Thursday, 20 November 2014

Where the hell is the nearest toilet? I need one and I need it now!

Yes.  It happened again.

The horror that faces every runner at one stage or another in there running career happened to me last night.  It wasnt the first time nor will it be the last.

Wednesday night, Plumstead Runners night.  It was a large turn out last night.  Possibly the best turn out of bodies we've had out in a while.  With no Graham available, we had only two runs going out.  We would all stick together through to Bexley Village and back and then the runs would split, the 5-6 mile group heading back and the longer group headng out towards Sidcup for just over 8 miles.

As per usual, I was all keyed up for the longer run.  I was running well.  Really well.  I'll come back to the major positive in a minute. Up to 4 miles, I was fine.  The group split and we headed off towards Sidcup.  Then that damn god awful thing happens.  Its so horrible that you just cant really even begin to describe it.

You're happily running along and all of a sudden there's a huge gurgle coming from your stomach.  At the end of that gurgle, it feels as though your stomach has dropped and the entire contents of your stomach has dropped to about 1cm from your 'chocolate starfish'.

Immediately, the fear strikes you like being slapped by a wet kipper.


The instant reaction is to stop running.  The running motion on the body really doesnt help matters.  Then the brain kicks in... "where is the nearest toilet?"...

The brain goes into computation mode...

"Is there a pub nearby?"..."McDonalds?"..."anything else?"...

No was the answer.  Where we was at that particular point in time was equidistant from any possibility of popping in to use their facilities.  The nearest option was to get back to the club (a mere 1.36 miles away according to my Garmin on checking later!)

I quickly explained to the backmarker, Peter, that I was turning back.  He looked a little shocked when I explained I had stomach cramps and I had to get back quickly...

Then it was all about survival.

I had to get back quick...but not run too much as I was just going to aggravate the situation...

Jog...get a serious twinge...stop immediately...walk very slowly...feel safer...jog...get a serious twinge...and so on.  Thoughts were turning to "would I do a Paula Radcliffe?  how the hell will I walk through the bar to the changing rooms if I let go?"...

I made it back to the club just in time.  I literally ran down the driveway of the club, straight through the doors into the bar, straight into the toilet with the door slamming behind me.

I emerged 10 mins later when a biohazard team entered the building to close the 'gents' from further use...

How the hell I got back without a serious incident I will never know.

The whole episode reminded me of this scene from Dumb and Dumber...

Anyhow, with the crap out of the way (pardon the bad pun), I can concentrate on the major positive to take out of the 4 good miles I did run.

I said I was feeling good.  There's a nice hill that we regularly climb when out with the Plums.  We dont run up it very often as we normally come the other way as its part of our 10k course.

As I was running up it, I was thinking to myself I was feeling really good and really strong.  I wasnt too far off the front and I thought I really must go home and check out the stats for the segment.

Here it is...

Its not a massive lump by any means but its definitely a tester.  Now look at the times I've recorded for the segment...

A new PB for the segment by 11 seconds with an almost identical average HR measurement.  I'll take that gladly given I'm currently weighing a little bit more than this time last year.

More significantly, its my fastest time this year by some considerable margin, some 27 seconds.  Bearing in mind I was suffering from the Paris overtraining hangover at that point will have something to do with it (check out that increased average HR again!) so am definitely moving in the right direction.

Tuesday, 18 November 2014

Back on the wagon...

Following Amsterdam, I was determined not to make the same mistakes as I had done after Paris.  I was going to properly rest for 2 weeks before running again.

However, it didnt quite turn out like that.

I didnt run for 8 days but I was itching to get out again by then so I thought I'd go out for a gentle plod.  As it so happened, it was a Tuesday night and I was staying with Alison in Petts Wood so I thought why not go for a run with the local club, Petts Wood Runners.

In comparison to the Plums, PWR is a much bigger club with much larger number of runners and it was quite strange turning up for a club run with about 70-80 people, where as 20 would be a great turn out for the Plums.

The advantage PWR have is that they can put on a selection of runs, covering various different paces.  7 groups, all bases covered.  Everything from the slows peeps through to the fast guys and girls.

Because I was recovering from Amsterdam, I chose group 5, which stated from the outset that the average pace for the run of just over 10k would be 9:15 min/mile pace, something I can usually do with my eyes shut and without not too much effort.

If I'm honest, I felt pretty good throughout the run and didnt feel as though I was busting a gut but one alarm bell was beginning to ring. Well, lets say bleep. My average HR was 168bpm. Now thats my race pace average HR. Uh-oh. From previous experiences, seeing a highly elevated average HR for a run of not taxing effort is a sure sign of tiredness and overtraining. Thus I decided to have another 6 days off before attempting to run again.

Now, PWR.  The run was good, it was a decent route but it was so different from a run with the Plums.  With the Plums, its a really happy camp.  Everyone is pleased to see the other members and you hit it off instantly.  A 8-9 mile run is usually peppered with conversation from the usual suspects and we discuss everything and anything from the football, name it, its constant chat all the way round, no matter how hard the run is.  Its that kind of bonding, down to earth and very personal.  PWR didnt strike me like that.  I introduced myself to the group leader at the start of the run and that was pretty much it for the conversation until the last half a mile or so.  Very strange.  I hope if I run with them in the future it will be a bit different to that.

During that extended 6 day rest period, I spoke to Alison about how I tend to take longer than most to recover from a marathon and I really needed to get back on the wagon as I knew I'd put on some weight but I needed to lose it.  Alison was keen to join me on the regime and we decided to get some new scales.  Not just any scales though.  Luckily for me, Alison is a keen gadget lover too and we opted for some wi-fi linked scales, the Withings WS-50.

They're expensive but they're definitely worth it.  You get on the scales first thing in the morning, your weight is then transmitted by wi-fi to the Withings app on your iPhone (also compatible with Android smartphones) then you can tie your Withings account to your My Fitness Pal account and you have the complete weight loss tool at your disposal, as long as you're committed to counting the calories.

(Talking Alison being a gadget lover, we've bought her a Garmin Vivosmart.  Its a fitness activity tracker which plugs into the Garmin Connect system that I've been using for years, which can sync with My Fitness Pal.  She's been experiencing a few teething problems but once we've sorted them, I'll attempt to write up a brief review!)

Anyhow, 17 days in... 'bad' day which took me 200 calories over but I'm running a calorie deficit for the 17 days and I've lost almost half a stone and my body fat percentage is between 14-15% which I'll take gladly. Now thats progress.  I could do with losing 4-5lb more then I'll be happy.  It'll take a couple of weeks but I'm moving in the right direction.

I can already feel the difference in my running in that short space of time.

Since running in Petts Wood on a regular basis, I've made a short 2.8 mile out and back loop from Alison's road which is nicely undulating and creates a sort-of fartlek if you like, as the pace can change throughout due to the gradient.

The loop is here...

Now the four times I have run the loop since the start of the weight-loss kickstarter, you can see my times have improved and my HR is steadily dropping...

Data captured from Strava...via Garmin Connect

Last week's Wednesday night Plums run was brutal and was quite possibly the hardest run we've done on a Wednesday night in a long time.

Three big climbs in Shooters Hill, Eglinton Hill and Bostall Hill with a nice little flattish bit in the last mile and a half to open the legs up and kick for home. My HR was reasonably stable and increased where I would expect it to be, so more evidence that I'm getting over Amsterdam and I'm getting back to where I should be.

I think we can safely say I'm back on the wagon of consistency and discipline. Damn it, did that bacon roll just pass my lips?

Tuesday, 11 November 2014

How do you solve a problem like Tottenham Hotspur?

I try to keep my blog football-free these days but something is beginning to bug me and it needs to be addressed.

How do you solve a problem like Tottenham Hotspur?

I've supported Spurs now for the best part of three decades.  In that 30 years, never have I felt so unmotivated about my Spurs.  I've blogged before that my relationship with Spurs is like a loveless marriage.  Been there, done that for real of course but it really feels like it, I dont love Spurs, Spurs dont love me yet we're stuck with each other.

I wont beat around the bush.  The football of the last two-to-three seasons has been beyond dire.  It really has.  The stunning form of Gareth Bale in the second half of the 2012/13 season kept us interested and papered over a lot of cracks which have existed since the days of Redknapp.  Teams would come to White Hart Lane, sit ten men behind the ball and play on the break and would allow Spurs the time and space to try and break them down.  Most will agree that Spurs look good on the eye at times but for all the possession, there was no cutting edge (Bale aside of course!)

To this day, Spurs have had this problem for the best part of four seasons now.  Plenty of posession but more and more teams would come to the Lane and shut up shop.  They know that if they can keep it tight for the first twenty minutes, then they'll be in with a real shout as the once vocal support goes very quiet.

The days of the deafening vocal support has long gone.  My last visit to the lane, a 1-0 victory over Cardiff last season was a real eye-opener and so typical of what I have described.  A tight affair and next to little support from the crowd.

Various Spurs forums and message boards have picked up on these issues and questioned who is to blame.

Spurs have been through three managers since Redknapp left by mutual consent at the end of the 2011/12 campaign.  First AVB, then Tim 'nice but dim' Sherwood and now the latest man at the helm, Pochettino.

With all three managers, there are three common denominators to consider:
  • The playing squad
  • Daniel Levy, the Chairman of THFC since 2001
  • Franco Baldini, the Sporting Director
While the likes of Liverpool, Man Utd, Man City and Chelsea have been heavily investing in their playing squad, with massive net spends over the last three-to-four seasons, take a look at the performance of Spurs in the transfer market:

THFC Transfers 1991/1992 - 2014/2015 (data compiled by John Driscoll)

Despite Spurs being listed as the 13th richest football club on the planet (as per Deloitte's 2013/14 data), the net spend is a significant indicator.

Since qualifying for the Champions League in May 2010, Spurs have not made a net spend over the next nine transfer windows, making a net profit of £4.3m.  You have to look back as far as the start of the 2009/10 campaign to see Spurs registering a net spend of £3.2m.

At the start of the 2009 campaign, Spurs opened their new state-of-the-art £30m training centre in Enfield.  Meanwhile, Spurs had been acquiring the land (and businesses) required to clear the way for the new stadium to be built as part of the Northumberland Development Project (NDP).

Have these two key infrastructure developments restricted Spurs' actions in the transfer market?  Possibly.

After Glenn Hoddle was sacked in 2003 and David Pleat was kept in a caretaker manager role while Levy performed a back-to-basics investigation as to the performance of Spurs on and off the pitch, Daniel Levy concluded that there was only one way to run Spurs with a pretty simplistic business model.  Buy unproven young players as opposed to proven Premier League performers, develop them and then sell them on for a profit.  At the same time, he saw it essential that there was stability in the club.  This would come from a Director of Football/Sport who would work with both the Manager/First Team Coach and the Chairman to identify targets and build a stable squad.

In terms of making a profit, Levy cannot be faulted.  We have seen the likes of Carrick and Berbatov move on for significant profit and more recently, Modric and Bale have headed to sunnier climes.

However, from a footballing point of view, seeing the likes of Modric and Bale leave White Hart Lane has been pretty galling but even the most ardent supporter would accept that both went on to play for teams worthy of their talents.  Its part of the modern game.  Unless you have a hugely wealthy Arab or Russian owner, you cant compete with the upper echelons.

Wait a minute.  But Spurs do have a rich owner.  Joe Lewis.  Lewis' total wealth is estimated at $4.2 billion, and he is listed as the 308th richest person on Forbes’ List of billionaires (2013). Forbes reports that Lewis is the ninth wealthiest person in the UK.  Let's not forget, Spurs did compete with the upper echelons.  Qualified for the Champions League twice under Redknapp (albeit second time around, Chelsea winning the trophy put paid to a second campaign in Europe's Premier competition).  Spurs played Inter Milan off the park at White Hart Lane on a memorable run to the quarter-finals, taking down AC Milan in the San Siro in the process before being brought down to earth and being taught a lesson by Real Madrid.

The taste of finishing fourth and qualifying for the Champions League has given the supporters a taste of the big time.  We want to be playing with the big boys of Europe on a regular basis.  We want a team capable of competing with the top clubs in England.

That taste has made the current state of Tottenham Hotspur all the more unpalatable in the last few years.

The team is dire and shows no desire.  The players dont play for the club.  They play for themselves.  If they have a bad game, they dont care.  They just go home and share a picture of their new Ferrari on Instagram or of them taking another selfie in a restaurant where most of us wouldnt be able to afford to eat the starter let alone have dinner.

You only have to listen to the sound bites of Pochettino coming out of White Hart Lane.  Firstly he needed time to instill a winning mentality (now come on, these guys are footballers.  Surely they have some pride?  How hard is it not to have a winning mentality?)  Next, we see he's blaming the pitch (see the Guardian article here).  I kid you not. 

Have we heard the same from Ronald Koeman at Southampton?  No.  Despite having the heart and soul ripped out of St Mary's in the summer, the Saints are absolutely flying.  West Ham are too, despite integrating a large number of recruits in the summer.

Pochettino in AVB pose...

This week I heard Pochettino described as the Argentinian George Graham.  Yes, thats just about how exciting Spurs are to watch these days.  Plenty of no cutting-edge possession, no attacking thrust and guile and absolutely hopeless at the back.

To me, Pochettino is out of his depth.  The similarities to AVB before him are striking.  We're nearing the middle of November and despite being in post since June, he still doesnt know his best starting XI.  Granted the two Kyle's (Walker and Naughton have been injured and Dier has been found out at right back), but Pochettino has yet to settle on his first choice centre-back pairing.  Despite Kaboul and Vertonghen looking assured aside each other in the Arsenal and Southampton games, what on earth was he thinking in giving Fazio his Premier League debut against Man City?  There is absolutely no logical sense to that decision whatsoever.

Kane scoring a hat-trick in the Europa League and then not starting the next game?  The Lamela-Eriksen-Chadli axis not firing on any cylinder in the league, let alone all cylinders.  Surely something has to change.

Questions certainly have to be asked of Baldini & Levy.

Look at the signings Spurs made in the summer.  Vorm, Davies, Dier, Fazio, Yedlin and Stambouli.  Not one of them has made any real impression on the Premier League.  Not one.

Lets go back to the 2011/12 season, when Spurs were 10 points clear of Ars*nal in 3rd place in the league.  Perfect time to go out and get some reinforcements?  Surely we could rely on Levy to invest some money and common sense?  No.  We got Louis Saha and Ryan friggin' Nelsen.  

Yet again, the Spurs fans are facing yet another transitional season.  Excuse after excuse.

There are rumblings in the background.  The customer base is disgruntled and the natives are restless.  Of course, it would be absolutely ridiculous to sack Pochettino after only 11 games but the fact it is even being discussed in the forums as a possibility just goes to show how dysfunctional Tottenham Hotspur as a football club has become.

Enough is enough.  Its about managing expectations.

As much as I would like to see it, I will never see Spurs win the league in my lifetime.  Its highly unlikely I will see Spurs qualify for the Champions League in the foreseeable future.  Spurs cannot compete with the top 4.  The way things are going, if the new stadium doesnt get built, we're in severe danger of being overtaken by West Ham.  

Let's be very clear about one thing.  If Spurs keep their current form, then we'll be looking down the barrel of a relegation dog fight.

Levy and ENIC saved us from Lord Sugar but perhaps they really have taken the club as far as they can now.  Levy personally should be held to account for not backing his managers in the transfer market.  Redknapp, AVB and now Pochettino.  Back at the start of last season Garth Crooks described Spurs selling Bale and buying 7 players as "selling Elvis and buying The Beatles".  It hasnt quite worked out like that, has it?  AVB didnt get the players he wanted and nor now has Pochettino.  He wanted Morgan Schneiderlin and ended up getting Benjamin Stambouli.  Not one of the players bought in the last transfer window has made any impression on the first team.  Having said that, thats being quite unfair on Fazio.  He's quickly challenging Ramon Vega as the worst centre-half ever to have played for Spurs.

Daniel Levy should be held accountable...

I'd take winning a trophy, whether it be the League Cup, the FA Cup or even the Europa League over 4th place in the PL.  

Football should be about glory, not profit.

Seriously, how the hell do you solve a problem like Tottenham Hotspur???  I dont think you can.