Running with…The British Forrest Gump

FullSizeRender 13Thousands of people have climbed Everest, as little as three hundred people have run across America.

For a long time running a marathon was considered the pinnacle of endurance running, a sport populated by wierdoes, hippies and trail blazers. As it became more main stream, populated by clueless muppets like me these lone soles moved on to ultra-marathons, pushing themselves and their bodies further and further. Now finish lines aren’t enough, countries and continents are the new race track. Running across America is still considering one of the ultimate achievements. Everything can and will go against you; the terrain, the distance, your body, your mind, the traffic, the weather. You name it and it will throw up roadblocks.

In June, Paul Wheeler will be attempting this awe inspiring feat which he is aiming to complete in 4-5 months. As an ex-army man, Paul understands the sacrifice that goes into achieving. Since leaving the army has tried to control that urge to live a life unscheduled; he brought a house, got the 9-5 but the call of the unknown never dissipated and he eventually relented and began to plan. Unlike Forest Gump it’s not just a case of simply feeling like running the journey takes planning, training and a lot of motivation. I caught up with Paul as his deadline looms to see what it takes to get from San Francisco to New York on nothing but your feet.

What made you decide to run across America?

My initial idea was to run from Land’s End to John O’Groats but then I thought that if I was going to do something like that then I might as well go bigger and better! I have a friend who is currently in Nepal gearing up for a summit attempt on Everest in May and a few years ago he ran, solo and unsupported, across Australia and he suggested why not run across America? The rest is history.

What sort of support crew do you have with you?

I have no support crew or support vehicle, it is just literally me and the stroller! He has now been officially named as ‘Wheelson’, a spin on Wilson from one of my favourite films ‘Cast Away’. I’m sure that I will form a strange yet close relationship with him!

What will be your day to day running schedule be like?

I envisage my day roughly as follows – wake up, make some coffee and porridge, pack my tent and equipment away and then run! It really is as simple as that! I am hopeful of running 20 to 25 miles a day which I think is do-able, however, I am fully aware that I will have good and bad days, and when those bad days come, I will just take a days rest then carry on the following day. I’m not doing this to break any records, it doesn’t matter if I’m running 12 minute miles, the main thing is to keep going, keeping grinding and get across the country! I will try and find somewhere to have a hot meal in the evening but that all depends on where I end up of an evening, if I’m in the middle of nowhere then I’ll just have to knock up some coffee and noodles!

What are you most looking forward to and on the flip side what are you most worried about?

I can easily say, without doubt, the part that excites me most about this run is running through Utah. For years and years I’ve been fascinated by the landscapes and scenery throughout Utah, in particular Arches National Park. Running there will be a dream come true! In terms of what worries me, not a great deal to be honest but I am slightly worried about being hit by a vehicle when I am running through built up areas and near highways as I know this has happened a few times in the past with people trying this run.

What will keep you running when the road gets tough?

In terms of motivation, I guess I won’t really know until I’m out there and things start to get hard. What I will be aware of though is that although I am doing this as a personal adventure, I am also trying to raise some money for charity and I know that there will be people banking on me to complete it. During my 12 years in the British army I failed a course, I can still feel that pain, the hurt, the embarrassment, it’s a feeling that doesn’t fade or diminish, this run is something that WON’T beat me.

To keep up with Paul while he runs across a continent click here and follow him as I will be, every step of the way.

Miles and Memories

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People ask why I prefer to run alone. The simple answer I usually give is that I prefer the quiet. The truth is somewhat different.

The fact is I don’t run alone, so to speak. I have tended, of late, to run with myself. To question where I’ve come from and where I’m going. I run with my 19 year old self, living in India and naively happy. I ask him what he thinks of me now and the life I have ended up living. I run with me two years ago, unfit and unaware what hurdles the world was about to throw up in his path. I tell him everything will be fine. I tell him what I have now, that out of strife comes such wonderful things. I tell him about new friends, new love, new passions and I hope he sees the happiness in my eyes.

So far this year I have run two half marathons I ran the year before. I can vividly picture myself running them, remember the thoughts that swirled through the collected sweat. Before running the Silverstone Half on Sunday I stood and remembered the panic I felt at the start last year. I was stood right at the back of the crowd alone and paced around, I couldn’t focus on anything but the nerves that rippled through my body. Nowadays, I enjoy the build up, the nerves will always be there but that’s a good thing as it means I don’t go into a race unprepared for the task ahead. As soon as those races started however, I was a lot more focussed on the miles than the memories. At Hampton I was being pushed by a friend to reach my PB and during Silverstone it was my turn to push someone to reach theirs. Simply no time for nostalgia when you have a job focus on.

As soon as the medals are put away and the kit is washed and worn again I allow my mind to wonder back once more. When there is no one on the road but me, myself and I. The truth is I’m never running away from anything. Sometimes, I simply run to remember.

NEXT RACE: Rome Marathon

Three Song Playlist

Ed Sheeran – Nancy Mulligan

Jacob Banks – Unknown

Laura Marling – Nouel

No Room for Doubt

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We spend so much of our lives doubting ourselves. We doubt that we can, that we could or that we even should. We doubt careers, loved ones and life directions. We doubt the large and the small; from moving house to what food to eat. It’s the lives we lead nowadays, we cannot take a leap of faith in a world that hinders self belief.

Running a marathon is liberating in that respect. It forces you to think differently. To fight that silent, shouting voice in your head that you simply don’t have it within yourself. You face it head on because if you don’t, you fail. My favourite phrase, that I often repeat to fellow runners, is by the ultra-marathon runner Dean Karnazes:

“Run when you can, walk if you have to, crawl if you must; just never give up.”

This motto pushed me onwards in Athens last November when injury crippled my running and self-doubt lengthened the road. I walked and limped to the end. I finished in the worse time ever but I finished. After my injury last year stopped me from running the Lisbon Marathon I wasn’t going to let it spoil Athens. If I had gone and not felt that medal around my neck it would have haunted my running future and fed my self doubt until it was fat and full.

Athens taught me that there will be times when you’ll question your sanity, when pain and effort throw hurdles in front of every step. Your mind crumbles into nothing but shadows. Despite all that if you believe in yourself, you can triumph. It’s because the Marathon runs you raw, removing any preconceptions of who you are that it’s so addictive.

I have just over a month before my first marathon of the year and I honestly cannot wait. This year I am aiming to get faster, building on the slow and steady start I made last year. By October I’m aiming to strip an hour off my fastest time of 2016 to run a sub four hour marathon. Self belief in my running keeps me striving to better myself and leaves no room for doubt.

The Marathon is unlike anything I have ever experience because when you cross that line, you’ll never face things the same way again. For many years I never thought that I could but once the pain had gone there’s only one thing that remained, knowing that I did.

NEXT RACE: Silverstone Half Marathon

Three Song Playlist

SOHN – Lessons

Couros – Breathe Again

Passenger – A Kindly Reminder

Experiment Conclusions

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“I’ll have the burger please” – words I have literally been waiting four weeks to say.

The end of the veggie experiment was the finish line of the Hampton Court Half Marathon that was held on Sunday. The race is one of my firm favourites, not just because it’s a flat, fast course with excellent organisation and a hefty, gorgeous medal but because it gives me an excuse to stay with two incredible friends who, coincidentally, are also runners. Happily, this year one of them was running and said he’d help me pace out a new PB. He recently set out to set a 1:45 Half Marathon time and did so with a time of exactly 1:45:00, so I fancied our chances of getting the pacing right . We were so good at pacing that unbeknown to us, until about mile 10, we had amassed a pack of people following our pacing strategy behind us. Mile 10 was when I hit the wall, our steady and strong pace waved and I began to slip back. I wouldn’t put me hitting the wall down to my diet but more to losing my rhythm. If it wasn’t for my friend shouting words of encouragement and literally pushing me on at times, I wouldn’t have got anywhere close to setting a new personal best.

In the past four weeks I have set three new PBs in 5k, 10k and half marathon. I’ve recovered faster and felt more motivated to exercise but now that I have finished and looking back I am still left wondering what if anything did the vegetarian diet have to do with it? Rather than the diet itself I think the last month has given me a better understanding of what my body wants vs what it actually needs. I have become far better at giving my body the best fuel it needs and more resilient to my constant craving to eat bacon. mmm bacon.

I would encourage any runner to try something like this. It is a fantastic way to get to know your body and what it needs to keep you bumbling along. Running is so remarkable because it is all about learning more about yourself, challenging yourself and ultimately looking after yourself. Doing this has made me re-evaluate what and how much food I eat and in doing so it will no doubt make me a better (or at least a thinner) runner in the future. One thing I am sure of though, I will definitely not turn into a vegetarian runner. Quorn burgers are nothing compared to the real deal.

But what was the first meal I made after stopping? A mushroom risotto. Seems like you can teach an old carnivore new tricks.

NEXT RACE: Silverstone Half Marathon

Three Song Playlist

Banks – Trainwreck

Majical Cloudz – Downtown

Jamie Lawson – The Only Conclusion

Running with… 401 Marathon Man

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If you haven’t heard about Ben Smith or his incredible achievement, prepare to be amazed.

On the 1st of September 2015, Ben went out and ran a marathon. This was to be the first of the 401 marathons Ben would run, in 401 days. For the many runners reading this imagine running one marathon and how you feel the next day, then add 400 more marathons after that. Not amazed yet? Well, then let me continue.

Ben’s challenge was born from being on the receiving end of years of homophobic abuse at school. The relentless bullying led to Ben attempting to take his own life, twice. His depression and the fear he had of coming out were crippling him. It wasn’t until he had a stroke at the age of just 29 that Ben knew that he couldn’t continue on the path he was on. He made a change and out of this the #401challenge was born with the aim of raising £250,000 for LGBT and anti bullying charities (to date he has raised over £315,000). Over five hundred new marathon runners and thousands more joined him along the way. A running community that stretched the length of Britain centred on helping one man achieve his goal.

To me, Ben epitomises THE endurance runner, never giving in regardless. He suffered severe tendonitis, lost the feeling in his left foot, broke a big toe, and had one of his knees double in size. Oh and he fractured a vertebrae in his back. Despite all of that on October 5th Ben finished, exhausted.

A few months on I caught up with Ben to see how the 401 Challenge has changed him and to get some running advice:

 
What would you say to a runner just starting out?

Start off with small distances to see if running is actually for you, don’t worry if it isn’t – its not for everyone!

What do you find to be the most rewarding thing about running? Specifically running long distances?

For me it’s the sense of adventure, freedom and meeting new people. I have been able to express myself through running and visit some crazy places and have met people I now call life long friends!

You said a couple of months after finishing that you still haven’t found your love of running again, how is that search going?

It’s coming back, I think because of the scale of the project it would be natural to say that my love for running wavered. I had a purpose, a goal and once that goal was over then it left a wide void in my life. Motivation lacked, the cool down process didn’t go to plan – but I’m thankful that now I am starting to get back on top of it with new energy for the future.

Do you have any another challenges in the works?

No physical challenges as such, we are concentrating our efforts on building a business that will support a foundation aimed at building confidence and self esteem, tackling mental health and self development issues across all ages in all communities.

Finally; Morning Coffee or Morning Run?

Morning coffee definitely, but who says you have to choose, I like to combine the two!

You can read more about Ben and the 401 challenge on his website. 

A RUNNERS DIET – WEEK TWO

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If this experiment was a TV show this week would definitely be called Curry Week.

Due to; making too much, peer pressure and a celebration I ended up eating curry five nights last week. But besides giving my stomach deju vu to when I lived in India, how have I felt this week? Well once again I am faster, fitter and more motivated than I was before I started. But, once again I’m questioning whether that should be put down to eating all the veggie curry I could pronounce or a massive boost in my running mojo. I have now put in place a running schedule (which I’ll be sharing on Instagram soon) combined with doing more regular ‘competitive’ events. I use air quotes as the competitive races are the 5K ParkRuns which I know aren’t the greatest build up to marathons but I am really enjoying the short sharp fitness training. From week one to week two I have improved on my 5K PR by almost a minute. I know it could just be down to the different terrain, the fact that I was being hunted down by friends behind me the whole race but it could be the fact that I’m putting good food in me.

By fuelling my body with more efficient fuels I am giving it the best start before I even reach the start line. Having a diet with higher levels of carbohydrates, fiber and antioxidants combined with cutting out meat that tends to have a lot of saturated fat I am giving my body what it needs to run and recover faster.

I know full well I will go back to eating a meat diet (as the cravings are not going away!) but as the weeks progress I am sure that I will be having more vegetarian days and cutting out food that doesn’t fuel me right. I started doing this experiment because I felt there isn’t much conclusive research on athletes (not that I am one) and vegetarian diets but I’m pretty confident it is working for me. To what extent it is working I’ll find out on February 19th when I line up for the Half Marathon that ends this experiment.

NEXT RACE: Hampton Court Half

Three Song Playlist

La La Land – Another Day of Sun

Kaleo – Way Down We Go

London Grammar – Big Picture

A Runners Diet – Week One

One week down, three to go….

The first week has not been a normal week to put it lightly so comparing how my running is being affected is difficult. During the week I moved house; days of loading up boxes, cars and trailers combined with swearing at furniture and shouting “PIVOT” swallowed up most of my running time. The two runs I did do were short but fast. The key run was a ParkRun in Oxford on Saturday, where I was a whole minute faster than my previous 5Km run but worryingly I did not feel great while I was running. I felt low on energy from about 3km in as if I was running on fumes rather than fuel. This was despite the fact I had a large dinner of spinach cannelloni and my usual pre-run breakfast of porridge. Feeling like that near the end of a run is ok but feeling like that 3km in to a marathon would be terminal. On the flip side I felt my body recover quicker than usual.

I also play squash once a week with a friend, he taught me how to play and I usually get a few games over him when we play but this week I actually managed to beat him. My body just felt more agile than usual and I trusted that I could get to shots I would normally just leave.

It is clear that changes are occurring, however, I don’t know whether to put them down to the my veggie diet as it has only been one week. I can attribute to a lot of other factors: my body still readjusting to my new training plan, doing more strength training through carrying countless boxes, giving my legs more rest than they are used to or simply getting fitter. The real test will come in weeks three and four as I build up to my half marathon. Cravings are very much present, having a glorious Sunday Roast without the meat part is just not the same! Looking forward to a proper burger at the end of all this.

NEXT RACE: Hampton Court Half

Three Song Playlist

Stephen – Fly Down

Julia Michaels – Issues

Colony House – You Know It