Runs and Reviews

Today I did my final (and first) long run before Paris in two weeks time. I decided to try out the new parkrun at Maidenhead so parked about 7 miles away. The idea was to run towards Maidenhead, over the river, double back for a while and the continue on, making it 10 miles to the parkrun and timing it perfectly so I didn’t have much recovery before it started. I’d then run the 7 miles back giving me a perfect 20 miles. This distance also gave me the opportunity to test out a few bits of kit I’d bought recently and see how they fared on a long run.

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As I’ve posted before I was selected for the shortlist to be an ashmei ambassador a few weeks ago. Sadly I didn’t get the gig but they did offer me a really good deal on their clothing so I picked up one of their t-shirts (or “running jersey”) at a decent price. Other than comfort the key quality of these shirts is that not only do they dry quickly, but they don’t smell. I have to admit I do tend to emit a very personal kind of end-of-run odour which is far from pleasant so I was interested to see what would happen. Unfortunately this week due to working long hours (for a change) I have only got out for 3 runs. One 6 mile hilly trail run on Monday, same on Friday and todays 20. I was told by Robert at ashmei that I shouldn’t wash it too often and that it could handle a few runs so I put it to the test. I wore the shirt on each run without washing it in between, just hanging it up to dry. Now I have no affiliation with ashmei – in fact quite the reverse as they rejected me! – so I can honestly say I was staggered after each run, not least the last one. There genuinely isn’t any nasty odour at all. I wouldn’t want to push it to another run but compared to my other t’s (admittedly mostly free technicals form races) it is a revelation.

That’s not to say it is perfect though; I am a medium and fairly short and even I would prefer a slightly longer cut. I’m sure there are taller people who might find it a bit short for them. Also I couldn’t, for love nor money, fit my headphones into the clip on the back of the shirt while I was wearing it. This might be because I was 13 miles into my run and a bit sweaty but I gave up after a while. Finally there is a zip pocket on the side of the shirt. I’m prepared to be shot down here but I cannot see the point of a pocket on one side. Anything substantial (you can probably just about get a phone or car key/gel in it) will bounce around pulling the shirt. I’ll be happy to get feedback that this isn’t the case but I would have preferred it to be at the small of the back, if at all.

The second item I trialled was my Scott Jurek Ultimate Direction Ultra Vest. I’d bought it at the beginning of the year thinking I’d get a lot of use out of it but, due to injury, this was only the second time I’d used it and the first over 12 miles.

What is immediately apparent when wearing it is that I probably have bought the wrong size. Again I bought a medium but – without lowering myself to national stereotypes – I think an American medium may be a touch larger than a British medium.

I had it pulled in as tight as possible on both of the straps and still got a little bit of a jiggle on. There may be other ways of tightening it that I haven’t found but if not there may be a bargain on eBay soon. It comes with two 560ml bottles. I’ve also got the 420ml collapsible body bottles but thought I’d need the extra fluid over comfort so used the larger ones. I needn’t have worried as they were pretty comfortable with no rubbing on the chest. I filled one with water and the other with Torq vanilla energy drink. I’m not into particularly sweet drinks so the vanilla flavour is just the job. It is also packed with carbs as well as electrolytes which helps me massively on a long run

There are plenty of pockets all over the vest and most are pretty easy to get to. Gels (I took two, both SIS lemon) can go in pockets around the bottles and phone, car keys etc can go wherever is comfortable. There are also two large pockets at the back to fit a bladder (with drawstrings to keep it tight), jacket etc

This really is an awesome vest and once I get the right fit it wont leave my back on any unsupported runs.

That’s enough free advertising. On to the important bit.

I started just outside Bourne End at about 7.15. I hoped to run 9 minute miles for the 10 miles there so expected (with a few stops for traffic, gasping for breath etc) to get to the parkrun for 8.50. The run itself was great, plenty of early action on the river with rowers, canoeists and canal boats taking my mind off things. Once over the river, after a mile or so switchback to give me the mileage, I ran through Cookham – at one point and very briefly keeping pace with a cantering horse and rider – and back to the river. The footpath then runs alongside the river for a couple of miles until Boulters Lock where it changed to pavement up to Maidenhead. The market was just setting up in the High Street with lots of fresh fruit, veg and enormous bagels to tempt me. I reached the entrance to the park where the parkrun is held at mile 9 instead of 10. Either me or mapmyrun had gone wrong. The only thing for it was to run laps of the rugby fields in front of the gathering runners who must have thought my pre-run preparations were a) pointless and b) ridiculously slow for a 5k event.

I finished the 10 miles at almost exactly 8.50, dumped my vest with the other luggage and set off on the parkrun. I expected to carry on the 9 minute mileing but there is something about a crowd of runners that won’t let me be sensible so I set off at around 8-8.15 mm and clung on. Its a really nice double loop course through Braywick Park and a pretty flat one too. I did a fairly respectable 25 minutes which was around 2 minutes faster that I wanted to. All that was left was the return 7 mile leg covering the same paths without the extra loop. I haven’t run that far since Abingdon Marathon last October so my legs felt a bit heavy for the last couple of miles but all in all it was a very pleasant way to spend a morning. And all before 10.30!

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A Good Day at the Office

It was a contest.

It may have been hosted in a bucolic valley of deepest Hertfordshire, surrounded by farmhouses, stabling and sheep but it was still a competition.

30-odd runners – and strangely clad others, later identified as something called cyclists – turned up at the Ashmei office on Saturday fighting to become the next Ashmei Ambassadors hoping to receive the spoils that that entails.

Except we didn’t. We turned up all right, each sporting our own personal favourite polyester (shudder) running apparel, but there was no hostility, no point-scoring, no attention-seeking that normally comes with a mass of people vying for a small amount of places.

In fact the only competitiveness I saw in the whole day was seeing who would blink first and eat the pastries pre-run rather than the fruit.

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After a bit of mingling, catching up with old faces and meeting new, it was time for a bit of a presentation from Ashmei founder Stuart Brooke.

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Here I have to declare an interest. I have been wearing Ashmei products since I first started running. Considering their deliberate placement at the very high end of sports clothing – think Aston Martin for style and cool – and the pricing structure that comes with that, it may seem like a bit of a boast. But unlike Aston you can own a bit of Ashmei without robbing the village post office. Socks.

My first ever race was the Henley half marathon in 2013. And there in the middle of a rugby field, gleaming despite the rain, was the 1964 “Overlander” Airstream caravan (yes, I’ve memorised the website). Inside an array of bold, graphic designs in red and black drew me in. I was hooked. Admittedly the prices made my eyes water more than the storm outside but I knew I wanted a piece of it; and so I bought socks.

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I needn’t have bothered.

Had I known that only two years later I would be given a free pair to try out at the ambassadors event I could have save a few quid.

And so to the run; the bit I should have been looking forward to the most but was dreading. I’ve hardly run a step since the beginning of January (see previous posts for mind-numbing naval-gazing injury-related tosh) but was determined to be included in the major part of the event. So the day before I saw my favourite masseur, the lovely Poppy, who carefully, gently and sensitively pulverised every muscle in my lower limbs. She had elbows and fingers in places they really shouldn’t be allowed, increasing the pressure in direct relation to how loud I howled and how hard I whimpered.

The upshot was that, on Saturday morning, I had legs that felt they had been beaten by iron bars but no calf pain. As a result run was fantastic. The views were stunning, the woods beautiful, the company interesting but selfishly all I could think was that I was, finally, running again. I’ve had to cancel two marathons so far and it was looking bleak for a number of other races including my first ultra in May. But running around the Ashridge estate, up and down hills, along footpaths and trails, I was a runner again.

From start to finish it was a great event. Meeting runners who are achieving things I can only dream about is both humbling and inspiring. Other people will become Ashmei Ambassadors, I am not the demographic a cool young company is searching for but I don’t care. I ran 5.5 miles for the first time in two months.

I’ve already won.

Injuries and Opportunities

Injuries, whatever the nastiness, suck, we all know that. The one I have at the moment, really sucks. To paraphrase, plagiarise (and sanitise) a quote from the Thick of It – “It sucks **** so deep your appendix is wearing the bell-end as a little hat.”

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I’m quite a positive type. My many and varied run-ins with certain governmental tax organisations have made me so – the alternative is a life of sobbing into my pillow in a darkened decreasingly smaller room.

But tearing my calf tested my patience to the limit and 10 weeks on I was struggling to find any upside.

And then I rode a bike.

I’m not a complete philistine when it comes to bikes. I have, as most people probably do, a number of them mouldering in the back of the shed. But I needed something low-impact that would reverse the pounds that were piling on now I wasn’t exercising and wasn’t swimming.

I’ve always had a deep loathing for swimming. I was taught the bare essentials so that, while I won’t drown, I certainly would go anywhere particularly fast or with any degree of grace. A few weeks into the injury – and before the donation of a road bike – I did a few weeks of swimming at my local pool. Each time I would haul myself out, thoroughly depressed as the octogenarians smiled winningly at my back. If to be beaten by a girl in a race is to be “chicked” then length after length I was “oaped” by men and women sedately breast-stroking their way through the chlorine infested waters while I sputtered and spluttered my way behind them.

The only good thing I can find to say about swimming is that you don’t get sweaty. Everything else is a negative.

Back to the bike. I was getting a bit desperate to get outside and get exercising. My brother is a bit of a triathlete (no oaping for him) and as is the way he had a number of bikes he’s used in the couple of years he’s been racing. He very kindly lent me his first bike, with a grin.

It is, I’m sure a perfectly serviceable road bike. It’s definitely got the skinniest tyres I’ve ever seen on a supposedly roadworthy machine. But the weight! I have been lucky enough to photograph Sir Chris Hoy when he was at the Nissan Sunderland plant before he started racing GT cars and, naturally, he brought along a range of bikes he had designed for Evans Cycles. Those ones I could pick up with a finger, my new juggernaut took both hands to get off the ground. Still beggars can’t be choosers and off I went on my first ride.

I don’t have any cycling kit so cobbled together running tights (with compression shorts underneath as some kind of padding), long-sleeved running shirt with my windshell over the top. My son’s borrowed helmet – with beanie underneath – and a pair of climbing gloves completed the outfit. I looked great.

I have since bought myself a proper top. Though going out in an Etixx-Quickstep team shirt (homage to Mark Cavendish) rather than the plethora of Team Sky ones is a bit of a bold move.

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I’ve always thought cycling was a bit of a cop-out. You can rest whenever, you want, exert no effort going downhill and it is the definition on an “easy ride”. 20 miles later and back home I could hardly get off and John Wayne’d my way inside. The Chiltern Hills (which I live on top of) had struck again. I’ve pretty much mastered the hills on two feet but two wheels means a whole lot of different and as yet underused muscles. Grudging respect to you proper cyclists out there

So while being injured is a proper pain in the calf, on a positive note it has opened up a new world of pot-holes, storm drains, idiot drivers and screaming quads.

Oh, and news just in, as I write this I’ve received an email that I’m on the shortlist for the Ashmei Ambassadors Day this coming Saturday.

Time to zip up the man suit and get competitive!