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Tuesday, April 20, 2010

Pearl Video Update.

Seen as I have tilted the blogging scales in favour of running these past few weeks I felt it was time to update on Pearl. Words fail me when it comes to her and in order to share the true joy she brings I invite you into our world via video, it is also a great gauge for us to see how far she has come and gives us strength seeing her play with her brother and smile at us. This week is school holidays so her therapies are on hold for the week. However we are working hard at home and the good weather has allowed us lots of trips to the forest on our bikes.

I am hoping to fly to Ireland on Friday to start the foundation work for our record breaking endeavour next year. Mizen head to Malin head is the dream run and will take so much time to organise, so the earlier I start the less I will have to do later down the line. The current situation with air travel is a major concern, who would have thought a volcano in Iceland could have turned the aviation industry on its head. I really do hope to see my family but if it doesn't happen I guess there is zero I can do about it, a nice long run on home soil would be nice though.

Will keep you updated from the Emerald Isle should I make it, until then.....

See you round the bend,


Saturday, April 17, 2010

Running for Charity?!

Just over a week ago I was settling into the sofa after a mammoth shopping trek with the family. It was nine o clock and the kids had just gone to bed, all the groceries were put away and Alicia and I were having a cup of tea debating what to watch on the TV. Just as I switched on Lucifer's Dreambox (my pet name for the TV) my best friend Trev in London text me and told me to turn to Channel 4. I did as ordered and found that Dispatches was on. Dispatches is an investigative program that in the past has covered everything from Iraq's Death Squads, Ryanair caught napping, Why Kids Kill, Undercover in Tibet and so on etc. This particular investigation was aimed at the London Marathon and was titled "Tracing the Marathons Millions".

The aim of the show was to get a detailed breakdown of where exactly the charity money goes to and how much of it actually reaches these causes. You see, the London Marathon is itself a charitable trust and each year "distributes the money as grants to support community sports facilities and develop recreational projects".

Not only is the London Marathon one of the biggest marathons in the world it is also one of the largest fund raising events in the world. No other marathon even comes close to London's in respect to the amount of fancy dress costumes on display, it also gets more subscription applications than any other. To run in it you must apply for a lottery first and this consists of 120,000 places. These were filled last year in 2 days and 16 hours. Successful applicants then have to chance their luck all over again at a later date in hope of being one of the 40,000 chosen for the day itself. So I think these numbers will give you a pretty good idea of just how sought after these positions are. Then there is the charity option which the program seemed to concentrate on with a magnifying glass. Charities buy guaranteed places for runners every year and each runner must raise a certain amount to be able to take part. Up to 600 charities buy these places at £300 each and the list of who these "Golden Bond" charities is not for public viewing. The program then went on to ask where the £80 million it generates is spent and found many grey areas that lacked transparency. It also questioned why high executives were paid salaries in the region of £250,000 whilst executives in other organisations such as the RSPCA were paid around one hundred thousand pounds less! And on it went, various people had their say such as the smaller charities who have to "buy their way" into the London Marathon when it is more feasible for them to fly their charity runners to New York to run a marathon. I could get into even more details but that will only stray away from the message I am trying to convey.

I found the show quite interesting as I run for charity. I run for Autism. 100% of the money raised is ploughed straight into education. Its not a lot of money as we have not been in existence for very long but it has been greatly appreciated and has helped in a few different ways.
The investigation was looking for transparency and answers, that is fair enough. The organisers of the London Marathon, being the huge charity that it is, should have crystal clarity for all to see how these funds are allocated. According to them
"The amount that we spend on individual elements of the costs of staging the event is highly confidential and commercially sensitive" The week that followed saw the London Marathon and Channel 4 embroiled in a mud slinging match that played out in public 2 weeks before the race itself. My opinion is this. The funds should be of public interest. FULL STOP. The Dispatches program should have considered the timing of their show a bit more carefully as no forethought seems to have gone towards the most important thing. The Runners. To the people who have trained hard and gone to the extra effort of raising some money I sincerely tip my hat to you. To the people who have donated the money in these extremely tough financial times I salute you too. Because its the power of giving that make these events. The generosity of the human spirit and bravery of those less fortunate is something that cannot be debated or have a price tagged attached to it. I have seen the very best in people through running and through enduring hard times, so never stop giving and never stop going. Because that my friends, as a certain credit card company will tell you, is priceless.

See you round the bend.


(all statistics gathered were from Dispatches and The Virgin London Marathon, any discrepancies got nothin' to with me y'all)

Tuesday, April 13, 2010

Trail du Josas 2010

Sunday 11th, 12:10pm. I have run 34km's, there is one km to go. I am staring at the final hill that separates me from the finish line. My tank is empty, my feet hurt, sweat stings my eyes and every part of me wants to lie down and let the runners behind me pass by. I am so close...........
(the route)

(course profile)

6:20 am. I rise without the help of my alarm clock having slept incredibly well. I have found it hard in the past to get a decent rest the night before an event through stress or anxiety or a combination of both. This morning I feel relaxed and contemplative as I drink my well-sugared tea and chow down on my peanut butter and jam sandwiches. My gear has already been laid out from yesterday and I go about finishing up my packing whilst trying my best not to wake up Alicia, Dylan and Pearl. They eventually rise at 7.45 as I am making my way out the door. Kisses are planted on foreheads and lips etc and off I go. Because the race is only 6 kilometres away I decide to cycle down to the rendezvous point. The weather is superb and I take my time getting there, enjoying the sounds of the forest as I pedal along. With just one km to the gymnasium which is to be head quarters for the race I get a flat tyre. I have what I need to repair it in my bag but it will have to wait until later as I need to get my race number and registration finalised. Once I have everything in order and my bag left with the organisers I head to near the start line to check out whats going on. There are lots of people milling around and the start of the Paris Marathon is being shown on a large TV screen nearby. The 35km race is first at 9:00 am followed by the 16km at 9:30. As the starting time draws closer the pack becomes a bit quieter and soon we will be off. I look around and see people of all ages, some have packs on their backs with various drinking contraptions attached and some have walking poles with big spikes at the end and I'm thinking to myself "how hard is this course?" I had done a bit of homework on the area beforehand but something was telling me it wasn't enough. A brief description if I may.... Jouy en Josas is situated in a valley, no mater which direction you travel from you have to descend into the town. It is quite close to Versailles in western Paris and is surrounded by amazing woodland, once you are there its hard to believe that such a quaint little village is so accessible to Paris. It really feels like a countryside town. Back to the race then. A few minutes after nine a lady stands on a hill beside the starting area and blows a whistle. Everyone assumes its to gather the runners attention but after she blows it two or three more times and shouts "Allez, allez, allez" we get the message that its time to get stuck in.

(love this pic, kissing couple on the left, serious looking me on the right)

The opening two km's are spent rolling out of the town at a pace that doesn't appear to be putting a strain on anyone. As the course meanders around the local golf course and past the river I converse with a few of the runners and explain how I run to help raise Autism awareness, this intrigues quite a few of the runners and I tell them that there is still a lot to be done and to visit our web site. After ten minutes though its goodbye talking, hello hills. The first one comes from out of nowhere really, one minute its flat and after a sudden left turn with are facing a trail that zig-zags up through the forest. I see people starting to walk and gently move past them whilst also staying at my own pace. Once the first ascent is out of the way I plug in my Ipod and crank up the two and a half hours play list I made last night. My pre race plan was simple, listen to some music for the first half and not push my body too hard. The ten km's that followed were a revelation, the trail was unrelenting in both its beauty and the demands it placed on my body. The heat was starting to rise and I had one bottle of isotonic drink to keep me going until the first aid station which came at the ten km mark. A quick stop there to refuel on water, peanuts (for the salt) a handful of pretzels and I was gone. Eating on the go is difficult, trying to do so and trudge up an incline is an entirely different story. This turned out to be the point in the race where the going got really tough.

(many sections had steps like this)

(picture 35 kilometres of this)

At twelve km's I was heading down a narrow track at high speed with bramble to my right and a towering wall to my left. This led me into a canyon and I could feel my quads burning from braking all the way down, remember when you were a kid running down sand dunes and went so fast that you felt like you would go head over feet?? This was the same only the fall wouldn't have been as soft. After a hundred metres of flat I could see a few runners ahead slowly snaking up the other side. This was done by pulling themselves up on a rope that ran parallel to the wall. When it came to my turn I pulled myself up as quickly as I could and on completion of the hardest part so far I had to marvel at the diversity of this course. I was only third of the way into the race and I had run on roads, fields, rickety bridges, cobbles and steps. The guy or gal who dreamt up this little torture session was a genius or a masochist, possibly both. With the next aid station as my focal point I decided it was time to up the pace a bit, I reckoned I had enough water to last me until I got there so I gulped down quite a bit and put the hammer down. The next ten km's were absolutely cruise controlled and the runners high was in full effect. I found the twists and turns a joy and as the suns rays prodded through the leaves I was never as happy to be alive. This as any runner will tell you soon gives way to the feeling of misery. That was waiting in the wings for me, oh boy was it waiting

(the rope section @ km 12, impossibly steep)

(note the rope on the tree, right of photo)

After aid station number two I was under the impression that there would be one more at the thirty km point and then the last five km to the line. This lack of alertness on my part would almost be the undoing of me. Leaving the station was like leaping out of the frying pan and into a volcano. The ravines that followed had to be negotiated either with the aid of a branch plucked from the forest floor or on all fours. I found myself clambering to grab protruding tree roots to stop my feet sliding on the dry and dusty forest floor. Climbs like this came in rapid succession and with my running rhythm broken it was becoming harder and harder to recover the momentum I had been gifted with only half an hour before. Runners were stopping at the top or half way up gasping for air. It was now an absolute necessity to keep moving forward, languishing was not an option and I feared that by stopping I would never get moving again. It must also be noted that a lot of the course was only flagged by red and white ribbon and because of the pack being so spread out I spent a lot of time on my own. This was a danger because if I missed one of the flags I could go off track completely and straying off the designated route would result in disqualification. This fear was exacerbated after yet another dizzying climb. I had reached the top and could see no one in front or behind, I scanned the horizon but could see no markers to guide my way. So I stopped and waited, two minutes passed and nothing. Finally I heard the rustling of feet behind me, I had not taken a wrong turn at all, I had just failed to notice the little path to my immediate right and my new found saviour guided me to the road ahead. It was an actual a road and I had never been so happy to see one, ever. It was only for five hundred metres but it gave me a chance to finish my water and regain my composure. I thanked the guy again and asked if he wanted to push on a bit harder with me, he declined and once again I found myself alone. I was approaching the thirty km mark and hoping to see some sign of refreshments in the distance, but nothing appeared. I met some race organisers who were taking photos and asked them what was happening. They old me I was about 100th in the race and that there was no more aid stations until the finish line, I had no water left and the sun was bearing down heavy by now. I had five km's left, now the mental battle commenced.

(these hills were every few hundred metres)

(the sun was really beating down in the early morning)

(a side view)

(kilometre 30)

This last section was half road, half forest. Every time I was on the paved road I ran as hard as I could. I started to pass a few other runners but could feel every drop of glucose leaving my body. The last thing I needed was to push too hard and hit the wall but the flip side was stalling too much and letting the fatigue take hold. I thought of my family and how much faith they have in me, I thought of all the friends who have supported what I have been doing. My mind jumped from feelings of invincibility to forlornness in matters of seconds. I had not been keeping an eye on my time but I checked my Garmin now and it told me I had done thirty three km's and 3:07 had elapsed. That felt a little fast as I had predicted a 3:35-40 finish, never mind as I'm sure my brain was not in adequate shape to be analysing times right now. And so it was with one km to go that I reached that last hill. I stared up at this final hurdle and could hear the runners behind me turning up the heat for the final stretch of this amazing race. So I closed my eyes, inhaled deeply and let out a primal, guttural roar and ran at that hill like it had wronged me in some way. I pushed as hard as I ever have and when I hit that top I could hear the announcer over the loudspeaker in the distance. The descent was down and 'S' shaped path and under a little bridge, a slight rise brought me onto a narrow path that was lined with spectators cheering and clapping. I leaped from the path on to the main road and ran my last one hundred metres in exultant joy. Being clocked in I was told that I had finished in 3:17:26 and in 84th place. Results Page
I felt elated and after drinking a lot of water and fruit juice was happy to chat with some of the people I shared the course with. Everyone was in agreement that it was an amazing and challenging race and with the exception of no aid stations after km twenty it was a perfect day. There was even free beer handed out to all (just a coke for me) and a band playing rock music in the back ground. A bouncy castle had been set up for kids and as the sun shone and people enjoyed themselves I imagined a lot of people making a day out of it. I decided it was time for home and was not particularly looking forward to having to negotiate the uphill cycle on the way home but hey, I looked at it as a warm down. Just as I was hopping on my bike I looked down at my back wheel and muttered to myself "Oh Sh*t, I still have to fix that puncture"

(our day was done, the bands was just beginning)

See you round the bend,


Thursday, April 8, 2010

Paris Marathon and beyond.

Paris Marathon 2009 (where's Mally?)

This Sunday will see the Paris Marathon roll down the Champs Elysee as 40,000 runners pound its famous cobbles in the race that defined my love for running. This time last year I was a marathon virgin and was a bag of pasta fuelled nerves in the days leading up to it. I was a fairly laid back runner who just wanted to finish and savour the experience and of all the advice I received the words "Take your time and really enjoy your first one" were the ones that proved truest of all. I hoped going into it that I would finish and maybe do it sub 3:30, that was if I really pushed myself. But which is the better result, finish exhausted and spent or give high fives to kids along the route and cross the line with a smile on your face and head held high??? No brainer really! I had broken it into 10km sections in my mind and by kilometre 35 the sight of my wife and son was like an oasis in the desert. Of course I had thought to myself before hand that by that point I'd be sailing towards the finish. Wrong. With seven kilometres to go my mental resolve was needed more than ever. Sugar levels were low, legs were starting to wobble and my addled brain was having flitting thoughts about the most random of notions. But after 3:57 on the road I crossed the line with my hands aloft and proceeded to hug random strangers in celebration.

A beautiful city!

I can say that my running has improved a lot since then and I tend to take it a bit more seriously these days regarding my training, what I eat and how much I listen to my body. But a marathon is still a great accomplishment for anyone who attempts it. It is a truly unique event that seems to have become more accessible as the years have passed, and chances are that if you refer to the people at the back of the race as "fun runners" then you have probably never completed one. Because to everyone its a battle against the clock and within yourself. The only thing that separates the winner from the last placed person is the cheque as each person pushes themselves to be the best that they can be.

Ah the joy.

This weekend I will be running the Trail de Josas in western Paris which is a 35k horse trail and attracts about three hundred people, as opposed to the forty thousand in Paris. I am glad to say that the more events I enter the more my appetite for running and adventure is fortified. Until the next time.

See you round the bend.


Tuesday, April 6, 2010

Pearl Video

I am glad to be feeling better today as I have spent the past 48 hours doubled over with a stomach bug. Yes, Happy Easter indeed. So from my makeshift hospital bed (the sofa) I decided to quit procrastinating and finally edit the hours of footage that my cam-corder had accumulated over the past 2-3 years. And I am so glad I did. I also familiarised myself with the Movie Maker program and and am literally one step away from packing it all in and moving to Hollywood to make a name for myself. I hope you like the little snippet I have put together, along with a truly beautiful song it will show you some of Pearl's life which some of you will have never seen. I will soon be posting some running videos and maybe a few video diaries too.

Over the next 4 days I will be super-hydrating myself and carb-loading to the max. Yep, the 35k "Beast" is next Sunday and having already done my recon of the area I will probably need a third lung for the weekend (its steep, steep, steep.) Still, cant wait to line up and will only be doing some light running this week to taper off. The kilometres have been put in so now its time to enjoy the build up as I always look forward to race weekend. I also look forward to sharing it here with all of you.

See you round the bend.


Running for Pearl

This blog is dedicated to my daughter Pearl who was diagnosed with ASD (Autism Spectrum Disorder) in August 2009. My goal is to raise funds and awareness by doing what I love....Running.