Beget: to cause or bring about.

I can’t remember who first said to me:

Money begets money

What I know is that when they said it, there was more than a tinge of bitterness in their voice. And I guess I believe that it is true – if you are lucky enough to start out with a big pile of cash, it is generally easier to make a bigger pile of cash. Donald Trump, I’m looking at you.

But recently I have realised that there is another – much more positive – side to the idea that doing something can bring about more of it. I am currently experiencing it.

Fitness begets fitness

In the past month or so, I have really hit my stride. In fact I have written about little else on this blog. The reasons I have gone from struggling to get out for a run more than a couple of times per week are many, but include;

  • Discovering that I actually really enjoy cycling
  • Getting better at cycling (or at least less scared of going fast on the bike)
  • The arrival of spring – especially the warmer weather and longer days
  • Realising that my physical fitness is an essential part of being the best husband and colleague I can be

What has really become apparent though, is that the more I do, the more I want to do. It is almost as if now that I have invested some time in exercising, it would be a bigger and bigger waste to let the hard-won fitness go.

Transformation

The transformation has surprised me. I’ve gone from feeling like going for a quick run was far too much effort to waking up excited about a 3 hours solo bike ride. I have been getting out for a run or a ride five or six times per week. And I am starting to think about some challenges for later in the year (Chiltern 100 and the Etape London are on the menu for cycling. Might also chuck in a trail race).

So what does all this mean? I think that the old adage that “Motivation is what gets you started. Habit is what keeps you going.” (attributed to Jim Ryun, US track and field athlete who won a silver medal at the 1968 Summer Olympics in the 1,500 metres) is the key here. I was motivated to try something new – cycling – and now it is becoming a habit (and a bit of an obsession) which makes it easier to make it stick. And that has increased my motivation to run as well.

Long may this new motivation last …

The truth about being the best runner I can be

As some readers of this blog will be aware, I recently managed to make the leap from my passion for all things running, into the way that I make my living: my wife and I have set up a social media and marketing business for running and endurance sports brands. The business is called freestak and you can check it out at www.freestak.com.

I love my work. I have a legitimate reason to spend time reading, thinking and talking about two of my favourite things – social media and endurance sports. At freestak we have a wonderful group of clients all of whom have exciting products that we really believe in. My job involves creating and delivering campaigns which I really love doing… but (you knew there would be a ‘but’) it is not easy. We are very, very busy and the amount of sleep I get seems to be inversely proportionate to the amount that I care about what we are doing. And I really, really care! So sleep is a rare commodity.

At the same time, I have been striving to get myself in the right shape to run a PB in the upcoming London marathon. But I am discovering that the two things – the growth of freestak and the desire to run a faster marathon – aren’t entirely compatible. Training has been patchy – a couple of really good 80+ miles weeks, then a crash and a 40 mile week, applying ice to various injuries and being a moody bastard.

Me being the best I can be.
Me being the best I can be.

So I have been wondering what on earth I am doing, questioning what I am trying to prove and what my priorities are? Listening to too many people and starting to feel really negative about my running. Then in the space of three days I read two things which have really resonated with me and I’d like to share them with you (and perhaps give myself a well-deserved kick in the backside!)

The first thing that I have been reading is James Cracknell and Beverley Turner’s new book, Touching Distance. In case you have not heard about this book, it recounts the period of their lives when James and his wife, Beverley, were dealing with a near-fatal accident that James suffered whilst cycling across the USA as part of a challenge he was taking on. He suffered a very severe head injury which led to changes in his personality that both James and Bev recount in the book. You can read about the accident here.

The start of the book is mainly the story of James’ life as an Olympian and elite athlete and it really tells a warts-and-all account of the ups and downs of trying to be the best in the world. At one point, having won Olympic gold, James writes that:

I believe there’s a gulf mentally between ‘not carrying on’ and ‘giving up’, even if, practically, it amounts to the same thing

This was at the point at which James was married, starting a family, getting older and wondering whether he had the drive to train for another four years to try to get to the Beijing Olympic Games.

In my own little way, I can really relate to that. I am not suggesting for a moment that I am on the same level as someone like Cracknell, but if I commit to lowering my marathon PB, that will involve running eight, nine or even ten times per week. That means spending somewhere in the region of 9 hours a week running, which is only the half of it, because I believe that for every minute actually running, it takes at least one more minute to get ready, wash kit, eat, stretch, travel to training sessions, lay on the sofa eating malt-loaf, etc. That means that it could easily take 20+ hours a week to train for a marathon. That is a big commitment at the best of times, let alone when I am trying to build freestak and do the best possible job for our clients.

I realise that this might sound as though I’m wimping out. And that is part of the problem. For me now, training has started to become something that I don’t really enjoy. I am not sure I really want a PB enough to put myself through what I know it will take to achieve it. That is not to say that I have made a decision one way or another, but I am not sure I have the drive to do all the training.

This is where the other thing that I read comes in. One of my training partners, Steve Tranter (@tranter_ on Twitter) sent me a link to an article in Running Times magazine written by an American runner and journalist called David Aim, who had the opportunity to spend a few days with a group of elite level athletes, during which time he discovers that, to some extent, the different between elite runners and recreational runners is their attitude.

One of the passages that really struck me in the article, was about how, in the desire to record ever better times, we can lose sight of why we run in the first place:

who of us hasn’t considered how our peers will react to our performance in a given race, whether good or bad? And in those moments, whom are we ultimately running for? The sport is difficult enough as it is; doing it for anyone but ourselves makes it unsustainable (David Aim)

I started running to improve my self-esteem, to lose weight, to take control of my life and undo the physical damage that I had been doing to myself since my late-teens with cigarettes, alcohol and general bad-living. I soon discovered that I wanted to see how good I could be. But what I seem to have lost sight of, is that I live in a set of circumstances and what I need to remember is that I am trying to be the best runner I can be in those circumstances.

There is no point comparing myself to anyone else: I have no idea what their circumstances or motivations are. And moreover there is no point in comparing ‘me now’ to ‘me then’ – my circumstances have changed and I should be striving to be the best runner I can be in today’s circumstances.

Now I come to think of it, every time I have had the opportunity to meet and talk to elite athletes they have been the same as those described in the Running Times article – kind, encouraging, helpful, modest. None of them has belittled me or the results I have achieved. I recently met Haile Gebrselassie and he said that my marathon PB was great, for goodness sake! The same cannot be said for many of the non-elite athletes that I train with and associate with.

So I am going to try to develop a mind-set closer to that described by David Aim in his Running Times piece – I am going to try to develop an elite attitude and see where that takes my running. Here are my new rules, courtesy of David and his elite friends:

4 Keys to An Elite Attitude

1 – Don’t treat training runs or race times as indications of your self-worth

2 – Value every runner’s efforts, success and potential

3 – Don’t beat yourself up in training or in evaluating your workouts and racing

4 – Recognize that your running ability is a result of many factors, not just how serious you are or how hard you push

 

Motivation for the Nation

Screen Shot 2013-03-02 at 16.37.19

 

It might be the weather. Or the fact that marathon training is starting to take it’s toll. It could be an avalanche of work. Or maybe niggles are starting to creep in. Whatever the reason, there are times when it simply feels like too much effort to go for a run. So what do you do to make sure you get your running kit on and get out of the door?

 

 

Here are my top tips (in no particular order):

  1. Find a training partner – whether you are meeting them for a run or simply reading about the training they have been doing, finding someone of a similar level to you is a great way to keep your enthusiasm high.
  2. Write down the whole of your training – it is especially important, if you get your training weekly, to have a wall planner or something that allows you to see the weeks ticking by. That way, you will know how long you have before your key race and how much training needs to be done by then.
  3. Keep a training diary – if you write down all the running you do, not only will you have a record of how well you have done, you will have to admit, to yourself at least, when you have skipped a run.
  4. Get inspired – there are some great films, videos, books and magazine articles that should have you bouncing around and ready to run. One of my favourites is the classic battle between Alberto Salazar and Dick Beardsley over 26.2 miles in the 1982 Boston race, which is known as the  Duel in the Sun: http://youtu.be/FmzljrUrwKE
  5. Don’t think too much – training is tough. If it wasn’t there wouldn’t be much point doing it. And for many people the thought of a hard session can be enough to have them roll over and go back to sleep or find an excuse to not go out. So one tactic is to simply look at your training plan and GO! Don’t give yourself time to worry about what you are supposed to be doing. Just get on with it.
  6. Bribe yourself – if you are struggling to get out of the door, promise yourself a treat if you get the run or session done. You may well find that a more instant reward will be more likely to get you going.
  7. Visualise – think about what you are doing all this for. Sit quietly for a few minutes and imagine the finish line of the race you are targetting. Imagine looking up at the clock on the gantry over the finish line and seeing the time you have been striving for shown there. Then remember that if you want that, you need to work for it now.
  8. Compromise… to start with – if you are thinking that your 2 hour long run is a bit much or all you want to do is go for an easy run rather than a hard session, decide to just go out of the door and see how you get on. You might find that after 10 minutes you’re actually getting into it and before you know it, you’ll have done the long run or the session anyway.
  9. Run a race – it is sometimes a good idea to incorporate a race into your long run or do a Parkrun instead of the threshold session you had planned for Saturday. Simply toeing the start line of a race can be enough to reignite the desire to get on with the rest of your training
  10. Remember why you run – if you’re lacking motivation, get back to the reasons that you run in the first place. Sometimes, especially when training for a marathon or an ultra, it is easy to lose sight of why one actually runs. Think about that and get back to your running roots. Then simply get up, and go for a run!

So what are your top tips for getting motivated? How do you get yourself going when you would rather stay on the sofa or pop down to the pub? Share your thoughts in the comments and I’ll pick my favourites and send out some thanks you prizes!

Put a sock on it…

Up to November last year, I never really thought much about my feet, much less the socks I was wearing when I went for a run. Generally I’ve been blessed with low maintenance feet and aside from the odd toenail lost though a lazy lack of adequate trimming, I have not suffered from blisters of dry skin or athletes foot or any other afflictions that seem to blight runners so commonly. Lucky me.

However last November, as I stood in the start pen waiting for the gun to signal the start of the Florence marathon, I didn’t know that my feet would become an area of deep concern and long-standing contemplation just 26.2 miles later. In case you are interested, my race report is here, but the salient point for this piece is that it rained very heavily for most of the race and I, along with every fellow runner, got soaked. Not least my shoes.

When feet become an issue

Needless to say, by the time I finished soggy socks and shoes had conspired to give me some pretty whopping blisters. My area of concern was not actually anything to do with the effect of the blisters in the race – they didn’t slow me down at all. But 10 days after the race, when I started running again, there were still some rather sore spots and this got me thinking. What would I do if I got bad blisters during a crucial training phase? How do you continue to train if your feet become increasingly painful? So suddenly I decided to focus a little more on socks in order to make sure that my feet were in the best possible shape they could be.

I bought decent socks but often with a sense of resentment that I was shelling out what I felt was quite a lot of money for something as uninspiring as a pair of socks. And I didn’t always get the right thing; some socks would be too small, some a big baggy. Some were rough after being washed while other seemed to shrink while I was on a long run. Some were too hot or thick for my racing flats. Socks became an annoying complex subject that I had to concentrate on.

RunBreeze – sock saviours?

In light of all this, I was rather pleased to find out about RunBreeze from a forum that I and one of the two-man team behind the brand had both posted on. Here was a company that seemed to offer a no-nonsense approach to socks and a promise of good quality at an affordable price. A few days after contacting Richard and Jamie, I was invited to their offices/distribution centre in south London to meet them and learn more about their aims.

You can read about the team behind the brand here. What I discovered is two individuals who are extremely driven and passionate, with clear goals in mind. I must admit that initially I was a little skeptical about their stated aims which coalesce around helping to motivate people to run more or faster or longer (in their words):

If we can help you make your runs more enjoyable, a little less painful, snip a bit of time off your personal best and save you some money, we will have met our objective and will be very happy with ourselves

But on reflection I think RunBreeze is absolutely right to have such lofty aims. The more runners I get to know, the more I realise that inadequate kit is a barrier to personal success. I must admit that on the one hand I am slightly disdainful of those who seem to think that they can buy their way to better performance simply through the power of their credit card, but I also know that not having the right kit can be enough to stop people enjoying their running and that without enjoyment, training becomes a chore, which itself becomes a limiting factor.

Kit test

So given all that, I was intrigued to put the RunBreeze kit to the test. Would it be as good as I hoped? Would it lift me to a new level of effort in my training? Well, I can report that whilst I am always of the opinion that no kit, however good, is going to make up for inadequate mental toughness or a lack of hard-won fitness, the socks I tried did have a pretty positive effect.

The lightweight sock

I remember reading once that some pro-athletes find that if they have a psychological dip in training then a new pair of shoes or a new t-shirt will give them the tiny boost they need to make the extra effort required to nail a session. Well for me, the RunBreeze lightweight socks that I pulled on for my track session were just the boost I needed to get over the malaise that had descended on me thanks to a tough day at work and the thoughts of Christmas just round the corner. The ‘liner’ style socks were really light weight and comfortable in the very light racing flats that I was wearing for the session. I really liked the tab of material that protects the achilles tendon from the shoe rubbing on a very low-profile sock (which looks pretty cool as well) and the socks didn’t slip around or ruck-up at all. I had comfy, dry feet for the duration of the session.

The anti-blister sock

The next day I went for an hour’s run in the anti-blister sock. This time the benefit of a lovely new pair of socks was less psychological – after all I love longer runs! – but I did really enjoy the feeling of the double layer. Unlike other double layer socks I have tried, my feet did not get hot and sweaty which was the thing that put me off double layer socks when I first tried them. Again, despite taking on quite a bit of muddy trail during the run, there was no slipping and my feet felt really snug without the socks feeling tight in any way.

So there you have it: I think that the bah-humbug old-skool attitude that I have to running gimmicks will remain in force and I think that no bit of kit will ever replace hard, consistent training. However I really value having comfortable feet and I know that every care should be taken to ensure that hard-earned fitness does not leak away while waiting for blisters to heal. And most importantly, in these times of austerity measures, at £7 (for the lightweight sock) or £8 (for the anti-blister version) I think that every runner can now afford to treat their feet as well as possible, while they get on with becoming the best runner they can be.