“Nightmare”. That’s the word I used to describe my run when asked how I got on at Swansea Bay 10K this year. I went down with huge expectations, bold predictions and what I believed to be a pretty good training schedule behind me… but I got exposed (pun!) on a route which so many use to set PBs.
I suppose I should begin with a bit of backstory on this one. Two weeks ago, as I wrote here, I managed an okay run in Cardiff on little training. It was a sound building block on which I hoped I could improve steadily. I continued to run regularly leading up to Swansea, I ate sensibly, had one night out drinking which didn’t affect my training at all… I did everything the way I should. On Friday of this week I did a small speed test and absolutely blew away 3/4 of a mile in under 6 min/miles. Everything was looking superb for a good run on the weekend. Then the weekend came!
I’m not the most organised of people. On Saturday for example I’d arranged to meet some friends to watch the Swansea vs Everton game… “3pm at the pub”, only to find out at 10am Saturday morning that the Swans were the early kick off at 12:45. :/ Now traditionally road races, 10Ks, half marathons etc, they start early on Sunday mornings. 9/10AM. For some reason I thought Swansea Bay was a 10am start. Finishing at around 11, easily changed and showered by 12, I expected to be able to make it to the British Cheese Festival in Cardiff (:D) by 1pm without any problems. Saturday night we’d been playing poker until about 11, my girlfriend asked what time the race started on Sunday. “About 10″… “Don’t you think you should actually check?” <- damn you sensible people.
It turned out that I'd be standing in front of St. Helen's Rugby ground at 1pm on Sunday, just about starting the race. It also transpired that I'd be standing in horrid conditions. Horrid, difficult conditions! The mess up with the start time / cheese festival plans meant that I'd lost my supporter(s) so I came down to the race on my own, parked up about 3/4 mile away and had to make a very difficult decision: It was bitterly cold and wet, should I wear my coat? If I had company I could wear my coat to the start, hand it over to them a minute before the gun and be fine. But that 40 mins pre-race was going to break me. But the only coat I had was my damn SuperDry windcheater. Decisions, decisions!
So yes, 1pm, outside St Helen's, in my SuperDry jacket lol, standing with the 40-45 minute runners who must've thought I was a complete pretender. I also had my wallet in my pocket and the damn thing was a bulky bit of weight that I'd have to carry. I know it sounds ridiculous but research suggests a pound of weight increases your time by 2 seconds a mile! Between the coat and the wallet… am I making excuses here?! Anyway I actually got off to a flyer, my first few time updates suggesting I was well on for a PB. I ran the first mile (including the slow starting shuffle) under 7 min/mile, the 2nd mile in 6:45 and I hit the halfway mark just inside 21 minutes. Things were looking really good.
The Swansea Bay 10K route is essentially an out and back. You run all the way down the road to Mumbles then you turn around and come back along the coastal path. The route is so straightforward that you turn back on yourself just on the halfway and the coastal path is about 5-10 metres parallel to the road you ran down. But that route back is closer to the sea and fully exposed to whatever weather there is. Believe it or not I'd never heard the word "crosswinds" until Sunday.
I'm not going to blame the weather as it was the same for everyone, but I am trying to paint a picture. I'd run the first 5K on track for my best time ever. By now I'd started to regret wearing the jacket (even if it saved me pre-race) and I was baking hot. I turned onto the exposed path and discovered "crosswinds". My time started dwindling! It was so darn hot that I had to undo my jacket a little, but the stupid crosswinds blew it completely open. So I'm running along, my jacket blown open looking like a cape, with my wallet in the right side bouncing like one of those elasticated bat and ball sets. You've got to laugh!
I obviously wanted to do up my jacket but my hands were incapable of such a task at this point, so I just kind of grabbed it and held it close to my sides. Thinking about this I must've looked a real sight! Anyway for the last 2 miles this was me, the idiot runner. My times were 7'30" / mile or so… it wasn't pretty! I doubt it was just the clothing issue though, I was finding this hard running. Maybe I set off too quickly who knows. Anyway I made it to the finish line, stumbling over at precisely 45'00" gun time, but the timing chip read a little better as it had taken so long to cross the start earlier.. 44'36".
If I'd have known I was "only" 9 seconds down on Cardiff I'd have probably been a bit happier but after the race I collected my medal and t-shirt, marched back to the car (soaking), drove straight to Cardiff, had a camping shower and a change of clothes in my driver's seat… and was sitting in a pub, pint in hand and race not to be thought of by 3. What did I learn this weekend? That I'm not quite fit enough to run PBs in "any conditions"… and that I really like ginger cheese. The cheese of choice for "pretenders"!
So it’s Sport Relief this coming weekend and there’s STILL TIME for anyone who’s considering running the mile to join in! It really is a great event: not only is it a chance to fund-raise for some fantastic causes but it can be the perfect introduction to running as well. There are one, three and six mile routes at most mile events scattered all over the UK, so it can serve as a starter or a further taste for anyone with a desire to lace up their jogging trainers over their Sport Relief red socks!
I for one will be jogging the 3 mile route in Cardiff, starting at 11am outside the Millennium Centre in the bay. I’ve done a teeny bit of fundraising but nowhere near as much as my teammate who’s idea it was – so proud of her efforts. She even injured her leg from training so hard earlier in the month (came and ran 4 miles with me then went off to a boxercise class immediately after – and not for the first time!) but it looks like all will be fine for the big day. The Cardiff mile is one of the Sport Relief “Flagship” miles which means that they try and make even more of a spectacle of the event – this can mean all sorts of entertainment, nearby businesses getting involved in fun kinds of ways and even celebrity competitors donning the red socks alongside you. I’m really looking forward!
Don’t forget there are tons of other things going on for Sport Relief too! Today Freddie Flintoff has been trying to break 12 World Records in 12 hours… I’ve been following his progress and hilariously he broke the 100m pedalo World Record earlier. I can’t wait to see that on TV! Speaking of which, whilst you can follow almost everything SR related on sportrelief.com there’s also a whole evening of TV live on BBC One from 7pm this Friday – especially looking forward to Ben Cohen doing stand up (dedicated show on BBC 3 on Weds – inc Michael Vaughn and Gabby Logan telling jokes!)… Ben’s obviously a comedian from his “Shane who?” comment a few years back. Shane Williams buddy, IRB World Rugby Player of the Year 2008! *Ahem* Yeah I should probably let that one go. Anyway the TV show is bound to be packed with great things like that – and then on Sunday there’ll be “The Mile Show” with highlights of mile runs from all around the country! See, you could run your first mile this weekend, rub shoulders with some celebs (or me if you come to Caerdydd!) and then spot yourself on the TV later too. Get your socks on!!
So you’re interested in losing some weight, or more specifically some fat. The first thing you usually hear mentioned is calories – the simple weight loss formula all dieters know is ['calories in' less than (<) 'calories used'] = weight loss. This really IS the "magic answer" and should be remembered at all times… But if you do investigate further: is a calorie a calorie no matter what? Protein, carbs, fat… they all contain calories, so if I only eat 1,000 calories worth of bread (a carbohydrate based food) most days I should be fine right? Not quite.
When you start to experiment with your diet, specifically restricting intake/calories, you soon learn that the type of food you're eating has significant effects on your body. When you're eating plenty (or overeating) you usually get enough of everything, so you have the protein to build and repair muscle, the carbohydrates to give you energy, the fat to… give you energy as well? I always considered myself pretty knowledgeable on foods and yet up until recently I had no idea what fats really did – just a vague idea that they stored energy? Something like that, right?!
It turns out fat is the energy your body turns to when your blood sugar dips below a certain level. What keeps your blood sugar above that level? Carb intake. If you have too many carbs they get converted to fat to be used at a later date, too few carbs and your body starts eating away at that fat. So if, like me, you're following a diet that's not particularly high in carbohydrates: fat becomes very important!
So when you're using up all your carb intake (which may be restricted by your diet) you're not storing any more fat and your body is running off your fat reserves; excellent – I'll just do this forever, no carbs and watch that stomach melt away right? Not necessarily. There are a few things to consider here: firstly you can't just avoid all food, you'll die of malnourishment – may seem like stating the obvious but some people haven't a clue! You can try to live on just protein and vitamins (trust me it works!) but with that there are pitfalls: your body does need energy, it does need fat (not only for energy: fat does a whole bunch of other things, more on that later!) and eventually it's going to try to be economical with the nutrients and fuels it isn't receiving on a regular basis… so if you aren't eating any fat, but you're being "powered" by it, your body is going to try and "drive economically" and not burn off or use anywhere near as much of your stored fat as it could. This can make losing those last few vanity pounds extremely difficult – not good for the abs chasers amongst us!
The solution? You're going to need to need a small but frequent amount of fat in your diet. Now this is where the headaches start: not all fat is the same, there are saturated and unsaturated fats… Traditional advice has been to avoid saturated fats as much as possible (it's said to have various negative effects on the body) but more recently there's been some argument that a small amount of saturated fat, at least specific "cholesterol neutral" saturated fats, may be useful/acceptable. Either way you should do your best to stay with a larger portion of unsaturated fat – and if weight loss is your goal you ALWAYS need to remember that magic formula of putting less calories in your body than the number you use!
Now then some might want to go the supplement route for their fats and I'm definitely one of these people. One of the latest things I've been investigating is fish oil. I've often seen it mentioned on websites or health magazines – "make sure you're getting your omega 3 essential fatty acids", but it's usually without too much detail or simply a rather vague suggestion that it's "good for you". So I did a bit of research, stocked up on the softgels and started trying it. Firstly, here are the main things (well the ones I'm interested in) that intake of omega 3 fatty acids is actually *proven* to help with:
Optimal Fat Loss (for reasons including those outlined above)
Relieves/Prevents Joint Pain (Runners!!)
Improves Mental Health and Helps Counter Depression / Anxiety
Lowers Cancer Risk Significantly
Improves Heart/Cardiovascular Health
Improves Brain Function
There are a whole bunch of other proven benefits (masses! all proven!! I find this extraordinary, hence double punctuation ) but those are the most impressive ones. Fish oil usually contains about a 1:2 ratio of saturated to unsaturated fat so it's a fairly good balance considering all the benefits and just as importantly you're taking in that essential fuel source REGULARLY so your body can cut away those last few stored pounds if that is your goal.
For me I'd say I'm already seeing the benefits: my stomach certainly looks leaner, my general sense of wellbeing is improved, my mood is pretty stable hahaha… it's also meant to make sticking to a diet easier as your stomach tells your brain that it's full when working with these fats – inclined to say I agree, though one day I'll have to write about my diet too… it's a mixture of the principles in Atkins, South Beach and mostly the recently popular Doukan diet – I'm not following any one of them and sort of figured things out myself but having read up on those diets they do have interesting nutritional basis. Just never believe the "you can eat as much as you want" line anywhere – sure it'd be hard to eat 3,000 kcals of salad (mostly carb based btw) but if you can manage it you're always putting on weight… unless you burn more calories than you eat of course. A calorie is always a calorie… but not every calorie is the same!
Ever heard of the Nike FuelBand? Chances are if you’re living in the UK then the answer is no. Over in the States this little gadget has caused quite a stir, recently selling out its “presale” (why do things have presales so often these days?!) in minutes. Being a fan of gadgetry and fitness type things this one certainly didn’t go under my radar and I was lucky enough to get one imported last week, before the marketing train has even begun over here! After a week with the coolest wristband I’ve had since Livestrong was all the rage I thought it might be time for a review.
What does the Nike FuelBand do? Basically it’s a fancy pedometer. It records all of your movement throughout the day and totals up your “Nike Fuel”, Nike’s own version of steps/calories/energy usage. You set yourself a Fuel target for each day and the FuelBand shows your progress towards that target by showing your daily total with a string of LEDs beneath it ranging from red to orange to green and all mixey colours inbetween. Once you’ve reached your target it lights up with a “GOAL” celebration. Simple enough! You can also track your daily steps and calories (though I turned these off) and finally it functions as a watch.
This wouldn’t be that great on its own but the web experience that goes alongside the FuelBand is where it really excels. The band syncs with the site via your computer or by pairing it with your iPhone over Bluetooth and using the app – you load up the app, hold down the button and in about 30 seconds you’re up to date. On the site and app you can track all three band accessible metrics (Nike Fuel, steps, calories) for every single day you’ve worn it, along with the distance covered for each day but I’ve found that wildly inaccurate – e.g. last week’s half marathon was about 7/8 miles! You earn achievements based on your performance – so by beating your daily target by a certain amount, hitting your target for a number of days in a row (a “streak”), reaching all-time total fuel milestones etc. They show funny little videos when you achieve certain things, you also get “trophies” to display on your profile and you can share all of these things to Facebook or Twitter.
So how well does it work? Well I’ve definitely learnt how difficult it is to be “active”! I use the suggested daily “active day” target of 3,000 Nike Fuel and sometimes my regular combination of lunchtime 30 minute gym session and evening 5k run aren’t enough to reach this goal. On more than one occasion I’ve had to go for an extra walk just to hit my target! Fortunately supermarkets are open 24 hours and the FuelBand doesn’t care if you’re running or shopping, “every step counts”, so in that sense it’s definitely pushing me to be more active than normal. Quite funnily I ran into some friends last week whilst walking off a few extra fuel points so in a way it’s making me more sociable too! You can still crumble and say screw the FuelBand on the odd occasion (damn you weekend!) but that does come with a huge dose of guilt and even worse: lost streaks and awful days on your profile when you finally log back in. Which you will because it’s always there, on your wrist, judging you.
Do I recommend it? For some it’ll be a complete waste of money and at about £150, for a wristband, that’s a big waste. If you’re like me however, a technology loving gadget fiend with a bit of a passion for health and fitness, you’ll wonder how you ever lived without it. #MakeItCount amigos
Llanelli Half Marathon takes place pretty near to where I live and grew up so when I got to the coast early on Sunday morning it came as no surprise that the wind was blowing with its usual ferocity. However the chill factor was a surprise even to this “local expert” and I found myself reaching for the emergency bottoms (everyone should keep a pair in their boot!) before as much as leaving the car park. This year was a cold one!
After a bit of a delay at the start, which isn’t ideal in near arctic temperatures, and no sign of Rupert Moon’s helicopter, we finally got underway just after 9AM. I had to use all of my unrecognised rugby talents to skip, dodge and weave my way through the masses of slow starters (expected time staggering should be mandatory at all runs) but eventually I found a nice rhythm just quicker than 4’20″/km. The run was familiar but beautiful, though I didn’t take many moments to indulge in my surroundings… today was all business.
I tried my first ever gel pack after 5k. Recently I’ve experienced a few runs where I’ve simply had zero energy, the pitfalls of a very low carb diet, so the idea was to counter this by taking on fuel mid race. Anyway the gel pack tasted delicious, seemed to agree with me and served me well for a few kilometres, so luckily I had 3! Now if anything did go wrong on the day it was the lack of a fourth gel pack. I could’ve really done with a boost at around the 19k mark but at least I know for next time. I tried three different varieties too so might have to experiment with which ones are best… Future blog post!
The majority of the run was pretty flat and the wind didn’t really come into play until the last 3 miles, by which time my mind wasn’t really functioning anyway. The final “hill” however was excruciating and was the only time I thought my heart might give up on me – either that or insta-sickness, don’t know which is worse! Anyway I managed to overcome it and whilst I was lost in the soothing trance of the downhill my buddy ran out from the crowd, jeans on and coffee in hand, and jogged me in the last few hundred metres. Okay maybe today wasn’t ALL business!
I vaguely heard my name from the announcer but was far more concerned with the post run welsh cakes I’d been bought. That and my beautiful gold trainer trophy thing – personally I think it’s awesome, it’s an Asics so matches my running shoes and it looks great on my desk in the office! Anyway with a time of 1hr32 I dashed home, showered and changed, and was out for celebratory/recovery lunch before lots had finished the course. All in all an excellent run, seriously.