Sunday, 23 December 2012


This is a short post to share a couple of things ...

100% - Last week due to the generosity, kindness and support of over 60 fantastic people, Iain and I passed our minimum fundraising target of £3,700 and are well on our way to smashing that to bits!

50% - And in a few hours time I will have completed half of my marathon training! As mentioned before my plan was to do the FIRST half marathon plan followed by the FIRST marathon plan and for the last week or so I have been on taper* for today's run of 13.1 miles (Half Marathon) at race pace. Even though this isn't a race, I actually feel quite nervous and the adrenaline is already pumping.  I think this is because every long run in the plan so far has been slower than race pace (9.58 min./mile) so this will be the first time I've run it this quickly (yes it's quick, for me) and a chance to prove that the FIRST plan works! The FIRST marathon plan follows the same principles with slower than race pace long runs throughout most of 16 weeks leading up to the marathon and I'm hoping that today will give me the confidence that providing the build-up of miles doesn't do me in, I should have faith that my plan will get me there.

Two sachets of banana-smooth-peanut-butter GGG prepared, hopefully worn in new trainers, good tunes ready, hearty breakfast consumed, water on board ... 
... wish me luck :-s


* taper = "a progressive non-linear reduction in the training load during a variable period of time, in an attempt to reduce the physical and psychological stress of daily training and optimise sports performance" (Mujika 2000) - or in other words, the plan gave me a pretty easy week and I felt like I was slacking big time!

Thursday, 13 December 2012

Alison's Running Gear Essentials

Whilst going out for a run is one of the easiest exercises to take part in with minimal kit needed, as with all undertakings there's a plethora of spangly items available all selling themselves as 'essential'. 
Since Iain and I have been running (with varying levels of intensity) for a few years now, we thought we'd each share our Top 5 Running Gear choices that we've had actual experience of rather than a wish-list of top-of-the-range stuff. Well-fitting trainers are a given so we haven't included these in our lists. I had new trainers fitted by Run And Become near Victoria, London last week and was impressed by their service. I'm sure everyone will be thrilled to hear about my new trainers when I start wearing them this week...

Alison's Top 5 Running Gear:
  1. Good sports bra - Moving Comfort Juno - I bought this last week and it's the best sports bra I've worn in that nothing moves yet I can still breathe. It'd be great if Garmin made a good bra incorporating their heart rate sensor but that seemingly obvious line extension/brand collaboration doesn't exist. Come on Garmin, it would be much more comfortable for the ladies!
  2. Device to tell you what to do/how you're doing - Garmin Forerunner 410 - it's much much easier to obey the device than my occasionally weak will! Knowing exactly how far I've gone and have left to go takes all the guesswork and fudging out of training and a Garmin does this really well. I used to use Nike+ and an iPod Nano and revelled in hearing Paula Radcliffe tell me over my headphones that I'd done my furthest run yet. It was fantastic motivation.
  3. Good tunes - Above & Beyond Group Therapy Podcasts - I love listening to Trance music whilst running and these podcasts are 2-hours of good music arranged like a radio show with shout-outs to ABGT fans ... maybe I'll get one sometime (hint hint).
  4. Waterproof top - Gore Essential - Acquired in a sale at Sweatshop in 2006 this lightweight top keeps the rain off unless it's torrential and stops the wind from cutting right through. Worn over just one layer underneath works well enough even on cold days. Downside is that it lacks usefully-sized pockets.
  5. Way to carry water and gels - Camelbak - I don't like running with a water bottle in my hand and waist belts irritatingly ride up from ladyhips to waist so when I started to use Emily's running Camelbak it was something of a revelation. I can carry water, GGG and when it comes to the marathon itself, my phone, keys and painkillers too. I'm considering purchasing one I can use a larger bladder in though as I don't think a litre of water is enough for long training runs.
  • Running hat - Nike Daybreak - keeps the sun out of my eyes and the rain from pouring down my forehead. Dries quickly and can be washed in the machine. A winter version made of wool would be ideal right now. Instead I make do with an old fleece beanie.
  • Socks - Smart Wool Womens PhD Running Mini - made from merino wool for warmth and sweat-wicking these are the best running socks I've tried and I now have three of the same pairs and rotate them.  Wool socks in my experience keep my feet the driest and therefore, fingers crossed, less blister-prone.
  • Tights - Sugoi MidZero - frustrated by constant cold ankles and having to roll the waistband over twice (giving me a stomach ache) to shorten the rise of men's running tights I searched fruitlessly for the holy grail of running tights made for the above-average height woman. They do not exist. Run And Become suggested these tights and they're so snug there's no way they can get up off my ankles to create a gap and grip my waist tightly so there's no 'rapper's crotch' either.  They seem to work, I just hope they don't loosen up too much after repeated washing... we shall see. Another plea to Nike, Brooks, Sugoi, Odlo, Gore, Asics, Adidas, New Balance, Mizuno, Ronhill etc. - can somebody please address the needs of tall, slim women runners. The evidence of our frustration is all over the WWW!
  • Tops - Kalenji, Nike - fact: cotton t-shirts soak up sweat and rub. We bought a few cheap synthetic short-sleeve tops from the Kalenji brand at Decathlon and five years later they're still going strong. Now it's cold I'm wearing a Nike long-sleeve base-layer running top and miraculously the sleeves are long-enough for me and it's keeping my arms warm underneath my Gore top (above). The latest and greatest base layers are made from merino wool but I'll wear my current tops out first before investing again.
  • Gloves - they're essential on a cold day to stop your hands from going numb and red and I've been quite happily using my old convertible gloves bought for Duke of Edinburgh Award training when I was at school. I can start out a run with toasty mittens and then when I get warmed up, flipping the end up means I keep my knuckles warm but I don't feel overheated. These gloves are similar.
I hope this helps some of the new runners in TEAM! and Iain will be adding his choices soon. Any comments/suggestions/secret sources of especially long sportswear please add below...

Alison :)

Monday, 10 December 2012

TEAM! Cake!

Sunday saw 9 members of TEAM! meet at The Southbank Centre for lunch, a chance to put names to faces and chat about various running-related concerns including sweat vests, needing a wee (or worse) whilst running and chia seeds.

Our TEAM! has Emily as our common link and inspiration and this was a great opportunity to meet some of the lovely people in her world that have embarked on the marathon challenge in her memory. There's a mixture of running experience in the team with a few running veterans able to share their experiences of running and of running London. Darren (mine and Emily's cousin) shared his techniques for cooking with chia seed and its miraculous blood pressure lowering properties (though don't overdo it as it is possible to go too low!) and the benefits of black running gear vs. grey for hiding sweat patches. Adam (Emily's partner) introduced us to the benefits of merino wool in exercise clothing backed up by Iain's experience of an apparently odourless week spent wearing the same merino top whilst we walked Hadrian's Wall this year. James (Anna, Emily's work colleague's fiancé) regaled us with his accidentally overpowered high-five moment at a marathon start that had the small child's proffered hand recoiling in pain and his parents weeping with laughter. And Jamie (Emily's work colleague) who wasn't even able to come along, provided us each with the most amazing TEAM! cake.

His recipe was inspired by one from a Runner's World article flavoured with healthy cranberries, orange and erm, white chocolate and decorated with trainers tied up with our TEAM! purple laces! It tasted as delicious as it looks and surely Jamie has to enter himself for the next series of Bake Off, he's got skills! Everyone was seriously impressed and those who couldn't make it to our meet will hopefully get their cake via one of the other members. If they mysteriously get 'lost' then I wouldn't be at all surprised - the above is evidence of what you missed guys!

Huge thanks to everyone who could make it along and our next meet is planned for late January to organise some group fundraising events and hopefully catch up with some of the rest of the team. Thanks also go to Iain for the Christmas biscuits though they were slightly eclipsed by Jamie's superb cakes. You're going to have to raise your game Iain! Since cake is now a bona fide health food, I shall now be consuming more of it.

Thursday, 6 December 2012

Bicycle Race, Bicycle Race, Bicycle Race.

Last night was my first outing on the bike for a number of years and it was quite jolly!
Ok it was utterly freezing, and at one point dancing up the North face of the Eiger that is the Norwood Ridge I thought my lungs were going to burst, but it was nice to realise that my bike handling has not gone completely to seed, managing a brakes-feathered but still fairly exciting 27.6mph on the descent.

In preparation for re-joining the daily London remake of Mad Max, I invested in a 
Muvi micro camera which for someone brought up on BBC Micros and Acorn Electrons is as near to witchcraft as I am likely to get that does not involve a windmill and burning torches.
Mounted on the handlebars it is a little juddery from the road noise, which was forewarned in an article by The Londoncyclist but even so, the thing is the size of an oven chip and surprisingly good.
So as a little Thursday magic, here's my ride home, well from Herne Hill anyway
(mobile users click here):

WARNING: It's a bit strobe-lighty, so anyone disliking that sort of thing may want to have a cup of tea instead
Featuring: '24 Hours To Tulse Hill' By the South London Royalty who are Carter USM

Wednesday, 5 December 2012

Summary of Week 2 in the Big Blog House

Cross-Trains Runs Total Miles Run Avg Pace (min/mile) Calories Run
Alison 2 3 28.13 10:20 3,027
Iain 0 3 21.16 8:49 2,582

And here are the status reports from our Arctic training camp:

Generally tired after a pretty heavy 10 days of running, but feeling ok and this week cross training kicks in which will be different however I could have chosen slightly more clement weather conditions to get back on the bike after a 2-year hiatus. Still, it looks good with shiny new tyres, new bar brakes and hopefully it won't snow until tomorrow...

Is suffering from the beginnings of a cold and is fighting a rearguard action, but is still able to train although starting to worry about the long runs which kick up a gear in January.

We have received a further £240 of sponsorship, thank you all very much indeed, and the most-viewed page is still the video of me stretching, so please look at this this one instead!

Monday, 3 December 2012

A Dish Best Served Cold

In a November post (pre-Levenson) Alison used some rather underhand paparazzi methods to capture me in a moment of private agony which she then proceeded to broadcast to the world at large.
At the time I said I would wreak my revenge; I just did not realise that it would be so easy or for that matter so soon. This morning, merely a week later, Alison was the architect of her comeuppance.
It was so moving, that I felt it was right, nay my duty to share it with you all.
It has nothing to do with running, but then the best things in life seldom do.

'Carol of the Bells' Performed by Michael Chertock and August Burns Red
& Featuring Wilkin & Sons Tiptree Brown Sauce

Sunday, 2 December 2012

Bonus Points For Guessing...

...where I ran to yesterday!

Correct! It's the Cutty Sark. The Cutty Sark is almost exactly 7 miles from our front door along the flattest and most picturesque route I have found so far. The Waterlink Way is one of my regular routes for long runs, going straight out and back and adding extra distance by going further before turning back. I've now done the whole Way twice, the first time accompanied by my good (if not slightly mad) friend Rebecca visiting from Ireland. We chatted the whole way which was quite a revelation for me since I didn't think I could talk and run at the same time and those 2.5 hours flew by. The second completion was yesterday and my longest run so far at 15 miles. I wasn't feeling top notch to start and only really felt good after 6 miles. The 10-mile blister kicked in as usual and the following 5 miles were a struggle, especially the loop I had to add on to make the distance. I guess that's the way it goes sometimes but finish it I did.

Before setting out I made two further Go Go Gu (GGG) formulations to test. The first was the original, heated gently to drive off some water and the second was one mashed banana plus 12g Whole Earth crunchy peanut butter. I also tried an experimental delivery system (sounds flash huh!) consisting of a disposable piping bag with a small hole snipped off the narrow end and sealed with sellotape and folded and clipped at the wide end. My findings if anyone's interested are as follows:
  • GGG #1 heated almost fits in one medium GoToob, but not quite - more work needed
  • GGG #1 heated requires more chewing though drawing breath whilst eating is easier and less likely to dribble over oneself
  • GGG #2 is really tasty! 
  • GGG #2 has greater quantity and took nearly a mile to get down
  • GGG #2 needs smooth peanut butter. Chewing nuts while going along feels like a choking hazard!
  • The piping bag delivery was awesome though didn't feel terribly robust
GGG #2 is really nice and at around 150 calories I think it's a good addition to my 'natural energy gel' arsenal. I may add a smidge more peanut butter and divide the mixture in half to make two 'gel' doses next time. I also realised that I ought to try shop-bought gels for at least one run to remind myself what the comparison is like. Next test: banana and jam.

Wednesday, 28 November 2012

1 Week Done - 20 To Go

It does not feel like it, but it has been a whole week since the blog went live and it has been a real surprise just how much its creation took out of me. 
Having spent the better part of 10 days writing content and code, I have been left burnt-out; becalmed in the creative doldrums and despite having a brimming top hat full of things with which I hope to entertain you, I have just not been able to put something together that I'm happy with. I promise to try harder!

Aside from scrambling my mental faculties, the added work-load also threw my running schedule out by two days and while this may not sound much, it required some committed action to drag it back on track which I should have managed by next Tuesday (and vitally, not having dropped any runs in the process)!

From any other perspective the first week has simply been incredible:

  • Your on-line donations now total an amazing  £2,115
  • You have sent cheques to us for a further £200
  • Between you, you have read 1,400 pages of blog
  • You have sent us over 50 wonderful emails of support and future pledges
  • You have written 2 blog comments and sent 2 Twitter replies

Alison and I have really been overwhelmed by your kindness and generosity and we hope you all know just how much it means to us - thank you so very, very much.
As we promised, we are committed to giving something back and despite creative block, in the last 7 days we have written 5 posts, 10 Tweets and churned out:

Cross-Trains Runs Total Miles Run Avg Pace (min/mile) Calories Run
Alison 2 3 22.72 10:31 2,318
Iain 0 4 27.44 8:42 3,337

One done, twenty to go and here is to next week and running in the snow.
It rhymes!

Monday, 26 November 2012

'Go Go Gu!' - The Natural Energy Gel Substitute

I have been experimenting with taking on carbs during my long runs since I started running over 8 miles at a stretch - the proper science indicates that it enhances performance; Alison science says that it makes sure I can make it to the end.

A popular method of achieving this is by ingesting one or more of the myriad of carb gels available, predominately wrapped in day-glo packets containing all sorts of un-pronounceable chemicals which the fantastic calls 'marketing fluff'. The more I read, the more confused I became as to which was the best gel and as I generally prefer the natural route to nutrition I've decided to try and make my own carb gel substitute. And it shall be known as 'Go Go Gu'!

There are several resources suggesting recipes to replicate the branded gels based on combining two or more types of carbohydrate e.g. maltodextrin, dextrose and fructose so that the body can process more carbs overall (click here for the science) plus something to make it taste nice, for example: fruit purée, lemon juice or vanilla. 
These recipes are usually an economical endeavour aiming to replicate a shop-bought energy gel which can be over £1 a go (and you need several per long run). I didn't really want to shell out on sacks of sugary chemicals from the off so I narrowed my research with a more natural theme and came across this simple statement:
'Bananas are a naturally efficient and convenient food for runners to use as fuel. Their high carbohydrate content makes them good sources of energy. They're rich in potassium and magnesium, minerals that runners lose as they sweat. They also have chemical properties that help control stomach pain from nerves and reduce the risk of stomach upsets'
And so the humble banana is not only the perfect running fuel but the average shop-bought energy gel has around 100 calories and an average sized banana is roughly 95 calories - uncanny
Carrying four bananas in some bespoke ammo belt however, seems impractical and even if I could, I still haven't mastered the run-chew-breathe-at-the-same-time trick. 
To overcome these issues, mushing it up seemed like the best way to make it easily ingestible and gel-like and to add interest, viscosity, a few extra calories and presumably a different carb source (glucose vs. natural fructose in the banana), I added a heaped teaspoon of Creme de Marron (chestnut spread with vanilla) that I found in France. 
It tasted great!

My Go Go Gu (GGG) was initially dispensed from a small plastic container which proved tricky to use mid-run. I subsequently came across a suggestion on a mountain bike forum which advocated silicone tubes - only available in the UK from Lakeland. With them, it is possible to squeeze my GGG (Formula #1) into my mouth whilst running, not have to chew very much and wash it down with a sip of water. 
As it stands, I'm happy with Formula #1 but it takes up too much volume - one small GoToob plus one medium GoToob currently delivers only one banana-dose, and as I might need 4-6 doses for the marathon I am going to experiment with dehydrating the mix by cooking gently and/or substituting some banana for nut butter and honey to increase its energy by volume. 

If only I could find someone extolling the virtues of cake with tea as healthy running fuel... all I'd need would be a blender and my Camelbak :)

Friday, 23 November 2012


Topically, this post is about giving thanks and yesterday, due to my increasing facial adornment, I was likened to Henry VIII which was particularly apropos as Thanksgiving came to prominence in England during the English Reformation.
That nugget not only finally justifies the history degree, but also represents a gift of knowledge from me to you and when it brings you a single-point victory in a local pub quiz night, don't forget those who helped you on your way.

Before I continue, it needs to be said that Alison and I have always struggled with the idea of a work/life divide. This may be because we work for ourselves, or it may be that subconsciously we harbour treacherous and treasonous criticism of our current reality and have succumbed to the logic and pathos of such socioeconomic commentators as Tibor ScitovskyBarry Schwartz, Ernst Schumacher and Making Magazine, okay I say we; Alison doesn't read the magazine.
One of the consequences of this is that we do not differentiate between the people who share our lives:
We treat everyone the same; our friends and also the people we work with.
On the negative side, this way of living clashes with people who expect us to deal with them on a purely commercial footing, who are expectant of a sleek, product-, brand- and service-driven experience where the customer is always right and cash is king.
However, on the positive side, Alison and I get up in the morning because we actually want to do the work for the people we do it for; it is certainly not for profit but simply because to us, they are friends and we would not have it any other way.

I hope that will go some way to explain and convey how deeply impacted we have both been by the host of sincere, encouraging, heart-warming, personal, sharing and simply wonderful messages that we have received over the past 24 hours. That is not to mention the phenomenal generosity shown to us and our cause which has given our fundraising an amazing boon.
Every communication makes us humble, proud of how we live and work and honoured to share our lives with you.
Thank you.

p.s. I promise that I will write something less intense and hopefully funny tomorrow.
p.p.s. I will wreak my re-wengy for the stretching video.

Thursday, 22 November 2012

Elaine Paige Horror

Iain's gone out so I can share this amusing sneaky video of him stretching post-run.... heh heh heh ;)
Note: you definitely need sound for this!  (Mobile users click here)

Monday, 19 November 2012

Lovely Laces

Last week on Friday I posted a pair of special running laces to TEAM! members donated by my parents to help provide the team with a way of feeling part of the group effort when we're all out there pounding the miles out training on our own. They're purple because Emily liked purple, and so do I ;)

I hope they like them!

34% Done!

I realised that even though I trained for a year to do the marathon in 2007, I didn’t do enough long runs to fully prepare myself, so this time round I've done some research and decided on a training plan following the advice in this book: I looked for a running plan that meant I could keep swimming since I had up until April 2012 spent a year doing a combination of swimming and running to lose weight and get fitter and I just don’t like running enough to do it full time. This time around I was already competent up to 10K to start with so I’m planning to do the ‘FIRST’ method plan for half marathon distance followed immediately by their plan for marathon distance. 

As I write this, I am on week 13 of my 34-week quest to become an averagely competent marathon runner. That's 34% completed!  As prescribed, I run three times a week and cross-train (swim) twice a week and so far I’ve found the plan pretty challenging but just about do-able. I hope it works as my predicted marathon time based on the reality of my pre-training fitness should be around 4.5 hours and that would be a dramatic improvement on 2007 (5:52:34!).  

I've been training since late August and using Iain's Garmin watch with the aid of a post-it note (I didn't understand how to program the watch) to time and run the very specific paces that FIRST stipulates. Iain surprised me with a gift of my very own Garmin Forerunner a few weeks ago so you can now see here the crazy number of times so far, even only since October, I've run round the local parks. 
Both Iain and my run archives are always up to date and can be accessed through the permanent link on the right of the site.
Also, Iain and I can now go out running at the same time of day although not physically together as he's quicker than me!

On an emotional level I've found the training to be helpful in having a goal to work towards when everything else feels it's in disarray and my fundamental belief structure has been turned on its head. Time out running, particularly early in the day when it's just me, the wildlife and the dog-walkers/twitchers feels uncomplicated and allows reflection that brings some tears, but the ducks don't seem to mind :)

Begin the Beguine

Nothing starts from nothing, a bit of running begets a bit more running and old habits die hard. 
It has been 5 years since I last wrote on a blog - the 2007 Marathon blog to be precise - and in the intervening, there have a few miles worn in to the trainers and no doubt a few errors worn in to the DNA. Welcome back!
As this is the first post, I will keep it brief and cover the basics...

The why is covered throughout the site; the where is all over London; the when is 21st April 2013 and this and future posts will cover the how; more precisely how Iain is going to run a sub-4 marathon.
Having tried and failed twice (2007 - 04:49:08 / 2010 - 04:05:57), I have placed my athletic future in the hands of Messrs. Pierce, Murr and Moss, the authors behind the so-far-fantastic Run Less, Run Faster.
Alison and I will undoubtedly spill the beans on the science and the experience as we go, but safe to say that we have been already following the plan for several weeks, and it is going ok!
In the 2007 blog, I added in run analysis for those with a particular interest in the details and I will be doing so again, but this time I have technology working overtime for me: what used to be 30 minutes work on graphics is now only a cut and paste away - here is a archive of all my runs (click on Slideshow, top-left for detailed view) courtesy of Garmin Connect - if you are a member, feel free to befriend me, or whatever the term is! 
Both Alison and my run archives are always up to date and can be accessed through the permanent link on the right of the site!

Please do feel free, indeed we implore you, to comment on our posts (no registration needed) as it makes us feel less alone. We will be using twitter (feed at bottom of page) to post the more flippant and emotional content.
Emily exemplified that we make a living by what we get, but we make a life by what we give; here's to a new journey.