Running with the Forerunner 620

Boxing Day is a day for soggy running, or at least it has proved to be for the last 2 years running. It is also becoming a traditional day for trying out new running gadgets.

Garmin Forerunner 620 ReviewThis year I was spoiled with the Forerunner 620, the latest and most advanced GPS running watch from Garmin with a built in personal coach.

I love the style of the new forerunner, its the first GPS unit that I could imagine wearing as a regular watch and this one has already supplanted my Seiko. Its only marginally thicker than my old watch and so long as I can remember to charge it on a weekly basis I think I’ll be quite happy with it as a jazzy timepiece.

I had a short Christmas Day run with the FR620 on the treadmill where I was able to test out the in built accelerometer, which means that this version of the Forerunner can monitor treadmill running without the need for a foot pod. The Boxing Day run was an outdoor 10k around Richmond Park for true field testing.

The FR620 is pretty slick on the run but most of the new or improved features show themselves either before you start or as you complete a run. To start you have improved satellite connection as the forerunner caches the location of satellites from previous runs, which dramatically reduces the time to lock on to your location.

Garmin Forerunner 620 Review

During the run, you have the typical selection of screens – all fully customisable, and you switch between them by means of the touch screen. I’m not too sure about touch screens for running gadgets, they tend to be a bit fussy and not very responsive to sweaty finger jabs but I had no complaints on this run. The screen feels a little bit smaller than the 910XT (and 305) so I found myself peering at the watch trying to fathom out what I was looking at. This will become less of a problem when I know what each field represents.

Another new feature, the Recovery Advisor, forms part of the personal coaching suite. I’m not sure how I feel about this one, my forerunner coach appears to have gone to the fluffy school of personal training, where they tell you to take it easy and listen to your body. After a 20 minute treadmill session the watch determined that I would need 36 hours to get over the ordeal. I prefer the more hardcore, military style of coaching, where I am encouraged to push harder and go for the burn.

About 15 mins into today’s run my watched beeped and left the message “recovery good”. It’s a little cryptic but I interpret it as saying:

ok wise guy, I told you it was going to take you 36 hours to get over yesterday’s little run but you chose to ignore my advice. You appear to have got away with it this time but don’t cross me again

It got its own back at the end of today’s run by upping the recovery period to 72hours. I don’t think it would take much for the watch to give me permission to sit on the sofa for a full week.

Forerunner 620 VO2 MaxAt the end of the run I’m alerted to any changes in stats eg. Fastest mile, longest distance so far etc. The watch also gives me an estimate of my VO2 max and based on that my predicted race times. The race times given are little challenging for me but possibly within the realms of possibility with a good wind. I’m not terribly impressed by the visual representation of my VO2 max on the Garmin Connect dashboard, but I suppose it is fairly factual – I am a pants runner.

A first for Garmin is the ability to sync with your phone via the Garmin Connect app. This is a brilliant feature and meant that I could sync my run while walking back to the car and see my route and multiple charts within seconds of finishing the run. I could get maps on my phone previously by using a GPS app such as runmeter but it drained the battery in the process. Now I have the best of both worlds – accurate data, full colour stats on a large screen and a phone with sufficient battery to call for a lift home.

There’s a whole host of new charts available with the 620. The run heart rate monitor includes some sort of gizmo that detects vertical oscillation and acts as a pedometer so I can now view stats such as oscillation, ground contact and running cadence. I haven’t a clue what to do with this information yet bit it’s certainly interesting or pretty at the very least.

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Garmin Forerunner 620 Additional Statistics

The Forerunner 620 is a really impressive running companion and there are stacks of other features that I haven’t even mentioned. If you’d like a seriously detailed review of the Garmin Forerunner 620 you should check out DC Rainmaker’s blog.

I strongly recommend this for geeky runners but if you have multisport tendencies or like the routing functionality of the older models you might be better off with the Forerunner 910XT.

How to make a Cool Impossible Slant Board

The Cool ImpossibleThis blog post shows you how to build your own slant board so you can follow the core strength routine featured in Eric Orton’s new book, The Cool Impossible.

Eric is the coach from Born to Run, so he knows a thing or two about running efficiency and injury proofing the body. He uses the slant board in a series of balance and strength exercises illustrated in the book. I’ve found it quite a difficult piece of equipment to source outside of the USA. He sells his own model through Born 2 Run but it comes packaged with a set of walking poles which makes it quite expensive.

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I’ve channeled my inner carpenter and knocked up my own version for less than £4.

My inner carpenter proved to be a bit of a cowboy so don’t look too closely at the photos or you’ll feel disillusioned. I can confirm that although my sawing and sanding may be a bit ropey, the overall design is solid and the finished product can withhold 16 stone of balance practice.

Constructing a Slant Board

I built my slant board from a slab of plywood found on the street, knocked it together with assorted screws from my toolbox and finished it off with a strip of skateboard grip tape sourced from Ebay for £2.50. I have enough tape left for about 6 slant boards!

The original Eric Orton slant board has a 6″ square base but I couldn’t find any details on the angle of the slant. Checking out Amazon for potential substitutes I found that slant boards tend to come in either 15′ or 22′ angles. I built my first slant board with a 22′ angle but found it to be too steep so used my spare ply to create a more manageable 15′ board.

You’ll need to mark up and cut out 5 pieces of wood, 2 sloping sides, a top and 2 supportive struts – front and back.

The measurements I used were:

Top: 15cm x 18cm
Sides: 16cm x 5cm (you need 2 of these)
Back: 5cm x 11.5cm (you might need to adjust the width depending on the thickness of the wood you use – mine is 1.5cm ply)
Front: 2cm x 11.5cm

Here’s the view from the underside so you can see how I assembled the support struts (back and front pieces).

A DIY Cool Impossible Slant Board

I initially tried to assemble the pieces with a combination of glue and nails but it was a stressful experience, on the second attempt I used the drill which proved to be far more successful. If I’d had the right length of screws it would have been entirely successful, unfortunately the last screw in my tool box was too long and I managed to secure the slant board to my table top!

The Cool Impossible is a very interesting book, offering all comers, the chance to reach their running goals regardless of their starting point. He achieved miracles for Christopher McDougall in Born to Run and I’m very happy to give him chance to repeat the process with me.

When I say the book is interesting, I probably mean it is odd. It starts off as a bit of a make-believe travelogue. Eric has the reader “pretend” that they have just landed in Salt Lake City and then travelled down to Jackson to join a face to face coaching week.

You grab your bag, running shoes dangling from the handle, and exit the plane directly onto tarmac. You take a deep breath. The air is exhilarating and the sky astoundingly wide and close. As you follow the concrete path toward the terminal, you turn to look at the mountains, and its like they’re right there in your face. Your eye traces the wild, zigzag lines of the peaks – dominated by the central massif, the truly majestic Grand Teton – and follows the canyons cutting up in deep, dark Vs between the rises. You try to imagine running there, following a trail up to the Teton Crest. It seems like another world. Another you, perhaps.

I can’t say I like the style but as I’m in the planning stages for another US road trip, I’ve probably cut the tourist sales pitches a bit of slack. When you cut through the style to notes on running form, strength routines and running programs the book does really come into its own.

Slant Board Balance Exercises

The balance exercises start with hiking pole assistance. You work the 3 different foot positions, Uphill, Downhill and Forward initially with two poles. When you can hold each balance for 2 minutes comfortably you will move to one pole balance exercises and then the no pole exercises.

Cool Impossible Slant Board Positions
Cool Impossible Slant Board Balance Sequence

Slant Board Movement Exercises

At the same time as the balance poses above, you will also conduct some movement routines, again with two poles for beginners.

Side Lift – conducted with feet in Uphill mode
Frog Lift – with feet in Downhill mode
Knee Lift – with feet in Forward position

Cool Impossible Slant Board Movement Sequence

In addition to the strengthening exercises there is a fully customised 20 week running program designed to help you reach your own Cool Impossible. The customisation involves specific heart rate and speed zones which are determined by your performance in two preliminary tests – the mile run and the 20 min steady state run. I’ve never really invested much time in heart rate zone training but my interest has been piqued and I’ll be working out my zones over the next week so I can embark on the full Cool Impossible program.

I’m excited to embark on this core strengthening program and I’m hopeful that it will be the perfect supplement to my Running School practice. At the very least the balance practice should improve my sock dressing performance which is a little wobbly at best.

 

Convict Conditioning 2 Review

Convict Conditioning 2

Convict Conditioning 2Paul “Coach” Wade is back with a second instalment of his impressive body weight calisthenics routine, Convict Conditioning 2 – from the depths of San Quentin prison

I’ve previously reviewed the original Convict Conditioning and I’m still working my way slowly through the progressions to the Big Six strength moves. I’m by no means adept at calisthenics and as I’m still at the early stage of my progressions I wasn’t sure that Convict Conditioning 2 would have anything to offer me. I feared that it would be extreme gymnastics, suitable only for Olympic ring athletes.

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Convict Conditioning 2 - The Flag progressionsAlthough it does include a chapter detailing the route towards a perfect flag, an exercise I am unlikely to ever attempt, the remainder of the book is accessible to all and is a perfect accompaniment to Convict Conditioning 1.

“Coach” Wade starts by supplementing the Big Six with a series of exercises covering the muscles at the extremities of the body. So we have exercise series for developing forearms and grip, the lateral chain (the flag) and the calves and neck.

Convict Conditioning 2 - The Hang ProgressionsForearm and hand grip strength is a prized commodity in the prison trade. Few muscles remain as visible as a big beefy pair of forearms and looking like Brutus can help keep you out of trouble in the prison courtyard.

The main exercise for strengthening grip and forearms is simply hanging. The progressions will ultimately lead you to single arm hangs from a thick length of rope, by which point you will have immensely strong grip and impressive forearms.

I won’t go in too much detail on the neck progressions, I don’t have much interest in thickening my neck. If you’re the sort who’d like a huge neck girth, perhaps to expand the canvas for suitable throat tattoo, you’d need to be working your way up to neck bridges – starting with the bridge progression shown in Convict Conditioning 1.

The calf routine is just a variation on the leg raise which most people will be familiar with.

The really interesting part of the book for me is an exercise routine known as the Convict Conditioning Triad. A trifecta of exercises recommended for the body builders who can’t or won’t relinquish the iron.

Convict Conditioning - Functional Triad
These 3 body weight exercises on their own are designed to develop supple-strength and focus on key muscles across the anterior, posterior and lateral chain. In order, the exercises are, the bridge, the L-hold and the twist.

I’m particularly interested in this routine as its simple, will oil my joints and protect my grumbling back and it will also be the ideal counterpart to my current training plan – the Starting Strength weight training program.

Convict Conditioning - Bridge ProgressionsAs with the first in the Convict Conditioning series, Paul “Coach” Wade offers a series of progressions, typically in 8 steps although I’ve only illustrated the first 6.
These are the Bridge progressions.

Convict Conditioning L-Hold Progressions

Here are the L-Hold progressions. At the moment I find it difficult to imagine ever being able to lift myself from the floor like this. My arms are pretty extended when I place the hands flat by my side so there isn’t a lot of room to perform a lift. I’ve started at the beginning though and can just about lift myself from the chair arms – very briefly.

Convict Conditioning - Twist Progressions

Here are the twist progressions. A series that I feel relatively comfortable with as I still have a bit of muscle memory from my yoga days.

Getting a full twisted stretch is going to take some time to develop though.

That covers just over half of the book. The latter section is more philosophical and includes sections on “Wisdom from Cell Block G”.

In Convict Conditioning 1, there was very little reference to prison life but in the sequel “Coach” Wade spends quite a lot of time discussing the perils, pitfalls and survival tips from inside a hardcore American state prison.

He isn’t glorifying prison in any way but he does include advice on staying clean, staying sane, and maintaining a healthy eating plan, drawing parallels between life on the inside and outside.

I’ve been really impressed with both books in the Convict Conditioning series. Together they offer you the complete body weight routine for developing huge functional strength and bullet proofing your body through the trifecta supple-strength routine.

Highly recommended.

Resources and links for Convict Conditioning

The Paleo Diet and Mindful Eating for Weightloss

As a large runner I spend quite a lot of time focusing on food and diet. My aim is to establish a diet that makes it easy for me to maintain an acceptable weight, feel satisfied and still provides sufficient levels of energy for me to live my life with abandon.

My dietary program has been heavily influenced by three excellent books that have a similar theme of simplifying food and eating.

My first recommendation is Savor, a Buddhist guide to mindful eating. This book attempts to fuse nutritional advice with the Buddhist concept of mindfulness through the discussion of the four noble truths and a series of exercises or meditations that encourage a focus on the present.

The eating messages I’ve taken home are:

  • Eat at the table
  • Avoid multitasking – so no TV, work or magazines
  • Appreciate your food by use of all the senses
  • Chew and take it slowly
  • Quality not quantity

I’ve turned to Michael Pollen for the sort of down to earth advice succinctly wrapped up with the maxim: Eat Food, Not Too Much, Mostly Plants. Homespun advice that would make your mum and grandmother nod their heads in appreciation.

In Defense of Food, contains Michael Pollen’s manifesto for eating and attempts to find the common sense lost in the nutritional world that has become hijacked by commerce and the food industry.

In addition to the Eat Food, Not Too Much, Mostly Plants advice you’ll find tips such as:

  • Only eat food your great grandmother would recognise as food
  • Avoid products with unpronounceable ingredients or more than 5 ingredients
  • Avoid food with health claims

Both of these books suggest a common sense approach to eating and food, but slightly more prescriptive advice can be found in the next book which advocates the diet of our ancestors.

The Paleo Diet by Loren Cordain

In a nut shell The Paleo Diet asks us to consider our food choices from the perspective of our early ancestors.

From an evolutionary time frame our digestive systems remain as they were in paleolithic times. The agricultural revolution has brought about many changes in our eating habits but our bodies have not yet had time to catch up.

By reverting to our ancestral food types we can achieve many health benefits and reduce a number of inflammatory or allergic reactions that are associated with modern foods such as wheat and highly processed foods. I mentioned in passing recently that I’ve had a lot of success treating plantar fasciitis with the paleo diet.

Acceptable Paleo foods

:

  • All low starch vegetables (so potatoes are excluded but you can substitute with sweet potato)
  • Meat (preferably lean) and fish
  • Eggs
  • Olive Oil
  • Nuts (not peanuts which are legumes)
  • Berries and fruit
  • Red Wine (some would argue)

The Paleo Avoidance List – No Grains, No Sugar, No Processed Food

:

  • Sugar
  • Salt
  • Processed foods
  • Potato
  • Rice and grains (and flour products)
  • Bread
  • Pasta

The Paleo Diet really is a very easy diet to follow. I’ve already listed out the rules in the space of two paragraphs. That’s all there is to it. I find it a very acceptable way to live, I may have to plan ahead sometimes but Paleo food is quite accessible – just stick to the edges of the supermarket where you’ll find the fresh produce aisles, then snack on fruit, nuts and cooked meats.

Because it’s an easy way to live, that’s the way I see it – a way of life. That enables me to let myself off the hook from time to time. Some may call it cheating but it does mean that if I visit friends for dinner, I can join them without feeling the need to educate them on my current eating habits. I just return to Paleo tomorrow.

Many Paleo advocates call this the 80:20 rule – get it right 80% of the time and you’ll be alright. Julia Buckley would say “Mostly good, most of the time”.

I’ve had great successes on the Paleo Diet, I lost 6lbs in the first week, 3-stone in the first year and I have been on a steady decline since then. It could be considered a boring diet but it has the great effect of reducing my cravings. So while I may feel hunger I’m actually not that bothered by the feeling, it can rumble away for a while before I need to satisfy the pangs. That is incredibly unusual for me, before the Paleo diet I would say I practically lived in fear of hunger, I would anticipate the feeling and ward off the onset with fairly regular snacking.

The Paleo diet has a lot of similarities with the GI diet, they don’t necessarily recommend the same food types, as the GI diet includes whole grains which would be avoided on the Paleo diet, but they both impact on and stabilize insulin levels in the body. I think it is this that stops the cravings and the emotional highs and lows with traditional dieting.

If you’d like to kick start your Paleo lifestyle I can highly recommend the Whole 30 challenge which is a 30-day uber strict paleo diet challenge. It’s a great way to detox and determine if you have any food intolerances but its also a useful way to familiarise yourself with real foods again.

The Whole 30 food list is even simpler than the Paleo one from Loren Cordain’s book:

  • NO milk
  • NO alcohol
  • NO bread
  • NO sugar
  • NO pasta
  • NO grains
  • NO pulses
  • NO flour

It may feel strange to avoid grains which have for a long time been touted as a health food pillars but they are relatively recent intruders into our diet. If you look at the Paleo Diet with its lean meats and fish, its abundance of veg, salad and the delights of fruits, nuts and berries, you can rest assured that you are eating healthy and nutrient laden food.


The Ten Step Plan to escape the pain of Plantar Fasciitis

There have been times over the last few years when I thought my running days were over. I’ve been so crippled by the pain of plantar fasciitis that I’ve had to use hiking poles to get into work and at it’s worst I’ve resorted to moving around the house on my hands and knees.

Plantar fasciitis is the curse of runners.

Most runners will be struck down by a running injury at some time in their life but few are as debilitating as plantar fasciitis. As a breed we have a tendency to push ourselves hard and increase volumes and intensity too far and too soon and usually combine the two for good measure. Overloading your body, running with inappropriate footwear and ignoring other aspects of your fitness such as core strength training and flexibility will unfortunately increase your chances of being struck by plantar fasciitis. Overweight runners are also more prone to overuse injuries such as plantar fasciitis.

So how do you know if your foot problem is caused by plantar fasciitis?

Plantar FasciitisTypically the pain is felt on the sole of your feet, around the fleshy part of your heel pad. I had it in both of my feet but more often it is restricted to one side. I described the pain as though I had a large pebble in both shoes, causing a pressure pain and a bruised sensation.

It was also associated with stiffness which was much worse after resting, so after waking in the morning I would find myself hobbling for the first few steps as my feet accustomed themselves to movement. It felt like I was walking on stumps rather than fully mobile and flexible feet. For a while I was able to run through the pain and suffer the consequences after I stopped but when I started increasing the intensity again, the walking sticks had to make a re-appearance and the enforced rest periods started again.

How to recover from plantar fasciitis.

I’ve been dealing with the injury for well over a two years and have worked my way through most of the advice available, some of which provided only limited success but I am pleased to announce that I am now pain free and back running and training for my marathon.

Here’s my ten step plan for achieving pain free running:

  1. Stop running. This sounds drastic but should only be necessary for a few days to a week to enable you to get through the acute stage of your injury.
  2. Start a 2-week course of ibuprofen or other suitable anti-inflammatory, 1 tablet three times a day should be sufficient. I wouldn’t normally advise medication, I very rarely take tablets but I have to admit that this was one of the most successful elements of my recovery plan. The injury is caused by inflammation of the plantar fascia that runs underneath the foot and a short course of anti-inflammatory medication along with a period of rest can be extremely effective in helping the foot recover.
  3. Ice your feet 2- 3 times daily. I did this by filling a small bottle with water and freezing it, you can then roll your feet over this to combine icing with a strong plantar fascia stretch. You may find it more convenient to soak your feet in a bucket of icy water.
  4. calf stretchBuild a stretching routine into your day. It is very likely that tight calves are part of the problem and if you have lower back pain as well you’ll probably find that your hamstrings are knotted up too. I stretch my calves while going up the escalators at the tube station, keeping the balls of my feet on the edge of the rise and dropping my heels. You can also do the standard runners stretch which involves you pushing against a tree or wall while applying gentle tension to the outstretched rear leg.
  5. Foot and calf strengthening – grasping golf balls with your toes is a great exercise for working out your feet and step raises are brilliant for strengthening the calves.
  6. The Stick and other methods of tortureMassage – foot and calf – I use The Stick which is a marvellous gadget for rolling out knots and tension but a foam roller would probably have a similar effect. I aim to do this before and after a run and find that the pre-run roll is most effective at ensuring that my calves don’t tighten up.
  7. Build core training and flexibility into your program – stretch daily and add in a core workout 3 times a week. A simple yoga routine such as the sun salutation repeated a few times will take less than 10 minutes a day and core routine needn’t necessarily take longer than 20 mins. I use an iPhone app for both routines but there are plenty of ideas on the web.
  8. Cross train. There is no need to cut out the aerobic exercise while you are on your enforced running rest, and in fact it is always good injury-proofing advice to maintain an element of cross training in your program. Try pool running if you really miss the running or cycling and swimming as great fitness alternatives.
  9. Experiment with insoles and consider replacing your shoes if they are worn. Running shoes have a shelf life depending on the distance run and the weight of the runner. If you have foot pain and your shoes have taken a battering it might be time to invest in a new pair. Insoles are worth considering if only as a temporary measure but you might need to seek professionally podiatry advice for this.
  10. Try the Paleo diet to relieve the pain of plantar fasciitis – I saved this one for last as it sounds a bit nuts. I started the Paleo diet a while ago for health and weightloss reasons and had absolutely no expectation that it would help my plantar fasciitis but by the end of the first week of sticking to the diet my foot pain had gone. I was surprised and didn’t actually draw the connection until I started researching the paleo diet and read in Loren Cordain’s Paleo Diet book, a case study which indicated that another dieter had found relief from plantar fasciitis after starting the paleo diet. The mode of action is likely to be anti-inflammatory and maybe more appealing to many than the ibuprofen option.

Other methods of treatment for plantar fasciitis:

  • Born to RunBarefoot running. Barefoot running has gained huge levels of support and is often cited as a potential cure for plantar fasciitis following the success of the amazing book “Born to Run”. I’ve done quite a bit of barefoot running or minimalist running using shoes such as Vibram fivefingers and the Softstar run amocs but I cannot wholeheartedly recommend that you throw away the cushioned support shoes you are used to. I’d love to be able to do that but my fear is that, if you are anything like me, you will go too fast and too far down the barefoot running route and increase your risk of running injuries. Barefoot running is not for the fainthearted. You need to strengthen your feet and calves and take the transition extremely slowly – so proceed with caution.
  • A Strasbourg sock can be an effective plantar fasciitis night splint, worn while you sleep. It forces your foot into a 90-degree angle in order to stretch out the plantar fascia and can provide some relief.

I hope this program helps you in the way it helped me. When you start running again start back slowly and maintain the stretching and strength elements built into your recovery plan, the aim is to remain strong and flexible and to build the running levels slowly.

It’s always tempting, following a little bit of success, to throw yourself back into the running with a rather heroic attitude, but you should resist. If you’ve had plantar fasciitis already then you are going to be prone to relapses and that is just not worth it. Progress slowly, keep stretching and roll out the muscles of your legs before and after each run – if you don’t have a handy masseuse on hand, try the DIY option and invest in The Stick.

Practically a Proper Runner

Two years after starting the course at the Running School, I am finally in a position to share the results.

I had my last session on Monday and while I expected to nip in, take a quick video and escape, I was actually taken through a gruelling interval session honing my posture while sprinting up a mega incline. I’m surprised I had the energy for the after shot.

Last time I went to Battersea Running School I attempted (without success) to bluff my way through the stability tests. This time there was a noticeable improvement, I could raise my hips without my pelvis rocking too and fro and that can only be down to the weight training sessions with Julia Buckley. Marvellous.

It’s been a fascinating experience and well worth the £200 outlay. Comparing my running stance I can see that before I used to run from the knees with very little hip extension. In order to cover any distance I would flick my leg forward from the knee and take a long stride, landing with my heel well out in front of my centre of gravity.

As you can see very clearly from the after shots, I am now cycling with my legs, showing an impressive heel and knee raise and managing to land almost under my centre of gravity. I could do to loosen my hip flexors a bit more to encourage an even straighter posture but as it is, I am still amazed to see myself running like a proper runner.

All I need now is an improved bra and the running world could well be my oyster.

London 2 Brighton Challenge: The Debrief

20130526-164409.jpgIn running events I very quickly find myself in an enforced solitude, I start in the pack but within yards of the start the group have spread thin and my mind is free to wander. As a reformed antisocial loner I’m quite a fan of solitude. With mass participation walking events you have the same adrenaline fuelled pre-race nerves as you huddle behind the line, waiting for the call to arms, but when the gun fires the pack ambles off as an anti-climactic herd that can take miles to disperse.

As a slow walker in the first wave of the 100k London 2 Brighton Challenge, I was passed by hundreds of faster hikers many of whom were pleasant enough to offer a wave or say hi. Despite wishing to while away the hours listening to a good yarn on my iPod, it seemed too rude to just zone out and tune into my latest audiobook so I stayed unwired.

I’m ashamed to say that I had to adopt a “tying my shoelace” strategy to avoid the loudest and most irritating walker in my vicinity. I’d tried the speeding up option first but the overtaking manoeuvre was one of those painfully slow ordeals that would have seen us battling side by side for 10 minutes. In the end it was much easier to sacrifice a minute to my shoelace.

After the first rest stop at 12.5k the pack did start to disperse and I was joined by another slowish walker who had started in the same wave as me. We gelled in a fairly peaceful way and spent the next 25k in each others company. That level of companionship was really appreciated, it lifted my spirits and spurred me on. Unfortunately Ellie succumbed to the cold she had been trying to ignore and her spirit broke around the 27k mark. She decide to quit at the next rest stop which led to a fairly slow trog towards that point.

20130526-164422.jpgI was alone again for the 4th stage which would take me up to the 47k mark. I was seizing up and I felt terribly low. I was shuffling dejectedly across the downs and every time I saw another stile a small piece of me died inside. The downs are riddled with a series of rickety and almost insurmountable stiles, some were dug into ditches with the first step hovering some way above my waist, others had the step at a manageable height but the step over was 2 inches higher than my crotch, which led to an uncomfortable dangle. I wasn’t the only one to struggle with the stiles, the obstacles led to bottlenecks with folk offering assistance with stiff limbs and apologising for the hold ups.

20130526-164948.jpgComing in to the 47k rest stop I was so emotional I had to wipe away tears before I gathered the hugely appreciated mugs of tea on offer. I sat down and finished off the peanut butter baguette that Lynn had prepared and started to feel a bit more human. I stretched, gathered my resources, took strength from the support on facebook and twitter and headed off. I started wobbly and then pulled myself together. A quick assessment of my aching body led me to believe I was moaning about nothing much. I plugged in my headphones, tuned into Amy MacDonald and focussed on the 57k stop where Lynn would be waiting.

I was overtaken by a second wind and powered my poles back and forth. I felt like a cross country skier sliding across the countryside and when I became frustrated by the lack of speed I started running. At first it was just the downhills but than I ran past 50k and felt great so I ran on. I felt free and I had bounce in my legs and I was just so damn chuffed and eager to see Lynn that I kept running. At the back of my mind I knew this second wind was going to end and the winds of depression would soon sweep in, I had the adrenaline of the finish line and the lure of hot jacket potato to spur me on.

Lynn was there to meet me and we sat down for a hot meal and another cuppa. By the time I was ready to prepare for the night stage I was in a bad way physically. It took an hour to hobble a few hundred yards to the car and to change in to dry clothing. I couldn’t squeeze my feet back into my shoes as my toes had swollen so much and the tips were covered in blisters. I could barely stand and the thought of another 4+ hours trying to cover the next 12.5k in the pitch black just seemed impossible.

It was a reluctant but probably sensible decision to retire at this point. My heroic (foolhardy) final stage felt like a satisfactory end to one hell of a challenge. I’m sad that I didn’t finish and walk across the downs and see the dawn appear but I am happy with the achievement and so grateful to everyone who supported me through the event.

And there’s always next year….

Operation Surgical Spirit

Grantham Canal at CotgraveThis weekend was going to be epic.

Mileage to the max plus a curry with Rach.

We ticked the curry off no bother, which just left the miles to deal with themselves. The plan was for Lynn to drop me close to the start of the Grantham canal which happens to be in Nottingham, she’d then drive off, spend an extremely long day with her mother and wait for me to pop out 33 miles later at the Grantham end.

I set off in fairly good spirits, a little hungover and a bit intimidated by the wiggly, windy road ahead but mostly #upforit.

I might have mentioned previously (here or here for example) that I haven’t been much taken with the concept of walking but the long distance trail really does appeal to me. Cutting swathes across the countryside leaving a breadcrumb or GPS trail that would actually show up an aerial shot of the UK is rather satisfying.

Grantham Canal - with actual waterThe Grantham canal seems to be a lesser spotted variety of long distance trail. There was a tiny stretch where I was assailed by manic dogs and a couple of joggers but mostly I was alone, admiring the birds and longing, longingly for a bench to appear. It deserves to be more popular and I recommend it to anyone in search of a peaceful walk/bike/run through the lush lincolnshire countryside.

The pubs are a little sparse though and I missed the planned stop at Hose where I was supposed to meet my folks for a burger and Stella shandy. Hose has the greatest concentration of Grantham canal ale houses but it has an inconsequential bridge (n0 39) that is easy to pass, make a note of it if you want to complete the route in style as you’ll need to exit the towpath and head right in search of the Rose and Crown.

This map from the Grantham Canal Society is worth reviewing.

Grantham Canal

I did meet my mum and dad and they ferried me off for a cup a tea, a bacon butty and supplied me with emergency plasters for a pair of evil blisters starting to burn on both of my heels. They then joined me for a short stroll, timed to perfection with a peculiar hailstorm.

The blisters started at mile 8 so the moment I found a bench I whipped off my socks and changed them for my spare pair which unfortunately felt like a sisal door mat. I was limping by lunchtime, then the plasters offered some relief for a few miles.

Collapsed by Grantham CanalFrom mile 18 onwards I was completely taken over by the pain from my blisters. It is amazing how crippling an inch long bubble of tissue fluid can be. I tried everything available to me – switching socks again, having another fruit sherbert, re-applying plasters, walking barefoot and then I laid down. That was marvellously effective. It was so warm and peaceful and I could have stayed there all afternoon. I very nearly had to as well, it was a complete bugger to get back up again and my poles are no use under 16 stone (+) pressure – they just concertina back to packed size.

I did make it back to vertical without pitching myself into the canal and the hobbling continued, one bench to the next.

Despite all the support from the facebook sidelines I decided at 22 miles that I ought to save the crippling heroics for the big London2Brighton day and so called for my carriage home.

It had felt quite important to get this 30-miler under my belt. I’ve been incredibly concerned about my ability to complete the 100k route and this half distance trek would have given me a psychological boost. I still feel fairly positive though. My feet let me down but I was mentally strong and the rest of the body is willing.

Puncture Repair KitI need to go away, reassess footwear, buy lining socks, compeed, heavy duty zinc tape and embark on a twice daily application of surgical spirit. I might even consider some Nightgear Military Magnum boots to go with my military twin layer socks.

It’s easily going to be the hardest challenge I’ve ever set myself. Driving back to London last night after a warm bath and a roast chicken dinner I was aware that if I were doing the 100k I would still be walking – barely half way to Brighton, easing my painful feet into bed at midnight I would still be walking and when the darn cat woke me at 7 am, I’d still be walking/crawling into Brighton.

If any of you would like to donate to the Samaritans on the back of my painful London2Brighton attempt I’d be very grateful – here’s the link.

GPX of the full canal available here.

Return to Running School

Just over 18 months ago I enrolled myself on a crash course at The Running School determined to overhaul my running style and evolve into an efficient, faster, pain free runner. Back in the summer of 2011 I was racked with plantar fasciitis pain and experimenting with barefoot running as a potential cure all for mechanical mis-alignment and associated injuries.

I’m afraid that I was probably guilty of the “too much too soon” mentality that seems to have plagued me throughout my life. High intensity training at The Running School interspersed with snail crushing barefoot runs around the neighbourhood did nothing to ease the PF pain. Finding myself nigh on crippled I quit running for a few months and I’m afraid I had to take a rather long break from school. It perhaps didn’t need to be an 18 month long break but stuff happens.

I attend the Running School at Body Logic in Battersea and they were great throughout my sojourn, sending me regular emails to let me know that I’d be welcome to return for my remaining sessions at any point.

So yesterday, I returned, a little sheepishly, wondering how much I’d remember and if I’d be back to square one.

Kirsty took me through my paces and carried out a few tests to ascertain my core strength and see if I’d been doing my strength homework. I knew she was looking for wobbly pelvic movements so I gritted my teeth and tried to bluff my way to a pass. I fixed my pelvis with all my might and carried out the squats and semi lunges. I thought I’d demonstrated excellent control but I’m afraid she was not impressed and saw straight to the truth of my core – flabby and apathetic.

It seems there is no short cut to a strong core – you have to actually do the exercises.

On the treadmill I tried to make amends and stood tall, pumped my arms chin to pocket, and lifted my knees to attempt the cycling motion. I’d forgotten the key element of my posture though and Kirsty was able to point out in the mirror that I run stooped, with a permanent flex at the waist. To correct this I needed to scoop my pelvis under. It made a dramatic impact on my profile and I immediately straightened up, it plays havoc with the buttocks though.

After a few more sprints my arse was throbbing. You are supposed to run from your glutes and given how large mine are it seems a shame that my standard running shuffle doesn’t encourage their use. The Running School style forces you to switch on the huge muscles so who knows, hopefully in a few more months I’ll be powered by two efficient buttock cheeks and be able to run for hours without tiring.

 

Sickness and Recovery

I’ve been ill for a couple of days now so you could call today’s Janathon offering either heroic or lame, depending on your sympathy levels.

I’ve been drawn to a video by kinetic revolution showing standing jumps as an ideal exercise for improving knee alignment an reducing patellar femoral pain.

20130108-211517.jpgIt’s basically the standing block jump that you see the more athletic competitors from the Bigger Loser partaking in.

I am embarrassingly pants at jumping. I have been known to stand in front of a low bench at the gym for a good 5 mins, psyching myself up for a plyometric leap. Even then I usually wimp out with a one legged hop or worse bail completely because someone walks by.

Today I’ve been practising in the privacy of my own home. Leaping with a perfect double legged formation onto a cushion.

Yes I have leapt approximately 2 inches high……but the form was perfect.

I progressed to the bottom step of the stairs and managed two leaps before the bookcase wobbled so ferociously that I had to stop to steady it.

After all that exertion I moved on to some medicinal stout. Starting with a bittersweet Irish Stout but moving rather rapidly on to a St Peter’s Cream Stout as the malty brew seemed to improve my constitution.

I’m a fan of the Cream Stout, it has a fairly ropey smell but the texture is truly creamy and the flavour, although odd – I’m thinking syrup of figs, is entirely delightful.

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