Stretch goal

Pretty picture from last weekend!

I’ve had yet another hectic week: bearing in mind that we tend to evaluate things based on the high point and the ending, this was a GREAT week.  I had a series of interesting conversations: with students at UCL; with employees during a change management intervention; and with the engaging children of the client concerned.  I also managed to save a client a steep fee through bootstrapped recruiting.  The week then ended on a real high, teaching twenty extremely hard-working Terbell PostGrad students… thank you for leaving me with a really BIG smile on my face at the end of the day guys!

One of the concepts that I teach (and utilise) on my Team Dynamics module for Terbell is Matthew Syed’s Purposeful Practice.  Syed’s concept, drawn from his experience of becoming a Commonwealth Table Tennis champion, involves constantly seeking to fail at what you’re doing during your practice sessions.  His model asserts that by constantly pushing the limits of our mental and physical boundaries, we slowly increase the envelope of our abilities.

Two Sundays ago, whilst thinking about hypothermia and other stuff during my run, I was also pondering whether it would be possible for me to run four miles in 30 minutes… I had managed 3.77 miles, but I recognised that the gap was not insignificant.

My run in Brighton last week, where I maintained an average of 7 mph for 35 minutes, made me realise that my recent focus on speed over distance was actually paying off… even though it was time constraints (and laziness) rather than a training focus that had driven my choice of machine over muddy track!

So my goal, as I climbed onto the machine this morning, was to push the current limits in order to see whether this translates into an overall ability to run yet faster… Syed’s hypothesis is that it will.

I warmed up for half a mile at 7 mph before increasing the speed to 8.1 mph and settled into running at this increased tempo.  I quickly realised that the fan was not blowing the air at me and that I had left my water bottle in the kitchen but, whilst not ideal, I did not let these irritations distract me from my task.

I consciously leveraged two insights: one from my childhood, where a Scoutmaster (who was a Police Diver) taught us to expel the lactic acid build-up in our lungs, by huffing out all the air between breaths, to prevent the stitch; the other from The Bok (Nick Broom’s appropriate pseudonym), who taught me to relax my hands, arms and upper body (and even my jaw) when running fast, in order to allow more energy to go to my legs.

I could see that I was adrift of my target after 3 miles so I started increasing the speed by 0.1 each minute to close the gap… I really started to feel the impact of the extra speed above 8.5 mph.

Still clearly adrift with a minute to go I ramped up to 10 mph, sprinting through the discomfort to hit my goal… but had I done enough?

I had!  4 miles in 30 minutes and an average of 8 mph… well done Foster!

Of course the irritating thing about Syed’s approach is that you can’t rest on your laurels, so I’m sure that next week will involve yet harder work!  At least there’s a whole week to enjoy in the meantime!

Skating on thin ice

Last time I went skating was courtesy of Martin F in Sweden, where the ice was probably half a metre thick… except at the edge where we later went skinny dipping!

On Thursday evening my very good friend Jo invited me to a lovely event run by Venue Masters London which included skating on the newly opened Somerset House ice rink.

We had a totally glorious time figuring out how to skate again and racing round in circles!

Thank you to Jo and to the Venue Masters London team and other guests for making it such a memorable evening!


Pier pressure

We’ve all felt the pressure exerted by our peers and last night I felt that inexorable pull as the first of my school friends turned 50 years of age… they always seem to be able to drag me along when it comes to age!  I drove down to Andy’s party in Southampton with Cliff, who managed to persuade me, during the course of the evening, to join the crazy crew on the Pier to Pier run today.  Not for them the straightforward route along the pavement… their route just had to do in the opposite direction and take a big 28-mile loop around mid-Sussex to get from one pier to the other.

Fortunately (from my current perspective, at least) I had my excuses lined up in a row… I had not run further than 3.77 miles for weeks, I was inundated with preparation for my current heavy workload of lecturing /consulting and I needed to be able to walk next week… unlikely if I did even half of the distance they were running!

I took a careful look at the route on the map to figure out which short section I could most efficiently run, time-wise and decided that I would join them at the end of the day for the final few miles to the end.

I met up with them in Ovingdean towards the end of a gloriously sunny day.  Nikki had sadly succumbed to fatigue (on the last run, from the London Eye to the Brighton Eye last year, she intended to only run half way yet ended up completing the whole thing in style!) so there were seven left accompanied by two cyclists and Dai on his motorbike.

The running was easy as I was fresh out of the starting blocks, but these guys still had capacious reserves despite having run 25 miles!  What I particularly enjoyed was the camaraderie, something you tend not to have on the running machine.


We ran on down to the kayak club, pausing to regroup and allow the last man to catch up ahead of the final dash.


The final dash ended up being exactly that, with Andy P inevitably unleashing a final burst of speed in order to cross the line first!  Fortunately there wasn’t really a line as such to cross, so the ensemble all won first place at around the six-hour-mark for 28 point something miles.


As the sun started to head from the sky, I decided to make tracks back to the car, but I couldn’t resist doing my own pier to pier to pier run on the way.  Of course I opted for the sensible direct route: it took me six minutes.

West Pier (remnants thereof) Palace Pier

Thus I found myself running back from the West Pier to Ovingdean as the chill of the evening descended and a combination of this and my recent fast treadmill sessions spurred me onwards.  Whilst the outbound route technically took me an hour and five minutes, including standing around chatting at the landward end of the pier, the return leg took me a mere 35 minutes… a respectable 7 mph.

We won’t mention the overall stats for the 8.2 miles !  (Well okay… 4.9 mph).

I shall now wait with baited breath for the next sublimely crazy challenge… increasing age certainly doesn’t appear (a pier?) to be dimming my peer group’s sense of adventure or creativity!

Slow thinking

I’ve written before about how my thinking seems to slow, running on the machine, as the speed rises above 7mph.  Today that didn’t seem to be the case, although it was this subject that I was thinking about so maybe it doesn’t count.

I was thinking that the reason why thinking slows is that the subconscious draws energy reserves away from non-vital organs to focus on those that really need it.  I remember from the Michael Mosley’s BBC series about High Intensity Training that that the energy-management programme errs on the side of caution, persuading us that our muscles are more tired than they really are, so maybe the same applies here… especially since the brain is such a power-hungry organ.

I remember from both the marathons I have run, Berlin in 2004 and Brighton in 2010, that I succumbed to what I can only assume is a version of ‘the wall’.  My experience was of an increasing internal dialogue, almost voices in my head, trying to persuade me to stop… which I eventually gave in to.  It’s hard to get going again afterwards as the conscious resolve has been weakened and the subconscious is more fully in control.

As I ran on I started to think how this related to hypothermia, where signs of early onset include disorientation… I wonder if this is the same mechanism at work.  A tragic example of this in extremis is mountaineers, such as those on Everest, who sit down for a rest and slowly freeze to death.  It often happens on the way down when their energy reserves are significantly depleted after 12 or 15 hours of extreme exertion at altitude, in sub-zero temperatures.

The intense fatigue prevents the climber from thinking clearly: it is this lack of judgement that allows the subconscious need to ‘maintain energy reserves’ to override the conscious need to keep going.  I have read and heard a number of chilling accounts of climbers finding someone technically alive though deliriously unable to move and one, though I can’t find the book in my bookcase, where the account is given in the first person by someone whose conscious fought back from the warm & comfortable seat in the snow.  In that case, though being given up for dead by others, he did actually manage to make it off the mountain… a herculean feat of both body and conscious mind.

3.77 miles in 30 minutes is an average speed of 7.5 mph was no such herculean feat.  Whilst my cognitive excursion might have it’s roots in all kinds of stimuli, it might also indicate that I’m at least adapting to the speed as a result of the recent fast but short Sunday runs.  Something more to ponder on!