Moving Targets

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How do I stay motivated? It’s a question I get asked a lot.

How do I get up every week and clock up more and more foot to pavement time? How did someone who used to only run to get away from exercise end up running marathons? How through rain, snow and hangovers I have kept going?

When I first began running it was to deal with everything that was going on in my head. I ran to comprehend. I ran to cope. As the miles and months brightened my outlook I then created my charity challenge. It was my way to pay tribute to two great charities and to the sport that had pieced me back together. This huge task pushed me as I wanted to raise as much as I could for my chosen charities. I pictured my hopeful future; the swell of pride in finishing my first marathon to the excitement of running across the Golden Gate Bridge.

However, now that I am well over halfway my reasons have also become very self-centred. I still run to raise money but I am motivated by beating the past versions of myself. Since I was very unfit at the start of this running malarky I have constantly been bettering myself. When I ran my first half marathon nearly a year ago I struggled, walking almost half of it. I finished with a time of 2 hours and 48 minutes. That was when the first of the constant stream of moving targets was created.

These targets are ever shifting finishing time aims, whenever a one is hit I simply aim ahead. Always a look to the horizon. After that half marathon I aimed for 2:30, then 2:15 and finally under 2 hours. Finishing with a 1 at the start of the time seemed like a unreachable feat. That was until this Sunday when I ran the Cheltenham Half Marathon. As soon as I started I felt the urge and the self belief that it was possible. One of my best friends started with me but he quickly urged me on and with a spring in my step and running along streets I had grown up on, the miles disappeared. With a mile to go I had time but only just, clocking up one of my fastest miles ever I finished in a time of 1 hour 59 minutes and 12 seconds. That medal felt like an olympic gold, not because I had come first (far from it!) but because I had beaten myself once more. 49 minutes faster then the me of eleven months ago.

These targets constantly reinvigorate my motivation, ticking off that time and setting the next goal is incredibly satisfying. Since I am currently injured (story to come) I thought I would put up a board of my times and targets somewhere on the blog in the coming days so you can see my progress. It is also to remind me as I spend the next few weeks recovering what I am aiming for. Maybe it will inspire non-runners or runners who have simply lost their spark to lace up their shoes and get out. Beat the past, your future will thank you.

Miles Left to Run: 286

NEXT RACE: Good question right now!

Three Song Playlist

Austin Plaine – Never Come Back Again

The Young Folk – England

Daniela Andrade – Telegraph Avenue/Sober

Runner’s Pride

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I finally finished reading Dean Karnazes’ incredible book 50/50 this weekend which details his Endurance 50 race. The ultramarathon legend completed 50 marathons in 50 days in 50 states in the US. Right towards the end of the book, which I encourage every one of you to read, he writes a paragraph that to me sums up how runners are, more often than not, perceived by non-runners:

“Finally, don’t be afraid to celebrate your quirkiness as a runner. Yeah, we do something that a lot of people view as a minor form of torture, but so what? We also do a lot of zany and wacky things that only us runners can relate to, like peeing in a shrub during a desperate moment, changing in the backseat of a car, or wearing a pair of running shoes to a social function. Sure, you might get some strange looks, probably some envious ones, too. With all the running you’ve been doing, you’re probably not such a bad sight to behold, sneakers and all! Wear your runner’s stigma like a badge of honor. Take pride in the fact that you are a little different, perhaps even a little eccentric, and enjoy every step of the way.”

Miles Left to Run: 301
NEXT RACE: Cheltenham Half Marathon (This weekend!)

Three Song Playlist

St Paul and The Broken Bones – All I Ever Wonder

Rag’n’Bone Man – Human

Keaton Henson – Alright

Respect the Road

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“10K must be like a walk in the park for a marathon runner”

said no one, ever.

I am a runner with a lot of habits/superstitions. They are there to ease my mind in the build up and ensure a smooth race. Including: arriving early, eating right, drinking a healthy amount of water, laying out my clothes the night before, listening to my playlist starting with the same song, touching the ground before I start, tapering. Prepare for the race, repair your body, wear the right kit.

A few weeks ago I ran my first 10K race for over a year and a half and the results weren’t pretty. The reason? I did none of the above. I didn’t respect the road.

The race was on a Wednesday evening just down the road from where I live, assuming I knew the area well enough I didn’t check the elevation changes. A key thing in my marathon prep work is to study the course so that you know when to push and when to ease back. The elevation on this 10K was as arguably the biggest I’ve dealt with outside of San Francisco. With a few long steady climbs twinned with one steep section about two thirds of the way through. Not knowing this meant I aimed to push equally per kilometre, the result? A very sweaty and swearing climb.

Due to the small nature of the race, headphones were prohibited as we would be racing on open roads. Another crack in my tradition as a rely on music so heavily to push me in the dark miles. What’s more because of my concentration on half marathons and marathons my Garmin was set to miles not kilometres for pacing which, for a mathematically stunted individual like me resulted in huge confusion.

The list of mess ups is long but regardless of all these self inflicted stupidities I loved the race. What struck me was the sheer camaraderie that we all shared. This 10k was the smallest numbered race I had ever ran and yet it had just as much heart as any big blockbuster race. From runners slowing down to boost a struggling runner they were passing, marshals cheering with genuine glee, sharing a bottle of water with a stranger on a hot day to an elderly runner simply whistling to himself as the kilometres climbed.

I finished the race and smashed my PB, feeling great I wolfed down the free burger, said goodbye to some friends and headed home for some pasta. An hour into ‘Netflix and Warm Down’ the real price for not preparing correctly came to the foreground in the shape of body crumpling cramps. They remained and worsened for a few hours until my body, exhausted by it all, fell asleep.

I don’t know what caused it; the downhill running sections I took to fast, over-hydration or eating a burger right after finishing. What I do know is that you should always respect every race because if you don’t you are doomed to repeat my failures.

Miles Left to Run: 309
NEXT RACE: Lisbon Marathon October 2nd

Three Song Playlist

Nizlopi – Helen

Subculture Sage – Chances

Jack Savoretti – When we were Lovers

Like a Bridge over Troubled Running – San Francisco Marathon Part Two

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As soon as mile one was done I felt it. Pain. A spiking collection of embers licking at the muscles in my left ankle. I thought my race was done before I had even lost sight of the start line. Luckily, as I pushed up the second of countless hills the pain rescinded to just a dull, and crucially manageable, throb. The joy that I usually feel while running marathons finally joined the race. The swell of excitement only found in pushing through that which you thought was impossible.

With the deep San Franciscan fog obscuring the way forward we plodded towards the Golden Gate and the part of the race I had been looking forward to for ten months. Before the race I had always planned to stop and take an obligatory selfie to mark this incredible bucket list moment. However, with the pain killers I had taken finally kicking in and my body discovering a decent pace I pressed on, slaloming around those who had stopped. While I have no photo of the momentous miles it will be a long time before I forget the miles I ran through the fog along one of the most iconic structures anywhere on the planet.

It was past the bridge and into double figures that I would start to feel pain beyond comparison. My knees, for those who haven’t read my blog before, are pretty beaten up. Scarred simply by the amount of miles I have put them through this year. I heavily tape them up to avoid my knee cap ‘floating’ an act that cripples me. The tape came off at mile ten and the pain swiftly followed. Downhill seemed to be the trigger for the sharp pain that would radiate from my knees to the back of my thighs. Unluckily for me the next seven miles was spent looping around Golden Gate Park, which consisted of constant small climbs and descends. The park itself is stunning but I struggled to enjoy the views it had to offer as every step was fogged by pain management. It was then I broke one of my golden rules of running; never try anything new on race day. The hydration stops offered Nuun and Gu chews, two items I had ever tried before. With pain clouding reason I munched and drank what ever was offered. Mile eighteen and the chemical assault these new items were having on my stomach came to the forefront and I dived behind a bush and threw up. I thought no one would see me, I thought I had chosen a secluded spot. That was until I turned around and realised that about a hundred odd people had seen me join the barf bus. After leaving not just my heart in San Francisco but also my breakfast I pushed on as I knew that it wouldn’t be long until the sun would burn through the fog and I’d have the heat to deal with too.

After what I renamed Purgatory Park, the city once again opened up. In Height Ashbury (an area of San Francisco known for its drug culture) I found my own high; Runners’ High, an elated feeling of weightlessness when the miles simply run themselves. With your mind lost in contemplation and muscles working without thought you just eat up the miles. The sun shone down, hipsters having brunch cheered us on and music blared down upon the beautiful city. The pain muted by swallowed pain killers I upped my pace.

Then at mile twenty two everything once again came stuttering, stumbling down around me. The manageable pain in my knees had turned into spectacular sharp cramping in my thighs. Caused no doubt by the lack of fuel from throwing up and the different running gait from not having my knees strapped. Every half mile I would have to slow to a walk, stretch and wait for the pain to subside before I could run again. My pace disintegrated.

I usually aim to have a ‘sprint’ finish for the last mile, not this time. Sprint, scream, slow, repeat until the finish line eventually came into view.

As I crossed the line I’m not ashamed to say I cried. The release of knowing that the pain had ended, finally running under five hours, completing a marathon in a city I have truly fallen in love with and the swell of pride in my own strength. The giant beautiful medal hung heavy round my humbled and broken body.

I had fought the hills, the pain, the stomach revolution and won.

Miles Left to Run: 423
NEXT RACE: Slaughters 10K 17th August (tonight!)

Three Song Playlist

Bon Iver – 22

Beyonce – Freedom

Skott – Porcelain

Amateur Ansel Adams

I remember when I first saw Ansel Adams’ awe-inspiring images of Yosemite National Park. His unparalleled ability to harness the emotion within the subtext of black and white has, since that day, always motivated me to try and be a better photographer. So when I was in San Francisco there was no way I was going to pass up the opportunity to go to Yosemite and follow in the master’s footsteps. Below is one of my tributes to one of the true greats of photography. To view his works pop over to anseladams.com

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Like a Bridge over Troubled Running – San Francisco Marathon Part One

I’ve always confessed to being a morning person, kicking off the duvet and facing the day come rain or shine. The San Francisco Marathon tested that theory and many of the long held beliefs I had in myself.

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The marathon started at 5:30am but my bus was due to leave Oakland an hour before and with my getting ready for a race taking about as long as a Kardashian for a selfie, 3:30 was my wake up call. Luckily I had managed to fool my body clock into letting me sleep early by essentially acting like it’s Halloween and you’ve run out of sweets: turn off all the lights, close all the curtains and pray that you don’t get a fright in the night. My usual routine done and with my knees and new injury of Achilles tendentious taped up I wandered towards my bus. The traditional yellow school buses loaded us all to our classes in pain and perseverance. Unsettling silence echoed as we pulled away.

My wave wasn’t due to actually start until 6:20 (the slower you are in races the later you start) so once I’d arrived I had a lot of time for over-thinking and over-peeing. Luckily this time I wasn’t alone, which eases the mind through distractions. I was joined by the other amazing ambassadors, a crew of people of all ages and walks of life with a strong and uniting love of running. We chatted, laughed, took a selfie or two and before I knew it my wave was called. I lined up, touched the ground as I always do and felt ready. Ready for the harrowing hills and the unending miles. Ready despite over running in the build up (a trail run through Muir Woods and a 5K shake out run), the lack of sleep and eating all the tasty treats San Francisco had to offer.

All that aside this race felt different for one clear reason; I felt like a marathon runner. I now knew what my body would go through, what roadblocks my mind would throw up and what to drink and eat when my energy level felt lacking. I felt confident. However, as I was to learn, fools often believe in that which is wonderfully unknown. I was about to feel pain unlike anything I had ever felt. The horn sounded and my foot pushed off against the unmoving road. My San Fransisco Marathon had begun…

Miles Left to Run: 444
NEXT RACE: Slaughters 10K 17th August

Three Song Playlist

The Who – Baba O’Riley

The Chainsmokers – Closer

Amber Mark – Monsoon

San Francisco & Other Stories

This week and beyond I will be posting belated posts and photographs from my recent trip to San Francisco. Safe to say it was one hell of a trip for both my running and photography sides! Below is one of the plethora of images I took of the awe inspiring Golden Gate Bridge veiled in fog.

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