Thursday, 26 January 2012

87 days and counting...

"So, you´ll soon be running a half-marathon every week, building up to at least 5 runs a week and a weekly mileage of about 45 miles per week. This should culminate in a 22-mile run about 3 weeks before the big one..."

After this speech by a seasoned marathon runner at a London 2012 training day, I conceded that my vague fitness strategy would need substantial revision if I am to make it through the marathon. Though the talk was intended to motivate runners, with legs still twitching uncomfortably from the 11-mile group run and a head stuffy from a birthday-night-out in Shoreditch, I felt more intimidated than inspired. However, fortunately it only took a Sunday roast and an afternoon meticulously colour-coding a training plan to make me feel much more positive. In fact, as my job is still distinctly shaky, I’m actually quite glad to have something as uncompromising and all-consuming as a marathon to keep me focused. 

Even so, only 2 weeks in, two major problems (other than strength of willpower) have already become apparent. For one, maintaining a normal work and social life will be a feat requiring military precision. Squeezing miles in after work and still having the enthusiasm to walk to the pub is certainly something I will have to get used to. I will also need to perfect my technique when running in the morning. On Thursday I got up at an unearthly hour (blissfully unaware of the monsoon-like conditions outside) to clock up some mileage before work. However, blinded by sheets of rain and gloomy light, I ended up adding an unintentional mile and a half to my route and arrived back at my flat bedraggled and exhausted with only 45 minutes before work. Needless to say, despite the early start, I arrived late and looking even more disheveled than usual. Similarly, post-run productivity is proving to be a problem. Last week, optimistic hopes for an efficient Sunday finishing off some freelance work evaporated after 12 miles around Westminster. The morning's efforts consigned me to a duvet-clad afternoon watching a dubious Lord of the Rings imitation starring Jason Statham. I’ve absolutely no idea how I’ll manage increasingly long weekend endurance runs when the diary is rapidly filling with hen dos, weekends away and weddings.

The other major challenge for me will be remaining injury-free. Despite having spent nearly half my weekly wages on gait assessment and new trainers,  I’ve already had my first Oyster-card-moment: I found myself half way to Battersea (typically without my Oyster or any money) when my ankle became too painful to run on and I had to hobble home to an ice-pack and some ibuprofen. I suppose it’s inevitable that spending disproportionate amounts of time pounding the pavements is not conducive to healthy bones, but no matter how much core-strength training I do, my body seems to have an unfortunate propensity for injury. As such, I can regretfully predict that managing injuries and forking out for physio will be an unfortunate characteristic of the next few month. (I suppose that - in the case of disaster - I can always defer for a year.)

However, though for now I am resigned to the fact that any spare time will be spent either napping or horizontal with a bag of frozen peas, I am hoping that I will gradually learn when to take-it-easy and when to push-through niggling pains. Similarly, I'm assuming that I’ll become an expert at juggling running with weekends away and evenings out. In fact, injury frustrations and social calendar aside, I am actually looking forward to the intense few months ahead. Of course, another task I feel slightly apprehensive about is raising sponsorship for my chosen charity,

Children with Cancer. Being part of the London Marathon Mr Men team, and therefore responsible for raising over a quarter of the charity's income, I will need to get stuck into the fund-raising sooner  rather than later…

So, if you do want to contribute to a good cause, or give me a bit of added incentive and a head-start up the hill, you can sponsor me at 

Saturday, 14 January 2012

Steamy sessions with a French baker

I didn´t quite realise what I´d let myself in for when I paid for a 25-day membership of a yoga studio in Clapham. Though well aware that the studio only offers classes of Hot Yoga (yoga practiced at a steamy 38°C), being hypersensitive to the cold, I found the prospect of some sub-tropical heat – even if it was to be artificial – fairly alluring. Similarly, given my back-catalogue of disastrous yoga classes (ranging from hours of meditative chanting to impossible acrobatics), I reasoned that it couldn´t be worse than previous experiences. However, I started to feel dubious as soon as the teacher entered on the first class of my 25-day stint. A squat Frenchman, his physique can only be described as slack: a soft, squashy torso with podgy bulges rounding over the elastic band of his very-short shorts. Though as the class progressed I warmed to his softly accented instructions, because he was unable to demonstrate lots of the positions I remained suspicious of his coaching abilities. My doubts were confirmed when I later discovered that this supposed yoga guru is also a professional pastry chef – a somewhat ironic dual identity.

Even if you put the French baker to one side, the actual yoga – consisting of short, basic sequences loosely linked to your breathing - wasn’t that challenging. Though by the end my body was pulsating, this was due to heat exhaustion rather than muscle weariness (I suppose an inevitable side-effect of a temperature gage that is pushing 40˚C). At one point, I was sweating so much I thought I was actually melting. It is certainly a purifying, cleansing experience, and far more effective than a sauna and a face pack. Similarly, for those who are particularly tight, yoga in a muscle-loosening 38˚C must be ideal for a bit of added elasticity. However, for those who are already fairly bendy, it seems a bit pointless. It even felt slightly sordid at times: lots of half-naked bodies packed like sardines into a small space, sweating profusely in a series of grunts and lunges. Within half an hour, your mat is flecked with splashes of your neighbour’s sweat, a periodic spray that continues throughout the class and which, when upside down in a Downward Dog, you are powerless to prevent. Furthermore, after an hour, even deep breathing - elemental in yoga - becomes increasingly unappetizing as sticky aromas start to overpower the incense. In fact, the inevitable pong seems to vary in pungency depending on the person next to you (and whether or not they are sweating out last night’s curry). In the most recent class I went to, I was squashed so uncomfortably close to the man next to me (alcohol sweats if I’m not mistaken) that I repeatedly hit him on the bum every time I did a forward bend… I snuck out of that one early.

I still (regrettably) have 15 days left of free classes, and so I’m not going to completely reject Hot Yoga.With the London Marathon looming ahead of me, the growing pressure to clock up some mileage and a body that feels particularly wobbly and brittle, I have resigned myself to some intensive yoga in a bid to build up a bit of strength. However, I can’t help but question if it is ever good for you to perspire that much: there is a reason why there are time restrictions on saunas and steam rooms. Ideally I would prefer to work up a sweat from challenging, muscle-shaking yoga sequences instead of radiators and dumbed-down imitations. Similarly, if paying through the nose for a class, I expect to hear hard-earned yoga wisdom from some spiritual quasi-Buddhist who has spent half their life in India… not a pastry-chef.

Back in the day when I still had an NUS card, I frequented the £1.20 yoga class at the Student Union in Cardiff. A blonde-haired, blue-eyed Scandinavian called Yulia – criminally bendy with the appearance of never having ingested a single toxin – led a demanding Ashtanga class that left your muscles throbbing and your limbs heavy. It certainly felt more organic. Then again, maybe I’m just a yoga snob... A fellow yoga-goon recently joked that if you put a bench press in a steam room and marketed it in the right way, you could charge £15 for a half-hour session - a prediction I can easily believe. Could Hot Yoga just be a fad? Another fitness craze with a little bit more staying power than most? A trend designed for those simply too lazy to work up a sweat on their own?

I’m yet to decide…