DOPE.

I love running. But we need to talk about doping.

Above you saw a brief video of my friend Wesley Korir having a chat with Al Jazeera TV. I love Wes and I love what he is saying here. Basically we want to outlaw it. Anyone who is caught should go to jail. That Kenya needs to protect it’s reputation by staying clean. But how do you catch the perpetrators? How many are out there? And if drugs are easily available over the counter, how many runners aren’t as concerned as our buddy Boaz Kiplagat as to the ethical dilemma and are willing to take this ‘shortcut’? This video raises as many questions as it answers… let’s maybe see if we can get to the bottom of some of them.

The president of the IAAF, Lamine Diack, in this interview with the BBC, states that he is “convinced that the majority of our athletes are clean”. He says he is shocked at the claim by former Russian discus thrower Yevgeniya Pecherina in a recent documentary made for German broadcaster ‘Das Erste’ that “most, the majority, 99%” of Russian athletes use banned substances. That he is absolutely sure that the ‘majority’ of athletes are clean. But he then goes on to speak of organised cheating, which he doesn’t refute exists. And when pushed on this he makes a worrying statement; “our athletes are 90%-95% clean”. So is this a contradiction? Or are we quibbling over 4%-9% of competitors? And is this important?

What if 1 of 10 athletes on the start line are using a performance enhancing drug? In a sport where minutes, seconds, milliseconds can mean the difference between being on the podium… or not. Between a sponsorship deal… or not. Between making an Olympic, World Championship or National team… or not. Let’s look at some facts Monsieur Diack. Below are the rules. The rules readily accessible on the IAAF website. There are 10 of them. All are written over the course of two pages of the IAAF Anti-Doping & Medical code.

Rule 32

2) The following constitute anti-doping rule violations: 

(a) Presence of a Prohibited Substance or its Metabolites or Markers in an Athlete’s Sample
(b) Use or Attempted Use by an Athlete of a Prohibited Substance or a Prohibited Method
(c) Evading, Refusing or Failing to Submit to Sample Collection
(d) Whereabouts Failures
(e) Tampering or Attempted Tampering with any part of Doping Control
(f) Possession of a Prohibited Substance or Prohibited Method
(g) Trafficking or Attempted Trafficking in any Prohibited Substance or Prohibited Method
(h) Administration or Attempted Administration of a Prohibited Substance or a Prohibited Method
(i) Complicity
(j) Prohibited Association

This is an overview, but they are pretty clear. As is the list explaining what a prohibited substance might be. Fairly self explanatory. So if the list of rules is two pages long, how long is the list of athletes currently suspended from all competitions following an anti-doping violation (as of January 2015)? 26 pages. We’re talking over 300 athletes. And these are just those who have been caught. I don’t know what percentage this constitutes, but clearly athletics is facing a crisis. The reason it bothers me, the reason we should care, is because doping is becoming endemic and the very fabric of the sport is in question here, it’s ideologies. In the same way that cycling has had to weather a storm of irreversible reputational damage as a result of doping, athletics is now encountering the same.

I now question performances of athletes, many of whom I look up to and inspire my own running.

April 2014, the Boston Marathon. I was wowed by Meb Keflezighi’s winning performance. In the same race, Rita Jeptoo (the subject of the above video) broke the course record ahead of Buzunesh Deba (who also came in under the course record) in 2:18:57. She then went on to win Chicago in the same year thus bagging $500,000 to boot by taking top spot in the World Marathon Majors. Both were convincing runs. Too convincing. She subsequently tested positive for EPO, the $500k on ice for now…

September 2014, Diamond League meeting in Brussels. Justin Gatlin wins the 100m in 9.77. He then follows this up an hour later, eyes still bulging, to win the 200m in 19.71. He demolished both fields. You want to be wowed at athletics meetings like the Diamond League, and Gatlin did just that. The problem being though that the guy has a chequered past having previously served a 4yr ban for doping offences…

December 2014, the European Cross Country Championships in Samokov, Bulgaria. I sat gob smacked during the men’s U23 race as three Russian athletes stormed off the front and took a 1,2,3… they obliterated the field. They looked like machines. There was snow and slush underfoot, it was a hard course. The two GB athletes who came in 4 and 5, out of the medals, got nowhere near. It turns out athlete 3, Vladimir Nikitin, had returned from a doping ban but 5 months earlier…

These are races I chose to watch, to be inspired by. But I came away from each wondering if I’d watched three amazing performances or three runs of dubious nature. Looking at the faces of defeated athletes – Buzunesh, Team GB, Tyson Gay (not so much him!) – is difficult, seeing the pain of having prepared mentally, tactically, physically only to be walloped. And you start wondering if you are watching someone at the top of their game or someone in Diack’s 5%-10%… Don’t even get me started on London Marathon winner Liliya Shobukhova paying £350k to Russian Athletic Officials to cover up her own doping scheme. On why Mo Farah is out training in Ethiopia with banned athlete Hamza Driouch (3:50 mile aged 17…). I could go on. But then we’d be here a while. You want some more examples, pick up Athletics Weekly and they do a little column of brief news about various marathon winners an track athletes getting caught. This month, for example, featured Julia Mombi winner of the last Cologne Marathon. It’s not even front page news now.

But it should be. It is a problem. A major one. I run a lot and know that until you reach the top level, it is all about personal bests. It’s about bettering yourself. But the problem here is that when personal bests become competitive, a world lead, might win a race, money, then the sport becomes murkier. And that’s a real shame. That participants feel that they can (or have to) cheat. That they can beat the controls or in some cases, just get caught wait two years and then compete again. It’s disheartening to think that something which can bring so much personal satisfaction can be tainted like that. That I can toe the line of a major marathon with elite athletes is a supreme feeling and fairly unique to the sport. But knowing that I’ve trained and dedicated 16 weeks of my life to be duped from the start by someone who might go on and win dirty?

The good news? Our friend Diack is about to step aside at the IAAF, likely to be succeeded by Sebastian Coe. In his pitch for IAAF presidency, aired over 5 days on running blog letsrun.com, Seb said something I felt was quite simple and yet quite profound. ‘It’s absolutely vital that people believe in our sport’. ‘It’s absolutely vital that people believe in our sport.’ I couldn’t agree more. I don’t want the last 5 years of my running life to be associated with a sport where people have cheated their way to the top. Where we talk to our grandkids about the performances of our athletes in the Olympics, the Boston Marathon, the Diamond League only for them to say ‘yeh sure pops, but everyone was cheating back then, right?’. 

So let’s keep it simple. Let’s trust the sport, let’s support it, celebrate it. If anyone wants to ruin that celebration they can leave, go do something else, go buddy up with Lance and do whatever it is he’s got going on these days. But the first step is that we have to accept that it’s happening and talk about it. Whether you finished your last marathon 5 minutes or 5 hours behind the winner doesn’t matter. What does matter is that we want idols, not hate figures. Let’s run hard, run clean and run together. That’d be dope.

Nike Zoom Streak 3 – Relic or Real Deal?

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‘What are they?!’

I’d returned to London from New York having run the 2014 marathon and was watching highlights of Kipsang and Desisa. I’d heard they’d had a bit of a duel racing into the finish line, an exciting culmination to what had been a difficult race in blustery conditions. Being the nerd I am, I was ignoring Tim Hutchings babbel about low arm carry and ‘taking it to each other’. I was watching Desisa. And all I was thinking was ‘what are on his feet?’. I knew Kipsang was wearing adidas adios boost 2 – in the build up adidas had made a fairly big deal of it as they had Dennis Kimetto break the world record in the same shoe 5 weeks earlier – but what the hell was Lelisa wearing?! Even in a close up on the podium I was still clutching at straws. As a convert from adidas to Nike, following (in my opinion) the disastrous switch from soling the Adios with ‘Boost’ instead of ‘Adiprene’, I’d been wearing the Nike Flyknit Racer on the assumption that was Nike’s go to marathon shoe. But this footage was evidence to the contrary… time for some investigative shoe journalism.

Soon after I stumbled on the following article from Sneaker Report. It documents the first 100 shoes that crossed the line that day. I came to find that the shoe Desisa had worn to 2nd place was the Nike Zoom Streak 3. 3? A few months earlier I had purchased the Zoom Streak 5 as a possible alternative to the Flyknit Racer. So why was he running in the 3? It turned out he wasn’t the only one. Stephen Kiprotich, 5th, also wore the shoe. 13th and 14th place Biranhu Kemal and Micah Kogo… that’s 4 of the top 20 in the men’s race! The same for the women, 7th place Firehiwot Dado and 10th place Buzunesh Deba wearing the ZS3. There were a few Zoom Streak 4’s and 5’s on display but mostly it was the older Zoom Streak 3 shoe that Nike athletes were wearing that day…

Maybe this was a trend thing I thought. Or maybe, if it was the Zoom Streak that Nike were having their athletes wear, they’d had a production problem with the 5’s. And the 4’s. And had to dish out some of the last pairs of 3’s they’d managed to find in time for the race? Unlikely. I dug a little deeper. Turns out the year before Sneaker Report conducted the same study. Low and behold for both the men’s and women’s race 3 of the top 10 finishers, 6 of 20 athletes, were in the Zoom Streak 3! So no fluke.

It seems for a number of years whilst other manufacturers have had athletes wear the latest incarnation of a racing shoe, the go to amongst Nike sponsored long distance runners has remained the Zoom Streak 3. Not taking my word for it? More evidence needed? Here’s a list, an impressive one, of top marathoners who have remained loyal to the shoe: Tsegaye Kebede, Dickson Chumba, Ayele Abshero, Stanley Biwott, Wesley Korir, Rita Jeptoo, Priscah Jeptoo, Florence Kiplagat… So what is the shoe all about, where has it come from, how does it differ from the latest version and why are Nike and it’s athletes sticking with it?

Thank you John from Nike Running! This vid is likely an indication of when elite runners received a pair, April 2009, nearly 6 years ago! It still uses Nike Zoom Air technology in the sole (conceived by Nike in 1995), it weighs 6.7oz (about 180g), stack height is 30mm-18mm heel to forefoot, a 12mm differential. OK, great, but nothing has changed in the newer versions 4 and 5. Same sole, same stack height, roughly the same weight… So what’s the difference? Why are these top athletes still wearing the 2010 shoe rather than the 2015 update?

Well I thought, as I own the Zoom Streak 5 (see review) why not procure a pair of the Zoom Streak 3 and find out. Easier said than done… online retailers in UK? Nope. US? Nope. eBay? Nope. Nike directly? Nope. 3 months went past and I nearly gave up all hope. Then I was lucky enough to stumble upon a pair of the shoes at a store in London. Apparently when moving premises they had found some old stock. Not only that but they had my size. And only for £56! So finally I can now make the comparison.

Weirdly perhaps, given the similarities noted above, the shoe does run differently. The first noticeable change is the upper, a firmer see-through mesh in the ZS3 as opposed to the softer engineered mesh on the ZS5. This brings two benefits to the ZS3 in my opinion. Firstly the shoe offers a little more rigidity – one of the criticisms I had with the ZS5 was that the foot would slip because the upper material is so soft, the new ‘Flywire’ technology offering no saving grace here… Secondly, the ZS3 has sort of a midfoot torsion system which is missing on the ZS5. This makes the shoe a little less flexible but at the same time makes the ride firmer, perhaps providing a little more ‘pop’. And erm that’s about it. But it does feel different! For whatever reason the Zoom Streak 3 feels more responsive. True it doesn’t ‘disappear’ on your foot, you have to lace it up properly and there is no heel counter so it can also feel like it’s slipping at the back. But maybe because of that it feels more… I don’t know, authentic? Most of all, it feels hard and fast. Winner for me.

What’s clear is that the Zoom Streak 3 is the go to shoe for Nike marathoners and Nike are happy keeping it that way. Whether this is based on athlete feedback, as above, I don’t know. Maybe they generate enough revenue from other shoes they retail so as not to be reliant on their elite athletes getting them ‘shoe specific sales’, who knows. I offer this supposition as a comparison to the adidas business model. The original adidas Adios in which Gebrselassie (v1) and Makau (v2) broke the world record was actually a super successful shoe and in fact quite similar to the Zoom Streak 3 in construction – racing flat, hard EVA platform, super breathable and lightweight mesh upper, similar midsole offset. But adidas retired the shoe in favour of the Boost. No doubt the Boost is having it’s own successes, Kipsang and Kimetto following adidas tradition of breaking world records in Boost v1 and v2 respectively. But adidas do seem super reliant on their elite athletes promoting the shoe and ‘new technologies’ to drive sales. I personally am an advocate of the natural feeling your body receives when foot striking. You get that with the original Adios. You don’t get it with the Boost. Which is why, in my opinion, adidas shouldn’t have turned their back on what was for me a winning formula. You know what other shoe you get that natural feeling, that feedback from… the Nike Zoom Streak 3…

Some deliberation and mileage is going to have to go toward deciding whether I run my next marathon in my new (old) Zoom Streak 3’s. The Nike Flyknit Racer, which I’ve marathoned in twice, has a similar profile. Namely it’s a firm racing flat, capable of marathon distance, with a super lightweight breathable upper. Maybe I should stick to what I know. But having said that I think the ZS3’s, whilst offering a little more underfoot, do have that ‘pop’ that maybe the FKR doesn’t… And to be fair if Tsegaye and Wesley have stuck with the same shoe for 5 years there must be something to say for them. That’s maybe the real ‘boost’ of confidence I need to take them on.  

New Balance Indoor & Millrose Games

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Last weekend saw the start of the track season with the 20th meet of the IAAF Indoor, now known as the New Balance Indoor Grand Prix, at The Reggie Lewis (remember him?!) Track & Athletic Centre in Roxbury, Massachusetts. This is a quick recap of the meet followed by a preview for the New York Road Runner’s Millrose Games at Armory, New York City which takes place next weekend.

OK so I don’t really do sprinting. If you want full results then take a look at the NBIGP site and browse, but for a recap on the highlights for me – 1k, 1m and 3k… here goes!

The 1,000m saw Nike Oregon Project’s Matt Centrowitz take 1st in an all US field in 2:17 (beating the meet record in the process). In the women’s race, stable mate Treniere Moser took the win ahead of track starlet Mary Cain (also OP) in a world lead time of 2:37. Cain only finished 1 second behind Moser but admitted she was only feeling 90% coming into the meet; should be a good match up at future events.

The New Balance Men’s Mile was probably one of the highlights with winner Nick Willis breaking the meet record, an indoor pb and NZ national record in 3:51:61. That’s quick. He dragged round American Ben Blankenship (great run/beard) to 2nd, as well as super fast Abdalaati Iguider of Morocco who finished 3rd.

The New Balance Women’s Two Mile race was a US v ETH affair with Jenny Simpson continuing her Diamond League winning form of 2014 and taking the win by a margin of 9 seconds over Ethiopians Ejigu and Diriba in 2 and 3. Oh and she broke a 13yr US national record for 2m in the process.

The men’s 3k saw a stella field of best of US plus Dejen Gebremeskel; the Ethiopian narrowly taking the win, finishing in 7:48:19 with the next three athletes – Bernard Lagat, Hassan Mead and Will Leer – also crossing the line in 7:48 and missing out on a win by tenths. The evergreen Lagat, now 40, showed he can still mix it with the best, demolishing the masters record by 13 seconds and also declaring his intention to run the 5k at the World Championships in Beijing in August.

Unfortunately highlights are hard to find for licensing reasons. So post race comments below from Centrowitz, Moser, Cain, Willis, Simpson, Lagat et al below. Just hit the playlist tab in the top left of the preview to hear from your athlete of choice! Thanks to letsrun.com for your awesome reporting at the event!

I for one now can’t wait for the Millrose Games which takes place next Saturday, February 14. With many of the protagonists above featuring, the fields in NYC are stacked. Here’s a preview of who is competing but click through on icon below which will take you to the NYRR site.

NYRR MG

Men’s NYRR Wanamaker Mile
Centrowitz, Cheserek, Lagat, Leer, Jager, Willis, Manzano, O’Hare (GO CHRIS!!!)

Women’s NYRR Wanamaker Mile
Cain, Rowbury, Hasay, Moser, Clarke (GO ROSIE!!!)

Men’s Paavo Nurmi 5k
Levins, Hill, Bumbalough, Lomong, Tegenkamp, Farrell (GO TOM!!!)

Women’s 3k
Hall, Kipyego, Saina, Avery, Yates (GO KATE AND LUCY!!!)

***UPDATE*** And now check out the video from our buddies at Flotrack of Will Leer, Nick Willis (and cameos from Mav Darling, Hassan Mead, Tom Farrell) training for the event. Mad work out in Flagstaff at altitude for all you trackheads to try out!

A message to me about miles and motivation

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After my run yesterday I updated my dailymile site – think Strava – and noted that I’d hit 4,000 miles of running. I created the account on the day I started running, 18th February 2011. Nearly 4 years ago. Time, thought I, for some reflection as to what running has offered and whether it has changed me. I mean, I’ve quit the ciggies. Lost some weight. Got the medals which have made up for the sore legs. But I’m still doing it? So unless I’m simply a glutton for punishment, it must have had, and be having, some other effect. Been doing some other sort of good? Right?

According to dailymile it’s taken 516 hours to run 0.16 times around Earth. Not quite sure what that means. Or how it’s worked out for that matter. Math has never been an arrow in my quiver. But figuratively as well as literally it’s true that running has taken me around the world. Whenever I have travelled to a race I have always tried to tag on some sort of cultural immersion (well apart from Milton Keynes maybe, no offence to MK but a sightseeing tour of roundabouts and overpasses didn’t appeal). I’ve visited places I never would have previously thought of venturing, Lisbon, Copenhagen… Milton Keynes come to think of it. That’s one of the great things about running. It get’s you out there. Not just of your own front door, but into the world at large. You also realise how running can break down borders and preconceptions. Anyone who has been to a pre-race expo abroad and feels the camaraderie between fellow runners, irrespective of nationality, religion, can vouch for this. So it brings people together and you get to explore the world. But to be fair you maybe don’t have to go running. You could just get an Easyjet and fly to these places rather than endure 26 miles of tarmac when you get there. Sounds a bit silly come to think of it… why else then?

I have apparently burned 116 pounds in 636 workouts. There the sort of numbers I used to find motivational. When I started running. I revelled in documenting how many miles I’d clocked (maybes I still do a bit given numbers prompted this post), how much faster I could go (and actually yeh I still get a kick from personal bests). Similarly it’s true that I did want to tone up some parts of the anatomy which had accumulated mass after several years of partying too hard. I don’t think I was alone in what I thought were the preeminent reasons for my lifestyle change. Erm what’s my point here? A common motivator that people have when starting out is health and image. Which is wholly justified. But now hearing the number of times I’ve laced up sounds a bit weird and probably doesn’t account for the other times I’ve just got out there and run without a watch. On the contrary weight loss and number of workouts aren’t everyones motivation to begin with. And, in fact, I quickly found that it wasn’t my main driver either.

More importantly I got out there. The success wasn’t what the change brought it was that I was able to make the change in the first place. It was psychological. The biggest health benefit running still brings me is psychological; release, clarity of thought. Running is about all sorts of self confidence, not just to do with image and competition. Sure I’ve given up fags and am a bit lighter. But actually what I’ve gained, what I’ve learnt, has been the bigger takeaway. Application, determination, resolve. And in getting ‘out there’, I’ve seen and met other people with their own story. Other runners who inspire by having their own goals and work hard to better themselves for different reasons, their own reasons; after all humans are a sensitive species and can only draw from a certain amount of self fulfilment before we recognise that we also benefit from charity, companionship, support. Running has been the vehicle through which I hear these messages, that commonality.

Speaking of who I’ve run with, from the image used in this post, and the subject matter of others, you’d think I was sponsored by Nike… I’m not. But the crew I run with are supported by them. And I think Nike support them because, believe it or not, they get that running is about something other than looking good whilst pounding pavement, hitting times and winning races. All those things are motivational, sure. But success comes in forms other than medals and numbers. It’s about psychological well being and positivity. Put your mind to something, anything, as running demonstrated for me, and you can ‘earn it’. Running has made me a stronger person mentally and that is why I still run. To be a better person, not just a fitter person.

 

But yeh I did run 4,000 miles in 4 years. That too. <smiley face>.

 

Run 2014. RUN 2015.

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PLANNING! Yes planning! Planning for 2015. First let’s have a recap on last year. I commenced my career as a part time runner in February 2011 which makes last year my 4th year 2015 my 5th. Yeh! So where have we got to?

Marathon
Did 3 of these bad boys last year, the slowest in Milton Keynes narrowly missing a Boston qualifying time in 3h08. The quickest was in Berlin in 2h57. PB! Then New York which frankly was a superb experience in spite of being 7 seconds late on another sub3 run. But it was 5 weeks later. On the windiest day ever. On a super hard course. But it was still amazing!

Half
Only two of these last year. PB! in Reading in 1h24 which was pleasing as had just come back from flu. Then in Copenhagen which I didn’t ‘race’ as Berlin was 2 weeks later so ran 1h26 comfortable like. So was pleased although in hindsight would have wanted to get closer to the 1h22 mark.

10k
Two of these bad boys also, quickly becoming a favourite distance. The London 10k, this was a bit of a last minute run and terribly organised! 20,000 runners, no one in pens, navigate fancy dressers for the first 3 miles etc. Only then was I able to put the throttle down and ran with a buddy from Sweatshop, pacing each other back to under 40 mins. Then Greenwich Park Mo Running fun run where amazingly on a hangover and hilly course ran 38:38… PB!

5k
Few parkruns last year which was fun! 5 in fact. A mix of Highbury and Finsbury Park which are both super hilly! Pleasing progression as went from 19:44 and cut each time down ending up at 18:06. PB! Bonza. I can tell you now that 5k’s are insane. They are a mix of sprinting and distance. Throw the hills in and I’d say these runs felt harder and wasted me more than the longer stuff.

Blog
Amazing stuff on blog, thank you all so much for reading! 30 posts, 24,000 views, 15,000 visitors. Boom! Nominated for 2015 running awards blog of the year. Also stared writing for newly launched global lifestyle and running website Pavement Bound. Finally a regular microblogger on facebook groups ‘Running Shoe Geeks‘ and ‘Monarch Life‘.

Crew
Had an amazing time running with Run Dem Crew. Have also now signed up as a second member with Victoria Park Harriers and Tower Hamlets Athletics Club. I have made many friends through running this year, the first where I have really trained (and partied) collectively with a group.

Summary
1,469 miles. 11 races. PB’s at all distances. Ran in UK, Denmark, Germany and USA. Run Britain handicap down from 12.7 to 3.5. Good stuff! Even more satisfying was raising £600 for CALM – a big thank you to everyone who donated! Ran loads of TRACK! I love track! Finally I have assembled an arsenal of running shoes… obvs. We’re talking FlyKnit Racer, Boost, Takumi Sens, Zoom Streak, Brooks Mach 16, New Balance 5000’s… LESSGO!

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And that was the rewind. So 2015. Goals, races, crews, coaches. The plan is to work with coach Nick Anderson from Running With Us to get to 2h45 for the marathon. That’s 12 mins off the pb. We are also targeting shorter races, concentrating on working in the right training zones, thinking about lactate threshold, vo2 etc. Goal times for races are as follows – 5k in 17 mins, 10k in 36 mins, Half in 1h18, Full in 2h45. Still training mostly with RDC on Tuesdays and Thursdays and competing in cross country and local road races with VPHTHAC. I’ll also be doing some training in London and Chamonix with AR Endurance Sports. Would like to get over the 1,500 mile mark for the year and ideally closer to 2,000.

Races I have signed up for are, in order (Updated 09/02):

Paris Half Marathon
Fleet Half Marathon
Vattenfall Half Marathon
Copenhagen Marathon
Bristol 10k
City of London Mile
Hackney Half Marathon
Middlesex 10k
Copenhagen Half Marathon
Frankfurt Marathon

Writing/Blogging – I am looking at the format of Bearded Runner. There are some issues with menus and past posts. Working on it. Frankly there aren’t enough beards on display either. I need to get posts up to at least two per month; although do have a backlog of shoe reviews and training advice ready to go. If I can double readership again this year that will be amazing! Also need to update facebook with a ‘Page’. As well as that I will be contributing two articles per month to PB – check out my contributor page here.

I should be an official UK Athletics Leader in Running Fitness Coach shortly and will put this to good use leading track sessions at Mile End and tempo runs from 1948 with Run Dem. Maybe even some group leading with AR if and when they need help. Exciting and a chance to give back!

Already run my first race in 2015! The Middlesex Cross Country Championships. With mixed results! 82/154, 49:20 for 12k. And it was tough! Presently training is going OK, flu ridden first week, good second week which should result in running somewhere around the 50 mile mark. Also running 2:50 800’s at track (currently 8x yassos). RAN DOM CREW!

Lastly my beard is looking in fine fettle at present. Now that I am on hiatus from my ‘other job’ in the ‘City’ I no longer have the bi-product of conformity holding me back. Gonna go for it. We’re talking as far caveman/pirate/trail-runner as I can take it. Think inner-city Anton Krupicka. Just not as talented a runner. Or good looking. So not really him. Wow.

Keep it locked.

TBR.

XC EU Champs 2014

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For those new to cross country, the premise is that teams and individuals (assigned by age and m/f) compete in races, normally 5-10k in distance, over natural terrain. We are talking field, trail and woodland courses with circuits or multiple laps. As you can imagine conditions therefore are only for the hardiest of competitor with races invariably involving grass, gravel, spikes, mud, small shorts, water, vests, snow, teeth-gritting, wind, rain, hail, freezing cold, cursing and proclamations of ‘WHY?!’

Here’s why. Unlike other distance running events, participants place both individually and as part of a squad. This brings a real camaraderie and whoever comes in 20th may still walk (probably limp) away an eventual winner as part of the team competition, with their result potentially as important to the overall standings as the guy who finished 1st. Exciting stuff.

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Additionally cross country is considered a supreme training method. Be that to shift winter pounds, start a track season in peak condition, aid strength and conditioning or develop the endurance needed for marathon running. The physiological benefits can be tenfold and proponents of this madness have been Bekele, Farah, Tergat, Radcliffe, O’Sullivan but to name a few.

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So, last weekend saw the best in Europe come together to showcase their cross country prowess. These races were super exciting with match-ups starting earlier in the day on hard packed snowy ground, underfoot conditions deteriorating as the next age groups donned their spikes and the senior men finishing in the wet and mud! Looking at the results, despite hills and dodgy conditions, the course was no deterrent with competition fierce. And props to Team GB & NI topping the overall table, finishing with four team and five individual medals from six races!

I had a chat with top GB placed senior male, Ross Millington, after the race to get his thoughts:

‘I thoroughly enjoyed the race in Samokov, the conditions and course were challenging and that combined to make it a proper cross country race. For me personally the race played out pretty much perfectly. Although the top three guys got away very early on, I found myself in a competitive group and just kept in there and went with anyone that pushed the pace. On the last lap I was able to push and drop a couple of runners but unfortunately just got out sprinted by the French guy. To finish 5th at my first European Cross Country is very encouraging, and hopefully next year I can put myself in a position to try and win a medal.’

‘The race was definitely an important one for me, it had been the main goal since I ended my track season in early August. I would say I am more of a track runner, that is where most of the focus is placed, but I think it’s important to be competitive on both the roads and cross country too. My coach, Steve Vernon, is one of the best cross country runners Britain has produced so we definitely put an emphasis on it; we believe it is great conditioning and provides good opportunity to race during the winter months when you are laying down a base for the summer season ahead. For us, it’s important to set and achieve short term goals as part of a bigger plan, so not racing from the end of track season until indoors wouldn’t really be an option. Plus I really enjoy racing on the cross.’

The long and the short shorts of it is that the coverage of Team GB & NI’s performance last weekend was pretty inspirational. I for one am now planning to get out, fix up some hill training and see if I can find a race to compete in and ‘mud up’. See you out there!

Ross is a British runner representing New Balance. We wish him the very best of luck in 2015.
Track his progress here: @ross_millington

Saysky Copenhagen

SAYSKY

Saysky is a lifestyle concept based and rooted in downtown Copenhagen. We are the new school of running, triathlon and core training. Our brand is young-minded and addressing like-minded personalities. We care – but don’t give a f***.

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Run Dem Crew recently went on tour and ended up in Denmark at the Copenhagen Half Marathon. Pre race, as is custom, we ran to the expo to pick up race numbers and essentially do some shopping! One of the stands at the expo caught our eye. It was simple, cardboard walls with product pinned up. No slogans, no plastic cut outs of athletes in their wears. Just a simple desk with a guy on a Mac Air. The product did the talking and soon, as a style conscious bunch, we were rummaging through jackets, vests, t’s and tights checking out Saysky Copenhagen a newly launched lifestyle concept making running and triathlon gear with a competitive but laidback feel. All we could see was cool monochrome, 3M and stars everywhere. Sold.

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We soon got chatting to their guy Nicklas who told us a bit about their story from their roots in surfing and that casual ‘aloha’ spirit which they’d combined with a love for sport and competition. Throw in a bit of Scandi minimalist design and before you can say cinnamon roll you got yourself an awesome brand. Their name comes from when you cross the finish line of a race look up at the sky and say yes rather than no. It embodies positivity and is refreshingly simple both in design but also in ethos.

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But let’s get to the product. They absolutely nail that crossover between function and fashion. Star printed or block colour camo’s, blacks and greys. All your running wardrobe catered for with shorts, tights, singlets, t’s, jackets, snoods, gloves, hats, you name it. And this is just the running range, they also cater for triathlon, and swimming. Additionally these guys don’t just think performance, they’ve expanded the range to lifestyle and core training so whether you are on a 10 mile run or a 10 mile commute to work they’ll have you clad in cool. From the running range we particularly like the year round ‘Siberia’ running tights and matching scarf, we haven’t found a better fitting, better looking combo with imprinted star pattern on grey with Saysky motif and star detail. We also got the ‘Danish’ singlet. Cos you know if you’re gonna run a race in Denmark there’s nothing better than a bit of home crowd cheering you on! And it looks great, naturally.

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Check em out here saysky.dk. At the moment they only retail online or in boutiques in Denmark. The good news though is FREE SHIPPING for Christmas! Tak!

TBR