Severn Bridge Half Marathon 2016

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Just read last year’s review (see under) and note that, this year, the parking situation has been sorted. Having said that, I did arrive an hour early and sat reading a book for a bit – lesson for next year.

This half marathon is developing year on year and this year was packed with marshals at the start / finish and throughout the course.

Full marks on the number of toilets (still long queues though) and for the introduction of a men only urinal that makes it easier for the men and limits the length of the queue for the ladies. The 6 man urinal could be made larger though and the plastic booth that it’s in could be a tent – as they do in Cardiff where there is a canvas topped structure and a 30 foot urinal emptying into a foul drain.

Felt quite young at the start when the oldest man and woman runners were announced by name and given ages of 79 and 76.

A completely different course this year as in two separate loops compared with the one large loop of last year – this due, the organisers said, to the inability to obtain certain road closures. The start last year was at the summit of the Old Severn Bridge, this year it was on the Welsh side so the first mile was uphill before descending down into England. The first loop was almost an out and back bringing you back to psychological breaking point of passing the finish line knowing you were only half way through the race.

Second loop was half downhill, a long slow hill upward and a last mile of downhill. The forecast said rain the reality was sun and humidity or, as I text my wife, heat, hills and humidity. A feature of this race, both years that I have run it, is the humorous notices around the course – they do keep you smiling.

Next year, apparently, there is a full marathon alongside the half and the race will take in both Severn Bridges. This, the organisers say, will be a one-off, never to be repeated, not to be missed, full marathon. If you completed the 2016 half you are guaranteed entry into the full marathon if you want it. At the moment I am undecided. Are my full marathon days over? Do I want to stick to halves? Do I want the Sunday morning 20 mile training sessions? We shall decide later and have a year to get fit enough for it if the answer to the above is yes.

Summary; good medal (Severn Bridge in 4 colours a la mode de Andy Warhol Campbell’s Soup), tech tee shirt, bananas, loads of water, Lucozade, nut bar, salt and vinegar crisps and a grass slope for everyone to sit out in the sun and rest – and then find they were so stiff it was difficult to walk back to the car.

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Two Half Marathons In Two Days

 

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Windswept hair?

It seemed like a good challenge and a good idea, when I first thought of it six months ago. Inspired by a podcast, MTA, where Angie was running two full marathons over two days and discussing the mental problem of getting up on the second day to “Do it all again.”

 

Because I have made the decision to not run any more full marathons and only do half marathons for the rest of my running life, I figured the challenge of two halves in two days would be physically like running a full marathon but mentally tougher and, of course, everything would depend on recovery between halves, both recovery time and recovery meals and drinks. Add to this a training regime and you have the recipe for an interesting six month experiment. It would also get me into “Half Fanatics”.

 

The first job, of course, was to find two halves in two days, not an easy job in the UK where the vast majority of races fall on a Sunday. When the IAAF World Half Marathon Championships advertised their race in Cardiff, Wales, on a Saturday, it seemed the challenge was on. I scoured the web for a local half on the Sunday (local to cut down the travelling mileage) and picked the Pendine sands races. Pendine is a long beach in West Wales where land speed records have been attempted and was obviously going to be very flat. A bonus for my second day. I knew that one race would be high key and one low key but hadn’t quite realised how difference the gap would be.

 

My grandson ha a sleepover on Friday nights and I look after him all Saturday so double header training has to be on a Sunday morning and then Monday morning before going to work.

Training went well. I took the mileage up to 13.1 plus 10 the next day to get used to the psychology of getting out of bed tired and running. I didn’t go as far as 13.1 plus 13.1 as this would be kept for the special weekend.

Three things happened to change my recovery plans. What started out in my mind as two morning races starting around 9am with 21 hours recovery between, changed somewhat. An e mail from the IAAF announced that the World Half in Cardiff would be an afternoon race starting at 2pm so recovery would be cut down to 16 hours. Then someone asked me when the clocks in the UK went forward an hour for British Summer Time and I looked it up to find it was on my weekend so recovery was down to 15 hours. Luckily an e mail from Pendine announced that because of an exceptionally high tide on the Sunday the race could not start until 11am when there would be some beach to run on, so recovery was back up to 17 hours.

 

I guess the lesson there is that you can plan but things change. It wasn’t announced at the time but was on the day (as an apology) that the World Half had to be in the afternoon because of TV times in the US and Japan.

 

To the races, or should I say plods as both were slow. Cardiff was organised excellently with registration queues at a minimum as the expo and number pick up was over Thursday, Friday and Saturday morning. A very good idea for the 16,000 competitors. I chose Good Friday and enjoyed walking through all the trade stands. I wondered why half the attendees were in tracksuit and trainers. Some sort of uniform? The disappointment for me at the expo was the Adidas official kit stand. I wanted an after race warm hoodie and this seemed to be a good opportunity. Before arriving at the expo I envisaged a black hoodie with small writing on the front saying something about the World half marathon championships. What I found was almost the exact opposite. A hoodie of nondescript colour with a very large red dragon’s head on the front (red dragon, symbol of Wales) looking like a chess piece, with, in very large letters below it, the word “Cardiff”. I searched for a mention of the upcoming race and found it on the back, under the hood! That’s right, if the hood was down the writing was obscured. Come on Adidas, you are a rich company; surely you can afford an outside design company? I eventually came away with a Spongebob Squarepants running vest.

 

I thought the race itself would have no surprises as it was the same course as the Cardiff Half, run a number of times in the past. Those that watched the televised race will know that a world record was possible up to the point where the leaders were a mile or two from the end and the heavens opened and soaked them. This was from Storm Kate. At the time I was less than half way around, about to cross the Cardiff Bay Barrage and hanging on to my peaked cap, protecting me from stinging rain. Managing to dry out a bit by the end a good looking medal was handed out along with a tee shirt replicating the hoodie mentioned above, a few bananas and water.

 

Up the next morning and a one and a half hour short drive down to Pendine. For three day expo read, for this lower key race, pick up your number from the back of a Landrover. There was a bit of confusion over the state of the tide, Storm Kate pushing the waves up the beach and delaying the start for half an hour due to there being no sand to run on! Because of this delay, some transferred from the half to the 10k and some, unfortunately, went home. In the end 23 ran the 10k and 24 ran the half marathon, the winner finishing in 1hr 33mins. Nine also ran an ultra of two laps.

 

Running the first half of the out and back course I found difficult. It was difficult to find my right pace among the 10k runners and difficult also to find hard sand to run on. The guy in front of me had a run, walk, run, system going and, frustratingly, started running just before I caught him up each time.

 

Getting past my run, walk, run, man just before the turn around I started the run back in front of him and as I raised my legs to run, the wind stopped me moving forward and my competitor walked slowly past me. I persisted with attempted running until he was 30m ahead and finally decided on my own run, walk, run, philosophy – it was quicker.

 

Getting back to the start was my hardest run ever and amounted to 15 minute miling – yes 4mph a walking pace gained by run, walk, running. Sand in the face and completely exhausted we then had to do a further challenge, just as we were informed at the briefing “It’s not quite 13.1 at the finish line so run to the rocks and back to the Landrover, three times.”

 

A surprisingly large, colourful medal was presented along with a question as to whether I was in the 60-69 years category. On answering yes, I was handed a “Champion” certificate for first in age group. My first ever race win done from the back of the pack!!

 

I have joked that, taking both races into consideration, this was the weekend where a) I raced Mo Farrah and b) I won.

 

Thigh girth, running style, knee replacements and pointed out feet.

A completely unscientific study of the knees of obese people watched while on holiday based on my knowledge through rectifying a recurring knee injury suffered back in the 1980s. In no way is this article anti obese people, it is merely an observation.

Background
I have, luckily, only ever suffered one running injury. Back around 1986 I started getting pain in the knee of my left leg, on the inside of the knee only. This got worse after a couple of marathons and ended by my leg locking up completely during the Swansea 10k resulting in me falling over, not being able to straighten my leg. My running colleagues at the Pontypridd Roadents said I had a strange running form but couldn’t explain further other than ” you run like a crab! ”
Shortly after that we moved to a new house at the top of two hills and this, coupled with my knee pain, pushed me into a break from running that lasted twenty five years.
My return to running came when my stepson told me he was going to run a marathon, instead of encouragement I laughed and told him that even at my age I could run further than him, he signed us both up for the Edinburgh Marathon without telling me.
My next birthday present from my wife was a series of lessons on how to run. Some people may have been offended but, on reading the pamphlet that came with the lessons, it explained that a trained person would video me running on a treadmill, discuss with me any issues and then work on rectifying those issues. In my case it was discovered that my knee problem came from my shoulder. That’s right, from my shoulder. My left shoulder dipped while I was running, making my left leg shorter than my right leg. To compensate I had to bend my left leg outwards putting strain on the inner knee every time I put my foot down. In case you can’t imagine that, think of someone being bow legged but only in the left leg.
Over a six week period we worked on my keeping my left shoulder up, running on a treadmill in front of a mirror and then taking that posture into road running. I now run with much better posture and only have to think where my left shoulder is when very tired at the end of a race or long run. Think Alastair Brownlee, now think much, much, much slower.
We then worked on foot placement as my right foot was facing forward in the direction I was running but my left foot was splayed outward, shooting off towards the left. This I had to concentrate on more while road running but eventually programmed my brain to have both feet facing forwards while running and also, as a bi product, while walking.

Observations
Two weeks in the sun on the island of Sal in the Cape Verde islands helps your brain relax and wander, much as it would do on a long run but for a much longer period. Because people in and around the beach were scantily clad, I started to notice their knee and foot placement. I had always imagined that there was a very simple equation that went – obese people are heavy which puts a strain on their knees which eventually forces a knee replacement operation. I soon discovered that obese people have larger than normal thigh girth and are unable to get their feet together. They can either walk with their feet apart, as if they have wet themselves, or bring their feet together by bending their legs and becoming bow legged. This bow leggedness reminded me of the shape of my left leg prior to rectifying my problem, I could see the strain on these people’s inner knees and wondered how long it would be before they had severe knee problems requiring a knee replacement.
Happy with this observation I started walking around with my head down looking at foot direction of everyone at the hotel. I discovered that the larger you are, the more your feet point outwards as you walk. Perhaps this is a natural reaction to someone who is wide, the extra width on foot placement stopping movement from side to side and thus the person falling over sideways.
I started to think that I was the only person on the island that walked with feet pointing forward and then noticed someone walking towards me with very straight, forward pointing feet. I wondered if it was a runner, looked up and saw the tee shirt “Munchen Halb Marathon”.

Over Reliance On Gadgets

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These thoughts inspired by reading over an old blog and realising how easy it is to over rely on a gadget!

The old blog was titled “A non-programmed too scared to run week.” To cut a long blog short – I pulled out of a very cold and wet half marathon after about 4 miles because of a hugely increased heart rate that scared me rigid at the time and made me seek medical advice the following day. After a normal ECG and normal bloods my GP advised me to carry on running.

After about a month I was out on a HR zone 2 training run and looked at my heart rate and was shocked that it was showing over 200, shocked mainly because I was running down hill. As I started up the other side of the hill and started puffing, my heart rate dropped to 72 according to my Garmin, something was obviously amiss.

Ignoring my Garmin I trundled on and started thinking about the half that I had dropped out of. A couple of days later I was going to give the Garmin another chance. It would not start and had died. I placed it on charge and went for my run and on return, took the Garmin off charge – it was still dead.

Happy that it was the Garmin at fault and not my heart, happy that it was the Garmin that was dead and not me, it was confined to the back of a drawer.

Did it put me off gadgets? Did it put me off Garmin? No to both. The photo is my 310XT which I love. I think I might think twice about receiving a dodgy message from this monitor though. (note the photo is from the catalogue, I do not run 10 miles in 52 minutes)

One message I did get from my 310XT shook me a bit. I strapped it on for my first run in Cape Verde while on holiday (see below) and, after trying to find satellites for a minute or two a message appeared on the screen “Have you traveled hundreds of miles since your last run?”

I told it yes and all was well with the world.

 

JCP Swansea Half Marathon race report

IMG_0447On Sunday 14th June 2015 the second only JCP Swansea (Abertawe) half marathon ‘SwanseaHalf was run by 5000 eager runners. Apparently the inaugural race attracted 3000 runners and the expectancy is for a growth up to around 10,000 in 2016.

I have absolutely no idea how the organisers started looking at starting this race but have imagined the following and I am pretty sure that I am not far off the mark;-

I envisage a group of runners probably sat in a pub somewhere in Swansea, discussing whether or not they could start a Swansea Half. Someone suggests that to attract the usual runners from South wales, The West Country and beyond, it would be a good idea to have the half in the summer as all other halves are in the Spring or Autumn (Fall).

Then they delve into the minor details of what they would improve over other halves, given the chance. Someone says “Whenever I pin my number (bib) onto my vest I worry about the pin going through that very hard paper that the number is printed on and then the pin going through my finger. Why don’t we get the numbers printed with holes in each corner.”

“Good idea” says someone else, “And while we’re at it, I hate tying my chip into my shoelaces, why don’t we attach the chip to the back of the number?”

“Great” says person number three “I have a running vest with my name on it and love it when people call out my name. The vest is a bit old though, why don’t we get the numbers printed with the person’s name at the top?”

And there you pretty much have it. An out and back course, very very flat along Swansea bay, loads of spectators lining the route, on pavements and in bars and cafes.

A good medal in two colours, an indifferent goody bag that will improve as sponsors clamor to get involved and a hot (don’t forget your sun screen) day enjoyed by all.

Registration is now open for 2016 and I for one will be there.

The Irony Of The So-called Energy Drink.

Regular runs of 13.1 on, usually, a Sunday morning, keep throwing up anecdotes that I should really share to see if others have similar experiences.

Today I was passed by the type of car that everyone tries to avoid. At least five lads in a small but tampered with car, travelling faster than the speed limit and, at 6.30am on a Sunday morning, probably returning from a party. I couldn’t see detail inside the car but if I had to guess I would say they were probably wearing their caps around the wrong way. I think I was supposed to be impressed by the driver’s ability to push down on an accelerator pedal with his foot and the fact that the exhaust end that he had bought was too big for the car. I was not impressed and can’t imagine who would be – are you still out there Jeremy Clarkson?

Anyway, the window was rolled down and out from the window came an empty energy can. Whether it was meant to hit me or simply reach the grass banking I am not sure but I couldn’t help but see the irony in the fact that neither the energy drink can nor the thrower had the energy to reach its intended target.

My mind started racing as it often does on a long run and I remembered the days when the only energy drink around was Lucozade (from Glucose Aid) which was apparently, before my time, called Glucozade. In the mid nineteen fifties, if you were ill and, during recovery, didn’t feel like eating, your mother would buy from the chemist shop (yes Chemist – it was deemed to be for illnesses) a large bottle of Lucozade, nicely tied up in an orange see-through wrapper. The idea was that you would drink this liquid glucose, it would spike your blood sugar, your insulin levels would rise to combat the glucose, your blood sugar would drop lower than it was originally and you would feel either hungry for food or thirsty for some more Lucozade. The young ill chappy would also feel much better by looking through the orange wrapping so that the world took on a much brighter and happier outlook.

Years later everyone, but women in general, learnt that sugar wasn’t good for you, for the above reasons, especially if they were dieting and they didn’t want the sugar to make them hungry. Fizzy sugar drinks went out the window, sales plummeted and the soft drinks industry had some hard thinking to do. One solution that they came up with to boost sales was to tell people that the drinks had little or no calories because sweeteners were used to spike your blood sugar instead of sugar. This allowed them to tell you that there was no sugar in the product. The other answer to their problems was the complete opposite of no sugar and that was to put in double or treble the amount and add more caffeine. I have only ever had one of these drinks and that was after three days of drinking Guinness in Dublin on a stag do. I cannot imagine ever wanting to raise my blood sugar level that much in any other circumstance. Are the regular drinkers of these energy drinks tomorrow’s diabetic patients?

Another quick anecdote. Months ago in the deepest, darkest, part of winter,  I was running in full length running compression tights and a jacket. From behind I was pretty genderless (I am a bloke). This was a Saturday early morning and I mention this because Saturday is more of a work day and there are more cars about.  I am always aware of the traffic around me and was very aware of a vehicle behind me that was slowing down. It drew up alongside me and I could see that it was a van full of builders. As soon as they caught sight of my beard and lack of boobs, they sped off at a rate of knots, possibly trying to work out whether they were gay or not. I related the story to a fellow runner in the office who happens to be female. She explained that it was quite common and something that women runners have to put up with. She told me that she has a friend who runs on her own by the side of a canal but that she herself would not. The episode gave me great respect for women runners and I guess us blokes will never really understand the things that have to go through to follow their sport.

Two small things from this morning’s run – let me know your views.

Saw a couple out running with the male running just in front of the female. Is this a macho thing? See lots of women wearing running tights that are compression tights to keep the blood flowing. They are cut off just below the knee so don’t help the calf – why is this?

Happy running, I am going back to my revision for my Welsh exam now. A full day of testing on June 12th which is 2 days before the Swansea Half Marathon.

Diolch

Clive

Training run of 13.1, yellow flowers and n=1 experiments.

The first thing to say about this weekend’s long run is that Wales in full of yellow daffodils, yellow gorse, yellow primroses, yellow forsythia and yellow wood celandine. If you are reading this as an insect egg and are into seeing things through ultraviolet light, then at the first sight of a warm day, if you hatch then your larder awaits you.

Next to say is that 13.1 in HR zone 2 caused absolutely no leg ache or lack of energy whatsoever.

My experiment today was based on a test group of, me. Otherwise known as n=1 experiments, meaningless in terms of scientific proof but meaning everything in terms of biohacking yourself. Up at 6am and the usual bathroom bits are followed by my running fuel preparation, which is supposed to be consumed 30 minutes before the start of the run but for me it is usually 15 to 20 minutes depending on how long it takes to get dressed.

Into the blender goes a quarter inch slice of Anchor butter followed by a tea spoonful of MCT oil and then a scoop of unflavoured Generation Ucan, an extremely slow release carbohydrate. Into the coffee machine goes a Nescafe Dolce Gusto pod of Grande Intenso coffee which is stopped a half inch from the top of a large cappuccino glass. The coffee goes into the blender and the whole blended mixture back into the cappuccino glass.

Concentrating on how my legs felt with regard to possibly running out of fuel I reasoned that;- there was no sign of tiredness or aching which (as I understand it) means that there are no messages travelling from my leg muscles to my brain to say (as I understand it) my leg muscles are running  out of fuel so, please brain, slow down or stop. Because of this, and because I had not fuelled during the run, I assume that I am successfully fuelled over 13.1 miles by fat and slow release carbohydrate. The advantage to this (as I understand it) is that no gels or other sugars or carbohydrates are spiking my blood sugar levels and then dropping those levels lower than they started, necessitating another boost of sugary product. On the health side I also understand that the non spiking of my blood sugar is not tiring out my pancreas by making it produce insulin all the time – so pushing me further and further away from possible diabetes.

My big assumption, and it is only an assumption, is that, as I am fat adapted and consume very little carbohydrate, and no pasta, rice, bread, ready meals or cakes/biscuits, then my body is fuelled by fat via ketones more than by sugars, especially while running in HR zone 2. The extra blood sugar afforded to my leg muscles on run day by Generation Ucan is provided through carbohydrate so slow release that it fuels my body for the whole of the 13.1 miles without a blood sugar spike.

Recovery, for me, is an important aspect of the run and let’s just say I fully understand the science behind ice baths but for me I am not looking to train twice a day and also, you would never get me near an ice bath, even if I was interested in training twice a day. For me it’s a hot bath with the grandchildren knocking on the bathroom door but not able to get in, a bowl of olives and cheeses on one side of the bath and a large cappuccino on the other side. Afternoon rest is sitting in front of the TV watching an afternoon of rugby with a bowl of mixed nuts and a large bottle of San Pellegrino water, wondering whether to run again in the morning (Sunday).

Mentioned in the last post a new “keep warm on a cold morning” running jacket. Put it out ready last night but swapped it this morning for the old waterproof jacket. Windy for twelve miles and then absolutely poured down until reaching home. A cruel reminder of the weather conditions at the Llanelli Half!

Also mentioned in my last post my horror in finding that Anchor butter in the UK is no longer imported from New Zealand where it was made from the milk from grass fed cows and is in fact now made in Wiltshire, England from the milk from pellet and grain fed cows. Because I have three quarters of a pound of Anchor left in the fridge I have decided to carry on using it until gone and then purchasing some Kerrygold.