Western States 100? Sounds like a good idea…

Maths. Maths is to blame.

So I read more into doing a one-hundred mile ultra-marathon, and, bear with me here, some simple maths says that I *should* be able to walk most of it at my normal pace and still get round in under 24-hours. This is not good.

Because now I’m seeing no excuse not to do it. And you know I’m not going to walk. You know I’ve already done the maths to figure out what pace I would need to have a shot at winning.

Obviously, at this stage in my training, running 100 consecutive sub-9 minute miles is probably a little beyond me, but I don’t see it as unachievable in a year.

The Western States 100 was just run this weekend, and won by another 38 year old, Rob Krar, and his second consecutive win, which is a phenomenal achievement.

But, for the first time in a long time, I’m looking and saying “I can do that”. And that’s scary.

Because I really do want to do it. And not just compete, but win. Give it my all, and seek triumph.

Or die trying.

I half joking asked Kasia if she’d enter. She called me crazy. I asked her if she’d pace for me for the last 30 miles. She called me something a little stronger than crazy. I gave her Jurek’s book to read. I think she’ll understand after that.

MY weight continues to fall, much to Kasia’s annoyance. I’ve lost over 5kg in the past month or so, thanks to an almost completely vegan diet, lots of running, and actually caring about what I eat. I research everything, and feel better for it, although my secret peanut habit still rears its ugly head every couple of weeks.

I’ve incorporated more exercise into my daily routine, working on my core muscle groups, and building my naturally slim arms and upper torso. My legs, and especially my thighs are already huge (in a good way), so the it’s time to work on the engine.

I joined a running club; on Tuesdays they run a 5k, so we’re both going tonight (Kasia is a long term member). I never enjoyed the idea of a running club before – I prefer the solitude during my runs, but I want to get used to running with (and past) other people.

It’ll be useful experience come next year’s Western States 100…

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Damn you, Jurek.

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They say that the first stage of recovery is admitting you have a problem. Well, I have a problem. And it’s Scott Jurek’s fault.

Here’s why.

I’m a thirty-eight year old man, training to complete my first marathon later this year. I’ve always been a runner. Even when I wasn’t running, because life got in the way, I was, in my head at least, still a runner.

As a child, I ran. I ran to the shops. I ran home again. I ran to school. I ran everywhere. I never walked. The thrill of going faster, of getting to where I needed to be in half the time, and just the sheer abandon of running compelled me.

I won races at school, enter local championships and did alright. I’d love to say I was unbeatable, but that just wasn’t the case. I lost as often as I won, shaking hands with those who beat me, and taking the time to learn their names, but I always came back for more.

As I got older, I ran less. College came and went, then my first job, my second. I was in my mid-twenties before I ran again for the sake of it. And it was hard. I failed miserably as I over-reached, thinking that I could just start where I left off years before.

It would be a few more years, close to my thirtieth birthday before I began running again. I read, and I studied. I started small, once around the block. Then a couple of miles. Within a couple of years, I was chasing down 30 minutes for a 10k.

I tore a ham string. I damaged my back (Degenerative Disc Disease). 2012 came, the Olympics arrived (literally) in my back yard. I wondered what could have been.

I ran obsessively, a 10k every morning before work, my times never again reaching that personal best of eight seconds under thirty minutes. I came close, but never close enough. My back got worse. I could barely walk some days. I stopped running altogether.

And then. And then earlier this year, a chiropractor managed to control the pain and damage in my back. After five years, I could walk upright without difficulty. I could sit for more than ten minutes without agony. I could run again.

I could run again.

To celebrate this, I decided I was going to run a marathon. I picked a date, and got training. I studied everything. I studied form and diet. I studied running shoes and t-shirts and fabrics. I began weighing myself religiously, morning and night. And I ran. I ran as far as I could at first, so I knew my limit. It was surprisingly short.

And I trained. I read, and I adapted. I learned to control my breathing, adjusted my gait. I got blisters, and pulls and I hurt.

And I loved it. I was running for the pure joy of it.

And then I bought Scot Jurek’s ‘Eat and Run’.

I devoured the entire book in a weekend and I realised something. I had felt this same yearning, this same something missing throughout my life when I wasn’t running.

When I run, my mind is quiet. There’s just me and the road. Sometimes there’s music, sometimes not. But there are no bills to pay, no meetings to chair, no stress. All that exists is the next step.

And I realised that a marathon is just the beginning. Having had my eyes opened to the idea of running a 100 miles, a feat that seemed impossible just a few months ago, I need to do this.

It’s not that I have something to prove. It that the challenge is there to be done.

Zoning right.

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I picked up Meb Keflezighi’s book “Meb For Mortals” at the end of last week, so if you’re wondering where I’ve been, there’s your answer.

For those of you not familiar with Meb, he’s an elite marathon runner, and Olympic silver medallist, and the winner of last years Boston Marathon, at the age of 38. If anyone is going to be an inspiration, it’s him. His book explained something to me very clearly on the first few pages – running a marathon takes good goals, commitment and hard work. Which seems kind of obvious, really.

But what he goes on to say is that of those three things, two are mental, and only one is physical.This is something that I’ve been struggling with;  I seem to have had a mental block that I can’t get past. I wrote about it before, how since I returned to running, I seem to have a voice in my head at times that tells me to stop, when all I really want to do is keep going.

Well, after reading Meb’s book, that voice has been silenced. And I’ve been set free.

I ran with Kasia on Friday night, only our regular four mile route, however trying a couple of tricks I’d picked up from Meb, I ran better and faster than I have in a long while. This was confirmed yesterday, on our eight mile route, something that defeated me a couple of weeks ago. Well not this time.

I completed the route in just over an hour (having first switched back to an older pair of running shoes, in an effort to control my blisters), and really gave everything out there on the course. I really couldn’t have run another step by the end of it.

Which is fine. That’s what it was for. But by using a couple of ideas I’d borrowed from the book, I was able to will myself around the course, able to silence the voice in my head that cries ‘stop’ every few minutes, AND find the breathing rhythm that has eluded me since I returned from 18 months out. That was probably the most satisfying part.

Once I’d found my breathing rhythm again, (exhaling hard every third step), I knew I could run as far and as fast as I needed to. I got into a comfortable stride, and stopped worrying about any internal or external force, just concentrated on my breathing (one, two, out, one two, out, switching between left and right feet with each exhale). In short, I was in the ‘zone’.

I felt the miles fall away, and only when I came to lap Kasia (our route involves several laps of a large park), did I falter. My concentration was broken, and I was no longer in the zone. I tried hard to get back into it – concentrating on my breathing again, but it was no good. Another lesson learned. I followed a different way home to Kasia, just so I could get back into the rhythm, and it worked. I concentrated on my breathing, and again, the road just melted past.

I had view all other runners in the park up until that point as someone I was racing against; and fought to catch each one and power past them toward my imaginary finish line, that was always half a lap away.

A good training session, all in all, and I rewarded myself with a Chia and Blueberry Rice Milk smoothie.

Running all over the World (part 1)

Chichijima, Japan. Closer to the Mariana Trench than it is to Tokyo.

A couple of years ago, I found myself in Japan, in a bid to both lose myself and find myself in one of those cliched mid-life crisis things that I’m assured will happen to us all. Mine, for the record, was spectacular.

Anyway, I’m not going to bore you with those details. This is about running.

so I found myself in Japan. I started off in Tokyo, hit a bar, and was regaled with tales of a far off land called Chichijima – a tiny island, some one thousand kilometers due south, one of the most remote islands in Japan. This tiny island has a population of around 2,000 people, and the only access is by ship, the Ogasawara Maru, which leaves every six days, and akes twenty-five hours to reach it’s destination.

I was sold.

Buying a ticket for the next available ship out, I stayed a few months in this remote corner of the Earth, almost completely isolated from the outside world (through choice).

Away from distractions, I began to discover what I really wanted out of life.

And one of the things was to run. So I ran.

One end of the island to the other was around 4km, travelling along the only roads that were available. It sounds rather backwards when I say it like that – it wasn’t. This is still Japan. All mod cons were still available if I wanted them, including some of the best wifi I’ve ever used.

But the running.

The running was spectacular.

I ran most evenings, and became a familiar sight traversing the hills on the main routes, watching sunsets over the oceans, and avoiding poisonous frogs if my run lasted into the dark of the night.

There were a couple of incredibly steep hills out there, one at an angle that felt like 45°, but was probably much less.

The air was so crisp and clear, and running at sea level for much of the time (the highest point on the island is a little over 300m), oxygen levels were abundant. I ran on that island without a trace of lactic acid build up, and truly believed that I could run forever. The subtropical climate assisting me in my runs, and only being a hindrance when

I ran everywhere. I ran like a little kid does, just for the pure joy of doing it. I had no watch, no way to tell the time. Due to the peculiar six day week on the island (the run everything to when the ship comes), I even lost track of the days. I spent my time kayaking, and climbing and generally exploring, realising that I may actually have ventured into places no one had seen for years.

World war 2 era vehicles litter the hillsides, long since forgotten, parked on roads that no longer existed. Coastal defences waited in vain for an invasion that never came. And a quiet sadness permeated the still. I ran past it all, not in ignorance, but in contemplation of where I was, and what had transpired both to me, and on the island in years gone by.

There’s so much more I could add, about that place, but I’m going to save it for another day.

While everything else in my life was in meltdown, Chichijima proved how beautiful the world could be, and running quieted my mind, something I am ever grateful for.

When running stops, rambling begins.

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I am in no doubt that you will be enthralled to hear that my knee seems a little better today. I still don’t know what caused it, nor if there is an underlying problem that needs to be fixed. Maybe it just got upset that I hadn’t run for a few days. Pouty Knee is going to become part of your vocabulary in the near future, trust me.

If there’s one thing I hate more than not knowing something, I have yet to find it. And that winds me up, seeing as I don’t know what it might be. Grrr. I’ve boxed myself into quite a tizzy. Back in five, going for some fresh air.

Right. Where was I? Oh yes. I hate being in the dark about things, and not knowing what has caused my knee pain vexes me somewhat. Initially, when I first felt a pang in my knee a few weeks back, I thought it was due to the blister on the underside of my foot. I assumed, naturally, that I may have changed my gait to compensate, and this has put undue pressure on my knee.

This could well be the case, as I left time for the original blister to heal, and bought new running shoes, only for a new blister to emerge on top of the old one. It was rather unpleasant, and I’ll spare you the finer details.

However, when I removed the blister plaster yesterday evening, I found some hideous green… stuff… in it.

And then I got to thinking. Maybe it was some kind of infection rather than an injury affecting my knee. But this sounds even more implausible than an older me returning in a time machine and handing myself the plans for said time machine.

Paradoxes aside, maybe it was just a coincidence. Or maybe not. The fact is, tonight I run again for the first time since last Thursday. Mentally, I’m prepared. Physically, who knows? I’m not even going to set a time, nor a route. Just going to run ’til I’m done and enjoy the freedom of the streets and the silence that running brings to my ever busy mind.

Oh, that reminds me. I must buy a 3D printer to build a prototype of my latest invention.

It’s a time machine.

(If you got this far, you probably realised that the title was a very clever pun).

Ouch. Again.

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Man Holding Knee, yesterday. Possibly.

I’ve mentioned my amazing blister collection a couple of times over the past few posts – well, I decided to take a weekend off running entirely to help them clear up.

This was a hard decision to make – It’s put me behind on my training schedule, and the temptation to over indulge is always there, especially when I don’t need to keep a clear head for work or strenuous exercise. Well, you’ll be please to know that I didn’t fall off the wagon, and behaved myself entirely well all weekend.

My Thrive Energy Cookbook arrived early on Saturday morning, which may have something to do with it, and Kasia ending up in hospital on Saturday afternoon may have even more to do with it.

Netflix managed to keep me entertained the rest of the time (that and the Steam sale), and as you can probably understand, I was unpleasantly surprised to wake up on Monday morning have lost the ability to walk.

That’s a little dramatic – I can still walk, I just seem to have managed to injure my knee whilst not actually running. This came as something of a shock to me at seven-thirty a.m. when I left my bed in pursuit of coffee. I had, admittedly, gone to bed with a familiar twinge of pain in my knee that has been there since I started running again a few weeks ago, but it was neither better nor worse than it had been for the week previous. So to wake up feeling like I was the lead singer of the Foo Fighters and had fallen off stage in The Netherlands (sorry, Mr Grohl, I know it wasn’t your knee), was both a shock and  not an enormous amount of fun.

I limped to work, every stair at the train station producing a fresh shot of agony, as I tried to imagine what was actually going on. After a morning sitting at my desk, I left for lunch, noticing that the pain was marginally better. By clocking out time, I felt even better still.

I’m still not entirely sure what caused today’s knee pain, especially as I’d not run all weekend. Monday is my usual rest day, and it looks like I’m going to stick with that, just to be on the safe side.

But I’m sure, one day, I’ll be able to write about how great my run was, and not mention any kind of injury whatsoever…

Ouch.

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A cautionary tale this afternoon, folks.

I recently developed a rather large blister on the underside of my right foot. I eased off running for a little while, and then bought some blister plasters (hooray for Compeed). I waited until the blister was fairly well healed, and then I began running again.

All was well.

And then I bought some new running shoes.

A new blister formed, attached to what was the old one. again, I eased off from running, and this new smaller blister seemed to not get any worse. I ran eight miles, and the blister was fine. I ran three miles after that, and the blister was fine. I ran another three, and still everything was ok.

And then yesterday, I ran four miles. Maybe it was the socks I wore. Maybe it was the heat (it was much warmer when I ran yesterday), but something went wrong.

The blister doubled in size. The skin rubbed and now I have a very poorly foot indeed. Compeed are currently be employed to take care of my foot with one of their magic sticking plasters, filled with a miracle gel that both cushions the wound and numbs the pain.

So now my entire running weekend is in doubt. Which also throws out my training schedule for the marathon. Luckily, I still have a long way to go before then, but any setback is unwelcome.

I guess I’m using tomorrow’s running slot to go sock shopping instead…

Does this sound crazy to you?

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“We should stop. I’m tired.”

The voice in my head pounds away  constantly, begging me to take notice.

“Let’s finish this now and go get a beer.”

What’s worse is that the voice is my own.

“We don’t need to do this. I fancy a kebab.”

I turn up my headphones and try in vain to block out my subconscious.

“Bored now. I could be eating Doritos and watching a movie right now.”

I love running. I love everything about it. I love the way I feel when I run, the way I feel after I’ve run. I love that I see almost instant weight loss results. I love the feeling of being better than I was yesterday, of chasing times and distances and setting crazier and crazier goals for myself.

“I can’t remember what fried chicken tastes like. We should get some.” (Seriously, that’s a bad one. I’m vegetarian.)

But I have this voice in my head. He wants to sabotage me. And I don’t know why. Maybe he’s “the wall”. He’s the guy who tells me I need to rest, even when I don’t think I do. He’s the guy who says “let’s walk for a bit”, when I start getting a little tired. He’s the guy who says “don’t run tonight, there’s a cool new series on Netflix we’re not watching”.

And he’s getting harder and harder to ignore.

I’ve tried drowning him out with loud Music. He just tells me that I have terrible taste in music. I’ve tried ignoring him, but he just behaves like a petulant five year old, and starts repeating words like “walk” or “stop” or “chips” until I just give up resisting and let him win. And then he goes all smug and doesn’t say another word until I’m out running again next time.

Does this happen to anyone else? I mean, I’m already aware of my  own issues. They’ve been fully explored by a trained professional,and I’m cool with most of them now.

Maybe he’s not the wall. Maybe he’s rationality, the same voice who says “don’t put the fork in the toaster, idiot” or “you’d better look both ways before we cross this road” and he’s right about the running.

But no, I don’t think so. I don’t think that’s him at all.

I think maybe he’s willpower, and he doesn’t like being tested.

I’ve noticed he’s quieter when I run a new route. He likes to see new surroundings. He gets distracted by shiny objects and smells and remembering names of people we used to know.

But the worst part is that he always wins in the end.

Eventually, I always have to stop.

Tune in, but never drop out.

Last night’s run eventually took place at around 10:30 pm. In the end, I only did three miles (to my shame), and they were much slower than my usual clockwork-like training pace. I’m going to blame the food, rather than the Playstation though.

Mentally, I struggled to get into the right frame of mind – There were delays in getting out of the house (long story), the weather had turned a little windy, and I rushed my stretches because I was impatient to leave and get going.

My new Brooks trainers still rubbed the horrendous blister on the underside of my foot – even though I was wearing two pairs of socks.

A couple of weeks back, I would have turned around and gone back home, but I persevered last night, and ran the three miles non stop, in a little over 20 minutes. It was clear from the first mile that I was going slower, and I tried my hardest to forget pace, and just run. The scheduled four miles seemed so far at that time of night, when I was already tired and could feel my dinner (another excellent vegetarian curry by Kasia) churning in my insides with every step.

I decided to use the run to examine my thought processes; to run a marathon you’ve got to be mentally prepared as well as physically.

For the rest of the first mile, I tried tuning into my body. I listened to the rhythm of my breathing, adjusting it so that my diaphragm expanded with every breath, and exhaling on every other left foot strike. I don’t use a heart rate monitor, but didn’t feel under any undue exertion at that point. All in all, I figured I was fine, and decided that focusing like this was a waste of time.

So I tuned out instead. During the second mile, I focused on my surroundings, taking note of the pedestrians I was passing, the shops that were now closed for the night, the people on the buses as they went past.

But then they bored me too. So, for the third and final mile, I focused on time and distance. I know my split times on this regular route, and realised I was running a full minute slower than usual. I tried to not let this bother me, as I subconsciously speeded up and lengthened my pace.

I finished strong, and while out of breath as I came crashing through my front door, my recovery time was incredibly short, and I was back in the kitchen laughing with Kasia as she made vegan banana muffins at gone 11 pm at night.

So, although in some respects, the run was not a great one, in others it’s led me to a new understand of how having the right mentality to run is just as important as being physically able to do it.

Curse you, Sony.

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I got home from work in record time tonight. from the office to inside the front door within 25 minutes. As someone who is used to commuting for nearly an hour and a half each journey, this came as quite a shock to me. I’m still getting used to living here with Kasia. It’s only been a couple of weeks, and it’s the small things like having far more time on my hands at home that are knocking me sideways.

Generally, I’m using the extra time quite productively. There’s my new upgraded blog, which you happen to have stumbled upon (well done & welcome!), and a few other assorted projects I’m toying with somewhat half-heartedly.

And then there’s the running. As I mentioned in the original blog a few weeks back, having a nice office job with it’s regular hours is also still new to me, but boy do I love the freedom it brings.

Anyway. I got home from work before 6:30 tonight, and decided to go straight out for a run. I was in the middle of changing into my running gear when I remembered the promise I’d made to my son over the phone yesterday. Tonight was to be Playstation night. My kids live with their mother and playing the Playstation online whilst simultaneously talking on Skype is our regular way of staying close, even though they’re a couple of hundred miles away.

So the run had to wait. For now. The world of Terraria was beckoning, and we had pixelated zombies to slay.

So we played, until his bedtime. And then I ate. And then I remembered that if I don’t give it a minimum of two hours between eating and running, I tend to be either doubled up in pain or violently sick. So I waited.

It’s now 10 pm, and I have four miles of road to run tonight. It’s safe to say that my enthusiasm has waned a little.

But not that much. Bring it on.