Thursday, 31 January 2013

January: A Month In Review

OK – the first month of 2013 is over. In terms of my running, anyway. Some stats, courtesy of my Garmin 410 that has accompanied me throughout:

Count:                    33 Activities
Distance:               272.40 mi
Time:                      39h44’49”
Elevation Gain:     15,293 ft
Avg Speed:            6.9 mph

Note: one set of runs to and fro chippie split into two as there was the food-sourcing in between; similarly, one run in Atlanta got split into two by my Garmin as I tried to have it tell me a route out there. I never went out running twice in a day – that’d be just nuts! Far saner to run once a day, every day, right? The way I have done for the past 112 days?!

How does that measure against my plans, I hear you all ask. Well, to be honest I didn’t have a monthly target. I have a weekly target and try to clock 50mi/week, and it’s one I’ve so far hit every week in 2013. Next week will be a challenge, as I’ll be spending the working part of it in Sweden, where it will be cold (I can deal with that), dark (hmmm… let’s see) and where I’ll be busy. As long as it’s bright enough, I should manage to get out there… but for, say, 35mi, leaving myself 15mi for the weekend? We can but wait and see. Or get out there and see, indeed.

There is something called “The Strava Run Mile Blast”, allowing Strava users to log their January mileage. 10,370 people joined worldwide and I’m… well, 85th. Surprising. Humbling. Now it’s 8:20 on the East Coast and no doubt I’ll be relegated to treble figures as the American day progresses, but for now 85th sounds good. As does, quite frankly, 272.40mi. I’m kinda happy with that.
Incidentally, I might be 85th out of 10,370 runners globally… but Im ‘only’ 4th out of a group of 15 (including myself) whom I ‘follow’ on Strava! Runners with whom I engage on Twitter, on Strava itself… yes, I’m a quarter of the way down the ladder on there, rather than being in the top 0.81% globally! Shows you just how mad my online buddies are.

Not that I would go as far as saying I
’m particularly sane, mind. The last few days have been particularly trying, more because of my intestine than my legs. My legs moan but generally get on wi’it, eventually: but if my intestine’s in a fowl mood there’s really not much I can do about it… My most sincere apologies for touching upon this but it genuinely is a concern of mine as races approach. I don’t like not feeling in control of something (read that as you will) and trust me, over the past few days there have been instances of limited control. But today all was in order again and I nailed 10.25mi at 809/mi  a nice way to end the month, if I do say so misen! Indeed, stats don’t lie (right?), and according to them it was my fastest run of at least ten miles. Sounds nice, does that, after the past couple of days I’d had.

14 of my 33 runs have been 10mi or longer, with two of those coming in at 15mi, one at 15.45 and one, on January 2, at 18.66. One goal for February ought to be a 20-miler: I feel I’ve got it in my legs, as much as anything I need to find the time for it! It won’t be the end of the world if I don’t exceed 15mi in any single run in February but it would be nice. As it’s nice that, of those four 15mi or longer runs this month, three were at sub-4hr marathon pace (8’11, 8’27, 8’38), although the longest was run at 9’23/mi. But it is hilly round here honest!

And let me make it most clear that I have no intention of going beyond 272.40mi in February, not even on a pro-rata basis* to reflect the fact that, with its 28 days, February isn’t really a proper month. But there is one stat above I’ll be targeting, namely the last one as I look to break the 7mph average. Hopefully without shying away from them here hills..! Remember, I’m running the Bath Half on March 3rd, and I would dearly like to set a new HM PB after Bristols 1h4946..!

p.s.: looks like I
’ve burnt 33,147 calories this month, too, although I’ve yet to sort out my heart rate monitor so these stats are of dubious credibility. Still, what I can tell you is that I’ve been eating a lot of Mrs S’ home-baked cakes and I’m none the heavier for it!

* 246.04mi, in case you were wondering. I wasn

Wednesday, 16 January 2013

The Best Friends I've Never Met?

Pre-Scriptum: This post, which was a long time in the writing, was finalised at around 30,000ft over the Atlantic as I made my way towards Atlanta, GA for a week’s worth of meetings and discussions around Service Lifecycle Management. I then checked it one last time in my hotel room a few days later. If you can’t run at ten miles, you might as well write about it.
Oh, and a lot of the work was done while listening to Little Richard’s “Very Best Of”. I was scrolling through for the Manic Street Preachers but stopped one early. After all, the guy changed the course of popular music and popular music, made white folk dance like no whitey ever had previously. Worth a listen at any altitude. And gotta love the attitude.
Right, let’s do this!

I have long intended to write a piece on the relationships I have developed with fellow runners through Social Media. People whom I’ve never met, with one solitary exception. People with whom, nevertheless, when it comes to running I empathise and sympathise, in a reciprocal and reciprocated way, far more than with many people whom I’ve known for decades.

So – who are these people? Are they friends? Are they followers? Are they connections? Are they mere IDs, names? And, most importantly, are they nutters? Let’s find out!

Firstly, I want to underline some of running’s characteristics. I wish to do this from the perspective of someone who’s tried his hand and feet at many sports. Forget long jumping, shot putting and all that ‘official’ decathlon stuff: if decathlon consisted of football, tennis, golf, swimming, cycling, running, cricket, volleyball, basketball and table-tennis, I wouldn’t do too badly. I wouldn’t do great at any of them, but on a good day I’d get by in most! As a result of which, and because I’m an overthinker, I have an appreciation of what is required to succeed in many sports, of the differences between the minds of sportspeople who do well and badly in any of those.

Let’s look at football (the one you play with your feet) and tennis, the two sports that account for the majority of the time I’ve spent on pitches, courses, courts and pools around the world. They are very different, not least in their essential characteristic of team and individual sport respectively. Yet they share some defining characteristics, too. Try to describe a football match or a tennis match and you will find yourself picking out acts of brilliance or disappointment that marked them, from a blinding save to a cute lob. You will probably highlights swings in who held the upper-hand, smart tactical thinking, gamesmanship, debatable decisions… just listing such headers brings back to mind penalty saves, lobs, volleys, comebacks and that daylight robbery by Pete Lench and Richard Clarke in the Portishead Men’s Doubles 2006 Semifinal, to name but a few. They are hardcoded into my visual and emotional memories. Now, when it comes to running…

…sure, I remember occasional sections of races, not least because I’ve only run three to date. I remember the final 200m of the Sheffield TenTenTen, the gruelling final mile of the Bristol Half Marathon before I finally saw the finishing line and the Wyvern Christmas Cracker from 2012, no problem. But they don’t stir the same levels of emotion as other snippets of other sports. They are all part of a bigger picture, of an overall race. And, during those races, my goal wasn’t to shine with moments of individual brilliance as with previous sports. I was aiming for boredom, for monotony: for the ability to run 13mi at a steady, constant pace, with no major accelerations or decelerations. I might have been aiming for a time or for a distance, but time and my own limitations would have been my sole adversaries: even when surrounded by thousands of others, those races are purely against myself, and my time is unlikely to be defined by any single step or stretch. It all comes together when you cross the finishing line, or indeed when you walk back through the door from a training run. Until then, there is little room for short-lived brilliance. Which is not to say there is little room for error: there is plenty of that in pacing yourself. It’s just… well, easier to explain.

Beyond self-analysis, what does this mean when it comes to sharing experiences? It’s simple: it makes it easier. This is no football game where you have to try and convey subtle tactical changes, the impact of a missed penalty, the bad timing of a substitution… it is no tennis encounter affected by a bad line call in the second game of the third set… if after a run you text, tweet or indeed just say “Ten miles, 1h33’55””, as I might have done a few mornings back, you are already providing a fairly good indication of your performance and the opportunity to comment upon it with it. Of course there is scope to enhance it further: 217m of elevation made it hard going in some places, there wasn’t much wind about but the end of the Esplanade is always a killer, and the final stretch up Nore Road is just what you need at that stage… not! Those are details, embellishments to a picture that is otherwise factual, accurate, unblemished by officials or competitors.

I feel better placed to appreciate what fellow runners are experiencing than I felt in other sports. Again, it’s because it’s easier to compare scenarios. So you understand what it means to go out in the pouring rain at 6:40am, to be a mile from home and need the toilet (sorry but it’s true!), so get to a mile from the finishing line and suddenly feel drained… And, because you understand, you can empathise.
Sure, I fully understand what it’s like to lose a key tennis match in a 3rd set tie-break having won the first set and I fully understand what it’s like to lose a football match on penalties. But there are always more variables surrounding those scenarios, not least the opposition (did you lose it or were you beaten?) and your team-mates (was it really their fault?). Running is simpler: it’s just you and what’s under your feet. There’s a simplicity, an integrity that I really appreciate – and that is reflected in the type of people you meet through it. (The integrity that is, I’m not making any intellectual comments here!)

I played at Portishead Lawn Tennis Club for around a decade. During that time I probably played around 50 league fixtures: four players per club, four doubles’ matches. It’s as close to a team format as tennis gets.
During those matches I’d support my partner, we’d share advice and we’d gee each other up. This would work better with some partners than others. It would all be fairly basic stuff: mid-match is not a time to be getting into the finer technical points of any sport. That’s what club sessions are for…
…only you wouldn’t see much of it then, either. There are multiple reasons for this. There isn’t the time in between games; you don’t hang around much afterwards; any such discussion has to be practical, words alone are pointless; and most of us don’t want to come across as patronising know-it-alls when, ultimately, we’re all just amateurs engaging in a few hours’ escapism. As for those who don’t mind coming across thus, they are often ignored anyway…

Last but not least, the guy who’s your partner on a Sunday afternoon is your opponent on a Tuesday night, he could be drawn against you in the Club Championships in the Spring… you raise your guard again. Less so with beginners: if they’re no threat you do your utmost to help them, trying to ensure you’re not overloading them or expecting too much of them. But those whom I saw as threats got little off me and I got little off them. I wouldn’t have expected it to be any other way.

I have not found any of this with my social media running buddies. Maybe it’s because we don’t really see each other or maybe it’s because, even if we were to run the same races, we’d have different goals: it wouldn’t be a matter of beating each other but of achieving our goals, hitting a PB, etc.. And sure, it’s also because any running advice is easier to word, to encapsulate in a 140-character tweet than any advice about a forehand grip. I’m sure there’s an edge between runners of similar levels but, otherwise, if you’re smart enough to recognise that your pal’s better than you, you know you’ve got nothing to gain by trying to keep up with him/her. Go for broke in a tennis match and you may still lose but you may win more games or sets than you were hoping for. But go for broke to beat a mate in a race and… you won’t reach the finishing line.

I genuinely enjoy seeing my online running buddies do well. Thanks to the online running/cycling tool/community Strava, I can see exactly what, when, where and how they’ve run – providing, that is, they used a GPS device (watch or smartphone) and posted its data. This engenders the online equivalent of back-slapping and cheering, in the shape of Strava’s ‘kudos’ (Zuckerberg would call it ‘Like’) and accompanying comments, creating a virtuous circle of inspiration drawn and provided. Seeing that Nic’s run a 10-miler, for example, doesn’t make me feel bad because I only ran 7.77: I recognise and acknowledge his achievement and draw inspiration for the next time I go out there, if not to run longer then maybe to run faster. And hopefully it’s a two-way thing – I’m fairly sure it is. I cannot think of any other sport in which someone else’s achievements are as motivating, whereas I can think of plenty where they may be discouraging or even, whisper quietly, engender jealousy…

If you don’t run, or indeed don’t do sport in general, the above paragraphs will sound like vacuous rubbish. If you’ve been out there running on your own, say at 5:30 on a cold December morning (but even on a warm and breezy June evening), then you will appreciate that any form of acknowledgement of your effort (and sometimes that’s just the getting out of bed part!) is welcome. Moreover, the simplicity of running comes to the fore again. You don’t need to analyse video footage of a badly-timed offside trap or a wild backhand down the line: glancing at distance, time and maybe altitude gain/loss (all factual and untainted by subjectivity) and you have an instant understanding of the run completed. Delve into splits and gradients and you have more valuable data at your disposal than most tennis pundits could dream of. Or maybe I shouldn’t say that, what with Cousin Joe working for Hawkeye right now..?!

Right, back to the fundamental question: Are these friendships?

Of course, that in itself raises the question of “What is friendship?” Do I have 378 friends, as my Facebook profile suggests? Do I hell. I probably have thirty – and half of those aren’t even on Facebook (yes, such people exist, apparently). I’m not going to define ‘friendship’ here, as no doubt it means different things to all of us and none of us enjoy a monopoly on the right definition: but I would expect that, however we define it, we end up with a similar number. If it’s fundamentally different, you are either amazing or deluded.

(OK, here’s where I jump off the fence… sort of!)

I certainly think online exchanges can provide the foundation for friendships. I think some of the relationships they enable are more supportive and constructive than some I enjoy with people one would traditionally class as ‘friends’, certainly in the specific domain of running. But, in order to be fully classed as friendships, is face-to-face interaction required?

I’ve pondered this at length. At one point I was leaning towards stating that you do have to meet in the flesh the person behind the avatar for reality to rubber-stamp or throw out your online experiences. But here’s the thing: the amount of benefit I’ve had from my relationships with them, in terms of advice and inspiration, is truly phenomenal. They influence my purchasing decisions more than multi-million advertising campaigns, they help me find extra strength when out on the road more than any “Runner’s World” article… my relationship with them might be virtual but their impact on what I do and how I do it is absolutely tangible.

So, having weighed all the evidence and overthunk the matter extensively, I’m going to say that yes, I do consider as friends some of the #nutters I’ve met on Twitter and whose runs I now follow on Strava. That notwithstanding, I am quick to add that I would also dearly love to meet them in the flesh to cement those relationships. Which ties up with what I wrote about my friendship with Jon, which was strengthened significantly by our shared experiences along the roads of Pill and subsequently Bristol. Male friendships require that DYRW (“Do You Remember When”) moment: “Do you remember that tweet” doesn’t quite cut it. Now, if I were to run a race with some of my Twitter buddies… well that would be one heck of a DYRW, eh?

Who knows, maybe that will be the Sheffield Half Marathon on May 12. I’m running it and so are some of them. We’ve loosely discussed running together but, and rightly so, not had any firm talks as that bonding feeling of sharing an experience should not compromise the pursuit of individual goals, whatever they may be, or the race will deliver the opposite result.

So, if you’re one of the #nutters reading this, I hope the conclusion I reached does not offend you. Thanks again for all the advice, inspiration and perspiration. See you out there on the wires soon… and, hopefully, one day on some sodden field or sun-kissed asphalt.

Post-Scriptum: My perspective on this matter and on the value of Web-native relationships may well be influenced by the fact that my wife and I met via an online dating site. We might have had something goin’ on before we met, but only then did we receive confirmation. In fact, my wife would argue she only had that confirmation the second time we met, as she will forever insist that the guy she first met in the real world wasn’t the one she’d met online, rather a quiet, shy and introvert (to the point of coming across as cold) version. Not that I realised this at the time, or how close I got to the beginning proving the end (us blokes rarely do, right?), but it was our online foundation that earned me a second chance. As proven by the last eight years and two kids, I obviously took it.

Wednesday, 9 January 2013

Truth Will Out: What Really Happened at the 2012 TenTenTen

Right, everybody – how are you all doing? Cracking Christmas? Good end to 2012? Well here’s to a rockin’, healthy and prosperous 2013!

I know you’re all waiting with baited breath for my next instalment. It’s taking a while, partly because I’m busy and partly because it will address a subject to which I wish to do thorough justice. For now, here’s a confession…

…back in September, I reported exhaustively on my racing debut at the TenTenTen. By that I mean that reading the post must have been exhausting!

Without asking you to read it again, here’s how I covered the hilly climb second time round:
“…got to top of grass bank. Realised overtaking people up the grass bank had not been wise. Wished briefly that Dawn had not been in that particular spot, at the bottom of the hill she’d been warning me about since April. Wished that I had not felt obliged to step things up a notch as a consequence of that. Headed into woods. Felt a stitch. Slowed down. Was overtaken by far more than the four people I’d passed up the grass bank. Struggled for five, long minutes…”

Technically, that is completely accurate. Where I may have been uncharacteristically economical with the detail, however, is with the “slowed down” bit…
…a more accurate description of events would have been followed by the words “to walking pace”.
See, I never felt compelled to share this because I still clocked a decent debut time (50’49”). I’d go on to improve on that significantly in Weston-super-Mare in December, coming in at 47’02”. But then not only was Squintani fitter and now no longer a first-time novice: more importantly, the Weston sands were flat. That hill was most definitely not and I tackled it with far too much gusto. So yes, for a minute or so (though it felt far longer) I dropped down to walking pace. After that, I “felt my brothers lift me and carry me on as I made my way down the woods. Headed out of Forge Dam and back towards Rustlings Road. Found my rhythm, my pace again. Knew the end was in sight and kept going. Was no longer struggling as I ran into Endcliffe Park. Started to lengthen stride. Felt good.” And, shortly after, crossed the finishing line. 50’49”. Smiles all around. No questions asked.

So why am I coming out now?

Simple: because those nice people at Sheffield TenTenTen have shared a video by those equally nice people at Sheffield running store Accelerate. I watched it in the hope it might feature my sprint finish or my post-race elation. And does it?
Does it heck! All of 12” in, this 3’13” video shows a forlorn figure in a glo-yellow shirt (just to make sure nobody can miss him in his darkest hour) raise his hand to dry his forehead as enthusiastic runners pass him in the woods. They couldn’t have picked a more depressing sight if they’d tried. Or maybe they did, I don’t know.

The 2013 TenTenTen takes place on October 13 and I’ve already registered. I’ll be back. It’s a long way to go for a 10k but for me it’s where it all began and I want to return. And I want to tackle that hill again: sure it’s tough, but it makes the race. Will I tackle it any slower this time round? No. Will I have it in me to keep going through the woods this time round? You bet.

So, there you have it: truth will out, always. And indeed it has. Unfailing, unfaltering, undisputable.

That’s all I’ve got this time, folk. I’ll get back to my article on whether people you’ve never met face-to-face but with whom you interact on Social Media can be considered friends. It’s already proving a far more enjoyable post to write.

Oh go on then, a few numbers while I’m here. Having begun on October 12, my runstreak is up to 90 days, during which I’ve run 623mi at an average of 6.92mi/day. I closed the books on 2012 having run 1.770,78km or 1,100.36mi, depending on your preference (I’m doing as Mazymizer told me, as per usual, and converting to imperial this year). I’ve run at least 80km/week since week commencing November 19, peaking at 65mi last week (31/12/2012 - 06/01/2013). That’s an exception, not a benchmark, by the way. So, in short, it’s all good. Not bad for a fat lad from Sheffield who had to stop running halfway through his first 10k just because he’d run too fast past his Auntie Dawn!