Tuesday, 1 August 2017

Here's one of the first articles I wrote when training for the London Marathon.

park(run) life

Bestwood Village Country Park parkrun, near Nottingham
As parkrun is how I got into running, it makes sense to make it the subject of my first post.
parkrun, It's the first steps that count
Almost a year ago, I decided to do parkrun. It was New Year and I wanted to do a resolution I would keep. I once vowed to give up drink - and toasted my resolution with a whiskey.
So, running. That was my resolution 12 months ago. To run.
One problem. I couldn’t run.
Being a tubby lad, running wasn’t an exciting proposition.
But, I’d heard about parkrun and thought yep, that’ll do.
If you don’t know about parkrun (www.parkrun.org.uk), it essentially means that if you go to a park on a Saturday, at 9am, you could well bump into a group of people about to run a timed 5km run.
It’s not about Olympic athletes belting round winning golds. It’s not about running club members grabbing loads of points for legging it round as fast as they can.
It’s about Olympic athletes, running clubs members and ordinary people like me getting together to have a run.

Personal best

That’s it. For me, it could be about beating my personal best. It might be a run round on a Saturday, not watching the time but wanting to do well on a particular section.
Or it might be about running with a friend, having a coffee afterwards, and thinking I probably shouldn’t have had a bottle of red wine the night before.
Sure, some people are at the finish before I’ve rounded the first corner, but it’s a run, not a race. The person who is in charge of the event that day is a run director, not a race director.
I’ve now run a few parkrun courses, in Leeds, Norfolk, Nottinghamshire and in America. The format is the same and I've enjoyed all of them, for different reasons.
I haven’t done one every Saturday, what with family commitments, but I have run around 30 and since taking up running, I have done a few 10km runs and a half marathon. A half marathon.

integrate parkrun

So, I love parkrun, but just why is it so successful?
Who to ask? Tom Williams, that’s who. He’s the Chief Operating Officer of parkrun.
Firstly, I asked him why he runs..
“To clear my head,” he said. “Enjoy the great outdoors, and spend quality uninterrupted time with friends and family.”
Why does he think parkrun has been so successful?
“parkrun’s delivery model of being free and every week makes it much easier for people to integrate parkrun into their lives,” he said.
“This creates an opportunity for people to come together and be active socially in a natural environment – I believe all human beings have an innate need to do that.”
As I am a relatively new runner, I asked whether people should set themselves running goals, or just enjoy running.
He replied: “I think people should spend much more time considering what their goals are and understanding why running is important to them.
“Goals don’t have to be time related – they can be to run with a different friend every week, pace someone, run around chatting to someone, encouraging your family to get involved, or to run in lots of different locations.”
This seems to be the ethos of parkrun. It’s not just about times. Running, and in particular parkrun, seems to have a community feel.

Ask yourself this

But, if people do have a goal, is there a secret to reaching it and maintaining it?
Tom said: “There are two important questions you must ask yourself, and only you can answer them. Is my goal meaningful to me, not necessarily to other people, and is my goal challenging in some way?
“That doesn’t mean it has to be hard per se – for some people running slower is challenging.
For example, for someone who isn’t overly social saying they will run with five different people in the next five weeks is challenging.”
Challenging. Interesting word that. For me, just running to the end of the road was a challenge. Getting up to run in public was a challenge. Running along a main road, in full public view was a challenge. And I know running the London Marathon will be a challenge.
But it started with thinking of a challenge. 12 months ago, I couldn't run. Now I'm training for a marathon.

If you’re thinking of your New Year’s resolutions, think about a challenge. And think about parkrun.
Here's an interview I did with Olympic athlete Rebecca Adlington.

Driven to succeed

Rebecca Adlington.
When I was a lad, I was bad at swimming. Still am. A complete lack of ability or skill, coupled with really bad eyesight is no recipe for success.
Me and my brother once went down to Romiley baths, the pool in the village where we lived. Me thick bottle-bottom glasses safely in the locker, we joined the other kids for a swim.
It was busy. I saw my brother; ah, I thought, that's him, can tell by his long brown hair.
I swam over. Like the SAS would. Or James Bond. In one, graceful, sweeping movement, I had got behind him, took his legs from under him. His arms went up, flailing, stunned by the majesty of my martial arts skills. A girly scream rang out, silenced only as he was enveloped by the foamy water that had been churned up in his desperate plight to stay upright.
Only, it was a girly scream because it was a girl. Not my brother. I swam away, quite quickly actually.
Anyway, when thinking about sports goals and how to achieve them, particularly as I am running the London Marathon next year, I thought about those days of swimming.
And it got me thinking, who could I ask for advice on fitness, and reaching goals? Rebecca Adlington OBE, that's who.


Rebecca, a multiple Olympic, World, Commonwealth and European medalist who won two gold and two bronze medals in Beijing and London respectively, very kindly offered her words of wisdom.
So, Rebecca, if you set yourself a challenge, what's the best way to focus on achieving it?
"For me," she says, "I like being organised and prepared. Having a routine/schedule I think helps. Giving yourself the right amount of time to achieve it makes a difference so planning it all out helps you see it clearer. I loved having a team around me or a friend so I wasn't doing it on my own is also helpful."
What drives you forward to succeed? How do you maintain that drive?
"Motivation and drive are things that I don't think you can teach or give someone," she said.
"You have to have that drive yourself and can't come from anyone but you. I'm driven person but that's because I'm passionate about what I do and I genuinely love it. Having that combination I think helps you succeed but the only way to maintain it is to find something you enjoy doing.
"You can be the most talented person in the world but if your heart nots in it and you aren't dedicated then you probably won't succeed."
So, do you zero in on the overall goal, or do you have mini goals along the way?
"For me I have mini goals along the way. I think it's very hard to stay motivated and focus if the end goal is going to take a long time. For me having little goals I can hit gives me confidence and keeps it fresh and interesting. It's good to mix up the goals too. Sometimes life and unseen things can happen like illness or a busy working week so I think it's important even if that happens to have a little goal you can still hit through those times."
Now, I have taken to sport at quite a late age, 44 (I know, I look younger). Although, I did came third in a 200m race at school once but I don't like to brag.
So what would Rebecca's top tip be for people who may never have done sport in their life (asking for a friend, ahem) but who know they perhaps ought?

Where to start

Rebecca advises: "I think the hardest part is where to start and what to do. I would recommend starting basic and small. Trying things like walking, swimming. Things that people probably already have the skills for and as you gain confidence you can try different new things.
"My parents are in that situation and they found a local bowls club and table tennis club and they love it. It's a great way for them to make friends and be active. There is always stuff going on in your local area, you just have to find out when or ask people you know."
As many people (like me) use the post-Christmas period to set goals, is there a top tip for getting fit?
"I think the best thing you can do is learn about your body and your limits. Athletes are very good at being able to switch off and relax and knowing when to switch it back on and focus. It's so important to have that balance in life. You need time to recover and recharge, not just push yourself every day if it's not beneficial. I think everything in moderation."
Now, dear reader, this is superb advice from an athlete who has achieved some very special things in her career. I know there's no way I can emulate what Rebecca has achieved, but if I can take on board her advice, I'll go a long way to achieving some of my own goals.

© Wayne Swiffin, December 2, 2016

Photo from Rebecca Adlington's website.
Here's an interview I did with Hal Higdon, whose training programme I followed in preparation for the London Marathon 2017

The man who wrote the training books

Hal Higdon. He's written a few training programmes for runners.
When I ran the Nottingham Robin Hood Half Marathon in September last year, it was emotional.
I’ll not lie. I remember standing at the start line, thinking bloody hellfire what the chuffing bloody hellfire am I bloody chuffing doing.
It’s a half marathon. I don’t do half marathons. That was for proper runners. Yes, sure, I’d done some training, and had done a couple of long runs of 10 miles. 10 miles was my target. The rest, after 10 miles, was the home straight.
I figured it was that, 10 miles plus a parkrun at the end.
The plan worked well until about mile 10.
That’s when my little chubby legs decided they were struggling. All through Nottingham, through the hilly Park area, through Wollaton Park, they were fine. I actually enjoyed it. 
With three miles to go, they told me they’d had enough.
But, being stubborn, I ignored them. Getting towards the end of the race, I thought yippee bloody do dah, there’s the finish. It wasn’t. You had to go round the corner first and then along the grass.
But I did it. There was no grandstand finish, no tape to break through. But I had done a half marathon. And I had the medal to prove it.

Only a half

Shortly afterwards, someone jokingly said that I had done well, but it was only a half marathon. 
ONLY A HALF. Right then, I’ll show them. I’ll do the London Marathon. And I’d train properly for it. Properly. Right after a McDonald’s.
I asked people for their advice. Follow a training plan, was the most common response. But which? One name was mentioned a lot. Hal Higdon. Hal is a contributing editor for Runner's World, and his latest book is Run Fast, the 3rd edition
Hal’s training plans, for novices and experienced runners, are renowned around the world. They give you a framework. I worked back from the date of London and pencilled in what runs were for which day. And I have stuck to it. 
But, being me, and wanting to help other new runners, I decided to ask Hal for his thoughts about running. And he has kindly given me some of his time to answer questions.
So, I asked, is running for everyone? He said: “Not for everyone. Some people don’t have the “build” that makes for comfort running.
“They may be fit, but not fit for running. Cycling. Swimming. Walking. Cross-country skiing for those lucky enough to have snow. All those are suitable exercises.”
But should people run? “Running certainly is a healthy activity,” said Hal.
“If you enjoy exercise and don’t have any physical disabilities that would prevent you from running, lace up your sneakers and head out the door.”
I run now, but I see a lot of people not running. And I wonder, without judging, why they don’t.
According to Hal: “People don’t run because they have better things to do. Or think they have better things. They work long hours, They have family responsibilities. They don’t have the time or don’t want to make the time. Or they simply are not interested.
“I can’t guess what goes through people’s mind because running came easy for me. It is not always easy for others, so I remain patient and do not harass those who want to avoid my favourite sport.” 
I'm 43 and took up running at 42. I'm certain that everyone could take up running if they wanted to. 

First steps

So what first steps should they take? 
“Slip on a pair of sneakers and head out the door,” advises Hal.
“Your first decision is whether to turn left or turn right, although that really doesn’t matter. The important thing is simply to start. And maybe your start is to walk before you run. After that find a good training program to help you continue in the sport.” 
What should people do if, after a few runs, they lose motivation? Let’s face it, you make a New Year’s Resolution and it’s out the window and down the pub within a few weeks.
Hal said: “Hopefully, they will have found motivation before they start. Having a goal in sight is important. Maybe that goal is to lose weight or to participate in an activity that is going to literally force you into healthy habits, particularly when it comes to what you put in your mouth.
“Individuals hoping to stop smoking often use running as a means to that end. Setting an achievable goal will help with motivation.”
I asked Hal whether people take enough notice of the right nutrition.
“When you start as a runner, I’m not sure good nutrition matters. One goal at a time seems to be enough. Once people reach the point where running is an important part of their lifestyle, then it is time to think nutrition.
“Focus first on running. Everything else will begin to fall in place once running becomes central to your life.”
One thing I have noticed, you have to be focused. And somewhat selfish. I work for myself so my time is mine (more or less) to divide up at will. If I want to go out at 6am, I can. If I fancy a run at noon, I’ll head on out for a couple of miles. I’m also lucky in that my wife will often come out with me.

Are you selfish?

But, if there was one piece of advice Hal would give new runners, what would it be?
“Be selfish. Possess running. Make it your own. Don’t worry whether or not others say you should or shouldn’t do it.”
So there you go. That, dear reader, is advice from someone who knows to someone who is learning about running. It’s advice from someone who wrote the training plans.

Hal’s biography, and full details of his training programmes and apps can be found here> www.halhigdon.com