French Bloke Runs

Shut up and run!

Author: French Bloke Runs (page 2 of 6)

Serpentine & hills

There we are, I gave in to Lanky Pole‘s pressure and I finally joined the Serpentine Running Club. It is a big club, with almost 2,000 members. It’s a bit expensive to join on the first year, but I’ve heard it’s worth it. I have to admit, after the first week as a member, I’m already convinced. First, there’s the club t-shirt, which gives you a sense of belonging to a team, then there are the events organised by the club (mostly races), finally there’s plenty of training sessions every week, and I still have a lot to discover about the club…

Serpentine

Speaking of training sessions, I discovered that the Serpies (that’s how we call the members of the club) have a weekly hills training session in Greenwich, so I decided to sign up for this one. This session is coached and I though it would be a good thing to finally run these hills properly. I arrived a bit late, but the coach was very friendly and she told me to catch-up with the group of 10 who was already warming up in the park. After a little bit of jogging, we gathered around the coach to do some proper warm-ups, which reminded me a bit of my sessions with Lanky Pole: walking on the heels, on the toes, plenty of warm-up movements, lunges, high knees, etc…

After that, the coach gave us advice on running form in the hills: work with the core muscles, have the arms at a 90 degrees angle, keep the shoulders and the face relaxed, and I’m sure i’m forgetting some. We then went to the nitty gritty and did 2 series of 12 minutes of hills running. Unlike my previous personal hills sessions, this one gave very little time for recovery: it was going up and straight down and up again. Also, we ran on the turf (or rather on the high grass) which made it even harder. After the first 12 minutes I was already knackered, but off we went for the second round! At the end of the second round I was the slowest of the group, even though on paper I was not supposed to be. Oh well, this gives me plenty room for improvement.

We finished by a relay in teams of three, up and down hills of course, and thanks to me my team finished last, but at least I gave all I had on the finish line. Lack of training aside, I think one of the reasons I was so slow was probably because I was dehydrated: the session lasted for 2 hours, which is much longer than I ever ran in the past and it was really hot on that day. But I made it all and I was quite happy anyway: I had learned more in these 2 hours than I could ever learn by myself. After the relay, we cooled down together and did a bit of stretching. I had to leave the group, but they all went to the café to enjoy some well-deserved coffee and cakes.

I came back really happy from this session: training with a coach and with a group brings so much! Even though I was dead-beat, I already wanted to sign up for the following week! Next time, I’ll come with a water bottle and I’ll make sure I have nothing planned afterwards, so I can enjoy the coffee and the cake with the others, and each time I’ll be better and better.

Sonic the freak

It’s been a long time since my last rant but I know you love’em, so here’s a freebie that I’m sure you’ll enjoy. How effing freakish is Sonic the Hedgehog? When I was younger, I owned (and I still own) a Sega Mega Drive II (Genesis II for the odd Yank reading this) with all the Sonic games, including Sonic & Knuckles on which you could stack other cartridges to unlock new games. At the time, the blue mascot was seen as a serious competitor to Super Mario – in hindsight it is laughable – and I have to admit that I was a real fan. Now I can see how it was all a scam.

First of all, hedgehogs are not blue and they certainly don’t wear shoes. I’ll put that on the account of artistic licence, but it’s unrealistic. At least, he wears red shoes and that’s what counts (remember?) although I’ve never seen running shoes with buckles rather than laces (that too is ridiculously unrealistic).

Secondly, in real life hedgehogs are ludicrously shy. I recently had to feed my neighbour’s pet hedgehog for 2 weeks so I have prime experience with that. As soon as I approached it, it shivered like crazy! Now you’re telling me this little guy can run through the world and kill robots without being terrified? I don’t buy it for a second.

Then there’s the question of the running specialty. Sonic can sprint for pretty much the whole game without a drop of sweat. Seriously? Either you’re a sprinter or you’re a long distance runner, well you could also be a mid-distance runner, but you certainly cannot sprint for several hours straight! I know that elite marathoners run 42.195 km at a faster pace than I sprint on 100m. But neither Usain Bolt nor Dennis Kimetto could run this distance at 1:40 minutes per km!

You’ll argue that Sonic has super powers and that he cheats with springs and other ingenious pieces of apparatus, but I find this dubious at best. No ones actually goes faster with Kangoo Jumps than with real shoes, they are just another risible fad of the 90s. And I don’t believe anyone can claim that spring-loaded shoes like the Enko or the Adidas Springblade can double your speed, that would be preposterous.

Nonetheless, despite all the bad-mouthing I just gave him, Sonic will always remain the best in my heart. How could it be any other way when you listen to the awesome music composed by Masato Nakamura?

Running hills

When I started running, I dreaded running uphill and I did all my running on flats. To be honest, I still do most of my running along the thames but I have changed my views on hills. Lanky Pole once told me that I had to add some hills into my training if I wanted to improve – I just had to work with my arms. I later discovered in my training plan that I had to do “Kenyan hills” from time to time. And it’s true that running uphill will improve your leg strength and your running form as well as make your heart work out. Kenya being just a wee too far just for a run, I guessed the hills of Greenwich would do.

Greenwich park hill

Greenwich park hill photo by Francisco Antunes

The first time I ran there was horrible. I thought “why would people impose such a gruelling exercise on themselves?” but I did it anyway. I now have my little routine and I always take the same path, starting with the very steep ascent on the Maze Hill side and going down “The Avenue”. I’m avoiding steeper downhill slopes because running downhill can be dangerous and lead to ligament injuries when braking repeatedly. I usually repeat this circuit between 3 and 5 times.

Last Saturday I was supposed to do 3 laps, but I surprised myself, and arriving down the slope after the third lap I climbed again for a fourth lap instead of leaving the park and jogging back home.

I’m not saying I love doing that, but it is challenging and I find it rewarding to notice some improvement week on week. I also run the same circuit when I’m supposed to do fartleks, because I convinced myself that they’re the same thing (even if they’re not). That’s because running fartleks, you’re supposed to accelerate when running uphill, and also because I add a sprint when I pass in front of the bandstand.

So it turns out I’m not too bad at running uphill. I remember my race at the Olympic Park: I was always overtaking my competitors when going uphill and they would catch up on me when going downhill. When Lanky Pole learned that, he said: “Oh, you’re one of those”. I’m not sure whether it was disdain or jealousy, but I’ll go for jealousy. Anyway, even if he’s the one who encouraged me to run hills, he prefers running downhill – it’s fairly obvious when you read his tales of the Welsh Castles Relay and of the Green Belt Relay (2 fun reads).

The thing I really love though, is hiking uphill, like we did on the Jbel Toubkal. Walking or running uphill, the important thing is to remember to work with your arms. Whenever I feel slow on a slope, I pull with my arms as if I was pulling on ropes and it really helps. What about you? What’s your experience with running uphill?

Inspiring runners: Marie-José Pérec

After Emil Zàtopek, Marie-José Pérec is probably the second great runner who contributed to making running an inspiring sport in my eyes. Like most French people, I still remember Marie-Jo (that how all French people know her) draping herself in the French flag after winning the gold medal for the 400m at the 1996 Olympics in Atlanta. After 20 years, her time of of 48.25 seconds still makes her the third fastest woman of all times!

Marie-Jo Perec - Atlanta 1996

Marie-Jo Perec – Atlanta 1996 Photo by sd_ukrm

I know, she was a sprinter and I’m more into long distance running, but I still find her inspiring, and her career impressive! The funny thing is that she wasn’t really into running when she was young, but she was really digging basketball. She only discovered her talent in her late teens. At 20, after just one year of training, she became the French champion on 400m! Three years later, in 1991, she became the world champion on the distance in Tokyo. The following year, she won the gold at the Barcelona Olympics and 4 years later, our standard-bearer wons 2 gold medals in Atlanta (400m and 200m). If that’s not impressive, I don’t know what is.

I know the end of her career was a bit disappointing and a lot of people remember the bad rap she had at the 2000 Olympics in Sydney, but I prefer to remember her as a legend of French athletics and of sprint in general.

Gear: the useful and the useless

After almost a year of running and quite a bit of money spent in various gear and gadgets, I now have a well formed opinion on what is useful and what is useless.

Running top

An absolute essential. Don’t run long distances with cotton t-shirts, definitely buy tops made of a technical fabric such as blends of polyester and elastane. My favourites are the ones from Tribesports (I have no commercial agreement with them, they’re just really good). If cotton is absolutely prohibited, I also recommend against running with the t-shirts given at races because they’re usually very loose. Don’t follow this advice and you’ll risk nipple chafing, you’ll be warned: Jack of all trades learned it the hard way in the Bordeaux half-marathon.

Running bottom

Arguably, it’s not as important to have good running shorts as it is to have good tops but it’s so much better to run with very light shorts and I think they’re worth the extra quid. Then again, cotton will provoke chafing inside your thighs, so avoid at all costs.

On cold winter days,  tights or leggings are really appreciated but I found that even the cheapest ones were good enough.

Socks

Don’t waste your money there. Pricy technical socks are utterly useless. I can’t see the difference between my £2 pair of low-cut Decathlon running socks and my £15 pair of double-walled, padded pair of Mizuno running socks. If you want to avoid blisters and black nails, the solution is in the shoes, not in the socks.

Accessories

I haven’t tried all the accessories yet but I think most of them are useless (ok, maybe a water bottle is a good thing to have during a long run or a trail). The one accessory I bring to all my races is a wrist sweatband to wipe off my forehead and avoid sweat dripping in my eyes.

I don’t have an opinion on compression gear yet. It might be useful, but to recover and avoid muscle pain, I think nothing beats a long session of stretching after running.

Gadgets

Then again, I’m a big fan of gadgets but I have to admit that most of them aren’t really useful. I would say that the watch is the only one that will help improve your running and at a beginner level like mine, it’s mostly about the timer and the pace: the value of a heart-rate monitor is debatable at best. But I think runners definitely don’t need a phone or an mp3 player. Some will argue that if you need music to run, it’s because you don’t like running.

Shoes

I’ll finish with the most important piece of gear: the shoes! Of course they’re useful, it is essential to have shoes that fit you and your running style – as you know I’m a strong advocate of minimalistic shoes and barefoot-style running. My piece of advice is to always buy one size above your real size, it will save you from blisters and black toenails, especially if you have a Greek foot or a Celtic foot like me.

Now, I want to make the case that shoes are actually useless, and I’m slowly making the transition to barefoot running (I’ve tested some pretty minimal stuff already). Hopefully in a few months or years, I’ll be able to race barefoot!

Tired shoes

Tired shoes or why it is important to buy new shoes before they reach 800 km

Treacherous treadmills

Treadmills are dangerous and it’s funny!

Book: 80/20 Running

It has been a long time since I haven’t reviewed a book (maybe because I can’t read). The last time around it was ‘Born to Run‘, by the way, if you still haven’t read it: buy it now and read it! Shortly after I had read it, my dear friend Lanky Pole recommended ‘80/20 Running: Run Stronger and Race Faster by Training Slower‘ by Matt Fitzgerald and he even lent me the book.

I’ll spoil the book for you: the killer is the butler. Oops, wrong book. Joking aside, this book is all about how to improve your performance by running 80% of your training slowly and 20% of your training at medium or high intensity. The book starts with a little bit of history and explains how runners like Zátopek already knew that you have to train hard to improve your running, but some running coaches like Arthur Lydiard had the intuition that you should add a lot of easy running to make it even more efficient. And now most elite runners follow more or less the 80/20 rule, whereas recreational runners usually do 50/50.

The author goes on about all the research that has been made to support his claims. Even though he mostly cites studies that do not specifically focus on the 80/20 rule but on polarised running (no running at medium intensity: just low-intensity and high-intensity training), it kind of makes sense and his argument is pretty compelling: running mostly slowly will allow you to enjoy it more, but it will also give you the capacity to run more. He then makes the case that high volumes of running condition your body to refine and optimise the act of running (like playing scales on the piano) thus making the high-intensity training more efficient. One thing that he mentions though is that it only works if you train really hard in the 20%.

I can’t really go much more into the details because it is very technical and even a bit boring at times. To be honest, I’m happy the book was sprinkled with anecdotes because it is sometimes particularly abstruse. I read it a year ago, and even now that I have more knowledge about running than back then, I still think this book is too technical for me. The last third of the book is all about how to build your training plan based on his rules and his training plan templates. Boring.

I still learned a few things:

  • It is a good thing to monitor your Heart Rate (HR) while training. Although I learned the hard way that if you do that, you must imperatively adjust your HR zones precisely. It is also better to calculate your HR zones based on HR reserve rather than % of max HR. The book explains how to do it, but then again it does so in a very technical and boring manner.
  • If you decide to train based on HR zones, it is better to pace yourself using the HR monitor for slow runs (psychologically you’ll tend to respect the upper HR limit) and using pace for faster runs (you’ll tend to try and runs faster than the target pace, which isn’t a bad thing for high-intensity sessions).
  • Matt Fitzgerald is right: running slow is really enjoyable. Now I can’t wait for Sundays and my long runs!

As a conclusion, this book, like any book about running, couldn’t possibly be better than ‘Born to Run’ (because I loved it so much). All the same, I was expecting it to teach me a lot but it was just too technical for me – however it will certainly suit very well to more advanced runners.

Young runners

Last time I ran on tracks (it was also the first) there was a group of children training with their instructor. Some of them were very young and the others were even younger, which questioned me because some of them were already almost as fast as me. It also reminded me a couple of stories I’d read about young runners.

Running Child photo by Peter Mooney

Running Child photo by Peter Mooney

The first one is the story of Budhia Singh, a running child from India. One day, when he was just 2 or 3 years old, he was punished and was made to run around tracks. The adult in charge of him forgot about him and when the dude came back 5 hours later, little Budhia was still running! That’s an incredible story and it doesn’t stop here: by the age of 4, he had ran and completed 48 marathons, that’s kind of depressing because I’m 3 decades older and I still haven’t ran one. Unfortunately, the story doesn’t end well (read the Wikipedia article to learn more about it), he has been forbidden to run until the age of 11 and at now 14 he isn’t an exceptional runner anymore.

The other story is a happier one. It’s the story of a courageous 12 year-old girl from New York who ran a half-marathon by mistake. She was supposed to run a 5K but took the wrong start. Halfway through the race, she realised that something was amiss, she’d already ran for too long. That’s where I admire the little hero: when she saw her mistake, she just though “Screw it, I’ll finish it anyway”. That takes courage and tenacity! After 2 hours, 43 minutes and 31 seconds, her dead-worried mother found her with a medal. Then again, I only ran my first half-marathon this year. I’m not sure what to make of that…

The Oatmeal is a runner

If you don’t know Matthew Inman, let me introduce him. He’s the author of the world famous comic blog The Oatmeal. I love the guy, he’s like an American version of me: he’s a fan of Tesla (both the scientist and the car brand) and all thing eco-friendly, he loves science and astronomy, he’s an atheist,  he loves beer, he loves cats, he has the sense of humour of a 6 years old (and yes, I find it funny), but most of all, he runs!

The comparison doesn’t stop here, we both started to run for very similar reasons: I explained my reasons in a silly post, he explains his very well in his comic “The Blerch“.

A photo posted by theoatmeal (@theoatmeal) on

I give advice for running long distance, so does he in a hilarious comic:

A photo posted by theoatmeal (@theoatmeal) on

I tried to give you motivation and inspiration, so does he:

A photo posted by theoatmeal (@theoatmeal) on

I tend to see running as a form of meditation, so does he.

Really, the only real difference between us is that my blog is way more famous than his – or maybe it’s the other way around since he now organises his own races: “Beat the Blerch” and he’s sponsored by big ass brands like Saucony.

Drinking & Running Races

I’ve already spoken of the intimate relationship between running and drinking, but sometimes this relationship is just too strong. Indeed, some crazy runners (or geniuses?) organise races involving running and drinking at the same time! I put together a list of such glorious races:

Beer

You already know that there are non alcoholic beers specifically brewed for runners, but there are also races for beer lovers:

  • Beer Mile: it is the most famous race that includes drinking in its rules: 4 laps, 4 beers. Each beer must be consumed before the lap begins. There’s even a Beer Mile World Classic (🇬🇧) in London next month, of course I’ll be part of that! And if you miss it, there’s the Flotrack Beer Mile (🇺🇸) in Texas next December as well as the Beerfit Running Series (🇺🇸) all across the USA.
  • Kastenlauf: this is the historical parent of the Beer Mile. This tradition dates back to 1982 in Munich and has many variants, the main one involves teams of 2 runners carrying a crate of beer between them and having to drink all of it before the finish line. Races include the Zurich Bierathlon (🇨🇭), the Welde Bierathlon (🇩🇪), the Schöndelter Bierathlon (🇩🇪), the Büdesheimer Biermarathon (🇩🇪) and probably many more.
  • Beer Lovers Marathon (🇧🇪): it obviously takes place in Belgium, in Liège to be precise. It is a standard 42.195 km marathon but you can find local beers at the rest stops along the course. Fancy dressing is mandatory and it looks like great fun with proper Belgian beer.
  • Great Breweries Marathon (🇧🇪): once again, the Belgian having the best beers in the world, only them could organise such an event: racing through several iconic breweries including the ones that brew Duvel and Karmeliet (yummy)! You can drink during the race, and you come back with a gift basket (full of beer, of course).
  • Shamrock 5K Beer Run (🇺🇸): unlike the name suggests, this one doesn’t take place in Ireland but in Indianapolis and Chicago in the glorious US of A. There is beer served at each stop and a pint at the end. It might be worth a detour, especially since the sponsors are not those brewers producing some infamous American light beer (which in my book equals to donkey piss) but a selection of some of these wonderful American craft brewers that gave rise to the revival of proper craft beer in the past decade.
  • Beer Belly Running (🇬🇧): not really a race, it is more an organiser of various running and beer drinking events in good old London, UK. I particularly like the Beat the Barrel race, which is a real team effort. But this year it has been replaced by the Great British Beerathon, which also involves eating on top of the drinking. What a shame I can’t make it on that day…
  • There are plenty of other running events involving beer, like the Brewery Running Series (🇺🇸) and the Alamo Beer Challenge (🇺🇸), but not during the race, as far as I could gather.

Wine

If beer is very much a thing in Germany, Belgium, the UK and the USA, a lot of wine runs will be found in France (of course) but not exclusively:

  • Marathon du Médoc (🇫🇷): as it claims on its homepage, it’s the longest marathon in the world. For those who don’t know, the Médoc is the superior kind of Bordeaux wine. So the day after the run, you’ll have a posh hungover and posh sore legs. It was created in 1984, so now it is quite an institution!
  • Marathon du Beaujolais (🇫🇷): the wines of the Beaujolais region don’t have quite the same reputation as the wines from Bordeaux, but it is my native region so I have a particular affection for this one, even though it doesn’t run through my village. I know people who ran it and it is epic.
  • Marathon du Vignoble d’Alsace (🇫🇷): if red wine isn’t your thing but you’d sell your mother for a glass of white, this is the race for you! Alsace is renowned for its luscious Gewurtztraminer, Sylvaner and Pinot Gris. And after the race, you can fill up your belly with the best sauerkraut and sausages.
  • Wineathlon (🇬🇧): this is actually a series of 10K races where wine will be served at rest stops. Even though these races are close to me now, I wouldn’t dare going there, knowing the quality of the wine that’s usually served in the UK.
  • Half Corked Marathon (🇨🇦): well Canada, that’s unexpected of you!
  • Healdsburg Wine Country Half Marathon (🇺🇸): yeah, there had to be a race in California in this list. Nope, not even moaning about it.
  • Wicked Wine Run (🇺🇸), The Ultimate Wine Run (🇺🇸): Run and drink bad wine all across the USA, yay!
  • I could find some other wine related races, such as the Maratona delle città del vino (🇮🇹), the Media maratón por los caminos del vino (🇦🇷), the Idaho Wine Run (🇺🇸), the Texas Wine Series (🇺🇸), Fuelled by Wine (🇺🇸), the St Clair Vinyard Half Marathon (🇳🇿) and the Winery Run (🇦🇺) but it seems you can only drink after the race. What a shame.
Marathon du Médoc

Marathon du Médoc Photo by Kinolamp

Spirits

You’d imagine that there would be a whisky race in Scotland or a whiskey race in Ireland but I couldn’t find any although it seems prizes in these lands are more often in the golden liquid form than in real golden monies. No tequila run in Mexico or rum marathon in the Caribbean either. Anyway, there are still some race based on spirits:

  • Vodka Trot (🇺🇸): I thought the Russians or the Poles would come up with such an insane race concept, but it had to be the Yanks…
  • Although I couldn’t find many races where you could drink spirits during the race, there are some races where you can enjoy a good spirit after the race such as the Semi-Marathon de l’Armagnac (🇫🇷) and the Marathon du Cognac (🇫🇷), and there’ll be good food too.

I’m sure I missed plenty of running events involving drinking and if you know of any, please add it it the comments!

Updates

Older posts Newer posts

© 2018 French Bloke Runs

Theme by Anders NorenUp ↑