Building Mental Toughness – Run Long And Taper

Run long and taper – with apologies to Trekkies. I kept hearing this phrase on a brilliant podcast that I found by Steve Runner (real name Walker but you can see why the change occurred) called Phedippidations. Back issues can still be found but he slowly lost interest in his wonderful running community after the bomb incident in his home town and the podcasts seem to have dried up. COME BACK STEVE!! We are missing your wit, your philosophy and your choice of inspirational music.

I was supposed to run long last weekend and taper down to a slow 13 miler on the flat today with no long run next weekend and then the huge, in numbers, Cardiff Half Marathon on the following weekend. These things never go to plan. Two days before the twenty miler I spent a long time in a new car, stop-start driving in London. My foot was constantly on the clutch pedal which was higher than in my old car so was bending my foot on every use. Add to this lace up boots and I ended up with a bruised upper left foot that took four days to simmer down to the point where I could walk properly again.

The idea of tapering is a bit alien to me as I am a runner that is either working or looking after grandchildren. I cannot seem to keep to any plan, run when I can (usually 5am) and constantly have that guilt feeling of any weekly mileage not being nearly enough.

So, today’s easy 13 turned out to be a faster (relatively faster for me) 13.1 mile run that ended up being only three minutes slower that my time in the recent Severn Bridge Half. So today was about mental toughness. It was a four lap course (so passing the temptation to get back into the car three times) taking in three miles of the actual, upcoming, half marathon.

For me the mental toughness thing comes at the point, at the bottom of the Roath Park rose gardens (for those that know the course) where, on race day, you observe all the runners, faster than you, going in the opposite direction with only one mile to go to the finish line whereas you have only reached the ten mile mark and have to run away from the finish line, up one side of the lake and down the other side, with faster runners always in view, a mile or so ahead of you but over the other side of the lake. This could be a moment of despair. My plan, that worked last year, is to chant a little mantra something like “How many times have I run around this lake? I could do it with my eyes closed.” Hence the four lap run around the lake today.

Other runners had the mental toughness idea also. I saw lots of Cardiff Half T shirts from past years, both black ones and red ones, their owners silently proclaiming “I am not a beginner you know, I have done this before.”  And lots of older runners, which reminds me of an earlier (an earlier press) finding that more and more older runners are returning to the second running boom after the experience of the first one (UK 1980s USA 1970s). If you remember I came 99th in age group at the Cardiff Half, took ten minutes off my time the following year and came 126th – You do the math(s).

It strikes me that with all these oldies getting fitter, the fear that the Youff (sic) have that they will be working to pay taxes to look after the oldies, may be unfounded. The oldies, may well be fitter, work longer, pay taxes to look after the unfit youngsters who sit around all day either gaming or telling everyone on Facebook / Twitter that they have been gaming.

I wrote in my paper journal back in August – “A week of extremes. Sat outside the gym where seven year old Mali does her rhythmic gymnastics and I had to sit in the car for an hour as we had turned up early.  At the end of the road was an imposing building “The Games Centre”. Watching people come and go from the games centre I would guess that about 90 to 95% were obese rather than just overweight. Mali finished her 6 hours of gym and was offered a McDonald’s as a treat. She asked if she could have just 6 chicken nuggets rather than a meal and went on to explain that her coach had been talking about nutrition, had said that McDonald’s was a once a month treat and that chicken was better than a burger – but leave off the chips at all costs.

I will be back after the Cardiff Half for a race report. Some fast runners expected (not that this should overly concern me) as the course will be repeated next March 26th 2016 as the “World Half Marathon Championships” I am already practicing my line to grandchildren that, yes, Mo Farrah and a host of Kenyans / Ethiopians did beat me. I guess I won’t have to tell them by how many hours they beat me!


Could be an excellent half marathon – please sort the parking issue.

IMG_0469Car Parking – has to be the first thing said. In its second year this half has grown and, if it grows again next year then parking will be a serious problem. Luckily I was in the area and registered to pick up my number (US=Bib) the day before but many were running from their cars to join the registration queue. .Arriving at 10 to 8 for a 9 o’clock start, as I did, was too late. The queues for the car park were backed up onto the motorway (which was closed to through traffic) and moved slowly towards car parks A and B.

We were told in the pre-race pack to alternate cars between A and B parks but everyone was going for B as it looked closer but wasn’t (could have had a marshall there). By the time I got to A  it was full, the marshalls were running around looking for vacant factory units that didn’t open on a Sunday and parking people there. Then people started parking on the grass and eventually at the kerb side on double yellows.

Some fast runners passed me at about mile 2 and I am guessing they missed the start.

That said, the rest of the race was excellently planned, marshalled and finished. The organisers make a big thing about it being a fairly flat course, which it is, but with one big hill in the middle. Psychologically you are either prepared or scared of this hill as the two slopes before it are sign posted “This is not the hill” When you reach the base of the hill it is signed “This is the hill – honest” and it most certainly was.

For me (finishing in 2 hrs 20 min) my pace was a pretty even 10 minute miling plus change. The mile with the hill in it (7th) was clocked at 12:41 and the following mile, down again, at 9:33. Nobody likes walking in a half marathon but if you were in the group that I was with (see times above) then you soon realised that those around you who were walking the hill were going faster than you running. It is a quick flick of a switch in the brain that says “Ultra runners walk hills” and before you know it you are walking.

From the top of the hill to the finish was mainly down hill with a nasty slope just before the finish labelled “This feels like a hill”

Full marks to the organisers for their pre race info, complete with humour, their marshalling and the finish area. The goody bag was ravished by me with salty crisps and two Mars chocolate covered swiss rolls going down instantly followed by a strawberry drink that I wouldn’t normally touch that went down in one gulp. Bananas could be collected as you went through the goody bag area along with water. The shirt is a tech shirt and is pictured here with the excellent medal.

Will I run this next year – yes, probably, because it is a well run local half in August with nothing else around. There were many running clubs represented this year and I am guessing many more next year so please sort out the parking.

Warning to each and every grandchild of mine. Every time we drive over the new Severn Bridge I will be pointing to the old one and saying “See that bridge over there? Bampa has run across that in the middle of the road!”

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.



The day that my children are allowed to shoot me.

london marathon badge 1987

I have agreed with both my step daughter and step son that the day I join the pack and drive in my car, the half mile to the newspaper shop for the Sunday papers, and drive too fast to get back before the bed sheets cool down, is the day that they have permission to shoot me.

Today I had a lovely 13.1 mile Sunday run with time to look around (heart rate zone 2) with a green woodpecker laughing at me before he flew across my path from one patch of trees to another. Unfortunately, at the start of my run, I have to run on a main road where people drive at well over the speed limit because, let’s face it, it’s o.k. because nobody else is around, are they. Dooohhh!!

The picture here is in respect for the amount of work that runners have put in to do today’s London Marathon. As you can see my “been there, done that, bought the badge” moment was in 1987 and it strikes me that, although I have stated no Ultras, no more full marathons, wouldn’t it be nice to do the 2017 London, 30 years after my first London? You will notice that in 1987 the event was sponsored by Mars and, those who are old enough to remember, will look back on the fact that after the marathon, on the way back to your car / coach / tube station you could see many little pools of sick with half Mars bars in the middle of them. I was very lucky to have been working for a company that sold Mars products and I was sponsored by Mars. Presented with Mars shirt and shorts, so shiny and stiff it would have cut me in half if worn on a run, I wore my usual Pontypridd Roadents Running Club kit and finished in 3 hrs 35 minutes (those were the days). After the event I found the Mars hospitality tent and used my pass to get fresh orange juice and fresh salmon wrapped around soft cheese, which was posh in 1977. Twelve Roadent runners used my pass to get refreshed before it started getting a bit too obvious that there weren’t that many runners sponsored.

I didn’t post after last weeks long run because work cropped up but what was going through my head at the time was the fact that I am enjoying my running again. I have been having a conversation on WordPress with someone who was feeling stale and wondering why she was running still. My reply, and what I was thinking at the time is that, having made the important decision not to run the ultra that was on my bucket list, having decided not to run another marathon (but see above) I am enjoying my running again and the different type of training for half marathons is new, fresh and inspiring. My Sunday long run of 13.1 each week is complimented by Sunday night swimming of 1600 metres and two gym sessions through the week. One gym session is six runs of 5 minutes at HR zone 2 with two machines between each run, one leg machine and one upper body machine. The other gym session is all upper body work between three 15 minute runs, at HR zone 2, HR zone 3 and HR zone 4. Hopefully I will be able to fit in some 5k Park Runs on Saturday mornings but grandchildren are more important at the moment.

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.

First Run Back, First Run In Sunshine, First Run In New Reebok Jacket.

Since my last post on “too scared to run”, due to a race heartrate of 210, my general practitioner (Doc) and me decided together that I would run on a treadmill, in the gym, for a while, with lots of people around me and the ability to stop running if I wanted. She organised blood tests and an ECG and away we went.

The following day I was in the gym testing my max. heart rate on the treadmill (same as normal) and the day after that I had my tests.

Returning to Doc for the results we found all the blood tests normal and the ECG better than normal for my 61 years – so, back to normal for the running? Well not quite.

Pat is still concerned about me running off into the Brecon Beacon mountain range on a 42 miler with the possibility of my pulse reaching 210 again so we ( she, the boss) have decided to leave that one a while and concentrate on half marathons. If you think half marathons are not that much of a challenge for someone who has completed ten full marathons then I should say that the IAAF World Half Marathon Championship is coming to Cardiff, Wales in March 2016 and I am already entered. There is also an opportunity in September /October 2015 for me to complete four halves in four weeks and join the Half Fanatics Running Club.

To get back to my results Doc worked out my exercise zones using the old fashioned 220 minus your age and I told him that at that heart rate I would have to stop jogging and walk every now and again. He asked me what maximum I used and then he worked it back to tell me my heart was nineteen years younger than the rest of me, which, of course, is only possible in a philosophical argument. Doc insisted that my running and cross training were doing a lot more good than harm, to keep it going and, surprisingly we then discussed up-coming planned races, including the recently entered Swansea Half, in June, in the warm.

He said he couldn’t be sure but if he had to make a guess he would say that because of the extreme cold, I had some sort of peripheral shutdown making it harder for the heart to pump. With my pulse then sky rocketing it may have gone outside the normal parameters for my Garmin and chest strap and the 210 may not have been real.

So today was my first run outside for two and a half weeks, (7.26 miles in Zone 2) my first run in bright sunshine since last Autumn and my first run wearing my new Reebok running jacket. I had picked up a cheap replacement running jacket at the beginning of Winter which turned out to be a cycling jacket with a huge pocket in the lower back for sandwiches, maps, spare wheels etc., but which I used for phone and keys. It was waterproof but not breathable, so running vests were soaking wet at the end of a run. I saw this Reebok jacket in the window of Reebok shop in a discount Mal in Sarn, South Wales and the lightness of it really impressed me. It was discounted from £55 to £35 so it was mine.

It is called, I think, Reebok Playice or is from the Playice range. I assume the Playice refers to a cracked ice pattern, which I related to Spiderman webbing due to having a four year old grandson. It is extremely light to wear and only has one tiny pocket for a key, in the upper left arm, so not designed to carry food, phones etc. it is with my other running gear labelled “probably not waterproof but ideal to keep you warmer on one of those crisp spring mornings when the sun has only just come up.” My particular likes are;

Zip covers so that the zip tab is not bouncing about (main zip and pocket zip also.

Rear split vent across shoulder blades with webbing inside for ventilation.

Thumb holds at the bottom of each sleeve, use them and the sleeve wraps around your knuckles keeping your hands warm

A means of pulling in the bottom seam (cord and toggle) so that it is tight in case the wind gets up.

Note;- I am not sponsored by Reebok in any way, this is a completely unbiased assessment.

Two things learnt over the last couple of weeks, both of which have surprised me.

I have always been of the belief, with cross training in the gym with weights, that smaller weights, higher reps and higher sets would increase power without increasing muscle bulk – ideal for running. To this end my eight exercises have all been 20 reps in 8 sets. I listened to a podcast recently where the guy interviewed said that this was a myth and the only way to increase strength was to up the weights and do maximum 5 reps in 5 sets. I am willing to give it a go and have done only one session of 5 and 5 as yet but will let you know on progress.

The other learning was a bit of a surprise. I have posted before about my love of coffee, first thing in the morning, containing butter made from cows that are grass fed. For me that meant either Kerrygold from Ireland (increasingly difficult to get as all being bought up by the Americans) or Anchor Butter from New Zealand where cows are also grass fed.

My surprise came when I found a sticker on my Anchor stating “Supporting British Farmers” I have researched this and found that in 2012, production of Anchor was switched from New Zealand to Wiltshire in England using English cream. This means all the anti-oxidants found in butter from grass fed cows are not there! Ah well, back to Kerrygold if I can find it.

Reebok Playice