Getting into Running

As I write this, we in the UK have been ‘social distancing’ under lockdown for about 2 months. Right at the start there were plenty of people using their once-a-day outside allowance to attempt to start running, good on them.

Obviously, being the keen ultra-distance machine that I am, I did not lose pace. I kept doing the high level cardio and long weekend runs and staying in tip-top shape. OK, so I didn’t. For the first month or so, I did pretty much nothing.

Regular listeners may have heard us say on one occasion or other ‘running is terrible’. Honestly, I’m not lying – there are times when it is really dreadfully dull and painful.

Why bother?

This is a question I’ve asked myself often – worrying if it’s simply ego trying to make out I’m better that others. But, honestly it is the sense of exploration, achievement with some camaraderie thrown in for good measure.

But you cannot do that without actually practicing some running.

Get going!

First, decide what you are doing this for. Just exercise? Some form of meditative practice? From experience it helps massively to have a reason to get out there – and make sure it’s specific.

What do you need?

Well, there are plenty of articles out there around shoe choice, etc. But first off… just go out in some vaguely appropriate clothing and, you know, run. Head out, walk around a bit and start to bring up your pace into a jog and then a run but – and this is key – run only about HALF as far as you think you could and HALF as hard you think you can. If you really aren’t in…optimal…shape, let’s say, you’ll notice this immediately – 10 meters too much? Well done, walk it out a bit more and plan to go out again in a couple of day’s time.

Super excited and want more? Great, have a look at training and aspirational event videos on youtube – perhaps even listen to a few of our episodes where we talk about training and recovery. Don’t go crazy and run 2x a day, don’t just buy a whole load of running gear which you may not even use.

After you’ve got into the swing of things, say a couple of runs a week for a month or two, maybe you’ll notice more where you have some discomfort. Great news, now you get to go shopping!

Guide me, oh master!

Head to a running shop and use the knowledge you have gained from your own running practice to help pick out your shoes, with the help of the shoe guru in the shop (perhaps try a couple of places). Skip all the expensive socks and that – just go to Sports Direct/Decathlon/TK Maxx or whatever for anything that isn’t shoes. At this stage, your shoes should be far and away the most expensive kit, by maybe 5-10x the next expensive piece of kit you have. If you have a £8 pair of shorts, maybe you’re spending up-to £80 on some fancy shoes. (I wouldn’t, because I’m too tight).

Note – you may have heard I run in barefoot shoes, because I’m freaking amazing. Honestly, I prefer barefoot running but think it may not be the best place to start – but if you want to try it out, see if you can find a barefoot coach/mentor around you.

Running Friends

You’ll probably want to do this before you complete the shopping phase – but we all know you won’t because we are living in a material world and I am… certain you’ll want to indulge in some consumer therapy.

Anyway, yes find some friends who like to run, or groups online or at the pub… you don’t have to do anything as crass as actually run with them, but it helps you get a bit more immersed in the hobby and move you more towards your goal. Enthusiasm breeds progress, and podcasts.

Final thoughts

As we move out of lockdown, there are going to be people who started out with good intentions – taking the once-a-day exercise rules who perhaps gave up once it became hard. There are going to be those who stayed in for most of the lockdown and are perhaps now lower in the fitness spectrum than they were going in. Finally, those who want to use the post-lockdown experience as a time to enjoy the freedom.

Whatever the case, find your adventure and work towards it. Sometimes that means you’ll have to run, so lets get going!

Rat Race: The Mighty Deerstalker – Race Retrospective – 16th March 2019

What lies in them thar hills…

How far should one travel for a good race? Depends on the race I guess. Being a bit daft, we’ve travelled all the way to Cornwall for a coastal trail marathon, all the way to Liege for a beer marathon and all the way to Scotland for a nighttime adventure…10k?!

To be fair, this is a fun race and you do have the option to double up the distance via a second lap if you’re keen, which we weren’t! In particular I was feeling a little bit worse for wear with the memory of our misadventure in the South Downs still fresh.

This was also another race we’d been to before, running in the 2017 edition (the race in 2018 was cancelled due to severe snow and wind conditions). In fact, the 2017 edition was my first race on the running wagon after a few years out of action. I remember a chastening experience, finding the bogs, long dips in icy water, steep hills and scrambling extremely difficult. In the end I think I took so long that the bar at the end had nearly run out of beer! I always think these kinds of experiences make you stronger in the end though. So the 2019 race felt like my chance for redemption. I needed to get to the finish before the raucous Rat Race runners drank it dry again.

But first, the epic journey to the start line: a village called Innerleithen in the Scottish Borders. For us, this encompassed around five hours on the train, a quick stop for food in Edinburgh, and then a 90 minute bus journey into the wilderness. The weather was not looking amenable at this point. Wrapped in all my layers and standing shivering on the exposed North Bridge waiting for the bus, I have rarely felt as cold and nervous. The wind was building, the rain had turned to sleet and running was the last thing on my mind. The bus journey was initially even more ominous. As we travelled away from Edinburgh the surrounding countryside looked increasingly petrified with a wintry touch of snow. Looking at the weather reports, it also suddenly became apparent that the area had been hit with a surplus of inclemency. Our penchant for not checking weather before we travelled suddenly looked ready to strike again!

As luck would have it, the closer we got to Innerleithen, the more the weather brightened. As we walked to the event registration area, we even saw some thin strands of light peak through the grey clouds.

A couple of unlikely friends we met on the way to registration.

Quite the turnaround. We also got to see some of the initial waves pass through the course. While this is a night time race, by the time the runners got into the hills the sun will have dipped below the horizon. Once we arrived, it became apparent that the course had been tweaked to avoid some of the more watery obstacles. In particular I recall one particular segment in 2017 when we had to traverse a few hundred metre stretch up a river. Having already tackled one ascent and descent, the shocking cold and difficult footing was not a tonic for further hill running. I was again a little relieved, but it was disappointing, if understandable once we saw how strong the current was. To underline the bogginess, I even lost one of my shoes in the mud before we even started!

The first wave gets underway. With the altered route, this was one of the – thankfully – few times we had to endure a dip in icy water.

But all this is side commentary. What about the race itself? The first section is a warm up for what comes: a brief soujourn over some rocky paths (won’t see sure footing like this for a while) that transitions into flat out sticky bog and then straight into hills nearly 2km from the start. At this point I was already pretty tired and the sun had finally set. The first climb was around 300 metres and I actually managed to run bits of it (unlike in 2017). It was mostly through well worn trail routes, but now and then we’d dive into the undergrowth up less travelled sections. These were very entertaining as my favourite trail running is along woodland paths. We came to a bit of a contrived false summit (essentially going up, turning around and coming back down again), which required walking rather than running and then finally a bit of descent. We then had another climb of around 100 metres to reach the highest point of the race. It was here we could finally enjoy one of the perks of the Mighty Deerstalker: seeing the scattered head torches of various runners across the nighttime landscape. A trail of glistening light showed where we had come and what we still had to do. This is something I’d only seen at events like the three peaks challenge before.

The next descent essentially took us back to ground level and was extremely treacherous. Another reason for my slow time in 2017 was likely due to wearing road running trainers… This time round I had some decent trail shoes, but even with these it was fairly difficult going. More confident racers breezed past me and some of the more reckless ones tended to strike their fellow runners and various trees and rocks as they went past! I saw a few collisions that made we wince. Some bits were great fun though, with just enough stable footing to leap and jump over the undulating course.

With that now completed, we were treated to a run over the River Tweed and through Innerleithen to take on another of the local hills. We had some very kind people along the course cheering us over these sections. Always nice to hear. The climb was easier than before, but I had my first serious tumble of the year; almost cartoonesque! While descending I had been putting weight on areas with foliage and grass as this indicated safe purchase in my mind. I unfortunately did so on a piece of ground that was completely inundated with water and promptly slipped up, got some serious air time and landed on my backside. Thankfully it was on soft, and wet, ground, so I wasn’t hurt (pride aside). Picking myself up, I then confronted the scramble, which was nearly 200 metres high. I must confess to needing a few stops to catch my breath! I’m not a fan of heights at the best of times, so I was grateful for the night time views. One last descent and then there was just four more kms of boggy, river-side running to defeat. I recognised here and there signs of our earlier walk to registration and was relieved to see the finish line. In 2017 they set-up a water slide to celebrate the last section, but for obvious reasons that had been removed. Probably a good thing as I recall nearly football tackling someone’s midriff by accident at the bottom.

First time running in 2017, we completed the course in around three hours and twenty minutes. In 2019, we got round in around two and a half hours. Not a bad improvement, but we did have two years of running these races as training and some of the water sections were curtailed; so perhaps we should have done a bit better. Most importantly though, I made it back in time to properly enjoy the party afterwards!

Steyning Stinger Marath..ahem…Half-Marathon – Race Retrospective – 3rd March 2019

Stormy Shenanigans over the South Downs

Ok. It’s been a while since the 3rd March 2019! I must admit to being a little tardy with my reports. But with this race looming again on our schedule, I thought it would be a good idea to cover what happened previously in more detail. So to cover my lateness, I thought I’d title this update with “race retrospective”.

The first time I ran this race was in 2014 and, as my first trail marathon, has stuck in the mind ever since. I distinctly recall the pleasant surprise of the first food stops, laden down with various sweets and biscuits (you don’t really get those in road marathons!). The crazy hills, or “stings”, which at that point I hadn’t really encountered with such frequency, being from Essex. A relaxed and staggered start at your convenience and a cooked breakfast at the finish. It also had one of the quirkier medals I’ve seen, featuring a scorpion, a hill and some trees. I can’t forget the characters we met either, including one runner who decided to deal with some of the muddiest terrain I’ve encountered by running the whole thing in sandles!

So all in all, I remembered the Steyning Stinger as a great race and it was now time to return. There was just one potential problem…Storm Gareth! We’d heard some mutterings in the news about a potential storm coming, but paid it no mind. Then when it came to actually getting there – it’s an early start – the weather was pretty dire and we gradually became aware of how tough this was going to be.

It initially started out ok, with much of the initial race gradually ascending to the top of the South Downs over three steep climbs.

One of the stings….although it was relatively sheltered from the wind thankfully

However, as soon as we crested the top of the hills, it became clear how strong the winds were. Despite being pretty well insulated against the weather, the rain still stabbed like needles and it was hard to stay on the trail as we were buffeted around so much. You could barely see more than a few metres in front of you and the brave Marshalls had to take cover in vehicles at the more exposed parts of the course. At some points it was difficult to keep running, although a steep turn on the course sometimes resulted in a welcome boost from the wind.

Looking at some of the race photos, I decided to add the only one where I’m actually smiling. While I definitely wasn’t smiling inside, I was still glad to get out of the wind! Check out the hazy background and the mud. It was around this point we decided that the weather was a bit too extreme considering our fitness levels. We’ve done more than our fair share of tortuously long races over tough terrain, but it seemed silly to continue and hats off to those that finished the whole marathon. The wind wasn’t the only hazard with the final long descent having morphed into one long mud slide during which I had very little control. I’m very surprised I didn’t stack it! I probably did, but have likely blocked it from my memory.

Finally we finished and I staggered over the finish line to gratefully take cover in a solid stone building and enjoy a well earned breakfast. We’d covered a half-marathon and 457 metres of ascent in ridiculous conditions. However, I’ve retained a nagging feeling since then that we had some unfinished business.

So now we’re returning on the 1st March 2020, hopefully sans storm or anyone called Gareth, and fingers crossed this time we can succeed where we previously failed. You’ll probably find out next year though!

Daft Runners London Series – Introduction and Burgess Parkrun! 4th January

We spent quite the period of time journeying around the United Kingdom during 2019. That was lots of fun of course, but it did give us a thought: perhaps there are some fun running opportunities closer to home? Perhaps we don’t need to brave the trains, planes or automobiles to get our running freak on.

Everything needs a bit of branding nowadays, so we thought we’d label our new plans for 2020 under the exciting title of: The Daft Runners London Series (cue dramatic music)! As part of this series we intend to run in every London Borough (33 in all), preferably at an event such as a Parkrun. At the same time, we hope to find some other, local hidden gems to share with you all.

So our first park run of the year is….Burgess Park! Admittedly that was obvious from the title. We rocked up after a quick journey on the tube to find a refreshingly busy start line on a surprisingly sunny day. It then occured to us that it was the first Park Run of the year, which explained all the keen runners with their New Year resolutions!

After a quick verbal tour of the park run by one of the kind volunteers, and an internal pep talk, we were off. Burgess Park is…well…lovely. There’s a long straight to start and finish of around 1km that tapers to an underpass, bit of a choke point, midway through. Then you take a sharp left turn and circle round the lake and rejoin the straight. Very picturesque indeed!

We also had the chance to see the quick runners (you know who you are) loop back round. I find it’s always interesting to see the more elite types as they sprint their hearts out. The nominated speaker at the start of the race had suggested giving them a high five. They did not look receptive to such an idea! We also had some mid-race entertainment from the local wildlife.

Pugilistic geese aside, I was extremely proud of this result, not only because we explored a new Park Run, but because I personally passed three prams during the run. Usually it’s the other way round, so it’s nice to get my own back a little (I know, they’re still much fitter than I am).

To round things off, we then had an exploratory run deep into south west London, following the Northern line past all the Clapham Common stations. It turns out a busy London highway isn’t quite as pleasant running as Burgess Park. Something to work on in the future.

Until the next Park Run!

Podcast link.

Mentions

Events mentioned in this episode:
Burgess Parkrun – Event Link

Podcast link.

2019 – Year in Review

Well. 2019. What a year of ups and downs. We started off with a breathless 10k in Stratford and ended it quaffing beer while running two circuits around Wimbledon park. Not too many ups there I suppose, but the middle of the year saw us striding across the hills around Edinburgh, the Isle of Arran, Snowdon, the South Downs, Liege in Belgium and…um….Benfleet in Essex.

So what have we learned? Not much personally. My Garmin says I’ve run around 1,300 kilometres this year with a total elevation gain of 15,387 metres. However, I’m not that much quicker and I haven’t really lost that much weight; and the weight I did lose wasn’t from running!  

However, we have had a great time doing it. Which is what counts really.

Favourite Moments

So what were our favourite moments? Finishing any race always releases a huge high. Especially the longer and more challenging ones. Sometimes there are also specific moments that transcend the race itself. Below are some highlights, but there are many more:

  • The moment I realised I could make peanut butter & jam sandwiches at the first rest stop on the Ultra Tour of Arran.
  • The moment I finished the Ultra Tour of Arran.
  • Both Craft Half-Marathons round Wimbledon Park.
  • Man vs. Mountain at Snowdon where a number of Hen Parties (?!) cheered our descent down the Llanberis Path.
  • When a fellow runner ascended the 374 stairs at the Montagne de Beuren in Liege (see below) dressed as Thunderbird One. Well, a five-metre replica made from cardboard.
  • The entirety of the Beer Lover’s Marathon in Belgium.
  • Watching all the fit runners pass by as they made their way through a double lap of the Dirty Weekend obstacle course. Well deserved applause.
  • Running over Morecombe Bay at low tide as a visible new weather front rushed in. The mist obscured everything apart from the petrified river bed before it started raining sideways. Surprisingly invigorating.
Thunderbirds are go? At least they gave you a cheeky beer at the bottom.

Worst Moments

A mixture here. Most of these really came from mistakes we made, from poor preparation to dodgy nutrition strategies and just being tired.

  • Vanguard marathon. Who’d have thought Croydon would be close to so many hills!? Well, anyone with a map. Never underestimate a race.
  • That time I was scrambling on the Ultra Tour of Arran and managed to face plant upwards into a rock. Somehow.
  • The two times I slipped acrobatically and landed on my rear end in front of other appreciative runners (Ultra Tour of Edinburgh & Deer Stalker).
  • When energy gels suddenly became my gut’s worst enemy midway through the Tring Ultra-Marathon.
  • When we had to drop down to the half-marathon distance during the Steyning Stinger (I blame Storm Gareth!).

Worst Bonking Moments (keep your mind out the gutters!)

A special ‘worst moment’ category here. For those not in the know, bonking is that awful feeling you get circa two plus hours into a run and suddenly you can’t take another step. Like someone has reached inside and pulled out all the happiness. There are more scientific ways of phrasing this of course, but that’s how it feels to me.

  • The second pit stop at the Ultra Tour of Edinburgh.
  • Every pit stop at Man Vs Coast.
  • The second steep climb during Man Vs Lakes.

Thankfully each time I managed to miraculously recover by stuffing my face and I learned to pre-emptively eat something before a particularly strenuous climb appeared. Maybe that’s why I haven’t lost any weight!

Anyway, here’s to 2020!

Detraining

Having hit December we have run into a lot of birthdays and Christmas celebrations (Yay!), spawning additional chores to get the house in order and purchase the necessary goods to have said celebrations. Of course, things have to be re-arranged to accommodate all this and one of the hardest things to be hit has been training (yay… oh, boo?)! Only a week into December and my watch had already determined my fate – I was ‘detraining’ and fit for nothing but being a potato sack leaning upon the bar of life. For most runners this would be a problem – however on the daft running ethos, this is par for the course. Pass the choccies!

Unfortunately, the course over the next year involves a 100+km event which I failed to complete last time I attempted it. Then again, perhaps I was training too much back then – who can tell with these things! Sure, I’ll take another glass of prosecco!

Not that I have been as poor at maintaining activity as my watch would have one believe: I have been to the gym at a reduced rate – and running has been pretty much absent from my schedule over December. Perhaps pull ups and a handful of squats will be enough – especially given the extra kilos of turkey I have loaded myself with. Maybe this is actually the way one should perform bodyweight exercising – I mean if you are pushing less weight that’s kinda cheating.

Over the next week or two, Jamie and I, through the drunken stupor that is the Christmas break will be looking through the other adventures for next year. I suppose we will have to run more to get past the 100km+ event(s?), but I think our training is going great for the next round of Craft Halfs and Beer Lovers Marathons… maybe too great…

Whilst we mull over this situation, enjoying well-mulled wine, I hope everyone reading this has had a good 2019 and wish you all a Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year – see you in 2020!

Still Running, Daftly

Don’t worry: we’ve not abandoned the podcast! Nor have we given up on running to spend most of the time at the pub (not that we haven’t been putting the hours in there, too).

Over the last month or so we have conquered (well, survived) two of the three Man vs events – Coast and Lakes. In preparation for the third, and final event in the series – Man vs. Mountain – we have daftly ended up running the Vanguard Way marathon and the always challenging 13 The Hard Way. That constitutes an additional marathon we entered last minute that we vastly underestimate and a half-marathon that feels harder than some marathons!

Suffice to say we are well behind on our recording schedule. This has mostly been down to enjoying the summer – bbqs, cricket and beer – but rest assured we will catch up on episodes soon, Gareth!