I arrived in Amsterdam on the 21st of September to grey/dark skies, but also with my usual optimism that the weather wouldn’t turn out to be as shite as forecast for my final 2 runs to raise money for Huntington’s Disease Association……how wrong I was! Our 10-minute walk to the house boat was going well until a freak storm with thunder/lightening and monsoon rain like I’ve never seen or heard before interrupted it. Even sheltering in a shop alcove didn’t prevent an initial soaking and water in the suitcase, this set the trend for a wet weekend.
Saturday brought a slightly brighter day, and over to Zaandam, a pretty city about 20 minutes train journey from Amsterdam, where Karen and I would run the 5-mile night loop. A good look around, food and then over to register early doors. Not due to run until 8.15pm, but I envisaged 1000’s of runners queuing to get their numbers……nope hardly anyone there, my running anxiety had got the better of me again! Registration had to be a good mile and a half away from the city, at the end of some back-street estate so the nearest pub it was. A beer in Zaandam’s equivalent of the Evergreen, another wander to kill some time and made our way to the start. The light rain had now got heavier while we waited to get in the start pen, but the Dutch know how to get a run started which took the mind off the soggy trainers. A show of booming dance music, lights, lasers, theatrical smoke and we were off. Zaandam locals had come out to support in the same way Tenby locals do for Ironman and with the city lit up, it made for a great atmosphere. 5 miles later, soaked but in good spirits we picked up our medals and made our way back to Amsterdam. Thank god the houseboat had underfloor heating in the bath room to dry my trainers out.
Up early the next morning for brekkie to get into Amsterdam to register at 9.30am, as I was due to start the 10-mile Dam to Dam loop run from Amsterdam to Zaandam at 11.15am. Running solo today and going for a sub 1.10 time on a relatively flat course. Registered easily and went to have a peek at the start pens, but not for long as it’s fair to say it was pissing down, and cold with it! We took shelter in a conveniently situated Hilton, something about the start pen numberings wasn’t sitting right with me, so I asked Karen to check the details. My number corresponded with a colour that I wasn’t aware of, which also corresponded with a different start time pen….2,15pm! It was now 10.45am! This can’t be right?! Then the look on Karen’s face made me realize it was. I had 3 and a half hours to kill, but raining so hard you couldn’t go anywhere without getting soaked. What a knob! I’ve never shirked a race, but if this one hadn’t been for charity, I think the bar would have been favorite. Just had to blank it out and wait, while looking at the rain and praying for it to ease off at least. It didn’t! After what seemed like an eternity it was time for me to get to the pen for 2.00pm. The rain was still belting down, and it wasn’t the most enthusiastic walk to a start line I’ve ever had. Lush wet warm up, and 15 minutes later with squelching trainers we were off, just had to get the head down and drive on! Pace seemed pretty quick so checked the Garmin…. timer working but no average pace…F__ck!! Get over it and draw on experience. Run was a mixture of dual carriageways, roads and back streets which had lots of support/music considering the weather, but in all honesty it’s a bit of a blur! I knew my pace was slightly down at halfway for goal time so had to pick it up in the last half. Into Zaandam for the long run in to the finish, 1.08 turned into 1.09 and those seconds were going what seemed like double time now. Last burst and managed to get over the line in 1.09.47. I had to get a shuttle bus back to Amsterdam and then a short ferry ride back over to our house boat. Messaged Karen to meet up with my coat as I was shivering cold and had started to become dizzy, super glad to get home and in the power shower. A nice meal out that night with a few beers involved. Monday and time to leave, a quick wander around the Dam, typically it was sunny! 2 great runs and plenty of school boy errors, I would definitely do them again armed with a lot more local knowledge and hopefully better weather! All worth it though, as along with Tenby 10k/Long Course Half and a load of generous donations, Huntington’s Disease Association had a tidy £700 towards the great work they do.
On 30th May this year I made a decision to contact Rob Whitfield to find out his thoughts on my potential to compete in a men’s physique competition…….yes at 47! A long term plantar fasciitis injury had left me re-evaluating personal goals and challenges, and this was the route I decided to go down.
Rob is a respected conditioning coach with a good record of producing results with clients, and is himself a competitive bodybuilder.
My initial enquiry related to competing in 2018, but Rob suggested that I could compete in Cardiff in September this year, as I wasn’t in bad nick for an old man and pretty lean at the time, weighing at 71kg (11stone 2lb). I decided to give it a go and see where 3 months training and strict dieting would get me!
My partner Karen had been working with Rob as her online coach for the past 3 months and had seen some significant body changes with Rob’s training and nutrition plan, along with her hard training and dedication to the strict diet. Karen would also be competing at the Wales show.
The training plan was based on a legs/push/pull workout, eg Monday legs, Tuesday chest, shoulders, triceps, Wednesday, back and biceps. These were followed by a rest day and then repeat. There were 3 rotations, with different exercises and rep ranges for each body part on each rotation.
My diet was strict, not too outside of the structured way I ate normally but now I had specific quantities which meant weighing the food, and timings of meals throughout the day.
I had to check in with Rob on a Wednesday and Saturday with my weight, front and back photos, and a summary of how the diet and training were going, energy levels and any upcoming events.
I got stuck into the training, hard going to get used to after a few years doing triathlons and fit around work, same for everybody on that score though. The cardio of 90 minutes per week was taken up swimming, due to us entering the Ten Foot swim prior to this goal
The Ten Foot swim was a great day, challenge and achievement, but was also good to get done so the sole focus could be on Cardiff. I switched my cardio to running 3 x 30 mins per week to work alongside the training.
Coming in to this process late, my diet went quickly to prep phase. The carbohydrates in my diet were reduced incrementally as the weeks passed to help reduce body fat, but protein kept high to maintain muscle.
Show day quickly arrived, final weigh in had me at 66.5kg, the weight loss most definitely coming from fat%. Breakfast followed by a very nervous drive up to Cardiff. We registered and went to get our spray tan. Removing body hair and having a spray tan was a first on both counts for me, but a requirement to enter. After being sprayed a lovely mahogany colour,(joke!) there was nothing else to do but eat your last chicken and rice, and wait for the show to start. I received a quick phone call from Rob to wish me all the best, stay calm, enjoy it, but to remember I was always being judged on stage.
Show time and the category’s went along quickly in a well drilled show. I waited backstage as my category came closer. It was very busy here, competitors coming off stage and waiting to go on, final preparations and pumping up.
Finally my class was called, and we stood in line looking onto the stage waiting for the previous class to be judged and placed……guess who was first in line! My heart was racing as the guys on stage came off, and our class was called, shit this was it!
We walked to the front of the stage in line and faced the crowd and judges. I went into a front pose, shaking like mad, while trying to smile and tell myself to keep calm. The judges kept us there for what seemed like an eternity before they called the first quarter turn to the right. I went through my quarter turns which I had practised so hard, until we faced the front again. We were moved about a bit for comparisons, then all left the stage, while the judges picked the top 3.
We waited briefly and then my number was called…… I had to go back on to stage and perform a solo routine! I came on and walked along a marked line along the back, then straight down towards the judges (T Walk), going through my quarter turns again
Routine over and I waited to the side of the stage while the other 2 guys were called on for their routines, but remembering what Rob said about being judged all the time.
We were all called into line for the final result. 3rd place……Gerald Brace! A mixture of amazement at placing in my first ever show, and relief at getting through it without cocking up big time or fainting came over me. 2nd and 1st places were called, we were all presented with a nice trophy, and all of us had an invite to the British Finals in October!
I came off and waited for Karen as her category was next. She looked amazing and breezed through her routine, placing second. We got changed and left St.Davids Hall for a well-deserved burger and chips, which tasted unbelievable after weeks of a strict diet.
Reflection:- I’m so glad I went through with the decision to enter, a completely new challenge which tested my self-discipline, commitment, dedication and patience to the limit. The training was hard, but the diet is where the real battle lies. The endless weighing and preparation of food along with exclusion of certain foods can be monotonous, but the results come with consistency, and are worth the effort.
I won’t be going to the British finals in October. It would be a big step up from a qualifying competition and have been advised to enter a show in April next year if I wanted to continue. For now I will happily take placing 3rd!
So would I do it all again? Undecided at present………who knows what will be next!
Another trip to Malta for the Vodafone Half Marathon, with a holiday thrown in for good measure…..shame not to! After missing out last year on my sub 1.30 goal by a minute, my plan was to aim for this again when originally entering.
Heel pain which started in September 2016 had progressed to me having to stop running completely for the remainder of the year and into 2017, due to the unwelcome guest of Plantar Fasciitis deciding to visit my right foot, with no intention of leaving. Podiatrist appointments, stretching, rolling, massaging and taping had left me with a brief glimmer of hope at the beginning of February that I may just get enough runs in to complete the half safely; sub 1.30 was definitely out of the question. I managed a few mid-week 3-4 milers, and built up to 7 miles a week before the run, but felt confident some winter bike and swim training would give me enough cardio fitness to get round, the unknown being whether the foot would hold out.
Karen and i arrive on the Friday evening, unfortunately without our companions Pat and Sandra. We decide to register for the half that evening, and arrive at the Meridian Hotel in St.Julians Bay to find a que about a mile long, even though it was 8.00pm! The Malta Marathon, Half Marathon and Walkathon combined have over 4000 entrants, with the UK making up the largest foreign entry of 700.
Saturday is spent chilling out around St.Julians, and the evening involving the normal race and kit prep, massaging my foot and K-Taping it.
After a good breakfast Sunday morning, Karen and i leave to catch the bus up to Medina for the start. There are runners from all nationalities which is amazing to be around. After numerous pee breaks, we are called over for the start. A quick goodbye to Karen who is doing the walkathon, and I try to get into the mass of runners. I feel nervous regarding my foot, but have little time to dwell as the race starts 5 minutes early! I have a loose plan to stick to 8 minute miles as I head out over the start line.
It’s difficult to get going at first due to the volume of runners, but I manage to settle in after a few minutes, and a nice downhill gets me to 7.55, I feel comfortable here, so decide to try and hold this pace and see what happens. It’s warm in the clear sunshine and light wind, there are 32 bands playing for 32 years of the event on the route, a right variety of music, but makes for a great atmosphere with the spectators.
5 miles in and things are going okay, I can feel the heel but nothing out of the ordinary, and I’m picking my way through the runners nicely. 9 miles in and my left Achilles has become really tight, the opposite foot has now decided to join in which may be compensating in some way, I try to put it out of my head and plough on.
Finally down to Silema seafront at 11 miles, everything is aching now due to the lack of running conditioning, it’s a flat run in to the finish, but those 2 miles seem like 5! I’m still at 7.55’s and I put my head down to try and pick up pace in the last mile but there’s no acceleration. The finish line is in sight and I push to get over in 1.43.55. Massively happy with the time, with a big slice of relief to finish as I collect a beauty of a medal.
I sit with my banana and drink and wait for Karen to finish the walkathon. I seriously have complete respect for anyone who does walking events; walking wrecks me way more than running!
Malta Half is a brilliant well organised event, coupled with a stunning island to visit. It was nice to be back running after such a long layoff, the Plantar Fasciitis is still an ongoing problem, hopefully further treatment and investigations will see the back of it in the next couple of months.
With Christmas day over, the lull between Boxing day and New Year’s Eve will highlight the over indulgence of food and alcohol with lingering hangovers, slumped on the sofa with a mountain of quality street still to get through. As the plans for the final assault on your body are made regarding the New Year’s Eve bash, thoughts turn to 2017, and what self-improvements we can make.……. Enter the famous “New Year’s Resolution”.
According to findings in the Journal of Clinical Psychology, approximately 50 percent of the population make resolutions each New Year. Among the top resolutions are weight loss, exercise, stopping smoking, better money management and debt reduction.
Unfortunately statistics show that almost 80% of all New Year’s Resolutions fail, with many not making it to the end of January. So why is it that the New Year’s resolutions we set ourselves fail to achieve their intended outcome?
The Oxford Dictionary definition of “Resolution” is “A firm decision to do or not to do something” “A formal expression of opinion or intention”. So a firm decision or intention. And here lies the downfall. A resolution is not a goal.
If we focus on weight loss and exercise, a common resolution would be: “I’m going to lose weight and tone up in 2017”. Okay, so what’s the plan to achieve this? How much weight do you intend to lose? When are you going to lose it by? And what does tone up mean?!!
A far better method than resolutions are to set some New Year’s “SMART” Goals:-
SPECIFIC:-Make it a clear single goal that’s relevant to you… eg.”I want to lose 4lbs of weight by 31st January.
MEASURABLE:- You’re going to need recording methods to measure progress….Take photos, waist/hip measurements, weigh once a week on the same day first thing, and keep a daily food diary.
ACHIEVEABLE: – The goal has to be achievable. Wanting to lose 2 stone in 4 weeks is a nice thought, but realistically out of reach in a healthy lifestyle change approach. Health based weight loss is 1-2lb per week, so a 4lb weight loss is achievable, while making small changes to your diet and activity.
REALISTIC: – What are you going to do to achieve the weight loss, dietary changes and activity/exercise?
Examples of this: If you drink a large glass of wine a night and attempt to go tee-total, you may not be ready for such a big change. Reducing wine consumption to one small glass, 3 nights a week will help you break the drinking habit gradually, while saving yourself hundreds of calories per week. Another example could be to exchange the packet of crisps at 10am each day, for a piece of fruit 3 days per week.
Equally if you’re inactive, then running 12 miles per week is completely out of reach. A realistic option could be to walk for 30 minutes, 3-5 days per week, and build up to walk/jogging a mile, or join an exercise class!
TIMESCALED:-Is the timescale relevant for the goal to be achieved? Too far away, and the chances are you’ll lose interest. Make small goals to begin with which are not too distant and can be re-evaluated and built on when initial success is achieved.
Set yourself some SMART goals for 2017! You’ll have a far greater prospect of adherence and success than resolutions!
Be patient, consistent and dedicated!
Happy New Year!!
George Osborne has introduced the sugar tax on soft drinks, which will be introduced in 2018, to tackle child obesity. There will be two categories of taxation, one for total sugar above 5g per 100ml and a second higher band for drinks with more than 8g per 100ml.
With Coca Cola at the high end of the levy, a standard can costing around 70 pence would have an 8 pence tax placed on it. High street coffees, teas and milk shakes will not be subject to the tax due to the health benefits of milk! So a Starbucks Coffee with more sugar than a can of coke is ok?!
The sweetener is that money raised from the tax will provide funding for primary school sport. But will a sugar tax actually work?
Mexico, with one of the world’s worst weight problems, introduced a 10% sugar tax on sugary drinks in 2014; with sales falling by 12% in its first year.
Denmark, however, introduced a tax on foods high in saturated fat in 2011. A year later it abolished the tax stating it encouraged customers to cross to Germany to shop and failed to change eating habits. Plans to introduce a sugar tax were scrapped as a consequence.
Obesity currently costs the NHS £5.1 Billion per year with children and teenagers consuming 3 times the recommended level of sugar. Mr Osbourne stated that “At present five year old children are consuming their bodyweight in sugar every year.”
So maybe we need to look at the role of the parent in all this. Parents have a responsibility to provide a healthy nutritious diet for their child’s growth and development. Healthy eating and drinking habits adopted in early years stand a good chance of following through into teenage and adult life, reducing the risk of health problems such as obesity and type 2 diabetes. Parents are also role models, children learn by example. An environment of healthy meals, fresh food being prepared and available along with an active family lifestyle will go a long way to the child forming these habits to carry through to later life. Involving children in the meal preparation process and zinging some water up with pieces of fresh fruit are a couple of examples.
The parent having some degree of control over what children eat and drink, along with the portion size is also important; it’s caring to say No if need be. Day’s out such as a trip to the cinema is generally associated with treats while watching the film but does a small child really need 2 litres of coke they can barely carry?!
It’s yet to be seen if the sugar tax on sugary drinks will have a positive effect on children’s health and obesity. Sweet drinks are an easy, convenient way to consume a lot of sugar and calories quickly. If a tax on it raises money to go towards junior sport then that can only be a good thing. My fear is that there are always cheaper versions of the branded sugar drinks, which a levy will have little impact on.
Education is key to tackling this problem and the government and schools along with other relevant health professional’s (including me!) have their part to play. Equally everyone has a responsibility to educate themselves; there is plenty of information available such as the NHS website for ideas eg the food plate.
Sugar is found in many food types aside from drinks and it will always come down to excess calories consumed outweighing energy expenditure that will result in weight gain and obesity. There is nothing wrong with the odd can of coke and chocolate bar, if the main stay of your diet is formed from healthy nutritious food. It all comes back to that one word…… Balance.
(References:- The Guardian, Telegraph, Mail online)
After 2 days of visiting various locations around this beautiful island, and surviving slipping on sea weed and smacking my head, it was soon Sunday and race day. After a good breakfast Karen and I went over to catch the athlete’s bus at 7.45am which would take us to the race start at Midena.
Pat also came over to the bus with us as he insisted on seeing his athletes safely off! After a 15 minute journey sat in front of some lively Italian runners, we arrive at Mdina.
It’s already swarming with runners of various nationalities, and Karen and I begin the first of several toilet queues. The guy on the loud speaker is soon asking for everyone to make their way towards the start line for a prompt 9.15am start. There are no timed pens here; I see 2 pacers holding small balloons with 1.35 and 2.00 hour times written on them in black marker pen! I wish Karen good luck and try to make my way towards the front, but it’s already a solid block of bodies. I remind myself of my master plan for my goal of a sub 1.30 time, a 50/50 negative split of 6.55’s and 6.45’s, but i am also aware that it’s very windy and warm.
The starting hooter goes, and it’s a struggle to get going through the mass of people for at least half a mile, I’m nowhere near the pace I need to be and struggle to pick my way through the hundreds of runners. We come to the first downhill; the course map has given a lot of descent so I’m hopeful it stays like this. I’m soon at 6.35’s and my mind is a mix of feeling okay, knowing I’m going too fast, and thinking this pace will make up for the lost time in the crowd. I rein my self back to 6.50’s convincing myself this is a happy medium. I come to the first of the water stops at around 3 miles, i’m feeling the heat and the strong wind is in no way cooling, so have a good slurp and tip the rest over me. The course is now a mix of back streets and dual carriageways, and the first small ascent arrives where the wind really picked up. I’m around target pace at 10k, and the sponge stations were amazing to squeeze water over myself to cool down, a nice idea for a race. At 8.5 miles im really feeling the heat, and there is another slight ascent in a long straight of road, that along with the strong wind sees my pace dropping into the 7’s. I’m praying for the downhill to Selina sea front to come, and my pace goes up slightly when it does, leading down to around a mile and a half of straight run in to the finish. The wind gives a brief respite and comes from behind, and I’m reciting every motivational quote I’ve ever dished out in my head to pick my pace up. The wind comes back round into a headwind and I’m going with everything I’ve got left, and trying to ignore how hot I feel. I can hear the commentator on the loud speaker and am desperately looking for the finish line inflatable but all I can see are restaurant and cafe canopys and banners. I take a last peep at my watch, I can see I’m into 1.30 when i finally spot the finish line and push on with the last bit of energy to cross the line.
I collect my medal and grab the usual banana and energy bars and drink, then walk round and see Pat and Sandra who congratulate me, and I blurt out my race story to them! I go to collect my bag with my pre race clothes in and miss Karen coming over the line, she loved the wind as much as I did! We stay and watch for a while, before going back to the apartment to chill, then head back to Mdina but this time for some lunch and a beverage seeing as it was my birthday!
Some shopping Monday morning prior to coming home and lunch at Marsaxlokk, a gorgeous traditional fishing village, so Sea Bass and Bream were definitely on the menu for all of us!
Malta Half Marathon is a brilliant Half to run in, reasonably priced, and a very well organised event, plenty of water and sponge stops with a beauty of a medal at the end. A good course for a PB, just hope the wind is kind to you, and if you can manage a few days to look around this stunning island, all the better. I managed a half marathon PB of 1.30.59, but no sub 1.30 goal cigar……maybe Cardiff Half at the end of March!