Monday, 2 November 2015

My Plums

(No, not them ones!)

Wednesdays.  Ha, I can even sense myself grinning from ear to ear now at the thought.  No matter whether its rain or shine, Wednesdays means Plums.  For the unaware, the ‘Plums’ are the nutty, fun ‘punnet’ of Plumstead Runners.

I joined the Plums way back in early 2013.  A couple of months before I signed up for the East London Half Marathon.  I was bored with cycling and needed a new focus.  I needed a regular ‘social’ escape from the reality of living alone and being a weekend Dad.  It was slowly dawning on me that although I’d enjoyed the previous two and a bit years of cycling, it was getting to the point where club politics and snobbery got in the way of just going for a bike ride with my club mates who had quickly become friends.

Searching for ‘local running clubs’ brought up a number of clubs but the nearest to my flat in Welling was Plumstead Runners.  Its strange what a perception you get from a club website.  It looked serious.  Proper dead serious.  It almost put me off.  Thankfully, I made the decision to drop the Plums a line by email, introducing myself and copying some links to the Garmin records I keep, to prove I was the standard I said I was.  A middle-aged plodder who wanted to run a bit more, get a bit better and make a few new friends in the process.

It didn’t take long before I got a reply.  Come down on Wednesday night it said.  Not this week as it was the AGM but feel free to come the week after.  Wednesday came and I couldn’t wait.  I quickly headed home to get changed and I jumped on the bus down to the club.  Unbeknown to me, Ernie was sitting opposite.

My heart was thumping as I opened the changing room door.  ‘Hello’, I said cheerily but anxiously and the nervousness in my voice must have given the game away.  ‘Ah, you must be John?’ said Graham, introducing himself.  ‘Looking forward to tonight?’, he asked.  As I said yes, everyone was turning around, smiling and began introducing themselves.  Jim, Paul, Eddie and Francis said hello and came over and shook my hand.  Ernie turned around and said ‘ah, you’re the one who sent all that internet stuff, aren’t you?  We’re old school as you’ve probably guessed already’.  ‘Ha, yes, that’s me!’  All of a sudden, a jolly fellow walked in.  It was Robin.  Big smile on his face, cracking jokes, full of fun, taking the p*ss out of someone or other.  I felt at home.  The club enthuses friendliness.

Almost 3 years later, it’s still the case.

Wednesday's are now a firm fixture in the diary...

As it happens, through life, my circumstances have changed.  I actually live nearer to Petts Wood Runners HQ now than I lived to the Plums when I lived in Welling.  When I moved to Petts Wood permanently, I have to admit I ran with PWR once.  I didn’t enjoy it.  It just wasn’t the Plums.  The Plums are full of ‘banter’.  No matter who you’re running with, there’s plenty of chat.  It has always been the case since I walked in through the changing room doors almost 3 years ago.  It could be weeks or months since you’ve seen someone but you pick up exactly where you left off before.

I’ve made some firm friends.  I’ve spent many a mile running, chatting about running and also putting the world to rights at the same time.  Whether it’s our football teams, love life, ex-wives, child maintenance, different types of running shoes, the last race, work and careers, you name it, there’s a good few of us with an awful lot of us with a huge amount in common.  

At the same time, I feel incredibly guilty because I haven’t spent as much time as I really should have done towards the back of the group and as a result, I feel I don’t really know those running behind me as well as I should.  Yes, I will get to each junction, loop back , pick up the last runner and give them some encouragement and then head back to the front again but how much do I know them?  I recognise the faces, I smile.  They smile back.  The next time I’m feeling knackered, I’ll stay at the back and I’ll make an effort to speak to everyone.

I owe a huge debt to the Plums.  I walked into that changing room a mere novice and now I sit here a little more experienced, proudly with 5 marathons behind me, all in the space of 53 weeks.  Blimey, did I really do that?  It seems surreal.  It would never have been possible without the encouragement and advice of the more experienced members at the club.  If it wasn’t for Paul, I would still be running my long runs at around what was my half marathon pace.  No wonder my energy levels were crashing and my legs were burning!  It may have taken me a while to catch on but I did eventually take that advice on board.  I’m a slow learner.

It has taken my a good few years to get my head around the mechanics of the club run.  Each group runs the same route.  The faster runners will get to a junction, loop back and pick up the last runner so all the runners regroup at that junction.  That way, everyone feels part of the group.  Its a little bit of genius when you think about it.  I used to stop and take a breather.  I still do but less so, only when I really need to.  I treat the runs like intervals now.  Run to the junction fairly hard then on the return, let the legs relax, let the HR settle back down and literally run the pick up leg as the recovery and then when you've reached the last runner, you can push a little harder again.  It really helps the legs.  Pushing harder, getting that heart rate up into the realms of the lactate threshold (those of you on Garmin Connect or Strava, thats your HR Zone 4), the point where your muscles fill up with lactic acid may hurt and your legs will be sore the next day but it will help you get stronger and faster.  The old saying 'no pain no gain' could not be more true.  So if you was wondering why I do the occasional blast to the front, now you know. (If you want to read about the science of Lactic Acid, read this really great article on the Serpentine Running Club website here!)

No matter what stupid questions I’ve had, someone has always known the answer and have been more than happy to give their opinion or share their advice from their own personal experience.  There is no snobbery.  I came into running from cycling, where the levels of snobbery are overpowering.  I was a proud cyclist yet now I look at my somewhat expensive bike in the corner of our utility room and shake my head.  The amount of money I spent on that bike in the space of 3 years was ridiculous.  It would buy me 30 pairs of Brooks Glycerin’s at the full RRP.  I'd fallen into the trap.  'Oh yes, let’s buy another pair of expensive wheels.  That’ll make me go faster.' The ‘law of diminishing returns’ was all too prevalent.  It was all about the bike for far too long.  Thankfully, one icy early spring day saw me dump the bike for my running shoes and that was the end of the flirtation with the world of Sir Bradley Wiggins wannabe’s.  It wasn’t about the bike, its about the engine powering the bike.  The engine was my heart and lungs.  Running was going to take me to the next level yet it was so much more down to earth.  No faff.  No bullsh*t.

It doesn’t matter what running shoes you wear.  It doesn’t matter what running top you wear (unless its my orange Paris Marathon ‘Fluorescent Flame’ shirt which Robin is absolutely adamant is pink haha!)  The Plums have been there and done it.  

There is a healthy mutual respect in the group and there is plenty of inspiration and positivity no matter what direction you look in.  Gina has run an absolutely incredible amount of marathons, levels beyond the imagination.  Paul and Richard have ran marathon times recently I can only dream of, despite training being disrupted by injury niggles.  Gary Witt defies medical science and the docs by racking up more marathons than the number of good knees that he has.  Watching Guy run should be an inspiration for all at his age.  I've never quite seen a man attract as much female attention as he does when he runs through Danson Park.  The man is a legend.  Lee Walker has now completed two marathons, his last being last weekend on the back of minimal training.  I draw a whole heap of inspiration from Dave Tyler and Lee Edwards.  You really couldn't wish to meet two nicer blokes in all honesty.  Both of them have come into running from a similar direction as me, very overweight and unfit.  Both of them have come on leaps and bounds since they joined the club at the beginning of last year.  To see what they have achieved and what they are capable of now is a real eye opener.  Seeing the likes of some of our newer runners like Sam and Stephanie improving week by week is great to see too.  Take my old mate Nicola, for example.  I'd been on and on at her for months about joining the Plums.  She eventually signed up, ran just over 5 miles on her first club run, ran 10k the next and then only a few days later, she ran her furthest ever distance of 10 miles in the club handicap race.  A few weeks later, she was finishing the Great South Run in a respectable time, all in the space of a few weeks.  I'm dead proud of her, as I am of everyone that pulls on a Plums vest for a training run or race

No matter whether you can run a marathon in 3:30 or you’re struggling to crack 65 minutes for a 10k, you'll be welcome through them doors like I was almost 3 years ago.  Your Wednesday's will never be the same again and the club run will become a firm fixture in your diary.  

Roll on this Wednesday.  It's Meeting Night and the long awaited draw for the club's VLM places.  I will have my fingers crossed.  My 2016 Spring Marathon will either be London (please God,smile nicely on me) or my back up, Rotterdam a few weeks beforehand at the beginning of April.

[Disclaimer:  if you say you can run 10k in 65 minutes, makes sure you can actually run 10k in 65 minutes in real life rather than 'running' it on a Wii.  That really doesn't count and someone might blow a fuse :)]

Come on you Plums!

Friday, 2 October 2015

VLM Ballot. Spiderman or Bumblebee

Ha.  Spent 2 and a bit days waiting for either the Spiderman or Bumblebee magazine and look what turned up in my inbox instead.

6th successive rejection.

Gutted.  Absolutely gutted.

I'll put my rejection into the club draw in November and hope to win one of three places but there's a smaller chance in that than the 1 in 15 chance in the regular ballot.

Why dont you run for charity I hear you say?

I'm sorry but I have no inclination to run for charity. I run for me and me alone. Who is going to sponsor me to run a marathon when I've run 5 already before? It just isnt reasonable to beg friends & family for money. Been there, done it and never again.

So what next?
Who knows.  I'm just too pissed off right now.

Thursday, 1 October 2015

Product Review: Brooks Glycerin 13

Following the brief 15 mile flirtation with the Ghost 7s, I had a couple of runs out in my now retired Brooks Glycerin 12s.  I really havent been a fan but they have serviced me well.  Well almost.  I've only just managed to squeeze out 300 miles from them which has been awful in comparison to the way the old Glycerin 11s used to hold up.

A Friday afternoon LSR of 13.1m, my longest run since Brighton in April was a test.  If I'm honest, there's now way I should have been running in the 12s as they are well past their sell by date now.  Running the odd 5k or 10k would be manageable but 13.1 miles was a significant test of my resolve.  Next to no cushioning and after 5-6 miles, the shock of every stride could be felt through the achilles and calves.  Not ideal nor recommended.

Having put myself through that run, I took it easy over the weekend and as promised by Lyz at Brooks Running, the new Glycerin 13s arrived part way through Monday, taken in by our ever-so-lovely neighbour, Angela.

And here they are...along with their previous versions...

Left to Right:  Brooks Glycerin 11s, Glycerin 12s and the new Glycerin 13s

I'm not going to get technical.  I dont understand the technical jargon the running shoe manufacturers use when describing what the shoes are made of, what technical changes they've made etc.  Nor do I want to quite frankly.  I'd be accused of being a running geek otherwise.  Cant be having that now, can I?

So, I look for three important things...

1.  General comfort and feel.  I like some cushioning but not too much and its nice to have a spring in your step.

2.  Rubbing and the potential for blisters.  Entirely separate to comfort for me.  I'm prone to blisters by wearing running shoes without support in the right places and this is a major priority for me.

3.  The bling.  My god, they have to be blingy.  I cannot have just a pair of grey running shoes.  They need to be bright and bashful.

The Glycerin 13s  meet the blingy criteria.  I love anything blue, let alone running shoes and we've got a dose of hi-vis yellow in there too.  Perfect.  All that was left to do was take them out for a run and see how I got on.

I ran Monday, Tuesday and Wednesday this week, a real mix of my running.  Monday was a high tempo speed session, just a little shorter than 10k but at all out 10k pace.  Ran my fastest 5 miles ever (well, when I say ever, the fastest 5 miles recorded on my Garmin connect account!)  Tuesday was a very warm up, run as a recovery run really for 4 miles and then a good 20 minutes of hill reps.  Then Wednesday, I was out with the Plums on the Group 2 run.  Around 18 miles in the space of 3 days would clearly iron out any issues.

The comfort was spot on.  Plenty of room in the toe box, where I'm prone to banging the front of my toes when the shoes are slipping on a long run, causing toenail bruising.  Absolutely none to speak of.  I always ensure my feet are properly in the heel of each shoe before tying the laces.  I leave the laces loose at the toe end and I find that gives me plenty of room as I dont like my laces too tight as I've been prone to cramp in my feet in the past.  Whether that is down to the laces I dont know but since I've loosened them, I've not had it so dont change something if it isnt broken.

The Glycerin 13s feel like they are more substantial under foot.  The cushioning seems much better.  In the first mile in them, I was conscious of my achilles getting used to the shoes but after that, I didnt notice it again in the next 17 miles or so.  A good sign.  There was plenty of support too.  My right foot was over-pronating in the Ghost 7s, which led to my foot blistering badly.  Not such experience in the Glycerin 13s.

After only 18 miles, my first impressions of the Brooks Glycerin 13s are good.  The Glycerin 12s never really compared to the comfort factor of the Glycerin 11s but maybe the Glycerin 13s are now the shoe that the 12s should have been.  I'll report back in another 75-100 miles time and I'll tell you whether I would buy another pair.

You can find the technical info about the Brooks Glycerin 13s here.

I've been struggling to come up with an analogy of my experience with the Ghosts.  I guess its like being in a long-term relationship which began to get a bit stale...and the Ghosts came along like the flirty girl in the office who you chat to at the photocopier and they suggest you go out for a drink.  They look fab but you know it just wont work and the personality, well, it just doesnt cut it.  You go home, find the Mrs has dolled herself up and put Steak and Chips on the table and got a cold beer out of the fridge for you.  Well not quite lol.

Again, I'd like to express my thanks to Lyz @ Brooks Running for helping me out with the Glycerins.  Much appreciated and I hope to be a Brooks customer for many more years to come.

Now I just need to sort out a decent pair of trail shoes in time for cross country season :)