A failed Race Review

“Take care of your body, it’s the only place you have to live”

– Jim Rohn

Last year I signed up the Glen to Glen Half Marathon. I had a date clash so I wasn’t able to take part but the organiser , in a very kind gesture, allowed me to defer my entry. When I saw the 2018 race date go live I decided I’d take part. My big training casualty since having a baby was long distance runs. The last half-marathon I did was the Disneyland Paris Half Marathon in 2016. To get race fit I started training 17 weeks before race day, which equals 51 runs in total.

My training started well. Unfortunately pressures at work and at home, combined with some freakishly bad weather put a halt to my training for just over 3 weeks. I had a 17 week training plan but I would have preferred 18 weeks. Adding in the missed weeks of training brought my prep time down from a desired 18 weeks, to a mere 14 weeks. And not 14 consecutive weeks, 14 broken weeks. I decided that this wasn’t enough time. You have to gradually condition yourself for long races. I’ve taken part in Half Marathons were people have died. You can’t enter a half marathon in some European countries without a doctors cert to say you are capable. Improperly trained and you could drop dead (worst case) or do long term wear and tear damage to your body (best case). Always, always, always train appropriately for a long race. Unfortunately this is one race I won’t be taking part in. Be aware of what you can do, what you will be able to do in time, and what you can’t do right now. Don’t try and smash through your limitations, gradually push back your limitations with consistent training. There are no quick wins.

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I can’t run in this

 

 

Consistency and Planning

There is always a new fad, a new super food, a new exercise, or a new piece of equipment that is the key to getting in shape. There is always a new “secret to success” that is the health equivalent of a get rich quick scheme. The true road to success is far less flashy. The key to success is consistency.

If you train every day one week, and not at all the next, or you train all summer and take the winter off, then you’re never going to see long term results. How you spend your day becomes how you spent your life. We change, every day, and move slowly towards the person we’ll end up being. Will you end up becoming a strong, lean, fit human being, or someone who is slightly soft around the mid section and finds themselves panting for breath after a few flights of stairs? If you care, you’ll train consistently, and you’ll shape the you of next week, the you of next month, the you of next year. Consistency is key to becoming the person you want to be.

Consistency can only happen if you plan ahead. If your plan is a very loose “I’ll try to go to the gym twice or threes times this week”, then you’re going to have a hard time succeeding. Every Monday morning I write out all the training sessions I want to do in the week ahead, my runs, parallettes, rushfit, bodyweight drills, any classes I plan on going to, etc. Once the list is complete, I open my diary, and try to find a spot for everything. Depending on the week I might not always find a place for everything, but at least the plan for the week is set. Through consistency and planning I stay in shape all year round, and I hope to stay a healthy human for decades to come.

If you’re not consistent, if you don’t plan ahead, you’ll find that, almost by accident, you’ve become out of shape.

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Planning the week ahead

 

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 at the Barre

I recently tried a Barre class, which is a Ballet Barre inspired pilates class. When I arrived I said, “I’m here for the Barre class”, to which the instructor said, “you know its Ballet Barre, not bar…bar” – making a lifting motion as if lifting a barbell. That was my first clue that not many men come to this class. My second clue was the broom closet that was the mens changing room, I’m not sure it would have fit a second man.

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Athletes don’t come much fitter than this

I’m always keen to explore new exercises, especially ones that introduce new ways of moving and push me beyond my comfort zone.  Barre is one hell of a work out. There is no cardio in Barre class, its all isometric exercises where you hold your body in position, and then introduce a small range of motion. For example, a seated plié (essentially an isometric sit) with heels off the ground and one arm on the barre, hold, and then up an inch, down an inch, for 8 reps. It sounds easier than it is.

I managed to get through 99% of the exercises, even the ones with my leg on the barre, which really tested my non-existant flexibility. I did fail in a few exercises. With beads of sweat rolling down my face and my legs turning to jelly, I simply collapsed out of the positions, all the more embarrassing because the girl beside did them with what looked like relative ease. I may not have been graceful, but my quads, glutes and hips/upper legs got a great workout, unlike anything I’ve done before. The intensity of a Barre class is definitely a 9 out of 10.

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Arnold at the Barre

As I was leaving the instructor asked if I’d be coming back, but with my legs having been worked to their limits, and a stairwell between me and the outside world, it was more a question of if I’d be able to leave. I have been back, and I’m starting to see improvements. I won’t be making this my regular workout, but its a nice addition to my training and worth visiting once in while.

 

 

The Sonia 5k

On Saturday the 13th of June I ran the Sonia 5k. The race was in celebration of the 20 year anniversary of Sonia O’Sullivans gold medal at the World Games in Gothenburg.

Me and Irish Olypmic Medalist Sonia O'Sullivan
Me and Irish Olypmic Medalist Sonia O’Sullivan

First the bad. There was some organisational errors. I picked up my race number on Thursday, and got to hear Sonia speak (more on this later), but some other people were told by the staff at Elverys in Arnotts that race number collection would continue on Friday until 8am and again on Saturday until 3pm. No one was there on Saturday from the organisers so the poor staff at Arnotts had to bear the brunt of angry runners who had come in to collect race numbers but left empty handed. Worse, the Sonia event website has no contact telephone number and the staff at Arnotts were given no forwarding number. Pretty poor stuff.

And now the good. On Thursday evening at race number collection, it was great to hear Sonia speak about her running career. If you look at my first ever blog post, I was delighted that I’d run 1,000 miles, Sonia commented that she would routinely run 100 miles a week at her peak, in 10 weeks she’d cover a distance that has taken me multiple years to do. What was also apparent was Sonia’s love of running. It seems that success was just a by-product of that love of running. Sonia talked about how, when its raining, she almost has to sneak out of the house to avoid the comments, “you’re not going out in that” – as Sonia said, that sort of judgement comes only from people who don’t understand, and don’t have the dedication. To Sonia running is at its core a social sport. Sonia loved having team mates, and when practicing out on the track, knowing that others were out there with her made it all the more enjoyable. I ran the Sonia 5k with my brother, father, financee, and future sister-in-law. Even though we all ran different times and at different paces, it was more fun knowing they were all out there somewhere.

Running is a social sport. Me (centre) and my fellow runners
Running is a social sport. Me (centre) and my fellow runners

The route was enjoyable, with the right about of runners, an oddly late start time of 7.30pm, and a great medal once you crossed the line. I ran the 5k in 21minutes and 46 seconds, which I was pleased with (Sonia did it in 19 mins 27 seconds). A great race, and great to hear some words of wisdom from an Olympic and World Games medalist. Sonia is still an inspiration to those who enjoy running.

The Monkey Bars

I’ve recently starting climbing on the monkey bars. Kids seem to have little difficultly on the monkey bars, and I’ve read articles that encourage parents to bring kids to the Monkey Bars to prime upper body strength from a young age. When I found adult monkey bars in a park near to where I live, I was amazed I couldn’t make it across. All those Lat Pull Downs and pull ups in the gym didn’t make up for the 20 year time lapse since last I used the Monkey Bars. A little bit of practice and I’ve gotten much better.

Hanging from the bars develops upper body strength and uses the whole upper body in a more general sense. I certainly feel stronger as a result. The more challenging action of swinging from bar to bar requires the use of your whole body, so its a great full body, integrated movement. The largest contributing muscle when traveling across the bars is the latissimus doris, or “lats”, so the bars give you a good back work out to replace the isolated workout you get on the Lat-pull down machine you’ll find in a gym. As well as that, using the bars should increase your shoulder strength and stabilisation, and your grip strength. Its amazing how one simple movement has so many benefits.

And a nice added plus, the act of hanging from a bar stretches your whole body. Below is video of me making my way across the bars, one bar at time, and then swinging from one to the other. Doesn’t look as graceful as it felt, but I’m getting there.

Wings For Life Race Review

On Sunday the 3rd of May I ran the Wings for Life World Run. I love the concept of this race. The race has no finish line. Instead of a finish line, 30mins after the runners have departed, a car sets off to chase you down, when the car catches you, your race is over. The winner is the last person standing. And better still, the race starts in 34 countries at once, so the competition is global. It made for some dramatic television, which I got to enjoy after I was knocked out.

Running the Wings for Life in Dublin
Running the Wings for Life in Dublin

The Dublin event started out needlessly stressful. Race bibs with timing chips were being handed out on the day, but due to under-staffing or bad preparation or I don’t know what, the handing out of bibs was far too slow and there was no way the race was going to start on time. Ultimately, event staff had to hand out race bibs really quickly without checking names in order to make the start time. So while I was meant to be runner number 30793, I was given number 86185. Its not a big deal, but because of the confusion, when I look up my race time online, I see the name “Daithi Mooney” instead of Mark Havel. I wonder what name Daithi ended up running under? And it seems no one ran with my number.

As for the race itself, it was a punishing course. I don’t think I’ve ever run a course with so many hills, and with the sun beating down, it made for a tough day out. But a punishing course only increases your sense of satisfaction once the race is over. I was caught by the chaser car at 17.44km – having been running for 1 hour and 38 minutes. I was exhausted but very pleased with myself. The race follows a very scenic route, the views out over the coast were spectacular at points, if a car had not been chasing me, I might have stopped for some photos.

My Wings for Life journey
My Wings for Life journey

Unlike the race bibs, the organisation of buses and free DART tickets to bring you back to the start once you’re caught was well managed. Overall, this race is well worth the €20 entrance fee, all of which goes into research for spinal cord injury. I’m already looking forward to next years race, hopefully I’ll be running with the correct race number next time.

My first Muscle Up

I’m trying to put a timeline together, starting with when I began work on the Olympic Rings, and when I finally completed a muscle up (April 28th 2015). The reason I want to put a timeline together is that I’m usually the kind of person that gives up on the things I can’t do, and instead I focus on the things I’m already good at.

We’ll start in June 2014, when I spent a weekend training with Ido Portal. I had already quit the the gym at this point because I had leant that all that weight lifting gave me the aesthetic look of someone who was in good shape, without any real strength or stamina to back it up. I had replaced the gym with Rushfit (see previous blog post) and was feeling stronger than before, even though I was now lighter. Ido introduced me to the Olympic Rings. The Rings are a great piece of equipment to expose those that look the part, but lack substance. By substance, I mean integrated, full body strength and conditioning.

I thought a muscle up on the Rings looked easy, a similar motion to climbing over a wall as a child, at a time when all walls were above head height. But when I tried a muscle up for the first time, the Rings exposed me too, and I didn’t even get close to completing one. So I decided to buy some Olympic Rings of my own (because I don’t have a gym membership) and continue to work at it. The Rings arrived in the post a month after training with Ido (I can’t find a purchase order so I’m guessing), so that brings us to July 2014. 8 months later, I complete a muscle up.

8 months is a crazy amount of time for me to stick at something while consistently failing. Others will progress faster. I only do one session a week on the Olympic Rings because I have other training commitments, so maybe I was particularly slow. But persistence, persistence, persistence, repetition, repetition, repetition, and your body will eventually master the movements that you throw at it. The next goal, string multiple muscle ups together into a set, 6 consecutive muscle ups seems like a good target. In a later post I’ll go through the different exercises that you can do that lead to a successful muscle up, but for now, just know that if you’re not good a something, it means you need to work on it, and don’t fear failure, you’ll get there eventually.

Exercise Opportunist

It seems like the main point of adult life is to get from one chair to another. We get up in the morning and sit at the breakfast table, we leave the house early to catch the less crowded bus so that we get a seat and don’t have to stand for our commute, or alternatively, we sit in the car and drive. When we get to work, we sit in the same chair from 9 to 5, sit on the bus journey home, eat dinner in front of the TV in the comfy chair before going to bed.

Much of our environment is designed to shuttle us from one place to another, from one chair to another, without any opportunity to play or move beyond the immediate goal of getting from place A to place B. Our cities are designed to discourage us from interacting with them. Studs are added to handrails and ledges to stop skateboarders from grinding and extra armrests are added to public benches to stop people lying down. These are all anti-play, anti-homeless measures, but they are also anti-human, area-denial measures that are unnatural to us. Most other species can engage much more freely with their environments, unless in a zoo.

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We’ve confined exercise to hour long sessions in gyms because our environment is no longer suited to our needs to move, play, and exercise, and its been designed that way. Whatever the reason behind this design, its not good for your health. Become an exercise opportunist. Ask for a standup desk in work to encourage standing and movement, sit or lie on the floor while watching TV instead of a chair, and use the environment around you in any way you can. For example, use a bike stand for leg raises to work your abs, or use tram handles for hanging to increase shoulder strength. There is a free gym all around you if you look for it. Try to interact move with your environment. Play in your city.

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