French Bloke Runs

Shut up and run!

Ealing half marathon 2016

Oh yes, I have this Ealing feeling! Last week, I finally ran the half-marathon I’ve been preparing for the whole summer. I haven’t been as serious with my training plan as I should have been: too much drinking happened (including a Beer Mile), which ended up in my total screw-up of the Bushy Park 10k ; I also had to skip several long runs, thus undermining my endurance training. Suffice to say that I wasn’t overconfident when I arrived at the start line of the Ealing half-marathon. So I set myself a target of 1:35 hour, which was 3 minutes faster than my Roma-Ostia PB but also 2:30 minutes slower than my predicted time based on my 10K PB.

After my warm-up routine, I lined up at the start. According to the official website, there would only be pacers for 1:40 and 1:30 hour targets, so I decided to go between them. But then I discovered with joy that the Ealing Eagles running club had dispatched their owns pacers for 1:35. I’ll never thank them enough for this because they really helped me to go through my race. After a bit of chit-chat with other runners, the go was given and I started following my pacers. After just a couple of kilometres, my left shoe’s laces were untied and I had to stop to tie them again. I cursed against myself for not having prepared my double knot as usual and I ran a bit faster to catch-up with the pacers. Most of the time, I stayed just behind them, even when the course was going uphill or downhill. They really helped me keep a good pace and they made me avoid my usual mistake of running too fast at the beginning of the race.

On top of having good pacing, I made sure to hydrate at each and every water station. I also took learnings from my previous half marathon and I stocked up on energy gels: I took one just before starting the race, then another at the eighth kilometre and a last one at the fifteenth kilometre. With the fatigue, I had troubles opening this last packet and I spilled half of it on my hand, which quickly became very sticky. Luckily, there was a water station soon after and I managed to wash my hands while running. With the combination of all these elements, I didn’t hit a wall at all, unlike in Rome where the last 3 kilometres were an ordeal.

Actually, 3 kilometres before the end, I realised that even though I was tired, I still had some energy and I decided to overtake the pacers to beat my target. It was hard but I knew I could do it. In view of the finish line, I decided I could still go even faster and I went for a sprint finish, releasing my usual win scream. Result: 1:34:09, that’s almost a minute faster than my target! I was really happy with my time, even though I could do better in theory.


After the race, I stretched for a looooong time and I had a short leg massage, this combination prevented me from suffering from cramps in Rome so I repeated it and once again, I felt really well on the following day: no cramps or muscle pain. Perfect! After the massage, I met with some friends of Lanky Pole‘s. This guy has a master plan to make everyone around him run and it’s working! His friend had just ran her first half marathon and was really happy about it despite the fact that just 6 months ago she hated running!

Overall this was a great day and I loved this race. OK, this is mostly because I smashed it but also because the weather was great and the course was really pleasant (even though it was too hilly to hope for a great time) and made me discover Ealing. The atmosphere was terrific: the locals really helped with all their cheering and jelly babies and there were bands playing upbeat music along the course. I won’t complain about the fact that most of the marking was in imperial units because I set my watch to metric and the overall organisation was really good: my official timing was online within ten minutes of my arrival, the photos were online the next day, and I even have a video of my win scream!

Middlesex county 10k

Oh my word! I’m such a lazy bum, I haven’t written anything in a month now, that’s as bad as Lanky Pole. But at least I ran and I even raced! This time, I made sure to control my alcohol consumption on the days leading up to the race, to the point of not drinking at all for a birthday party. If that’s not self-control, I don’t know what is. OK, Draculito gave me his gym-rat trick: drinking a Virgin Mary, that’s way better than non-alcoholic beer and it lasts longer than a soda.

Anyway, I made it to the start of the race well rested and not hungover for a change. The Middlesex 10k championship was organised in Victoria Park by the Victoria Park Harriers and Tower Hamlets Athletics Club (that’s a mouthful!) but it was also the Serpentine club championship. So let me tell you that the level of the runners for this race was much higher than your average 10k for charity. It was nothing like I had experienced before: every single runner was wearing their club’s vest, mostly VPH&THAC and Serpentine but I spotted runners from many other clubs including a Mornington Chaser (not the one I beat at the Beer Mile World Classic though).

After my usual warm-up routine, I made my way to the starting line. As we had no chips, I guessed that only gun-time would count this time so I tried to start very close to the line. It took me only 2 seconds after the loud BANG to cross the starting line but I soon realised that the level of the runners was really good: half the people behind me overtook me in the first few hundred metres. And after that, there wasn’t much overtaking, club runners know their stuff and they sure can be regular! As usual, I ran my first kilometre way too fast then I tried to contain myself for the first half. Then I tried to accelerate but I didn’t really manage. Good thing I had found a pacemaker by then, otherwise I would probably have lagged behind. I tried to overtake this pacemaker for the whole second half of the race but I never had the energy until 200 metres before the finish line. I managed to pull a sprint out of my hat and finally overtook him! I released my signature scream on the finish line and waited a few seconds to shake my pacemaker’s hand. He then congratulated me but deep inside I was a bit disappointed because I knew my gun time would be 42 minutes and 1 second.

Just a couple of seconds faster and I could have claimed that I run 10k in less than 42 minutes! That’s so frustrating, especially knowing that if the race was chipped I would probably be there. Since then I put things into perspective and after all I’m quite happy because I got to beat my PB by 21 seconds. I take this as a good omen for my half-marathon next week.

Middlesex 10k Championship

A shed load of Serpentine runners at the Middlesex 10k Championship

Bushy Park 10K in August

As part of my training for my next Half-Marathon, I have to run a couple of 10K races and I decided to run the Bushy Park 10K again. I already ran it last January and I accomplished the feat of establishing a new PB despite the cold and the mud, so I thought I could repeat this achievement in the summer. But I had a sub-optimal preparation for this race: I ran all my hills, intervals and easy runs but I spent the past 2 weeks drinking – first for a stag do, then with a very good friend who came visiting for a whole week. Not only that, but I had to get up at 5am the day of the race to bring said friend back to the station, so saying that I was tired before the race is an understatement.

Deer at Bushy Park

Deer at Bushy Park

Anyways, I arrived at Bushy park early, which gave me time to rekindle with my friends the indifferent deer who just care about chewing grass. As part of my usual routine, I went to the loo, tied a double-knot on my shoes and I then warmed up for the race with the usual 10 minutes easy run followed by some dynamic stretching and some more funny running warm-ups (skipping, side steps, high knees, high heels, etc). I then showed up on the starting line with my brand new Serpentine running vest, it feels good running with colours to represent. There were runners from other clubs but I was the only one from Serpentine and I figured I had to do well for the club.

When the start signal was given, I started running a bit too fast so I paced myself. I was aiming towards beating my PB so I kept a pace between 4:00 and 4:10 minutes per kilometre. By chance, another chap was running at the exact same pace right from the start! So I used him as a pacemaker (or maybe he was using me as a pacemaker), we ran alongside each other for the bigger part of the first 5k lap. It was hard but I though I could sustain it. Then, a few hundred metres before the 5th kilometre, my legs didn’t want to carry on and my pace dropped slowly. My pacemaker carried on and I saw him take the lead on me little by little. I finished the first lap in 21:09, which was perfect for my target of beating my PB: I just had to catch up on my pacemaker and that would be it! But my legs really didn’t want to carry on and my pace continued to drop. At the 6th kilometre, another bloke caught up on me and asked me if I was alright, to which I answered that I had started too fast and that I now didn’t think I would be able to run under 42:22 as originally planned. He too overtook me after a while, with a bunch of other runners. After the 7th kilometre, my legs were so reluctant that my only goal was to finish the race and not to give in to the desire to walk. My pace continued dropping and I was now even slower than my Half-Marathon pace and I was dangerously approaching my easy run pace. But my legs were hurting more and more and I was just fighting to continue running. The 2 weeks of non-stop drinking really took their toll on me. But because I was wearing the club’s colours, I had to carry on at all cost. One of the deer even jogged alongside me for a couple hundred metres and this gave me a bit of courage. And I did it, I ran until the end despite the fatigue. I finished 14th with the lame time of 44:56 but I was happy anyway because I hadn’t given up. It seems I wasn’t the only one to under perform: I had a chat with a guy who finished 2 minutes slower that he expected. Had I finished 2 minutes and 30 seconds faster, as originally planned, I would have finished 9th or 10th, I would have loved it!

So the general feeling after this race was disappointment, but it also gave me motivation to get back to a healthier and less alcoholic lifestyle. Hopefully I can beat my 10K PB in September!

Writing about running

It has now been six months since I write twice a week about running. This is my 57th article and I think it’s a good time to reflect back on the past semester. I know you’re curious about my writing process – in fact, I’m pretty sure you don’t give a toss but I’ll tell you all about it anyway.

Most of the time, writing is a process that begins when I run. I already mentioned that I consider running as a form of meditation, but it’s also a source of inspiration. It clears my mind and allows ideas and sentences to emerge. I’ll usually write these new ideas in my special Wunderlist if I don’t forget about it while I’m cooling down or while I’m taking my shower, which happens way to often.

When comes the time to actually write, I will either have a great new idea or an obvious topic (like my latest race) and if I don’t, I’ll pick something in my list of ideas. Even though sometimes, some sentences come in French, I always write in English first. Writing in a foreign language is not me being a snob, it’s just easier to translate from a foreign language to your mother tongue than the other way around. Also, I love using idiomatic expressions, playing with them and ornamenting them with typically British slang. I just have fun doing it and it’s much easier to translate this back to French rather than the other way around. It also forces me to dig into my French to find the best equivalent ; I find a particular pleasure in using dated idiomatic expressions or regional slang (usually from Lyon).

I’ve had a lot of fun writing for the past 6 months. So far, some of my favourite articles to write were:

Now I have to admit that writing 4 articles per week (2 in English and 2 in French) kind of dried my up and I find it more and more difficult to find inspiration or to be funny. It also consumes a lot of time and even if I still have some potential articles in my Wunderlist, it becomes harder and harder to find new ideas. Finally, I usually have more fun writing about what I lived rather than writing about shoes or something less personal. So I’ve decided that I will allow myself to write only one article per week, or even zero if I don’t feel like it. I’ll still write about random stuff related to running, but I’ll try to make it more spot on and interesting and I’ll mostly focus on my personal experience of running.

See you soon!

Beer Mile World Classic

I’ve been talking about it for a long time, but now I’ve finally ran a Beer Mile! And no less than the Beer Mile World Classic with the world elite of the discipline! The rules are simple: drink 1 beer then run 1 lap and repeat 4 times! If you throw up or don’t finish one of your beers, you’ll have to run a penalty lap. There are petty regulations (only 355ml canned or bottled beer with at least 5% alcohol) but that’s pretty much it. Quite simple uh?

Lanky Pole had planned to come with me but in the end he couldn’t make it because this plonker injured his foot. Worst of all, he didn’t even come to support me and chug a few beers during this day-long event. Never mind, I came with my Serpentine Kit – which I am required to wear when I race – and the Serpie running vest helped me making friends (and foes) as you’ll see. I arrived quite early at the event and I did well because I was running in the second race. It gave me enough time to change, watch and learn from the first race and warm up for my own race. When I was given my bib, the clerk recommended to burp as much as possible to avoid puking. This was really good advice: whilst you can always bring your own beer, the default beer was Heineken, which is very gassy and will definitely provoke barfing when running if the gas isn’t eliminated quickly. And I didn’t want to get a penalty lap.

On the starting line, all the runners have their finger on the capsule of their beer, ready to open it. The speaker (very funny guy by the way) counts down and Psssst, everyone opens their beer and starts chugging. For crying out loud, this is much harder than I though! Not only it’s a tasteless beer, but it is so gassy that I’m mostly swallowing foam, which makes it really hard to down it quickly. I belch several time and I finally manage to finish it but at least seven or eight guys managed to finish theirs before me. What a piss poor start, I’m very disappointed in my performance so far but there’s no time to dwell on that so I start running. The first quarter of lap is continuous loud belching and I’m not the only one. Very early in the race, I spot who’s going to be my pacemaker: it’s a redhead dude with a striped vest (white, orange and green).

At the end of the first lap, as he’s cheered upon, I understand that he’s a Mornington Chaser. But oh, I’m being cheered upon too! A bunch of people shout “Go Serpie!” and this gives me an extra boost: I raise my fist in the air and I chug faster. I’m getting the hang of it. But it’s still very hard to chug on this crappy beer and the Mornington Chaser is still well ahead of me. More burping and belching while running, but I don’t feel like vomiting, that’s a good sign. At the end of the second lap, I hear more heartwarming cheering and I start chugging on my third Heineken. This bloody chaser is still ahead of me but I managed to gain some precious seconds in the chug zone, so now he’s within reach: 4 minutes and 10 seconds after the start of the race, I accelerate and I finally overtake him! But not for long and he overtakes me again just before the chug zone. With the fatigue, it’s getting harder and harder to swallow anything, but I manage to down my last can just a second before the chaser. I run a fairly good last lap (1:20) and I finish on a beautiful sprint that the speaker describes as ‘unnecessary’ but it allows me to finish 10 seconds before my opponent in the very unimpressive time of 7 minutes 35 seconds. Anyway that’s my new PB and I’m proud of it!
[Watch the video of the race on Trackie]

Serpentine v Mornington Chasers

Serpentine v Mornington Chasers

We shake our hands and exchange a bit of banter around club competition. Other Serpies come and congratulate me on my time and on my final sprint. It turns out there are plenty of us here but most are volunteers and marshall the race. I make plenty of new friends, we exchange running tips and devise new strategies to improve our Beer Mile time. The best suggestion is to compete with a better and flatter beer. Someone reckons Guinness is good for the job but I’d rather go for an ale, unfortunately London Pride doesn’t contain enough alcohol to be officially recognised, which is a shame because it’s one of the flattest beers I know, but I promise myself to search and find the ideal beer. There are a couple of brewers at the tracks and some of their beers are very good candidates.

Speaking of brewers, I enjoy my rest time by drinking a few pints of proper beer while other races take place. I want to stay and watch the elite races. The women are quite impressive, but the men are even more impressive! Corey Bellemore, a Canadian, shatters the World Record with a time of 4:34! It’s the first time in my life that I witness first hand a World Record in any discipline! Although I wasn’t impressed by everyone: the last of the elite race finished in 8:21 which is 46 seconds slower than me and makes me think that I could join or assemble a French national team!

During these races, I was hitting it off with the brewers and one of the volunteers (another Serpie) came to me with a Wally outfit and asked me if I could run a relay with it. I’m already a Wally, so I sure could! In my team was one of the brewers, another Serpie and Corey Gallagher, the legendary Beer Mile runner who broke the 5 minutes barrier first! I was truly honoured and decided to run up to that standard so I bought a bottle of Solvay Society Brewery‘s Saison for the occasion. It was much much easier to drink and I downed it in one go. I almost didn’t burp and I ran my 400 metres in under 70 seconds, so I made a pretty good effort to get our team to just 5 minutes and 40 seconds. but in the end, Team Canada won and set a new World Record at 4:06!
[Watch the video of the race on Trackie]

French Bloke is a Wally

French Bloke is a Wally

All in all, I had a splendid day, the recovery isn’t easy but you can be sure I’ll run it again!

Test: Vivo Barefoot Primus

On my way towards barefoot running, I’m willing to try a lot of different kinds of minimalistic shoes. My latest finding is the Primus, by UK company Vivobarefoot. I’ve immediately been seduced by the looks of this shoe but also because the company says it ‘lets your feet do their thing’ and because I had a 30% discount thanks to Running Heroes, which brought the price to a mere 60-odd quid instead of the hefty £90 announced on the online store.

Vivobarefoot Primus

Vivobarefoot Primus (all rights reserved)

When I unboxed the shoes, I was pretty excited: they really look awesome and they are very VERY light and flexible. I immediately tried them on and they felt really comfortable. They have a really wide toe box and that’s really good for my boat-sized feet. They come with a big warning saying “Don’t run with our shoes” then explaining that if you want to run with these shoes you have to know what you’re doing and make sure that you use proper mid-foot strike form. I think it’s a good thing that they put this warning on because if you heel strike with these shoes, you’re on for a proper knee destroying party.

After 100 km of running with them, they’re still the most comfortable I’ve owned but like most other shoes I’ve worn, they start showing traces of wear and tear on the sides (see the photos of my Altra and my Merrell after a few hundred Ks). I have a very thick instep and this just kills all my shoes, these ones are no exception and I’m sure they’ll crack pretty soon. I’m still looking for shoes resistant enough for my monster feet.

Another thing that annoys me with these shoes is how bad are their laces: they’re so slippery that they often untie by themselves and they’re just too short to allow for a double knot.

Finally, if you buy them to feel like you’re really running barefoot you’ll be disappointed. Of course, the ground feeling is much better than with cushioned shoes (these ones simply have no cushioning at all) and you feel every stone you run on, but the sole is too rigid for my taste and it’s nowhere close to actually running barefoot or even running with the FYF. But no worries, I still have another bunch of minimal shoes to try, like some Vibram FiveFingers or the Soft Star RunAmoc, so my quest for the perfect shoe is not over. To be continued…

My best running memories

August 2015, A Guarda, Galicia, Spain. It had been just over a month since I began running. I was still hating it, but I was very motivated by all the weight I had to lose and also by my very recent read of ‘Born to run‘. This book had a lot of influence on me and even though I was supposed to be on a long weekend dedicated to heavy drinking and drumming, I couldn’t help but thinking about it.

Bare foot on the beach

Barefoot on the beach photo by Alex Tian

After a scrumptious lunch of Galician seafood accompanied by generous quantities of wine (all organised by my favourite Galician couple: Wonder Woman and Superman), we went to the beach for a dip into the water. I don’t know what went through my inebriated mind, influenced by the beauty of the moment and the thoughts of legendary runners in Mexican canyons, but I started running barefoot, like the crazy character of Barefoot Ted in the book. Then I hailed Lanky Pole (when there’s drinking involved, you can be sure he’s around) and we went for a short easy run along the sea. This moment was magical, my memories are befuddled now but I still have these amazing feelings deeply imprinted in me: the true feeling of the ground directly under my feet, the slightly salty breeze through my hair, the gentle caress of the sun on my skin, and the pure joy of running shared with a close friend. We ran for less than 4 km, but this run was a defining moment for me. I think it is the moment when I decided that I would start my quest to barefoot running, and incidentally the moment when I started to love running.

I have to admit that there is a flip side to this golden coin: since I wasn’t used to running barefoot, I had such massive blisters under the sole of my feet that I couldn’t walk for the next couple days. In hindsight, this was total madness but it was really worth it and reliving it is what I’m trying to achieve in slowly transitioning towards barefoot running.

Just a week later, The Quiet Roman came to London and I told him all about it. We drank, and inevitably, at the end of the evening we went for a barefoot run in the streets of Greenwich. This was really fantastic too and it finished convincing me that barefoot running was what I wanted to do. Of course, this time we only ran less than 2 km because my blisters had barely healed and I wanted to be able to walk the following day. Nonetheless, you now know my secret motivation for running: the quest to finding these 2 magical moments again.

Going to the gym

One of my priorities when running is to remain injury-free. It’s only been a year since I’ve been running seriously, but so far I’ve managed to increase my weekly mileage without hurting my good self. It came to my knowledge that if I wanted to carry on like that I had to strengthen my core muscles, it helps keeping a good posture and gives you control and strength. By the way, when I run hills with the Serpentine, the coach always insists on focusing on the core muscles, so this confirms that.

Because I hate going to the gym even more than I used to hate running, I decided to hire a Personal Trainer for 5 sessions. Since I’m a complete novice, the idea was to be given a few tips on what to do, which machines to use and how to use them, but also to get some motivation and maybe to start liking going to the gym (the same way I started enjoying running after I’ve been given a few tips). Spoiler alert: I still don’t like going to the gym, even though I don’t hate it anymore now that I start knowing what I’m doing.

The first thing I learned with my PT was that I had to warm-up at the gym too. I used to to warm up for 10 minutes on the treadmill, but now I do that on the rowing machine, it’s as boring as the treadmill but it involves more muscles, including legs, arms and core. The other important thing I learned was to alternate the muscle groups you work out, so the first group can rest while you do a series of reps on another muscle group. For example, I’d alternate the pull-ups machine with oblique crunches. That’s a real time saver and it also prevents boredom.

I also learned a lot of different ways to make my abdominal muscles suffer and that’s pretty cool because it avoids monotony and it makes me exercise the long fibres as well as the short fibres in the same muscles. I’m also trying to work on my glutes (the butt muscles), not only will this help attracting members of the desired gender by showing off a cute and firm butt, it also gives more power to the legs, thus improving speed.

So all in all, even though I still don’t like going to the gym, I now understand this world a little bit better. For example, I understand that mirrors are not only here to fulfil the narcissistic needs of gym rats but also to check proper form of your exercise. Another proof that I don’t hate the gym anymore? After 4 months, I still find the motivation to get up early in the morning to go there on the days I’m supposed to rest from running (that’s only twice a week though). And I find this motivation even if I can’t really see the results (still no 6-pack).

More running with Serpentine

Like I mentioned recently, I just joined the Serpentine Running Club. I already had a hills session with the club and despite it being tough, I went back last week and I’ll certainly go back this Saturday. It’s not that I love running hills, but I’m not as good at it than I though I was and I can see that it is really beneficial. This time was even tougher than the previous session: we did 3 times 12 minutes of running up and down different hills in Greenwich park, but this time I was less ridiculous than the first time: I didn’t give everything I had in the first twelve minutes, so I had energy left for the 2 following intervals, and I didn’t finish last, I even overtook some runners during the exercise, so I’m getting there and it’s really rewarding to see that I’m getting better.

But the main event with the Serpies this week wasn’t the hills session, it was the Club Championship. Last Tuesday was the 1 Mile event, at the Paddington tracks. Mid-distance is far from my favourite kind of running but Lanky Pole convinced me to come to the tracks on that day. It was good to see so many runners at the same time and so many motivated and dedicated club members, it reinforced the sentiment of belonging, especially since everyone must be wearing the club’s colours for races.

Runners were separated into different groups depending on their expected performance. There were 2 groups of women and 5 groups of men. Based on my only time on a mile so far (5:42 at the Westminster Mile) I ended up in the ‘C’ group, which wasn’t too bad.

I did my warm-ups, dynamic stretching and all the trimmings. On the starting line, I was really intimidated and I forgot all the advice Lanky Pole had given me a month earlier at the Westminster Mile. The race began really fast: even though I was at the back of the pack, I knew couldn’t hold that pace for the 4 laps, so I stayed at the back, slowly leaving the runners ahead widening the gap. I think being the last and seeing the others further and further ahead put me down a little bit, and I didn’t run as fast as I should have. Even though I finally managed to overtake one guy in the last lap, I only finished in 5:46, which is 4 seconds slower than my performance at the Westminster mile. This was bad for 2 reasons: you’re supposed to race faster on tracks than on the road, and it was the first time that I didn’t beat my PB in a race.

Anyway, I didn’t let this get me down: in a way, I had a new PB because it was my first Mile on tracks. And I knew I hadn’t given everything I had: my lungs weren’t even burning at the end of the race! So I knew I’ll be doing better the next time. Anyway, someone was in a worse position than me: unfortunately Lanky Pole couldn’t run because he was injured and he was really upset about it. But it didn’t prevent him (nor me) from having a post-run pint with everyone at the pub.

Running track

Running track Photo by Colin Harris

Shameless advertising: Anaïs Photography

Not so long ago, I had a photo shooting session with a professional photographer and I have to admit that I’m pretty impressed. First of all, the pictures were taken in Greenwich Park, which is my favourite running place. But she also managed to make it look like I’m not ugly, and that’s quite a feat! Well, she couldn’t change my flawed running form (bloody arms, I need to make them have a nice 90° angle) but that’s my own freaking fault.

In any case, I recommend you use Anaïs Photography for all you photo needs (corporate, events, advertising, weddings, pregnancy, engagement, etc). She’s available in the Northern Hemisphere (France and UK) in the summer, and in the Southern Hemisphere (Fiji and New Zealand) in the winter, even though technically it’s summer too – yes, she is cunning and manages to live in summer for the whole year.

French Bloke Runs by Anaïs Photography

French Bloke Runs in Greenwich Photo by Anaïs Photography (All rights reserved)

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