French Bloke Runs

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Tag: Brainy Owl

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…

My first race: A nonsensical moment in Cluj Napoca

I have to bring you back to September of 2015. I had only been running for 2 or 3 months but I was really keen, probably because I was improving quickly, not unrelated to the fact that I had lost a lot of weight that summer. Rest assured, this did not prevent me in any way, shape or form, from drinking heavily. Quite the contrary.

I spent that week of September in Romania with my Brainy Owl, Lanky Pole and a bunch of friends, all invited by Draculito and Yoga Girl.  This is a very welcoming country where the price of a barrel of beer is cheaper than a pint of ale in London, and where the food is mainly based on pig fat, polenta and cream (didn’t I say it is VERY welcoming?). Our first night there was a Saturday. Obviously, we spent it pub-crawling in Cluj Napoca.

At some point, late in the night, our senses and our thinking were already deeply affected by the quantities of beer we had ingested, Draculito told us something along the lines of “Oh guys, I know you like running and there’s a race here tomorrow, I’m sure you can enrol in the morning, the website says it’s only about 6K”. Of course, we all answered “Hell yeah, let’s do it!” and went on with our nightly activities (mainly drinking and talking shit).

The next morning, Brainy Owl, Lanky Pole and myself were on the starting line. Hungover. I didn’t feel like warming up, but Lanky Pole pushed me to it and as soon as I began running, the hungover was disappearing. The atmosphere started to warm up too, mainly because of everyone mimicking the warm-up movements of the the guy and his bimbos on the stage, with some very loud Eastern European techno-dance. Then everyone moved towards the starting line and I started to be excited.

Go! I started running, aiming for a 6K pace and I handled it quite alright. It seemed obvious that most of the runners here had never ran a minute before that day and it felt good to overtake everyone, although some people were clearly training and impossible for me to overtake, or even keep in sight. End of first lap, my watch says I ran a bit more than 2K. OK, so there must be 2 more laps, let’s not kill myself just now, I’ll run faster for the 3rd lap. So I keep my energy for later (but I still sweat a lot). Arrives the finish line for the second time, but it is clear that there won’t be a 3rd lap, so I sprint as fast as I can, overtake a couple of couch potatoes and cross the finish line.

A young lady with very little clothes on puts a medal around my neck, I’m sure Brainy Owl will scold me for this, but I’m happy. I don’t give a toss about the young tart: I feel exhilarated by the race. I finished! Sure, I could have done a better time if I only had known there were only 2 laps but I feel fantastic! The atmosphere is electric, I ran, I did it!

Cluj-Napoca Crosul Companiilor 2015

Few minutes later, Lanky Pole crossed the finish line too. He ran so fast that when he finished the 2nd lap, the bimbos weren’t here to tell him it was all over, so he ran a third lap! Still, he almost stole the race and finished in the top 5 (out of a good thousand runners). Brainy Owl was quite happy too, and she ran a half-marathon the following week. Yeah, that’s who she is.

The next day, Yoga Girl organised a yoga session to relax us all. God, it was good to stretch! I’d recommend it to anyone after a race, especially after a silly race like this one.

Test: Garmin Forerunner 225

For this test, I was tempted to reiterate my feat of comparing the Altra One 2 with the iPhone, and to stack up the performances of the Garmin Forerunner 225 against those of an artichoke or those of chair. But gadgets are serious stuff, so I’ll try to be serious here.

The choice

I didn’t like running with my phone, be it in my pocket, in an armband, or attached to my waist, it’s just cumbersome. And I don’t use my phone for listening to music while running either because running is entertaining enough by itself except on a firkin’ treadmill (and if I were listening to music while running, I’d probably use something like the Sony NWZ-W273S, which comes highly recommended by Brainy Owl). So buying a running watch was my best option.

I wanted something:

  • Light and convenient
  • Thought and made for running
  • Possibly with GPS tracking
  • Possibly with a heart-rate monitor but not attached to my chest

I had to exclude two very good watches: the Garmin Forerunner 620 (best features on the market then) and the Polar M400 (very good and very cheap), which both required a separate chest monitor. I also excluded activity trackers like the Fitbit Surge and the Withings Activité, even though the latter is a beautiful product, both of them lack a GPS and running-specific features.

My list came down to the TomTom Multi Sport and the Garmin Forerunner 225. Eventually I chose the Garmin, thanks to DC Rainmaker’s very comprehensive test. Even though the TomTom caters for running, cycling and swimming while the Garmin is only for running, the Garmin can also do some all-day activity tracking and seemed more reliable (better heart rate sensor, faster GPS).

Garmin Forerunner 225

Using the watch every day

I don’t regret my choice at all. I use this watch every time I go out running, although I don’t use the activity tracking and sleep tracking features (I like wearing my good old mechanical watch). You can connect it to your phone, but it also works completely independently, allowing me to rid of my phone when I run.

One of the great things of having this watch is that it helps me find my pace during races. It has been very beneficial so far since I have beaten my PB every time I’ve ran a 10K!

But it also really helps my daily running. Something I found extremely useful was the possibility to upload free training plans directly to the watch. The process isn’t very natural and the UX could be improved, but it’s OK once you understand that everything is done through the website (just don’t forget to “push” whenever you update your calendar, or at least every 45 workouts otherwise your calendar will be empty) and the app is just here for synchronising.

I chose a heart-rate based training plan, which is what you should really do, but the beginning was a catastrophe because I hadn’t configured my heart rate zone properly. My piece of advice is to set it to %HRR (percentage of heart rate reserve) rather than %HR Max (percentage of maximum heart rate), but you have to spend a bit of time figuring your max heart rate (usually 220 – age) and your resting heart rate (lie still for 20 minutes, then measure). This is really important and I lost 4 weeks of training for being too lazy to try and understand this.

Note: your Max HR doesn’t change that much over time (it slightly decreases over the years) but your rest heart rate will decrease if you train a lot, so keep these numbers updated.

Once your training is on the watch, you just have to follow what it says: “run for 10 minute at this pace/HR”, “rest for 2 minutes”. That’s really convenient for intervals for example, it will beep & vibrate if you run too fast or too slow and it will tell you when to start/finish your intervals.

Another feature I really like is the tracking of the cadence. This can really improve you running technique (aim for 180 to 200 strides per minutes). I wish it could measure oscillation and impact time, but you’d need the Garmin Forerunner 630, and that’s a hefty price to pay, knowing that you need to buy the chest HR sensor as well.

The downside is that the HR sensor can fail sometimes, you just have to re-adjust your strap (not easy to do while running) and the GPS is sometimes jumpy, so the instant pace isn’t always reliable, but it’s the case for all running watches.

Garmin app

Garmin app


I definitely recommend that you buy this watch. Alternatively, you can go for the new Garmin Forerunner 235, which is basically its replacement with cool new stuff (larger display, VO2 max estimation, race predictor, cycling-specific features, etc) but more expensive.

I also recommend that you take the time to run without a Garmin. Well, not literally, because you’re a data freak like me and you want to keep all this good data in Strava or Runkeeper, but sometime, try to run without glancing at your watch or even without thinking about it. Now, every time I go for an easy run or a long run, I don’t use the training plan feature, just the basic tracking, and I run following my feelings: I just want to run at an enjoyable pace without having to care whether it’s too slow or too fast. In short: to be free!

The tale of my Olympic Park 10k

Once upon a time, in a far far away land at the fabled end of the Jubilee Line, in a remote place called Stratford, there was a strange tower called the Orbit. At this tower, there was a race. Not just any race Dorothy! A race between legendary creatures, a race where I met Pinocchia, Bluebeard, as well as Tweedledum and Tweedledee. I’m pretty sure Goldilocks and Shrek were here too, but I couldn’t see them in the crowd. This race was the Olympic Park 10k, organised by the RunThrough fairy.

The Orbit and the Olympic Stadium - Photo by Martin Pettitt

The Orbit and the Olympic Stadium – Photo by Martin Pettitt

This Sunday was supposed to be a great reunion with all my running friends at the Olympic Park, but they deserted me one by one. Brainy Owl had had a bike accident (it turns out that car bumpers are tougher than human knees), Lanky Pole wanted to come but his coach had decided that a 10k race wasn’t in his training plan that week, Grumpy Grampy had bought his bib but “forgot” to train before the race so he had to throw in the towel, even Mad Cook who had made the trip all the way from France couldn’t race because of a nasty health issue, to her greatest despair.

So get your hankies ready. On this cold and windy day, I had to go alone: I took the tube alone, I arrived at the race alone, I collected my bib alone, I drank a coffee alone, I warmed up alone (remembering Lanky Pole’s advice and slowly building my warm-up routine) and I went to the starting line alone. Emotional.

A few minutes before the start, I took an energy gel, not because I needed it, but to test them and see the effects it would have on my race. The ultimate goal being to take some during my first half-marathon in 3 weeks time. In all honesty, I didn’t feel the kick I was expecting. I didn’t feel anything at all really, but it may have had an effect on my race, as you’ll see.

Countdown to 0, I start running. Too fast but I don’t care, my strategy for this race is to ‘under-perform’ for the first lap, but at the pace of my previous PB, and then to ‘over-perform’ even faster for the second lap. It didn’t work as I expected: I ran really fast for the first lap, but I couldn’t run faster for the second lap, so I kept the same pace.

My first pacemaker was Pinocchia, a lady running like she had wooden limbs. I thought to myself: ‘with such a stiff running style, she can’t possibly go fast, I’ll overtake her quickly’. WRONG! She was doing much better than me and my self-righteous poorly executed mid-foot strike: she was already far ahead of me after the first kilometre. I soon found another pacemaker, a bearded dude in a blue shirt. Bluebeard is a heel-striker, I can hear his slow and heavy pounding from a distance, but his pace is incredibly close to mine. When the course goes downhill he’s a tad faster than me, but every time it goes uphill again I overtake him. For the next nine kilometres, it’s a real race between the two of us. Does Bluebeard pace me, or do I pace him? I don’t know, but the competition really pushed me.

Just a kilometre before the end, we overtake Tweedledum and Tweedledee (two funny ladies with orange wigs) who struggle to finish their 5k. I wish I could give them some sort of encouragement but I have my own battle to fight, so I’m sparing my breath to overtake Bluebeard. Eventually, I managed to sprint and overtake him just before the finish line! I let out a manly scream of relief, making the audience laugh in the process, and I crossed the line after 42 minutes and 39 seconds! OK, that was actually 3 seconds slower than Bluebeard’s chip time, but I beat my previous PB by more than 2 whole minutes! I think that deserved a manly scream followed by a manly hug to the guy.

In the end, between my energy gel and Bluebeard, I don’t know who I should thank more for this performance. But I’ll bet that the competition was the greatest motivator. So thank you Bluebeard for making me less lonely, and thank you for helping me set a new PB!

Bushy Park 10K

Sunday 7am, the alarm rings. YIKES!!! What on earth went through my mind when I signed up for this race at the other end of London at 10am on a January Sunday?

Nah, just kidding. Actually I don’t mind getting up early. Without the alarm I would probably have gotten up before 8 anyway. Yes I’m a lark, and I’m happy about it: it leaves me plenty of time to do lots of things. Successful people get up early. Take that, owls!

Back to my story. Sunday 7am, alarm rings, eyes open, body leaves the bed quietly to avoid waking up the other occupant (who’s an owl) and dresses up quietly, mouth gives a light breakfast to stomach, hands prepare a thermos bottle full of hot tea because skin tells it’s freaking cold outside, brain manages the commute alright with a little help from smartphone, reader is tired of terse sentences so author switches back to legible style.

I arrived very early at Hampton Court because I was afraid I wouldn’t find the race start. In the end it was really easy to find but I didn’t regret arriving early because it gave me enough time to go 4 times to the bog to empty my bladder from all that hot tea. It also gave me time to warm-up a little, even though I don’t have a set routine yet. Apart from a little jogging and that silly dance we invented with a Polish bloke, one of these nights we ended up as drunk as lords (the French expression is “as drunk as a Pole”, it may be derogatory but it’s appropriate here) raising our knees very high up one after another on the beat of the music.

The race begins. We’ve been warned that the track is muddy and slippery at places but the first kilometre is good. Too good even and I have to restrain my enthusiasm as I had decided to underperform slightly for the first 5K lap in order to save myself for the second lap. The marker for kilometre 3 shows up and shortly after, the muddy part begins. I struggle to keep my pace but I have to if I want to reach my target. My feet get bogged down at each step and it becomes really hard. I manage to stay at the same pace but my heart pays dearly for it: it rushes up to 206 bpm, that is 16 bpm more than my previously recorded max HR! The deer on the side of the path chew some grass, they clearly don’t give a fuck.

The second lap begins and we return to a more passable terrain. I follow the plan and speed up a little bit. Even though I was running alone most of the first lap, I’m now following a dude in a black tracksuit with red edging. I realise I should accelerate even a bit more. So I overtake black-tracksuit and my new pacemaker is a girl with an orange top. Clearly she’s a better runner than I am and the distance between us grows little by little. Then comes the dreaded marker for kilometre 8. If you follow and if you remember your maths from kindergarten you know it’s the same as kilometre 3 of lap 1. It’s where the muddy part starts.

My shoes stick to the mud, my heart goes crazy again, the deer still don’t give a single fuck (do they ever?) and black-tracksuit overtakes me. That’s a bit of a downer innit? Soon the finish line is in sight, I hear another guy catching up with me, the volunteer in the last curve shouts something like “Sprint now, don’t let him catch you up!”. So I do. I don’t know where I find the energy but I do.

I cross the finish line, check my watch, 44:47, I did it! I ran a 10K under 45 minutes and almost 2 minutes better than my previous PB! I love you volunteer! I could kiss you! But you’re a dude and anyway the one I really want to kiss now is probably rubbing her eyes in our bed at this very moment.

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