Fake crowd noise…. dear God…..

https://www.skysports.com/football/news/11661/12004035/crowd-noise-available-for-sky-sports-premier-league-games-how-it-works

So remember I was writing a few weeks ago about my mild irritation of virtual running races where you get awarded a medal celebrating a run you did somewhere other than the medal says you did.

Well, the world has taken that nonsense to it’s logical extreme conclusion. Sky Sports have actual football again. This is a good thing.

However, it’s poor little football fans might not be handle to cope with the lack of noise in the stadium so they’ve provided an option for the lickle flowers to add fake crowd noise from FIFA the game.

Seriously. Why?

Let’s be honest it’s not even going to be the good chants. One of the joys of life football is catching a bit of rude crowd noise and singing before the live producer cuts the sound. The unmistakeable “buuuulshittttaaah” accompanying a goal kick.

I’m no old traditionalist football fan by any stretch – in fact, not really much of a fan at all. But please don’t do this. It’s unnecessary and it’s wrong.

Virtual madness

For a primarily running based blog within which I recently had something of a moan about virtual races being offered as a replacement for real ones amongst other things, you would be forgiven for not reading much further based just on the headline.

This post is still a little moany but won’t have any running in it at all. Instead I’ll be looking at some of the madness occurring lately around virtual / eSports motor racing.

Now, firstly I do see this as distinct from gaming. I am an occasional online racer myself but I don’t invest a lot of time in it, and even less cash on equipment. I’ve taken part in a handful of the official FIA sanctioned events on Gran Turismo, but at my modest level it’s definitely gaming. We’ve seen a handful of drivers convert from the virtual to the real world with some success, and that makes sense really given that you can simulate the skill of driving and racing reasonably well and somewhat accurately with the right kit, but it’s different enough that great real world drivers aren’t automatically great virtual ones.

To the present day and in these times of social distancing and lockdown, up until very lately eSports racing is the only thing available to the armchair motor racing viewer. I resisted the temptation up until the first official Formula 1 Virtual GP. That regrettably was a technical mess and gimmicky shambles and when the race did get going the drivers didn’t take it very seriously.

Across in America, Nascar were taking it quite seriously although in fairness they have done for a couple of years. A driver left a race in temper at being laps down and lost some real world sponsors who didn’t like supporting a quitter. This seemed a bit peculiar.

Another guy was fired for saying something no one should. Kyle Larson was just a bit dim forgetting that not only are the races broadcast so is his reaction to everything.

Elsewhere the Indycar Series held a few events, attracted F1’s Lando Norris who wiped the floor with everyone and then was literally crashed out of a race he was leading by a driver representing the team of the owner of the series. That was a really good look for the owner I’d imagine. Then again Norris fans took it way too far with death threats.

In the same race, we saw another driver who has a lovely history of trying to paint Make America Great Again on the side of his car, while being racist to his team mate who he later drove into after the race. Santino Ferrucci ruined his European career but unsurprisingly found a home in the US. His classy act was hitting the leader yards from the finish line, and allowed another guy from the team of the series owner to come through and win. Again, really good look that.

Then just this past weekend we had one more driver sending an imposter / professional online racer in his place for an event. Unfortunately, he drove for a Volkswagen group company and of course that car company has recent history around integrity and falsifying things so he got himself fired.

All of which history tells me that my original opinion about virtual replacements was probably right. One can’t go into it either as a competitor or a viewer and not really have confidence that everyone taking part is taking it seriously. Or the racing series involved should just present it, essentially as a WWE-style eSports Entertainment event. Don’t pretend it’s serious if your drivers aren’t all taking it seriously.

Yes I get the attraction of virtual running events and virtual motor racing. But at best, they are a variant, an offshoot, of the real world sport – they are not a replacement, even if no other replacement is feasible right now. I’ve tried both and no doubt I’ll still watch and take part in both some more.

However, at no time will I consider them a satisfactory replacement but sometimes it’s still going to be the best thing available and I’ll take them on that basis along.

And look forward to better days in the future.

“Running from an angry mob might have been worth a few seconds”

Today’s needlessly attention seeking title is brought to you courtesy of a Facebook comment response following Thursday evening’s run. But I’ll explain that much later.

The purpose of this post is to retell the story behind an excellent 5k run.

The back story begins a few weeks ago when England Athletics announced that all licensed races would be suspended until the end of June. This meant that our races at Media City in Salford and Box Hill were cancelled and postponed respectively.

The postponed event diary for 2021 is already filling up quite fast actually but on the positive side there aren’t many events left in 2020 to get cancelled. The next one is the Great South Run which is a fair few months away at the moment.

So Thursday night was supposed to be the start of a chain of races. We had a plan to run 25 races this year but we’ll postpone that a little while now I think. Thursday was Media City, then drive to Liverpool for the Rock n Roll 5k on the Saturday and Half Marathon and Mile events on the Sunday. Possibly another event the midweek after if we fancied it.

We thought though we’d mark the Media City date with a strong 5k virtual race effort.

So the run itself..

The graph of my run pace tells a story. Especially when I say that I ran the whole thing pretty consistently. Those little downward spikes are where I had to slow down due to outside factors. In one case at about 1.8km through no one’s fault. I just caught a pair of people at a very narrow bit of path. The dip just after 4k was a turnaround point so that’s ok too.

The other two though were solely down to buffoons. There were a lot of them out that night, clustering in their evidently enormous household groups (plus the statutory one person outside their household of course). There were also couples who felt that the entire path belonged to them and them alone. Fine in itself but if I was unlucky and came across someone coming the other way, I’ll do the right thing and stop or slow down.

But it would be lovely if people paid some attention to their surroundings. We can dream.

There were the odd occasions where the aforementioned buffoons attracted gestures and one or two who got barely audible abuse and swearing but I wasn’t sticking around for a reaction. Indeed on Facebook later that evening I suggested that if I had got one the resulting angry mob might have improved my running pace further.

Anyway, idiots aside this was actually just a very strong steady run. The first kilometre went through in 4:52 and the pace held at that level with kilos of 4:59, 4:57 and 4:54. My heart rate was creeping up but at perfectly manageable levels. It felt hard and I was working but had a little bit left for the end of the run. I accelerated a little to a final kilometre of 4:43 and finished my 5k in an amazing time of 24:25. My fastest since September 2017.

I have to say I’m delighted with it. I was expecting my return to running after a couple of weeks of Facebook-mob induced quarantine was going to take much longer but the reality is, at least over this distance, my form is right back where it was, although having said that I initially thought my training had been set back 2 to 3 months so maybe I’m just in that range. Have to see what I can do over some longer distances now too.

The route I took is one that will always have some resonance with me. It is now used as the route of the Corporate Cup 5k but back in 2015 it was the venue of the middle event of a weekend Festival of Running. A “10k” (actually shortened to about 9 due to flooding as I recall) on the Friday on the west of the island, 5k along the seafront on Saturday morning then a half marathon on the Sunday. That year I was a bit injured so I’d entered the half and withdrew but did the other two and at the time the 5k was my pb and the first time I ran 5k in under 25 minutes as well.

This time I was 20 seconds faster than that and while my PB has since moved on, to beat that first great 5k just under 5 years later is really pretty special.

Hills, trails and stinging nettles – breaking down a half marathon

My half marathon route

So after having got rid of my ranty tendencies previously here’s now the far more positive story of how I came to run my 20th-ish half marathon last weekend.

Actually my 24th. That I didn’t know the number is probably a humble-brag of the highest order but the truth is I didn’t and I’ve just had to look it up. I think I knew that number up until about half way through marathon training back in 2016 when a half marathon and a bit became “just” a training run that I lost track of how many times I’d run 21.1km.

I think I returned to running a couple of months ago not expecting to do a half any time soon and that probably my running would just be a bit aimless for a time.

Well much of my running probably has been aimless but I’m enjoying lots of it too. A couple of weeks ago I decided I’d have a long run and had half a mind thinking I might do 13 miles but wasn’t really feeling it that particular bank holiday Monday and ended up doing 15km. Still a good run though.

After a slightly lighter week or so, in running terms,I thought I’d try again. I’d spent more time than is truly healthy the night before plotting out a route along the lines of that from two weeks earlier – up towards the zoo, along the cliff paths to Bouley Bay, up the nasty hill then down roughly along the route of the first half of the Durrell Challenge race in reverse.

Got to say it all went pretty well. The run to the zoo flew by and I’d certainly felt faster, and more importantly fresher, than the previous long run. So on I went down to the cliff paths on the north of the island. They’re not really suitable for running a lot of the time if I’m honest but still good exercise and a pretty outstanding bit of scenery too.

The cliff path eventually took me down towards Bouley Bay. Now, my map told me I should go left at one point. But left looked inland and back uphill again, whereas straight ahead looked like, well, the actual direction of the bay itself. I went straight ahead. The path got narrower, and muddier.

And much more stinging nettle-y.

And more narrower still and overgrown. And not really a path at all. I concluded this was almost certainly the wrong direction and continuing this way would only end with me in someone’s garden or something.

I retraced my steps, turned where I should have, went inland and uphill, until I turned again back to the hill road. Which oddly had a sign at that end saying pathway closed in the direction of the way I’d just been… Not sure what happened there or why. Anyway, I was back to civilization with only nettle stings being the negative.

Looking back from Bouley Bay

The getting lost had actually been a bit of a rest too so I walked down to the foot of Bouley Bay hill to run up. The running up bit didn’t really go all that well, which probably is reason enough to be back there some time very soon to do better. But after having decided I’d do a long run I’d resolved to keep the effort levels sensible so when it did get tough I walked a bit, then ran some more. It was not a quick ascent of the hill, but it’s something to build on.

From the top of the hill, I just made my way towards Vallee de Vaux for the downhill run home. That was quite good fun and actually reminds me of what a fantastic run my best effort in the Durrell Challenge really was. There are some properly brutal climbs in that race.

So down the valley without great event other than a photo stop for some cocks.

Really…? What were you expecting?

At the foot of the climb, I came out just by Waitrose which on this particular Sunday meant a huge socially distanced queue of would-be shoppers. Glad I had other plans.

At this point, I was about 18km into my run so knew I needed to add a bit of a loop to make the distance up so a run across town then back in a different direction towards home, followed by an extra loop of the park across the road from home.

And it was done. Very far from being my fastest ever half at 2:23 and about 27 minutes outside my pb, but this day it didn’t matter and I wasn’t trying anyway. I achieved what I set out to do and kept control of my effort levels. And I also discovered the hills represented the second highest amount of hill metres climbed in any run of mine ever, the first being my Jersey Marathon in 2016. Quite amazing really.

I dare say I’ll be back at the same route next month, less about the distance but possibly about getting up that nasty hill in one go. I even think I’ll look forward to it.

No stinging nettles next time though.

Stay Alert for guilt-trippery

This was originally going to be a post about the half marathon I ran on Sunday morning however the introduction to that post quickly took me off in such an alternate, frankly slightly ranty direction I thought I’d split it off into its own post, which is below.


Whether the phrase of the day is Stay At Home or Stay Alert or you can play golf now or whatever, most things remain unchanged here as it is no doubt for everyone reading this.

There’s not been much positive to report towards getting running events back again so it was a bit galling to read a post from England Athletics saying please keep supporting your clubs right now with your membership renewals. Rather ignoring those of us who are primarily members of a running club because of the discount we get for taking part in licensed events.

Quite frankly that just felt like a particularly shameless beg for charitable donations with a thinly veiled sheen of guilt-trippery. While I’m sure there are many making use of your online videos or whatever I’m not one of them. When you offer services of something I will make use of I’ll be back no doubt and in the meantime I’ll accept that this year I haven’t really got value for what I did pay, because that was just the dreadful circumstance we’re all in.

So, sorry but I’ll pause a little before throwing more money your way thanks. Perhaps you might also reconsider which posts you put on your website which openly suggest we give feedback. I did but be grateful you didn’t get both barrels which I’ve saved for here.

Not to say though in any way whatsoever am I not wholly supportive of the decisions being taken not to hold any events at the moment. It’s the only thing they can sensibly do to keep the organisers, volunteers, us competitors and locals around venues as safe as possible.

That’s all ok for sure, but I look forward to the days we can safely have group races once again.

I think the reason the England Athletics post triggered me so much is the attitude I’ve encountered from some event organisers.

Incidentally a similar attitude that hotels and travel companies have tried to get away with. I’ve accepted a couple of vouchers here and there but I think it’s just dishonest to not automatically offer refunds when you’re no longer providing the service.

However, I reserve a particular level of distrust for profit-making race organisers who stand behind clauses in their terms and conditions that say there are no refunds in the event of their cancellation. I hear arguments like “well they’ve already incurred lots of costs you know so you’re only contributing to those” and “those were the terms you signed up to”.

Whilst those are undoubtedly the terms we signed up to – because the alternative is not taking part at all – I still think the argument is absolute nonsense and guilt-trippery at its finest.

So, if the race organisers pay out refunds they’ll be out of pocket because of various expenses they’ve paid upfront. Ok??….

And this is my problem how exactly? It’s not as if the organiser will be sharing the profits with me when they do well for an event. Why are they using my cash to underwrite their potential losses? Isn’t that just a risk of the business they have chosen to be in, or have they decided the general fee-paying public can take all the financial risk? Totally unacceptable for me.

And that brings me to virtual events. I understand why they are A Thing right now. Indeed I myself am currently running 50 miles during May for charity. It’s essentially the only game in town.

But I don’t really see them as a general replacement for race events in much the same way as watching blokes playing FIFA isn’t the same as watching actual football.

And I quite resent the suggestion from race organisers that they are a suitable replacement. In the real world I don’t see how me running a half marathon on Sunday qualifies me for a medal with the Olympic Park on it. I’ve accepted a virtual run as a replacement for an in-person event on few occasions, although that is because I have literally no better choice. It was a case of accept this virtual run or we’re keeping your cash to underwrite our losses (paraphrasing a tad here perhaps but that was the outcome of it).

But it’s just not the same. Believe me, I’ve tried in these current circumstances but running hard on my own is less positive, less productive and just plain less fun than running hard in a group. They aren’t the same thing so please don’t sell them as if they are.

Anyway, about that half marathon…..

Things I’ve learnt about runners #2 – most are wrong about getting sprayed with water during a warm race

A couple of months back I traveled over from the UK to Jersey by boat and for those of you who haven’t done it before it takes about 8 hours at least and therefore being a solo traveler there was a lot of time to fill with something. Anything.

In my case, I listened to (for the second time actually) the Running Commentary podcast recorded throughout their London Marathon in 2019. Now as I recall 2019 was nothing like as hot as a previous year and this came up during their rambling, but highly entertaining, conversation.

Paul Tonkinson’s mind wandered to that warmer marathon and how at various points they were spraying the runners with water in order to cool everyone down, and how this was very irritating if totally well meant. I agreed. I don’t remember Rob Deering’s reaction.

It reminded me of two previous runs where this happened to me – the Great Newham 10k around the Olympic Park area and the Guernsey Half in 2017. And how I seemed to be the only person anywhere near me in either of those who was mildly irritated by this. I get the theory but this podcast was literally the first time I’d encountered someone who like me takes the right view on this.

I get the well meaning feeling behind it – these are hot sweaty people overheating and needing to cool down and I’ll help with that because I’m a nice person.

However, my view on this is I’m a well prepared runner whose brought his own liquid thanks very much and also might be carrying several hundred pounds worth of telephone or GoPro and might prefer it not getting all wet.

One time I let the shower get me and sure enough it made me wet and cold and a bit annoyed. Marvellous. The other time (in Guernsey) I ran around the spray on my own. The rest of you runners were and are wrong on this. You’re welcome.

Things I’ve learnt about runners #1 – We like a good swear

For the last year or so, I’ve been a Facebook page administrator for a running group and one of the regular tasks is putting up a post on which the members put comments saying what they’ve achieved that day. These posts will be accompanied by a suitable picture – something inspirational, or occasionally funny.

These are some examples and levels of reaction to some recent post photos.

6 likes and 1 😂. It amused me. Can’t remember where I’d seen Clippy earlier that day
6 likes and 8 🤣 – better
9 likes and 2 loves
22 🤣, 10 likes and 3 loves

Yes, my friends. Inspirational messages are lovely and we all like a laugh.

But what runners really want is a f@£&!ng good swear.

Getting back to it steadily

It’s been a little over 5 weeks now since returning to Jersey and about 3 and a half weeks since I started running again.

However, like everyone else, I’m not really at the volume of exercise that I was doing before this horrific virus took hold of the world. Whilst before I was doing five or six sessions a week, since starting again I’m on a pretty steady 4 sessions per week and that’s going to be about what I’m on until lockdown ends.

I figured out from the performance tools on Garmin and Strava that the 2-week gap in my exercise probably resulted in about 2 or 3 months setback in my training. Frustrating but ultimately this is just the situation we’re in.

Given that every race in my diary up until September looks like it’s going to be cancelled a setback of 2 or 3 months really isn’t that important in the grand scheme of things. It will be made up in time.

The runs themselves have been mixed. Last weekend we should have been racing around Dorney Lake but instead I carried out a 5K time trial to see where my performance really is.

My speed was ok but stamina was a bit of a struggle showing that I really haven’t been doing enough long steady paced runs lately. However, I got it done in a little under 27 minutes, which whilst being far from my best was still a perfectly acceptable time given where I’m at.

Today’s run was probably the best one since starting again. I did a 6k effort early this morning and this turned out to be my 7th fastest 6k ever although it wasn’t as fast as two other ones earlier this year it still showed that, yes, some performance had faded away but perhaps not quite as much as I originally feared.

Most things about lockdown are ok – far from ideal for sure but in the grand scheme of things we’re fine. But I have to say I am looking forward to racing again but do also fear that the restrictions on public gatherings are going to prevent that for a lot longer than one might hope. Given that for me racing is the best part of running, it may come to a day where I have to question whether running actually is the right exercise for me anymore. Hopefully not but it’s just something I have to accept is a possibility.

In the meantime life goes on. I’ll just carry on doing my best and hope to be ready for when things do open up again.

Ummmm……

Ok so the last time I posted here was 16 February not long after not taking part in the London Winter Run due to some storm or other.

So since then…. ummmm…. not the easiest 7 weeks or so to summarise really…

It’s like the whole world has turned upside down isn’t it.

Who’d have thought that the Winter Run cancellation wouldn’t have been the strangest set of events this year.

Oh boy. Not even close.

Well, let’s be honest there’s nothing I can tell you about the general circumstances of the past couple of months that you don’t already know.

And in light of the number of race postponements I’ve had to suffer I’m not sure I’m in a place where I’d like to witter on about my runs.  The reality is that my fitness was massively ramping up towards the Fleet Half Marathon only for the event to be cancelled 24 hours before its start. Not to say that was any surprise in the end because of the way the fear and the risks were building at the time.

A couple of days after my last post I had an amazing running day – a 4 mile tempo run in the morning then a run to the Sweatshop running group, 5k with them and running back again all in the evening. It was a great day running wise. The following Sunday I did another run with the group which was my fastest 8 mile run in 3 years, then subsequent runs of my fastest 5 miles in 4 years and my fastest 7k in 5 years.

That took me then to a 5k race at Kempton Park racecourse. My wife had that in mind for a personal best over the distance and she had asked me to coach/pace her. She did an amazing job running under 31 minutes for the first time ever. Mission accomplished! Brilliant and so proud to have been a part of it.

Getting ready for the Kempton start

After that I was really winding down towards Fleet so no great runs to speak of. A little twinge in a calf was an irritation but not enough to really cause a problem. The build up was going well.

Then the world stopped. I could only look on and think what might have been. What could one do otherwise? I did try and replace the half, trying to run a two hour half around the roads of Reading. Actually, it went OK for the first third or so – pretty much up until I had to stop at road crossings. Time slipped away, my rhythm was lost and I let the target go. I got the half done in about 2:13 which was OK considering the circumstances but still ultimately a bit unsatisfying. I just prefer running in groups I guess.

Which is pretty blooming inconvenient right now.

So a week later than that I came back to Jersey which is now going to be permanent, albeit (hopefully) with many trips away to get the most out of running as we’ve done before, and had hoped to do this year. That just has to wait for now.

Running generally actually had to wait. Local restrictions called for by the amateur virologists of Facebook meant that I had to isolate for 14 days when returning. No running at all then and I dare say a huge loss in form and fitness. As I write this I’ve only had one run since and it went OK enough. But I can’t imagine I’ll have the amazing form of only a few weeks ago. It can’t be helped now.

So no idea what comes next. There’s still runs in the diary, now as far in advance as May 2021 but I’ll settle for any race really, obviously only when the actual experts say its safe to do so. It all feels a long way away and really quite unimportant in the grand scheme of things, but as running, and specifically races, are so important to me its hard not to feel a little lost and bereft. All in good time though…all in good time.

A Virtual Run instead of Polar Bear hugs

Pretty much every few days in the past month or so I’ve been saying internally that I really need to get round to posting here. And then forgetting to do so of course. But finally here I am.

But what I’m not going to do is recap the whole period of running. It’s been quite varied and would take too long frankly. However, I will say that in January I ran a fraction over 100 miles but they were really good quality miles.

Today’s run probably summed that up. A 10k including parkrun in just over 56 minutes – even quicker if you consider I was queuing to have my barcode scanned for a minute. It was my fastest 10k outside of races since 2015. Very very strong. I’ve also had a whole sequence of really quick 5ks too.

In the end today’s run was a virtual 10k race designed to earn the Winter Run 10k medal from the cancelled event last weekend. Storm Ciara made sure we couldn’t run the streets of London but it only stopped us temporarily.

The other races this year comprised the New Year’s Day parkrun double. This year we visited Dinton Pastures (too busy and too wet) and Maidenhead (evil hill at the end of each lap but still great).

Recent runs tell me that I’m in some really good form at the moment so I just need to keep the progress coming all the way to my first, and most promising, half marathon of the year in Fleet next month.

But I’m taking nothing for granted. Largely due to the weather, I’ve had a couple of slightly lighter training weeks so I need a couple of tougher high quality weeks. And that will take me to a 5k at Kempton Park racecourse on 1 March. Got high hopes for that one.

Running and other mad pursuits