And then it was 2016…

OK, so I’m not very good at this blogging lark. I get all enthused and make a post and then disappear for months, when others seem to manage to post once a week or more. Time to either stick or bust. Let’s give it a try for 2016 and see how we go – with a minimum target of one post every month (about 45 mins left to make it in January!)

So the VKM: continuing the story, briefly. Did the training, had a second attempt, and improved the time by about 13 minutes, leaving me 7 minutes short of my 90 minute target. Should have been at least reasonably happy with that, but I wasn’t. I felt I should have done better, especially as I made the schoolboy error of going off too fast at the start.

I went off on a week’s cycling in the middle of France, and there I felt that I’d lost some endurance fitness, as I’d focussed more on strength training. Picked up a few niggling injuries along the way, and ended 2015 with some progress (lost 3kg in 12 months and was certainly fitter!), but I felt there should have been more.

So a new year dawns and it’s the time for those plans and resolutions for the 2016. OK, so I’m sticking with the VKM 90 minute target – I’ll bore it into submission! There’ll be more endurance work, as well as strength training.  Oh, and the small matter of losing a few more kgs!

January has been fairy good from the training viewpoint despite the weather. Although the skiing has not been especially good – a late start to the snow falls, and then very changeable conditions – far too warm for the end of January, and rain up to over 2000m on occasions.

So more soon – I promise – on the long and winding road to fitness and hitting those objectives!  Gotta get out there and train – as someone once told me: “it’s rain, it’ll only go as far as your skin”.  (Oh for those warm summer days…..)

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Chamonix Vertical Kilometre (VKM) – the Prologue

So there I was, back in March, idly surfing the net when I came across a tweet from @challengesophie (Sophie Radcliffe) about one of her goals for 2015: the Chamonix Vertical Kilometre. Sophie blogs about the route here. I got hooked. Always one for climbing something “because it’s there”, I started to think about doing this – just for fun, no pressure, and certainly not entering for the annual race on the route. (For those interested, the 2016 event is on June 24th.)

Then I got to thinking that if I was going to do this, then I ought to do it justice and aim for a half-decent time. I’d no idea what to aim for – I’ve done plenty of similar mountain walks / runs, but not really timed them. Sophie was aiming for 60 minutes, having done it in 90 minutes on her first recce. And she has a few decades advantage over me in terms of age, and is undoubtedly a lot fitter.  With nothing better to go on, I plucked 90 minutes out of the air, as the time I would aim for. It seemed pretty achievable at the time!

I started to train in the smaller hills in the Jura, close to Geneva, and pondered when to do this challenge. I thought I ought to check it out first by going to Chamonix and “strolling” up it to familiarise myself with the route. So in the middle of July, I headed off to Chamonix.

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The route starts in the middle of the village (at the church) and then follows the line of the Plan Praz telecabine (see photo), ending just above the mid-station. I had thought I’d skip the first km or so out of the village, and just start off when the switchbacks start under the telecabine. But when I got there, I decided that I might as well experience the full route and time it to see how much work I had to do to achieve 90 minutes. So fuelled by a coffee and croissant in the village (not the best nutritional preparation!) I set out up the very steep road that forms the start and hit the switchbacks about 9 minutes in. There was no running after that, just striding as fast as I could.

The first vertical 600m were relatively easy – compared with what was to come. But the route got a bit steeper and my pace reduced.  And soon I decided to take a 5 minute break for a power bar and water. Looking back down, there was a great view of the Chamonix valley and Mt Blanc.

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Thereafter it was a case of just focussing on keeping going, even though my pace was now very pedestrian compared with earlier. Then the route got even steeper, with hand rails and ladders near the top.  Had this section been close to the bottom, it would have been fun – as it was, my legs were screaming at the large steps needed to climb these steep sections.

Finally I reached the cable car station – but there’s another couple of hundred metres to do to reach the end point which is 1000m above the start.  So I managed to break into a jog again, navigating my way through the tourists and paragliders, until I reached what is the “finish line”.

I’d done it! But what was my time? I checked my watch – it read 1 hour 50 minutes. I was slightly disappointed with that – 1hr 40m would have been good.  As it was, it meant I needed to shave 20 minutes off my time to achieve the 90 minute target. But it was a great experience and I headed back down the short hill to the cafe for some well earned refreshment.

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So what next? Well, I clearly needed to be in better shape to hit the 90 minutes mark, and running up a few short hills in the Jura was obviously insufficient to prepare for the VKM. I decided to seek help. As luck would have it, I’d met Charley Radcliffe who has just qualified as a personal trainer and started up The Mountain Foundry, to provide “strength and conditioning training for peak mountain performance”. Charley is also Sophie’s husband, and he did the VKM in just 56 minutes!  It seemed like he was just the one to help me achieve the 90 minutes target.

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So I’m currently in the middle of a 6 week training programme from Charley to get me in better shape for my next attempt – aiming for the start of September. Watch this space!

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My Top 5 Running Memories

I “stole” this great idea from Charlie (The Runner Beans), who in turn got the idea from someone else.  Charlie’s top 5 can be found here.  So here are my top 5 running memories rather than moments….

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1. Running the first ever London Marathon in March 1981. This was the first mass-participation marathon in the UK. Chris Brasher and John Disley were inspired by the New York and Boston marathons and set out to replicate those in London. The rest is history. I trained for several months for this – but it wasn’t enough! The first 17 miles were relatively easy – ignoring the stitch that started at about 9 miles. The last few miles were slow going, but I made it to the finish line which at the time was on Constitution Hill – not quite as dramatic a setting as today’s finish on the Mall. But the experience and sense of achievement were fantastic, with the support from the crowds along the route making it really special.

2. Fleet Half Marathon 1981. As part of my preparation for London Marathon, like many others I entered this – it was my first ever organised running event. Being just weeks before London, I was in pretty good shape with my training, and it was thoroughly enjoyable to be able to accomplish this half distance – much easier than the full marathon turned out to be. Like London, it had its share of “celebrities” and I think it was at this event that John Conteh, the boxer, accidentally pee’d on my trainer in the urinals before the start! Funny how you don’t forget some things! Anyway, I regard this as probably “my finest hour” in running terms (not in soiled shoe terms!), being able to speed up towards the end and finishing in about 1hr 45m.

3. Snowdon. For some years, I set myself the challenge of running (well, as far as is possible) up and down Snowdon in 2 hours (round trip) starting from the Pen-y-Pass car park. I’d done this route many times, including as part of the 3 peaks outing that 3 of us did some years before.  My last attempt at the 2 hour goal was my best and in glorious weather. I can’t remember the exact timing to the top, but when I arrived there I realised that the 2 hour target was looking unlikely to be achieved.  But I pushed on, or rather down, from the top and made it back in a time of about 2 hours 8 minutes – so close! I’m not sure if I’ll have another crack at that, as I don’t live in UK anymore and I’m many years older, but you never know!

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4. The LookOut, Bracknell. This is a large forest area (more than 1,000 hectares) just south of Bracknell, where I’ve done a lot of my training over many years.  It has a car park and coffee shop, and miles of forest tracks and paths – all that runners require! The first time I ever went there I got thoroughly lost in the forest – all you can see is trees and there are few landmarks to navigate by.  Over the years I got to know the geography of the place pretty well and it was a pleasure to just head out wherever I fancied and be sure of finding my way back.  There are a number of hills in the forest, allowing for my favourite / worst (delete as appropriate) form of training – hill intervals. I owe the LookOut a lot of thanks!

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5. Running in the Jura Mountains.  I include this as its my most recent training ground after a couple of years of non-running because of injury. I’ve managed to slowly build up and did a trail run last week along the ridge where there is a spectacular view of Geneva and the Alps in the far distance. Being out in these situations is what keeps me motivated and eager to get back out in the hills.

So that’s my 5. I’m hoping that number 6 will be the Vertical Kilometer in Chamonix, which I will do sometime during 2015, and hopefully in a half-respectable time! My inspiration for this comes from Sophie (challengesophie.com) and Charley Radcliffe, and you can see details here. Training is ongoing for that!

Stuart

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Obesity is Preventable

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Obesity is preventable  – but as individuals and as a society, we choose to allow it to happen.

Last year, the McKinsey Global Institute published a report called “How the world could better fight obesity”.   Some of its findings are deeply concerning.  Here are a few:

  • More than 2.1 billion people—nearly 30 percent of the global population—are overweight or obese.
  • …almost half of the world’s adult population will be overweight or obese by 2030 (if current trends continue)
  • A systemic, sustained portfolio of initiatives, delivered at scale, is needed to reverse the health burden.
  • Education and personal responsibility are critical elements of any program aiming to reduce obesity

Personal and parental responsibility play a big part in the fight against obesity. And first of all we have to accept that we have a problem.  Recent studies have shown that in general we grossly (!) underestimate the scale of the issue and don’t realise that we are overweight or obese.  And more worryingly, many parents of overweight children believe that their young kids are perfectly fine. See these reports from the Guardian (Fifth of overweight Britons think their size is healthy) and the Telegraph (parents in denial about their overweight children).

Today (May 15 2015) is Food Revolution Day – an initiative by Jamie Oliver that is fighting to put compulsory practical food education on the school curriculum.  Getting our kids better educated about good food is a key element in the fight against obesity. If you want to help, please sign it, and share it.

And if you need some personal motivation to get in shape, try this from Ben Coomber:

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Almost the Last Ski of the Season

Tuesday 7 April 2015. Les Contamines, France.

The temperatures are rising, the sun is shining and most of the skiing tourists are on their way home.  It sounded like a good day to take to the slopes.  Where to go?  For us, there was only one choice: Les Contamines. We need some good snow – so a high resort is required. Chamonix and Flaine are possibilities but still too many people at Chamonix, and Flaine suffers from rocks once the snow starts to get thin. So Les Contamines it is – again!

We managed to get to the car park not long after 10am, and were surprised that the snow was still hard even with the cloudless sunny skies. And after a while we were skiing down our favourite pistes wondering where everyone was – sometimes there were no other skiers in sight!  Fantastic!

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At the highest point in the resort you can look back down the chairlift and across to the summit of Mt Blanc and the views in the other direction are equally awe-inspiring. There’s something very special about being in the mountains at times like this. The sun is shining, the views are tremendous and there are few people around – it’s easy to be impressed with the beauty of nature. And in the mountains, that’s truly humbling.

So how long dare we stay out on the slopes, what time is the last lift, can we still have our regular coffee stop on the deck chairs in the sunshine, how long will our legs continue to function without that “burn” becoming too much?  So many questions to ponder as we revel in the great skiing on snow that is still in good condition even after the day’s sunshine. One more run or two? We settle on one to ensure we don’t get stranded on the pistes. And we can ski back down to the car from our coffee stop even if the lifts have stopped.

The piste-bashing crew are enjoying their drinks on our sunny terrace as they prepare for the start of their shift – finishing around midnight! But our time is over on the slopes for today. One last picture and we can still ski down to catch the lift before it closes.

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Back at the car close to 5pm – our longest and best day’s skiing of the year. It’s been a good ski season, and now that it’s close to the end we’re going to miss it!

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Just Another Fitness Blog?

I don’t think so.

I’ve been stuttering to start this blog for a couple of months.  It was like the story about the budding author who has this ambition to write a novel but spends years trying to come up with his opening sentence.

I started with some grand plan to provide an educational blog about how to approach fitness and nutrition. Too grand, too ambitious, too arrogant.

So instead I just going to blog about my own experiences that will mainly be fitness related but will stray into other areas along the way.

Enough of the procrastination – time to get on with it!

Your feedback is always welcome,

Stuart

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