Thursday, 30 July 2015

Snowdonia Trail half marathon: 26/7/2015

So far in my short amateur running career I have completed 22 half marathons and the Snowdonia Trail half marathon was probably toughest but most enjoyable half marathon of all of them.  I originally signed up to do the full marathon but due to a busy schedule of races especially competing in NSRRA.  I decided to be sensible and only do the half marathon.

Left to Right: Fred, Me and Sam

I was running this race along with a couple of good friends Fred who also opted to do the half following a recovery from a recent illness and Sam who decided to still the run the full marathon distance.

Wet and windy conditions outside race HQ

In the few days before the race, I stayed at my parent’s caravan on the Llŷn Peninsula which is a 45 minute drive away from the start of the race.   The weather forecast for the race was windy, cold with persistent heavy rain.  On the day of the race the weather forecast was correct, I arrived in Llanberis to absolutely horrendous weather conditions.  I immediately got kitted up (waterproofs were definitely required) applied plenty of vasoline (runners know why) and I caught up with Fred and Sam.   One of the worst parts of race was the 10 – 15 minutes before the race.  All the runners were crammed in the starting pen located in the field next to Electric Mountain to listen to pre-race safety briefing.  There was a small tent to shelter 100’s of runners so most people were already cold and wet before the race had even began.

Fred and Sam had located themselves nearer to the front of the pen whilst I stayed towards the back.  The race had started we left the field crossed over the road then headed along the high street before heading up Capel-Coch road and onto Ceunant street.  The road steepens before passing the YMCA located part of the way.  When the road had steepened loads of people stopped running and started to power walk up the hill.  I found it really difficult to overtake due to the volume of runners at this stage of the race.  Weaving in and out I managed to continue running as the road became telegraph road.   The best way to describe telegraph road is a farmer’s track with lots of loose materials, definitely unsuitable for anything other than a tractor or an off-road 4 x 4.  It was still very cold and wet, I was feeling despite the cold conditions despite wearing water proof layers.   I managed to still overtake a few people who had started to walk.

Telegraph road climb

At top of telegraph road we were greeted with marshals at Cwm Brwynog.  This point marks the first bit of descent in the race after 5 miles of climbing, I stop for a quick toilet break before pegging downhill across boggy terrain with extensive cover of Juncus.  At the bottom of this descent is the Snowdon ranger’s path and the point where marathon runners separate from the half marathon runners.  Marathon veered right to do the additional miles before Snowdon whilst half marathon runners veered left up the Snowdon rangers path to the summit of Snowdon.    At this point, I had warmed up from the quick run-down hill and descent strip off the waterproof jacket.  Also after the split the number of runner were stretched as majority of runners were running the full distance marathon.  I continued running along the rangers track until I reached the steep zigzags.  It was this point I decided to put on my water proofs back on and join the masses that were power walking towards the summit.   The weather was quite bad at this stage with wind and rain not mention very poor visibility.  I glance down at my watch to find it read 25 m/m so it was definitely a slow final ascent towards the summit.  

Once I reached or the finger stone which is technically not quite the summit, I gotten quite cold.  Now that I am starting to descend again I tried to start running again.  A few paces was required for me to get going again.  I briefly spoke to a fellow runner on the top as I gradually built up speed on the descent of the Llanberis path.  The first part of is really steep and I lacked to the confidence to run down at speed and I found myself clambering down periodically using the fence for support.  Once I had gotten pass this section I had the confidence to hammer the quads and run down at speed.   I glance down at my watch to see that on average I was 7:00 m/m downhill and even sneaked under 7 a couple of times basically my pace was 4 times faster down hill than the final stages of the up hill.   Just before the halfway café I had caught up with 4 runners I ran with them for a moment before flying pass them.  Just a bit further on I had a brief chat with another runner from Ireland before shooting off.  At this point many hikers had realised that there was a race going on.  Most of them moved to the side and cheered as I went past.   At the bottom of the Llanberis path is a tarmac section, this was probably the worse bit as running on tarmac in trail shoes is not very comfortable.  Any the tarmac section was shortened as the route was diverted through a forest trail just after the Penceunant Tea Rooms.   This trail was quite boggy corresponding to the volume of rain and numerous exposed roots provided plenty of trip hazards. 

The final 3 miles was a bit of a nasty surprise.  At 10 miles I had arrived back into Llanberis but to make it up to half marathon distance there was a loop of the Dinorwig slate quarries.  The ascent was sharp and steep, once again I was reduced power walking in parts.  Some of the exposed slate was also quite slippy due to the wet weather conditions.  The route zig zag past some of the old historic workings during the ascent 3 or 4 people passed me.   However once I had reached the top I was able to descend again at speed overtaking the runners that had passed on the way up and also passing a couple more people.   At the bottom of the quarries a friend of mine was marshalling and gave me a shout.  I know that I was home and dry (not really that dry), I was able to conjure up a sprint finish overtaking one final runner before crossing the finishing line in a gun time of 2:38:14 and a chip time of 2:37:29.  I finished in 40th place out of 278 runners which was quite satisfying.  Fred had finished in 4th place and a good 30 mins before me.  I went to see the sport therapist and got massage, I also got myself a pizza and cheered the others that crossed the finishing line.

finishing medal

The Snowdonia trail half marathon was the most gruelling half marathon I have ever ran.  The weather was absolutely shocking and I loved every second of it.  Even though as I write this blog post 4 days on I find the stairs to be a painful experience, I really looking forward to running it again next year.

Things that I have learnt:

  • Fell running is more technically challenging than road running
  • Fell running is more fun than road running
  • Fell running is better than road running
  • I want to run more fell and less road in the future

Race split times for each mile

Thursday, 23 July 2015

Weight Loss Story (first draft)

If you want to shred an extra weight, you can apply the simple equation if you burn more calories than you consume you will lose weight.  On the other hand, consuming more calories than what you burn off leads to weight gains.   So basically if you eat and exercise more you will lose weight however, calorie restricted diets are not sustainable and exercise alone is a very difficult way of creating a calorie deficit.  Furthermore, combining restricted calorie restricted diets and increased exercise lead may lead to reduced performance, becoming more lethargic and reduced immune system making you more prone to illness.  This latter approach is definitely not sustainable for long periods of time.

These are often short term approaches that lead to initial weight loss but the weight is gained once you completed this ‘fad’ diet and returned to your usually lifestyle.   The only option is a complete lifestyle change.   This blog is focused on how I managed to shift more 70 lbs, lowering my waist size from 38” to 30” and still maintain a good level of exercise without feeling lethargic or drained.  Some of my ideas were taken from Tim Ferriss – the four hour body.  

If you are overweight then unless you have a medical issue (e.g. thyroids) then the chances are you have some bad lifestyle habits.  For me, I was a sucker for sugary energy drinks, alcohol, rubbish junk food and take-aways.  When I was at my biggest I weighed 110 kg or 243 lbs (17 stone).

If you can identify what aspect of your diet has resulted in your extra weight gain then you have already made great process.   Probably worth writing a list of things that you consume and if it contain plenty of sugar then it is a likely cause of being weight gain.  Stopping abruptly of these sugary foods can be difficult especially as sugary foods are addictive.  My advice would be to make a slow transgression you know that you might struggle.  I started my replacing sugary energy drinks with diet cokes for example.  I also went through a period of having limited money so that helped me to cut out eating out all the time.  

The next thing to do highlight some short-term realistic targets.  For me every weekend I was determined to better the previous weekend’s PB.   By the training and losing a little bit of weight I was able to improve my course PB on almost a weekly basis. 

Also, at this stage by avoiding eating crap food and alcohol and increasing running to three times a week.  I also made sure I never skipped breakfast and now religiously I had 2 weetabix biscuits with either skimmed or semi slimmed milk.  I also targeted my daily calorie intake to 2000. Almost, immediately, the weight began drop off me.  I weighed myself once a week on the same day at the same time.  It important to do this as your body weight can fluctuate depending on how hydrated you are (couple of kg is possible).   Therefore, if you keeping a record then it important to keep the conditions the same in order to gauge any differences in mass more accurately.  For me, I weigh myself first thing in the morning on a Thursday before breakfast and after a toilet visit.  Anyway by sticking to 2000 calories per day (probably 1800 calories would be a good target for females) I started to get lighter.   The lighter I got the easier I found running got easier and my parkrun times drastically improved.  I have been losing weight at a consistent rate of 1-2 lb per week.  After a period of time I finally lost > 40 lbs dropping a couple of waist sizes in the process.

However, my progress was postponed when I went away to Northern Canada on fieldwork for 4 months of the summer.  I returned the UK in October and ran the Robin half marathon in Nottingham.  During this race I picked up an injury, common runner injury of ITB giving me pain around my knee.  I also persevered through the Congleton half and Great South West run with this injury.  After I decided to take a complete month off from running.  I made a return at the Conwy Half a month later to bag a new PB.  Then in December I went away to San Francisco and came back in time for Christmas.  Anyway before going off too much of a tangent in this period between October and December exercise was sporadic and I didn’t pay much attention to what I was eating.   It was only in January with the Stoke FIT Awesome by April that I decided to pay attention to my lifestyle.

However, I have recently been reading the 4 hour body by Tim Ferriss.   There are lots of interesting stuff written in this book I got particularly interested in the chapter on subtracting fat.  In this particular chapter Tim recommends eating simple meals that comprise a combination of proteins, legumes and vegetables (see lists below).  If you are feeling hungry eat the same food again.
·         Egg whites with one whole egg for flavour
·         Chicken (no skin)
·         Beef
·         Pork
·         Fish
·         Lentils
·         Black beans
·         Butter beans
·         Pinto beans
·         Spinach
·         Asparagus
·         Broccoli
·         Peas
·         kale
·         Mixed vegetables

So for lunch and evening meals this is pretty what I ate.   My favourite was black beans, lentils or a combination with kale.   From the protein list I would ribeye steak after a tough training session and chicken, salmon or tuna for other meals.   I would eat for 6 days week giving myself a cheat day at the weekend.   However, Tim recommends this type of meal for breakfast but I decided to stick to a bowl of muesli.  Despite eating these meals I was still able to train hard including running up to 20 miles for the Stafford 20 and training for potteries marathon.

In the first week of January I weighed 189 lbs.  I stuck to this diet all the way through to April and dropped a further 20 lbs.   I never felt lethargic or hungry during this time.  I was also able to put in some intense speed training and some long distance running without any negative impacts related to my diet.   I also started to go to the gym before work mainly because I am an early person and I didn’t want to start work too early.  In the gym I did a bit work with weights and kettlebells which might have contributed to my weight loss along with the diet.  On my cheat days I would consume a huge packet of crisps, eat curry and drink loads of beer.  In his book Tim Ferriss recommends having a cheat day once week to help reset a slowing metabolism.  It is also good to reward yourself for eating healthy for 6 days too.

Losing the weight I have seen substantial improvements in performance.  I have seen my parkrun times improve from 31:17 to 20:01.  I have seen my 10K race times improve from 55 mins to 41 mins and my half marathon times improve from 2:21 to 1:33.    I am currently running in good form but this is all down to losing the equivalent of 35 bags of sugar.  I really don't think I could run with that weight in a back pack.  Also there is a similar story with Graham McLachlan from the Michelin running he has lost a quite a bit of weight and is now smashing all of his course times by big margins.

Thursday, 9 July 2015

Awesome by August: Day two

Awesome by August: Day two

This morning I decided myself again and surprisingly I was bang on 79 kg which is 2 kg lighter than the previous evening’s weigh in.   I was either over-hydrated when I weighed in before or I was a little dyhydrated today.   This definitely highlights the point that you need to try to keep conditions that same during weigh ins i.e. first thing in the morning.    

Last Sunday I ran the full potteries marathon so any exercises that I do will hopefully NOT hinder the recovery.   I have consulted with a marathon runner and coach on the recovery.   In this recovery period you are more likely to damage yourself than any fitness benefits.  Also, a complete recovery of a marathon will take a minimum of 3 weeks so I not serious running for me for a while.  Instead I am going to focus on doing a bit of cross fit training such as swimming and exercise biking.   This exercise is purely for mental state rather than any physical fitness gains.

  • ½ bowl of muesli with skimmed milk

  • One of my classic meals: chicken breast with black beans and kale (see picture 1)

 Evening meal

  • Tesco finest Bean Salad

  • Handful of almonds
  • Handful of Brazil nuts
  • whey protein shake
  • Can of pepsi max (I am hoping to completely phase drinks that contain aspartame ASAP)

  • 20 mins Kettle-bell exercises on the upper body
  • 30 mins of exercise bike set at a low resistance
  • 1.5 miles of a v. light jogging (marathon recovery)

Wednesday, 8 July 2015

Awesome by August DAY 1


Between January and April I managed to shift some weight to get to 77%.   Today I have weighed in at 81 kg.  This gain is almost certainly driven by drinking too much alcohol and eating too much crap whilst drinking.   Now that I have gotten the Potteries Marathon out of the way I am 120% focused on shifting that recent weight gain.  Today is the first day of healthy eating.  I am going on the same regime that worked between January and April.  I am going to keep daily of my diet and exercise regime.

Bowl of muesli with skimmed milk.  The muesli that I eat is a mixture of Aldi Brand Nutty Muesli mixed with Eat Natural seeds and Nuts.

100% beef burger, 2 rashers of smoked bacon, guacamole and Broad and Edamame bean salad

Evening Meal
Single chicken breast with piri piri spice seasoning

Snacks (throughout the day)
  • 5 or 6 brazil nuts
  • 5 or 6 Almonds
  • Whey Protein drink
  • 3 cups of tea
  • 2 litres of water


30 mins of weight training 
1.5 mile run
30 mins of swimming (breast stroke)

Tuesday, 15 April 2014

Weight loss challenge

In the 2010 and 2011 I was good shape, eating healthy and exercising loads.  Back in Oct 2011, I ran the Snowdonia marathon in a respectable time of 4 hrs 1 min (good indicator of my level of fitness).  This ended up being my final race as for the next 12 months I had to endure writing up my PhD thesis.  During the thesis write up, I suffered many low points.  During the time period I was pretty much permanently stationed in front of a computer.  I wasn't exercising and my diet pretty much consisted of very sugary energy drinks, sugary snacks and ready meals.  Needless to say I soon piled the weight on and got really out of shape.  Post submission I found myself working three jobs, amassing 70 hrs or so per week, this didn't help my addiction to sugary energy drinks.  My next job I was based in Canada for 3 months, it sounds great with the brilliant outdoors with a great opportunity of doing loads of exercise.  Sadly, out there we regularly worked 70 hrs a week which limited any opportunities.  I returned back to the UK completely out of shape.
Since the end of November I have been pretty focused in getting healthy again.  It was at that point I had just returned from a short holiday in Iceland.  My friend Jason invited me to run with him on Thursday evenings and I really struggled to keep up.  It was at this point I became a parkrun regular.   AIthough, I had ran at Hanley before, I really found it to be quite challenging.  It was this point I was determined to sort out my lifestyle.  From this point I started to weigh myself every Wednesday morning.  I was pretty determined to get lighter with every weigh in.
I completely stopped altogether eating sugary foods (sugar is the enemy), when I was doing computer work I decided to graze on a bowl of salad instead of annihilating a large bag of haribo.   Sugary energy drinks was replaced with green tea (red bull gives you bingo wings).  I also made sure I never skipped breakfast and now religiously I have 2 weetabix biscuits with either skimmed or semi slimmed milk.  I also targeted my daily calorie intake to 2000 and continued to increase the regular running. Almost, immediately, the weight began drop off me.  As I started to become lighter I found that the running got easier and my parkrun times drastically improved.  I have been losing weight at a consistent rate of 1-2 lb per week.  Now 4 months on from this initial lifestyle change I can report that I am now 35 lb lighter.  I have had to remained focused and challenging temptation.  I was difficult at times especially when there was always plenty of chocolate, cake and crisps available in the house.  When I started this lifestyle change back last November, I was struggling to fit in jeans with a waist size of 36 and now I fit into size 32 jeans. 

This summer, I am going to the Canadian Arctic to carryout research on thawing permafrost (I will write up more about this in another blog post).  The long days in the field collecting samples are going to be easier now I am now no longer carrying an extra 34 lb with me anymore.

Wednesday, 26 February 2014

Getting Slimmer

How I lost weight

After spending the summer away in Canada, I returned to Stoke On Trent completely unfit and overweight.  My body physique leans towards endomorph, which means it is easy for me to accumulate body fat.

I have been monitoring my weight for more than 10 weeks, in that time I have managed to lose 20 lb and also dropping a waist size in my clothes.  This period includes the 2 weeks over Christmas and New Year where I didn’t do much exercise and ate loads of rubbish food.  This blog is about changes to my lifestyle which has enabled me to lose weight at a consistent rate of 2 lb per week (see the chart).

Exercise, it is pretty obvious but burning calories helps you to lose weight.  Since November I have been regular doing 2 – 3 runs a week and sometimes even more.  I have been running with some friends at a local running club (Newcastle AC Staffs) and this has been good motivation.  Running with a club means you are less likely to skip training, also I have enjoyed social aspect.  The bonus of running with a club is that there are members with a wealth of experience and they are always happy to give advice.   My running has been combined with a few gym sessions.

Diet, for weight regulation and exercise your diet is probably the most important aspect.  Many people try calorie restricted diets and reaped the awards but for me I couldn’t achieve this.   First of all, if there is one meal that you shouldn’t avoid is your breakfast.  Your breakfast kicks starts your metabolism.  Most mornings I have 2 weetabix with semi skimmed milk.  At lunch time I have a whole wheat carb meal, usually involving whole wheat noodles or brown rice.  Also my work involves spending a considerable amount of time in front of the computer.  It is so easy to stuff my face with cake and haribo, also the odd sugary energy drink, but now I graze on salad.   Typically a salad box (my preference is radicchio, lambs lettuce, beetroot, carrot and cucumber) will take me 4 hours to consume.  Salad doesn't contain many calories and I also never feel hungry.  My evening meals consist of a piece of meat with loads of vegetables or noodles (depending on whether I am planning to go on a run in the morning.  I probably stick to this diet regime 5 or 6 days a week.  I have never felt hungry, lethargic nor has my exercise been hindered.  The weight has dropped off and I feel great.

I think grazing on salad during the day instead of cake and haribo is main factor for my weight lost.

Just to summarise my blog on weight loss:
  • Exercise more…. (Joining a club is good motivation)
  • Don’t skip breakfast
  • Cut out sugary snacks and drinks
  • Graze on salad throughout your day

Wednesday, 5 February 2014

ParkRun Time Improvements

ParkRun Time Improvements

So at the beginning of November in a blog post I outlined some training targets (see it here).

That post was written on the back of completing a ParkRun in 31 mins 42 seconds on the 02/11/2013.  I was a bit disappointed in this time because I knew could have done better.  The subsequent weeks  I started to achieve marginally better times.  However, it was only at the end of November that I knocked a few more minutes off my ParkRun finishing time, I got 27 mins 31 seconds on the 30/11/2013.  Then suddenly out of the blue, running along side Jason Blount (who helped with my pace), I smashed my personal best, finishing in 25 mins 31 seconds on the 14/12/2013.   Since then I have gone strength to strength, now into month two of 2014, I have just achieved back to back personal bests of 24:42 and 24:06 respectively.  All of the ParkRun times over the last 12 weeks are shown in the graph below, In the 12 weeks I have managed to knock a whopping 7 mins 35 seconds of my ParkRun time.

My ParkRun finishing times over the last 12 weeks
My improvement in finishing has been attributed to a number of factors.

  • First of all, at 9am on Saturday morning there is an overwhelming amount of support and encouragement from the ParkRun runners, supporters and volunteers.  It is virtually impossible not to push yourself that extra 5% harder.  ParkRun is great for meeting new people and making friends.
  • Secondary, I have started doing regular training.  Thanks to a good friend Jason Blount, he has motivated me to regular training on Thursday evenings and the occasional extra run on other days of the week
  • Thirdly, I have cut out the rubbish food in my diet cutting out most sugary snacks, fizzy drinks... etc.  Since the end of November I have been monitoring my weight via weekly weigh ins and since the 04/12/2014 I have lost 18 lb.
  • Finally,  my father has taken an interest in ParkRun, he has supported me and even taken part in 3 races himself.  This has given me a huge boost.

Some of these have a bigger say in my improvement than others but I think it a combination of all these factors that I have allowed me to complete back to back PBs.  I have been that happy with my overall performance that I decided to answer a question about breakfast and running achievements on the weetabix facebook page.   Little did I know that this result in me receiving a personalised packet of weetabix with my name and ParkRun PB on the front.

Along as the factors above continue there is no reason for me not to continue improving.