French Bloke Runs

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Tag: Half-marathon

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.

rt20x30-ehmg1050

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!

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…

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

Travelling and running

Since I’m away from London this week, I thought it would be a good idea to write about travelling and running. Some people travel specifically to run and visit famous running places – here I’m certainly not referring to Lanky Pole who’s been to Ethiopia, Kenya and the USA just for running, no, no, no, he’s not a mad person and he’s even writing about it. But he’s not the only one: Mad Cook is planning a trip to Lanzarote to run the Ocean Lava triathlon with her company, and I’m pretty sure there are plenty of other people doing it. I might even have done it myself (oops) although running isn’t generally the purpose of my travels, but I now try to run wherever I go.

Lyon, France

This is the obvious running destination for me, even though I’m not sure it counts as travelling because it’s my hometown. I’m currently there and it always brings back old memories, this week I’ve been running with Lanky Frog and with my sister and it made me happy to realise that for the first time in my life, I’m at least as fit as they are. I also came here for my first 10K race last September (note to myself: I have to write about that one) and I set my first PB ever. I love running in this city because the river banks are really adapted for running, they are car-free, plenty of trees and go from one park to another.

French Bloke at Run In Lyon 2015

French Bloke at Run In Lyon 2015

Auckland, New Zealand

Yes, I know I’m bragging, but this post is all about bragging isn’t it? This one was back when I still hated running, but at least I had my sister (who was living there at the time) to keep me company. It was a tough run: I had old shoes, weighted 15 kilos more than today and hadn’t ran for a long time. I couldn’t even push myself to finish the run because the end was up a steep hill. Now I would love to do it again (more because I’d love to go back to New Zealand than because I’d like to compare my new running self to my old fat self). Anyhow, this was a sporty holiday with lots of hiking, rafting and swimming.

At the top of the Ngauruhoe (aka Mount Doom)

At the top of the Ngauruhoe (aka Mount Doom)

A Guarda, Spain

Whilst visiting Wonder Woman and Superman in their home town, I had an impromptu barefoot run which became a defining one. I want to write a specific post about it so I won’t spoil it here.

Bucharest, Romania

I actually ran in several places in Romania, during a tour of Draculito‘s native Transylvania and although it was unplanned, I even raced there! Running in the cool forests near Bran Castle or in the picturesque Sighisoara was definitely nicer than running in the steaming hot streets of Bucharest – although it was a great way to discover the city.

Race in Cluj-Napoca

“Crosul Companiilor” race in Cluj-Napoca

Llan-Maes, Wales

This run in the quiet Welsh countryside was definitely the highlight of the week-end I spent near Cardiff and saw France being beaten hard by Ireland during the Rugby World Cup.

Annecy, France

While visiting Wonder Woman and Superman in Chamonix, Brainy Owl and I stayed for a while in this lovely alpine town, did some hiking but I didn’t forget to stick to my holy training plan and we did an lovely easy run together, in the freezing mountain cold.

Rome, Italy

OK, I’m mad too, I have to admit that sometimes I travel just to run. But I have a good excuse: I was also visiting the Quiet Roman to whom I had promised to run the Roma-Ostia half-marathon if he came to Lyon for our first 10K, which he did. And I wrote a report about it.

French Bloke and Quiet Roman

French Bloke and Quiet Roman in Rome

Cologne, Germany

This one was a bit unexpected. I was lucky enough to travel to Germany for work and I decided to stay in Cologne for the weekend. I ran a cool 23 km, just for fun and to visit the city’s amazing green belt, the Rhine’s banks, as well as the major sights – including the famous Kölner Dom.

Bordeaux, France

Not only Bordeaux has some of the best wines in the world, it’s also where Jack of all trades lives. These are 2 great reasons to travel there, but these are not reasons to stop following the holy training plan. So we had a beautiful run along the Gironde together and a good stretching session afterwards.

Missed opportunities

I also went to Poland for new year’s eve with Lanky Pole, but with a chilly -18°C, guess where the holy training plan could shove its intervals sessions. Even Lanky Pole didn’t run for 4 days (yeah, I know that sounds unbelievable).

And because it was a tough hike, I didn’t run in Morocco where I climbed the Djbel Toubkal, highest peak if the Atlas. But Lanky Pole ran anyway. I already wrote an account of this trip on this blog.

Future opportunities

The Pencil Witch is getting married with Grumpy Grampy, so we’re going to Scotland soon to wed this lovely couple, so that should be an opportunity for running while travelling although I doubt I’ll be in a condition to run the day after the wedding party. Maybe they’ll invite us to a second wedding in Brazil! That would be a great opportunity for new running horizons…

Test: Merrell Road Glove 3

For the first time, I’m writing a review for the pair of shoes I’m currently running with, but for the first time, I’m also reviewing a pair of shoes that aren’t available any more (Merrell actually discontinued the whole “Road Glove” range). That’s useful, innit? And for a change, they were recommended by my favourite shoe god: the Quiet Roman, so you already know the outcome of the test.

OK, after this promise of a boring review. Let’s go to the nitty gritty.

ZZZZZzzzzzzzzzzz

What? You want a real article? You’re kidding me!

OK, here’s a nice pic:

Merrell Road Glove 3

Merrell Road Glove 3 – Courtesy of Merrell

And here’s what I think of it in a few bullet points:

  • It’s a very good, incredibly light and comfortable shoe
  • It’s even more minimalist than the Merrell Bare Access 4 (no shit Sherlock, it’s all in the name) and gives even better sensations, but unfortunately it’s not red
  • It isn’t as resistant as the aforementioned Bare Access and already shows serious traces of wear and tear after 500k (I think seeing my socksthrough some holes on the side counts as wear and tear) but it hasn’t cracked after 200k like my Altra
  • It gave me a PB on a half marathon

As a conclusion, I definitely recommend that you should buy that shoe. Ha, ha, what a pathetic joke. What did you expect? A real review? By now, you should know that it’s not my game bruv’.

Roma Ostia – Half marathon Italian style

Ah! Rome in March! It’s the perfect season really. Sunny but not scalding hot, food as good as ever, acceptable amounts of tourists in the streets, and the half-marathon with the most participants in Italy.

I had promised the Quiet Roman that I would come and run the Roma-Ostia half marathon if he came to Run in Lyon, which he did, so I had to keep my end of the bargain. I have to admit that I wasn’t very reluctant. In fact, I was so keen that I started a half marathon training plan back in November specifically for this event. That didn’t prevent me from not obtaining the required health certificate in time for the race, silly procrastinating me (procrastinators are the leaders of tomorrow, so beware). Luckily, my Quiet Roman is a very good friend and he managed to get me the appointments with the right people at the last minute.

Italy is a funny country. Quiet Roman called the laboratory to ask them when we could have the results for a urine test if we came on Saturday morning.  They told him: “The results won’t be ready before Monday my good sir”, to which he replied “Oh, that won’t do”, which was enough to remind them that after all, they could have the results in 2 hours, without even a rush fee. So we went to the lab, gave them the sample and went off for an easy run in the most beautiful urban setting you can imagine: jogging past the ruins of the ancient Roman Forum, trotting along the Circus Maximus and finishing at the Colosseum.

French Bloke and Quiet Roman

French Bloke and Quiet Roman at the Colosseum

Italy is a funny country. While we were having breakfast, a guy was shouting a very repetitive tune down in the street. Apparently this guy follows a very old tradition of offering services like knife sharpening or oven repairing. That’s only the official version though, my Quiet Roman tells me that since no one needs these services anymore, this guy is more probably selling drugs and this tune is a hidden way of calling his customers. After breakfast, we picked up my results and went to Ostia to get my health certificate.

Italy is a funny country. The doctor I met at the health centre was a very laid back 50 year old, apparently cracking jokes in a thick Roman accent, making me regret having such a poor understanding of Italian. All I understood was that my resting heart rate of 49 convinced him that I was molto atletico, which was enough to get him to sign the bloody paper.

Heaven is where the police are British, the chefs Italian, the mechanics are German, the lovers are French and it’s all organised by the Swiss.
Hell is where the police are German, the chefs are British, the mechanics are French, the lovers are Swiss and it’s all organised by the Italians.

Italy is a funny country. Some seafood and pasta later (yes, these are official time units there), we went picking up our bibs and we realised that the bloody stereotype was true. We were in heaven for lunch, but we now were in hell. On paper, everything was organised perfectly: there were several desks where you could show a proof of identity, give your health certificate in exchange of your bib and a colour coded bag. You would use the bag to store the stuff you wanted at the finish line and they would transport it for you. In reality, there were no indications and no orderly queue, you had to fight to reach a desk where the volunteer would tell you that you were at the wrong desk and you needed a stamp on a form before you could get your bib and bag, but if you’re foreign you have to go to a different desk. It felt like being in the “The place that sends you mad” in The twelve tasks of Asterix. We finally managed to get our bib, our bag and a fairly good Adidas running shirt. It was already the end of the day so we went carb-loading on Cacio e Pepe (pasta with Pecorino cheese and black pepper, it’s to die for) in a local trattoria, before going to bed.

Cacio e Pepe

Cacio e Pepe

Italy is a funny country. We arrived early morning at the starting line to drop off our bags in the lorries. Everything was looking suspiciously well organised. All the lorries were in line, with 2 volunteers in each lorry to put the bags inside. The number of your lorry was written on your bib and on the label on your bag. Mine was #6 and the Quiet Roman’s was #22, which was odd because we could only see lorries numbered from 1 to 21. WTF. The volunteers in lorry #21 informed us that there was no lorry #22 and we just had to put the bag in any lorry and remember the number. That’s absolutely normal…

The Quiet Roman and I emptied our bladders, went for a short warm up: a ten minute jog, side steps, high heels, skipping, and off to the starting line. There were several waves, but because we had never run a half marathon before, we had to start in the last wave. The Quiet Roman went for another piss just when our wave started moving toward the starting line so we lost each other. Just before the gun shot, we finally saw each other above a sea of people and raised our fists to encourage each other.

On the Roma-Ostia starting line

On the Roma-Ostia starting line

Pow! I think there was an actual gunshot because I can see the smoke. The beginning is easy and goes down for a while. The only annoying thing is that there are so many people that I get stalled all the time by a wall of runners, which is difficult to overtake. I basically spend my time shouting “scusi, scusi !” to other runners and I can’t find a pacemaker for the whole race. After 5 or 6 kilometres, I eat my energy gel. After 10 uneventful kilometres, I feel like I have just been warming up, even though there’s been quite a bit of climbing. There’s even more climbing between km 10 and 12, but I continue shouting “scusi, scusi !” to those who want to hear how bad is my Italian. I still feel good and I feel quite optimistic because I know that the rest of the race is going downhill and ends flat. I have a sip of water at each of the three stations and I feel pretty good until the 17th kilometre. Then it hits me. Why is it so freaking hard all of a sudden? I can’t even keep my pace and I stop saying “scusi, scusi !” to my brothers and sisters in pain. In hindsight,  I should have planned for a second energy gel and it may have avoided me this wall. I carry on nonetheless, despite the painful legs. And why are my toes banging inside my shoes? They were so snugly confortable at the beginning of the race! When I finally see the 21st marker, my courage takes over my legs and they accelerate despite their complaints. I finally cross the line after 1 hour, 37 minutes and 57 seconds of joy and pain.

The end of the race is pretty well organised: we are immediately given a wind-stopper and a bag of food with some sort of Italian sponge cake, some compote, an apple, water, energy drink, and curiously: half a litre of milk… A few metres further, we receive our medal, then hot tea or ice cream (I took both). There’s also a tent for free massages where I decide to queue while waiting for my Quiet Roman. He was a bit slower than me because he couldn’t train as much (bad knee injury) but he quickly found me in the queue, stretching for a full 10 minutes. I’m happy I stretched so much, because the day after, I felt very little leg pain. On the flip side, I think I’ll lose a couple of toenails in the coming weeks… I can’t even follow my own piece of advice. Pathetic. Anyway, it was well worth it. I loved this race, the pine trees on the side of the road, the sunny weather, and the fact that the race had an actual destination rather than being a loop.

French Bloke and Quiet Roman after 21.1 km

French Bloke and Quiet Roman in Ostia after 21.1 km

Needless to say, after a good shower, we went eating the best pizza in the world while bragging over our performances, not knowing that an hour before us, Solomon Kirwa Yego had crossed the line after 58 minutes and 44 seconds, just 30 seconds shy of the world record, and setting the 4th all time best for a half marathon!

Inspiring runners: Paula Radcliffe

The way I see it, Paula Radcliffe is to British running what Jeannie Longo is to French cycling (the Brits will see it the other way around): a living legend who’s been there forever, who’s won everything and who won’t age, to the greatest despair of the younger generation of athletes who could not hold the candle to her. She’s not just part of the landscape, she is the landscape for long distance runners.

Just imagine. Her 2003 marathon World Record in London is north of 3 minutes better than the second best time for a women’s marathon, and it has been holding since then! As a comparison, the ten best times for men’s marathons all fit within a 90 seconds range. Oh, and just for fun, the same year she set this historic record, she also set the World Record for women’s 10K on road in Puerto Rico, this record still holds 13 years later. Yep, that one too. Cherry on the cake, in 2003 (same year again!) in Newcastle, she also set the World Record for a Half Marathon. It hasn’t been ratified by the IAAF (the world’s athletics ruling body) because the Great North Run goes slightly downhill. The record held for 11 years anyway.

Paula Radcliffe, Berlin 2011 - Photo by Ramon Smits

Paula Radcliffe, Berlin 2011 – Photo by Ramon Smits

But it didn’t start that well for her. When she took up running at 7, she was anaemic and asthmatic (and she still is because asthma doesn’t just go away). Way to go! It didn’t prevent her to join the elite before her twenties despite multiple asthma crises and other injuries, running distances between 1500m and half marathon. She then went on winning so many medals nationally and internationally that I gave up on counting them in the Wikipedia article. But it wasn’t enough so she decided to give a go to marathon running in 2002. On her first competition on that distance, she immediately set a record for a women’s only race. Later the same year, Paula set a new World Record for the distance. Easy Peasy. And of course, there’s 2003, the year she set her 3 World Records, 2 of which still hold. Alongside all that, she also went 4 times to the Olympic Games (1994 to 2008) and when she ended her career in 2015, her times were still good enough to qualify for the 2016 Olympics in Rio!

What did you expect? Of course she became a legend! So much that when she runs, her bib doesn’t have a number printed on it but her first name. When she ran her last marathon in London last year, the crowd chanted “Paula! Paula!” for 42.195 km. And because I’m a dick, I’ll end with my favourite moment of her career, when Denise Lewis tried to interview her on the same day, but Paula’s marathon pace was faster than the journalist’s sprint pace (despite her being an elite heptathlete in the past), which left the journalist breathless after the shortest interview of her life. A moment to watch and watch again on the BBC.

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