French Bloke Runs

Shut up and run!

Tag: Early Morning

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).

Of motivation

I realise I must seem crazy when I say that I run 5 times a week or that I get up at 6am just to run, but I don’t think I am. You can do it too, you just need to find the motivation. Here’s a bunch of tips to get and stay motivated. They worked for me ; we’re all different so they might not work for you but they’re worth a try!

  • Loving to run is the first and obvious source of motivation! The “Pull” motivation (being drawn to a goal) is much more powerful than the “Push” motivation (pushing yourself to a goal). It doesn’t necessarily come naturally for running and I hated it at first, but by pushing myself for long enough, I ended up loving it, and now I’m genuinely looking forward to my runs (especially the long runs). Don’t get me wrong, there are still some days I don’t really feel up for it, but I’ve never regretted a run!
I really regret that run. Said no one. Ever.

I really regret that run. Said no one. Ever.

  • Losing weight was my initial motivation for running. It’s a very good motivation to get started, and I now believe that there’s no such thing as the right shape to run, although the stereotypical runner is skinny, you can be fat and fit at the same time! However, it has been proven that losing or maintaining weight is a very bad motivation on the long term, as you’ll always slacken at some point and go back to your old habits. Running must be an end, not a mean.
  • Having a role model, someone to look up to! For me it’s Lanky Pole, the fact that I sometimes have the privilege to run with him also pulls me in his direction. For him, I believe it’s Kenenisa Bekele, for Emil Zátopek it was Paavo Nurmi, etc… It goes on and on: having a role model is a must.
  • Having a sparring partner, someone to measure yourself to. For me, it’s the Quiet Roman, and I’m lucky to have another three: Music DaddyJack of all trades and the Mad Cook. It can be competitive or friendly, but having someone at your level helps you going further.
  • Having numbered objectives and metrics also works really well for me. That’s the reason I bought my Garmin watch. An app like Strava is also really good if numbers motivate you: trying and beat yourself week-on-week on the same route or other people on specific segments pushes me further.
  • Races are great: the atmosphere always pumps me up and the emulation it generates makes me want to go to another one. Trying to beat my PB is also a great challenge, being competitive with other can be a good motivator, but trying to beat myself and be better each time is an even stronger incentive.
  • Having a training plan is a fantastic motivator. Research shows that having objectives set by others is a strong way of pushing yourself to do things because it has less consequences to break a promise you made to yourself than to a third party.
  • Not snoozing the alarm: just getting up when it rings. I know it’s easier said than done, but once you’re used to it, it’s very efficient and you won’t need hours to be awake.
  • Reading about running is also a great way to get and stay motivated. I found reading Born to run really inspiring (and it still inspires me a year after reading it), but also, read about other runners. They can be inspiring runners or normal people writing blogs like this one. In short, continue reading me twice a week :-p

The Muslim Runner and other regulars

Some time ago, I talked about the regulars I meet in my morning runs, and how it compares to regulars in a pub. Well, like with pubs, I don’t go to just one and I meet other regulars on my other everyday route: the one I do rollerblading (yes, I’m unfaithful to running).

Rollerblade in London photo by IanVisits

Rollerblade in London (it’s not me) photo by IanVisits

Unfortunately, on this route there aren’t many other rollerbladers – I only met 3 or 4 others since a year and a half I’m going from Greenwich to Farringdon on eight wheels – and I think I’m the only one doing it several times a week.

Look at me bragging! I actually didn’t start blading to earn bragging rights, but only because I’ve loved it for more than twenty years. But I realised it looks somewhat cool and quite often there are people turning their heads and children shouting their surprise and admiration, which kinds of pumps me up when it happens. Kudos to all children I can inspire!

Don’t get me wrong, I also get a lot of abuse, especially from drivers who are pissed off that I use cycle lanes (why they care, I don’t know) or the road. I once even received a string of insults from a Spanish cyclist on a Boris Bike who said I was dangerous because I was too slow ; how ironic when you know that cyclists on Boris Bikes are notoriously dangerous in London and thatI go faster than them more often than not. But cyclists are generally supportive, especially since I wear protective, reflective and hi-vis gear like them.

Apart from the lovers (gonna love) and the haters (gonna hate), there are other people I come across very regularly. Most mornings, I can see the Muslim Runner going the other way. I have a lot of respect for him (especially since I run myself) because he’s quite old, he’s always running with some kind of a large tunic and he’s always there, on the Thames Path.

There’s the big bearded and tattooed cyclist (I should say biker) whom I cross almost systematically under the greenwich foot tunnel. It’s funny, because he looks like such a rebel but he’s wearing a bright yellow hi-vis vest and he’s very kind – he always holds the lift’s doors and has friendly words. I like this contrast.

You should know that I meet Santa Claus quite often as well. This one has a bright yellow hi-vis jacket rather than a big red coat, he’s riding a Brompton folding bike rather than a sleigh, and he’s fitter, but the long white beard is exactly the same so I’m sure it’s him. Shame I don’t have a picture to show you, I should think of taking one when I skate through Greenwich University.

Along the Thames, in Sir McDougall Gardens, there’s the Tai Chi Lady. She’s an asian granny who was also there every morning, repeating very slow and precise martial arts movements, but I haven’t seen her since last fall. I hope it’s only because it was too cold and that I’ll see her again soon.

Finally, there’s the occasional fox that I cross if I’m lucky. I love seeing them, they’re beautiful animals and surprisingly numerous in London! I’ve even heard there’s a lady-fox and her cubs somewhere on my route, by I’ve never managed to see them…

The big hike: Djbel Toubkal

Now you’ll understand why I was so lazy with my writing last week. Instead of spending my weekend writing for you, I spent it trudging in the Moroccan Atlas. Let’s go back 2 weeks ago. Lanky Pole – him again – called me with a crazy proposal: climbing to the top of the highest peak in northern Africa – the Djbel Toubkal in Morocco. He’d bought flights for 3 and one of his mates had bailed out at the last minute. Fool that I am, I said yes. Seven days later, I was in a small hotel in Imlil.

Imlil hotel

View on Imlil, the roof terrace of the hotel, the scrumptious breakfast

Imlil is the closest village to the peak, it is a charming place 1,740m above sea level where people don’t hassle you as much as in Marrakesh and where the temperatures are bearable. It’s almost heaven: the first night we had there was the quietest I had in years, the food at the hotel was amazing, plentiful and cheap, the landscapes are breathtaking, the light is uniquely soft and beautiful, and you’re surrounded by cute baby goats, cats and mules. Not to mention the exquisite fresh orange juice that will make you forget that there is no alcohol here.

Animals in Imlil

Animals in Imlil: cats, baby goats, mule

We got up quite early to pack our things before taking the path to the refuge of the Toubkal, but also to give this crazy Lanky Pole some time to run. I wanted to join him but I thought it was more prudent to keep my energy for the hike. I think I was right: the hike was only 10K long, but after little more than 3 hours of walking with our backpacks, we had gained 1,500m of elevation!

I really loved this hike. First of all because the nature is beautiful there, but also because I realised that I love walking as much as I love running. That’s probably because I was much better at it than I expected – even though I’ve already hiked quite a lot in my life I was expecting to be a burden slowing down Lanky Pole and his mate, which wasn’t the case and we arrived at the refuge much earlier than we expected.

Imlil to refuge

We lost the path, the white mosque half-way to the refuge, a waterfall, the refuge

At the refuge (around 3,200m above sea level if you did your maths), we had all the time we needed to chill, read and eat a surprisingly good dinner. In our dorm we met an Irish guy with whom we shared most of the hike the following day and went to bed early. All 3 of us didn’t sleep much, probably because of the altitude and the lack of oxygen.

We got up before sunrise, had some breakfast, repacked, and when daylight came, we headed in the wrong direction. We quickly realised our mistake, headed back to the refuge and took the correct path. We were followed by a hiking dog all the way to the top! We called her Łajka, the Polish name for Laika, the first dog in space to which she was a real look-alike. She was also technically the closest dog to space in all northern Africa!

This part of the hike was the toughest. It was little more than 3K long, but the elevation gain was 1,000m. You can imagine how steep it was. Also at 4,167m above sea level, the lack of oxygen leaves you breathless after a few steps, so that was challenging. Luckily, I wasn’t as affected by altitude sickness as my 2 companions and I led the way to the top, where we found dozens of tourists, some of them in a pretty bad shape. But we were happy and took the photo of victory!

To the top of the Toubkal

To the top of the Toubkal: Sunrise, Łajka, the victors of the summit
Panorama at the summit of Djbel Toubkal

Unsurprisingly, the way down was much easier and faster than the way up. It took us only an hour to go back to the refuge and another 2h30 to go back to Imlil where we took a much needed and appreciated shower and spent another night in our favourite hotel. The next day, we had another delicious breakfast and Lanky Pole had another early morning run despite the exhausting hikes of the 2 previous days. Just before leaving for Marrakesh, we were surprised and pleased to see that Łajka was down here in Imlil! She’d followed us to the top of the Toubkal and now she was with us again, 2,500m lower and 15k further… We gave her plenty of affection before hopping into our taxi shared with our Irish friend and an Italian guy.

We finished the trip in Marrakesh, which I must admit isn’t my favourite city. It’s beautiful and colourful, but it’s too hot and the locals hassle you too much to sell you stuff that you don’t need or want. I guess we were too tired to enjoy it. The food was good though, and we ate a well deserved humongous couscous! I didn’t even feel guilty about it or about the ton of Moroccan pastries I ravaged, even though I hadn’t followed my training plan at all…

Rollerblade morning commute

I feel lazy this week, so I’ll just show you a video I made last year. I’ve already mentioned that I sometimes go to work on rollerblades (less and less, since I run more and more). So I asked Draculito to lend me his GoPro and here’s the result:

I think this is a pretty awesome commute and I always love doing it !

Sunrises are underrated

You know that during the week, I usually run in the morning (that’s when I cross paths with other regulars). This means that since November, I’ve been running during night time three times a week. Although, I kinda like the eerie atmosphere and the uncanny feeling of owning the city, running in the dark becomes gruelling after 4 months.

Luckily, the Sun has finally decided to show up earlier since a couple of weeks, and I’ve been lucky enough to see some pretty awesome sunrises over the Thames. I love the atmosphere at this moment, seeing the sky lighting up is like seeing a face lighting up when someone sad gradually changes their frown into a smile. In some regards, they’re even better than sunsets because you feel privileged: the city is really peaceful and very few people get to see them. Besides, physics of the atmosphere make the temperature drop slightly before sunrise, so sunrises give you actual goosebumps!

Sunrise in London

Sunrise in London – Photo by Marcus Holland-Moritz

A strange side effect of the change in light is that the first couple of times, I did not recognise some of the places I’ve been running in for 4 months and I even missed a turn once! Actually, seeing a particular area during daytime helped me understand why I saw so many cats (and even a fox once!) in this place: this block is a dump! The bins are always half-spilt on the streets and the frontyards are never cleaned… Don’t worry, the rest of the Thames Path is great and I still love running it.

I would definitely not change my running habits from morning times to evening: not only am I privileged and I now get to see sunrises, but it also give me a dose of energy for the whole morning (admittedly, I sometimes doze off after lunch). Anyway, running in the evening makes it hard for me to get to sleep.

The Polite Runner and other regulars

Streets are like pubs, when you visit them often enough, you become a regular. In both cases, it’s a bit scary and worrying for your health (if you run that much you should start worrying for your mental health). And being a regular yourself, you start knowing the other regulars.

Most mornings of week days, I cross paths with the Polite Runner. I don’t know him personally, but I know I’ll see him on the Thames Path sometimes around 6:40am on my training days. I usually see his headlamp from afar (it’s still dark this time of the year). It’s a good thing I always cross him when I’m either warming up or on an easy run, because I still have full breathing capacity when he says ‘morning’, so I can pretend I’m polite too and reply ‘morning’ without choking.

There’s also the Beefy Lady who’s training almost every morning with her coach. I’ve never seen her run, but she’s got heavy-looking dumbbells and she does pretty hard exercises. I like to think that she’s a weightlifter or that she has a strength act in a circus.

There’s often a very tall and strong guy who’s always wearing a bright yellow hi-vis shirt. I imagine him as one of these hated “lycra” cyclists going to his City job (or more likely Canary Wharf) as Senior Bullshit Manager or as Director of Bollocks. Shit, I’m almost describing myself, except I’m not as tall and strong as he is, and I’m rollerblading rather than cycling. So hopefully I’m not as much a bullshitter as he is.

In a pub, you also meet the occasional patrons. It’s the same thing in the street. Once, there was this dad telling his little girl: “look how fast the man runs” while I was running intervals. Great way to give you a boost!

I also remember this walker-by who didn’t look like much, but who gave me one of my biggest confidence boost. It was back in the day, when I was still running heel-strike and I hated running. I must have looked like I was suffering a lot (which was clearly the case) because when I passed him, he told me in a calm and soothing voice: “You’re doing well, you’re doing well”. And this gave me the willpower to finish my run despite the suffering. Kind Mystery Man, if you read me, thank you.

More recently, I met a not-so-polite driver. This twat came out of his alleyway too fast, nearly hit me, and started cursing at me although I was the one who stopped to avoid the tragedy. I innocently said hello with a two finger salute, I don’t know why but he seemed upset. The poor sod went berserk and tried to drive after me but never managed to catch me despite his frenetic accelerating and braking whilst bumping in the curb. I just ignored the idiot and went my way. Luckily, I met the Polite Runner just a minute after, we exchanged our short greetings and it was enough to make me forget the sad episode I’d just lived.

What about you? Do you meet quirky regulars on your runs?

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