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By ActionGeek. Posted in Action, Running | No Comments »

I’ve known about parkrun for years, but since I’ve never really considered shorter distances my thing, and I tend to like the solitude of running alone with just my thoughts (or maybe a podcast!) I’ve never done one. This week however, my wife mentioned that she would like to give it a try and didn’t really want to go on her own the first time. As it happens, the kids were staying with their grandparents overnight which meant we would be child free on Saturday morning so we signed up and headed off to our local run at Heartlands in Cornwall for a 9am start.

My first parkrunIf you’re somehow unfamiliar, Parkrun is a movement that was started about 15 years ago in the US and how now spread across the glove. With over 1400 regular runs worldwide, it allows runners, joggers and walkers of all ages and abilities to just turn up and run a 5k every Saturday, completely for free. The events are timed, and results are emailed out later that day, and often photos are taken and shared on a social media group. The events are run entirely by volunteers, with the ethos that you “run a few, then volunteer one” and I have to say, I was extremely impressed. It felt very well organised, better in some regards than some of the paid 10k races I used to enter. The course was very well marked and marshalled, the volunteers and the runners were extremely friendly, and the overall vibe was one of positivity and encouragement.

It’s definitely “not a race” – the idea being that it’s very inclusive and the last walker is treated as being just important as the first runner over the line. Having said that, there’s definitely some friendly competition towards the front of the pack, and I overhead the work “personal best” or “PB” many times while runners were chatting before and after the event. I overtook a runner in a spint finish on the final straight, and his reaction was to shout out “You go buddy, finish strong!” and then congratulated me on my finish after we crossed the line. When my wife crossed the line she thanked me to, for getting her out of bed (not a morning person!) and encouraging her to run for the first time in quite a while – all in all, a successful and enjoyable first park run.

Carn Brea Castle

Carn Brea Castle

Now 5k wasn’t going to cut it in terms of distance for my Saturday training schedule, so while my wife jumped in the car to head back for a shower I donned a waterproof jacket and pack and ran back via the carns for a hilly, winding, wet and slippery extra 13km. The thick mist actually cleared as I reached the peak of Carn Brea giving me a great view of the castle and the surrounding countryside including a clear view over to St.Agnes which made me reaslise I’ve never ran from St.Agnes Beacon to Carn Brea or back… will have to work out a route and check the distance on Mapmyrun.com and sort that out!

By the time I got home, my parkrun email had arrived confirming a finish time of 21:48 which put me in 9th place out over 163. Not a bad first time and now I have a goal to beat next time. Checking my data on Strava confirmed what I though which was the first 2 -3 minutes passing slower runners had held me back quite a bit. I’m pretty sure if I start closer to the front next time I could easily get that down under the 21 minute mark, and since I’m doing some speedwork as part of my regular training now anyway, I think a goal of a sub-20 minute 5k/parkrun by the end of the year needs to be added to my list!

If you’ve never done a parkrun before I highly recommend giving it a go. You can sign up for free at www.parkrun.com then all you have to do is print off your barcode and turn up any time you have a free half our on a Saturday morning. We’ll definitely be doing more of them, and I’ll be signing up as an occasional volunteer as well to give something back!





My First Ultramarathon

By ActionGeek. Posted in Action, Running, The List | No Comments »

I first heard about ultra-running over 10 years ago when I caught part of a documentary on TV which mentioned Dean Karnazes. I grabbed a copy of his book Ultramarathon Man from Amazon and was fascinated. I’ve been running occasional 10Ks for years and had a couple of half marathons and one full marathon under my belt, but the idea of running further than 26.2 miles seemed crazy. I had trained for months to run my first (and at that time only) marathon, the Edinburgh marathon in 2005, and it chewed me up and spat me out. The first half of the race was fine, but it got progressively harder and the last few miles felt like torture. I remember quite clearly telling my sister at the finish line that I would never run a marathon again!

I really had no intention of running a marathon again at that stage, but something about the idea of running an ultra marathon appealed, so I stuck it on my “something I’d like to do one-day” list and half forgot about it.

Over the next decade, my running was very sporadic at best. I bought a house, got married, started a business… basically life got in the way. It wasn’t until 10 years later when I got back into martial arts and realised my fitness wasn’t what it used to be that I started running regularly again, and even then it was just a short run a couple of times a week.

Fast forward to 2018 and my interest in ultrarunning popped its head up again. A few documentaries about running on Netflix got me interested, then I read Scott Jurek’s North about running the Appalachian Trail. I started building up the length of a long run at the weekend, and most importantly found that I was enjoying it… maybe I could give this ultra thing a shot.

In spring 2019 I started looking around for a suitable event. It had been years since I’d even ran a half marathon so I decided to start out slowly. There was a half marathon trail race just a few miles from home in July – perfect. I signed up, and started to train. On race day I got up nice and early, ate some breakfast and got kitted up, and my wife and I started bundling the kids into the car so she could drop me at the start line… but our 2 year old had other plans – there was NO WAY he was getting into the car or being strapped into a car seat. We spent a good 2 minutes in the pouring rain trying everything from bribery to brute force, but he was having none of it, so rather dejected we went back into the house. I could drive myself, but since it was a point to point race I’d then be 13 miles away from the car with no way of getting home, so I did the only logical thing. I opened the front door and started running, and simply ran 13.1 miles on my own. It was the furthest I had ran in years, and unlike the organised half I was supposed to be doing, there were no other runners to pace myself against, no water stations, no marshalls to give encouragement… but I ran my own little half marathon and that evening, feeling rather pleased with myself, I sat down at my computer to search for a longer event. An ultra marathon seemed like a stretch at this point, but I found a 20 mile trail run in about 6 weeks time – perfect! I signed up for the “Red RAT” and carried on training.

I was more than a little nervous by the time race day came. For a start, I’d been Googling the RAT and had found a number of Youtube videos and blog posts, all almost unanimous in the exclamations about how tough it was. “Those bloody steps go on forever” and words to that effect seemed to be a common turn of phrase. I wondered if I had trained enough. Adding to my nerves was the weather – a severe weather warning issued by the MET with winds of 45 MPG which, considering we would be running on the very exposed Cornish cliff path, was slightly worrying. I need not have worried about the wind – it was certainly blustery and I had to hold on to my cap several times to avoid losing it to the English channel, but otherwise the weather wasn’t too much of a problem. I can’t say the same about “those bloody steps” though! The first half of the run led me into a false sense of security – I was feeling strong and probably going faster than I should have. The steps, however, are mostly in the last 8 miles or so, and they do go on, and on, seemingly forever! By mile 17 I was getting cramps in my quads and calves, and feeling exhausted. By the final half mile I really was running on empty, and felt utterly beaten as I crossed the finish line. I collected my finisher’s medal, made a quick call home to my wife (who was concerned about the high winds) and then limped back to the car to drive home. I was in quite a bit of pain for the next 2 – 3 days and all I could think of was the fact that I couldn’t have gone another mile, let alone another 10 to make it an ultra distance… so by midweek I did the only sensible thing, I signed up for one anyway. But not a 30 miler… in for a penny in for a pound so I signed up for a 40 miler!

I had decided that at least part of my problem with cramps was probably due to my nutrition. I was only drinking water, and eaten a couple of cereal bars. I’d also started off too fast for the first few miles, and massively underestimated those hills and steps. I once again revised my training, started experimenting/practicing with nutrition on my longer training runs, and started integrating more hills into my training. This time I had about 8 weeks to go, and my longest training run was around 24 miles – I felt better at the end of that then I had at the end of the 20 mile RAT, but I still felt like I was done by the end, I could have slogged out another mile or two but never another 16.

Race day arrived, I once again had an early breakfast and got dropped to the event without any issues. It was a point to point race this time on the north Cornish coast path starting at Newquay’s Fistral Beach and ending near Hayle. I’d be attempting to run almost twice as far as I’d ever ran before, and I had no idea if I could do it, but I had no intention of quitting. My plan was simple – keep the pace slow at the start, eat regularly and take on plenty of electrolytes… and don’t stop until I reach the end!

I “dibbed in” to activate my timing chip and I was off. Slowly and steady does it. I wasn’t wearing a watch so I simply ran at a pace that felt easy, and it was lovely. The weather was cool and damp but nothing bad, the sea spray over the north cliffs reminded me of boing a child going fishing at Mevagissey and playing in the rockpools at Trevelace and Trevanuance. Those early miles seemed to pass by with ease but I was geld to reach the first checkpoint at Perranporth. I had just about finished my drink which is exactly what I had planned so I felt like I was on target, and now I could stock up and push on. That’s when the marshall told me I was in 9th place – oh crap, I had started out too fast! I did not want a repeat of the RAT so I edged the pace back even further. By the next checkpoint at Chapelporth I was in 12th, still further ahead than I had planned (I had planned to be somewhere near the back) but I had now ran about the distance of the RAT and while I felt tired, I felt like I would make it to the end.

My first ultramarathon FinishPortreath was the next stop. Now I was getting tired. 16 miles or so to go, and from this point on I was much less familiar with the coast path so I took advantage of the aid station and sat down for 5 minutes with a coffee and a cheese sandwich. My legs didn’t really want to get going again, but I couldn’t risk stopping for any longer than 5 minutes and cooling down too much so I headed back up out of Portreath towards Godrevy. As I was running up towards North Cliffs a young couple walking the other way stopped me to ask what the event was as they had obviously already passed several runners. When I explained we were running 40 miles from Fistral to Hayle along the coast path their reaction was incredible – both of them wanted to shake my hand and cheered me on up the hill, that gave me the boost I needed to climb up onto the north cliffs and then started the longest slog of the run that long, relatively flat section of coast seemed to drag on forever, but eventually I made it to the final aid station at Godrevy. At this point I knew I’d make it to the end – I “only” had to run through the dunes and along the beach at Gwithian, round the corner and back up the hill to the finish at the St.Ives Holiday Park. The weather started to take a turn for the worse as I headed down onto the sand and then the dunes went one… for EVER! The rain and mist meant the visibility was really poor and the sand sapped what little energy I had left in my legs, but eventually, I did make it to the Hayle estuary which meant the dunes were behind me, and it was just a short stretch up the hill to the finish line. I actually met another runner at that point (first I had seen in quite some time) who was lost and checking their map. I showed him where we were, and we ran together for a while. Turns out it was his first ultra as well (we’re pretty sure we were the only 2 newbies on the run!) but he was struggling at this point. After a mile or so he excused himself to head into the bushes to relieve himself, though I suspect he just needed a breather. I had however somehow found some extra energy, no doubt from knowing how close to the finish I was, and powered on the last half mile to so up the hill to the finish. My dad was waiting for me at the finish line as he had kindly agreed to drive me home (didn’t seem like a good idea to drive myself on such tired legs!) and it was great to see him and shake his hand as I finished my longest run to date.

I was definitely tired but felt nowhere near as bad as I had just a few weeks previously running half the distance. Could I have gone on for another 10 miles? Yes, I think I probably could if I had to!

Now, the sensible thing to do at this point would be to cross ultramarathon off my list. However, there’s unfinished business! The 20 mile RAT is only one of the distances offered at that event, there’s also a 32 mile and a 64 mile (100km) version, so… I’ve signed up for 35 miler in February, then I have my eye on the Classic Quarter (44 miles from Lizard Point to Land’s End) in June, leading up to the RAT Plague (100Km) in August! Maybe if I manage to complete that one I can tick ultramarathon of my list for good (or maybe not)





Zombies, Run! (half price)

By ActionGeek. Posted in Action/Geek | No Comments »

I first read about this app a while ago over at Lifehacker.com and it sounded awesome, but at the time I was in the middle of a non-running workout schedule so decided to put off buying it.  Well this morning I discovered that the app was currently half price (from the normal $7.99) and I’ve just decided to start a new running schedule over the coming weeks so it seemed perfect.

The app’s downloading right now (it’s a few hundred meg) so I’ll post again once I’ve had a try, but from the reviews I’ve read in the past I’m sure I’m going to love it.  Basically it’s a fitness app along the lines of Runtracker but gamified around the premise that you’re trying to escape from zombies… There are a bunch of “missions” to choose from, and you choose one before each run.  Then you run with your phone in your pocket and your headphones in, and you hear a story as you’re running where you get prompts and feedback.

The game uses your phone’s GPS and accelerometers to track your run just like most other fitness style apps showing your route, speed, calories burned etc. but also gives you the game elements.  It really looks right up my street, and as it apparently integrates well with your playlist it means I can listen to my regular podcasts or music while I’m running/playing.  I can’t wait to give it a try, which has to be good since getting out the door in this weather sometimes needs a little encouragement!  I’ll post back with a review in a day or two…

The app is currently half price (not sure for how long) for iPhone and Android.

Zombies, Run! Website





The hardest part of training

By ActionGeek. Posted in Action, Inspiration | 3 Comments »

Some mornings I jump out of bed, pull on my running shoes and I’m out of the door like a rocket. Other days, like today, I look out of the window to see the grey skies and mist and procrastinate.  I missed yesterday’s run due to a head cold, so today is a catch up, and even though I’m feeling much better it was still hard to get out the door.

For me, actually getting out of the door and taking the first step is the hardest part of training – once I’m going I’m usually fine, but I guess it’s just human nature to put things off.  I catch myself checking Wired or LifeHacker for the 3rd time, or logging onto Twitter or Facebook when I know what I should be doing is starting my run.

So it got me thinking – I can’t be the only one like this, so what tricks do other people use to get that spark of motivation and kickstart their day’s training?

Well, a quick Google search showed me I’m certainly NOT the only one!  In fact, if you search for “hardest part of running” you’ll soon find that most people do seem to find “getting out the door” by far the hardest thing.  I found loads of blogs and articles on the subject (and before you ask – I did do this after my run!) and here are some of the best tips I could find:

Tips to get you “out of the door” for your morning run

  • Learn to recognise the difference between apathy and real tiredness.  There’s no shame in taking a rest day if you really are overly tired but don’t confuse that with just wanting to stay in the warm rather than getting your training done.
  • Tell yourself that you’ll only do half the scheduled run. If you really are tired, then you’ll be able to tell in the first few minutes, after which you should go home. If you stay apathetic, maybe you’ll do the half run, which is better than no run. Most likely you’ll end up doing your scheduled run.
  • Mix up your routes.  Running the same 5 mile loop every morning gets tedious, so plan some more interesting routes that will inspire you and you’ll want to get out and enjoy the scenery.  A 5 minute drive to a local beach or woods might take up a little more of your day, but the run will be much nicer!
  • Pump up the volume!  Load your iPod up with your favourite running songs, and listen to a couple of tunes while you’re getting your running gear on – that should give you a little motivation and get you “in the mood”.
  • Have a goal.  This is the big one for me, if I don’t have a goal I can’t seem to get the miles in, but if I’m working towards something specific that I want to achieve then it’s much easier.  It doesn’t matter if it’s entering your first 10, doing the Ironman, or losing a few pounds, just make sure that it’s specific and has a time element (i.e. don’t just say “I want to run a marathon”, say “I want to run the London Marathon 2011 in 3:15″ – that’s specific and timely, and should help to get you out of the door in the mornings!

Any suggestions?  If you have a tip for getting motivated and taking that first step then leave a comment!





Perfect Music For Training

By ActionGeek. Posted in Geek | 3 Comments »

I’ve always listened to music while running or cycling.  Say what you want about iPod zombie cyclists, but so long as you keep the volume level reasonable and pay attention to the road and the traffic I don’t see a problem.

For a long time I was using an iPod Nano (and before that a minidisc player!) but just recently I’ve been borrowing my wife’s iPod shuffle which I absolutely love.  If you’re not familiar with the shuffle, it’s the smallest and most basic of all the iPod models (opposite end of the line to the iPod touch) which comes in 2Gb or 4Gb versions.  The unit itself is not much bigger than a postage stamp, no screen or fancy features – just plug and play!

The shuffle has a built in clip, so you can clip it onto your shorts waistband, or even the peak of a cap and you hardly know it’s there!

Now, while a shuffle might be the perfect music player for running or cycling, it’s nothing without the right choice of music, so I wanted to find out what other people like to listen to on the bike or on a run.  Here are some of my top picks, leave a comment or Tweet in with some of your own favourites!

Perfect running and cycling music

The Prodigy -Music for the Jilted Generation and Experience
The KillersHot Fuss
Blink 182Blink 182
Greenday - Dookie and American Idiot
Muse - Black Holes and Revelations
Carter USM30 something

OK so that’s a few of the albums I’ve been listening to while training recently – what are your favourites?





Weekly training review 9th May 2010

By ActionGeek. Posted in Training Log | No Comments »

I struggled to get out the door today, probably partly due to being a little tired from yesterday’s swim, and partly because it looked grey and cold outside!

Once out of the door however I felt OK, did a 6 mile run without any problems apart from a slight stitch about half way around.  I was wearing a hoody due to the cold which I had taken off and tied around my waist once I had warmed up, so I wondered if that was causing it.  I put the hoody back on and walked for about 60 seconds and then started running again with no more pain, and managed to run the rest of the route – even the hills – with no worries!

This week’s training log

Running : 13 miles (3 sessions)
Cycling: 45 minutes (1 session)
Swimming: 50 minutes (1 session)
Plus an hour’s yoga!

This week will be much the same, just a slightly longer (7 mile) long run on Sunday, and an extra hour on the bike (on Saturday).  I’m really hoping to get a reply to my email about swimming lessons too, and maybe start them next week!





Be Iron Fit

By ActionGeek. Posted in Books, Training Log | No Comments »

It was COLD getting on the bike at 7am this morning, but the ride itself was OK – I couldn’t stop thinking about what it will be liking starting a 2.4 mile swim at that time in the morning though! But I got my ride done, and tomorrow I start my swim training which I’m both looking forward to and apprehensive about. I’ve never been an overly strong swimmer, but I’m determined to change that so I’m reading through Total Immersion and watching YouTube videos on correct stroke technique and breathing every day – we’ll see how it goes tomorrow!

My new book arrived from Amazon though – Be Iron Fit by Don Fink. It has a 5 star rating on Amazon, and appears to cover everything from Ironman history through early prep and training, through 3 complete 30 week training schedules right up to what to do on race day and after the event. I’ll read it over the next couple of weeks and post a quick review when I’m done, but after flicking through it last night my first impression is that it looks excellent. The other book I’m currently reading (yeah I know – I’m a total book geek, I always buy them faster than I can read them… and I read pretty fast!) is Becoming An Ironman by Kara Douglass Thom. It’s an excellent compilation of various amateur and professional athlete’s first attempt at the Ironman and I’m really loving it. It’s very inspiring, if a little off-putting in places, and again I’ll post up a quick review in a few days when I’m finished!





Sometimes life gets in the way

By ActionGeek. Posted in Training Log | No Comments »

So I have to deal with not getting meetings my training goal today for the first time.  I’m supposed to get a 45 minutes cycle in, but between dropping my wife to work, taking the car to the garage for an MOT, visiting the polling station to vote (it’s the general election here in the UK today), doing my regular yoga class, and getting my work done I just don’t have time :(

Not to worry, I’d better get used to this since it’s bound to happen many times over the coming months, I guess I just have to deal with it.  So, minor adjustment to my schedule – I’ll do my cycle tomorrow, move tomorrow’s swim to Saturday morning and then do a cycle afterwards to catch up (my first “brick” session!)

On a positive note, it does give me an extra day of reading Total Immersion and studying the front crawl stroke before trying it properly in the pool for the first time.  I’ve also watched this video, and it seems very good – I’ll find out how easy it is to follow on Saturday!





Training logs and short term goals

By ActionGeek. Posted in Training Log | No Comments »

While my focus in the long term is for next year’s Ironman, it’s too early to start an Ironman specific training schedule. For now I simply need to build up my base fitness, and start learning to swim properly.

I’ve never been very good at keeping to training schedules unless I have a goal to aim for, and since the Ironman is 14 months away I need some shorter term goals to keep me focussed. My wife and I will be running the rather hilly Eden project half Marathon in October, but I’ve been looking for something a little sooner to aim for, and this morning I found details of the Plym Valley Challenge, a 9 mile multi terrain run in about 6 weeks time that fits the bill, so that will be my short term goal. I’ll modify a 10K training schedule which I can use, and I’ll post that along with weekly updates here on the blog to keep me honest about not missing any training (especially on cold wet days!).

I’ll try and get that done over the next day or two, and I’ll post a training update each Sunday from now on, stating how my training went during the week, and what is planned for the week ahead. Since I don’t yet have a proper written plan, my intentions for this next week will be 2 runs, 2 cycles and my first swim (using the Total Immersion book as a guide) and then a longer run next Sunday.

Today I did a 6 mile run, the longest I’ve done in a while, and it felt fine. I walked up the 2 steepest hills, but otherwise ran non-stop at a steady, if rather slow pace, to finish in around 50 minutes…





Map My Run

By ActionGeek. Posted in Resources | 1 Comment »

I tend to use the same three or four loops for my regular runs, I just plug my ipod in and go without having to think about the route.  But now that I’ll be ramping up my weekly distances I need to work out some new routes and I was thinking about this while running yesterday when I came up with a great idea – why not create a Google Maps mashup where a user could plot their waypoints and create a local running route which would work out their distance for them!

Well I thought this was a great idea and got quite excited, and by the time I got home I was thinking about how to go about developing the site, how to drive traffic, and how best to monetize it since it would certainly be a huge success!  So once I got home I sat down at my desk and Googled “run distance google maps” just to check there was nothing similar already, and lo and behold someone already had the idea and created a very decent implementation of it!

www.mapmyrun.com is far more than just a route plotter though, there is an iPhone app, public run searchable database, and a bunch of calculators and other tools.  The map tool itself is easy to use, allowing you to set start, waypoint, and end markers and calculating your distance in real time.  It will even plot the elevation for you, allowing you to easily plan flat or hilly routes.  Here’s a screenshot of the little 3.5 mile route I did yesterday, which took about 30 seconds to plot:

I found the site really easy to use, and I expect I’ll be using it a lot over the coming months for working out regular training routes for both running and cycling, and also for planning individual longer bike trips.

I already plotted several permutations of the above route, so I now know exactly what route I need to take if I want a 3, 3.5, 4, or 5 mile run.  Also, that triangle to the top right is 1.4 miles, so I can easily increase the distance in 1.4 mile increments without having to find a new route, and as you can see from the elevation plot that part of the route is fairly flat.

I’ll be checking out the other tools, especially the training goals and plans section and I’ll write another post once I’ve tested them out, but certainly for any runners or cyclists I would definitely recommend the site even if you only use it for plotting your routes!