Sunday, 30 December 2012

How much time do you spend writting a blog post?

It’s quite time consuming isn’t it?
It usually takes me in excess of 8 hours. However, this post should take me minutes to write.

What’s coming up? A new year with new seasons and therefore a cycle of training and events to suit. Here’s what I’m aiming for and what life has in store for me;
The Calderdale Hike (13th April) – this is meant as preparation for the next race. It’s 36miles long and at this moment in time I have no idea how to approach it i.e. what strategy to adopt. All I know is that Olga says it should be ok for me to do. It’s also an opportunity to meet up with my mate Chris who will be returning the favour 2 weeks later.

The Highland Fling (27th April) – this race has occupied my thoughts almost constantly for the last 18 months, you could say I have unfinished business with it. First and foremost, I must do myself justice in the training beforehand – both mentally and physically. If I get to Milngavie on the 27th April I’m likely to be completely and utterly in the zone. Bring it on!
The West Highland Way Race (22nd-24th June) – Having done this beast late 2011, I now want to go for it under race conditions. I’m mindful of the fact that I have already placed more mental focus with the fling. However, I’m comforting myself with the fact that I have done virtually no running training for the last 8 weeks. Thus by the time I get to Milngavie on the 22nd June I’ll have been training properly for 6 months – just about hitting my physical peak (fingers crossed).

courtesy of google images
The Lakeland 100 (26th – 28th July) – I’m not running this but one day will want to. My mate Chris is doing it and I’ve offered my hand in support. Having said that, I’m sure I’ve no idea of what I’ve let myself in for. Chris, I hope your itenary will be detailed to military precision!

The Devil O the Highlands Race (3rd August) – I love the WHW and would like to see what I’m capable of over the latter half under race conditions. If I’m lucky enough to avoid injury and actually get to Fort William on this day then I’ll have achieved the unofficially titled ‘Triple Crown’; all three of the races held over the WHW within one calendar year. However, I’m not counting my chickens. There’s a good reason it’s not been completed by a large number of people.  

The High Peak 40 (21st September) – I signed up for this earlier this year but pulled out due to being consumed with stress in the weeks leading up to the race. My mate Rob did this a few years ago and I believe it would be an opportunity for me to spread my wings a little. Again, having said that, I’m aware of my limits and being a novice to ultra running – one prone to injury – I would have to say at the moment, this is a bit of a pipe dream.
RICS APC (November) – This is completely unrelated to running. Having achieved my honours degree I’m now under pressure to become a Chartered Building Surveyor. Apparently this is the only way to prove my competence – written with cynicism for a very good reason.  

Hemorroidectomy – Anyone else suffer with piles? Ha. I had one of these way back in 1997 and another operation in 2009 prior to training for my BGR. It turns out I need another one – confirmed at a recent Sigmoidoscopy.
Clearly the last two headings pose me a bit of a problem.

·         First of all, the red tape brigade at my work need to get a grip – and that’s about all I can publicly write on the subject.

·         Secondly, writing good quality blog posts is time consuming. Going for your APC isn’t simply about going to an interview and telling the board how you do your job. No, instead you have to tell them what they want to hear. You have to play their game and to do that you have to learn how to play their game! Studying towards this objective is time consuming too.

·         Thirdly, it may come as no surprise to some but a huge part of my ultra training is mental preparation. For this I have to be completely focussed on the next ultra challenge. I’ve managed to juggle life’s quandaries to date but had really hoped that 2013 would be a clear run – it’s now not and I’m already struggling to overcome this frustration. I must find a way however.

·         And lastly, the bloody haemorrhoids! This is just typical. I have to go for my pre-assessment early next month with a view to getting the Op’ within a couple of weeks thereafter. This will involve up to 6 weeks off running post Op’. The only thing I’m thinking of right now is deferring it until later in the year. I’ve been waiting for the last 4 years to finally get rid of the monkey off my back (the distance learning honours degree) and then this. Besides, I’ve been living with blood constantly coming out of me for so long now – I’m sure I can keep on top of it for a few more months.
The further downside to this is that I’m not able to fully concentrate and write the kind of blog post that I want too in the forthcoming months – this frustrates me deeply.

On the bright side, if I get through all of my challenges and then have the Op’ in either September or October then I’ll have a couple of weeks off work to read up thoroughly in preparation for my APC!
One thing is for certain though - I’m sure life will throw in a few surprises no matter what I think or hope for.

Have a blast peeps

Sunday, 16 December 2012

Injuries (updated); trying to prevent them and what to do when you get them

Runners get injured. If they don’t then they are either lucky, don’t work hard enough or are biomechanically perfect. It’s as it is with everything in life; far from ideal but what’s a man to do?
The four years I’ve spent trying to become a runner have been littered with injuries – all of which have contributed to inconsistent training and thus inconsistent performances. In the vain of writing what I wish I’d known back then..........
this post is about the processes I go through to avoid injury and then what I do when inevitability strikes.
Eat and drink sensibly
Water is vital to our survival. So are nutrients and vitamins. I will write a more detailed post on this in future but for now one must surely realise that keeping the body nutritionally healthy will only help matters.
To expand slightly; if you unbalance your hormones as often happens during extreme exertion you are practically asking for trouble. Sometimes we seek this and on other occassions it cannot be avoided but doing it every time you go for a long run is foolish. You must eat and drink whilst training and you must focus on recovery to avoid the issues associated. Here's a few things I do;
1. never train on an empty stomach
2. ensure my last meal/snack pre-training has carbs in it - slow release only
3. avoid comfort foods as much as possible - think foods with a high fat content
4. try to only have sweet foods either just before I train (within 15mins), during training or within 4 hours of finishing my training
5. have carbs during my training runs - all over 90mins
6. always take a gel with me on every run - just in case of a sugar crash
7. have a post training snack consisting of 1gram of carb for every kilo I weigh e.g. 70kg equals the need for 70g carbs within 30mins of completing a key session. This roughly equates to a couple of medium sized banana's and a nesquick milkshake.
8. have a high quality meal within 2hrs of completing a key session i.e. good quality protein, low fat content with slow release carbs in the form of vegetables e.g. a roasted chicken breast with savoy cabbage and mashed sweet potato.
9. I eat between 5 and 6 times per day and try to avoid hunger.
10. some supplements; glucoseamine sulphate and Omega 3 for natural anti-inflammitories and also Neovite for repair and recovery. Cherry juice is exceptional in terms of speeding up the recovery process. Some supplement with this for 7 days leading up to an event to mitigate muscle damage.

Train smart
This means I only do what I need to do to achieve my goals and nothing more. It means I avoid overtraining and becoming fatigued more than I need to be. However, the last 4 years has left me incredibly frustrated with this part – so I contacted Olga King and begged her to help me. I now leave the thinking to her. The Heart Rate Monitor is an essential piece of kit for this.
Strength training
Part of my weekly routine is to work on my whole body strength; upper body, lower body and core. And this shouldn’t just be the big compound moves and large muscles – it’s equally important to focus on all the little muscles – the ones that provide support and stability for everything.

Olga gave me some routines to do but as I only have free weights at home I’ve adapted the routines to suit me. Essentially I will do 3 sets of 12 with a weight that I struggle to lift 15 times. Actually I do something a little different but from experience it’s difficult to explain in writing – you get the jist; do some strength training.

I will expand on this with specific types of workouts at some point in the future.
I also do some basic plyometric exercises and some bosu ball work. The plyo’s are usually done after a quality speed session and my gut feeling is that this technique really improves strength and efficiency.

The bosu ball is a tremendous piece of kit, especially for the lower limbs. The more you can do on one leg the better for your running efficiency.

I have another routine which I try to do most evenings. It only takes about 10-15mins. I don’t go for the stretching each area 3 times for 30 seconds each way. Instead I just do each area once and for about 20-25seconds each way. I got this tip from the Men’s health book ‘Beat Any Injury’. Apparently, the body gets just as much benefit from one stretch as it does three; Bonus – some time saved there!

Wear compression socks
One of the injuries I suffer with is tenderness and pain in my Achilles. I’ve found that calf raises helps to prevent this but so too does wearing compression socks – especially when running on hard monotonous surfaces like roads. I don’t have to wear these type of socks when out on uneven terrain though.

some extra's
it's a really good idea to warm up properly prior to going for a long run. You should do some dynamic stretches and if you've just got out of the car to go trail running it might also be a good idea to pre-empt that warm up by using heat packs over areas prone to injury and niggles. For example, the hip flexors are prone to problems due to the amount of time many of us spend sitting.

when you finish your run you should do some stretches and if possible should ice the legs. This speeds up the recovery process - especially important if you're set for another long run the day after. You can either find a small stream near your car and sit in it for between 5-10mins or you can have some ice packs in a cool box (in your car - along with your banana's and milkshake) and get these on your legs as soon as you get back to the car. Once home and after your shower get some emu oil on those legs (thanks to Ali Bryan Jones for this one) alternatively you could try magnesium oil.
Now I’ll explain what I do when I get minor aches and pains…..
If I’m near home, I’ll try to get some ice on the affected area – for about 10-15mins. And I’ll repeat this throughout the day, maybe another once or twice if I have the time. If the pain persists (unusual for minor stuff) then I might continue to do this for another day or two. Then it’s time to reintroduce blood.

Compression gear
This stuff gets the blood circulating i.e. delivers nutrients and oxygen whilst retracting the bad stuff. It’s good to get some heat applied to stubborn areas too.
Self massage
I have a foam roller, a little sports ball and a little massage tool. All are used for different areas of the body and have a unique way of dealing with certain tweaks.

I was side-lined for 4 months after my WHW challenge. Why? Because I did it with an ITB strain. Ok so I had done little training in the 3 weeks prior to it in the hope that it would clear up. And to a certain extent it did except for the absolute pure agony I endured for the last quarter of that challenge. How did I eventually rid myself of this problem? A big part of it was using the foam roller. But if you think it’s going to be easy, think again. The pain one goes through using this bar-steward
is full-on!
I also have a TENS machine and an ultrasound machine. I also believe that the ultrasound machine is an invaluable piece of kit. I bought it from some beauty website but it still does the same thing whether you apply it to your face or your affected area. The ultrasound might come with two settings; low and high. The low should be used for deep tissue injuries and high for those nearer the skin surface. For acute injuries, you can use every day once or twice.

And now for what I do when things go from bad to worse….

Continue to do all of the things above
To save from repeating myself, all of the above is continued where it can be i.e. when it’s not painful to do so.

Ignore the pain and continue to train
Not intended as advice, more just the first thing I usually do – like many of us.

Stop doing the type of training that results in the pain
Notice I didn’t say ‘causes the pain’? There’s a reason for that and I’ll come to it in a bit. Yes unfortunately this is the bit that most runners have a problem with. It halts progression in running gains and by the time the runner is able to resume specific training often takes him/her back a few stages in that progression. 

Psychologically, this is made worse for the athlete who has ambitions to do well in a forthcoming competition/event. Time stops for no-man!
Fortunately you can still train if you can find an activity which doesn’t hurt you. But why would you when it’s running you love? Well, there are whole books written about this but for me one of the stand out things is the need to keep the cardiovascular system active. 
Yes you’re going to lose some running gains but if you simply stop training then it’s going to take you a lot longer to get your running fitness backonce you get over your injury.
At home (during the week), I’ll get on my turbo trainer and replicate whatever session I was down for that day. On a Saturday, I’ll try to get down the local municipal gym (sweat factory) and cross train for around 3hrs and follow with maybe a couple on Sunday.

What I would like to add here is that you should really focus on your leg strength work during this phase. Ohterwise, as soon as you resume running you will notice that your legs are  unusually unconditioned i.e. you will fatigue quicker than you remember beforehand.
If the injury is really bad, perhaps you can do some aqua running. I used to do this after big sessions in the Lake District as it was a great way to flush the toxins out of the legs. It’s also good for when you have DOMS.
Email and speak to other runners
With my most recent injury, I emailed Olga. She has a vast amount of experience and straight away offered two suggestions as to what she thought it might be. She also told me to continue with the training albeit substituting the running with something else that didn’t hurt.

Add a query to a runners forum
I actually did this with runnersworld but got no repsonses. I think this may have been for two reasons; 1. the time of the week that I posted - very late on a mid week evening, and 2. the post was very technical.

Start reading up about the injury
The sports injury clinic website is a great starting point. It’s not too technical and gives you just about the right level of information to get you going. This will often hone me in on some key words which I take note of then google afterwards.
So for example, with my latest injury I knew the area. After looking though this website I had more of an idea what was going on but my search was expanding on the basis of options offered to me.
I googled each diagnosis separately and like a mind map found that two or three theme’s kept being repeated. I now had a better idea of what was going on.
You tube is also very good in terms of watching how some physiotherapy exercises are supposed to be done correctly.

Re-read your books
For many runners (me included) the head needs to be in the right place prior to undertaking big challenges; doubt within regarding previous injuries can manifest itself in failure. Therefore this process is a great to reinforce your understanding of the injury.

Ch14 of Noakes is superb. Here you are told to prioritise treatment of what causes the injury rather than just the symptoms. Put simply, if what you have is as a result of overuse – you have a problem. If on the other hand, it is as a result of some external trauma e.g. a sprain, then you know what you need to do.
‘Running anatomy’ and ‘beat any injury’ are brilliant books in that they help to refine what you think you know and also offer physiotherapy exercises specific to each problem i.e. they explain how to address the cause of your problem. I haven’t got round to reading ‘brain training…’ yet.

Arrange an appointment with a sports injury specialist
This should be done in tandem with your self understanding of the injury. After all, hardly any of us have the time available to spend whole swathes of time reading up. For my most recent injury, I spent an hour here and half an hour there over the course of 3 weeks trying to get to grips with what was going on.

My appointment helped in terms of the physio giving me some specific exercises which isolated a certain area. It’s not the panacea though and as I still had some doubt I had to continue to pursue a more definitive answer.

Arrange an appointment with a masseuse
As part of my injury prevention processes I have been visiting Linda Curry, a registered masseuse, once a month for some maintenance work. With a bit more understanding of this injury I explained all to her at my most recent visit and she set to work on the area.

There are many techniques a masseuse can use as therapy; Linda specialises in Myofascial release. After the last session I began to feel slightly better about my predicament.

In terms of timing; a deep tissue massage should only be done 3-5days pre-race, 3-5days post race or 1-2days pre or post a long training run depending on your own recovery ability.

Arrange an appointment with an osteopath
The spine is the most important component of the body. Anyone who suffers with chronic back pain will testify to this. A huge tip is to always take care of your spine. Why do you think we runners care about our core so much?
One of the things I read about my injury was that a tilting of the hips could cause the problem. My visit to Vince Matthews was a big help as he confirmed that there were no major issues with my hips and spine.
Get your gait analysed
I haven’t done this on the basis that I believe my most recent injury was caused by trauma – as opposed to overuse. Once you have this done, I dare say you will be offered some cure – usually in the form of an expensive pair of trainers or shoe inserts.
If I sound negative about that - its because I am. Orthotics might work for some but they didn't for me. The 4 months I spent in rehab earlier this year was possibly 2 months longer than they needed to be - because of an orthotic I had been prescribed. Recurring back injuries finally woke me up!

As a slight side issue, I have spent the last 12 months making minor adjustments to my own running gait. There are two reasons for this; one in the hope that I reduce my chances of getting injured more often in the future and two in the hope that my running becomes more efficient – especially important for ultra running. Whether or not this works only time will tell. From what I’ve read, research into this process is inconclusive i.e. actively changing your natural gait.
If after 3-5 weeks you’ve still got some problems then you will have to seek a more permanent solution.

We are quite fortunate in the UK. But any responsible person understands that things like an MRI scan cost the tax payer a heck of a lot. This is one of the reasons I try to deal with the injuries myself. There’s also the issue of time as it can take months to finally see a specialist.
My most recent injury

It’s exactly 5 weeks since I first felt this one and whilst I’m not completely out of the woods, at least now I can see through them. I went for a run today (6.5miles) and felt some minor pain but the key thing is that I have been able to walk freely afterwards.
I have followed all of my own advice and according to today’s run have lost between 15-20seconds per mile from my running at base pace. I’ve seemingly not suffered with fatigue from yesterdays sweat session either, so that’s quite promising too.
If anyone has any idea about this injury I’d be relieved to hear from you;
Pain over my left trochanter felt at first by a tendon flicking up and down over it. When I stop running the whole of the left of my hip was quite sore and tender and was making it very difficult for me to walk. I also have sciatic nerve pain deep in my upper left buttock – almost constant.
I believe I have knocked my piriformis out of its usual alignment. This has caused it to become strained under tension on the left side and coupled with other small muscles such as the iliacus and tensor fascia latae has manifested as pain over the trochanter and has also trapped or impinged on the sciatic nerve.
The single best form of therapy for this injury (whether I’m right or not) has been the Myofascial release and I intend to re-visit Linda soon. The down side to this is clearly financial as after the next visit I’ll have no money left until the next pay day – mid January!
Nevertheless, my coach has told me that I can just about manage to achieve my goals for 2013 if I am able to resume proper training by January. Fingers crossed.
In summary my weekly routine is self-reffered to as a 'sprinkling of several ingrediants' which are geared to keep me free from injury.  And although I don't have all the answers I'm somewhat comforted when I do suffer a set back that I have some means of trying to get over it.




Friday, 16 November 2012

Your walk talks louder than your talk talks. However…………

This post has been two or three months in the making with the previous two as deliberate prequels. It is hoped that these three posts together can be pigeon holed into my first two pillars of ultimate performance i.e. motivation and mental strength; only time will tell.

Originally it started as another proclamation – something along the lines of “at next years Highland Fling, I’m going to go under 9 hours”. What do I mean by another proclamation?

Well, most of my life I’ve had an urge to prove people wrong and then do everything I can to get my next win - including being vocal about how I intend to do it. Anyone who’s ever worked with me will vouch for what I mean but here are a few examples to illustrate my point;
·         Getting Highers at school when my start looked so bleak – I said I’d do it and I did, I even predicted what I was going to get and was right.
·         Leaving home (and university) to join the Army at the expense of an already frayed relationship with my father. I always said that I was going to be a soldier one day and no amount of dictatorial vigour prevented me.
·         I did a hell of a lot of walking and talking when I was in the Army and was both loved and hated for it - in equal measure. There are too many things to mention which is the fantastic thing about the forces – it gives you so many opportunities/challenges. They’re there for the taking, if that’s what floats your boat.
·         Leaving the Army. I was flying and all those close to me said I was mad to leave when I had it all going for me but I told them they were wrong because I WAS going to be a success on the outside. Materially - that might seem like it’s yet to happen but inside, where it matters, I’m the biggest winner.
·         My Bob Graham Round - in spite of my naivety.
·         Last years WHW.
·         But most of all – still being here….

Its not all been ‘i’m fricken awesome’ though - when I was in the Army I talked a fair bit about going on the All Arms Commando Course (to get a green beret) and that never happened!

Yes it would be great if we all shared the principles found within that short film. But alas, life is full of characters; some simply exist, some do a lot, others talk the talk but few walk their talk. And a short time ago I pressed the self destruct button………………
Those who are used to reading this blog will know that I’ve been spending a large portion of my recent spare time studying towards a distance learning honours degree in Building Surveying. Well, within the last two years, a couple of blokes that I work with recently completed theirs too; Bill got a 2:1 (day release) and Ben - a first (distance learning).
Before I go on I must describe to anyone who doesn’t have the foggiest what the difference is between distance learning and day release – night and day. For example, I’ve got a mate who sat the same course as me at the College of Estate Management (distance learning) and failed his 1st year – twice! His employer then relented and sent him to Glasgow Caledionian Uni’ on day release – and 4 yrs later he got a first.
Now, until Ben achieved his first he was massively overlooked by our colleagues and management. I don’t really know why to be honest, perhaps because he is English he seen himself as an outsider but that would only have been in his head if that was the case. He was certainly perceived as having difficulties expressing himself in a positive manner. Consequently, I often found myself telling people that they were wrong about him.  
Why? Well in my eyes, Ben had been written off for too long; he was wounded. This hons degree was his chance to prove he wasn’t a victim anymore. He began to take responsibility for changing his own life through the qualification; he knew that anything except a first would’ve simply reinforced his position as a nobody. He left no stone unturned in his quest. And it paid off – he was the only student in his year to be awarded a first!
So just as I was entering the final year of studies (12 months ago) someone at work (the G-Man) reminded me that I would have to get a first because “Ben managed it”. Hang on (I thought), this guy had more reason to do it than me – was more motivated. And besides, he didn’t have any kids and he certainly didn’t train, even a fraction of what I did.
In fact, Ben lived in the office and burnt the midnight oil practically every night for his entire final year. Privately I thought, “You can’t compare us that would be totally unfair”. But of course that’s the nature of folk; we make up ours minds with what we can see and are entirely ignorant of the things going on behind the scenes.
I had hated every minute of my studies so it should come as no surprise that I wasn’t exactly ‘top of the class’. In fact, every day I wanted to give up. But my fallback is always what is in my gut – that the right thing to do is often the hardest!
So instinctively, I knew that G-Man was right. For me anything other than a first would just have been a waste of the last 8 years – since leaving the Army. And so, I agreed with him and went a step further by announcing that a first was already in the bag!
I got a 2:1.
I failed (to get a first). I’m now no longer walking my talk and could even be called delusional! I say that taking nothing away from the 2:1 though because the truth is I couldn’t have worked any harder. In fact, until I opened that email I was still convinced I had got a first.
The thing is a lot has happened during the last 8yrs. I could go on and it might seem like I’m making excuses but in short LIFE has sidetracked me so thank goodness for the joy my wife and kids have brought me.
You see failure can have some positives. I’m oddly rather relieved for one. I now feel as though I’ve had a burden removed – one which drives me to prove myself. To who? Well that is the million dollar question because no-one would’ve batted an eyelid had I got a first. In fact, I dare say, I’d have been as satisfied with that as I am with what I’ve got now!
This has ramifications for my running too. In fact, I had this stuff pre-prepared on the assumption that I was going to get a first. The story was going to be about how I got a first but it came at a cost - the pressure I put on myself. Well the pressure was still there regardless of the final outcome - and I’ve still learnt from it.
What the hell am I talking about? Here’s what I mean;
From my teens through to my late 20’s I was very outgoing, socialised a lot and was everybody’s friend. Looking back now, I’m always amazed at the confidence I had. I’m not making this up. I’ve had people who knew me back then tell me that I’m a completely different person now – couldn’t be more different in fact! I was once known as a joker; the life of the party, very popular with girls, in with lads of all age groups (which is important when you’re a young lad) and sometimes the leader of a certain pack. People used to want to pass the time of day with me. When I was young, Dumfries for me was like a permanent episode of ‘Cheers’
However, in the here and now I can’t remember what it’s like to socialise, in fact I get nervous if I go out – even if it’s for a family meal!  I’m anxious in social groups of people unless there is a task to undertake. So much so you’d be lucky to see me out with a beer in my hand twice a year, tops; I now understand why some people need a drink or two before they can settle into a group on a night out!  
I’m very different from the young man I used to be. I don’t know if this is just what happens when you grow up? I mean, I thought I’d had a fair bit of being humbled already (compared to others my age). I honestly think, I’ve put too much pressure on myself – and taken on too much – some of which was completely unavoidable.
But gobbing off about getting a first was entirely my own doing - as would’ve been me saying that I’m going to run a sub 9hrs at the fling next year.
Perhaps the last few years has taught me that there’s maybe a different goal worth aiming for and I have a number of people to thank for helping me realise this; namely, Allie Wilson and of course, Rob Kennedy – though for entirely different reasons – one directly and one indirectly. They’ll both know what I mean.
Although time is a good indication of what level you’re at, perhaps focussing too much on it can have a negative impact. Maybe the real victory is quite simply – satisfaction, regardless of what time you get.
Maybe I should just try to focus on training as best I can up to the day and then let the rest take care of itself. I mean it would be tragic for me to go under 9 hours and come away unhappy with the way the day went.
Put another way, if I train properly and avoid injury and illness then whatever happens will be a direct result of what I’ve put in. There’s no point in stressing about something that can be altered by so many variables. Just train and do. The maths will take care of the rest. If I train as well as I’ve ever trained and run the fling in 10 or 11hrs then that will be what I’m capable of. It’s as simple as that.
Although I’ve loved walking my talk in the past; I think the time has come to be a bit more humble. I hope that I may be turning a corner - in 2013 – for the better. And having more or less dealt with my ‘issues’ (for now) it is my intention to put an end to these stories and follow with some specifics. So here are some quick thoughts for future posts;
·         Food; the basics
·         My new training regime – it’s nearly the same as what I was doing but with one major difference.
·         Consistency should be everyone’s top priority.
·         Glycogen.
·         Injury prevention and maintenance.
·         My long run nutrition strategy.
·         Strengthening your mindset.
·         Tapering nutrition strategy.
·         The super carb!
·         Should you train with a cold?
·         Running economy training.
To be continued……………

Thursday, 1 November 2012

The problem with words

It’s been a while since I last posted or at least it feels that way because I’ve had 3 or 4 themes floating around in my head that I’ve been too busy to do anything about. Sound familiar? The reality of juggling life, right?

Anyway, there is a valid and positive intention to this post (I hope).

I had a few days off work recently and during the rare moments of spare time I had a wee look through some of my previous blog posts. Something unsettling occurred; just who on earth did I think I was?

It’s a question I’ve been openly asked quite often (not so the last 10yrs or so – more when I was in my late teens and early 20’s) and now the penny has dropped. I now understand why some people would’ve asked it and now appreciate how I may be perceived at times……..PRETENTIOUS and PATRONISING.

In other words, claiming superiority with great importance in what I have to say and being boastful, obnoxious and vain. Hindsight really can be a wonderful thing, especially as it now affords me the opportunity to put a few things right.

First and foremost; an apology. There are few things more annoying that some twat speaking at you, talking down to you and telling you what to do. I’m not apologising for what I’ve written and I’ll come to that in a bit, I’m apologising if I’ve made anyone feel as though they were reading the words of said condescending knob. For me life is precious, it’s about leaving your mark. So if I’ve done that in a bad way through my blog, a way that gets under someone’s skin then I find that regrettable because it has never been my intention and nor would it ever be.

It might not seem like the best thing to say to prove my point but…. I do believe that what I have to say is important. Otherwise I wouldn’t write it. What I write is simply my opinion. It is what I have learnt through reading and experience. None of it is fabrication or a colourful misrepresentation of the truth.

Stuart Mills alluded to this very thing recently (his opinion) when he posted in relation to a comment made by one of his readers i.e. me. And another recent post by a well known blogger reinforced my belief that it was time for me to clear the air.

The long and short of it is summarised by me stating this; what I write is what I wish someone would’ve told me 4 years ago. It’s as simple as that.

I’ve always felt that if I can commit to something and give it my all then I’ll do myself justice – I’ll come back to this. It isn’t just about running but is applicable to everything in life and it comes back to the ability to juggle things; keeping all the plates spinning.

Anyone who cares about being as good a parent as they can be will instantly get that – and if that statement makes you wonder ‘just who on earth does he think he is’ (again) – then alls I can say is that I know that there are too many people out there that don’t really care about being a parent as much as they should.

I’m afraid I never skirt around the truth and I have a habit of telling bullshitters exactly what I think of them. It’s just the way I am, I suppose I may be perceived as having a problem with fake people – I don’t see it that way though.

The way I see it, is that the vast majority of people who do ultras and who may even read this blog do not fit into that category. So whenever it might appear as though I’m going off on one again, it isn’t directed at you. It’s more me dealing with my issues; ‘externalising my anxieties’ as Richard (the Beruit Taxi) might say.

Ask yourself if you’ve ever met someone in your own life and been instantly taken in by them i.e. impressed – so much so that you strike up a bond with them, one you hope will last a long time. The positive side to this is that these individuals make you sit up straight and take account of your own life. They inspire you to do better. These individuals are precious and within the ultra running community there is countless numbers of them.

The problem comes when someone is exposed (think Lance Armstrong) or when it strikes you one day that all that stuff that didn’t quite add up was for a reason – the person in question was/is a bullshitter. All of what you were striving for (in association) becomes meaningless, you start to question who you are and begin to consider if your morals are sound. You see, as far as I’m concerned this goes way beyond the likes of Lance and has far more to do with the ever expanding fake society in which we live. Image is so important that some people can’t help themselves.

I follow that we are all equal; we come into life with our skin, bones and organs and will die with same. The only real difference is the mark we leave on others. Whether it is felt by a few or the masses - it is our legacy/lifetime actions that should define us.

I’ve always felt this way and had an urge to seize the day - without looking down on others. In my view, it shouldn’t matter where people come from, what housing estate they live in, what school they went too, who their parents are, how much money they don’t have, who they know and are friends with, their age, their lack of qualifications, their previous minor discretions, how they dress, how they speak etc – regardless, we are all capable of great things.

And by the very same token I don’t look up to anyone, and never have. Sure, there are a slack handful of people that I admire and respect but never once have I ever looked at someone and thought them wholly better than me simply because of their widely perceived standing. For example, I do not think of the Queen in any particular shining light nor of any politician, millionaire or person who might have a thousand friends on facebook.

The fact is, no matter how much money you’ve got or how privileged you are (or think you are) you are still as accountable as the next. As far as I’m concerned, although we are all unique, we are concurrently and paradoxically - the same, until we prove otherwise - by our actions, not our possessions. Your morals say far more about you than the style of your hair, the car you drive or what your occupation is.

So coming back to committing to something and doing myself justice; my actions are to do as best as I can at everything I take part in. I know that very statement will wind people up the wrong way – but look, that’s just the way I’m made. I can’t help it.

This is why I’m banging on about ‘The Four Pillars of Ultimate Performance’. It’s my hope and intention that this can be designed and subsequently used as a blueprint for any novice or aspiring ultra runner. Or again, if it makes anyone feel any better, it’s what I wish someone had told me 4yrs ago; it’s only my opinion.

I can understand if some people look at my blog and wonder who the hell do I think I am. After all, I’ve done nothing in this game and won zilch. However, I think that stance says a lot more about those people than it does me.

I guarantee that 2013 will be a very different year in terms of my ultra running performances and it’s all going to be due to the knowledge I have amassed over the last 4years; something I am willing to share. How many of those people would want to do that?

What I can say is that I am very unlikely to offer some magic advice or add to the vast array of literature that already exists. It’s just me and my thoughts supplemented with what others say on certain areas. I have a good idea of what to write next and how the four pillars will take shape and I could be right or may be wrong. What I will do though is put the stuff I know and have learnt down in layman’s terms and make it as brief as possible.

Now think back to that scene in Dead Poets Society.

For those who can’t remember or who have never seen the film; the teacher (Robin Williams) makes a name for himself by inspiring his students to think for themselves – among the young people their parents and his peers. There is a tragedy late on in the film that spurs the parents and some of the teachers to apportion blame to the teacher. The Head Teacher ensues to bully some of the students into taking sides, his side, in a bid to get rid (of the teacher).

Being so young and impressionable and given the strict culture of the era it is easy to understand why the boys all folded to the pressure. However, at the end of the story they each individually manage to muster the courage to make a stand in support of their hero.

What do you notice?

For me, courage aside (i.e. it is a given for me – and wish it was for everyone despite what they claim) I noticed that there were a lot of boys still sitting and with their back to their previous teacher. This for me is the problem with words. Sometimes they mean everything; some people get it and some don’t. Such is life.

Saturday, 29 September 2012

Ultra Motivation

Q; what is the universal language?
A; a smile.

Q; what makes the ‘world go round’?
A; the Sun, money, love? I propose the answer is altogether more simple (ok, and complex);


Our emotions control what we do, shape our values and give us purpose. Their derivative is a place we have limited control over, often shaped by our life experiences, especially those formed at an impressionable young age. Without emotion, money wouldn’t matter and love would be a mystery.

To maximise the benefits from an understanding of the four pillars of ultimate performance each pillar must first be stripped of its impurities; in much the same way that a young army recruit is taken to his lowest possible ebb prior to reconstruction.

So whilst motivation can be discussed as a separate entity it has it’s foundation in emotion, a so-called plinth if you like. When you discover what really motivates you, you will better grounded to start work on the subsequent pillars and then achieve your overall aims. Thus you should consider the psychology of your own emotions.

‘What is motivation?’

I googled this question (to get me started) and at the very top of the page I got the following;

  1. The reason or reasons one has for acting or behaving in a particular way.
  2. The general desire or willingness of someone to do something.

Whilst far from being a panacea, this definition fits with my thread so for now I will begin with a story to illustrate what it really means.


There was once a young lad I knew very well. His first 12 years were less than ideal. Physically, mentally and sexually abused by his alcoholic, drug addicted mother, he had been in and out of care since he was 4 years old – when the courts decided that his mother (who didn’t want him) should be granted his custody. 

She had brainwashed him into believing that he would never be loved, never mind liked – and his early experiences confirmed this. The other kids didn’t want to play with a ‘blackie’ so from as early as he could remember, he would wander the streets all day rarely returning until midnight – not that it was of any consequence to his guardian.

Her issues were invariably taken them out on him. His sister was treated like his mothers sister and the pair of them picked on him relentlessly. In addition to the emotional pain he was living through daily, he witnessed his mother prostituting herself, trying to kill herself (several times), being taken in and out of mental health clinics and also spending time inside for attempted murder.

At 12 years old, his father got custody of him (the evil sister thankfully stayed where she was). When he moved to his new school it was noted that he was 4foot 9inches tall, weighed 4.5 stone and had size 3 feet. He was also classed as having learning difficulties.

By the end of his 3rd year in High School, he had grown a foot taller, doubled his weight, tripled his foot size and shot up from the foundation level in all subjects to near the top. He had surprised everyone (except himself). He was a grafter and by this time had bagged 4 part time jobs. As a consequence he felt even more independent - save the roof over his head and the meals that were provided.

However, he had become ready to move on. Why? Because he was petrified of his dad; here was a man that despite his good intentions could not break free from his own issues for the good of his son. He was quite handy with his fists and needed little excuse for beating on the boy.

And to think, all that was hoped for was a safe refuge; somewhere he could finally break free of his mental anguish but it just wouldn’t stop. On the outside everyone came to know him as a likable guy, mostly because of his attention seeking behaviour but others had him marked and knew he was vulnerable.

As far as achievements were concerned, his first came when he was 16 years old. Having just mastered the alphabet sequence a year earlier, he was awarded an A grade in English Higher. This win set about a principle that was already forming well – to be rewarded in life you must work hard because there really are no shortcuts.

Fast forward 20 years and I’ve done alright for myself; detached house; married for 12 years with two kids; got a permanent job; had the privilege of teaching, encouraging and influencing like minded individuals and benefited from same (whilst serving in the British Army); travelled the world and learnt about many cultures; I contribute to my local community in my present day to day job and have raised money for local charities; participated in a conglomerate of challenging activities and whilst it has been anything but plain sailing, I’ve made some relatively note-worthy achievements.

I use that word ‘relative’ because where I am now is a very different place from where I could’ve, perhaps even should’ve, been.

At this juncture, I would ask that no-one feels any sympathy for me because there is a point to my openness. Those years have defined me; there are times when I able to see them as a gift. Ok, so I’d have preferred that some of what happened – didn’t, but I can’t change any of that now.  

You see this background is the reason I have for acting or behaving in such a way;

  1. It is the reason I get annoyed with people who complain about what I perceive to be trivial matters;
  2. The reason I am openly frustrated with laziness, incompetence and a lack of leadership from those so obliged;
  3. It is the reason that I barely converse with anyone unless I have something important to say – and when I do, I can go on a bit;
  4. It has shaped my values – honesty, integrity, conviction, a distrust of vanity and privilege, a hatred of corruption and criminal activity etc;
  5. It is the reason that (behind closed doors) I am incredibly sensitive to moving films and music – often crying my eyes out;
  6. And it has given me an insight to real pain; I will return to the relevance of this point later.

So according to google, I’m half way to understanding what motivates me. I’ve broken things down, analysed them and made some conclusions. I could be wrong but the hard work is actually still to do. I’d advise you read the entire post before you try to hone in on your motivation - you need the whole picture.

It’s now time to consider the desire (or willingness) for running an ultra.

Now you need to know about intrinsic and extrinsic motivation. So in layman’s terms;

  • Intrinsic – doing something for you. Sounds like you might have a grasp on that; right? Mmnnn, I’ll explain in a bit.

  • Extrinsic – doing something because of the associated external reward e.g. money, applause, fame, love, the associated image…….. You’ve got a handle on this one, eh? Easy.

To get to the bottom of this, what better place to start than the pouring out above?

What’s this all about, you may ask yourself? Is this guy simply after approval; some kind acceptance? As much as it irks me, I have to admit that in some sense it is true. In fact the truth is, most people have this basic need, and it even defines some.

If I’m brutally honest I would say that about 20% of what drives me is for the associated adulation (extrinsic). I’m not happy about admitting that, in fact I’d rather not. But if we’re going to iron out motivation and uncover what really drives a person we have to be 100% honest with ourselves. By doing so we will not be found wanting when the cracks begin to form – as they so often do during the latter stages of an ultra.

You have to be absolutely certain about your commitment to an ultra before you start. Therefore, it is of huge comfort to me knowing that even if I was the only person on the planet I would still want to train for and run an ultra as fast as my ability would let me. This is where my other 80% of motivation lies.

I am mostly intrinsically motivated. It’s who I am, in no-matter what I do; this drive is equally applicable to everything I am involved with – which is somewhat (and unintentionally) unfortunate for those I interact with. When you are intrinsically motivated nothing else matters. It is felt as a burning desire and is way more powerful than extrinsic motivation.

In life I HAVE TO BE as good a husband and father as I possibly can be. You can probably guess why. Don’t get me wrong, I’m not perfect, far from it – but I will keep learning and keep trying to be better. It’s the reason I walked away from a flying career in the Army 8 years ago and is why I now work where I do.

Latterly, it is my driving ambition to be as good an ultra runner as I can possibly be. My love of this sport comes from the associated pain. We would all agree that there comes a time during an ultra when we are forced to confront ourselves at our rawest form. Ironically, this is my sanctuary.

The spin off from all of this is that my ‘background’ and ‘desire’ also drive me to encourage the best from others. When I witness people around me not trying hard enough or giving up, I literally get depressed. I feel they are losing grasp of what really matters; their only chance. Life is too short; it’s not a practice run.

In a weird quirk of fate, I read Carilyn Johnson’s blog 2 days ago - it just so happened to be discussing her own motivation;

“If we quit chasing our dreams because we are fulfilled, or ready to move onto something else, then that is fantastic! Well done! But if we quit because we are tired of the fight, tired of failing again and again, then we are cheating ourselves, and all those around us who are gaining inspiration from what we do day in and day out.”

You see where I’m going with this, yet? Running an ultra extrinsically can be thought of as doing it for the wrong reasons. Am I wrong? Look, I know I’m a novice runner but I contend that the longer distance one runs the less extrinsic it becomes, (and should be).

Why does Usain Bolt sprint?

Why does WilliamSichel run? Why do any of the best of them (ultra runners) run?

Yes, I know these examples are hardly based on rigorous research and can be easily taken as convenient examples to illustrate my opinion. But how many people would agree with my perception?
To find out what motivates you and then see if you’re suited to running ultra’s I propose you ask yourself the following questions;

  1. Do you care what people (other than those closest to you) think of you?
  2. What would you be doing if you had all the money in the world?
  3. Do you truly know yourself?
  4. When you fail, what is your gut reaction?
  5. Are you completely honest with yourself all of the time?
  6. Would you agree that the right thing to do is often the most difficult? And…..
  7. Under those circumstances which direction do you most take?

In your journey of discovering motivation, I urge you to be totally honest with yourself. I’ve done what I can to break into what I call the first of the four pillars of ultimate performance.

However, although I will continue to discuss motivation in the future, up next will be one of the other pillars; mental strength, physical conditioning and/or energy and nutrient timing.