Thursday, 28 May 2015

Running up Bison Hill

Locally Bison Hill is well known and revered by hundreds of cyclists and that includes myself.  As a runner I have found myself amongst only a handful of runners to take it on.  The climb starts at the T-junction with Dagnall Road, just a few miles west of Dunstable, Bedfordshire.

Three sections
The climb is 0.8 mile long in which there is a gain of 279 feet.  The climb can be divided into three sections.  The first is more of a gentle incline and is a straight line from the junction to the first bend to the right.  At that point the gradient increases and the road snakes through a leafy stretch with the perimeter of Whipsnade Zoo on the right and a steep bank on the left.  The steepest part is about 20% for a short distance and a little further on is a car park on the left.  As you go past the car park the road levels out into the last section which is just a few hundred metres from the finish.  It might be worth crossing over the road as there is a pavement for the last stretch before the Zoo entrance and the end of the segment.

Today's run - the Bison!
So, to today.  During the afternoon things had not gone to plan.  I had hoped to do a few things on-line but technology got the better of me to the point of feeling a real failure in some ways.  There was only one thing to do - run!  My family already knew that I was itching to run up Bison Hill once again and everyone was agreeable and supportive - I was changed and off in no time at all.

The first two miles are through Dunstable town and out onto a footpath with the bottom of the Dunstable Downs on one side, and the London Gliding Club on the right.  By the time I had reached the bottom of Bison Hill, about 30 - 35 minutes had passed, meaning I was properly warmed up.  Yes, I might have felt warmed up but I was also feeling heavy, thirsty and a little bloated.  I faffed round at the bottom of the hill, by the T-junction and adjusted my old analogue watch so I could time myself going up.  Then there was a break in the traffic and I was off, with a slow, steady paced run up the hill.  Getting to the first corner did not feel good and yet things seemed to improve as the climb proper actually started.  Quickly I got into a good rhythm with my arms swaying back and forth, side to side as I stomped up the hill.

I got over taken by a few cars, some seemed irritated by having to wait for the right opportunity to overtake.  Tough.  By the time I was half way up I knew I was in with a chance of a good time; my rhythm and breathing were good and my pace was consistent.  The biggest "problem" was my rise in temperature, hardly surprising really.  I was wearing a Helly Hanson top and my Ron Hill shorts. I was tempted to pull my top off, I wouldn't have been too cold at all, but that could have meant valuable seconds would be lost.  Through getting so hot, sweat was trickling down the back of my neck and my eyes were starting to sting with a little sweat seeping in.

Once past the car park and the road had levelled off a little I stepped up the pace with a queue of traffic behind me, although I was pretty much oblivious to them.  I spotted a pavement on the authorised and a space in the on-coming traffic so to make sure I could make it to the other side of the road I singled right, just as a cyclist would, and crossed the road.  The end was in sight and I ran pretty much as fast as I could, knowing I'd run quite well.

Mrs Lard and Respect from a driver
I jogged around the corner, passing the entrance to the Zoo and the bus stop.  I did notice some people waiting at the bus stop.  They were obese and dressed in the most awful gaudy colours.  Perhaps it was the original Mrs Lard, with her daughter and grand daughter alongside.  You could see the family resemblance between them and also with Little Miss Lard.  They looked so puzzled as I jogged past them!  A little further on the traffic ground to a snail's pace and as I needed to cross the road, one driver stood out and "flashed" his lights in a kind of Morse code for "Respect" as I think he'd seen me on the hill.

The rest of the run was pleasant, gentle and uneventful, going up and over the top of the Downs and dropping back down into Dunstable.  By the time I got home, I was already buzzing from the Runner's High and revelling in the experience.  What had started as a run in feeling down hearted and a little glum, had turned out to be one feeling so elated and happy, reassured and determined.  Now I need to capture that drive and keep it going as I consider some of the options that might lay ahead in terms of my career.

I couldn't wait and take a look at Strava.  My time had improved from 8:16 to become 7:30 which was a time I was pleased with and meant I retained my lead in terms of the Course Record.  Now I know this has only been run by a few runners and I'm sure there are others around who can beat me.  For now, just for now, I can enjoy the Course Record in running up Bison Hill.

How to run up hill
The benefits of running uphill
Cycling up Bison Hill (The Cycle Hub blog)

Monday, 25 May 2015

When do you become a "proper runner"?

I recently declared my friend John to be a proper runner.  He was intrigued and asked me about it.

"So when did I become a proper runner then?"

My reply was simple: "it was when you said you kept thinking about running and when you could run non stop for half an hour".

While those are off-the-cuff remarks, I do stand by them.  I remember myself when I had got bitten by the running bug and all I could think about was running.  Where I would next run, when, how far? You start dreaming up new routes, start thinking about entering races or events.  You start thinking about pushing yourself a little further, thinking about taking in a few hills sometime.

It goes further with thoughts of making sure you have the right running gear, starting to work out what your pace is and how does that compare with others?  So how do you find out about others?  I once remember spotting a runner on the other side of the road and I matched my pace for a while and I reckoned he was a seasoned runner, so things were looking hopeful for me.

The next step is maybe buying the odd copy of Runner's World or starting to surf around for some blogs (hey like mine!).  You might even join a running club, or an on-line forum as well, of course, as entering a race.

In terms of actually getting out there and running, I'd say that for anyone who starts from scratch and builds their fitness to run for 30 minutes non stop, they can justifiably say they are a runner.  There's no magic number, but something around that would be a fair definition.  And how far do you run in 30 minutes?  I'd say around 3 miles or 5k is a fair pace for a new runner, give or take a bit.

All this could go on for ages, building up the picture of a proper runner.  Suffice to say, whether my friend John likes it or not, he's a proper runner.

Tuesday, 19 May 2015

Running at Forest of Marston Vale

Okay, this has to be the most awful, cheesiest photo on this blog.  Nevertheless it was kind of a passer-by to quickly do this for me.  And don't let the naff photography put you off reading further about a lovely place to run.

Sometimes I visit our office in Huntingdon, in Cambridgeshire, so the most practical route is using the A421 which passes this lovely site.  I have run there a couple of times now and absolutely loved the different scenery to run through.  Please just think of me at work, slaving over a hot keyboard making sure the tax payer's money is being used properly to keep you all safe and sound.  As you might know my job is stressful sometimes but even when it isn't, I still enjoy a great run.

So having mentally planned a run, I took my running gear with me to the office and then changed before I left.  This was much to the amusement of some colleagues who only ever see me in office clothes, never mind my legs, knees and fine middle age figure in my running gear.  The drive from Huntingdon down the A1 was fine, as was turning at the notorious Black Cat roundabout (which amazingly was running fine) when the rain really got going on the last occasion.

Forest Centre, Marston Mortaine
The Forest Centre is in Bedfordshire at the village of Marston Mortaine.  It is easy to travel to on the A421 which runs just under Bedford in an east to west direction and it connects the A1 (Black Cat roundabout) to the M1 (junction 13).

It is, I think, a regenerated area.  Once this vast area was a key in the brick making industry and now described as:
Creation of the Forest of Marston Vale is the largest environmental regeneration project in Bedfordshire, covering 61 square miles between Milton Keynes and Bedford. 
This is ‘forest’ in a traditional sense; a patchwork of woodland and green space, mixed with farmland, villages and industry. It’s about using trees and woodlands to create a living, vibrant and dynamic area in which people want to live, work and enjoy their leisure time.
The actual Forest Centre is in a flat area with a visitor centre in the middle.  There's two lakes either side with lovely trails taking you around the edge of the lakes, with a couple of diversions here and there.  The first time I went there for a run (above cheesy photo) I ran around the edge and it was between 4 and 5 miles of perfect trails, with glimpses of the lakes.  There are a few other routes which you can take to avoid any boredom and the paths are, for the most part, grit and absolutely perfect for running on.  For 99% of the time it is plenty wide enough to run side-by-side.  Also for Strava fans, there's a few segments dotted around.

Out of hours
The general public can enjoy open access to the Forest Centre at any time.  I did just that by leaving my car at the entrance.  Just as well really as I was setting off for my run, a Ranger came along and locked the gate.  He helpfully confirmed it was okay for me to run around the tracks, even though the visitor centre was closed for the evening.

I prefer running routes which are circular, compared to "out and back" as it always feels more of a journey.  It is virtually impossible to get lost at the Forest Centre and it was nice seeing, on both occasions, a few other people jogging, cycling and walking their dogs.  By the way, I am going to blog about a few encounters with dogs and their owners another time - apologies in advance as I anticipate I will be posting a very cross article.

So there you are, a perfect place to run at any time and it certainly looks as if it is well used.

The Forest of Marston Vale
Elliptigo test impromtu rest ride

Tuesday, 12 May 2015

More on blogging

Back in April I blogged about blogging (click here for the post) and I just wanted to add a little to that.

In the time which I have been blogging, I have really appreciated the comments people make and I especially value the times when people email me directly ( to raise questions, make further comments and generally have a little further correspondence.  I am also grateful for the opportunities I have had to review healthy food, clothing and cycling products, plus being commissioned to write for other people.  Here's a huge 'thank you' to every one of you out there!

I wanted to mention another blogger who kindly left a comment on one of my posts, with a link to her own website.  It would have been so easy to have simply let it go without really noticing.  My original post was about the healthy benefits of Pressure Cookers.

So after a while I took a look at her blog which was dedicated to pressure cookers and I was pretty impressed, so I emailed her.

I was very heartened at the friendly reply which quickly came, full of ideas and encouragement.  It's so heartening to know that there are so many helpful people out there in the blogging community who engage with others via the web for no reason other than being helpful.  That's cool.

So if you'd like to know a little more about pressure cookers, recipes and so on, here's her website:

Monday, 11 May 2015

Taking care of my knees

Back in April one of my blog readers asked about taking care of knees.  This was from the perspective of many runners having injuries with knees.

Naturally it isn't just runners who occasionally have knee problems; injuries can be common in many sports as well as the general population.  Knees are complicated joints and have to be strong in taking a lot of punishment over the years.  I also come across many people who often say they would love to become a runner but their knees aren't up to the job.

With this in mind, here are my top tips for taking care of knees:

Correct shoes
I have blogged many times before about the need to have the correct running shoe.  This does not mean simply paying a lot of money for the latest in fashionable trainers.  No.  It means getting shoes which are the correct size and are suitable in terms of whether you over or under pronate as you run.

To achieve this I recommend ALL runners starting out have a proper gait analysis done at a running shop.  This is either done on a treadmill and you're filmed in slow motion to see how your feet land and roll forward, or you simply run around the shop and you're observed by an expert eye.

Getting the right shoes not only benefits your feet but your whole position as you run, this includes how your knees perform.

Correct saddle height
This applies if you're a cyclist.  Many cyclists ride with the saddle too low, especially on these horrid Bike Shaped Objects which people buy from supermarkets for £99.  These heaps of junk do more harm than good.

By making sure your saddle is at the correct height in stretching your leg nicely - but not completely - when you turn those pedals will make your ride more efficient, comfortable and less likely to cause injuries.

When you're exercising
I mentioned above that knees are complicated joints, therefore it's important to take note of any discomfort or pain when you are exercising or training.  This is especially relevant to all runners, as the constant pounding our knees and ankles take can be considerable.  Also this applies equally to people who have had replacement knees as well as those who haven't.

I have heard some runners say they run through the pain.  That's all very well but when joints, such as knees, become painful it is because something is wrong and it is important not to make things worse. There's simply no point in being "tough" and regretting it later on.  Beware of any twists or strains, which can happen with sudden changes in direction, or trips and falls.  If you notice any kind of restricted movement or instability, a pain that won't go away etc. it could be time to visit your Doctor.

Take the stairs
In my office we have stairs and a lift serving all three floors.  I always take the stairs to get a little exercise whenever I need to move around the building.  Sometimes I simply walk up one stair at a time, usually I go two steps at a time.

Last week I had a large box delivered which was too heavy to carry and I used the office trolley to collect it from reception.  I popped it into the lift, pressed the 2nd floor button and raced the lift.  Beating the lift is actually easy as it's not fast at all.  When I got to the 2nd floor some of my colleagues were there waiting for the lift and were amazed, puzzled and completely unsure of why I had raced the lift.  But then, you take a look at them and you can see what I mean (use your imagination here....).

Gaining down the stairs I always take care not to "jar" my knees by landing all my weight onto a completely straight and rigid leg.  The foot and knee is designed to absorb such shocks and it's important we allow that to happen.  This also applies when running and I take care to land softly when coming down hill (by the way, including a few hills is brilliant running for me - love them!).

Keeping your weight right
Many people with knee problems are overweight.  I believe for many people who are a little overweight, problems with knees and ankles can become a vicious circle and this is where expert help is required.  After all there's no point in soldiering on trying to lose weight while causing further injuries in the process.  A Doctor or Sports Physiotherapist will be able to advise.  For some non-weight bearing exercise might be appropriate to strengthen knee joints i.e. swimming, cycling and other non-weight bearing exercises.

Running form
This connects to having the right shoes.  When I run, I often try to be aware of my "form"; this is how my body is working and how my legs, feet, knees, hips, arms etc are all working together to run well. Getting this right is a wonderful thing and for most runners it takes some doing.

Sometimes when I run, there's a certain magic when everything comes together to make a particular run so perfect.  Many other runners describe the same and I recommend any runner takes time to concentrate on achieving this.  Once you've got it, you know your body has worked well and it feels good.  When you run, you become aware of all of the many parts of your body working well with each other and your own control is as close to perfection as you can possibly achieve.

Eating the right foods
A sensible diet brings many benefits as we all know these days.  Going a little further there are some foods which will protect against diseases such as rheumatoid arthritis, which is relevant here.  Foods such as beetroot, various berries, curly kale, mango, nuts and sunflower seeds or oil are all beneficial.

How to look after your feet

Sunday, 10 May 2015

Recovery run

A Recovery Run is a good step to take after a major run, such as a marathon and one which I had been longing for all week.

The purpose of a Recovery Run, put simply, is to stop a runner from seizing up.  It is helpful in keeping joints moving and as a reminder about still being a runner.  It is also part of a healing process, should this be necessary.

There's no set formula as to what the length should be, or the intensity or speed but generally it is best for them to be gentle, easy going and comfortable.  A Recovery Run is not the place for seeking a high pace.  If anything starts to hurt (i.e. joints, muscles etc) it is better not to run at all, or at least make it a gentle jog.  The last thing you want to do is aggravate anything and delay the healing process.

And then there is the mental health side of a Recover Run, which should not be underestimated.  This is relevant where a runner has put everything into training and the race itself was emotional; this can happen.  Some runners may feel a sense of real achievement, others might be disappointed and therefore this needs to be processed and dealt with.  Therefore the Recovery Run can be helpful in putting everything in perspective.

Yesterday I had a Recover Run, following the MK Marathon a few days ago and I had been seriously looking forward to the run; here's the features:
  • Distance: I did exactly 7.5 miles over my favourite hilly route.  I decided to do it in reverse as I was not wanting to chase any time over any Strava segments or anything like that.
  • I was running for enjoyment, not for event training or improving my fitness.  I had nothing to prove, it was simply for the joy of running.  Arguably there is no better reason to run.
  • The conditions were perfect; temperature, scenery and my mood.  Just right.
  • There were a few spots of rain in the first mile.  My first reaction was wishing I was wearing an extra layer, possibly a light rain jacket.  Then I figured I'd simply enjoy it (at that point the rain stopped!).
  • I could feel a little ache or two in my legs but there wasn't much to it.  Just as well I wasn't pushing myself.
  • I ran up the shortest and steepest hill I know around here with comparative ease (at 1:4 it will never be easy)
  • I was feeling thankful I could do this run.  Thankful because I pulled myself away from being an overweight couch potato and lazy slob all those years ago, even thankful for all the stress and worry which drove me to it in the first place. Thankful because I have been given a good pair of legs, lungs and heart to allow me to do this.  

Wednesday, 6 May 2015

MK Marathon race report

Cannot waste anymore time.  I need to type up some thoughts on the MK Marathon before they get lost as I want to be able to look back on this in many years to come.  After all, isn't that one of the points of a web-log i.e. a blog?

You might know I was thinking this marathon might all go wrong as I had been suffering one or two injuries which I do believe, were all inter-related and self inflicted.  In the end it all came together and I even shaved a couple of minutes off my last MK Marathon by coming in at 3:56.  Now I know that result isn't going to set the world alight but I can tell you, I was delighted.

Getting ready started the night before by laying out the clothes I was planning to wear and this turned out to be an almost new outfit with my Ron Hill shorts, X-socks and dhb tri top kindly sent by Wiggle for me to review; more about that some other time.

Gravel for breakfast
Breakfast was a small bowl of gravel.  When I say "gravel" this is in fact the term Rachel uses to describe my breakfast cereal.  You see, it consists of a little basic muesli with added oat bran, a spoonful of ground flax seeds, a few sunflower seeds etc.  I suppose she might have a point, in describing it as "gravel" but take it from me it's brilliantly healthy.  Also included are some fruit, a dollop of yoghurt, coffee and Cherry Active to wash it all down.  Apart from all kinds of healthy nutrients to keep me healthy, there's a good supply of carbs to keep me fuelled.  Not too much though, last thing I want to do is run with a full stomach (this is the nearest a man gets to know what being pregnant is like).

Anyway, I drove up to Milton Keynes, found somewhere to park and strolled over.  It was looking like the perfect day: not too hot, not too cold, not windy or wet.  Just right.

Arriving in MK
I am used to this venue, the MK Dons stadium and this is a great place for the marathon to be based around, probably good for football as well.  To keep warm it seemed most runners were inside the bag storage area, which coupled as the VIP Bike Park and a place to hang around waiting for the cue to make a move.  Needless to say there was a steady stream of runners using the toilets (there never seem to be quite enough) and unsurprisingly some men had a last minute pee, yards from the start.

Once I was in the starting pen, I found my way to the 4:15 pacer, thinking that would be a pretty cool time, given my injuries.  As I was hanging around, alongside the other runners, little conversations nervously started up as we jogged and shuffled on the spot in an attempt to keep warm.  The PA system had the usual annoying rubbish coming across, including instructions to do a few Mexican waves.  Basically this was killing a bit of time as I think the start time had been and gone.  Eventually though the gun (horn, actually) went off and off we went.  Well, we didn't really.  There was the usual agonisingly long period to even start shuffling forwards before getting to jog my way across the starting line.

As soon as I had started, I then started to feel even more nervous as some self-doubts rattled through my mind.  Would my calf muscle hold out okay?  What about shin splints?  What about my hip, that could be even more serious?  That ground looks concrete hard if I trip and fall.  Am I going to be too cold going around?  Too hot?  Will I make it....? You get the drift.  And yet those unhelpful thoughts melted away as I gradually got warmed up.  For the first two or three miles I seemed to be surrounded by a lot of other runners, all packed closely together.  I had no idea where the 4:15 pacer was.

The runners around me seemed a mixed bunch, all age groups, men, women and a lot of heavy breathers!  Some seemed to be sweating a lot and grunting, so I was half checking they were okay and not about to keel over.  Nobody did, although one or two looked as if they could.  I consoled myself they were in the relay race and this is where individual runners would cover a few miles and then hand a baton over to someone else waiting.

The miles drifted by
As the route took us through the closed streets of MK, we must have been a fantastic sight with runners tightly packed on both sides of the roads.  Marshals were all well positioned.  I remember catching sight of a couple of race officials on Eliptigo bikes escorting the last runner.  It was a woman on her own, really struggling to move herself along and yet I thought "there's something I admire about you for trying".

The miles drifted by and eventually the full marathon and half marathon runners split in different directions.  This thinned out the field quite a bit and yet the profile was very similar.  Perhaps more women split to do the half?  Not sure.  In the full marathon there seemed to be some really good runners who seemed really accomplished and running with good form.  At this point I normally latch onto someone as a pace maker and I did just that; a runner who was cruising along almost effortlessly.  This was helpful for me as she was running at a good, steady pace and able to weave in and out of others.  I kept up with her for several miles.

The mile signs started to become longed-for sights and yet they seemed to crop up when the time was right for me.  As before, I was wearing my analogue watch which is good enough at giving me a rough idea of the time so far and then I'd try to calculate how I was doing.  By the time I'd passed the half marathon point, I realised that I could come in on 4 hours if I was fortunate.

And now the second half
The second half of the course seemed the best.  I knew I was being tested and thoughts ran through my mind about whether the pain of my various injuries would flare up and cause me to retire.  I had a couple of Ibuprofen tablets in my pocket, so I popped a couple in my month, one after each other, and crunched them up into the most digesting, foul taste and then swallowed.  What I needed was a drink station but this seemed to be so far off!

On the subject of drink stations, these seemed to come along just as I needed them, spaced out at good, helpful points.  I made sure I took a drink at each until I got to the 20 mile mark, when really I was feeling I should now make it without any extra water, Gatorade or gels.  Also at the 20 mile mark were a couple of Portaloos and I decided to make use - and boy, did I need it!  Running after that brief comfort break was wonderful!

My legs were starting to flag a little but I was so determined to keep going in the last hour or so.  There were now more and more runners who were walking and or jogging slowly.  I desperately wanted to maintain my pace for fear of slowing down and not being able to run properly.  There were some slopes leading up from some of the underpasses and these seemed to really cause people to walk.  The steeper these went, the more effort I pout in to dash up as fast as I could.

When I got a glimpse of the MK stadium at about the 24 or 25 mile mark, I felt very encouraged and even more determined.  I checked my watch and did my best to work out a 4 hour time was possible.  In the last half mile I really went for it with every bit of energy I could possibly muster.  I could almost hear people say "flash git" as I overtook several slower runners as I approached the stadium and once inside the ground my heart lifted.  There I was, finish line in sight and I was eager to make it across the line quickly, but without making a fool of myself.  Seconds later, I was across the line and it felt so good!

Part of the course design is to keep runners moving after their finish as a sort of cool down.  There was a St John's Ambulance crew on hand, just in case.  I got handed a bottled of water, got my medal, goody bag and then I went back to watch others finish.  Sitting down close to the finish I sunk deep into the seat, loving every minute.  My body was tired, a little cold and shaky; yet I was on top of the world.  I was having to hold back my smiles, my euphoria, my delight.  I watched the glee and delight on the faces of other runners as they too came in, on top of the world.  Cheers and greetings were there from many friends and families, all sharing hugs and cheers together.  I shared their joy.

Reluctantly I made my way out of the stadium after a little while.  I needed to get home to my family but not after whispering a "thank you" to the Good Lord for bringing me through.  My mind was buzzing, loving it, wishing I could do it all over again!

Marathon in numbers:

Distance: 26.2 miles / 42,195metres
Fastest runner: 2hrs 37mins
Slowest runner: 6hrs 51mins
Number completed: 1559
Men: 1167
Women: 392

My position:
Total completes: 589 out of 1559
Position male: 514 out of 1167
Veteran 50+ position: 88 out of 215
Fastest 50+ veteran 2:50
My time (chip time): 3:56

Split times:
6 mile: 54:08 male position 853
13.1miles 1:56 male position 751
20 miles 2:58 male position 595

Estimated VO2 max: 38.6

Although I am pleased with my results, I am humbled by the two men (Kevin Smith and Jonathon Norton) who are both in the V70+ group and beat me!

Waiting for the start

All shapes and sizes very welcome


Recovery, reflection?

Nice to share the experience

Thanks to St John's Ambulance 

KFC (Keep Fat & Chubby) doesn't quite seem right
MK marathon 2013
Mk marathon 2012

Monday, 4 May 2015

MK Marathon Results 2015

Well done to all the MK Marathon runners, plus the half marathon as well.  Like me you might have had a misleading SMS message with an incorrect time.  This has swiftly been dealt with and the results are on the following link:

I was really pleased to come just inside 4 hours again and I will post a full race report soon.

In the meantime I would like to thank all the organisers, marshals, medics and the many other volunteers supporting the event.

Sunday, 3 May 2015

MK Marathon countdown

This time tomorrow I will be nervously having my breakfast before setting off to Milton Keynes for the marathon.  This is the third time I will have completed this race and, as I have such good memories, I am really looking forward to it.

In getting the negatives out of the way, I am still being dogged by an annoying injury which probably ranks amongst the most avoidable injuries a runner could get.  I have a dose of shin-splints.  This is tenderness and some pain on the front of my shin bone (where various tendons join the bone).  I put this down to over-use.  The second injury (same leg) is one of the calf muscles is sore and has been for a few weeks.  Lately I have been having some short runs of only a few miles in order to remain supple but not to aggravate anything.

The solution to all of this is taking some Ibuprofen on the day and continued gently stretching, which does seem to be helping.  Having said that, I am prepared to pull out on the day if it's too painful and right now I'm thinking this could be a possibility, although this is something I have never done before.  Even if the race goes well, I dare say I will hobble around afterwards and it does seem to be affecting my hip after a run.  All this is another reminder of how fantastic our bodies are in terms of the complex design and how everything works together but we aren't made to carry on forever.

My checklist:

  • Race number
  • Safety pins x4
  • Shorts (I have treated myself to some new Ron Hill shorts!)
  • Shirt (haven't decided which to wear, depends on the weather forecast!)
  • Socks (again I have treated myself to some new ones: X-Socks)
  • iPhone, charged up
  • Small ruck sack, with bag tag
  • Running shoes
  • Timing chip
  • Sort out where to park
  • Plasters on the ball of each foot (a blister spot after 20 miles)
  • Trim toe nails
  • Hydration starts today
  • Don't eat too much this evening
  • Something to wear before / after
  • Some cash
  • Read through the race guide
Remind myself

Yep I need to remind myself why I do this.  This is a bit of "self talk" now and something I encourage other people to do themselves.  

Running is a fantastic sport and something I can do alright.  I will never be a medal winner but my performance isn't too bad.

It helps me stay in good shape physically and keeps my weight nicely under control.  I weigh the same as I did two years ago, albeit a tad higher than I have been in recent years.  My BMI is 22.  I have also had the results back from some blood tests; I like to have a check-up once a year to cover the usual things such as cholesterol, glucose, liver and kidney function, PSA and so on.  Besides I am apparently of an age where this is more cost effective for the NHS to make sure I am in good shape as it's a prime time for diabetes, strokes and other heart issues to emerge as problems which could be dealt with.  Nine tests altogether.  Happily these are said to be "absolutely normal, the Doctor doesn't need to see you about anything".

I need to prove to myself I can still do this.  If it wasn't for being injured, I think I could match my previous time of a whisker under 4 hours as otherwise I feel pretty fit.

Also I need to do this for the satisfaction of doing it.  There are many challenges along the way in terms of training and the actual day itself.  I need to prove to myself I can do it, not to give up and make a good time if at all possible.

Can't wait.

Saturday, 2 May 2015

Leighton Buzzard Canoe Club

Since last summer we've become involved with kayaking, involving all of us as a family.  During this time it's been fascinating to learn a little about kayaking and great gradually getting to know some of the other members.  The kayaking takes place on the Grand Union canal, here in Bedfordshire.  I can tell you, I've become impressed with the club, the facilities, the coaching and have taken the opportunity to catch up with Julian Brown, the Club Chairman.  Here's how are conversation went:

I'm confused Julian! The club is called the Leighton Buzzard Canoe Club and yet we're in Linslade and I see kayaks all around me - what's going on?
Julian helpfully explains Kayaking is a bit of a tongue twister. Canoeing and kayaking are similar to each other.  Canoes use a single paddle and kayaks use a double ended paddle used on both sides.  Kayaks tend to have decks and canoes tend to be open.  The canal runs through Linslade and nearby Leighton Buzzard is the general area.

Within the club, what's your role Julian?
I have been Chairman a couple of times now, this time for three years now and I also enjoy being a coach.  I'm not a big public speaker and prefer to encourage people, rather than telling them what to do.

Can you take me through the club's beginnings ?
It began in 1976 at a time when no one was using the canal for anything, there were hardly any narrow boats when we started.  It was a terrible waste and yet there were quite a few people with canoes in the town, so we got together one day and went paddling with each other.  That's how the club started.

So you're a founder member?
Yes and I'm the only founding member left in the club.  I have paddled since I was about eight years old using a home made canoe and we paddled on different sections of the canal around here, not competitively, just having some fun.

Different types of kayaking and canoeing?
We concentrate on the sprint and marathon racing here and these are flat water disciplines.  This is because they're most suited to the canal we have here.  Other types include slalom canoeing, white water racing, canoe sailing, open canoeing, dragon boat racing and surfing.

Tell me about the club itself
We have about 100 active paddling members and around a further 20 non-paddling members.  Having around 100 members is pretty good for a club like ours in the area.

We have a history of using different buildings, including some constructed by club members but now we have our own club room and shared changing facilities in the new school pavilion and our new boat store building.   We're on a school site (Cedars Upper School) and they like us being around.

We have an equal mixture of men and women and different age ranges.  The youngest joining the introductory courses we run is about 8 years right up to some members who are over 70 years.  The coaches are evenly split between men and women which is good and helpfully brings a nice balance within the club.

So it's an attractive past time for people from all walks of life?
Yes it is.  We have all abilities and sometimes people find that if they're not so good at other sports, often people find they'll do well here.  Some people with various disabilities do very well in kayaking.

Once some disabled people get into a canoe and find they can paddle, it can be helpful to them in other areas of their life too.  Disabled people are not disadvantaged because of the racing system in the UK because it's ability based, not age based.  In national competitions everyone normally starts off in the lowest Division (that's Division 9) and when you become too good or fast for that Division, you're promoted up into the next Division.  The majority of people spend time in successive Divisions unless they're exceptionally good in which case they may jump some Divisions.

This means people don't become discouraged as they're competing against people with a similar ability, so you're not always going to be at the back.

Tell me a few things about why kayaking is so great
Firstly you get a great sense of freedom.  It's down to your own skill and technique about where you go on the water.

As there's so many different type of boat, there's many different types of skill to develop.  Kayaking well is quite a skill and there's an art to balancing, especially when you're going flat-out.

It can also be really exhilarating, especially on white water or in fast moving water.  You can get a real buzz from it.

I enjoy teaching and encouraging people.  I spend most of my time with young people and novices and find it rewarding.

In terms of overall fitness, I've noticed there's more to it than waving your arms around.  Tell me more, is it a healthy sport?
Yes it's a very healthy sport.  You use all of your body in kayaking, right from your feet, legs and trunk with all the big muscles in your back and shoulders working.  Your arms and hands control the paddle in the water, this brings a real dynamic force on the paddle.

Once the paddle goes into the water and you pull on it, it's not really the paddle which is moving its you moving past the paddle and this is especially so with the modern wing blade types.  You stab them in the water and they only move 4 or 5cm in a whole stroke as you haul yourself past.  This uses your upper body rotation and strength to get a long stroke.  Kayaking uses the whole body and that's why we train the whole body.

So how do you train the whole body here in the club?
With general fitness we do different circuit training sessions for different people but it all starts with aerobic gym training and we do different circuit training, according to age.  We also do some fun things especially with the younger members.  We find that once someone has mastered the technique of paddling, other than fitness and strength there's not much else that happens to make you go faster in the water and that's why training is important.

Although some members go paddling in the dark, not everyone does this.  We also have a running sessions either around the field here or around the town in the winter which all members are invited to attend when it's too dark for them to go on the water.  This is similar to what the local running clubs do.  In addition to the running and circuit training, we also do weight sessions for adults and older juniors members.  This builds cardio vascular fitness and strength.

Is being over weight a disadvantage?
Generally the most successful competition kayakers are tall and slim.  Weight, however, does make a little difference but not as much as other sports such as running where you have to carry the weight, although the boat will sit lower in the water and so there's a little more drag. Kayaking is potentially a good way of shifting weight.

Awkward question now.  What's the most embarrassing thing that's happened to you?
Falling into the water!  The most embarrassing times are when you don't intend to fall in and you do, especially when I was taking a "Come and Try" session with some scouts.  We had all got onto the water and they were all setting off well with everything under control.  Suddenly I lost concentration and fell in!  This was embarrassing with the coaches and other people I know being around and seeing it - but this is all part of it.

What are you most proud of with the club?
When we started it was just with juniors and naturally takes a while for people to grow up through the club.  Some members have gone on well, for example one girl went to the Los Angeles Olympics paddling a K4 from our club and that was a proud moment.

We have had juniors in the national squad almost since the beginning of the club - this is the selection process for international events such as the World Championships under British Canoeing (this is the governing body for the sport).  We've nearly always had people in the junior squad and also in the senior squad as well, which is quite difficult to get into as there's a lot around who are very good canoeists.

I notice you have lots of members involved in doing things around the club...
Yes, it's always been a family based club.  Quite often children join and then later on their parents realise they could be doing it as well.  We have a lot of adults here who have followed their children and some don't start until after their children have grown up and moved away.

We involve all members of families in activities, it's not just all about canoeing as there's a social side as well which helps.  People work together doing things in the club.

Tell me about the coaches
The coaches are properly qualified.  The coaching system has changed over the years so that a coach in another sport can do a "conversion" course to become a Kayaking coach quite easily if they have the coaching skills already.

Wrapping up
Although we're new to the world of kayaking as a family, we can certainly see the benefits of being in such a great club!  One last thing, one or two people have suggested it can be an addictive pastime......

Many thanks to Amy Tingay for supplying the excellent photographs for this post.  Should you wish to see more of Amy's work, here's her website: Photography by Amy

If you would like to know more
Please visit the LBCC website: Leighton Buzzard Canoe Club