Sunday, 27 January 2013

Cancelled - The terrorists win

This last week, amid many emails between myself, John, Sandblast and various communities online and on facebook the Saharawi authorities have decided the postpone/cancel the marathon

Here is the official statement from the Sahara Marathon organisers:

"The Saharawi Government and the organizing committee of the Sahara Marathon have agreed to postpone the Sahara Marathon 2013 by major causes outside the organization. As is well known, the recent war in Mali and the tragic kidnapping occurred in Algeria, have caused a huge international social alarm that forced us to take this sad decision. Given the instability in the region and threats of further violence from terrorist groups against Western targets, the Saharawi government temporarily paralyzed all the visa processes and have repatriated all the displaced social workers. In these circumstances and knowing the diffusion of the Sahara Marathon in the media should be irresponsible to travel to Algerian territory with a group of nearly 200 runners from over 20 countries. Furthermore, most of these countries have made serious appeals to their citizens not to travel to the area.

Sahrawi and Algerian authorities have done a commendable job as far as security is concerned in recent months, but the organization ofa long distance race in these conditions required an enormous logistic and financial effort, which morally we cannot demand to a people surviving in refugees camps. With all the measures taken by the authorities, the goal is to avoid any risk to the solidary runners and Saharawi people themselves.
With the conviction that this instability in the area should be temporary, we hope to make soon a new call for the next Sahara Marathon, a race with a huge international reputation thanks to the support of the runners and the hospitality they receive from theSaharawi families. The organizers and the Sahrawi Ministry of Youth and Sports will go on with some actions to support the humanitarian projects of the Sahara Marathon. The first is the organization in the coming days of the children’s races and other local activities for major victims of this situation that are the Sahrawi refugees. Furthermore we will convene in different European cities charitable races under the umbrella of the Sahara Marathon, with the aim, among others, to raise funds to send a truck with all the sports equipment and solidarity that we have received. The great sadness that means for the team and for the runners who prepared the trip excited, cannot weaken our commitment and work to help these people and to demand the justice denied for 38 years to Western Sahara .
For you, who were registered to join us in this unique solidarity experience, we can only apologize for the inconvenience and disappointment that we know that this suspension entails, but we hope you can understand the situation created by these international events with unusual severity."

Obviously I'm very disappointed as I was really looking forward to going and spending a week with the refugees not to mention leaving me hanging mid-training.

Fortunately, the money we've raised already, and the laptop from Computers 4 Africa, will still go to help the Saharawi though I won't be there to see it being put to use, so thank you very much - your donations have not been wasted :-)

The terrorists have won.

They have stopped people from doing the things they really want to do. They are causing even more anguish for the Saharawi and we are left feeling useless and frustrated :-(

John and I are in the process of planning a marathon of our own and we will be keeping you posted and asking for your support as and when we know what we're doing, where and when. I can promise you though that we'll make it as anti-terrorist as possible :-p

Tuesday, 15 January 2013

Going Places and a bit about why I love running

When I was at school I hated running. When I was at bigger school, I still hated running and when I was at University... Yep. Hated it.

So where has this love of running come from? 

Whenever I try and answer that question, I find myself having to revisit why I hated it in order to do some kind of comparison and I apologise if this is a story I've told you before.

When I was between 8 and 13 I went to a very small school near Salisbury which, if the weather was too awful to play rugby or football used to make us do cross-country running.

The whole school. In the worst weather. For hours.

I was always cold and miserable and found the whole thing utterly pointless when I could have been inside playing any number of childhood games or otherwise getting into mischief such as exploring the enormous walk in safe to which no one knew the combination, or collecting and then dismantling various different types of batteries as part of the "battery club" I founded...

I think the real reason I hated running was that I'm genuinely not very good at it. Even when I had to play rugby, they put me as a prop and I was always the last one to a ruck or scrum. When we discover a talent for hockey, I was centre forward, so got to "goal hang" rather than galavant up and down the pitch like the the others.

I'm just not very good at running. Or perhaps more accurately - I wasn't.

These days I'm still not very fast at it and I'm fairly sure that ill never post a sub 3hr marathon time but I'm ok with that. To be honest, I'm not too sure how much I enjoy long distance running, but that may be because I'm training at the moment so each distance is progressively longer and all of them hurt.

The "Ah-Ha" Moment

When I started training for my first running based event, Tough Mudder, there was one particularly good "ah-ha" moment which is when I discovered another reason to love running aside from the fact it makes me feel good.

The ability to go places. Without the use of any kind of transport other than my legs, under my own steam.

My daughter has swimming lessons at a small pool about 4 miles from where I live so one summer afternoon I decided to run up to the pool, watch her swimming lesson and then run home. It was a lot further than I was running at the time, but I figured that I'd have an hour's rest in the middle.

Sure enough I got there and surprised and impressed my 5yo daughter, which I must confess pleased me enormously, and then ran back home afterwards. Running back, her mum drove her car alongside me a little way so that my daughter could shout encouraging comments such as:

"Come on Daddy, run faster!"

It wasn't until I got home that the implications of what I'd just done sank in and I got a huge extra buzz from actually going somewhere specific beyond the intention of just going for a run!

Rochester Castle taken from the Strood-Rochester bridge on my 16 mile run

This week, I ran 16 miles as part of my training plan. This involved a there-and-back run from my house in Gravesend to Rochester where I took to the photo of Rochester Castle displayed on this post.

As I took the photo, I was struck by the thought and the buzz of what I was accomplishing here and I ran the next couple of miles with a big grin on my face and received a second wind which definitely made miles 10 to 14 much more enjoyable.

When I have finished training for the Sahara Marathon I hope I'll still have the desire to go places on foot and to take joy in the journey not just the getting-there.

Friday, 4 January 2013


I've had a fairly low point in my training over the last few weeks. I knew it would happen when I started out on this journey and while having a Buddist "accept, acknowledge, right action" attitude and method for dealing with it it still hasn't made it any easier.

I don't want to be overly negative on this blog, but part of my journey has to be the acknowledgement that this isn't easy. It was never going to be and I think I probably thought more of my physical capabilities than I should have.

Perhaps I'd forgotten just how hard those mud runs were last year.

Perhaps I should have not tried to change my running style while stocks also training for my first marathon.

I get updates from my friend John who I'm running the marathon with and he's just doing one long run a week. No other runs! I'm thinking that that's not sensible but then he goes and knocks out 20 miles the other day and I can only just managed 10! I'm really chuffed for John and super impressed and I know that I shouldn't compare our performance let alone training plans but my competitive nature can't help but feel frustrated and a bit inadequate in that comparison.

Suffice it to say that I'm genuinely worried about being able to run the whole marathon (oh I'll still do the full distance but I might be walking the second half) but I'm feeling more positive as the event gets closer and I am getting more excited about the desert and refugee camp elements. And helping the refugees is what it's all about isn't it?

Anyway, I entitled this blog post "Dogs" for a reason.

I have recently re-discovered the location is did all my mud run training.  It's a local nature reserve with excellent stone chipping paths, hills and I have a good 3.5 mile circuit. If you want to see what it's like, checkout the video I put together of John and I doing a Tough Guy training session around it.

Being a public park and an accessible and beautiful place to visit means that the majority of people there are walking dogs of various kinds.

I have nothing against other people's dogs, though I'm not sure I'm the dog owning type, and mostly their owners are diligent about collecting their waste and putting it away in the provided bins (which cannot be said of the horses and their riders who also use the byways in the park).

The problem I have is with a certain subset of dogs that like to challenge me, a runner, to a competition of "who's top dog".

Most dogs will generally ignore me as I run past, choosing to carry on what they were doing and in some cases actively getting out of the way.

Image by Lemondridge on Flikr

I've not been chased, bitten or barked at (well, in an aggressive way at least) but certain dogs, especially the bigger ones though that is not exclusively so, see me coming, work out where I'm running and then actively put themselves in the way!

Some of them are quite subtle about it and will change direction so that we would collide if we both continued in the same direction thus forcing me to change direction and go around them. Generally I don't mind this as they mostly do it with plenty of distance to let me change direction. By and large it is the smaller breeds that do carry out this tactic.

The most annoying type of obstruction is where the larger dogs (mostly labradors I might add) see me coming and, with a challenging glint in third cunning eyes, deliberately turn themselves to stand sideways across my path.

So far I've always been able to swerve out the way at the last minute and on one or two occasions its been the dogs owner, with a curse at the dog, who jumps out the way to let me through. I have benefited tempted to hurdle the dog several times but couldn't face the possibility of accidentally catching it with a shoe.

Any other runners out there experienced this sabotage by dominance challenging dogs and have any advice?

Sunday, 16 December 2012

Running in the right direction

I'm a huge fan of metaphor and I am absolutely convinced that paying attention to our own metaphors and the metaphors other people use can give us real insight and understanding and allow us to change how we attempt to deal with things. 

Taking peoples' metaphors literally is also a very good way to explore how they really feel about things as I find they're both a good window to what they're really feeling but also safely dissociated enough to allow a conversation about stuff that could actually be quite close to the bone. 

A lot of this comes from an excellent course I went on a year or so ago called Metaphors of Movement invented and run by an incredible explorer of psychology and a man I greatly respect: Andrew T Austin (so thanks Andrew).

Moving Forward in Life

One thing that comes up a lot in my own thoughts and when talking to my friends is that there can often be a definite lack of having any kind of forward motion in their lives. 

We feel like we're "standing still" or "treading water" or "not sure which direction to take".

All of these synonyms and colloquialisms are to do with direction and movement and I myself will be having a slight change of direction in the New Year which is why I was thinking about it on a recent cross country run I took.

Running in Vivobarefoot Breatho Trails on a cross country, muddy run

Running as a Forward Movement

Running is often described as a great way of dealing with the frustration (most often caused by a feeling of lack of progress or forward movement) of work or home life. People describe how, during a good run, they managed to solve various issues and blockages that had been holding them back. They talk about how inspiration struck them and has allowed them to expand their business or take an idea forward...

Notice the connections?

Anyway, on the cross-country run I went on the other weekend where I took the above photo, I was thinking about my various choices, options and playing out various scenarios if I did or did not make a decision.

The run I was on was a section of the Saxon Shore. A 10 mile stretch of the banks of the Thames Estuary out past Gravesend and along to Rochester.

The Saxon Shore follows the southern shore of the Thames Estuary out from Gravesend for 160 miles to Dover

I'm shore (pun intended) that during the summer it's an idyllic location and an amazing run (and one I intend to do many times) but right now, after all the rain we've been having over the past few months, it's a boggy, muddy, boulder strewn, windy, remote and desolate run.

It starts out OK along the top of the grass embankments but you're soon forced to descend into the quagmire of the mud either side and fences and flooding forces you onto the pebbly shoreline at times. 

Along some bits of the route there are regions of football sized angular rocks which don't seem entirely naturally placed or at home and I can't help but wonder if they're Saxon. I'm sure they're not but hey, why else would it be called the Saxon Shore way?

All along the area are various shaggily handsome looking horses and ponies all belonging to various traveller families that call Gravesend home (you can see one in the background of the photo of my feet above). They stand and watch me run past with only vaguely interested eyes as though they were indeed echoing my thoughts of "what the hell am I doing out here in this biting wind, wading through puddles and ankle deep mud? Is this fun? Am I enjoying this?"

While I was mulling over the various options and ideas, scenarios and outright fantastical possible outcomes of the decision that awaited me, I was having to hop from rock to rock, changing direction to avoid floods or to practically double back to get onto the shingle beach to avoid mud and ruts caused by one of the many trail motorbikes that race up and down the embankments or take a detour around one or more of the ponies.

Just Keep Moving Forward

I couldn't tell you exactly where it was but at some point it occurred to me that while I kept having to change direction to avoid sections or overcome an obstacle on the route, I was still travelling forward and as I thought that, my mind made the connection between what I was doing on the run and what I was trying to decide to do in my life.

It doesn't matter if you change direction: You're still moving forward and even if you have to change direction a hundred times, you're still closer to your goal or further along your journey than you'd be if you simply stopped and waited for the water to drain or the mud to harden or the horse to wander off.

Making a decision to move forward is the only decision that was needed and it doesn't really matter if it's the right decision or the wrong decision because I'll be moving forward and if I need to change direction again, that's OK. 

It's all part of navigating the route and enjoying the journey.

Tuesday, 11 December 2012

Computers 4 Africa

The other day, a very good friend of mine sent me quite a cryptic text message

"I have potentially very good news, gives us a call when you have 5 mins."

Calling her back it transpired that she has a good friend who works at the charity Computers 4 Africa and they might be interested in giving me a laptop to take with me to the refugee camps to donate to them!

Too good an opportunity to double up on good doing, I immediately sent her a long email about the marathon and the plight of the Saharawi people and their situation in the refugee camps.

I was actually quite pleased with the email (and they do seem to get better and better the more I write) and it certainly seemed to work because the next day I was invited to come down one evening and meet the team and maybe arrange for me to receive a laptop to take with me to Algeria!

Thinking that that they were a quite a small charity (but that I might have heard of them before) I was not prepared for he scale of the operation I found when I went down on Friday evening last week.

A massive warehouse filled with computers, laptops, monitors, enormous boxes of mice and row upon row of computers being tested, cleaned, data-wiped (to military spec I was assured) and prepared to be packed into containers and sent to various locations across Africa.

The Computers 4 Africa warehouse is stuffed full of computers waiting to be processed.
Computers waiting to be processed

Holy smoke! These guys have probably got a thousand second hand computers in here! Being guided around the warehouse by Sharon, who is marketing manager, I was intrigued to be told that a single computer will be used by upwards of 24 children each year and she told me several stories of refreshes they'd done at various sites to see computers that they'd dropped there 10 years previously! That's at least 240 kids who have had a chance to learn how to use a computer.

It's very easy to et carried away with how much good each computer does and how many more computers the UK must throw away each year through anything including personal home computer replacements to large corporate refreshes. 

Where do all those machines go!?

Computers 4 Africa run a number of "drop sites" around the UK where for a couple of days every now and then, they get the use of a big warehouse and local people and organisations are encouraged to bring old (although not so old they can't run Windows XP), working computers. 

They also do free collections if you have more than 10 computers to donate and Sharon had a lovely story about a community who organised their collective old computers and Computers 4 Africa were able to come and collect them from them in the village.

Just cleaning and dusting the computers can add 2 years to their lifespan
Just cleaning the donated computers of their accumulated dust can add 2 years to their life span!

I even saw several servers and a lone original iMac in the warehouse being processed for either re-sale in the UK (by selling 1 high spec pc or server, they can often buy up to 20 suitable computers to send out) or to become part of one of their "container classrooms".

Container Classrooms

A genius idea and a fantastic, self contained and fully equipped classroom inside a modified 20ft shipping container.

Looks secure because it is! A complete IT suite and classroom in a single container.

What better way to outfit an entire community than to turn up with a self contained (and also secure, which is very important) classroom, train a teacher to run it and hey presto, you have a community hub, school, library or whatever else you can think of.

In my mind I was thinking "wow, what a great idea! I bet they're expensive to set up though."

I asked Sharon and to my great surprise she said it was £5800 to fully kit one out! That was a third to half what I was thinking it would cost and of course, had the PCs and Server been new, it'd have been closer to the truth.

I don't know how, but I'd really like to have a go at funding one off these out at some point. It'd be a specific, measurable and achievable thing to do. I just need to put a time on it...

Cleaned and restored computers waiting to be packaged for transport

Anyway, at the end of the tour we finished up meeting a few of the guys in the office and had a brief tour of their African map where they have pins on all the locations they've done a major drop. Sharon was keen to point out that they've so far pretty much only taken machinery to the Sub-Sahara countries so my taking a laptop to Tindouf will be a distinct change for them.

Discussing it with Sharon and Morgan (their client relationship manager), we decided that it might work very well if we can donate the laptop to Sandblast to incorporate in one of the mobile sound recording studios we're fundraising to help them put together and take out to the Saharawi.

There's a long way to go before the 25th Feb, although it's only 10 weeks away now. Can't wait to see the conclusion of this part of the adventure! 

If you have any spare or old computers you don't need, drop me an email ( or get in contact with Computers 4 Africa as I know they always need more machines.

UPDATE: Container-Classroom photos

I asked Sharon for a couple of photos of the container-classrooms to give you a better idea of what they look like and here they are:

A complete classroom delivered to communities in Africa from Computers 4 Africa
This one had just been put up.

Donated computers inside a classroom-in-a-container thanks to Computers 4 Africa
And inside are various donated computers all set up and ready to educate

They really are a brilliant idea.

Friday, 7 December 2012

Newspaper and Magazine promotion

I'm going to be in the paper!

Earlier in the week I phoned the Kent Messenger to try and promote my little marathon adventure and see if they'd be interested in a local chap running a long way in a hot, sandy place for charity (hint hint).

It turns out they were, so yesterday afternoon an almost unbelievably stereotypical photographer came round to take a very staged photo of me in my running gear.

He was nice enough and, while I expressed my reservations about taking a photo on the local promenade as opposed to a local trail run, he said: "they're not really interested in your style or the background - they just want a photo of your head and shoulders"...

Oh. Of course. Silly me. At least I remembered to shave!

Anyway, I'd brought down my camera to ask if he'd take one with mine for me, but no. Apparently the newspaper would rather make me pay £8 for a digital copy of the photo of myself (reminds me of the outrageous prices the official Tough Mudder photographers wanted: £30) so no handy photo for the blog then.

While Kent Messenger will have, no doubt,  an excellent and beautifully touched up photo of me looking incredibly natural in a perfect barefoot-style running position, Trail Running magazine who also want to add some bits about the marathon and my journey, will have to make do with this home timed attempt I took down a little trail that I like to run:

Me on a little trail run near Gravesend.

The editor of Trail Running magazine originally wanted a photo of my running barefoot, but I explained that barefoot-style and barefoot are quite different things, so she'll have to make do with one in my Vivo's.

It's not actually so hard to get press coverage as it turns out. You'd think that getting hold of an editor of a popular magazine would be hard (though to be fair I haven't yet tried Runner's World) but they all put their editor's contact details on their websites and a quick phone call usually get's the name of the person to speak to or at least their email address. In my experience though it's always better to actually speak to someone before sending them a load of info via email as it's harder for them to ignore, plus you get to personally "sell" your story and make a connection with the editor.

As it turns out, she said that she thought her old school teacher was also running the Sahara Marathon so I should look her up when we head over. It's a small world!

Anyway, I'm looking forward to seeing my mug in print and hopefully accompanied with links to both this blog and my JustGiving page so that readers can show their support.

Wednesday, 5 December 2012

Marathon Training Plan(s)

Sahara Marathon Training Plan

Originally, I'd created a plan that had John and I start training in October. This had a gradual build up of mileage with the plan to do a full length marathon a month before race day (on my Birthday in fact) as a preparation for the race.

You can download my original Sahara Marathon Training Plan and have a look. The idea was that we could print it off and stick it on the wall and tick off and record times for each session and share our successes with each other.

My coach suggested that doing a marathon before the actual date was madness as the risk of injury was too great but that as long as there was a full month before race day, it would probably be OK. My thoughts were along the lines of "well what if we'd been training for an ultra? We'd be doing longer than marathon length as part of our training, so what's the problem with doing a marathon length as part of the training for a marathon?"

Most of the marathon training advice I read online backs up the initial opinion of my coach and I've no yet had a good answer to my thoughts. I guess it comes from the idea that many many people run marathons each year, but considerably fewer run ultras and the science behind ultra-marathon training is lagging behind the marathon training science purely because there's less/no money in it.

Delays, Injury and the 11 week marathon training plan

In late October, I hurt my foot a little and had to take a week or two off and then again in November. Now it's December and we have 11 weeks before the race!

Sadly we're no longer looking at running the race at any kind of decent pace. Now we're training just to get through it :-( I'm actually not that upset because after speaking to a previous runner, they said that while they normally run a marathon in 3:30, they took 5hrs because of the sand! So running a rocket pace isn't a priority for this charity race (a quick reminder that this is for charity and they need your donation please).

So, I created a new, gentler plan and sent it off to my coach, Louise at Run to Become, to check through. It seems that I'm generally too hard on myself because she quickly came back with an even more gentle plan and some great ideas about how to run/pace and really emphasised the importance of the long run over every other kind of running we do on our training.

The Revised Plan

So here it is. The revised plan that will (WILL!) see me through to race day.

A sample 11 or 12 week Marathon Training plan that I'm using for my Sahara Marathon in Feb.

There are some important notes that came with the plan:

Recovery Runs

Recovery runs are short-distance runs at an easy pace to accelerate recovery for your next workout.

Cross Training (CT)

Cross training refers to easy walking, cycling or swimming. On Cross Training days you can choose to take a complete rest or do some light cross training.

Aerobic Runs

A moderate-effort run is a standard element of your marathon preparation. Aerobic runs are usually done at a pace that is 20 percent slower than the marathon race pace.

Long Runs

According to the following Marathon Training tips page, the main goal of the marathon long run is to build enough endurance for your marathon race. Depending on your level, these runs usually start at 10-12 miles in length and build up to 20-22 miles. The farther you run, the more time you need for your recovery.

Marathon Pace (MP) runs

These runs are partly done at your predicted marathon pace. So, for example: "18 mi long run / 10 mi MP" means that 10 of those 18 miles should be done at marathon pace.

Lactate-Threshold (LT) runs

Lactate-threshold runs are tempo runs of at least 20-25 minutes at this so-called lactate-threshold pace. Depending on your level, these runs are usually around 15K to half marathon pace. If an aerobic run of 10 miles calls for 5 miles LT, 

I'm not sure I get some of these different run types

I'm training to run the race barefoot style, part of which means a cadence of 180 steps per minute or greater. The difficulty with this is that the difference in pace between the different run types listed above is negligible. 

If I run at Marathon Pace, I'm running really slowly with short, high cadence steps trying to keep my heart rate in the "aerobic zone" (check out the following web page on heart rate zones). The problem is that running 20% slower doesn't involve 20% less effort. 

I still have to keep the cadence high and the steps short, but at that speed I really can walk just as fast, so how do I run an aerobic run at a 20% slower speed than my marathon pace?

The only really easy ones are the LT ones as that's about where I've always run. All my running over the last year has been with a heart rate in the 160-170 range and if I just run as I feel, I generally run at a heart rate of 163, but that's well inside the anaerobic band (past the lactate threshold), so again I'm struggling to run in the aerobic zone.

That said, I've been making a real effort to find and stay inside the aerobic zone and my coaching has definitely helped me on that front and I feel like I'm getting closer.

I guess I'll just have to train and see how I adapt.