Thursday 28 February 2013


I've spent large amounts of the last ten months helping Mum re-home and recycle the material contents of Emily's world and finally today her home joined that list too. I feel relieved in a way that such a big and difficult task is almost at an end but while dealing with Emily's things, I have really struggled with the concept of where 'she' is. 
What I mean is that 'Emily' wasn't there when I last saw her and not being of a religious bent I have no simple answer for where 'she' might be: She's not in the stuff she owned; I was able to recycle and re-home Emily's furniture, TV, music collection and even her clothes and shoes - which were (largely ;) ) good choices - with a fairly level head. Her flat wasn't a home without her in it, just some bricks and plaster, and because of all this I have struggled because I want her to 'be' somewhere. My brain longs for her to 'be' somewhere, and to be ok. 
It's such a huge thing to grapple with yet I do find comfort in thinking about some of the unique things she did and created that convey the essence of 'Emilyness' to me, and perhaps that's where she is, however difficult it is for me to comprehend. 
This brings me in a rambling way, and via several sheets of tear-soaked kitchen roll, to the playlist on the left. 
Mum, Dad and Emily came along to support Iain and I when we ran the London Marathon in 2007. As a typically, lovely gesture Emily presented us both with a self-curated mix tape of motivational tunes for Christmas. It was awesome and creative, and I wanted to share this particularly relevant example of 'Emilyness' so that members of TEAM! can experience it for themselves in the countdown to April 21st - or even on the big day itself. The only track I personally added for my 2007 playback was 'The Trap' film theme as performed by Ron Goodwin & His Orchestra, so that I could relive the watching-it-on-the-sofa experience as I ran over the starting line waving like a loon...

Sunday 24 February 2013

Go-Faster Stripes

So this was a picture of my right knee the week before last...
According to the Physio the stripes of tape across the kneecap crinkle the skin when my leg is straight to help the swelling which appeared around it to drain away. Which is nice. Thankfully the swelling has gone but I missed 2 runs and a swim due to all this and the Physio's instructions to lay off the exercise for 3-4 days. I'm very frustrated having trained with a slow build-up since last summer and choosing a training plan that helps minimise overuse injuries by running 3 times per week with 2 cross training sessions. It seems a lifetime's worth of rubbish running technique can't be solved by simply doing lots and lots of running. Arse.

So having completed a triumphant 20-miler a week last Saturday, rightly or wrongly my confidence was dashed in Ryan the Physio's advice to have this knee swelling appear on Sunday so I went to see a group called Six Physio at Monument. I went in with a swollen knee and came out of there feeling utterly wrecked! A seemingly lovely lady called Philippa determined the weaknesses and twistedness of my pelvis that results in the knee being unhappy and then went about destroying the golf-ball sized (maybe a slight exaggeration) muscle knots is my calf and hamstring to the extent that I was sweating with the pain and I left with bruises!!! I have been using Philippa's special instrument of torture namely the common or garden tennis ball to wreak havoc on the knots since and nothing much seems to happen apart from me yelping and inventing new swear words but I shall persist 'cos she said so.

I had my second visit to Six Physio on Tuesday last week and was scrutinised by Jen whilst running, walking and balancing whereupon she proclaimed my power muscles to be good (oh yeah!) but my core muscles to be pathetic (boo!). So all those Pilates-goers were right about something all along! Alongside the stretching and tennis-balling I've now got a daily set of exercises including aforementioned 'Clam' and some that I've chosen to perform using a foam roller. As a household we now have two of these since I had to buy a longer one to lie on but I suppose post-April when I've regained my lazy slouching posture once more we'll at least be able to use them for (rather one-sided) Gladiators-style podium battles instead :)
Trying to remember how to do the exercises in a less-than-optimal environment i.e. having both Iain and our friend Rob laughing at me proved challenging...

Thanks to Iain for taking the opportunity to entertain you once again and apologies for my oh-so-stylish fleece. Please also note that my 'weights' were the first two items of same size that I came across and that we're not total alcoholics, honest.

Friday 22 February 2013

The Lundy Challenges

Look at the fabulous scenery, certainly not the running goon
The last year has, for obvious reasons, taken a lot out of us and that is not taking in to account the training load, so by way of a little get-away before the run up to the marathon, last weekend saw Alison and I along with lovely friends Claire and Sarah spending 3 days on the Island of Lundy in the Bristol channel. Sat 12 miles off the Devon coast, owned by the National Trust and managed on their behalf by the Landmark Trust, Lundy certainly lived up to expectations as an unplugged, way-off-the-grid, beautiful, remarkable and very peaceful refuge and with a huge chunk of luck, the weather was the best it had been so far this year.

Challenge 1 - Packing
The island's supply ship, the MS Oldenberg, does not sail until March and the only way on to and off of the island is by twice-weekly helicopter. That bit is obviously awesome but the 10kg per person luggage allowance was a real exercise in packing efficiency, especially when you have all your running kit to consider. For this experience however, I would have quite frankly gone in my underwear and coincidentally, during the flight back, the high winds caused enough buffeting that Alison almost did go in her underwear.

Challenge 2 - Running
If you like your nature isolated, cliffy and rugged then Lundy is a jaw-dropping treasure. It is surrounded by breathtaking (quite literally) cliffs, and holds more history, habitats, archaeology, wrecks, flora, fauna, and vistas than your monkey-brain can absorb. While we were there, it also was home to a constant 20-30mph wind.
There is one 'road' on the island which stretches the length of it, but you would not want to try driving on it unless you had an amphibious vehicle, not that you could anyway because only farm vehicles are allowed. There are instead a number of 'paths' of flattened grass which circumnavigate and criss-cross the isle but as these have been made not just by people but also by Lundy goats and Soay sheep at any moment they can disappear off of a cliff, in to an open-topped sea cave featuring a 400ft drop to the sea or into a shoe-sucking marsh.
All said, I set off for my 8-mile tempo run on Saturday and within a mile realised that to run to a set pace here would have been an exercise in futility and so I reset my watch and went for my first ever off-road fun run and it was all rather fabulous. I laughed out loud and whooped several times with exuberance and excitement as I leapt from rocks, ran past light houses, sprung along tracks which four feet to my left changed magically to thin air, avoided belligerent Soays and for a good 300m sprung between tufts of grass to traverse a rather moist marshland. 

Not surprisingly, I met Alison and Claire mid way through their run during which Claire had managed to fall over in the mire no less than 3 times (see if you can see the encrusted mud). Chapeaux Claire! Claire is running Bath Half on March 3rd and in doing so has really kindly raised money for Diabetes UK under the TEAM! banner and for that we are amazingly grateful - GO CLAIRE! (it is less swampy, Bath).
If I could run on Lundy for every interval run I would be there in a shot. It was sensational and it opened up a whole new world of running. 

Challenge 3 - Electricity, Heat and Doh Nutters
On the island, the power is provided by three Cummins B and C series diesel generators (that is why I have a beard) and they are turned off at midnight to be restarted at 6am. While this was initially odd and in a weird sense disquieting,  it quickly became the norm and I was only caught out once reading my book in bed.
Although there were storage heaters, by far the most effective heat came from a coal fire stove in the lounge and as we were in a 13th Century stone building, it was a quick lesson in not letting it go out overnight otherwise the place got somewhat fresh first thing in the morning.
With little mobile reception and mercifully no televisions we spent much time walking and reading but when this was just not enough, people resorted to some extreme measures. Ladies and Gentlemen, I give you Doh Nutters. Quite how three adult women can spend so long working out how to pick up plastic rings using elephant masks is a mystery, but they did. The picture also allows you to see why the Great Lundy Bank Heist failed.

Challenge 4 - Lundy 'Letterboxing': How Has No-one Died?
Lundy Letterboxing in case you do not know is the same as geocaching which if you still don't know is finding hidden Tupperware boxes in the countryside. While it is a fantastic way to see the whole island, the staff have certainly made sure that you see bits of it you would otherwise miss by cunningly hiding the boxes half way down cliff faces. It was fun but utterly, utterly bonkers.
As you may well be aware, I do suffer wonderfully from Acrophobia at the best of times but it was quite alarming how quickly even I acclimatised to this new game of Russian-cliff-roulette. 
It all came to a head when Claire in a moment of outer-body clarity, looked around and saw the four of us wandering around half-way down a cliff, 400ft over some rocks and the booming Atlantic in a 25mph wind, looking for a small box in a bag under a rock which given the vagueness of the clue and directions may or may not have been there.
Letterboxing has been on Lundy for 30 years and the fact that no one has fallen in to the ocean is testament to something, I am just not quite sure what.
I went home to wrap my head in cotton wool, and Claire and Alison went off with 'Soay' Sarah who now had blood-lust for the game.

'Soay' Sarah letterboxing without a safety net

Great run, tremendous weekend and if you get the opportunity, go to Lundy. But not all at once as you won't fit.

Wednesday 13 February 2013

Give Me Fuel

Give Me Fuel, Give Me Fire, Give Me That Which I Desire!

So snarls James Hetfield with a menacing, vexatious, spiny pugnacity every time Metallica blast headlong in to their epic 'Fuel'. Come on, if you can't be rambunctiously sesquipedalian when describing heavy metal, when can you?

This track has been stuck in my head for the past week since I heard it during the hardest part of my most tortuous run to date (metrics over on the right and here), but I am not complaining for not only is it a tremendous power anthem - especially when you are 3/5ths though track repeats and your world consists of pain and not enough air - but it is also serendipitous as this post is about fuel.
As you may have read, Alison has been conducting her own experiments on optimum race-nutrition, but this post comes courtesy of my experience of non-race nutrition, or (putting my little finger to the corner of my mouth) should I say over-nutrition Mr. Bigglesworth?

In the first two weeks of my switch from 10k to marathon training plan, the jump in mileage had me believing that I could eat absolutely anything I desired; I was, after all, an 'endurance afleet' and the training itself co-conspired by making me want to eat everything I could lay my hands on.  It came as some surprise however when at the end of week two, I found out that I had put on 2kg.
I mulled the muscle-is-heavier-than-fat argument, but since I had not been taking industrial steroids nor had I spent the week pulling trucks or lifting atlas stones, I conceded it was most probably due to me being a greedy boy and since then I have returned to using the tremendous myfitnesspal to keep tabs on my nutrition and the weight has already come back off. 
Deep down I was not really surprised: Alison and I used this fabulous and free tool a while back, losing 25kg (4 stone in old money) over the course of a year and through doing so, we became even more acutely aware of what constituted our food and what we were putting in our mouths. 
Weight gain and loss is for the vast, vast majority of people simple maths: Calories Out - Calories In; if, over time, this produces a positive number you will put on weight, if it is negative you will lose it. The trap I fell in to was one of bad reasoning: long runs = loads of energy = limitless food, but sadly it does not - a medium pizza is around 1000-1200 calories and in order to burn through that, I have to run 10 miles (even in the marathon, I will 'only' burn 3000 calories). Usually, when people hear this they are initially surprised and then shortly afterward aghast as they do the mental arithmetic of converting their mid-afternoon snack in to hours of running and then abruptly change the subject.
Bottom line (no pun intended) is that it is always good to keep an eye on your food habits and maybe even perform an audit every now and again. Alison and I have a solid awareness of what we eat; the majority of our food is home-cooked and through our own research, we have developed a good understanding of nutrition and the food supply chain, however even knowing these things I am still caught out when I'm not paying enough attention and my urge system is singing so loudly along with Mr. Hetfield that I can't hear myself think.
Back to the running, and it certainly doesn't hurt to be eating the right stuff for that...

Ohhh, On I Burn,
Fuel is pumping engines, 
Burning hard, loose & clean 

Friday 8 February 2013

Lazy (right) Butt(ock)

I went to see Ryan the Physio again on Tuesday to try and understand why my right knee had felt strange for ten days and it turns out the reason is that I have lazy right-hand-side bottom muscles! I was relieved when he told me that the swollen bursae (protective fluid sacs) behind my knee aggravated by the knee working hard to correct my asymmetry in running cannot get broken or snapped and my knee shouldn't hurt any more than it did. The strange feeling I had inside the back of my knee was essentially the swelling and also the cause of me not being able to fully straighten and lock out my leg since the hamstring muscles couldn't stretch over the lump. So Ryan was happy for me to carry on with my speed work run of that day and allowed me to use the gym where he's based to do this and so he could see my special gait in action. He's prescribed ice and buttock exercises so whenever I've been at home I've strapped an ice pack round my knee for 20 minutes every hour and a half and today (touch wood) it feels miles better.

The exercises are 40 reps (2 x 20) each side of the Side Lying Hip Abduction (The Clam) for Gluteus medius activation with an added freeweight balanced on the top knee - our hardbound copy of Larousse Gastronomique has never had so much use!

Picture credit Elizabeth Quinn
Plus 40 (2 x 20) reps each side of an adaptation of the above exercise raising the top leg, kicking back into the air then returning that knee to the floor in front of the lower knee. Apparently if I do these exercises daily I can correct a lifetime of dodgy running technique... sounds incredible but I'll do it until I'm 'toight like a tiger' ;)

The second 20-miler is up for me tomorrow so I'm hoping I'll be able to forget the recent leg niggles and just get on with it. After abandoning my first ever training run on Thursday after only 2 miles because the knee hurt in a new location for no apparent reason I'm keen for this injury-obsessed blip to be over already. Keep you posted.

Monday 4 February 2013

Trans Pennine Trail

I've become an injury obsessive/bore. Ever since last week's 20 mile schlep I've had tightness behind my right knee that feels like muscle strain but hasn't gone away. I've kept to the training plan under the premise of no pain no gain but I'm starting to worry my asymmetric running style might be damagingly uncoordinated to a degree that I need to try and fix it as after 18 miles yesterday I feel like an old lady, or at least the right-hand side of me does. I have to admit to feeling a bit sorry for myself which is ridiculous since rain hasn't stopped play, yet. It means such a lot to me to do Emily's marathon and not just do it, really run it.

We went up to stay with good friends Rob and Kerry in Thurlstone, Yorkshire at the weekend to see Kerry in panto as Robbing (Vatman and Robbing the dynamic tax collection duo) as part of the Penistone Theatre Group production of Cinderella. We thoroughly enjoyed it's classic British panto mix of terrible jokes and eclectic singing. The well-endowed Ugly Sisters stole the show along with the young man (ooh young man!) who played Buttons. Iain and I even got a shout out for 'not being from round 'ere' :)
Near Peak District Prettiness
One of Many TPT Railway Bridges

Aside from seeing our friends and the panto I took the chance to do my long run out amongst the green stuff and as Rob and Kerry live on the Trans Pennine Trail (TPT) Rob suggested this an ideal, and flat, place to run. The best route taking into account me not being familiar with the area was to run west for 4.5 miles then turn around and run east for 9 miles and then back again for another 4.5. Iain came up to the path to high-five me after I passed the house at 9 miles and check I wasn't hurting too bad and at that point I felt pretty good although both right ankle and knee were making themselves a bit of a distraction. The path whilst mostly being flat was uneven and necessitated some vaults over frozen puddles and swathes of mud and I think this must have provoked the ankle. This was a bit depressing as I thought the new-new trainers had solved that one. The path from 9 to13.5 miles was slightly downhill all the way to my turning point. The Trans Pennine Way at least in part follows an old railway hence the flatness and presence of lots of bridges and just before my turning point a tunnel...

There was no light to be seen at the end of that tunnel and there was no way I was going in there in the pitch black. I made my turn back early and on sensing the path rising away in front of me and the headwind now blasting me in the face it did cross my mind that the lack of light at the end of that tunnel was some kind of omen. So the five miles to finish constantly slightly uphill with a hurty knee and hurty ankle really tested my patience and I'm sure anyone going past me probably thought I'd lost it with my red face grunting and cursing all the way. Demonstrating that distance running is as much a mental game as a physical one, I then overshot the house by too far lost in distracting hurty bits obsessed with finishing quickly and had to walk a mile back crying like a baby. It was done and so am I... physio appointment now booked to assess misbehaving right-hand ailments tomorrow morning...