Friday, 27 May 2011

When I grow up I want to be...

...a race director. It would be my perfect job.

I came to this conclusion on Sunday afternoon, after supporting the Edinburgh Marathon and later reading comments that runners had left in various places – on the facebook page, on the Runners’ World website and in The Scotsman, all of which highlight basic errors made by marathon organisers who really should know better. This was the 9th running of the Edinburgh Marathon in its present form, under the same corporate for-profit leadership, and to my mind it’s getting worse.

The many complaints highlight the fact that runners expect a product that is high-quality overall and supported by top-notch attention to detail. The Edinburgh race used to get away with its weird course, (of which 80% is nowhere near Edinburgh and large portions are exposed to the seafront), by virtue of a high-quality experience for the runner elsewhere. This year it was the overlooked details which damaged its appeal. Runners’ comments focussed on:
  • Small or missing mile markers. An inexcusable mistake in a road race. I read a comment which simply said ‘Not enough mile markers. The optimum number is 26.’
  • A course which includes a loose gravel surface, large sections through industrial areas, very little association to the City of Edinburgh and a frustrating finger-loop right at the end of the race- these are annual problems, usually forgiven, but this year thrown into sharp relief asdisgruntled customers seek to increase their lists of grievances...
  • Large sections with no crowd support at all. Hardly surprising given the course layout, and again an annual problem.
  • An uninspiring finish. The race used to finish at Musselburgh Racecourse in front of a grandstand, this year it was diverted to a featureless residential street near the racecourse for reasons unclear.
  • Poor post-race support and facilities. No spectators were allowed in the final few hundred metres of the race, creating a strange and slightly deflated finish-line environment. The reunion areas and shuttle buses were a hefty distance from the finish, and access to those areas was insufficient and potentially dangerous given the crowd size.
  • Wrong medals and T-shirts. When you finish a marathon effort, the last thing you want is someone handing you a half-marathon T-shirt, or a generic medal that doesn’t properly commemorate your achievement.
  • A big screen in the reunion area, purportedly placed to show the finish line action to the displaced spectators, was instead showing footage from last year’s T in the Park. With the sound off.
  • Inefficient, slow and not enough shuttle buses. Imagine you’ve just finished a marathon, then walked two miles on blistered feet to find a bus, only to wait in a lengthy queue for a slow, old vehicle where no-one checks the ticket you’ve paid for before taking you on a 45-minute journey to somewhere not terribly near the city centre. Misery.

All this for just £45! I read these comments open-mouthed.

Marathoners deserve better. Whether Edinburgh was their first or fiftieth 26.2, the race’s practical shortcomings will probably have tarnished many runners’ experience. It looked like a race organised by a bank, not a group of dedicated and inspired pavement pounders. I couldn’t help but think that I could organise a better race than this with my eyes closed.

So I’m going to. Watch this space.

Happy running.


P.S. I'm off to the Mull of Kintyre tomorrow to cover the half marathon and festival of running over the weekend for an article. More details to follow.

2011 to date - miles: 518.31, parkruns: 6, races: 2, miles biked: 47.44, metres swum: 675

Friday, 20 May 2011

I think I have worked out how to cycle

Last autumn I bought a bike. I’m sorry - I should have told you sooner. I resisted mentioning it in quite such clear terms here in case you worried that I had joined the dark side and might soon become obsessed with lycra and weird clippy shoes. Don’t worry, that hasn’t happened. Yet.

I had a difficult start to bike ownership – I had agreed to buy one second hand off Gumtree on a whim, without really taking account of the fact that it was slightly too big for me and at least a little bit rubbish. When I went to pick it up I had to drive there, and getting the bike in the back of the car necessitated taking off the front wheel, which I did with the enthusiasm and gusto of a mechanically-minded bike owner, not a thought for how this might affect its use later. Back home, I carried it up the stairs to effect the necessary reassembly, and couldn’t help but notice that it was actually rather heavy and bulky, despite being ostensibly a ‘hybrid’.

It was then that I realised that I had made a mistake. I owned no tools, did not have a pump (having deflated the front tyre to release it from the brakes), and did not really know anything about bicycles, bicycling, or bicyclists. The entire semantic field was a mystery. After purchasing a helmet, a bike lock and bike pump (which later transpired to be the least effective pump ever made), my expenditure on my cycling initiative was pushing into significant money. Then I bought tools, books and magazines. I resolved that I had to make good use of this investment.

My bike. It's very blue.
I didn’t. Every time I took it out for a ride something disheartening would happen, like the chain detaching just as I was getting some momentum on a tedious climb, or the gears starting to click menacingly at me with horrible repetitive noises, or the front mudguard loosening to the point of rubbing angrily against the wheel rim. I rode around half-heartedly on soggy, deflating tyres for a few miserable miles before locking the damn thing up for winter and forgetting about it. I wrote off the whole silly enterprise and went back to relying on running for my commute, exercise and psychological well-being. All was well.

Until one Friday morning as I left for work (as usual trying not to make eye contact with my forlorn and ignored bike) I noticed that a new bike had joined the ranks of the abandoned-but-securely-locked-in-case-I-ever-need-it cycles stashed at the bottom of our tenement block. There, next to the dusty, muddy and untended machines was a shiny, white racing bike with millimetre-wide tyres and a sleek, beautiful frame. It was magnificent. Pristine. The bike equivalent of Cameron Diaz lounging casually among a group of bespectacled and cagouled trainspotters.

And it was locked to my bike.

I was furious. Who was this arrogant cyclist, so confident that my bike was going nowhere that he thought he could just casually attach his thousand-pound new toy to it? Doesn’t he know that I am a serious athlete and might one day want to cycle somewhere? Who exactly does he think he is!? Fury at the injustice and insult of it all welled up inside me. This was an outrage. Call the police! Notify the United Nations! Someone alert the GB Olympic Committee that my career in international cycling is being held back by the callous actions of some flash bicycling bastard!

Being British, of course, I did none of those things and instead attached a passive-aggressive note to the soft, blemishless surface of the white bike’s saddle. I needed my bike this weekend, it asserted. Other bikes should not be attached to mine, under any circumstances. This was very important indeed.

Later that evening Cameron Diaz had been removed and reattached to a railing, where she should have been all along. A brief apology was scribbled on my note and I felt pride in a handsome victory for the weak and oppressed. My Olympic dream was alive again.

But now I had a problem. I had to take the bike out for a ride at the weekend.

It was wonderful. I was cycling for pleasure, choosing a flat and fast route where I casually broke the four minute mile without losing even a bead of sweat. I covered the miles easily, and suddenly I saw with absolute clarity what all the lycra-clad obsessives were banging on about. Cycling is brilliant. Car drivers are idiots! Why isn’t everyone doing this?

A few  weeks later I took it in for a proper service and some repairs, which were obscenely cheap and straightforward thanks to the chaps at Pedals in Edinburgh. It is of course still too big for me, but now I’ve more or less understood the point and worked out how to properly use the gears, cycling is a pleasure and utterly enjoyable. Don’t worry, though.

It is still not as much fun as running.

Happy locomotion.


2011 to date - miles: 483.93, parkruns: 6, races: 2, miles biked: 27.79, metres swum: 675

Monday, 16 May 2011

Getting serious

10 weeks and 6 days to San Francisco. Time to start getting serious about training then... But first - three other places you could visit for my ramblings and musings:

  •  The June issue of Runners’ World UK, page 99, features my report on the Alloa Half Marathon.  Go and buy a copy now!

  • My interview in the latest edition of Adventure Travel News on, where I divulge more details of my 10-marathons-before-I'm-30 plan than I had intended to...

  • Twitter! I have joined the tweeting masses, you’ll find me as @davidjhaines. I’ve added a twitter-update feed on the right-hand panel of this blog. Follow me – you’ll probably not regret it too much. While we’re at it, you could follow this blog, too. There's a button over there on the right. That would make my day.

So, being serious...

The first of my efforts to ‘get serious’ was yesterday’s long run; a hearty and comfortable 16 miler around north-east Edinburgh, taking in 1072 feet of climbing and descent, as well as a monster headwind and driving rain along the coast. I often forget how privileged I am to run in a city like this, where a couple of hours’ running can take in beautiful Georgian architecture, a yellow-sand beach, medieval cobbled streets, an extinct volcano, a medium-sized sea port, charming Victorian parks and a calm, pretty riverside. Who could complain about wind, rain and aching muscles against a backdrop like that?

In order to properly illustrate the hills involved in SF and explain why I'm going to be ascending Arthur's Seat (the aforementioned volcano) several times a week for the next 10 weeks, below is a graph illustrating the elevation change of the SF Marathon, with some excellent anecdotes... This image is courtesy of Ben Clark's blog, Proclivity for Hyperbole - go check it out and tell him I sent you. Ben's training for SF too, see you there!

Click to view a larger version (worth it)
All humour aside, I need to take those hills and those miles seriously. Sunday's 16 hilly miles caused no major problem. Adding another 10.2 might, though, so here's my long run plan:

First I’ll be consolidating and strengthening my 13-16 mile runs. I’ll put in another 16 miler this Saturday, followed by probably a long bike ride on the Sunday along and around the Edinburgh Marathon course to support a few friends. Then I’ve got the Mull of Kintyre Half Marathon coming up in two weeks, which I’ll run at a roughly medium-effort pace, aiming to finish in something around 1:40 (look out for the Runners’ World review in a couple of months!). The week after that I’ll be aiming for another 16-miler.

Then a weekend ‘off’ for a stag-do (probably still going to do 10 miles or so), before launching back in the following week, ramping up to 16, 18, 18, then 20 miles in the four Sundays from 19 June. That leaves me two Sundays before the main event in SF, which will be for easy runs of 10-13 miles or so. Possibly incorporating the Milton Keynes half, still thinking about that one... That 20 miler 3 weeks out will be my longest run before the marathon, which hopefully will be enough to carry me through on race day.

Basically I'm back in long run season. Goodbye weekends, farewell alcohol, see you later lazy lie-in. But here come major endorphins, huge mileage and thighs of steel. It's a fair trade...

Happy running


2011 to date - miles: 467.79, parkruns: 6, races: 2, miles biked: 20.07, metres swum: 675

Wednesday, 11 May 2011


It was with a heavy heart and heavier legs that I booked a sports massage this week.  I know all the benefits and am well aware that a serious and responsible runner would include massages into their training and recovery schedule, but I generally try to avoid the process, mostly because it’s extremely bloody painful. As I will now explain.

There was no avoiding it this time. I logged almost 40 miles last week, up from just 12 the week before. Four of them were barefoot and I also snuck in a game of touch rugby. I was wrecked.

I shuffle into the physio’s reception trying to look like I do this all the time. After checking in I sit down and flick through the magazines (astonished to find a 4-page feature in Men’s Health devoted to practical advice for adulterers, notable extract: ‘a pay-as-you-go phone is the philanderer’s number one tool’ – what the hell!?) and studied the impressive collection of certificates that adorned the walls. Time ticks away, eventually passing my appointment as the physio is still with another client. Oh no! Perhaps my therapist enjoys their work so much that they regularly work unpaid overtime just to punish athletes even more! What if I’m here all night!? I’ve made a terrible mistake!

The physio emerges from a back room some 10 minutes later – she’s small, blonde, in her thirties. Cheerful and smiley.  I’m relieved – I had envisioned a hefty male, Viking in stature and sworn enemy of muscles and the muscled. We do the usual forms and the medical history. All is going well as she directs me to a pleasant treatment room full of towels and a comfy-looking massage table. This will be ok after all.

Then she asks why I need a sports massage. I start to explain: ‘Well, I’m a runner...’ but I tail off as the mood in the room changes. She sees a lot of runners, she tells me. At her request, I list my recent running achievements and future plans (though I don’t mention Barefoot Dave’s Great North Run for fear of being told off). She looks mildly impressed for a moment, but I think this is a cover as she is already eyeing up my legs, wondering whether she should use maximum or ultimate force to demolish them most effectively...

Before long I am at her mercy, face in the hole and legs awaiting their punishment. First the calves and Achilles’ tendons: the pain is excruciating. She keeps me chatting, as she probably knows that trying to answer her chirpy questions prevents me from chewing my own face off in agony. Involuntary cries of pain punctuate my conversation, but she seems unfazed by my mournful noises as the demolition of my lower legs continues.

Next the back of my thighs, and she’s using every ounce of her surprisingly vast strength to rearrange my muscles. At one point she almost pushes me off the table, such is her determination to fit her entire forearm into my leg. ‘Just relax’ she tells me. This is difficult – I’m here because my legs haven’t been relaxed for months, and what’s more I can’t help but notice that she is abusing my legs with an intensity and determination that can’t be bought (yes it can: £33 for 30 minutes). As I focus on relaxing the muscle I can feel it threatening to spasm. She spots this immediately and pounces on it, manipulating the muscles around my knee and making me wonder if I really need my knees after all. Surely amputation would hurt less?

I turn over to lie on my back, feeling for the first time the vast impact of the treatment. My muscles are fizzing and seem somewhat unreliable and unfamiliar. She’s relentless, now taking the front of my thigh to pieces with more of that superhuman strength. I’m doing everything I can to manage the pain but occasional squeaks of discomfort are still escaping unchecked. The physio remains steadfast in her abuse – she notices my pitiful exclamations but doesn’t recognise them as a reason to stop, if anything she increases the pressure on the toughest areas.

I silently resolve to give up running in favour of obesity.

Finally we’re finished. She suggests a baffling schedule of appointments designed to consolidate today’s onslaught, then prepare me for San Francisco. I agree to most of them as I try to remember how to walk and remove what’s left of myself from her reception. Back at home my legs feel like they’ve exploded, and my thighs in particular seem to be a different shape.

Today my legs feel new and I’ve been for a fast run and a great swim.  No pain, no gain.

Happy running.


2011 to date - miles: 439.31, parkruns: 5, races: 2, miles biked: 17.85, metres swum: 675

Wednesday, 4 May 2011

The Ballad of Barefoot Dave - part one

I should start with the terms & conditions of this blog post.  It's a fundraising post for the Alzheimer's Society, care of Barefoot Dave's Great North Run.

If you’ve already made a donation on my justgiving page, then hello! Come on in! Put your feet up! Would you like a drink? There’s wine in the fridge. If not then, you may continue reading, but only if you promise to donate some money sooner or later. Maybe after payday? Or if you find some money on the street. Up to you. But please think about putting something towards the fight against dementia. 

So –onto the new paid-for-by-an-honour-system content...

Barefoot Dave’s Great North Run is currently looking like it could turn into Barefoot Dave’s Big Broken Bones or Big Damaged Ankles or Big Ruined Calf Muscles. Increasing the barefoot mileage has been really, really tough going. When I decided on this challenge I had only really experienced barefoot running off-road, on surfaces with at least a little ‘give’, like mud, grass, and dirt tracks. However, the Great North Run is entirely on tarmac, and tarmac is well known for not giving very much at all...

So I’ve been braving the roads in my Vibrams, with mixed results. On the one hand (foot?), running without shoes is a new challenge and is testing different muscles.  This can only be a good thing, as I’m toning all the muscles in my legs instead of just my thighs, which will have positive benefits for my ‘normal’ running too. Similarly I’m enjoying the new technical challenge, thinking consciously about my stride, how I place my foot on the ground, and learning how the different parts of my foot contribute to running.  I feel like I’m evolving at an outrageously fast pace. Even if I'm running quite slowly.

Hazards. Particularly for barefoot crazies.
On the other foot, it all hurts like hell. I’m going through the same painful learning curve that I overcame for ‘normal’ running almost 3 years ago. The undersides of my toes, which are absorbing a lot of impact, are blistering badly. My ankles, adapted due to years of running fully supported, aren’t up to the job of properly holding my stride – such that I have to experiment with the way I place each footstep to avoid hurting them.  I have to look very carefully at where I’m stepping – loose litter or branches, even a pile of wet leaves becomes a potential hazard without the comfortingly enormous support of a pair of trainers. It is a constant mental and physical workout, and I am knackered after even short training runs. Since I reckon that I’ll be taking around 22,000 steps in the Great North Run, I’m a little worried that I might go insane trying to summon the required brain power to keep myself on track...

Compound this with the natural hazards of a big road race: congestion, discarded bottles to trip over, energy gel wrappers to slip on, amusing costumes to be distracted by... I'm getting a little bit frightened. Oh and one more thing. Two weeks before the barefoot Great North Run, I'm running the Loch Ness Marathon, which is going to be a painful experience in itself. Fear. The enormity of this challenge is starting to dawn on me.

All this, and I still haven’t run more than 5 miles in the Vibrams.  I have an awful long way to go before managing a half marathon barefoot.

Fear. Happy fear.


2011 to date - miles: 414.48, parkruns: 4, races: 2, miles biked: 16.85