Sunday, 31 October 2010

I get to binge-eat afterwards

At 5’9 and 10 stone 10, I am not a big bloke. But I burn between 2500 and 3000 calories a week running, which is slightly more than an entire day’s recommended intake for an average man. Unfortunately I’m not able to schedule 8 ½ day weeks to catch up with the deficit, so I end up eating rather more than most people my size. Most people in general, come to think of it.

On a normal day when I plan to run in the evening, I’ll start the day with a cup of coffee and breakfast at 8ish (4 slices of toast and orange juice). I have long been a follower of the doctrine of the second breakfast (usually porridge around 10.30 at my desk), but recently I’ve been exploring the previously uncharted territory of third breakfast (a couple of pastries from the bakery, at 11.30), and to be honest I may soon get to the point of testing fourth breakfast too. Naturally I put similar effort into consuming lunch, an afternoon snack and dinner before doing the same again the following day. Sometimes, despite having eaten a delicious and substantial dinner, I’ll go to bed looking forward to breakfast.

In restaurants I’ll often greedily demolish my own dinner before my hungry eyes roam to other people’s plates. If you give me any amount of food, I will almost always finish it, however monstrous a portion you may have served me. Some people, usually motherly types, are equally determined to feed people until they’re full and the only acceptable indicator of their fullness is a plate with leftovers. It is dangerous for everyone when I am invited to dinner by a ‘feeder’...

When I get home from a really long run (like the 18 miler), I normally pounce on whatever’s available. I usually drink a recovery shake - I prefer For Goodness Shakes, the chocolate one – and wolf down a banana to keep me going during the arduous 90 seconds it takes to cook a pack of tortellini designed to serve two people, which I’ll then slather with tomato sauce, cheese and butter and eat by myself.  A couple of pieces of fruit and a slice or two of the nearest available cake normally pays off my calorie debt.

This insatiable and constantly renewed calorie debt is broadening my food horizons. I used to be quite a fussy eater, but these days I’m sometimes so hungry that I’ll eat things I might have refused a few years ago. I also eat more healthy foods – though this is not to say that I am a healthy eater – but I’ve noticed that my appetite for chocolate and sweets is almost zero whilst I can feel my body craving vitamins and general goodness.

I also tend to choose water over other drinks, as I can feel the benefits of being adequately hydrated at all times, not just during a run. My caffeine intake is lower than it used to be (though I still get through 4-5 cups a day of strong black coffee – whilst a student I used to drink more like 10) and my attitude to alcohol has changed slightly. I still enjoy a good drink, and rather like being drunk on the right occasions, but I always know that it will impede the following day’s running, and in some cases I regret drinking alcohol simply because I could have been running instead.

So it looks like I’ve reached my first solid answer: I run because I get to binge-eat afterwards. (I hope I come up with some more answers soon, this one isn’t very impressive...)

Happy eating!


Monday, 25 October 2010

All the gear and no idea

Influenced by friends of a similar nature, I am always keen to help beginners to get into running. From my own experience, I think one of the biggest obstacles to people getting involved in the sport is just having the confidence to leave the house and go for that first run, and this ties closely into something else that beginners often need help with: kit.

My first proper training run, one of not-many I undertook in the run up to my first Edinburgh marathon relay, was one of the hardest runs I've ever done.  It wasn’t hard because of the physical challenge of going for a run, it was hard because I was hugely embarrassed to be seen out exercising.  I felt completely ridiculous stepping outside in an old cotton T-shirt, swimming shorts and cheap plastic trainers to do an arduous lap of St Andrews in an encroaching Scottish winter. But I laboured around and eventually made it back to the flat, exhausted and wheezing, soaked in sweat and with screaming muscles, but beaming at the accomplishment and riding the endorphin swell.

I remembered that first run recently, as I stepped out of the flat in my gleaming Saucony running shoes, wrapped against the cold in a Helly Hansen baselayer, a t-shirt from the Paris Marathon, Hilly gloves and Asics shorts, listening to my iPod shuffle with earphones from Nike. I started the timer on my Garmin watch and tightened the straps on my Mountain Warehouse backpack as I ran up the hill towards work, realising that much of my confidence to go out and run in public comes from me looking like a runner when I go out in public.

So maybe the first step towards becoming a runner is to go shopping, because being properly equipped can make a huge difference to your comfort and confidence, but there's no need to go overboard. If you’re going to run quite a lot, you need a certain amount of gear, but even if you run a great deal you can get by with not much. What you need is a decent pair of properly-fitted running shoes, which can cost anywhere from £50-100, and a few pairs of running socks, which should cost £8-10 a pair. 

My right foot after the England Kilomathon, March 2010. Good shoes, badly fitted.
A t-shirt and a pair of shorts should complete your basic kit list. However, if you’re anything like me what you’re going to want is a wardrobe full of gear catering for all conditions and all seasons, with labels covered in words like ‘dry-fit’ and ‘moisture-wicking’. This is an easy way to spend an awful lot money on stuff you don’t really need, though my collection has gradually built up over a number of years, and was usually bought in sales or received as gifts. I know runners who use new gear as rewards for reaching certain training milestones (you know who you are!), and this can be a great motivator.

Your gear is important– you need to be comfortable, you need to feel confident and – if you’re just starting out – you need all the help you can get.  My advice is don’t go overboard: just get your shoes sorted, and the rest will follow.

Happy running!

P.S. - I've just ordered a Brooks Showerproof Nightlife Hi-Viz Jacket. Will I never learn?

Friday, 22 October 2010

'Welcome to the hash'

'Welcome to the hash' said a charming woman from Boston as she handed me my second pint of the evening. We were squeezed into a tiny pub with 50 or 60 others, most of whom looked to be fairly determined to see away a good few drinks before eventually wandering home. And by wandering, I mean running. The room is packed with people sweating at least a bit and dressed in running gear; some in high-end compression leggings and technical baselayers, others in 20-year old T-shirts, baggy old shorts and elderly trainers. I'm probably the youngest person here, though not by much, and the oldest has got to be into his seventies. We have all just been on a hash.

Rewind an hour or two, and a friend from work and I are walking, slightly apprehensive, towards Smithies in Cannonmills, the pub designated as the starting point for this evening's hash. We both knew vaguely of the concept, had identified The New Town Hash House Harriers as our local chapter, checked their website for details of the next event, and decided to show up unannounced. Our anonymity as newcomers - sorry, 'virgins' - didn't last long. Despite the size of the group, everyone was on first-name terms, of sorts, as I was  introduced to Septic Sporran, Rug Rat and Arse Over Tit. 'Do we choose our own names?' 'No, we'll come up with something for you - in the meantime you're Just Dave'. I've been called worse.
The New Town Hash House Harrriers logo
We reach the bar and ask, bemused, whether people drink before the run (trying to ignore the obvious evidence that yes, people do). I'm told, in a not unfriendly way 'The hardcore hashers do.' Oh, a challenge. Two pints of Edinburgh Gold, then, please... This is going to be an interesting night... As we chug away at our drinks we start chatting to other hashers. Everyone is immediately welcoming, generous and interested in us, and delighted that we've joined. They kindly explain the rules: there are no rules.

The first shout comes: 'OnOUT!', which results in the pub emptying immediately, and the assembled hashers gathering around to hear instructions. As 'virgins' we are asked our names and to tell the group who made us come. I reply that the internet made me come, I get a laugh, and feel rather at home. Then the 'hare' steps forward. Her job was to lay the trail, using a series of commonly-known symbols, created with flour, and laid out on footpaths, roads and tracks which, if correctly followed, will eventually lead back to the pub. A straight line indicates direction of travel, but every so often you reach a circle, a 'check', where the track could go in any one of many directions. If you choose the wrong one, you'll reach an 'F' denoting a 'Falsie' - a false trail, and you're forced back to the check to find out where you were supposed to go. Arrows never lie, except sometimes. Shortcuts are encouraged, and best achieved by listening for the shouts of 'OnOn!' from hashers ahead of you, who are in constant communication with the group, the goal being to keep everyone, from the FRBs (Front Running B*stards) to the Walkie Talkies at the back, together.

This is a game, and a hilarious one. One minute a pack of 30 runners (as you've no doubt guessed, we're the hounds in this narrative) will be charging along a previously quite residential street, the next we've all ground to a halt at a check whilst a few enterprising FRBs check the available routes, we'll reach a consensus and then we're off again. I'm near(ish) the front as even with a pint of ale in me that's where my pace is comfortable, but due to my various wrong turns exploring potential routes at checks I end up overtaking the same Walkie Talkies over and over again. Which is exactly the point.

The trail deteriorates and a few hashers apologise, saying 'It's not normally like this' - I am so intrigued by what 'normally happens' that I immediately promise to be back. Enjoy the Runkeeper link here. This, I'm told, was an unusually short hash, but you can see quite clearly the extra mileage involved in following 'Falsies'. Two things happen to the confused pack - some keep looking for the trail, others suddenly find some pace and head for the nearest pub. I'm caught in the middle, and eventually decide to head back to Smithies with a few others, where we tuck into the pies and sausage rolls laid on, and I am handed that second pint. This turns into a third pint, then I am given a half to down as punishment/reward for losing my hashing virginity. There are drinking games and songs. People are asked to contribute £1 towards the hash's activities, though I am firmly instructed not to pay as this is my first hash. We talk about drinking and running and everything associated thereto. I am happy.

Drinking and running is rather hard work, but in this company it seems normal, safe and relaxed. I run home, and as I finally reach my bed I promptly pass out. Work in the morning, after all.



Sunday, 17 October 2010

How I accidentally ran 18 miles.

I found myself, yesterday morning, with absolutely nothing to do. This hasn't happened to me in a long time, and I was at a bit of a loss - the flat was empty, no-one was free to meet up, and there wasn't much going on in town. So I decided to go for a run. I was most certainly not planning to run more than two-thirds of a marathon, but inexplicably that is exactly what happened.

I had a rough idea that I wanted to run a section of the path along the Water of Leith - an excellent and well-maintained footpath that runs for 12-13 miles from Balerno to the Port of Leith, passing through a series of attractive villages, parks, woodland and very close to the city centre before flowing into the Forth at Leith. I use this path to train on relatively frequently, but usually only the 3-4 miles or so in either direction from my flat - which means that I had at least 5 miles of it left to explore. The problem was that those 5 miles were 4 miles from my flat...

I packed up my rucksack with some energy gel, a banana, water, phone, cash, iPod, camera, keys and a spare T-shirt. Packing such an extensive kit list should have been a subconscious clue that I was in for the long haul. Heading out towards Balerno, I had the pleasure of running past such distracting places as the Dean Gallery, Murrayfield Stadium, a skate park in Saughton, some incredible bridges and on to the Water of Leith visitor centre, stopping to take photos and enjoy the scenery.
One of the 6 Anthony Gormley sculptures in the Water of Leith
Eventually, after running not many miles in quite a lot of minutes I reached the visitor's centre in Slateford, and stopped to answer my phone. Looking around when I finished the call, I noticed that the centre had signposts citing the distances to various towns, and there it was: Balerno 5 miles. The end of the road. Who could resist? I repacked my bag and cheerfully set off towards the end goal. (I resisted temptation to do some basic arithmetic: I ran 4.5 miles to get here, it's about 5 miles to Balerno, and when I get there I'll have to run all the way back this really a good idea?)

I would never have met this giant wooden...thing...if I hadn't been running all day!
So on through woodlands, past industrial estates, huge houses, beautiful parks, endless allotments and countless other nuances of Scottish suburbia. My knee started to complain, and before long my hips and ankles were getting a little tetchy too. I got lost a couple of times and once nearly ran straight into a surprising horse, but reached the end of the path without too much drama, running along a gloriously flat old railway path for much of the last few miles. I stopped to eat my banana, gulp some water and put on the spare T-shirt, as I was starting get a little cool. There isn't a great deal there to congratulate you on reaching the end:

I was lucky to get this photo, as I had just dropped my camera and had to coax it back to life.
Well now I've got a problem. I'm nearly 10 miles from home and starting to hurt quite a lot, with barely any water and no food left. Churchill once probably didn't say: "If you're going through hell, keep going", so I turned up the volume on my iPod, turned around and started for home. It was tough going, but things didn't start to really fall apart until around 15 miles, just as I got back to the visitor centre. I popped in to buy a copy of the footpath map which includes some of the history of the area, and the very sweet old lady who sold it to me insisted on refilling my empty water bottle. When I went back outside, I sat down on a bench to retie my shoelace, and from there onwards I was in trouble. Never sit down during a long run, Dave! For God's sake, man, have you never done this before!? Exit, pursued by a cramp.

So I managed the next 5 miles by running with walking breaks, which then turned to walking with running breaks, which then turned to plain old walking. Still overtaking the hikers, but walking nonetheless. I was reminded of Dean Karnazes's maxim "Run when you can, walk if you have to, crawl if you must, just never give up."

Finally I made it home, and after a recovery shake, half a kilo of pasta, four pints of water, a bath, a small pile of painkillers and a gin & tonic, I felt a little more human. 18 miles of running and a couple more of walking can really take it out of you, so if you're thinking of spending most of your Saturday running, please make a slightly more thorough plan than I did... Here's a map of my mad out-and-back adventure:

I had planned to meet a friend for a quick run this morning, but after the unexpected very long run yesterday I texted him to cancel, expecting the worst of post-run pain. The bizarre thing was, I actually felt ridiculously fresh this morning, almost ready to go out and do it all again. The 12-hour sleep probably helped, but I think my incredibly leisurely pace, at around 10 minutes/mile (which is hugely light compared to my usual 7:45m/m ground pounding) is what preserved my much-punished muscles. I thought about going out for a quick jog today, but just to be on the safe side, I went to the pub instead.

Jog on!


Thursday, 14 October 2010

Do you love your commute?

For six months last year I commuted every day from deepest darkest Kent to north London, a good hour and a half each way, twice a day, five days a week, on packed trains. It was miserable.

Now I live and work in Edinburgh, where my flat is two miles from my office. As often as I can, I run my commute, a fast two miles if I'm in a hurry, or a more random and circuitous route if I've got time to kill and need to put some miles on my trainers. Last night was one of my best commuting runs, well, ever.

I spent the afternoon drinking far too much coffee, jittery and restless. I really enjoy my job, but when I know I'm going out for a run afterwards, I sometimes just can't wait to get out and hit the roads. At 5pm on the dot I changed into my kit, and headed out into a cool Scottish evening. I listen to my body when I run, and with a couple of pints of thick black coffee in my veins my body was in a hurry.

You can see the route I took on my RunKeeper profile - the website that links into a clever (and free) iPhone app that uses GPS to track your runs. The only downsides of this app are that it's pretty unforgiving to the time you spend waiting at traffic lights, and accordingly my average pace is always recorded as being quite a lot slower than I actually ran. Oh well. My main goal is always to run a lot of miles, not necessarily to run them very quickly.

Commuting runs are brilliant - I love running with a purpose, as a mode of transport. It's like a tiny little rebellion against the drudgery of buses and trains. There are a few issues, though. I'm lucky in that I can run to work and shower when I get there, but that does mean that I need to run with a rucksack, containing the day's smart(ish) work clothes, shoes, a towel, shower gel, deodorant, lunch, wallet, phone, keys etc etc. That slows me down.  Or I can leave some of these things at the office the day before, though that requires a bit more foresight than I'm usually blessed with first thing. Much better is taking running kit to work in the morning, then changing after work and running home - though this does mean that I end up with a large pile of spare clothes under my desk, and eventually have to drive in to work to clear out my collection of dirty washing...

So why was last night so brilliant? I don't really know. I ran around Arthur's Seat, a tough and very hilly route, in failing light on a cold evening, through crowds of commuters and tourists. I ran fast and worked hard, blew out the cobwebs of a day behind a computer screen, and more or less sprinted the last half a mile. Doesn't get much better than that.

Happy running.


Tuesday, 12 October 2010

Hello! and how I got here...


I love to run, and I love to write. Unfortunately I often suffer from a lack of motivation to do either. Hopefully this blog will help with both.

So how I got here. In April 2007 I signed up for a 5k charity run, called 'Run with Rory', which I only really agreed to do because I was involved in organising it, and we were panicked that no-one would take part. I hadn't run for at least four or five years, the pinnacle of my running achievements having been placing 20th out of 100+ in a school cross country run in 2000 or 2001.

Rory stretching before his annual run.

I turned up to Run with Rory in cheap, rubbish trainers, a pair of swimming shorts and a T-shirt. Half an hour later I flopped over the finish line, and decided that running wasn't for me.

Since then I've run a handful of 5ks and 10ks, the Edinburgh Marathon relay (three times), three half marathons, two Kilomathons, and two full marathons, as well as 'Running with Rory' twice more, including running as Rory in what I hope will be the sweatiest experience of my life.

Running forms a huge part of my life, it's pleasure spiked with pain, it's a good kind of hurt, it's worth it because it's hard, and I've no idea why I bother. Maybe I'll find out by writing it down. Hopefully this blog will motivate me in the inevitable lows, celebrate the highs, and document the in-betweens. We shall see. I expect I'll be logging my training, reporting on my racing, reminiscing about runs gone by, and commenting on running in the news. But who knows, maybe this will be the first and last from irunbecause. Looking forward to finding out.

Jog on, friends.