Tuesday, April 25, 2006

More on the Marathon - getting to 3:40

I've probably over-analysed all this data that I have thanks to my Garmin 305 Forerunner, my record keeping and SportTracks (get this software if you've got a GPS watch), but I'm fascinated by what it takes to be a "good" marathon runner. I'm never going to be Kenyan of course, but pound for pound, I've run faster this year than I've ever run. But, I ran less than half the number of miles per week that the most widely-followed training plans would have had me running and, at most, ran 3 times a week (often only twice) when the programmes have up to 6 days training (with one day cross-training). That said, I did run far more than I managed last year and way more than I ran in 1999 (the only other year I have data for). Here's a graphic that shows year to year comparisons by month. The additional miles I put in are plain from this graph, especially looking at March - the month before the marathon in all cases. I put in 185km this year, 105 last year and 135 in 1999 (3:51, 4:44 and 4:13 respectively). The 1999 marathon was very early in April - maybe April 2nd or something - which is why the distance in April is only 43km. Taking the date of the marathon out of the picture and looking at the 30 days before the marathon (excluding the race itself), the distances are 142, 95 and 135. The extra 7km between 1999 and 2006 doesn't account for 22 minutes off my time I'm sure. Another way of looking at the data shows the step changes between months in each year: From this picture it's pretty clear where the faster time came from. I stepped up the training significantly in 2006 versus previous runs. 655km total in 2006 against 466km and 370km. So 41% more km in 2006 than 2005 (which was itself 26% up on 1999 - even though my 1999 time was faster than 2005). But the distance isn't enough. A big chunk of this is being able to run fast. My training times at 10km and 20km weren't nearly as quick as I used to run, but my race times were faster than I'm used to - so there's something about the competition that makes it happen. In training I broke 50 minutes for a 10k only once (and that was in the Nike 10k last year which is hardly training really); yet in both the half marathons and this year's big race, I was inside 50 minutes. The half way point in the marathon came in at 1h 47m which was only a little slower than I'd run Liverpool. The second half, though, took 2h 3 1/2m, which shows that I need to do more longer runs to help learn to maintain my speed. I suspect the weather also helped. Last year, it was hot and sunny. Every 5 miles we ran across a patch of near-velcro as squeezed out lucozade bottles littered the floor making for a sticky mess everywhere. This year it was a good 10C colder and there was a pretty persistent drizzle for much of the race. I'm thinking of running New York in the first week of November. If I do that, I'm going to be looking for a time of around 3h 35m to 3h 40m, which would get me somewhere in the top 7,000 or so in London (NY is a bigger field so it might put me in the top 12,000 there, I'm not sure of the profile of time yet). I'm definitely not ready to step up to Brad Feld's commitment to run a marathon in every state before he's 50, but I admire him enormously for even trying that. That would mean stepping up the miles a little more, but at least it would be summer with long evenings and some warmth. I think 3h 40m is achievable - for much of Sunday I was tracking to 3h 42m and it wasn't until the last 4-5 miles that it became clear I wasn't going to make that.

Monday, April 24, 2006

London Marathon Update

It's done! 6 months of training, 6 weeks of no drinking and less than 4 hours of running. I finished, according to the official site, in 3h 51m 8s. Not a bad time - inside my 4 hour time. It was also inside the top 10,000 - 9,064th in fact. Finally, to complete the triple and most importantly, I raised more than my target £5,000 and am presently at £6,892 with the tax man's contribution. There's a little more to come I think, so I should just tip over £7,000. I was right at the front of the green start - with the white start line literally at my feet. All sorts of interesting people hang out there - Matthew Pinsent and James Cracknell were next to me, Floella Benjamin in front of me, Gordon Ramsay just behind and there were other "famous" people there too, most of whom I didn't recognise. It was a great place to be. Five minutes before the start, a guy came running towards the start - running up the course in the opposite direction - and was promptly bundled to the side by the security folks. I'm pretty sure it was Dale Lyons who I met last year and who had, for the 3rd or 4th time at least, run from the finish to the start and wanted to turn around and run it again! I hope that they looked after him. On the sound of the horn, I was off and running. Too fast for sure, but the thrill of it all, the vast number of "proper" runners that pile past you and the desire to get away from them all means you go a little too quickly. My pace per mile looked like this: I'm not sure if the stat for mile 21 is right, it might have been inside one of the docklands tunnels. In km it looks like this: My plan had originally been to run around 5m 20s per km or maybe 5m 30s until I got to 34km and then see what I had left. That would have got me in at around 3h 52m, assuming I stuck to the plan. During the night before and throughout a reasonably sleepless night, I decided to change the plan and run faster out of the blocks - to do the first half in roughly the time I did Liverpool (around 1h 46m) and then slow down. I was wearing a wristband (from Lucozade) that broke down the times I'd need to run each mile for a 3h 47m time. I used that as my baseline and decided I'd try and out-run it a little in the first half. Another view, showing the delta between each km and the average for the whole run: At the 1/2 way mark I had about 7 minutes in hand against the 3h 47m baseline - and I kept that through mile 16 and then gradually ate into it. I should have been running 8m 46s a mile and it wasn't actually until mile 16 that I ran slower than 8m 30s (I even ran 4 miles faster than 8m - the first 4). From 21 to 26, things got harder and my time per mile was pretty close to ten minutes. Would I have been better off going slower up front, tracking nearer my 8m 46s time instead of my sub 8 minutes? I'm not sure. It felt good to be ahead of time at mile 16 - still 7 minutes ahead. I ate into that from 16-23 when I came out about level, and then went from 3h 47m to 3h 51m in the last 3 miles. The leg from 25 miles to the end is the toughest. There's no mile 26 and when you make the turn away from the river at Big Ben, all you can see are masses of people (around 9,200 on the assumption I overtook a few there as I speeded up!). You can't see the turn past Buckingham Palace, so you just run and run. Eventually - after what seems like 10 minutes - you get to a sign that says "800m to go" and then after at least 2 more miles, you get to "400m to go" and then finally you round the corner, and then another one and you see the finish. And then it's done. The organisation this year was flawless at the start, with the water and the lucozade and at the end; but not with the clocks - they were all out of sync along the way; not a problem for me, but friends were running without watches and had no idea where they were until about mile 23. The Macmillan Team Cheerleaders were absolutely fantastic - providing a real lift at crucial points along the way, especially along the Embankment when things were getting really tough. And overall, the crowd restored my faith in Londoners. Even though it was a bit crappy and damp, they turned out in their hundreds of thousands and cheered everyone along. Docklands (central near Canary Wharf), Tower Bridge and the Embankment were the most populated, but there were people along the whole way. If this is what London can bring to the party, bring on the Olympics.

Why people don't vote

It's local election time. I've got my postal form, I'm ready to go. What now? There's a list of 9 folks for my "ward" - none of whom I know and none of whom have knocked on my door. Only one party, the Conservatives, have dropped something through my letter box - and I threw that away before I realised what it was. So what happens now? I thought I'd do a little survey of each of the 3 parties (there are no oddball parties on my list) and see what they can tell me about who I am and what they'll do for me. To maintain a level playing field, I've given each party 10 minutes to convince me to vote for them, used the same questions for each and have decided I'm prepared to do some work for the 30 minute period before I make my selection. The questions are: 1) Do you know who I am (i.e. is there some way I know that you know I exist) 2) Have you told me who your councillors-elect are and what they've done individually 3) Have you told me anything about what you've done so far 4) Are you telling me lots about what you're going to do (your manifesto) So, here goes, first for Labour: 1) Do you know who I am? The Labour party website insists first on showing mehttp://www.blogger.com/img/gl.link.gif their campaign page with the chameleon and asking me if I'd like to sign up. At the bottom of the page their's a link to continue to the main page. I find the "what labour's done for you" box, which seems to be the only way to identify myself to the party. They don't recognise my postcode, and rather than assume they're wrong, I'm told:
Nothing found Please make sure you have entered your whole postcode. If you have and your constituency is still not found, please use Interactive Map Due to recent boundary changes in your area, information linking your postcode to your electoral ward is not available at this time.
I'm used to this, they're not the only ones. But I've lived here 18 months now - you'd have thought that if Amazon can figure out where I am, the Labour party could. So using my already prepared fake postcode which seems to map to near where I live, I get the info page which actually addresses the next question. So, no points for (1). For (2) Who are your councillors and what have they done? There's no mention here of the councillors, but there are some, I imagine, useful facts on what has been done. oddly the page has the date "February 2005" in it's title and that might be why the following paragraph is still there:
Under Michael Howard the Tories are committed to a £35 billion cut to public services. Cuts on that scale could only be found through cuts to frontline services - cuts to schools, hospitals and the police.
It goes on with some factoids, like this one:
Our streets are safer, crime is down and there are now 3,433 more police officers fighting crime in Metropolitan Police Force than in 1997. When Michael Howard was Home Secretary in the last Tory government, broke his promise to increase the number of police numbers - instead he cut police numbers by 1,132. Now the Tory plan to cut £35 billion from public spending would mean massive cuts to the fight against crime
Nicely, I suppose, the Tory text is in blue which has the effect of making it stand out more than the Labour text which is in black (why not red?). There's a tab there that tells me about "local contact information" and gives the names of MPs and MEPs, but no local information. Is the Labour party website only about national politics? Labour are mixing up my test here, answering (3) when I'm after (2) ... but I'll bear with them as I'm a patient voter and they haven't used up their 10 minutes yet. Back to (2), typing the name of any of the councillors into google, comes up with only 2 references. Both are the full list of councillors standing for election on the Hammersmith and Fulham site. Searching for "labour councillors fulham" I get some interesting results: So now who do we vote for? - unlikely to be a favourite of any of the parties least of all labour, but doesn't appear to have been updated since the 2005 elections. Black councillors in Fulham - none of whom are in my ward Wikipedia - the best source for information so far and (drum roll please) takes me to the right place: Hammersmithandfulhamlabour party website - that's a long word without a breath. Lo and behold, there are pictures and thumbnails of the candidates - one of whom is already a councillor, the others aren't (and one looks black which makes me wonder why the previous site didn't talk about "prospective black councillors" too). On a separate point, the fonts used on this site are hideous - I think the main one is "Franklin Gothic Book" (what?). They've even got little signatures under their blurb. So, on (2) Labour get 1/2 a point. I know who the folks are and I know what their current jobs are, but I don't have a view of what they offer as individuals. On (3), it's touch and go but there are I think, no points here. The site is out of date (Michael Howard? Who he?) and there's not much about the specifics and far more about the national level issues, NHS, crime, education and so on (what the PM used to call his big 4 - the 4th was tranport). On (4), the long worded website tells me that there are 5 priorities: Safer communities Smarter borough Better education More affordable homes Value for money Hardly very snappy, and the 10 minutes is nearly over. Picking one at random, value for money, I get that ugly font and then this (although it will be much easier to read here).
# Deliver lower council tax, with a guarantee of making real terms cuts in council tax until 2009 # Seek more efficiency savings across all council activities and make our services more effective, investing in new ways of working # Deliver free home care services, undertake a major review of parking policy and support a strong vibrant voluntary sector # Keep residents informed and in touch through a more interactive website with email alerts and a regular A-Z of council services so residents know what services they can get # Run regular ‘meet the leadership’ sessions for local people to exchange ideas and views on the council and extend ‘better government for older
I don't quite follow the value for money argument for most of those (a "more interactive website and a "regular A-Z" (I'm not sure what an irregular A-Z might be, perhaps every other letter only?). Still, one point there for trying. And the 10 minutes is fully up. Labour score 1 1/2 points out of 4 So, on to the conservatives: 1) Going to conservatives.org.uk takes me to the .com equivalent, showing that the Tories are perhaps hipper and more commercial and don't want to be seen as a charity or not for profit (which is what .org has always implied to me). Or maybe they were just quicker off the mark, labour.com is sat on by someone already. Still, they recognise my post code and I see my MP, my MEP and my LAM person (London Assembly Member) - I'd forgotten I even had one of those (what do they do and when did I vote for them?). There's then a link to my local Conservative party site, via a quick interstitial of the Tory flame logo. Perhaps a bit disappointingly, they don't pass on my post code, so I'm dumped at the home page and have to hunt again. The design is different - there's no search or post code box for instance. At the bottom it says "lower taxes, less waste, better services" - that might help me when it comes to (4). To answer (1), I have to follow "your candidates" and then find my ward. Eventually, I find that written on the back of the voting form. I also found it on the lbhf website, although they don't have my street listed (though they're taking my council tax now so I don't know why). I've got a picture of the 3 prospective councillors together, taken not far from where I live (sensible enough given they're standing in my ward), then individual pictures and thumbnail CVs. None are councillors now, so there's no story on what they've done. So 1 point for the Conservatives for (1) and another point for (2) - that's 2 points already. On (3) The Conservatives don't have any councillors in my ward and are not in overall power in the borough, but there doesn't seem to be any detail on what they've done through negotiation, outright bullying or even what they've tried to do. No points for (3). On (4), under "our manifesto" on the home page, I get these 5 things (5 again, is that the catchy number?)
1. Lowering Council Tax and providing quality, value for money services, 2. Improving markedly the local environment, 3. Cutting crime, 4. Improving educational standards, and 5. Supporting the most vulnerable in society.
and the catchy catch all of "Don't just hope for a brighter borough. Vote for it." I'm offered a 1mb dowload of their manifesto, in PDF format. Lucky broadband is available these days. 10 minutes is nearly up, it would be gone with dial up. The first few pages, all I have time to read, are about the quality of the environment. I'm just thinking that's a nice link up with the national stuff when I see that it's actually about graffiti, rubbish left on the streets, litter, "street trees" and "street furniture". The whole thing runs to 23 pages and there's no executive summary beyond the 5 priorities. I could award points here for content overload, but I think it deserves no points - and the ten minutes is up anyway. So, 2 points overall for the conservatives and they nose ahead of Labour. On to the Liberal Democrats: This one really threw me. Liberaldemocrats.org.uk (not a bad first attempt) gave me this (and I'm only pasting in a little of it, you can follow the link to read it all):
I want to make explicitly clear that this is NOT intended as an anti Police web site as I have great admiration for the majority of Officers who are in the job for the right reasons and carry out their jobs honourably and within the law (and who are not liars and incompetents like Nigel Cary (the force solicitor) and officers such as, Chief Inspector Neil Boon,DI Anthony Howe, PC Mark Watts and Sergeant Simon Moxon all of whomshould be ashamed of themselves !!!) . This web site is instead aimed at the aformentioned solicitor and Officers ,and the so called "Professional Standards" department (whose only role is to cover up using liars like DI Anthony Howe and Chief Inspector Neil Boon to deliberately bodge investigations which the IPCC have confirmed in their decision against him) and the some of the senior officers and staff at Mount Browne who feel that it is acceptable to lie, to harass members of the public because they made a complaint about a colleague, to use the Police computer for unlawful matters,to deliberately bodge and cover up investigations and to act as if they have carte blanche to do these things.
A quick search tells me I should have gone for Libdems.org.uk (how would I know that?). Incidentally, libdems.com is unregistered. On (1) There's no post code entry box. There an "in your area" button which takes me to a UK map. London is marked at least, but still no sign of a post code box. There's even a blog linked to here, although it's nothing to do with my area. This is a far glitzier site than the others. It even offers RSS from the home page. I'm not sure I want to stay up to the minute, but it's an offer at least. I move on to Libdems4London (linked to from the "in your area" page). The "find your local libdems" button takes me back to where I was a second ago. I scroll down and am confronted by a long list of names. Stunningly, when I eventually get to Hammersmith and Fulham, the link takes me to a page that tells me I'm on the wrong page and gives me another link to follow (the difference between the two being the absence of a dash). No auto-redirect here. Time is running out Sir Menzies. You didn't have this many hurdles in your way when you were a runner. There's a list of names on the new site - which, oddly, is a brighter yellow than the national sites. And a really weird, squashed up photo of Charles Kennedy. Did they not catch up with the change in leadership. So, no points for (1). No points for (2) - two names without biographies doesn't tell me anything. There's nothing on (3), so no points there. On (4), the summary of the manifesto is of the "we oppose/we propose" era. Here's a sample:
WE OPPOSE: Putting targets first WE PROPOSE: Putting patients first Faster diagnosis so your NHS treatment can start more quickly WE OPPOSE: Tuition fees & top up fees WE PROPOSE: Scrapping student fees Further education affordable to every student WE OPPOSE: Compulsory I.D. Cards WE PROPOSE: Spending the money on 10,000 more police Funded by scrapping compulsory I.D. cards
None of these appear to be local issues. There are others in the list (10 altogether). Then I realise there's another button for the Local Manifesto. This kicks off environmentally too: more recycling, cleaner streets, beating fly tipping, dealing with graffiti and so on. It goes on (and on and on). I count 32 refernences to "Hammersmith and Fulham" but I can't help thinking that this is a templated document and a few local things have been added to a national standard. I'm going to give them 1 point because plainly they have ambition, whether national or local. So, 1 point to the LibDems. That's Conservatives (2) Labour (1 1/2) LibDem (1) Hardly a ringing endorsement for any of them - 50% was the maximum score. I could have made the time limit 20 minutes or even 60 minutes but I doubt I would have found out more - although I could have waded through the full megabyte of manifesto I guess. Would the average person do what I've just done - it's actually taken 50 minutes including all the typing (when I should be posting my marathon stats)? Is an hour or so of our time spent on deciding who governs us and how we're going to be governed locally? I suspect it is. I can't imagine there are more than a dozen people who would go to this effort. If the information is not there readily and simply - one site for the council, one post code entry and then a link to the choices to be made, what each party is proposing (ideally side by side - the way that directionless does it). This was longer than I expected it to be and not especially well structured, but it's been educational for me. But, it hasn't helped me figure out who to vote for locally. And I suspect many people feel the same and that is one of the reasons why turn out for local election is something like 25% in many areas of London.

Tuesday, April 18, 2006

What's in a name

Tipped off by Dan, I've actually started to look at some of the stuff that gets filtered straight into my server's spam folder that never makes it to my desktop. There are some great name in amongst the many: Barrenest U. Weirdness Browbeating T. Congealing Kindness H. Dynamics Fibonnaci Q. Compulsorily (definitely one for Dan) Steamer I. Angriest Mentors R. Dogging (another for Dan? Or maybe Mo) Contaminant M. Amphitheatres Dallas Washington (If I was American, I'd think that likely, right?) Wonderful stuff. Good bit of software they've got running through the dictionary and pairing up words.

Friday, April 14, 2006

The Marathon - 7 days to go

"When you have gone so far that you cannot manage one more step, then you have gone just half the distance that you are capable of" someone once said. He was doubtless at about mile 18 in some marathon or other. To finish inside 4 hours and so achieve my goal of being inside the Top 10,000 (!) means completing each and every kilometer in less than 5m 40s (roughly 8m 40s a mile). Coming in at 3h 45m requires running only 20 seconds faster for each km. Doesn't sound too great a leap, does it? But everything I read tells me that running even 15s too fast per km too early will spell doom when I get to that magic 18 mile point. That's pretty much what happened to me last year in London - I started in row 2 and was carried along by the serious runners, completing the first few miles far quicker than I'd planned. Running each km in 5m would get me a 3 1/2 hour time. That seems unlikely - even though I ran every km in the Reading Half at around 4m 45s. Doing that for 21km is one thing, doing it for double that is a whole other thing. So my plan is to go out of the gate at 5m 30s a km and keep at that pace until I hit mile 20 (sorry for switching between units; I run in km but London is marked in miles - odd that you can't buy a gallon of petrol or a pound of carrotts but you can still run a mile, or even 26) and from there see if there is gas left to go faster through the last 6 miles (or, roughly, 10km). If I can hold it together at 5m 30s, I'll come in at 3h 52m or thereabouts. That gives me a little slack to run up to a minute per km more slowly in the last 8 if I'm struggling (which will be no help if my legs aren't working, but that's something I'll have to deal with when I get there). My pace graph for the Reading Half Marathon looked like this: Contrary to all my previous training, you'll see that I ran the back half quite a bit quicker than the front half - about a minute quicker all told. Contrast that with this graph from the Liverpool Half Marathon: With 35,000 people around me, keeping a steady pace will be challenging. Last year it was made worse by the heat and the incredible stickiness of Lucozade all over the road every few miles. So far, the weather is looking promising for next week - although my Mac weather widget is telling me that it could be 22 degrees by Friday. Cooler than that, but not wet, would be a delight on the 23rd. They tell me that the degree of discomfort experienced after 30km is the worst that most men ever deal with and is akin to childbirth pain for a women. That's not an image I want to conjure with for too long but it helps explain why much of the preparation this week is all about getting my mind in shape. My training has tapered to near nothing - 4 mile runs every other day at most, with a bit of stairmaster thrown in. It's all about being mentally prepared now - just like exam day, all the cramming I do now wouldn't help, so there's no point doing it. Just got to eat pasta, drink water and think about it all being over. And there's a very fine bottle of wine waiting for me for Sunday evening after the post-race party. All that doesn't seem to be helping me feel any more confident but there's still time! Fund raising has gone specatcularly well thanks to some fantastic donations. The JustGiving website has me at a little under £5,000. Some offline donations will take me over that and there are still a few people who are waiting until right to the end to make their donations. To help them, I've raised £4,062 before the tax man gives his chunk, so I'm about £1,000 short in online terms. Macmillan are delighted with the donations received to date. They have over 600 runners this year which should put them well over £1,000,000 (and they didn't even have to do a millionpound homepage).

Thursday, April 13, 2006

Countdown to the London Marathon

Just over a week to go. If I'm not ready now, nothing I do between now and Sunday 23rd is going to help. The good news is that my last big run - the Reading Half Marathon - went very smoothly. You can't tell that from this photo though, kindly provided by Marathon Photos. I finished in 1h 41m 48s - a new personal best. That was 2,025th out of a reported field of 13,500 (although the race website lists finish times for only 8,500 or so). Interestingly, the site shows the gun position (i.e. what position did I cross the line in after the gun had gone off) as well as my finish position, which I used to show that I overtook just under 1,000 people on the way to the finish line - that's a lot of folks to dodge. From the strain on my face in the photo you can see that it wasn't the easiest run. I was committed to beating my Liverpool time from a couple of weeks before (1h 46m odd) so set out at a pretty fast pace. What was new was that I ran the second half of the race faster than the first half. I haven't managed that before. The first 10km went by in 48m something, the second in 47m something and then the last km and a bit in around 5 minutes. It wasn't my lungs that were ready to give up, but my legs. I could certainly have run another 21km after this one, but it would have taken me most of the rest of the day I think. For the marathon itself, I'll run a little slower in the first half - looking for around 1h 50m or maybe 1h 55m - and then speed up once I'm through 18 miles. I learnt last time that the true half way mark is 18 miles - up until I was in great shape, after that I felt like I was 105. Fundraising is bang on track - I'm at £4,754 as of now. Some fantastic donations have been made by friends, family, colleagues and business associates (current and former). I know that there are still a few more to come in. If you haven't had a chance, please visit Justgiving to make your donation to Macmillan Cancer Relief. I'm looking forward to the big day. I'll find out then whether all of the training has paid off - 650km of running, 2,282 minutes on the stairmaster/cross-trainer or bike and 33 gym workouts (since September 1st). If that's not enough for sub 4 hours, then I suspect it was never in me to start with.

Saturday, April 01, 2006


At Simon Moores' eCrime 2006 conference on Thursday I was next to last on stage. Following me was Alex Tew, he of the famed milliondollarhomepage.com. Plainly a bright guy with a good head for how to maximise PR. Simon intro'd me with the observation that I was a keen Marathon runner, so I took the opportunity to plug my latest fund raising venture, the Million Pound T-Shirt (TM). Here's how it looks right now: There's still plenty of space available you can see - and this is just a view of the front. Whilst a million would be nice, I'll settle for just a few hundred from you likely corporate sponsors out there. You'll get massive coverage - not only will the crowd see me as I race towards them but the tens of runners that I pass on my way to the finish line will also see your logo, if it's on the back. So, for best results, double up and purchase front and back logos. I'm taking bids now. Book early to avoid the rush. All I'll need is a copy of your logo, low resolution is fine, so that I can get it copied and printed onto the shirt.