French Bloke Runs

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Tag: Energy gel

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!

London 10,000

Here’s the beauty of the Metric System: 10K is also 10,000 metres. Although usually a 10,000m race refers to a track event and a 10K race refers to road running, so the organisers of the London 10,000 screwed up a little bit here. Anyway, once again it was Lanky Pole who recommended that I sign up for this race and I wasn’t hard to convince: this race passes through central London and features the city’s most iconic landmarks such as Buckingham Palace, Trafalgar Square, St Paul’s Cathedral, the Houses of Parliament, etc…

Lanky Pole told me to be there early and I met him at Embankment station where he was already with a bunch of friends from the Serpentine Running Club. He’s trying to convince me to join and I resist, but I may give in eventually. All of these guys run really well and really fast, almost all of them had targets way under 40 minutes (34 minutes for one of them!) and I humbly wanted to renew my current PB of 42:39 and was secretly hoping for a time sub-42. To be honest, I wasn’t really optimistic because I had the feeling that my running hadn’t improved in the past couple of months and I had put on a kilo or two during my holiday in France and that doesn’t help running fast.

We walked together to the starting line, had a nice chat (about running of course) and lost each other at the bag drop – as you can imagine, the bag drop for 10,000 runners is an easy place to lose someone. So I went on warming up alone. Same as usual: 10 minutes easy jog, dynamic stretching, some sprinting and other exercises. At the starting line, I saw Lanky Pole again, who was late and was heading towards the front, we high-fived and wished each other good luck. I sucked on an energy gel and the race started.

As usual, I was a bit ambitious and aimed for a pace of 4:10 minutes per km that would give me a final time under 42 minutes and would ensure me a new PB. I knew it wouldn’t be easy because the course wasn’t flat and because I had ran a mile race the day before. The first kilometre was a mess, like all races with a huge number of runners. Some people just don’t belong in the first pen and I was hindered by a few many runners. The organisers should really think of having smaller waves at the start. Anyway, I passed the first kilometre mark after 4 minutes and 20 seconds and I wasn’t really happy with that. I forced myself to repeat a positive mantra in my head (something like “I will win”) to overcome my negativity of the day and when I finally managed to overtake a bunch of slow runners I pushed a little bit and achieved running at my desired pace.

At that point, I was quite happy because I saw the London I know from a totally new perspective. Running in the middle of the street on the Strand or on Holborn near my working place isn’t something I usually get to do! Around Bank, I saw a bunch of guys walking on the race course with a banner saying “10K in 1 day”, they were with a dude walking very slowly behind his wheelchair, probably to raise awareness for his disability. I didn’t have the time to see what kind of disability he had but I felt admiration for him. All this helped my morale going up again and I kept my target pace.

But at the 5K mark, my legs decided to remind me the 1 mile race I ran the day before and told me: “Hey you plonker, if you really think we’re going to carry on like that for another 5 kilometres after the way you treated us yesterday, you can sod off!”. After 4 minutes and 23 seconds of exchanging insults with my legs and my slowest kilometre of the race, I finally won the argument (I’m resourceful when it comes to insults contests) and regained a reasonable pace, although below my target.

An old lady – well, not that old but old enough to be my mother – overtook me and I decided she would be my pacer from now on. And it worked! We ran mostly side by side for the next 4 kilometres then I decided to leave her behind for the finish. I ran the last 1000m in 4:03 minutes and managed a final sprint with my signature finish scream RHAAAAAAAAA! Yes it was at least nine A’s and it gave me a new Personal Best of 42 minutes and 22 seconds. At first I was a bit disappointed because of all the negativity I had that day but after a while I realised it’s a PB anyway and that’s pretty awesome!

Lanky Pole & French Bloke at the London 10,000

Lanky Pole & French Bloke at the London 10,000

After a long queue to get my backpack back (that’s a mouthful!) I found Lanky Pole, we stretched together and we took a victory picture. We found his Serpentine friends and we headed to the pub where we filled our stomachs with good food and good ale while talking about running (surprisingly), and that was one step forward to my joining the club.

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!

The top 5 unglamorous things about running and how to cope with them

In this blog, I always talk about running like this perfect sport with daily unicorn encounters and rainbows and pots of gold. It’s true that running is a great feeling and has great benefits, but I had a conversation with Mad Cook the other day, and it made me realise that I sometimes hide to myself some pretty ugly things about running. We made a list, and be prepared: it’s getting uglier and uglier!
Disclaimer: some links are not for the faint-hearted, and some of them are even NSFW, so be prepared. But the video is perfectly fine, it’s actually a must-see!

Unglamorous runners

Unglamorous runners – Photo by Shiny Things

1. Sore legs

Problem: Well, this is the most obvious, running long distances can make the next day a bit hard to handle and walking can become a big challenge.

Solution: Warm-up before a race or a hard run and stretch (a lot) after the run. After a hard run, massage your legs with a muscle pain relief cream or gel. Also, train more and be patient! If you run a marathon but you’ve only ran 10 km per week for 4 weeks, you’re setting yourself up for a very hard week after the marathon, if you ever finish it. Think for the long term, begin with less ambitious races (5K & 10K are great distances to start with) and find yourself a good training plan for these distances. They’re all over the Web. Then slowly build up your weekly mileage and find training plans for the longer races.

↓ ↓ ↓ ↓ Watch this video, it’s super funny ↓ ↓ ↓ ↓

↑ ↑ ↑ ↑ Watch this video, it’s super funny ↑ ↑ ↑ ↑

 2. Nipple chafing

Problem: Running long distances can lead to a lot of chafing, and it can get pretty ugly and bloody in places where the skin is fragile like between the thighs or around the nipples. Don’t search Google Images for that: it hurts.

Solution: To avoid chafing between the thighs and blisters on the feet, I recommend a good anti-chafing cream, the best one is probably Akileïne Sports NOK.
To avoid nipple chafing: don’t run with cotton t-shirts! Run with good running tops: the Tribesports running gear is my favourite. If you know you’re running for a long distance, you may as well go directly for nipple guards. No it’s not a joke! If you need convincing, search for it on Google Images (Ouch!), but don’t tell me I didn’t warn you!

Nipple Convalescent Home

Nipple Convalescent Home – Photo by Gerry Dincher

3. Toenails falling off

Problem: Yes, this too is a real thing! It even has a scientific name: it’s called onychoptosis and it happened to me. It can be caused by repeated toe-banging inside the shoe. Don’t worry, the nail eventually grows back. Click here for the gross picture (not my foot).

Solution: You can go for the extreme solution like Marshall Ulrich in Born to run who had all his toenails surgically removed (apparently it’s a common thing with ultra runners). You can also run barefoot. Otherwise, you should buy well-fitted shoes that give your toes plenty of room. Make sure to try them and check that your toes are not banging inside the shoe at each stride. Shoes that have a wide toe box (like the Altra One 2) come highly recommended. Oh, and trim your toenails!

Barefoot runner

A barefoot runner, happy because he’s got all his toenails – Photo by Chris Hunkeler

4. Troubled digestion

Problem: Puking happens. Yes it does. Because your body simply cannot produce the effort required for running and digesting at the same time, you see many runner’s stomachs giving back generously what they’ve been fed for breakfast or at the food/drink stations during the race. No pictures here. No, don’t ask, I said no. OK, there you go.

Solution: Have a light breakfast before the race: don’t drink milk because it is very hard to digest, you can replace it by oat milk or any kind of vegan milk you like best (except soy milk, soy milk is disgusting). Yes, you should carb-load before the race, but give it at least several hours for digesting properly: some runners get up in the middle of the night before the race to eat a big plate of spaghetti and then go back to bed. During the race, you can also have some energy gels. They’re less hard to swallow and to digest than anything you usually find at the food stations such as bananas or energy bars. It doesn’t mean they’re super easy to ingest either: if your stomach still can’t manage them, just try and swallow little by little, over the course of several minutes.

Spaghetti

Carb loading on spaghetti is good – photo by Luca Nebuloni

5. Uncontrolled bodily fluids

Problem: Runners pissing and shitting themselves are not a rare sight in long distances races and especially during marathons and ultra-marathons. For some disgusting pictures, just follow the link, you’re welcome!
Less extreme than that, it is very frequent for average runners like you and me to have to stop during races (even short races like 10K) to piss while everyone around is looking, which can be even more embarrassing for women.

Solution: Part of your pre-race routine should always include a stop at the loo to empty stomach and bladder, even if you feel you don’t need to. Also, it’s important to hydrate yourself, but try not to drink too much before a race either, and sip slowly during the race. If despite this, you still need to pee during the race, I recommend all the women reading this blog to buy a Shewee, that should avoid you the embarrassment of having to show your pretty buttocks to the general public.

Loo in the meadow

I hope you’re properly disgusted by now and you’re welcome for that. If you’re not, just go visit 4chan or something, you sicko!

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!

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