Thursday, 19 April 2012

Run like an American

Last weekend I ran the inaugural Edinburgh Rock ‘n’ Roll Half Marathon. A lot of stuff happened and it was overall a pretty cracking event, but the main thing I took away was an observation of a stark divide between the way we plucky Brits run and the way our American cousins race. My conclusion is to do with politeness, and not in the way you might expect.

Lining up for this race at 9am on Sunday morning, and having investigated the route, I was prepared for spectator numbers to be relatively low. That’s fine with me – I’m happy to switch off and let my legs do their thing if necessary. But equally I knew I would be falling into a familiar pattern, whereby I become excessively grateful for the few spectators who do bother to show up. I end up running in a constant state of preparedness, looking for the next tiny group of spectators defiantly clapping and whooping and cheering on an otherwise empty road. I make eye contact, smile, say thank you and distribute high-fives to those who want them. I do the same for volunteers, acknowledging the vital and generous contributions of those fluorescent-clad heroes of the open road. Sometimes I find myself putting more energy into engaging with spectators than actually running.

I have to do this, because it seems that almost no-one else bothers.

I think I understand why this is – you’re in the zone, you feel like an athlete and you’re working hard on a great race. When you come across people clapping, you steel your gaze forwards, determined to look the part and be deserving of this admiration. You’ve no time for cheerful thanks or petty high-fives. You have a goddamn race to run. These spectators have no idea what you’re going through and their mere mortal clapping is just another indication of their incredibly inferior status to your god-like athletic prowess.

Or maybe it’s the opposite. Maybe you think they’re out supporting someone specific, waiting for a friend or family member to round the corner and appreciate their own personal cheering station. To acknowledge this cheering might be to misappropriate someone else’s goodwill. Maybe you feel a little embarrassed that a huge crew of people have turned up to witness your middle-of-the-pack struggle. Maybe you’re not used to praise. Maybe you’re just a slave to your natural British reserve.
Not many supporters at mile 3...

Either way, I beg you to get over yourself. Smile, say thank you, engage with another human being, and make races friendlier places to be, both for spectators and runners. This is where the Atlantic divide seems to favour the Yanks – I see Americans smiling and laughing and chatting to each other at races all the time. I could barely move a few paces in San Francisco without striking up an optimistic conversation with a total stranger.

Even the liveliest of British spectators could do with taking a leaf out of our colonial cousins’ book. The Crew Chief, whom I sent to an American finishing school in the deep south for a year in preparation for her role, is a master of US-style supporting. She whoops and hollers and engages with people like it’s going out of fashion. She puts the most fervent of British fans to shame, as even they are hampered by that awful stiff-upper-lip reserve. When I saw her during last weekend’s race I could hear her encouraging and enthusing the steely-eyed runners for several hundred yards after I had passed her, many of whom, rudely, didn’t even acknowledge her.

So run like an American. You never know, you might have more fun.

Happy running


2012 to date: miles run - 142.72, miles biked: 29.2, metres swum: 750

Thursday, 12 April 2012

Guest Race Report - Berlin Half Marathon 2012

Second in the current series of guest race reports comes from notorious teacher of Maths and Dublin-obsessed marathoner Nick J Haines, whom you might remember from such blog posts as his Dublin Marathon report, that one about his wedding, the one where I explain why I signed up for Loch Ness and probably lots of others besides. I'll get out of the way and let him get on with it.

Race Report - Berlin Half Marathon 2012

The German people carry a reputation for ruthless efficiency and strictly organised fun. The Berlin Half-Marathon stood testament to this in every way.  The outstanding race expo was held at the historic Tempelhof airport- literally the whole airport- which was decommissioned in 2008 but looked like it might only have been closed for the day. The course itself looked promising to say the least and it didn’t disappoint, taking in an impressive array of Berlin’s most famous landmarks, including the Victory Column, Humbolt University, the Berliner Dom Cathedral, Checkpoint Charlie and the Brandenburg Tor, with the course actually passing through these last two.

Cool route, Click to enlarge.
Lining up for the start on the Karl-Marx-Allee we took advantage of the course’s circularity to agree amongst our small team (me, my wife, her father and her two sisters) that we would rendez-vous as the imposing  Soviet-built cinema. As we did our best to keep warm we got our first impression of the true popularity of this race: ‘33000 participants’ doesn’t mean much until you see them all squashed into one street. We also experienced the characteristically German trait of having inline skaters preparing for their race. As these loomed taller even than the typically statuesque Teutonic runners, we soon came to appreciate that the skaters needed to maintain a minimum speed and weren’t too good at stopping either. We did our best to stay out of their way.

Dave's GB vest gets about
With the handbikers and skaters out of our way, we lined up for the start. It took a long time to get over the line, and straight away our group started to split up. We hadn’t intended to stay as a five, but the densely packed field would not have made this even remotely possible. As the kilometre markers crawled slowly upwards and we checked off the sights of Berlin, it became clear why this event is so popular. The smooth roads and perfectly flat terrain made this a most enjoyable run, and it’s no surprise that the course record (58.56) is barely thirty seconds short of the world record. This year’s winner (Denis Koech, Kenya) beat the current world champion, Wilson Kiprop, in a dramatic sprint finish clocking 59.14, just one second ahead of his rival. Naturally we didn’t find any of this out until later, as we completed the course at a slightly less suicidal pace. We were, however, spurred on by the threatening words of the race literature, warning that runners who ‘appeared to be running at a pace which would not suggest a sub-three-hour finish’ would be ‘removed from the race’, and unceremoniously placed on what we could only dub the Fail Bus. The fact that none of our party were at all likely to meet such a shameful fate did little to stop us checking over our shoulders. 

Support from the locals was fantastic: I was a little conspicuous wearing Dave’s GB vest, but the only attention I got was from fellow Brits and cheerful Germans (the highlight being the cry of ‘Go make your qveen proud!). The finish was superb, the usual post-race high capped off nicely with unmistakably Berlin-trendy medals, water, bananas and, surprisingly, alcohol-free beer.

Strong finishes von den Lanes.
Would I recommend Berlin as a half-marathon destination, then? Absolutely. If you like your races flat, fast, meticulously organised and measured in kilometres then this has to be top of anyone’s list. The downsides? It was genuinely quite crowded in places, particularly at the water stations, one of which was inexplicably and almost disastrously placed at a point where the course narrows. On water stations, I can’t give unconditional support to a race which delivers water in plastic cups, even if there is warm sweet tea available too. Finally I would register also a general objection to events which give out the commemorative t-shirts at the expo rather than the finish line. But these are minor gripes. All in all it was a fantastic experience, and if you’re looking for a European city-break-race-holiday I honestly don’t think you could do a lot better.

Big thanks and congratulations are due to my team: Erin for her casual five-minute PB, Rachel for completing her first half-marathon, Jess for completing hers (she insists it was her first half, despite having done the Edinburgh marathon in 2010), and John for, under an age-weighted handicap system of his own devising, breaking the world record by over eight hours. High-fives all round!

Schöne laufen!

Thanks Nick! Another impressive run, report, and shameless disregard for my suggested 250 word limit. Coming soon, hopefully, some marathon chat from the emerald isle. 

Just as an aside, I'm running the Edinburgh Rock 'n' Roll Half on Sunday for Runner's World (though the article won't hit your shelves until early next year). I'll be sure to give you a brief scoop soonish...

Happy running


2012 to date: miles run - 127.07, miles biked: 23.4, metres swum: 750

Tuesday, 3 April 2012

Guest Race Report - Reading Half Marathon 2012

It is my pleasure to post the following race report, written by guest contributor and all round good egg 'Aye Aye' Jenny Mackay - did you know she runs because she just can't stop? This is the first of (hopefully) three guest race reports which will go up in the next week or so, more to follow...

Race Report - Reading Half Marathon 2012

If you like the idea of having boundless spectator support for 90% of a race, the Reading Half could well be the race for you.

Deckchairs. A highlight.
Filling in for a friend of a friend, I took a place for the 2012 Reading Half Marathon rather blindly, not knowing anything about the route, competitors, organisation or indeed the atmosphere. Arriving at the Madejski Stadium I realised the benefit of participating in a race where the start and finish are in the same place. Bustling stalls, music, food and drink and deck chairs galore. So, lots to look forward to when finishing!

The race itself got off to a nice start taking the colourful swarm of runners onto dual carriageway, bound for the town centre.The route included going through Reading University, where students banged wooden spoons on pans and sat on their sofas which they dragged onto the pavement. Onwards then to the town centre when the route almost led us to actually running inside the Oracle shopping centre. I just managed to resist the temptation to do a bit of a browse in Debenhams mid-race... Then on to residential areas of Reading with fabulously cheerful kerbside locals, before the achey part of the race heading back to the stadium.

Am I glad I did this half marathon last minute? Yes. Would I recommend it? Yes! This is an ideal race whether you’re wanting a nice training run for the London marathon or for a friendly and fun half marathon with friends.

Thanks Jenny! Coming soon, the Berlin Half Marathon and maybe even some cheeky tasty Irish marathoning action...

Happy running


2012 to date: miles run - 105.37, miles biked: 23.4, metres swum: 750