Great Northern & Southern Runs

I realised the other day that I have not written anything on here all year, and wondered whether it could be due to something I talked about a while ago, where the bulk of my winter training has been based on indoor classes. As much as I love doing them, the thing is you really don’t get much time to think, as you focus on following the instructor in time to music, and in my case make sure you don’t fall over! With longer distance training however, you have a lot more time to yourself and your own thoughts which, for me at least, is where I end up writing most of these.

But that is all about to change, as not only do I have something to talk about now, with my opening race of the season just a few days away, but I have managed to man-up and get out in the cold for a few decent runs recently.

Night

To be fair, things actually started a few weeks before Christmas when I was working down in Gatwick and managed to get in a few evening runs, which I wrote about in my last blog. Given that my job involves travelling around the UK and spending a fair bit of time in cities – some more interesting than others – I thought I would make more of an effort to do some exploring on foot and then write about the places I get to along the way.

First up for me this year was of course London, a place where I have to spend a lot of time, usually around the Docklands area. Whilst I have been for plenty of runs around the river and into Canary Wharf, it is not always the most exciting part of town, so rather than glamorous sights such as the Houses of Parliament and Tower of London, it tends to be the Flats of mid-week Commuters and Tower of HSBC.

Olympic Park

But this time I had something different planned, in that I had never been close to the 2012 Olympic Stadium, which is located in Stratford (not the Shakespeare one), a do-able distance from where I was staying. Knowing I would need a fair bit of time to get it done before work, I bit the bullet and set my alarm for a Rocky-esque 5.45 am.

By 6 I was on the road, and heading towards Canning Town high street, and having recently watched a documentary with Idris Elba talking about the fights he used to get into there, I was pretty glad I was going to be the only one about at that time. But I wasn’t, and whilst there was definitely no sign of trouble, I was amazed at how many people were up and about at that time in London, walking, bussing, DLR-ing and all sorts. I am pretty sure where I live it is a ghost town before 7!

Olympic Park 5

Following the rough map I had in my head from my research the night before, I carried on and tried to follow the signs for Stratford, although being designed more for drivers than runners, I had to ignore a lot when they tried to steer me back to the main road. Once I reached West Ham station I climbed up and onto Greenway, a well-lit footpath which looked like it would take me all the way to the stadium.

Actually, scratch the well-lit part, as within 30 seconds of leaving the station all the lights disappeared, leaving me in pitch black conditions to fend for myself. Fortunately I had not yet spoken to my colleague who lived nearby until after, as when  asked if he knew the area his response was along the lines of “oh yeah, I remember that guy got done for murder around there last year”. Another reason I prefer early morning runs! Still, it was actually really nice once I found my footing, to be in the centre of one of the biggest cities in the world, in near perfect darkness for some distance either side of me. I may have even been able to see a few stars, who knows…

Olympic Park 4

Once I got to the other side my target was firmly in my sights, and aside from having to zig-zag along a ridiculous road layout to get there, I finally reached the famous Olympic Park. I decided to run a Mo Farah style victory lap around the stadium, which sadly is now leased by West Ham United so full of their branding, but it did feel great and a decent reward for getting up at that time. Reaching the start I saw a few other laggards had dragged themselves out of bed too and were just reaching it, but by that time I was back on my way. Ok, I did also look into jumping the fence to get onto the adjacent running track for a quick lap around that too, but it was getting just that bit too light so I chickened out!

Olympic Park 2

Having taken part in plenty of straight line out and back races where the return holds no excitement, I always try to find a different way in my runs, so veered towards the city centre and tried to find a new route, which whilst slightly less exciting (that damn main road the signs were trying to take me to earlier) was also less eventful, and given I was starting to tire by then was probably for the best.

olympic stadium run

All in this was a 15.15 km run in 1 hour 40, not particularly fast by any standards, but given that firstly I had forgotten my water bottle (fortunately I had a single gel in my back pocket) and stop-started a load of times to take photos and get lost, was not too shabby and hopefully a good sign for my upcoming half-marathons.

Angel of North.jpg

My next trip was up to the far north of England, the city of Newcastle-upon-Tyne, home of Alan Shearer, the Angel of the North and of course Ant & Dec. It was a place I had never visited before given it is a fair way away, but I had always fancied it given a great running heritage thanks to the Great North Run, the World’s largest half-marathon. Whilst I did not quite have the time or inclination for a run of that distance, I did manage to get in three pretty decent efforts during my fortnight there.

First up was my explorer run, another early morning job (this time a lot quieter as I had expected before), where I made my way around the city centre at leisure, scoping out the Quayside, Chinatown, St James’ Park football ground and a few nice enough parks. Despite getting a bit lost towards the end and doing a couple of km longer than planned (the city is a labyrinth in parts) things turned out well, and I got to see a good proportion of the local sights as the sun gradually rose.

The next afternoon I tried a different tack, running alongside the north side of the river. Initially I headed East and towards South Shields, the finishing point for the GNR and more importantly into Byker (the Grove!) but it turned out not to be particularly well lit, so after a mile or so I turned back and tried the other way inland. This was a lot busier – there seems to be tons of running clubs up there, all going off around 6 pm – but again there was not a huge amount to see. A nice peaceful run is all well and good, but given the short time I was there I fancied seeing a bit more, so I turned it into a bridge run, covering the four major bridges across the Tyne in turn: The Millennium Bridge with its spectacular lights, the High Level Bridge for some spectacular views, the low-level Swing Bridge, and to finish things off the famous Tyne Bridge itself.

Amazingly it turned out when I got back that my run was almost identical to the one the morning before, which was not bad given how often I was stopping to take pictures and check my GPS!

Newcastle runs tomtom

The following week I though I would try something a bit different and keep on the Gateshead, southern side of the river where I was staying. The plan here was to make a parallel run up the river but turn off after a couple of miles to run past the office I had been working in.

Although the first section was well lit, things got a bit dodgier after a mile or so after I turned off and headed away from the river. Going back to earlier, part of the reason I prefer early morning runs is because you tend to have places to yourself. Now with all respect to Geordies who are some of the nicest people I have ever met, Newcastle is somewhere which has a reputation for being a tough place (especially amongst soft southerners), and the further away from the main track I ran the more I imagined meeting a group of ne’er-do-wells.

After deciding against running down the deserted canal path on my own, I skirted the main road instead, and after one particularly bad stretch where all I could imagine was meeting David Patrick Kelly’s character from the end of The Warriors, I rounded a corner and found the office. I can honestly say I have never been so glad to find an industrial park in my life.

That just left me with getting home, which was equally challenging, as the bus route I knew involved a massive hill, and for some reason I was desperate to find a park I had read about which looked like it had some sort of Disney castle (no joke, google it) which involved a bit of a detour. So another couple of miles later I found myself at Saltwell Park and immediately regretted it, as it was pitch black and all the entrances were padlocked. Probably for the best as all I could think about was that it looked more like the kind of abandoned amusement park Scooby Doo would hang out in than Fantasia.

Still, the one benefit of my ‘shortcut’ was that it would all be downhill from there, and a good thing too as by the time I finished I was over 14 km, well over what I had originally planned to do, and whilst it was a long way from The Shining (probably closer to the Jeremy Kyle graffiti above…) this run it did teach me a bit of a lesson about planning my routes a bit more in future.

Gateshead run

Despite all that, I have to say Newcastle is an amazing place, and I am looking forward to going back there some time (ideally in the summer as it really is cold!) for another round of city running. But in the meantime it is tapering time, as this weekend is time for my first proper race of the year, the Silverstone Half Marathon. More on that next time!

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Déjà Vu

I feel like I have done a lot of things in the last month or so that I could write about here, but the thing is, I have already blogged about much of it in my other 120 or so posts: Hotel based training – Check. Aqua Cycling – Check Check. Outdoor swimming… you get the picture. So I thought today I would focus on a few of my main events from March:

Les Mills Live

Les Mills Live

Sounds familiar? Yes, I first wrote about this back in November, although at the time the event was called One Live and took place in Manchester (https://chilechallenge.wordpress.com/2015/11/20/one-live-manchester/). The name may have been re-branded and the location different, but this was basically the same thing: A full day of high energy gym classes, run by the Les Mills Group with all their latest tracks. To give you an idea of the key numbers involved for us:

6 Classes, 5 Hours, 4,000 Calories burned!

Les Mills Live 2

As we now knew how the day worked, we were able to get in a bit earlier and book onto some of the more popular classes which sold out last time. This turned out to be a bit good, but also a bit bad as they were extremely busy, but I guess the atmosphere made up for it. My own classes & thoughts on the new releases were:

  • RPM (Spin) – First class of the day for everyone at the event, and it showed as the room was only about 20% full so a lot of empty bikes. In terms of the music, I have to be honest that I was not too keen on the first half, but the last few tracks were great and made up for it somewhat.
  • Body Attack – Normally one of my favourites, but so busy it was difficult to move at times (must have been 1000 people there). The sound system was also terrible in the room used so I could not actually tell what half the tracks were, but it was still fun to have that many people involved, and I am looking forward to trying this out back at my gym soon.
  • Body Combat – Pretty much see above, although at least there was a but more room in this one (useful when you are kicking at head height!). The tracks seemed a bit better, and to be fair this is in part all about watching the lead instructors on stage who seemed to defy gravity with their amazing martial arts technique.

Les Mills Live RPM

  • Sprint – My second bike based class of the day. This one is a more intense version, with a 45 minute class squeezed into 30 minutes, meaning you work just as hard but in less time, i.e. it is a killer! The class has only been going 6 months so is still new, and I have not been a huge fan so far, but I liked this a lot more, great music and choreography. An unexpected highlight of the day.
  • Sh’Bam – We picked this as a bit of fun after first experiencing it in Manchester. My thoughts are still about the same, in that there are a load of amazing professional dancers on stage with most of the audience dancing around wildly like a drunken wedding crowd. I have no co-ordination to manage this, but who cares when it is so much fun and you are burning calories too!
  • Bodyvive 3:1 – By the final class we were flagging a bit, and this last session is a three in one class involving Cardio, Resistance and Core workouts in one. To be honest it was all a bit of a blur by then, but I remember coming out pretty happy – although that could have been as much due to finishing the day as how good the class was…

Les Mills Live 1

Overall it was a decent day. There were a few technical issues around music volumes / broken microphones / overcrowding, but nothing I do not see every week in regular classes. The Les Mills lead instructors seem to be pretty superhuman, whether demoing ludicrous tuck jumps at nearly head hight, or showing better moves than Beyonce’s backing singers, they are hugely inspiring. Of course, the best part is the general atmosphere, and mixing with thousands of like-minded exercise nuts – Bring on Manchester later this year!

BUPA Medical

Is it weird to write about your own medical report? I don’t think so, as there is nothing really too personal there, at least that I will go into here. This testing is a company requirement, which we undertake every couple of years. I first wrote about this early on in the Chile Challenge (https://chilechallenge.wordpress.com/2014/04/25/whats-up-doc/), so thought it would be interesting to see how things had moved on after two years of fairly intense exercise.

The medical involves about 2 hours of various tests and I find it fascinating, having never really spent any time at the doctors before. I did notice there was an enhanced option which included VO2 Max and some other bits which I would have loved to see out of curiosity, but the extra cost was too high for just personal interest.

After the visit they send a huge pack of data, covering everything from your blood pressure to risk of diabetes, and the good news is everything is not only acceptable, but also moving in the right direction. I have copied some of the data below, for BMI (which I still think is a huge con!) and Body Fat, and the trends say it all – the exercise does work! In terms of BMI, I did get asked once how I was planning on getting this down, and I think my response (by doing an Ironman in 2 months) pretty much covered it!

Another of the findings was around Estimated Average Energy Requirement, which is the amount of calories my body requires, based on both body tests and activity levels. Apparently mine is 2724, which is more than the 2,500 I always assumed, so a bit of a bonus there I guess!

Spine Doc

A few days later, I noticed a queue of people in the gym around a monitor and could see them checking out some sort of x-rays. It turned out he was a physio with a specialism in spine alignment, and had some sort of fancy portable MRI scanner to check for signs of stress in the upper and lower back. Of course I got mine done, and it came out with the below image.

Spine Scan

To be fair, I am not too sure what it meant as it was one where you had to go for a follow up appointment (i.e. pay extra) but in short it meant I have some extra stress in my lower back, possibly as I had just recently had a series of long (4 hour +) drives, and also as I had just done a Body Pump class, where 1000+ reps might have impacted my spine a bit. He did say although it looks red above, it is not the worst it can be, with some people getting a stress score in the thousands which need urgent attention. Still, always interesting to see something like this, and maybe I will test it again in future and it if gets worse I can follow it up further.

 

Anyway, that is all for today. I am off to do some training in sunny Cuba… although I have already written about that too!

Buddy Training Part Two

After the success of my first ever buddy run in Cornwall over the summer, I thought I would try to repeat the trick last weekend. Naturally I decided I had to step things up a notch, and what better way to do so than running with my lovely wife!

Now in the not  too distant past this would never have been an option to either of us: me as I tended to prefer do my triathlon training alone and had yet to experience the motivational benefits of having someone to run alongside; and my other half as basically she hated running! That is not to say she could not run, having done Race For Life a few years earlier and plenty of fitness from going to the gym 4 or 5 times per week, but in general she has always been more into group exercise classes or the odd bit of cross training than cranking out the miles on foot.

Eck Run 2

But during the summer – in a manner I am all too familiar with – she experienced a moment of madness and managed to convince a group of us to sign up for an obstacle race in the autumn (more on this to follow soon). This was a 5 km distance involving various hazards and obstacles, so she decided it would probably be a good idea to get a few miles under the belt before hand: As I have said many times before, nothing like entering a race to add a bit of an incentive to training!

We decided to do an early morning run on one of my regular routes near her family’s house in Yorkshire, winding around the streets,  up and down cul-de-sacs and generally exploring the area. The rule is basically, keep to the side and every time you come to a turning you have to take it, and as you can see from the GPS tracker below we covered most of the perimeter of the estate over a 6 km distance.

Eck Run 3Eckington Run AngeEck Run 1

I had been nervous before that she would hate it, but actually it went down really well. I was really impressed with the fact we kept going with no stopping, and it was a great confidence booster ahead of the obstacle race. Next stop – Ironman for two!?!

Record Breakers

For most of the Challenge this year I have been focusing on endurance and distance; after all the whole reason it started was for me to be able to build up enough fitness to be able to finish the Avenger earlier this year. But since completing my final race of the season earlier this month I have been adding some variation to my training, with things like Spin and Pump classes.

Now I have to say something here: I never minded doing gym classes, but always saw them as something for people who could not manage to train on their own, whether due to lack of motivation or needing to have other around them to keep going. But after the last few weeks I am willing to put my hands up faster than an Apprentice contestant trying to shift the blame for a failed task onto a teammate, and admit I may have been wrong.

Record Breakers

Whilst the classes I have been doing have been limited to 45 minutes or an hour max, the amount they manage to cram into such a short time really makes it worth it. Rather than long steady paced rides, I have been doing interval and hill based training that I can honestly say I would never have been bothered about doing to the same extent on my own. Yes, you won’t get the same endurance benefits as say a 3 or 4 hour bike ride, but the improvements in my sprinting and speed have been great, and what is great is how quickly I have been able to see the results.

As well as the normal tracking I have been doing on each individual session and distances completed year to date, I also built in a PB tracker to my Chile Challenge spreadsheet (just to clarify, some people might call this a PR or Personal Record, but over here we tend to use Personal Best). This focused on the three main triathlon events and my most regular training sessions: a 1 km swim, a 30 km bike ride, and a 10 km run. Of course I am not suggesting I will be entering Record Breakers or anything, but any semi-serious triathlete should to have an idea what sort of times they are pulling off during the season.

Now looking at the first of these, I don’t really track my swims in that much detail. This is mainly because I rarely go for an all out swim session, but tend to do it after another training session to warm down or stretch out. I also can’t compare it to my races which are either 1500m or 750m, and finally I never remember to wear my watch or check the clock beforehand. If I had to hazard a guess I would say my 1 km time would be in the region of 18 or 19 minutes (based on my 1500m time), but perhaps at some point I will get around to measuring it.

Personal Best

The two I have bothered recording (mainly as they are much easier to track using my various gadgets) are my bike and run times, both of which started the year just on the hour mark. Fortunately these have come down a bit over the year – by a bit but good for me – with my run times hitting 59 minutes in February, and 58 in May. I am currently on 57.52, but the aim is to try and get it down towards 55 mins by the next race season.

Today however was bike day. Now on the face of it, this would not have been a great time to try breaking records, having knackered myself with yesterday’s Combat / Pump combo – particularly my glutes from all those squats, which are a major part of bike riding. So this was supposed to be a recovery ride. Except this was my first pure (i.e. non-class based) ride in some time, and I found I was really getting into it. So much so that I hit the 15 km mark in 29 minutes, and realised I still had plenty in the tank – which I could only put down to those crazy interval sprints I have been moaning about over the last few weeks. So rather than slow down in the second half, which I would usually do, I pulled off a great negative split (doing the second half faster than the first) and managed to beat my all time PB by a minute – up from 57.42 in July to 56.47!

So having spent this year building up my endurance, here’s to hoping that a winter of interval training will see my speed picking up over the next six months, in time to smash my race PBs next race season. All together now “R-R-R Record Breakers”!