Race Review: Star Wars Rival Run

2016 was the last time I ran a half marathon, it was in Disneyland Paris and you can read about it here. I wanted to run one last year but the pandemic hit and nearly everything was cancelled so I decided to wait until the pandemic passed. Here we are in 2021 still in the pandemic and I couldn’t wait anymore. Many races have switched to a virtual model anyway so it was just a matter of picking one to lock in a date, and start training for that goal.

Completing another half-marathon after a 4 year absence is also part of my DDPY Positively Unstoppable Challenge which you can read more about here.

I picked the Star Wars Rival Run. I thought it sounded fun because its Star Wars and its non location specific. I’ve see virtual runs advertised for actual cities, for example, run the virtual London / Copenhagen / Paris marathon, and get a medal posted to you for said run with the cities landmarks on it. If I’m going to get a medal with city landmarks on it, I want to have run in that city. Star Wars seemed like a better alternative.

In 2012 I ran my first ever half-marathon and I did it in a time of 2 hours and 5 seconds. I’ve only once completed a half-marathon in under 2 hours. This time around, based on my training, I thought father time was catching up with me. A half marathon is 13.1 miles. While training I had run 12.5 miles in 2 hours and 23 minutes and I ran 14 miles in 2 hours and 35 minutes. I was sure that come race day I’d finish roughly around 2 hours and 30 minutes, my slowest ever time.

But no. The week of the race I made some changes to see if I could improve my time. And the changes worked. I ran the Star Wars Rival Run on April 18th, in a time of 2 hours, 5 mins and 33 seconds. I’m pretty pleased with that time. I trained for 15 weeks, following the same training pattern I have for all the half-marathons I’ve run. Two 30min runs during the week, and a gradually increasing distance run at the weekend. What changes did I make that could have me cross the finish line 25mins sooner than expected? Heres what I did:

More Rest

I normally exercise 7 times a week across 6 days, with one rest day. On race week, I had two rest days in the two days before the race to allow myself to fully recover.

Change the time

I usually run late at night after the kids are in bed. On race day I set off earlier, at 1.30pm.

Change the location

I normally run in the areas surrounding my house. I ran the actual race in the much more scenic and enjoyable Phoenix Park in Dublin.

Virtual Water Breaks

It occurred to me that on my long training runs, I ran the entire time. In a normal race, I’d walk through the water stations, which gives you a short bit of recuperation time. So I decided to walk for 60 seconds every 3 miles, as if I were at a water station.

All of the above made a huge impact. Its crazy how a few variables, none of them running related as such, could so drastically change my finish time. In sum, it was a fun race to do and it was nice to have a specific date to aim for to help keep focus. I did miss the excitement of a “live” race and I look forward to the day we can do those again. Now all I have to do is wait for my Yoda medal to arrive in the post. “Do or do not, there is no try”

Book Review: What Doesn’t Kill Us

This book has been on my list for some time. I finally got round to reading “What Doesn’t Kill Us” by Scott Carney. Carney is a writer and journalist and by his own standards, was neither a fit nor unfit man, just “normal”. Carney accepted the trapping of his mid-thirties; stomach, not as flat as it had been, back pain, just one of those things. Then he saw a photo of a man called Wim Hof, 20 years his senior, sitting in the artic in nothing but his swimming togs.

Seeing this photo of Wim Hof sends Carney on a journey to learn the Wim Hofs methods of controlled breathing and cold exposure that seem to give practitioners of Hofs methods super human abilities. Hofs teachings and Scotts own journey of exploration leads him to comes up with the three pillars of physical fitness. Diet and exercise are pillars one and two, and this is something I’ve always focused on, and the third pillar is environmental stress, like exposure to cold and hot temperatures, something I’ve never considered. The book argues that this third pillar is needed if we’re to reach our full potential.

Humans are more capable and adaptable than you might think, and this book is full of examples. The body can adapt to environmental stress very quickly. In high altitude for example, you’ll produce more red blood cells, in hot temperatures, you’ll sweat less salt and produce less urine. Carney gives accounts of people using Hofs methods to manage the symptoms of Parkinsons and autoimmune problems, and even to speed up recovery after surgery. Carney does allow for some influence from the placebo effect, which is also powerful, but this only reinforces a key theme of this book, the power for the human body and mind.

Carney shows how the invention of technology often correlates with a general weakening of our species. GPS for example has reduced our ability to navigate the way our ancestors could. Carney gives the example of Tupaia, a Polynesian navigator in the 18th century who helped guide European explorers by his ability to read the waves of the sea to pinpoint himself. Is Tupaia a superhuman, or is this something that is innate in everyone and we’ve just lost touch.

To me the most amazing thing about Carneys journey and Hofs methods is how simple it appears to be. All that it takes is routinely practiced controlled breathing and exposure to the elements. Carney does warn that every person has their own limits, and if you cross that line it gives nature an opportunity to take a fatal toll. But in general, exercising the stress response through cold exposure allows a person to assert a measure of control when the environment gets challenging and helps reconfigure the cardiovascular system and combat autoimmune malfunctions.

The book is a narrative of Carneys journey, its not a guide book in how to achieve these results, but thats a good thing. I wanted an entertaining read, not a guide book, and this book delivered. Where the reader goes from here it up to them.

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Race Review : KBC 10k Halloween Night Run

I haven’t taken part in an organised run since I did the Virgin Media Night Run in April 2017. I still run regularly, but running in events has been the big casualty of becoming a Dad, its just hard to find the time to stick to a full training plan in order to be able to safely take part in running events.

I was informed of the KBC Halloween Night Run with lots of advance notice, so I had time to create and stick to a full training plan. It felt good to make running the priority in my training schedule again. I felt that getting race fit again elevated all my training. I felt generally healthier, or as John Tarrent refers to it, “the magnificent feeling of well being”.

As for the race itself, it was well organised. Sign up was done easily online and race numbers were available for collection the day before the race and on race day. There was also a well managed and supervised bag drop.

The Halloween theme made for a fun race. Not everyone opted to dress up but there was a few people in costumes. I went for a running friendly Thor costume. Fair play to the person in the inflatable t-rex costume. It was an interesting course, around a GAA pitch and out onto the beach in Sandymount. I don’t think I’ve ever run in a beach race before. The full moon added to the atmosphere. There was one bottleneck at the switchback where runners had to pass single file, this was annoying as you had to stop running and walk through, and it would be the first thing I’d try to change if the organisers run this event and course again.

The course was 5km long, and those doing the 10k ran a second lap. There was a huge drop out rate after the first lap which made for a lonely second lap, I’m glad I was running with a group.

Overall, my criteria for a successful race, whether running alone or in a group: have fun, run as fast as you can, but as slow as you need to, and finish the race with enough left in the gas tank to be able to run another mile. This was a successful race and definitely worth running.

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Race completed

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Superhero landing

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Nice medal

 

Handstands

I’ve been working on handstands for a while. I usually do one handstand session a week. My progress has been slow, but fun. Aside from looking cool and being a very graceful demonstration of strength, there are other benefits from working on handstands.

Upper Body Strength 

Staying up-side-down requires shoulder, arm, and upper back strength. Actually, pretty much every muscle in the upper body is put to work in a handstand, making it one of the most beneficial upper body exercises. Your upper body will gain size and strength from handstand work.

Improved Balance

Holding your body upside down requires constant small adjustments of all your body parts, from your fingers right up to your feet. This increases the strength of your core and stabilisation muscles and will have a positive effect on your general balance.

Abs

Those stabilisation muscles include your abs, and who doesn’t want good abs. Sit ups and crunches are not the only way to get that 6 pack. Your abs will do a substantial amount of work holding your body straight in an up-side-down position.

People are afraid of handstands if they don’t have a background in gymnastics, mostly because they are afraid of falling on their head. I have no gymnastics background and I was very afraid of falling on my head, or kicking up too hard and falling flat on my back. Thats why you start with a wall for support, and other than that wall, there is no equipment needed for handstand training. I have fallen, but never badly. The body has a funny way of catching itself to prevent a nasty fall. I found that this one handed wall drill is a good drill to build shoulder strength and helps to improve handstands. Find a wall and get going.

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Handstand work on the beach

 

Race Review: Wild Air Run

On Saturday, August 5th, I took part in the Wild Air Run in Marley Park. I did this race last year too. It seemed almost identical to last year. 5k of running, with some inflatable obstacle courses along the way. Its a fun run, not to be taken too seriously, and it delivered on that. It helped that the weather was good.

The sign up process is easy, its all done online and you get a QR code to be shown on the day in order to get your race number. The queue to get your race number moves fast, but got very long at times. When you’re not running, maybe before you’ve started or after you’ve finished, they have a chill zone with seats, a coffee stand, smoothie stand, and hot dog stand, and a free glass of milk from event sponsor Avonmore.

There are things that could be improved upon. Some of the obstacles briefly deflated, one I was on at the time, a long queue develops for the last obstacle, and the website FAQ didn’t mention if they have a bag-drop (they do). But this is me looking for problems. Its a great event.

My race time? Who knows, who cares, its not timed. Just go out and have fun. Here is 5 mins and 42 seconds of inflatable madness.

I’m not adapted to this

I was recently on a months paternity leave. Paternity Leave went something like this:

  • Wake up in the morning between 6 and 7am, and going to bed at 9pm. Essentially rising and falling with the Sun
  • Following my work-out routine as normal or as best I can
  • Lots of time outside, in the fresh air, under the sun, walking baby
  • Constantly on my feet – the days passed so quickly taking care of baby and trying to get everything done

I returned to the office this week and my routine was something like this:

  • My day revolves around a 9 to 5 schedule
  • Workouts are either done very early in the morning, or very late in the evening
  • Lots of time inside, in air-conditioned air, in artificial light
  • A sedentary lifestyle, sitting at my desk for the majority of my day

What happened with this sudden change from home to office? I was sick by day four. Take any animal, remove it from its natural environment, and it will get sick, either mentally or physically. In animals its sometimes called Zoochosis.

Humans live in a self built cage. We’ve used our intelligence to advance medical science so we live longer, and at the same time, we’ve completely altered the world we live in so that our environment no longer matches the one our evolutionary adaptations make us suited to. Evolution is about adaption, and if I listen to the warnings my body is giving me, its saying my body is poorly adapted to life in a chair, under artificial light, breathing recirculated air.  Being outside and moving, is the best path to staying healthy, its just a pity that won’t pay the mortgage.

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I’d rather be outside

Race Review: Wild Air Run

On Sunday the 14th of August I took part in the Wild Air Run in Marlay Park. I hadn’t heard about this race until Saturday the 13th, but it looked fun so I signed up on a days notice. Luckily there were still places available for the 10am wave.

Signing up for this race on short notice was not a problem because its a race for fun. Its a 5km race, which is an achievable distance for most people to run, and its not timed so if you wanted to walk a portion of it, or all of it, thats fine. At some of the obstacles you had to queue to get in/on them so this was one 5km race where personal bests weren’t going to be beaten, a competitive attitude was best left at the starting line.

I thought it was great just running around for the fun of it, a reminder that fitness need not be a chore all the time.The course was made up of 10 inflatable obstacles, each one with a race official armed with a water gun. For a first time race it was organised very well. I signed up online, downloaded my e-ticket, and collected my race number on the day, all without a hitch. The only problem was of my own making when my Go-Pro stopped working. I would definitely like to see more novelty races like these, which inject a bit of fun into running, in the future.  Some photos of the day and a video of (some) of the obstacles below.

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Pokemon Go: Worlds most popular fitness App

Most people don’t like the thought of exercise, because its not seen as fun. I believe that if you get into a routine, for a long enough period of time, then exercise becomes fun. I’m at a stage where I enjoy exercise. The word “addicted” carries a negative connotation, but when it comes to exercise, getting hooked is a good thing, you enjoy what English long distance runner John Tarrent called, “the magnificent feeling of well being”. But for a lot of people, fun and exercise aren’t associated with each other.

And then along came Pokemon Go, bridging the gap between exercise and fun. Its an App that has been downloaded over 100 million times across Android and iOS as of July 31st. Pokemon Go is arguably the worlds most popular fitness app. Its a game that requires you to walk or run around, looking for Pokemon in the real world. Unlike step tracking apps and bracelets which guilt you into walking in order to hit daily targets, Pokemon Go has you accumulating steps without ever noticing, you’re too busy having fun. Pokemon Go is the gamification of exercise – making exercise fun like no other App has done before. The Xbox Kinect and Nintendo Wii have made some in-roads into the fitness as fun genre too, but Pokemon Go is the first mainstream attempt that moves you from your living room, to the outside world. The game doesn’t go beyond asking you to walk or run, but its a start.

Because using the Nike Plus App and Pokemon Go at the same time nearly melted my phone, I no longer use Pokemon Go while running, so in order to hatch those Pokemon Eggs, I’m now more inclined to walk those short to medium distances that I used to drive. With any luck, the success of Pokemon Go will cause other app and game developers to come up with similar games, more gamification of exercise, and a healthier populace as a result.

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Gotta keep moving to hatch these Pokemon Eggs

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Time to roam the streets looking for these guys

Functionality and Movement

The July/August issue of Mens Health magazine is the Body Issue, which confused me because I thought that every issue was a body issue. Issue theme aside, it was a welcome surprise to see that when choosing which men to feature in the “body issue” they opted for ability and functionality, instead of aesthetics. Rather than cover model bodies and hollywood stars, Men’s Health have put together a list of Olympic rowers, strong men, cyclists, runners and ballerinos.  To be fair, all the men featured look good aesthetically, but all in their own way, and all very different from one another.

The men, and their training habits, featured in the current issue Mens Health seems to be part of a larger trend in mens fitness, away from free weights and bulk for the sake of bulk, and towards functionality, ability and movement. This trend has been quietly gaining momentum for years. While Conor McGregor has helped bring bodyweight and movement training more into the spotlight, fellow UFC competitor Nate Diaz commented;

“Everybody nowadays is like there is this new movement setup that Conor is bringing to the table but that was already around. That’s what inspired us to begin with…….all that movement stuff they’re trying to preach, we already got.”

A few years ago I went to my first movement based exercise seminar. At the seminar my free-weight built muscles were exposed as largely useless. It turns out my free-weight build muscles were only good for lifting more free-weights. I quit the gym and replaced it with running, Rushfit, boxing, barre, olympic rings, crawling, parallettes and more. I do still own a set of 7.5kg dumbbells, but I incorporate them into full body movements. I drop elements of my training and bring in new pieces all the time, which keeps it interesting. In the Summer months, like now, I can train outside in the sun and fresh air. Below is a video of me doing some free movement, its far from perfect and I have a long way to go, but I feel fitter and even though Im getting older, I’m becoming MORE mobile, long may that continue!

 

 

Training Outside

With the nice summer weather the gym can be a depressing place. Why am I training inside, with this artificial recycled air on this glorious summer day? This is how I used to feel in summer when I had a gym membership. I haven’t been a member of a gym in a while, I train a lot outside these days. A first I missed the gym, but now I love being outside.

Getting out into nature and the fresh air helps promote feelings of wellbeing, I can’t explain why, but the outside has that effect on me. I especially like a hit of Vitamin D. The sun is great source of Vitamin D, which is essential for healthy skin. It doesn’t have to be sunny either, the sun is always up there, even in winter.

Training outdoors is good for mental stimulation too. The gym is pretty static, it doesn’t change much. Doing bicep curls staring at the same wall is so boring, running on a treadmill, equally so. In the outside world, you’ll see more. The constantly changing scenery excites and stimulates your brain.

Now is the perfect time to try training outside because the weather is so great, but it doesn’t have to stop once Autumn and Winter come. Get used to being out in the rain, sun, day and night. You’ll get used to it, you’ll feel more alive.

Training Outside
Training Outside

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