MdMB Part III: The Race of My Life

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“If you’re not pushing yourself beyond the comfort zone,
if you’re not demanding more from yourself – expanding
and learning as you go – you’re choosing a numb existence.
You’re denying yourself an extraordinary trip.”
– Dean Karnazes, Ultra-Marathon Man:
Confessions of an All Night Runner

Three weeks after completing Marathon du Mont Blanc, I’m still struggling to put the experience into words, but it’s about time that I gave it a go. To be honest, I’ve been struggling with a post-race downer, and I need to re-focus with Cappadocia only 12 weeks away. In fact, Alan has well and truly re-surfaced, although as I’m in Norwich this weekend (complete with incorrectly pedestrianised city centre, and giant Nazi-saluting copper “dogs”) that was inevitable.

In my last post (MdMB Part I) I described the festival atmosphere of the weekend, and some of the many reasons why I fell in love with Chamonix.  What was surprising though was that my favourite part of the weekend wasn’t the build-up, watching the other races, or the post-race celebrations, but the race itself.

Just in case it isn’t already clear, I love running, and spend most of my life doing or talking about it.  Mont Blanc is however the first race that I have enjoyed the whole way through. In every race before MdMB the negative side of my brain had at some point, no doubt egged on by my feet, legs, back and chest, ruined the fun for the rest of me.  It always started with polite questioning – “Are you sure you’re ok?” “Aren’t your legs starting to hurt? Haven’t those gels made you feel a bit sick?”, but then developed into recriminations, histrionics and threats of strike or reprisals. These questions were never even asked during MdMB.  In fact, when I finished I had exactly the same feeling as I did at the end of our wedding, that it ended too quickly and that I wanted to go back and do it all again.

The race started in the centre of Chamonix at 7am, just as the sun was rising above the mountains. The start area was packed with the 2000+ runners and their supporters, together with a surprising number of committed locals waking early on a Sunday to cheer on the runners.  With only a limited amount of faffing, we were off heading through the narrow streets of the town. It felt great to start, after three days of watching other people run and 8 months of build-up.

I tried to make the most of the flat pavements, but we were soon onto the gently undulating fire tracks and out towards Argentiere. Although uphill, the first few miles were fairly gentle.  Rather than stick to my original plan of taking it very easy, I took the advice of a MdMB veteran (more on which shortly) and tried to get as far forward as I could, to avoid the worst of the traffic when the course got narrower.

Actually, this was my only gripe of the weekend; there were just too many people on the course.  It was very difficult to keep to your own pace, as you were either stuck in a bottleneck or getting jostled from behind. It actually became dangerous at a couple of points where you had people trying to overtake on single-track paths where one wrong step could end your race, or in some places, your life.  Although it was great that there were so many people doing the race, in my humble opinion they have to start in waves next year, just as they did with the Vertical KM.

Apart from twisting my ankle on possibly the flattest section of the course, the first 11 miles flew by, and before I knew it I was at the aid station at the bottom of Aguillette des Posettes, faced with the 1km vertical climb that I had been dreading since I entered the race.

Thankfully, you could only see the start of it from the aid station, and because of the tree cover you did not at any point have to look from bottom to top.  It was undoubtedly the toughest hour or so of my running life, and every time I thought I was at the top there was another slope in front of me.  Bewilderingly though, I really enjoyed it.  There was no question of being able to run up it, so it was simply a matter of putting hands on knees and slowly edging up and diverting my attention from my burning glutes, quads and calves.

As this was the slowest part of the course, I could chat to the other “runners”, which definitely passed the time.  This was particularly the case with Charlotte, who I had met the day before at the Expo.  As well as being a veteran of the race and Chamonix resident, she is also one half of the team behind Sky Lines (http://www.sky-lines.eu), who had the simple but ingenious idea of making temporary tattoos containing all of the details of the race (see above, modelled by my puny forearms), so she quite literally knew the course like the back of her hand.

Indeed, just as I was starting to struggle up the hill Charlotte pointed out to me that once we were at the top, we were on the home stretch.  Seemed an odd thing to say with just under half of the race left, but with the hardest part over, it made sense at the time.  If that wasn’t enough of a kick, the view at the top, massive cliché alert, made all of the effort worthwhile.  The rolling green slopes, uninterrupted view of the Mont Blanc Massif, thin clear air, the snaking line of runners and the old man on top of a trailer playing an electric guitar is now the place I go to in my head when things start to get too much.

We then headed downhill, at the same steepness as we came up. It was absolutely petrifying, but also incredibly fun.  It felt great to be travelling fast, and because I was concentrating on every step, it made the time pass even quicker.

With the most challenging part of the run over with, we headed back to civilisation and through Le Tours. It felt very odd (and not in a good way) to be back on tarmac, but it wasn’t long before we doubled-back on ourselves into the tree line and to the very welcome aid station at Tré Les Champs. The station was buzzing, and I would have quite happily stayed and chatted to the crowds, eaten cheese and saucisson and listened to the band playing Bob Marley.

But I had a race to finish.  Next came a much shorter, but deceptively more technical peak than the first, with unstable rocks, twisted tree roots and other potential race-enders. Apparently, this section was included this year after previous complaints about the race not being technical enough. Thanks for that, last year’s runners.

With the tricky peak at Le Bechoz dispensed with, there was a long, slow climb to the final aid station at Le Flégére. This was the only part of the race that dragged.  There was less to look at, it was baking hot with no shade, and I’d run out of water.  But, near the top of the climb, I caught up with my cousin, mate, and Bear Grylls, James (he of the Rocky training regime), who I’d lost at mile 10.  We made it to the final aid station together, and after a quick coke (cola, to be clear), sit down and jug of water over the head, we went out together for the final 6km to the finish.

In previous races, I have been accused of abandoning previously made plans to finish as a team in search of personal glory.  But this time it really was by accident, honest. As James and I set out from the aid station we agreed that it would be brilliant to cross the line together.  James, for different reasons, also had a horrendous 2014, and it was just as much of an achievement as it was for me to be on the start line.

After a little time to let the coke go down, I gave James an inclined nod to the front of us, being the universal sign for, “let’s push on”.  I am pretty sure that James nodded back, so for the first time I took the lead and overtook a couple of people in front of us.  I’d suddenly got a massive burst of energy, buoyed by the fact that we could now see and hear the finish line in the distance, so kept overtaking at every opportunity.  I was concentrating on this so much, however, that I forgot to check behind me.  By the time that we got to the final switchback up to the line at Planpraz, I realised that I couldn’t see James anywhere.  The path was too narrow to stop, so I could do nothing else but push on.

Before the race, I’d warned Camilla that I’d be a mess, physically and mentally, when I crossed the line, and fully expected the last 18 months of awfulness to come flooding out. As is nearly always the case in life, it did not conform to expectations, and all I felt was elated, the only negative thought being a sense of disappointment that it was all over, 06:54:10 after it started.

Thankfully too, James crossed the line a couple of minutes later, so we were able to head into the recovery tent together, where some genius (in fact the geniuses at Micro Brasserie de Chamonix (http://www.mbchx.com)), put a beer tap at the end of the line of bottles of water and recovery drinks.  It was hands down the best beer I have ever tasted, although disappointingly they refused to fill up James’s 500ml flask, or my hydration pack with the stuff.

Charlotte, my race companion/pacer/coach also came in just after us, so hit her target of sub-7 hours.  Rev, the third member of the UDR trio, also had a great race and came in well below the time he was predicting, and loved the experience almost as much as I did.

I couldn’t find much about the race online, so here are the main questions that I had before the start:

  • Will road shoes do? NO. Even though it was dry this year there is no way that I would have stayed on my feet without my heavy duty Salomon Speedcross 3s.
  • What about poles?  A controversial subject. I have never tried them, and coped absolutely fine without. I was pretty fed up by the end of the race at being jabbed in the leg by them though, or by people turning a dual-track path into a single-track by spreading their arms as much as possible.  So if you get on with them, use them, but be prepared to be hated by the people that don’t (mainly at jealously during the uphills).
  • Should I do much hill training?  As I’ve mentioned before, I only did one real mountain run before the race, so you can cope without, but the more you do, the more confident you will be on both the up and downhills.
  • What about the altitude?  From our collective experience, it’s definitely a good idea to do some altitude training if you can.  James really struggled, and actually had to stop at some point. As I was lucky enough to work next to, and be supported by, The Altitude Centre, it didn’t bother me at all.
  • How hard is it? Very, particularly the first climb, but if you can do a flat marathon, and get some practice on hills, it’s definitely doable.
  • Should I do it?  If the answer is not obvious already, YES YES YES.

I’ll see you next year, although I may well be doing the 80km.

Next up – Cappadocia Trail 60k, T-12 weeks. It’s got a lot to live up to…

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Training Weeks 8-10: The Final Push

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“Begin at the beginning,” the King said, very gravely,
“and go on till you come to the end: then stop.”
– Alice in Wonderland – Lewis Carroll

Last week was my first break from posting since I started Up & Down Runner in April.  I’m in my final training push for the Mont Blanc Marathon, which is now 14 days away, so every minute counts.  After today it will all be rest, recovery and avoiding anyone that looks like they have even a little sniffle.  Seriously, if you are going to come near me, make sure you’ve used some hand gel.

And what a final push it has been. I went over 20 miles for the first time in more than a year, met one the greatest ultra-runners in history, spent a lot of time in the Altitude Centre, and, dear readers, finally managed to run up and down a mountain.

As The King of Hearts suggests, I will begin at the beginning. Week 8 involved lots of road miles, and what I thought was a hilly long run up and down One Tree Hill and the roads around Forest Hill, followed by flatter sections around Dulwich and Brockwell Parks and Wandsworth and Clapham Common.  It’s only by running that you realise how close everything really is in London, and how many beautiful open spaces there are.  I have now also realised that London is not very hilly.

Week 9 was the big one. On Tuesday I went to an event held by Like the Wind Magazine (if you have not checked it out yet, do http://www.likethewindmagazine.com – It’s Not How To Run, It’s Why We Run); a talk by, and Q&A session with, Lizzy Hawker.

Lizzy Hawker is unquestionably one of the greatest ultra runners in history. Among many other achievements she is five time winner of the Ultra Trail du Mont Blanc, current 24 hour road-running record holder, first female outright winner of the 153 mile Spartathlon and record holder for the 320km route from Everest Base Camp to Kathmandu.  Her new book, called Runner – A Short Story About a Long Run, is an inspirational read, whether you are interested in running or not.

Among her many other talents (she has a PhD in oceanography from Cambridge), she is able to encapsulate why something as simple as putting one foot in front of the other means so much to so many, and, much like Frankl (Mind Control I: The Last Human Freedom), to show that most, if not all, people underestimate their capabilities and potential.

In the first chapter of Runner, Lizzy (we’re on first name terms now) explains how she whole-heartedly took the King’s advice for her first UTMB – she started running and just kept going until she stopped, which happened to be at the finish line, before any other woman.  As you may have already noticed, particularly if you’ve met me, I have a tendency to over-think things and assume that any new challenge is beyond me.

As a case in point, before Tuesday I’d been very worked-up about the planned trip that weekend to Snowdonia, my first ever mountain run.  After the talk, I asked Lizzy for a tip, and all she said was “enjoy the mountains”.  So, for possibly the first time in my life, I ignored my natural instincts and just went with it.

And enjoy the mountains I did.  I went with my friend, cousin and all-round Bear Grylls*, James, to Snowdonia National Park.  Starting in Capel Curig, up 650m to the top of a very windy Moel Saibod, back down then up another 600m or so the top of Castell-Y-Gwynt, then a loop round back to Capel Curig. The toughest, but most fun 16.5 miles I have ever run.  Much like my illness, the first up was tough but manageable, but the down was petrifying.  Trying to keep up with a human mountain goat, look where I was going and avoid peat bogs, holes and sharp rocks was almost too much for me to cope with.

However, at the top of Castell-Y-Gwynt, after some sage advice from James, I remembered the words of Lizzy Hawker, and possibly the greatest philosopher of our times, Master Yoda – “Do. Or do not. There is no try”.  So I cleared my mind and just did it. Not only was it so much easier, but I also bloody loved it. Granted I was still not able to keep up with James, but I did look more goat than Bambi.

Although maybe that was wishful thinking, particularly after a fell runner who ran past me said “thanks love” as I let him past.  I may have been wearing tights and a headband, but I would have thought that the beard would have cleared up any ambiguity about my gender.  There is an obvious joke here, but I have two beautiful friends from North Wales, so I won’t make it.

The start of week 10 mainly consisted of resting my poor quads and knees, but by the middle of the week I was feeling great, and have managed to get in some good miles.  In her brilliant article in the equally brilliant Standard Issue Magazine (standardissuemagazine.com/living-with-bipolar/), my wife questioned whether I was just repeating all of the mistakes I made in the lead up to the Royal Parks Ultra in 2013 (more on which next week). However, rather than feeling scared and stressed, focusing on all of the training days that I have missed, I feel ready to stand on the start line.  I don’t know whether I will make it to the finish line, but I no longer care, the fact that I have got to the beginning is enough.  After that I will just keep on running until I stop.

*To be honest, anyone that has ever put up a tent is Bear Grylls compared to me.

Like the Wind Magazine and Runner by Lizzy Hawker DCIM100GOPROG0080329.  DCIM100GOPROG0040228. The Cantilever, Snowdonia

My Running Playlist

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“Can you hear the road from this place? can you hear footsteps? voices? can you see the blood on my sleeve? I have fallen in the forest. did you hear me?” – The Loneliness and the Scream, Frightened Rabbit

Running with music is an oddly controversial subject, with purists believing that it’s an unnecessary distraction, and ruins the detachment from the modern world that running brings.  Whilst I’m not averse to this, it doesn’t really apply when you’re going past lines of buses, people talking needlessly loudly on their phones and yoots playing whatever it is they listen to nowadays at top volume out of their phones (alright, Granddad).

I also love music, but don’t get enough time to enjoy it, so listening while running through London allows me to drown out the noise of the city, and combine two of my favourite things.  The trouble is that my preferred genre would most accurately be described as “miserable men with guitars and beards” (being a miserable man with a beard myself), which is not really conducive to prolonged physical exertion.

While there is definitely a time and a place for cheese, and I completely understand why Eye of the Tiger is on so many people’s exercise playlists, it doesn’t work for me for two reasons.  In the interests of brutal honesty, I’ve got nothing against a bit of S Club 7, Daniel Beddingfield or a fat slice of Thin Lizzy*, but they are not songs that I would choose to listen to without booze, friends and terrible dancing. As I’ve said, running for me is all about isolation, and getting into my own cozy homemade void.

Secondly, for me a running playlist needs to strike a delicate balance between relaxation and distraction, and focus and motivation.  This is why my chosen songs are a mix between euphoric, melancholy, angry and adrenaline-inducing.  Again, I blame the bipolar.

So, after much experimentation, I’ve come up with a list of songs that work for me, and some of the highlights are below.

A few have made the list because they are suited to running: Slow Hands by Interpol appears on a few running compilation albums, as does Enter Sandman, and apparently Where I End and You Begin has close to the optimal 180 beats per minute for running.

Although it’s definitely not about running, The Loneliness and the Scream really could be, and I’ve been known to let out a scream while listening to it.  Particularly the above quote; “falling in the forest” accurately describes my approach to trail running.

Other songs are there because they have personal significance.  From Born Slippy triggering reminiscences about my teenage years, My Number being perfectly timed with a massive endorphin rush near the end of my first Ultra (more on which later), to The ’59 Sound, which was playing on the radio when I left hospital for the first time after Freddie was born. You don’t need to tell me what a terribly inappropriate song this is to remind me of my son being born, as I’m the guy that wanted Fistful of Love by Anthony and the Johnsons as the first dance at our wedding (even his collaborator Nico Muhly [namedrop alert] told Camilla that it was a really weird choice).

The third category comprises of songs that are simply brilliant. I don’t need an excuse to listen to New Order, R.E.M., The National or The Twilight Sad, and I would happily listen to Bloc Party’s Silent Alarm from start to finish at any time.

Right, I’m off to do some falling in the forest, speak to you next week.

* Alan again, sorry (https://updownrunner.com/2015/05/04/mind-control-ii-overcoming-alan/)

Freddie

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“Always be yourself. Unless you can be Batman.
Then, always be Batman” – Unknown

19 May 2010 was the day that my life changed completely.

I became a father two days later, but only because Frederick Peter King took 40 hours to make an appearance. This is nearly as long as it now takes him and his brother to leave the house.  Presumably, he just had to find his shoes, finish whatever it was he was making out of Lego, decide what he NEEDS to take with him, and argue about whether it is a good idea to wear a snowman jumper in 20°C sunshine before leaving, or whatever the in utero equivalents are.

Overall, Freddie’s arrival, and the arrival of Caspar 2½ years later, were the best things that could ever have happened to me. But they were not a solution to any of the issues that I had been dealing with my whole life (children rarely are), and in many ways exacerbated my symptoms, stopped me from getting help (when I finally saw my GP she diagnosed it as “baby blues”) and put me on the downward spiral to the breakdown.

Before I go any further, I want to make two things clear.  Firstly, I was not the one that had to go through the nearly two days of pain and terror that was Freddie’s labour, and I know for sure that any ultra-marathon I sign up to in the future will be nothing compared to that, even if it lasts as long.

Secondly, I recognise how incredibly lucky I am to have a child, let alone two healthy (most of the time), beautiful, happy (most of the time), loving and wonderfully weird boys.  This has been thrown into sharp focus in the last year through the experiences of four people that are very close to me, including one of my Mont Blanc running partners. James’s story is his own to tell, but I can’t talk about the subject without asking you to follow this link, and donate to another incredibly important cause http://bit.ly/1Sna5C8.

Back to my own story. It seems to me that there are two types of parent, the ones that find parenting hard, and convincing liars.  The worry, bewilderment, exhaustion and sheer repetitive drudgery that comes with having a child can at times overcome even the most patient, rational and well-supported parents.

For me it was much more than this though, and I know that I’m not alone.  I’ve already described how spectacularly badly I handled the news of Camilla being in the family way (http://bit.ly/1IT153l), and how I felt completely unprepared to look after another human being.  As the due date approached, the pressure became greater, and I became consumed by more worrying thoughts.

One of the most frequently used words in therapy to describe myself was (and in many ways still is) “fraud”.  Ever since I was a teenager I’ve been convinced that one day I would be found out; exposed for the feeble, weak-minded weirdo that I am; that my ability to conduct a normal life was just a flimsy facade.

As a father, the consequences of my true identity being unmasked were exponentially increased, and I lost my only escape route.  Without wishing to sound self-pitying, before Freddie came along I felt that I could always disappear, whether temporarily or permanently, if it all got too much, or if my deception was exposed.  Although my family and friends would obviously be very sad, they would, in time, get on with their lives, and Camilla would find someone that wasn’t punching so much above his weight.  Perhaps this is the reason why so many people with depression feel the urge to distance themselves from those close to them, and why it is so important to spot the signs of this as early as possible. The further the gap, the harder it is to come back.

When Fred arrived, there was someone in my life that couldn’t replace me, that would depend on me for love, support, money, and as someone to look up to. As will now be clear, I felt completely unqualified for this role.

I also started experiencing unsettling bouts of manic obsession, and became even more convinced that something would go wrong.  As a baby, Freddie had a number of issues that disturbed his sleep, the worst of which being the idiot who woke him up every time he was still, to make sure that he was still breathing.  I also spent a whole week cleaning and disinfecting every wall, floor, fixture, fitting and moveable object in the house.  Camilla had to force me to stop in the end, persuading me that it would be a few years before Freddie would start reading my pretentious collection of Penguin Classics.

What was most difficult to deal with was the all-consuming fear that Freddie would turn out like me. Although he is definitely very sensitive, single-minded to the point of obsession and prone to pretty extreme mood swings, even for a five year old, things will be different for him for two reasons. Firstly, even if he does suffer from mental health issues, he’s got me and Camilla, who are now more experienced than we would ever want to be in dealing with the highs and lows of bipolar depression, and perhaps I can be a role model by showing him how depression can be controlled much of the time, and that it is ok to seek help when it can’t.

Secondly, and most importantly, he is also more self-assured than I will ever be, as demonstrated by the exchange I had with him around 18 months ago:

FPK: “Daddy, you know that man?” [Points at his kid’s encyclopaedia]
UDR: “That’s Usain Bolt, Freddie”
FPK: “Is he really the fastest man ever?”
UDR: “Yes he is.” [Natural pedant that I am I wanted to say “fastest recorded man, over 100 and 200m”, but I was late for work and couldn’t spend the next hour giving him the history of running (that will come later)]
FPK: “He’s not faster than me though is he?”
UDR: “He’s the fastest man in the world, which means that no-one is faster than him, even you.”
FPK: “Yeah, but if I was on my scooter, wearing my Batman costume there is NO WAY that he would beat me.”

And that, ladies and gentlemen, is my eldest son in one conversation. If I can be a part of creating someone like Freddie, with so much confidence in his athletic ability that he calls out the world’s greatest sprinter, then maybe I’m not that bad after all.

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Training Weeks 5-7: He’s Like a Piece of Iron

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“All I do is keep running in my cozy, homemade void, my own nostalgic silence. And that is a pretty wonderful thing, no matter what anyone else says” – Haruki Marukami, What I Talk About When I Talk About Running

This quotation says everything to me about why I run, and my response to anyone who says that running is boring.  Granted, it’s not for everyone, and sometimes it is frustrating, exhausting and painful, but once you can find that void, that feeling of all of your problems lifting from your shoulders, you can run forever, if only your legs would let you.

The problem with this of course, at least for the blog, is that silence is not very interesting to write about, so I’ve condensed three weeks of training into the one post.  I’ve made a breakthrough, and am discretely eating up the miles. I’m definitely not back to 2013 form yet, but for the first time since the Royal Parks Ultra, I feel capable of running a marathon.

Also, although I have not found any mountains to run up yet, I’ve got as close as a soft city-dweller can, as I’ve joined the Altitude Centre (https://www.altitudecentre.com). Headquartered above my gym off Gresham Street in London, they are the premier altitude training specialists.  I did my first session on a treadmill in the altitude chamber last week, and am already feeling the benefits.

In a sealed room, on a treadmill and hooked up to a heart monitor and oximeter and spending increasing amounts of time in the gym (http://www.cityathletic.co.uk), I’m starting to feel like Ivan Drago from Rocky IV.  If I’m Ivan Drago (minus the flat top, steroids and Brigitte Nielsen), James and Rev, my two running partners, are definitely taking the Rocky Balboa approach. To be fair though neither the New Forest nor the Cotswolds is quite Siberia, but I don’t care, Drago and Balboa ended the Cold War, after all.  Just to be clear, the below are screenshots from the film, and not me in the gym, although the resemblance is startling.

This week, I also spent a few days working in Brazil, so sweated out more than half my bodyweight running up & down the beach, and recovered with my recommended 1-3 protein to carb intake with beef and caipirinhas.

I’m actually feeling a little guilty about the trip, as for the first time I passed up an opportunity to get some extra cash for my fundraising efforts. Although an extra £100 would have been great, it was not worth putting everyone off looking at the blog ever again by posting a picture of myself on the beach in green Speedos, just to win a bet.

Today is also a very big, and intimidating day in our household, as it is the day that I introduce son no. 1 to the world of cycling. Embarrassingly, it is not Freddie that is intimidated, but me.  I do not have anything against cycling or cyclists (except anyone that rides on the pavement), it is just that I should be really into cycling, but I most definitely am not.  I have enough lycra, and I keep getting told what great cross-training it is, but I’m just rubbish at it.  Last time I went mountain biking I ducked out of the afternoon session, and the time before that I fell off my bike in the car park, and went over the handlebars on a downhill after confusing the back brake with the front. So I’m off to the two very cool bike shops in Peckham, to pretend that I know what I’m talking about.  Wish me luck…

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Keep Your Money in Your Shoes – Running Gear

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“When you greet a stranger, look at his shoes, always keep your money in your shoes, put your trouble behind” – R.E.M. Good Advices

It’s been a fairly uneventful couple of weeks on the training front, except for a couple more comedy injuries; a bruised shin after tripping over a rowing machine in the gym, and strained neck from brushing my teeth.  It has of course been a very eventful week in the UK generally, and it has all been very serious on the television, media and on Facebook and Twitter. So I thought that this week was the perfect time to put on my most superficial, trivial post of all, and in any case it was about time that I got down to some running geekery – my “essential” running gear.

I’m not sure whether this is the “advices” that Michael Stipe was intending to give, but there could not be a better summary of the approach to take to buying running kit.

Whether or not you are a fanatical “natural runner”, or believe that shoes should be “prescribed”, it is undeniable that the wrong pair of shoes can ruin a race, or even a season. My view, for what it’s worth, is that barefoot running is great if you have perfect running form or are biomechanically built for it, but for flat footed, awkward, heel striking hypochondriacs like me, support and cushioning is essential.

I have tried so many different brands and styles over the last 10 years, all of which have given me issues except for one: the Brooks Adrenaline GTS.  I am now on my 7th pair, with the latest incarnation, the GTS 15 (http://bit.ly/1Et324V), being the best yet.  Impossibly comfortable, supportive and stable, but still light and springy.  For a running shoe, it also has pretty good green credentials, with its fully biodegradable BIOMOGO midsole.

Now I could, and some would say should, stop there.  One of the best things about running is that it is accessible, uncomplicated and cheap, with the only mandatory kit being the right pair of shoes. This is true, but another great thing, at least for a fool that likes parting with his money like me (I blame the bipolar), is that there is an ever growing list of things that you can buy to be safer, faster, better looking and armed with more stats than you could ever use.

Below is a list of my running kit, roughly in descending order of importance:

  • socks: almost as important as the right shoes.  I don’t need to tell you how painful blisters are, and how they can ruin, or even stop a run (or a night out).  I can honestly say that since I started using specific running socks, I have never had a blister.  My current favourites are X-Socks (http://bit.ly/1HIquO6) and Hilly (particularly their trail line http://bit.ly/1HIqNIW), and am no stranger to a knee-length compression sock;
  • “technical” t-shirt: i.e. one that wicks away sweat.  Nothing worse than wearing a top that gets heavier the further you run, except perhaps chafed nipples (speaking of which, these are great http://bit.ly/1OY1abj).  I tend to wear a lot of Nike tops (http://swoo.sh/1GwuVv9), which look good as well as being as technologically advanced as a t-shirt can get.  Many people will scoff at the former, but I have always found that the more I look the part, the more I act it;
  • foam roller: (http://bit.ly/1J0y6sv) just buy one. “Foam rolling is huge. It’s a more powerful tool than stretching” – not my words Carol, the words of Top Gear magazine* David McHenry, Nike Oregon Project physio;
  • GPS running gadget: If you have a smartphone, there are great apps like Strava, Runkeeper and Nike+ that you can download for free, although if you are a stats geek like me, you may want to go for a running watch like the Garmin Forerunner 620 (http://bit.ly/1OUwDWB), particularly if your cadence, vertical oscillation ground contact time are important to you;
  • tights: not only am I a big fan of lycra (which I admit only in the interests of complete honesty), but getting a good pair of running tights gives you less of an excuse not to go out in the cold, and although the medical evidence for compression wear is inconclusive, I find that the added support and extra warmth to the muscles helps with recovery. Also, in case you want to know where I stand on the age-old question, shorts go over the top of tights – the Ken doll look is not a good one for me;
  • MP3 player: not everyone likes running to music, but I find that it helps me relax, and running is about the only chance I get now to listen undisturbed. I just use my iPhone, as I can also use maps or the phone if I get lost or injured (a frequent occurrence, as you know by now);
  • headphones: until recently, I’ve been loyal to the Adidas/Sennheiser neckband headphones, as they are comfortable, reasonably priced and sound as good as most other “premium” cans I’ve listened to, but also because I’d never been able to find in-ear headphones that stayed in place.  However, The neckband means that it is difficult to use them in the gym, and they can get in the way of sunglasses.  A couple of months ago I discovered the Bose SoundSport (http://bit.ly/1H7slu9), which aren’t cheap, but sound great, are so light that they are barely there, and haven’t fallen out yet.  The feature that they both share, which for me is absolutely necessary in running headphones, is that they are “open-backed” – running with noise cancelling headphones is the surest way to get run over; and
  • camera: unless you are writing a blog, this is probably the least important piece of kit, but also the coolest.  I have just entered the world of the GoPro with a Hero4 Silver (http://gopro.com), it is flippin’ awesome.

As to where to buy all of this stuff from, I’m very lucky to have the two best running shops I’ve ever been to within 10 minutes of the office.  Sweatshop (http://www.sweatshop.co.uk) deserves all of the awards it wins, and the Trump Street branch is the best of them all.  The Running Works (http://www.therunningworks.net) is not just a running shop, but also a runners’ library, meeting place, club and yoga studio.

Right, I’d better start writing something serious for next week…

* Sorry, I can’t keep Alan at bay all of the time (http://bit.ly/1KHcZga)

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