Wednesday, 26 November 2014

Get the popcorn out for Karnazes

I don't know how well you all remember those hazy days of 2001? For me they were certainly more than a little hazy, for reasons I am disappointed to remember every day..... to a degree, but then I remember my modern day sobriety and think at least I've turned things around in that way. However, this is not about me, but about a gang of young men from Saaaaarf Lanhdan who went by the name, collectively, of So Solid Crew. There was a song of theirs entitled 21 Seconds that seemed to be everywhere for a while in 2001. Why 21 seconds? Well apparently that was the time in the song that every different MC had to 'spit his lyrics.' For those not well versed in rap slang, spitting your lyrics is merely a term that reflects the intensity of their delivery rather than literal salivation on the microphone....although I expect some of that also happens accidentally.

Anyway, the So Solid Crew attracted a little bit of controversy, and they had a single a little later on entitled 'Haters.' I don't remember it quite so well, but the general tone of the track was that plenty of people had been hating on the Crew, when all they did was "Bring garage through from the underground straight to you." So perhaps this refers to the fact that as soon as So Solid Crew became popular all of a sudden it wasn't cool to like them, and they must have 'sold out' on purpose to make lots of money, which isn't allowed if you're an MC clearly. Everyone has to make a living in this world somehow or another, and there are far more damaging ways than as a rapper. In fact a lot of the guys in So Solid Crew had previously allegedly been part of gangs, and the music offered them a way out, although sadly a few of the members went to jail for offences that took place after they had become successful. Anyway, the point is that people were giving So Solid Crew flak just for succeeding at what they did and not being ashamed of it.

This brings us onto Dean Karnazes. Now, I wouldn't be comparing Dean with a member of So Solid Crew culturally for a second, but with reference to the haters. Yes, Karnazes really does cop a lot of flak. To someone observing from the outside it may appear that Karnazes is doing nothing but running a long way and inspiring others to do the same, but many people are SLAPPING him down....they're SLAPPING him down!!! (imagine someone slapping the thighs on their trousers with the palms of their hands for added effect each time I say 'slapping')

So what are the objections to Dean? Is it to do with bringing ultras through from the underground straight to you? Well, it was via the book 'Ultramarathon Man', which he wrote about his experiences of stumbling into the ultra running scene almost by accident after giving up running during his early adulthood but then being drunk in a bar on his 30th birthday and thinking there must be more to life, so going out to run 30 miles that night, then when he recovered building up more sensibly and before too long running the Western States 100 miler in a very respectable time, then all that had happened up until the point he finished the book, including a very entertaining and frank account of how he DNF'd at Badwater the first time he attempted it (he has now finished I think 10 times, including a victory in 2004.) I remember watching a talk that Talk Ulta host Ian Corless did in which he explained that it was reading 'Ultramarathon Man' that first made him aware of ultra running properly and inspired him to check it out. I could say the same of 'Born to Run', and it seems that many who have started running ultras in recent years were first inspired by one of these books. Not all, possibly not even most, but definitely many. Now, a lot of people have taken issue with 'Ultramarathon Man' because they feel Dean pretends to be a better runner than he is, and invents reasons that he won races, such as being the only guy to run a marathon at the south pole in running shoes rather than snow boots (or something like that) and others that I can't even remember. People also sometimes take issue with the way he seems to brag, and admittedly things like (not direct quote) "At the finish line of Western States everyone was just lying around looking ruined, but not me. I drove home and went windsurfing" can seem a bit "Oh YEAHHHH, I'm the MAN!!!" but he also admits a number of times that he's not the fastest ultra runner, and when he won Badwater he didn't pretend for a minute that it was always on the cards, and said he "Survived fastest" rather than "Blew everyone away" or anything like that.

A third issue people have with him is that it's apparently all about, I won't get into a way I can relate to taking flak for that, but when all is said and done, Dean does have a family and has bills to pay and all manner of things to fork out for, as do we all, and his books are a way he makes money for these things. As mentioned earlier, we all have to make a living. What's more, along with making money for himself, Karnazes definitely has inspired a lot of people to get into running, or to attempt to run further than they ever thought they could, and inspired people to live healthier lifestyles. What can be wrong with that? During his run across America he visited numerous schools and did a short run with the kids. I don't know about you, but I think if someone like Dean had come into my Primary School I would have thought "Wow, that guy is COOL!! I want to give this running thing a try!" and would have been inspired to grow up to be fit and healthy and not in a haze of booze, fags and narcotics. I'm not saying I definitely would not have fallen into these things anyway, as life can be pretty tough, but in terms of living a healthy lifestyle I'd say Dean is definitely a positive role model, and I'd definitely rather have someone like him visiting schools and telling the children that running is a good idea than a wild rock star visiting schools and telling the children that boozing, promiscuity and drugs are things to aspire to.

I could go on for hours, but overall the point of this is not to tell anyone they're not entitled to their opinion, but merely to highlight the reasons I have no problem with Dean Karnazes, and actually think he's great. Besides, his account of his first Western States in Ultramarathon Man is still one of the best race reports I think I've ever read by anyone ever. If anyone's not read Neil Brie's account of his Viking Way Ultra race you should also cast your eye over it, because I think it sums up the camaraderie of ultras in a way that few other reports I've ever read have.

Anyway, the point is that some run ultras with the minimum of fuss and the minimum of equipment, some run ultras and blog their socks off about it, and list every bit of kit they used in the process. No matter which approach is taken, both of these kinds of people did the same thing; ran a long way. No matter how it's done I find it equally inspiring. That's it.

The 'Why Won't They Just Leave Dean Alone?' picture ; ) ........

My book 'Everything Will Work Out in the Long Run', about how ultra running helped me to put the hazy days of 2001 behind me after I nearly ruined my long term health and sanity, is available via the following link......
There are some reviews and a full synopsis via the link. Here's a couple of short extracts: -
""If she threw that gel 99 more times I’m fairly certain it would bounce off my hand and fly into the face of a passing policeman, but on that day I perhaps subconsciously remembered how my dad used to catch those eggs and barely breaking stride I made a basket with my hands and clasped them round the gel in mid-air. I then sprinted ahead, calling “Hey, mate in the green!” The runner turned round looking a little annoyed but then as I handed the gel to him he looked at me with a mixture of gratitude and disbelief and gave genuine thanks."
""I was a bit of a control freak as the band leader, perhaps to compensate for my lack of control over the football team, it being obvious to everyone that another Dave was a far better player. Having the name Dave means that nearly every time I am out in public I will hear someone call my name but it won’t be my attention they’re trying to get. Most people are called Dave really. Glastonbury festival in the late 90s/early 2000s was a nightmare. “Dave! Dave!! Dave!!!” but it was never for me, and when it was I didn’t bother looking round. I think I lost a few friends at those festivals."

Thursday, 20 November 2014

Endurance not Endure Once - This is what it is

Have mentioned this on my own page, am going to mention it here. Here's the deal.... This is a sort of an e-book but it's basically a pdf file and you can only read it on your computer. Is very short - around 6,800 words, and contains some writings of mine in the vein of 'Everything Will Work Out in the Long Run'; some stuff about plans for Grand Union Canal Race in 2015 and why I didn't do Thames Path 100 in 2014, about whether I think there are cliques within ultra running, first bit is quite political and is about the inequalities I see in life, why they upset me and why it's not too healthy to think that everything is awesome. Also includes an interview with Olympic marathon gold medallist Stephen Kiprotich, which is a preview of an upcoming book I'm close to finishing, and some writings I did in 2002 whilst riddled with insomnia that read like a modern day Marcel Proust.....kind of! Also includes some embarrassing photos! Now, the cost of this is £1.50 - I will e-mail you the file if you think it's worth this amount to read it. If you don't, you don't. The reason I'm selling this is quite frankly because I really need the money and I'm hoping £1.50 won't leave anyone else out of pocket, but if a number of people pay the £1.50 then they get to hopefully have an entertaining read, plus get an interview with someone who knows what it's like to win an Olympic marathon. What's more, I promise to pay back the £1.50 by paypal as soon as I can afford to. This will be on a first come, first served basis. All of this may make me seem like a nutter, but to be honest the horse already bolted long ago on that score, and so if you don't want to lend me £1.50 to read this then don't. If you do then that would help me more than you can possibly imagine. It's your call : ) .....

Tuesday, 11 November 2014

Let's run 148 miles then

Today it's Wednesday 12th November. Yesterday I found out that in 2015 I will be running Grand Union Canal Race; a race that's been on my wish list for quite some time, and means as much to me as running the Oner did in 2013. Of course as happens before every ultra race I enter, delusional thoughts of winning enter my head. For this race I believe the win is pretty much out of the question, as the number of fantastically talented ultra runners lining up at the start will be more than I can remember any time since I've been following the race. My early tip for the win has to be Mark Perkins. As far as I know this will be the furthest distance he's raced so far, and over a race of this distance raw speed will be less of an advantage than it would even during a 100 miler, but you just can't argue with a 14 hour and 13 hour 100 mile finish within the same couple of months of summer 2014. These would mean that even if he was to take it pretty steady he'd get to the 100 mile point some time before the likes of me would, and so will have a huge head start when it comes to commencing those final 48 miles.

A more realistic, although still extremely difficult, target for me would be to aim for sneaking a sub 30 hour finish. I have a feeling there'll be more sub 30 finishes than usual next year. Last year there were three, with another couple of people being close. What would it take to do this?

Well, what it would take would be around 12:09 minute miling upon average for 148 miles, just to sneak under 30 hours. How doable would this actually be? Well, I'm guessing there may even be one or two times during the race when I want to take a break for around twelve minutes and nine seconds to eat something proper; if this was the case that would mean there'd have to be enough miles to cover that, plus all of my other shorter stops, that were run at far enough under 12:09 minute miling to build enough of a cushion to allow for the stops. Chances are also that especially during the second half of the race there will be a number of miles that are slower than 12:09. On flat terrain I would fancy my chances, if fully fit, of being able to grind out plenty of 12:09 minute miles through doing a little bit of a run/walk later on in the first 100 even, and would hope that I'd have been able to complete the first 50 in something around 9 hours without taxing myself all that much. If I was able to do the first 50 in 9 hours and the second 50 in 10 hours 30, say, that would leave another 10 hours and 28 minutes (let's be safe) to do the last 48 miles. That would mean an average of 13:08 minute miling for the last 48.... not necessarily very easy I'd say. Especially as near the end there will quite possibly be a few miles that take a crazily long time, just because of how exhausted I'll be and how much pain I'll be in.

All being well, on the flat I can walk pretty fast normally, and could probably relentlessly post low 14 minute miles just from a steady power hike, so with a bit of running thrown in then 13:08s would be pretty doable, but how possible would this be after 100 miles have already been completed? Would I only be able to jog at 14 minute mile pace? The truth is I just don't know, because I've never gone past 80 miles on foot before at the time of writing. I just have no idea how my legs, or my mind, will cope. Perhaps I'll still be able to move but just won't feel much like it. Perhaps the desire will still be there to keep moving but my legs will just say "Naahhhhh, mate!!!" Maybe I'll have a new lease of life at 122 miles and bust out a 4:30 marathon to get to the finish (would be a pretty amazing feat at that distance.) Maybe the last ten miles will take four hours. I just don't know.

The race itself is an unknown quantity, so how will I train for 148 miles? Until relatively recently my thoughts would just have been to stack my training with plenty of mileage, but the small amount of wisdom I've accrued in the time I've run ultras to date has told me that more important will be to just get into the best level of fitness of my life so far, which will be through quality training rather than volume of mileage. I plan to do some long runs for sure, but I don't plan on being out on my feet all day and night at any point until I line up at Gas Street, Birmingham next year. During late April and early May next year I'll be putting in some big weeks in all probability, just to get me ready for the sheer distance, but most training weeks would consist of somewhere between 40 and 60 miles in all probability, and would include speed sessions; speedwork will make a huge difference to how easy it'll feel in those early miles to be trotting along at 9-10 minute miling. The easier that feels the more likely I'll be able to sustain it for a good number of hours, which is what I'm aiming for. I'm aiming to find a pace at which I could literally run all day, and when I see everyone storming ahead of me early on I'll stick to my pace, and possibly reel some people in as the dusk starts to fall.

I've made the mistake in pretty much all of my previous ultras of starting too fast and then somewhere between miles 20 and 35 having some extremely slow miles due to cramp or similar issues, then feeling a little better later on but having lost too much time in the middle to achieve the kind of time I was aiming for. This will be different; 148 miles is an incredibly long way, and so the one word I will have on my mind will be sustainability. Anyway, enough talk. Time to train.....

This - . It's the story of my life, but is more wholesome than the One Direction song of the same name. I didn't drive all night to keep anyone warm, for that would release an unnecessary amount of car fumes into the atmosphere. That's not to say I didn't dump toxic waste anywhere, but it was all into my own body as a response to a world that frightened and confused me when I was a child, and this persisted into my late teens/early adulthood. This nearly made me lose my health and sanity for good, but then I discovered the endorphin high and have barely looked back since. The posh word for it is ecotherapy, for me it's linked with being close to creation, but whichever viewpoint you take it can't be denied that being outdoors and putting one foot in front of the other is nature's anti-depressant. That's what the story is about.

Tuesday, 4 November 2014

What's this? It's the first draft of the introduction of my second book. No release date yet

“She’s done 40 marathons in 40 days you say? Some of them took seven hours, none of them were even sub 4? Not really marathons then are they? Besides, my mate Stobbo has run a marathon every day since Easter with a 40kg rucksack on his back. All sub 4.”

I smile politely.

“But that’s nothing. My mate Langton can pull a marathon out of the bag any time he wants. Any given day he can go out and run a sub 3, and he doesn’t even train in between.”

I nod, and make my excuses, the voice of Crogger getting ever fainter as he tells my disappearing back about his mate Scullin, who came 14th in the Marathon des Sables last year, after running 10 marathons in 10 days the week-and-a-half leading up to the event.

This encounter did not really happen, but it could easily be a real event, as the marathon has definitely moved on from when I first learnt about it as a child in the 80s. The day I watched London Marathon on TV for the first time, and in my confused child’s brain somehow believed that the singer Meatloaf had won. Or has it?

Legend has it that the first marathon was run by a Greek chap named Pheidippides, who ran around 25 miles to proclaim victory in war to the people of Sparta, after which he collapsed and died. If anyone had been thinking of shooting the messenger they were too late. However, rumour has it that this legend is not true, and in fact our mate Pheidippides actually ran a double Spartathlon. A what now? Well, every year in Greece there is a 153 mile footrace called Spartathlon, where runners have 36 hours to get from Athens to Sparta via a course with over 70 aid stations along the way, each of which has a strict cut-off time. The overall time limit is a reflection of what is believed to be the time Pheidippides took to run from Athens to Sparta a few hundred years BC to gather armies to help in the war. Apparently he then did the reverse leg only to find that the war was already won, but luckily modern participants don’t have to run back to Athens ….. doesn’t mean a few haven’t over the years, mind.

The modern race came about after three British runners from the RAF were intrigued by the story of Pheidippides and set out one day in 1982 to prove it was true, by completing the run themselves in a similar length of time. It seems only men named John considered that it might be possible, for John Foden, John Scholtens and John McCarthy were that band of merry men. They had a support crew along the way, which Pheidippides did not, but they still had to put one foot in front of the other enough times to carry them from Athens to Sparta. All three managed it in between 34-39 hours, thus proving to the world that this tale of the plucky Greek ultra runner may just have been true, and now Spartathlon is a huge organised race each year, which attracts some of the craziest athletes from around the world.

Nick Papageorge was a fresh-faced 18 year old running enthusiast when he crewed for the band of Johns back in ’82, and he is understandably proud to have been a part of such an event.

“Over the 2 days I ran with John McCarthy and John Foden, as well as Nigel whose surname I can’t remember, who stopped on the Friday night after Ancient Corinth.”

Not a John, you see?

“I remember stopping with McCarthy for a little rest in the middle of the night when we heard gunfire and thought it might be hunters after us, so having to leg it through some fields.”

I doubt Pheidippides would have heard much in the way of gunfire, but his run may well have been blighted by many other threats of the slings and arrows variety; literal, not metaphorical…. although quite possibly metaphorical too come to think of it. Anyway sorry for interrupting, Nick. Please continue.

“With Foden I recall stories he had uncovered about the Pheidippides run, as well as him drinking water from a well using his hat. Everyone got concerned when he was clearly lost; it wasn’t exactly a well organised run with checkpoints, like it is today.”

Indeed the modern race is pretty well supported, but to me that doesn’t make it an insignificant challenge. Running 153 miles in the heat is a seriously impressive feat, no matter how well supported you are.

“The organisation of the checkpoints, the fantastic Greek friendliness throughout and the in-built security of the runners is brilliant,” enthuses Nick, who ran the race himself in 2013 and described it as an amazing and emotional experience, even though he didn’t reach Sparta, “Added to that, I think that the ancient history involving Pheidippides and his feat, the modern history of the RAF expedition with my own humble involvement, and just the sheer magnitude with heat, terrain and cut-offs make this a great race. Anyone who has stood at the foot of the Acropolis at 7am on the Friday of the start has to feel the thoughts of Pheidippides 2,500 years ago setting off to run to Sparta with a serious message. Anyone who has ever completed or even simply witnessed the run through the blistering heat, and in particular seen the final 800metre run up towards King Leonidas’ foot, marking the end of the race, can confirm that it is a fantastic experience.”

Stirring stuff indeed. However, in modern times some would say that this race is not all about Pheidippides, but is about a man named Yiannis Kouros. Apart from Spartathlon, he is probably best known for holding the seemingly untouchable world record of around 189 miles run in 24 hours, which he did back in 1997. Nobody has really looked like breaking it since. No-one has looked like matching his best Spartathlon runs either. Kouros has run the 4 fastest Spartathlon times in history, and the closest rival of his 4th fastest finishing time is some bloke called Scott Jurek (if you don’t know of his exploits, a quick Google search will reveal all.)

It was said that Pheidippides’ legendary run took around 36 hours. Yiannis managed it in 20 hours, 25 minutes precisely on his best run, which works out at an average of exactly 8 minute miling for 153 miles. Keeping that up over a marathon is considered a not too shabby effort for a recreational runner nowadays, let alone nearly six of them back to back in the heat.

So who is more impressive? Pheidippides or Kouros? If this question was asked on a modern running forum and it instigated a heated discussion between Crogger and Pheidippides’ descendent Constadinos, what might they say?

“Kouros all the way, mate,” Crogger may begin, “He was nearly 16 hours quicker. Can’t argue with that, can you?”

“Impressive, I’ll give you that,” Constadinos may reply, “But how many more aid stations did Kouros have? About 70 wasn’t it? Pheidippides had to find all his own water and food, and he still managed it in a day and a half.”

“Ah yes,” says Crogger, “But what kind of cut-offs did Pheidippides have? Oh yeah, that’s right. None.”

“You wanna talk about time pressure? Let’s talk about time pressure. Kouros had some friendly Greeks with signs not even bothering to tell him what the cut-off times were as he was so far ahead of them. Pheidippides had the weight of an entire army’s battles on his shoulders. He had to go and get reinforcements so all his family, friends and fellow countrymen weren’t slaughtered by the invading armies. You still gonna tell me he had no cut-offs?”

The debate would probably rage on for many an hour. Occasionally somebody may chip in with a quip about trekking poles or Hoka running shoes (the two most common pieces of quip fodder on ultra running forums it would seem), but Crogger would keep fighting his corner, Constadinos would keep coming back and ultimately they would come no closer to agreeing on an answer to the original question.

What’s perhaps more pertinent to ask for this book is why am I writing a book about marathons and not Spartathlons? Why are Spartathlons not run in every major city in the world, or at least between them? Well, I guess there are many logistical reasons, but the fact remains that the marathon is still an incredibly popular pursuit for runners worldwide. As you will read, the way marathons are viewed, the way they are run and what constitutes a decent effort over the distance have changed immeasurably over the years one way or another, but since 1921 the distance of a marathon has been 26.2 miles. It was originally around 25, as this was originally thought to be the distance of Pheidippides’ run, but then in the 1908 London Olympics the course was lengthened so that the Royals could view the finish from their Royal Box at White City Stadium after a lap of the running track. This distance became standardised, and is what we call a marathon today.

For me the marathon is still an incredible challenge, in that to run the perfect race you are literally running as fast as you can over 26.2 miles without much variation in your pace at all. It’s such an incredibly fine line, and over such a distance there are so many things that can go wrong. There is a real art to running a great marathon race, and it’s something I’m yet to be able to say I’ve done myself (I will never be a national record holder, but I still wouldn’t say I’ve yet run a marathon in which I paced it perfectly and it couldn’t have gone any better.) People run a lot further than marathon distance, there are a select few who run a marathon every day before breakfast, but there’s still something about this distance that holds an almost mystical quality for so many runners.

There are some who train for many months, or perhaps even years, to run a single marathon and then never again. There are some who like the first one so much that they eventually run 10 of them in 10 days for fun, and all at a pace that would be blistering for the majority of recreational runners. In this book the stories of a number of significant marathons are told, from national record holders, prolific marathoners and those who ran a marathon that will always be memorable for a certain reason. Some of the people in this book have run a marathon in under 2 hours, 10 minutes. Many have run one faster than anyone else from their country ever has. How did they do it? What do they remember from those races? Some of these athletes are well known, some are until now more obscure, but no matter how fast or slow they perceive their best efforts to be they all have one thing in common. They have all completed at least one 26.2 mile run that compelled me to get in touch with them in order to write this book.


Other books are available, including one by me, from here..... . It's the story of my life, but is more wholesome than the One Direction song of the same name. I didn't drive all night to keep anyone warm, for that would release an unnecessary amount of car fumes into the atmosphere. That's not to say I didn't dump toxic waste anywhere, but it was all into my own body as a response to a world that frightened and confused me when I was a child, and this persisted into my late teens/early adulthood. This nearly made me lose my health and sanity for good, but then I discovered the endorphin high and have barely looked back since. The posh word for it is ecotherapy, for me it's linked with being close to creation, but whichever viewpoint you take it can't be denied that being outdoors and putting one foot in front of the other is nature's anti-depressant. That's what the story is about.