bottom of the hill – how bad could it be? Turns out very. It had the consistency of an actual chocolate fudge cake, which sounds great, but with an already dry mouth having finished my water bottle a mile or so earlier, it immediately filled my whole mouth and refused to move. As my nose had blocked itself up I therefore could not breathe: not the best position to be in at this point. Somehow I eventually managed to gulp it down and fortunately there was water available at the top, but there is a definite lesson to be learned here…

The Finish – 2.08.40

As with the start, the finish of this race is always fantastic. You run the final mile all the way down Broad Street, lined by tens of thousands of supporters who make a huge noise, while the Chariots of Fire some plays on speakers. I took out my headphones to take it in properly, as it was being drowned out by all the shouts anyway – I presume a few were for other racers too, but they probably just had not managed to watch back the Channel 5 footage of me yet…

I managed to get in a proper sprint finish for the last 200m, which ensured I was able to dramatically collapse into the barriers immediately after crossing the line, but I am sure only a few hundred people saw me so I probably got away with it. And that was it – my final race of 2014 completed, three minutes faster than my previous time- and leaving just a few short months of training to complete the remainder of the Chile Challenge. That is assuming my legs ever recover, as two days later I am so stiff I still can’t climb up the stairs properly…!

Bham Run Finish Bham Run J&A

The Rematch of the Century

Rocky 2 poster

In what may well turn out to be the most misguided attempt at pre-race tapering so far devised, this week brought the ‘eagerly’ awaited five-aside football rematch between our Birmingham & Manchester offices. After months of anticipation, trash talking, injury feigning and general diva behaviour, the opportunity to avenge a collapse not witnessed since our last Ashes tour down under – turning a five one half-time lead into a six five loss – was not to be missed.

Perhaps it would not have been so bad for me if the timing were not so familiar – back in June our match was in the week leading up to my half-iron distance race, leading to what could have been near permanent injuries as I hobbled up hills on the run course. And now this, less than 10 days before the Birmingham half marathon and a similar feeling of regret in my hamstrings, even more so as after my home run last week I managed to pick up a dose of man-flu, which meant despite a year of training I was hardly in peak condition…

With a pool of up to 20 potential players, surely we could manage a bigger turn our this time than just six per side, which last time gave only minimal chance of rest using rolling subs. As recently as last week there was a rumour we were looking at closer to eight on each team, which would have presented ample feet up time.

Power league

In the end with all to familiar style the numbers started dropping like flies, with excuses varying from family illness (acceptable) to lost toenails (I will leave you to draw your own conclusions) and it will shock no-one to find out we were back to six-aside on the day, guaranteeing at least 45 minutes playing time for each victim.

As for the match itself, it was a case of the less said the better: or different venue, same result. Despite the fact we mixed the teams up a bit, things were not quite even, and after a fairly tight first half (around 3-2 behind) we fell away in the final quarter to something horrendous like 8-3. Were it not for the fact that our best player – a former professional goalkeeper – was able to put in a man-of-the-match performance, we could well have been looking at a score worse than the aforementioned Ashes tournament. My own contribution involved mainly running around and chasing the ball, with little real success. The fitness definitely helped, but if I am honest it was more a case of making up the numbers.

But most importantly we had fun, and unlike last time the Wolverine captain of the opposition failed to cause any permanent damage to either team (despite attempts to play like box lacrosse) and the lessons learned from the last game resulted in a few less slide tackles and astro-burns than before. Like all good matches the post-race nutrition involved curry, beers & whiskey, and plenty of talk of what happen next time around. Knowing my luck it will probably turn out to be in the week before Ironman 70.3…