Friday, 16 November 2018

Crunchy or Smooth? Plain or Milk? Fruit or Straight?

The really important questions that should be answered on anyone's online dating profile? Obviously yes. I mean why do they even make smooth peanut butter? Chocolate? Ok you got me. Plain for me, but you wouldn't have to twist my arm much to get me to eat a few chunks of Cadburys Dairy Milk. 

Fruit or straight? Now we're getting personal. But before you spit your tea out over your laptop, I am talking flapjack. My favourite pre-marathon snack - especially those runs that start early and involve a 2 hour drive away from home, when I struggle to get out of bed for 5am and get my stuff together on time for the drive. I can at least be having some wholesome full fat, oaty, syruppy carbful brekky on the road. 

So fruit or straight? Fruit - and then some. Preserved peel, sultanas, orange juice, layered with apricot jam and finished off with chocolate ganache. 

You need to be a bit careful how many chunks* of this you consume per hour. It goes something like: 

1 = 'at's miyshe! (stop talking with your mouth full!) 
2 = Ooooh, that will probably get me through the first 10 miles. 
3 = I think my heart is getting palpitations now. 
4 = Hello, Mr Boese? Can you tell me where you are? 

This is just before the ganache goes on. Lovely chewy jammy bits bubbled up at the edges.

Sultanas/mixed peel - couple of handfuls 
Enough orange juice to cover the fruit in a pan, warm this for 10 mins. 
300g butter goes in the pan with the fruit to melt 
Add 6tbsp golden syrup and 150g brown sugar. 

Mix 350-400g cheap oats and 150g pain flour in a big bowl 
Chuck all the wet stuff in and mix it all up. 
Spoon half the mix into a deep lined baking tray so it's 1/2 inch thick. 
Warm up some of your favourite jam and spread over the mix, make it fruity. 
Spread the rest of the mix over with a fork 
160degC oven for 25 mins or so till it's nice and brown. 

Take out to cool 
Add ganache if you like 

* a chunk is a decent sized gobful, not a dainty nibble.

Friday, 9 November 2018

10 Runs that Made Me #10 Prospect parkrun 20/10/18

Early autum and Prospect park on the west side of Reading is starting to come in to its best. It is a big park of mostly grass but with big beach, oak and plane trees all around, leaves starting to turn, a heavy dew on the grass sparkling in the morning sunshine. Looking at the finish time gives no clue to what made this run so special, but everything just clicked and came together so well. 

Going back to starting parkrun in 2009 and then again in 2010, it seemed completley natural to offer to help out and just muck in with the rest of the guys setting up and tidying away. Over the years, I've given most things a go on the parkrun volunteer roster and this easily led to leading runs with my running club, joining the club committee responsible for one of our run nights, then stepping in to the club secretary role and finally chairman. 

Some might say that is a lot of giving back to the running community and well done me for doing it. Thanks. But that's not how I see it at all. There is no duty here, no thought of guilt about getting something for free and needing to pay my dues and no "giving back" to the community. 

Volunteering is a great privilage and a great opportunity where I get to meet and make friends who share my love of running. I get to talk to new people every week who are happy to see me. I get to learn new skills and develop others. I get to help people achieve their goals, to gain confidence and realise they can do great things. But outside of volunteering, just talking to someone who is struggling on a run, a kind word, a bit of advice and the reward is special. I've had lots of peole meet me after a marathon and thank me for getting them through it when they were ready to give up. 

Looking for new running experiences and new things to learn led me to try guide running for visually impared runners. I started by going to an England Athletics training course on VI awareness and guide running, although you don't have to do this. I learnt about different forms of visual imparement, techniques for guide running and a bit of practical training leading a blindfolded runner and being blindfolded myself and trying to run - very unsettling. 

A few weeks later, having joined the Basingstoke Guide Runners facebook page, I got an opportunity to guide Tony at Basingstoke parkrun. It was fun; a very slow jog round an easy course with a nice chat with Tony. A couple of weeks later and I was back at Basingstoke guiding Sandra, this time walking. 

Come to October this year and Prospect parkrun had been going for a couple of months and there was a VI runner, Lisa, who wanted to run there. I booked myself in the roster for guiding and got some advice from the volunteer coordinator about what kind of runner Lisa was. Apparently, quite new to running and running in a park, but getting close to 30 minutes for a 5k, didn't want to run with a tether or be in contact with a guide runner. Interesting. How was I going to manage this? 

I got to Prospect park on time, met the volunteers and met Lisa a few minutes later. We discussed her visual imparement, what she could and couldn't see in different light conditions - bright sunshine and sparkling dew resulted in complete white out - and how she wanted to run, slow and chatty or shut up and go for it. It was somewhere in between, although as a guide you have to keep talking, describing the terrain, the dips and rises, cross falls, changes in surface and avoiding potholes, roots and other runners. 

The course is all on grass and gently undulating. We set off near the back of the pack rising up hill to get to a huge oak tree then left along a gentle downslope around the perimeter of the main park, detoured around a bog, a football pitch and turned through the centre of the park, running in step matching her right foot to my left. As a guide there is work to do on this run, lots of sharp turns you count down in to, dips and rises, tree roots, rutted paths. You run over the hazard yourself and guide your runner to the smoothest path. 

It's not up to me to push the pace but I could hear Lisa was breathing hard uphill so I try and keep the effort constant and recover a bit on the downhills. We try and leave something for the climb to the great big oak tree at the top of the course and the turn to the finish. The time? Well the time was just right. 

Blue sky and whispy clouds, diamond dew, swishing through leaves, crunching acorns, in step. Beautful. Running. Joy. 

10 Runs that Made Me #9 Surrey Tops 50 9/2017

Surrey Tops is a 50 mile event run by LDWA mostly for walkers, but that allows runners to take part. It's self navigated too with a start time that is aimed at forcing you to be navigating in the dark. This one also forms part of a Triple Challenge that includes the Kent White Cliffs Challenge and Sussex Stride, all 50 mile events. 

This was my first 50 mile event. I had done several 30 mile LDWA challenge events before and even run 60 miles at Endure 24 the year before, but that was laps and was a pretty relaxed affair and more like back to back marathons with a big sleep in between. I had also run over 50 marathons or ultras so I had learned a lot aboout how to get myself through this kind of event. So here is some knowledge: 

Feet - I get blisters easily between my toes, probably from too narrow shoes for when my feet swell up a bit from hours of pounding. Wide fitting shoes and two pairs of socks with one being a thin toe sock liner works for me. 

Well cushioned trail shoes are like the Holy Grail. Anything beyond about 20 miles and feeling every stone poking me in the foot is seriously annoying. Hoka Mafate Speed 2 work for me and I have done over 700 miles in my current pair. 

Take it easy on descents or expect your knees and quads to be completely mashed. It also helps to avoid falls. 

Drink often and eat often, right from the beginning. Gels are OK for a marathon, but you need real food for an ultra and if you eat real food, you need to be able to digest it, so you have to go slower so your stomach works. If you sweat a lot, then take salt tablets, as your stomach also shuts down when dehydrated and salt helps proper hydration, as well as avoiding muscle cramps. 

Work out what the weather is going to do and wear comfortable clothes that don't chafe. Add to that Sudafed nappy rash cream for those bits of skin not separated by lycra. 

So that is all the physical side covered. I was also used to the route instructions so there should be no problems with just going 20 miles further than usual. All OK then? 

Wrong! Obviously, or why would this be worth telling? The event took place on a plesaant day in September; sunny, warm, nice views from the hills. I got to Elstead Common, somewhere I know and I knew where the next aid station was, but couldn't figure out the route instructions at one point and spent 20 minutes running in circles until I got back on track. This distracted me, made me feel like I was behind schedule a bit. 

This got worse when I lost the route again on Puttenham Common, again somewhere I know and also only a few miles from the next check point, which I also knew. These distractions built up in my mind and that was all I was focussed on and I wasn't eating or drinking as much as I needed to. With tiredness and lack of energy, my mind works against me to make me feel even worse. 

After the 20 mile checkpoint, I was followed out by the tail walkers and I then needed to keep ahead of them and push on. Half way up St Marth's Hill near Guildford I was feeling awful, phoned my wife and had a conversation that went something like: 
"I feel terrible, I want to quit." 
"So you want me to come and get you? Where are you? 
"St Martha's Hill, near Guildford" 
"But I'm watching Strictly with the kids" 
"Oh, well I suppose I could get to the next checkpoint. That's 8.5 miles away" 
"Great, I'm sure you'll be OK. 'Bye!" 

It was getting dark, so I needed a head torch to see the instructions and my way through the woods. I found that and also spotted a bag of sweets, saw that the next 4 or 5 miles was all on the North Downs Way, so just looked out for the marker posts and made my way up the hill, eating and drinking as I went. 

By the time I was on the descent about a mile later the sugar was kicking in and I was feeling a lot better and recovering. Maybe only an hour and a half to the check point and I could quit. When I got there, I didn't quit immediately, but sat down for a hot meal of beef stew and potatoes and apple pie and custard, a cup of tea. That checkpoint saved me. I felt so much better to have food inside me, and this was mostly mental. 

It also helped that I had started to catch other walkers and I wasn't last. The checkpoint cut off times were starting to recede and the pressure to keep pushing was off. Now it was 10pm and there was still a long way to go, but it was only 18.5 miles - being less than 20 miles also helped.

I spent the night part of the race gradually catching up with other walkers and runners, but much of it on trails by myself. I haven't ever used headphones in an event to distract me, I talk to myself.

"This is hard, it hurts. That's not news, get on with it. What's good about this? Look where you are! It's dark. How dark is it really? Turn your light off and see. Wow, pitch black in the woods, rustling leaves, stars through the canopy. Keep going, bats in the headlight, a silent owl, deer shining eyes. Actually this doesn't hurt any more than it did an hour ago - keep going." 

What was nearly a miserable failure, turned out to be a successful finish and a great learning experience about how severly I could fall apart mentally if I don't manage to fuel myself properly. It's true what they say about ultras - they are an eating competition with some running thrown in. It's also true what they say about running in general - a lot of performance is down to your mental state. It's hard work, but there is beauty all around out on the trails and there's more just around the next corner. Just keep going. 

Thursday, 8 November 2018

10 Runs that Made Me: #8 Sandhurst Joggers Training Run December 2012

Hands up all those people who have entered the London Marathon ballot and not got in? I'm up to 8 consecutive entries since 2012 and not once have I got in. I even have 2 Rejection Jackets that I never wear. Fortunately I am a member of a running club and England Athletics registered. For the 2013 race I had entered the ballot, not got in, then heard about my running club's draw for a chance to get one of 3 guaranteed places. 

I had my rejection letter and met the criteria for entry, so decided I might give it a go. I got to the club run on a Wednesday night I think, met up with a load of Sandhurst Joggers and got ready to go on a run, that was to be followed later by a curry, skittles and marathon draw in a pub. I had invited a friend from parkrun to come along, but he was late, so I waited while my SJ colleagues ran off to Yateley. Dave turned up and we set of in the general direction of where the others had gone, but never found them. After about 6 miles we got back to Dave's house, then I went home to shower. 

Having missed the club run I nearly didn't bother to go out again, but went anyway and just made it as Thai green curry was served and handed in my rejection letter. After curry and skittles, it was time for the draw. First name out of the bag "Richard (shit that's me!) McCready (oh, no it isn't. So it won't be me then), second name out of the bag was not me either, then "Richard - yes you this time!" I think I said both Yay! and Shit! at the same time. 

Late 2012 I was having treatment on an achilles injury and was due my last appointment a week after the draw, making it mid-December. I had been running only 20 to 35 miles per month around that time. Then I got the go ahead to resume "light training", got myself a 16 week marathon training plan and the next 3 months saw 101, 113 and 151 miles run. Lightly, obviously. 

I was on for my first marathon with a target time of 4:30 and with 2 weeks to go I did a trail half marathon with some quick descents and the next day my foot was really swollen. What the PF!? I managed to get to the start line but with very little running in the taper. My foot was pretty sore for the last 8 miles of the marathon, but then everything was sore not much later. I missed my target finishing in 4:35:55. 

There! Another failure that I kind of beat myself up about. I mean, 4:35 for a relatively new runner in their first marathon is OK, but it didn't feel like it to me. 

If I had beaten 4:30 I might never have done another marathon, but I had a target that I had missed and now knew that I could do a marathon. 

Your life can change on a whim or a chance, like "Oh alright then, I'll go for that curry." Look what that led to: London done, then next marathon in September - Farnham Pilgrim (hilly trail), then Portsmouth in December - flat, windy, raining, had to wade across a beach knee deep with the incoming tide but finished in 4:13:52. Then someone said "You could definitely go below 4 hours." 

And that, Dear Readers, is where my grip on reality was lost. 

I did 5 marathons the next year and 14 the year after that. Marathon/ultra No.75 is just around the corner. Good grief! 

Wednesday, 7 November 2018

10 Runs that Made Me #7 Frimley parkrun 23/6/2012

Another parkrun and another at Frimley Lodge. One of my slowest, but one of the most impressive runs I have seen. I came last, there were no tail walkers, just me and my daughter, 6 and a half years old. About 2 weeks before she had said that she wanted to come along to parkrun and run with me. We managed one lap, then she stopped and I finished the run trying to catch up with other runners - a nice work out! 

On this day in June 2012, Elinor had wanted to come along again, but this time at half way, she said she wanted to do the whole thing. We continued to jog and walk with no moaning about how hard it was, she just took hold of my hand when she wanted to slow down a bit and we finished in 42:39. 

As you can see from the parkrun results above she has continued to run most parkrundays over the the last few years and has over 200 runs. My son also started to run at parkrun not much later and is also on his way to 250 runs and this is along with loads of fun run medals.
Top Bombing by Elinor
Getting my kids to make parkrun a habit as normal as sitting down to Sunday lunch together feels like a great achievement. It makes exercise for them in general so much more fun and opens up opportunities for lots of other activities that they might shy away from if they felt it would be too much effort, or they might look uncool in front of their friends. 

I try to impress on both of them just how good their running is and how unusual it is these days when so much of our lives can be filled with sceen time. Then they go and prove it for themselves - Elinor, best in her year at a recent bleep test and Alfred just got a new PB at Frimley parkrun of 20:04. 

Monday, 5 November 2018

10 Runs that Made Me #6 Reading Half Marathon

Lightbulb! It's taken me a while to figure out that beyond starting running and actually continuing running and making it a habit, that is, being born or born again as a runner, what makes a person as a runner is those character building moments, be they failures or successes. 

OK, so mostly failures. In fact does anyone really remember that much a run that was so successful that they had to file away the good things that went together to make it so? More likely you had that success built on the experience of several previous failures. 

My first half marathon was at Reading. I had a few 10k races under my belt and thought I should be able to get under 2 hours. Again training is a bit of a blur as I didn't have a garmin watch and wasn't logging my training runs, but I think I got up to about 10 miles running and was still occasionally cycling to work, cycling to parkrun and running round in about 25 minutes. Given that evidence maybe I wasn't far off the 2 hour mark fitness-wise - 4 x 25 minute parkruns with 20 minutes left over for slowing down. 

I don't think I ate much in the morning of the race, didn't know anything about energy gels and just assumed there would be enough to drink on the course. In fact there was plenty to drink on the course, the atmosphere of a city race was all there, with loads of people out on the streets cheering us on, bands playing, a beer stop at the Nags Head just before the last significant hill, energy drink and jelly babies being handed out. 

Only problem is, I was undertrained and had no idea how to pace a race and didn't know anything about fuelling myself before the run. I had just gradually increased my long run distance to a point my body could easily cope with (about 10 miles) and had no experience of what lay beyond; I hadn't had much of a breakfast to give me some energy and then during the race I just went along with the flow of faster runners until I was tired and then miserable and my mind was telling me to give up. 

I think I could have survived and ran all the way, possibly hitting my target time as well, if I had paced better and then had a gel or energy drink on the course for a mental boost, but with 3 miles to go I had taken nothing but water. With about 2 miles to go there is an interminable long straight to get you back to Reading FC's Madejski Stadium, but when you get there you turn off into a business park with no supporters around and do an out and back loop before running up to and then around the outside of the stadium. All torture. I could almost have just collapsed over the central reserve and cut half a mile out of the course, but I stuck with it, walking, getting my breath back, jogging, then at last, getting in to the stadium with crowds of noise and staggering across the line. 

2 hours and 7 minutes. At least a mile walking in the last 2 miles to the finish. A great event let down by terrible execution. 

Today I could run the whole of a road half marathon in pretty much any conditions without stopping, with no food and just a drink or two to freshen up. I would have trained running up to that distance and have no fear of what lay ahead, done speed work, cross training and stretching, be wearing comfortable clothing, eaten a decent breakfast, made sure I was adequately hydrated and taken some drinks on the course and then run at a reasonably even pace up to about 2 or 3 miles to go before hopefully having something left in the tank to push on the pace, emerging into the roaring crowds of the stadium feeling as tall, fast and graceful as Steve Cram breaking the mile world record in Bislet 1985. 

Watching Steve Cram and that peformance just gives me goosebumps. Of course, if you want to experience something of that thrill you could have a look at my upcoming events and wait to see me at the finish line. ;-) 

Or you could watch the video below.

10 Runs That Made Me #5: Mortimer 10k Sept 2010

Mortimer 10k was the run I set myself as a goal on my comeback to running. As a lonely long distance runner (long distance = 5k and above according to IAAF) I thought that I needed a target to aim for. Back then that was true, but now I could kid myself and say that I don't need a target to get out for a run, just a bit of time available for a club run, an event or a bimble in the woods. I say "kid" myself, as I have set myself a goal to get to 100 marathons, so that is always there in the background, but as I get nearer to it, that goal seems less important than having good experiences along the way. I have been booking races because they are great fun in beautiful locations or have an occasion linked to them.  For that reason I have races booked well in to next year and only aim to do my 100th marathon sometime in 2020, possibly at the Farnham Pilgrim - no rush then. 

Back in 2009 I had an objective of getting fitter, doing couch to 5k, then booked a 5k event and didn't book anything more and running fell by the wayside. 2010 I decided another event would be good to motivate me and thought about 3 months training might be a good idea. That decision led to going to Reading and then Frimley parkruns as a way of running in events and possibly meeting some people who I could run with. 

I'm not clear about how the training went. I think it just consisted of gradually increasing the mileage a bit, but I don't think I ever got to 10k. I new nothing of the course and had only driven through the small town a few times. The start finish is in a completely flat grassy park. They had a load of stalls set up, fairground rides and a classic car show going on there as well, so lots to do for the family who came along to cheer me on. They even had a kids race, about 2k on the roads around the park, which I did with the kids as a warm up. 

The route is a rough figure 8, firstly out and round the back of the park, then out to the north, back into the town and past the park again at about 4k - all relatively flat. Then it gets interesting as the next 2k are all downhill out of the town to the south, before turning north and hitting a long, long hill. I had to walk a bit, several times, got passed by a much older man who called out "Come on young man, you can't get beaten by me!" I gave him a cheery "Piss off ya bastard!" and struggled on up the hill with a couple of "God, really!" and "Not again!" exclamations at false flats in the hill. 

The last 2k is back in the town on level ground. There were people on the streets and marshals cheering us on, so I had to run the whole way back to the park and the finish. 

Bloody hell that was hard. I got a medal, yay! Time 56:30. I don't think I was that impressed with that at the time, but for a first 10k that was pretty good.