Monday, 27 June 2011

Psychology of a Long Run

There’s something incredibly satisfying about running really, really long distances. This is going to sound stupid, but I think the reason is that once you’ve run a really long distance, you only have to run a really short distance to make your really long distance even longer. This is the kind of madness that descends after more than two hours' non-stop running.

Stupid, I know.

I noticed the phenomenon when I was out on my long run at the weekend. The psychology of the long run is a fascinating thing, it goes something like this:

  • 1st mile – I’m just warming up! Still warming up and already a mile’s in the bag! I never have to do that mile again! This will be easy!
  • 3rd mile – settling in now. Golly, three miles isn’t far at all. 5k runners are such wimps.
  • 6th mile – feeling the strain a little. And I’m only a third of the way there. [inconsolable misery]
  • 8th mile – [miscount the mileage, think you’re at 9 miles, realise mistake and descend into deep, irretrievable depression.]
  • 9th mile – WOOAAH we’re halfway THE-ERE! WOOAOOAAH livin’ on a PRA-AYER!!
  • 10th mile – time for an energy gel. Rely on mysterious magic goo. Buoyed by caffeine and glycogen/possible placebo effect.
  • 12th mile – two-thirds of the way there. Less than an hour to go. Yes yes yes.
  • 13th mile – OMG I have to do this *twice*!?
  • 14th mile – only one more mile and I’ll have run FIFTEEN MILES. That’s totally far.
  • 15th mile – am I too young for a double hip replacement?
  • 16th mile – just another 16 minutes and I’ll be home not drinking a cold frosty beer. Emotional rollercoaster.
  • 17th mile – ZOMG only one more mile and I’ll have run 18 miles!
  • 18th mile – wait, is that the wall? SOFA TIME!

This is the magic of reeling in the miles – the miles you’ve covered are yours and no-one can take them away. Once you’re over halfway, the next few miles are piled on top of your conquered miles, making each single mile conquered somehow worth more than itself. So when you reach mile 16, you may only have covered one additional mile, but in so doing  you turned a 15 mile run into a 16 mile run. That last mile is more or less worth 16! Magic!

By this infallible logic I reckon a marathon is actually more or less the same as conquering 351 miles. Which is a really long way.

In more grounded news, I covered the aforementioned 18(.17) miles on Saturday morning in a rather hasty 2:28, averaging 8:10 m/m, which projects a slightly terrifying 3:33 marathon finish. Check out the RunKeeper record. I then tested out my new theory that muscle pain the day after long runs are due to me seizing up in the afternoons rather than the impact of the run itself, so I went out for a bike ride in the early evening  and covered six slow miles in the pouring rain. I'm delighted to report that this appears to have worked and I’ve got very little residual muscle ache – either that or I’m actually fit and able to recover much quicker than I used to...

Megan's ridiculously strong finish.
On Sunday I was privileged to witness *the* Megan Crawford PB at the Dunfermline half marathon, finishing in an amazing 1:20 as 3rd Scot and 5th woman. Ridiculously proud and basking in reflected glory. On top of that I had a genuinely excellent time supporting the race rather than running it, which bodes well for the day my knees finally do give in... Here are my tweets from my ‘live coverage’ of the event.
And finally, to round it all off, a leisurely 2.5 mile jog around Inverleith park in the Vibrams to rack up 20.75 miles of running and 5.95 of cycling over the weekend.  Good times.

4 weeks, 6 days to the San Francisco Marathon.

Happy running


P.S. If donating online's not your thing, you can now contribute to my Barefoot Great North Run adventure by text! Why not text DAVE86 £5 to 70070 to donate £5 to the Alzheimer's Society? Or more? Or less? Go ooon...

2011 to date - miles: 648.34, parkruns: 6, races: 3, miles biked: 53.38, metres swum: 925

Monday, 20 June 2011

"Have you ever won a marathon?"

No, no I haven't.

Through my day job, I had the privilege of meeting a young man who had recently been selected for the Scotland squad at this summer's Homeless World Cup in Paris. The competition is an amazing initiative, offering disadvantaged young men the opportunity to travel, represent their country, compete at a high level, and play on a stage which pro and semi-pro recruiters keep an eye on.

I was talking to this chap about his achievement of making the squad, and he asked if I play football. Definitely not, I tell him, I run instead. Oh, what kind of running? he asks. I run marathons and half-marathons, I tell him. Have you ever won a marathon? he asks. 

No, no I haven't.

His logic, in the context of his sport, was sound - why enter if you're not going to win? Who cares about times if you're in twenty-thousandth place? What's a PB really worth anyway?

Everything, obviously. This is the beauty of running. We don't have to win to be winners. The loser hasn't really lost anything. It's between him and the course, for better or worse. But it seems a shame that those of us slightly further from the sharp end of the field only talk in terms of finish times, not positions... This got me thinking about my placings in various races over the last 3-4 years, so here are the highlights:

England Kilomathon 2010 - I made it home in 457th place out of 4186 finishers. This was the world's first kilomathon, so I like to consider my finish position as my world ranking over that distance at that time. I surprised myself that day - I hadn't turned up with a racing mentality but for some reason everything just clicked...

At the Edinburgh Christmas Run last year I finished 4th out of 150 runners in some pretty mad conditions. Despite the fact that this was a fun run and I was dressed in a disintegrating Santa suit, I like to think of this as my best race finish. Full report here.

My 10k effort at the Great Edinburgh Run - not crazy fast by any measure - was good enough for 668th place. This may sound a bit average, but over 10,000 people finished the race so I'm rather happy to have made it home in the top 7%...

I may not be first, or even second...
...but I've yet to finish last.
Just three weeks ago I registered my highest placing ever at a half marathon when I entered the MoKRun down in Campbeltown, finishing in 38th place overall from a field of 260.

My two marathon finishes - 2,761st in Brighton and an almost incomprehensible 16,176th in Paris are quite a long way from winning. But hey, never say never. Will San Francisco be any better? Maybe. The full marathon typically has around 6,000 finishers, so with any luck I'll do better than I did in Paris, at least... But with the challenging course and the cumulative effects of my jetlag and randomly fluctuating training routine, who knows? Maybe a four hour marathon will be good enough for a top-third finish? Or maybe the race attracts the masochists and hill-lovers, who will kick my sorry backside over the Golden Gate Bridge and back...

I have a feeling that if I'm ever going to win a race I'll have to be allowed to choose all the other competitors myself, and probably recruit them all from darts competitions. And make them all wear chain mail running vests. And not tell them the route. Or even where the race starts. And then cheat.

I ran home this evening, on my own. You'll be glad to know I won.

Happy racing


P.S. Check it out - over 600 miles in 2011, woohoo!

2011 to date - miles: 617.1, parkruns: 6, races: 3, miles biked: 47.44, metres swum: 925

Tuesday, 14 June 2011


There are six weeks and five days to go before the San Francisco Marathon, which means in five days’ time I start my traditional month and a half of being completely teetotal pre-marathon.  After my brother's stag do this weekend just gone, this seems like a better idea than usual...

Not everyone does this before a marathon, and it’s by no means essential; but it’s become part of my routine and I dearly love the physical and other benefits that sustained sobriety brings. For one, I am guaranteed to never struggle through a session due to a hangover, dehydration or overwhelming post-booze lethargy. I am always available to train. My head is clearer – not just because I avoid being drunk or hungover, but generally clearer than it is when there’s even a little alcohol in my system. 

There are downsides, for sure. I don’t drink a great deal, but it’s not until you give up completely that you realise quite how much alcohol punctuates your life. This was much more obvious when I was a student: very little happens in St Andrews that isn’t in some way pivoted on a couple of drinks, essay writing most definitely included, and as such life without alcohol became a little less amusing. Here in my slightly more grown-up and responsible lifestyle, the same is sort-of true. Your odd glass of wine of an evening, cheeky pint with your mates or a rare binge like the aformentioned stag do are suddenly deleted from your social repetoire. It can be a slightly depressing time.

Put it down, Dave!
But there's a great way to compensate. As soon as I've made the commitment to abstinence, I know the race is looming and I'd better do some serious running. The miles stack up and the endorphin high is more or less continuously topped up. More than that, as soon as I make a firm pledge that if I'm going to forgo a delicious frosty beer of a Saturday afternoon or a crisp glass of Pinot Grigio with my dinner, then I'm definitely going to make the most of it and put in some top class training. But above all, it makes that first cold beer after the race taste even better...

Though all that said, there's five days to go before I lock the liquor cabinet. Pass the corkscrew!

Happy drinking


2011 to date - miles: 591.98, parkruns: 6, races: 3, miles biked: 47.44, metres swum: 925

Monday, 6 June 2011

Zero to Hero

At 11am on Saturday I was sprawled over the sofa in my pyjamas; lethargic, grumpy and bemoaning various aches and pains. I had more or less no interest in leaving the flat for any reason whatsoever, least of all to pursue the 16+ mile run I had scheduled in for myself. I was on my own, slightly glum and generally not bothered. At all.

By 2pm I was back in the flat, elated, surging with endorphins and having recorded my longest run of the year to date. How did this miraculous turnaround happen? I’m not sure, but I’ll try to work it out.

The first hurdle was to bully myself into getting dressed and ready. I agreed with myself that if I put my gear on, I would go for at least a little run. No way would I put my running kit on and then endure the shame of taking it all off again to return to pyjamas. I did, however, take an outrageously long time to get dressed, postponing the moment that I’d actually have to step outside for as long as possible. My procrastination was epic. I downloaded a new podcast (The Marathon Show) to listen to on the run. I tied and retied my laces. I insisted on adding ice to my water bottle. I pursued every avenue of potential timewasting for as long as possible, until I had literally no further excuses.

I finally got out of the door at 11.55, almost an hour and a half later than optimum-run-o’clock. I stubbornly maintained absolutely no interest in running the full, prescribed 16 miles, but since the first 8 miles of my planned route were loops relatively near the flat I thought I may as well pursue them. I trotted cheerfully up the hill, confident in the knowledge that I had dozens of opportunities to cut things short.

My first mile was heavily handicapped by traffic lights, registering an impressively slow 9:41. I didn’t care. This run didn’t matter. It wasn’t a long training outing or anything. I trotted cheerfully along the Grassmarket and eventually all the way down to Holyrood Park, ticking off the miles slowly but surely. I dug in and put in a lap of Arthur’s Seat, slowly remembering why I like running and amiably racing a few other pavement-pounders who had joined me on the popular route. At the highest point, with a staggering view over the Forth and across to Fife, I knew this run was going to go well.

At the foot of Arthur’s Seat I headed for the Royal Mile, intending to run all the way up to Edinburgh Castle and rack up some altitude. Seemed like a great idea. But no, terrible mistake – the Royal Mile on a Saturday lunchtime is more or less the most densely populated place in the entire Universe (it’s definitely in the top ten). I was weaving in and out of the camera-toting masses, trying to contain my pedestrian-hating rage as I picked my way through the crowds. There was a wedding, some street performers, half a dozen bagpipers and coach loads of bimbling tourists. Nightmare.

Then suddenly, like a triathlete sensing the very gravest injustice, I could feel someone running on my shoulder. I glanced back. A greasy boy of about 16, laughing and shouting in Italian to a friend toting a camera, was keeping pace with me. His reeking cigarette hung lazily from two fingers. His gleaming white tracksuit shimmered in the sunlight.  I doubt it has ever been near a track. My brief stint of studying Italian was enough to know that I was being mocked for running slowly. 

The boy kept pace for just a fraction too long.

I know, I know. I was out for a training session. I was 6 miles into what was clearly now going to be a 16 mile serious long run. I was climbing a very steep hill and maintaining a carefully modulated pace. I am a serious marathoner with multiple long-distance goals in both the short and long term. But the Italian was very, very annoying. I know I shouldn’t have. But I did it anyway. 

I decided to teach him a thing or two about runners.

I surged forward like a shot, sprinting at full pelt up the cobbled street. The Italian laughed, he was game, this was what he wanted. He picked up too, a fraction behind. But I just kept sprinting, dodging back and forward between bollards and groups of tourists. I glanced back to see the look on his stupid face, and saw him fading faster than a free commemorative T-shirt. After just a few seconds he was long gone, I imagine he started crying. To prove the point I pounded out another few hundred metres at suicide pace, finally reaching the castle with burning lungs and heavy legs. It was awesome.

The next 10 miles were more difficult as a result, if I'm honest. But who cares? Some random tourist who I'll never see again was taught a pointless lesson and it made me feel great. I finished the full 16.6 miles in 2:17, averaging 8:18 minutes/mile. I was elated.

Aaw, yeah. Click to enlarge.

I encourage you to educate any Italians who annoy you, too.

Happy running


2011 to date - miles: 570.52, parkruns: 6, races: 3, miles biked: 47.44, metres swum: 925

Wednesday, 1 June 2011

National Running Day

Today is National Running Day in the USA, and I’ve been thinking about what this will mean when I become King of Everything Important. As you might expect, it will mean a lot.

Public Information Broadcast: National Running Day – what this means for you in my brave new world

1.       There will be no work on NRD. Yes, good news, you can have the day off as a bank holiday. This won’t be one of those rubbish bank holidays that moves about erratically, or one where your employer reschedules your work pattern to stop you having it off. Literally everybody gets the day off. No exceptions. This will be the only day in the entire year when everyone is free (sort of free, see point 4). I may have to think of something clever to free up the doctors, nurses and other essential types – maybe I’ll fly in some French people to cover for them. Anyway, whatever happens, no work for you on NRD.

2.       By contrast, there will be lots of running in NRD. Up and down the country people will shun their cars and bikes and run everywhere, all day long. There will be races and fun runs and casual jogs and hill sessions and sprinting and trailrunning and ultramarathons and treadmills and babyjoggers and parkruns and freerunning and steeplechasing and barefoot running and relay races and backwards running and more or less any other type of running you can imagine. There will be so much running you won’t have time for anything but running. Running running running. That is what people will say.

3.       It will definitely be sunny on NRD. But not too sunny. In fact it will be ideal running weather.

4.       Obviously, running will be mandatory on NRD. Anyone found not running will be chased with a pointy stick, which will make them run. I’m not sure who I will detail to chase them, as I’ve given everyone the day off to go running. Maybe it will be the French again.

5.       Running stores will all open early and close late, to allow people the opportunity to purchase running-related goods. There will be massive discounts on everything, subsidised by the benevolent government I will have founded. I will pay for this subsidy through extortionate taxation of all sports-related industry other than running. As with the chasing, the running stores will probably have to be staffed by the French. I’m sorry if they’re rude.

6.       Like at Christmas, families will come together on NRD to exchange running-related gifts purchased at French-staffed running stores, eat a feast of pasta and energy gels, and then go out for a nice bracing run celebrate. People will sing running carols like ‘Born to Run’ and anything by Run DMC. It will be wondrous.

I hope this clears things up and you are all as excited about National Running Day as I am. Just imagine. An entire country smelling of Deep Heat and a population throbbing with post-run endorphins...

Mull of Kintyre Half Marathon

Ridiculously good stash from the Mokrun
Only the briefest of comments on this one – if you want the full story you’ll have to pick up the August issue of Runners’ World UK. It should be in newsagents from the first week in July.
 The two main features of my race experience were the brilliantly mad course (honestly, it’s completely bonkers – full details in main article) and the insane weather, with wind so extreme that it felt like running through soup at times. I struggled a little with a stomach upset and shin splints so had to back off the pace in the final miles to avoid ‘doing an Alloa’, but still managed a respectable 1:41:15 for my trouble. To my amazement I later discovered that this was good enough for 38th place in the half marathon, out of 260 finishers.  The winner made it home in 1:19:02 – a time which some of my old cross country team could probably challenge. Just saying, guys...

Alloa Half Marathon report hits the interwebs

For those of you without the means, motivation or inclination to actually buy magazines in order to read my published articles, my review of the Alloa Half Marathon, which appeared in the June issue of Runners’ World UK, is currently available online. Click here to read in full

Next up for me is some more long running – looking forward to pounding out a solid 16 miler this weekend and maybe even –gulp- starting to do some proper speedwork on the hills. Eight weeks, four days to the San Francisco Marathon. Fear.

Happy running,


2011 to date - miles: 536.42, parkruns: 6, races: 3, miles biked: 47.44, metres swum: 925