Birmingham Half Marathon – Race Day

Everyone told me not to change my normal routine, so I ensured I still enjoyed a few Jack Daniels and Coke on Saturday night and woke up this morning ready for action, but will admit to feeling  a little daunted at the prospect of running over 13 miles.

This was my first ever race and what overwhelmed me whilst we were waiting, was the sheer amount of people who were wearing tops containing photo’s, names, or quotes about loved ones that have been lost. The fact that so many people were clearly dealing with the pain of losing somebody but were trying their hardest to turn a negative into a positive and to make a difference.

We often hear about how bad people can be, but right here in from of me was living proof of the beautiful side of the human race and how people can triumph through tragedy.  Elsewhere the streets were lined by people and whole families who had got up early on a Sunday morning to cheer these strangers running through the streets and you really are left thinking maybe this world isn’t such a bad place after all, where whole communities were joined together to motivate people running.

I had to check in the early stages when I heard a few people from the crowd shouting “Good luck Neil, keep at it” etc. I finally realised that my name was displayed on my chest but what a lovely gesture and it really did keep me running and not have a cheeky rest.

As I approached the 12 mile mark, my body was starting to feel the pressure and I stopped for a little walk, but two men tapped me on my shoulder and said “Come on mate, we are nearly there, you can do it.” Again a fantastic feeling that someone takes the time to keep you motivated and it was just the kick up the arse that I needed.

I ran until I could see the finish line on the horizon and suddenly there was a huge crowd on each side cheering all the runners onto the final stage and suddenly it was all over, sure my legs hurt like hell but I just completed my first ever race and it was a bloody half marathon in 2 hours 17 minutes.

Birmingham Half Marathon, got the t-shirt and a medal too.

Soaking up the whole atmosphere around this event, and enjoying every second is what this race is all about for me, and much more important than chasing after a super quick time, but I am not a numbers kind of person, maybe Johnny Cash put it best when he sang “I went out there in search of experience, to taste and to touch and to feel’s as much as a man can before he repents

Possibly my biggest motivation was my Spotify Running Playlist which kept me going with an endless selection of great tunes to me smiling and singing the whole way.

To be greeted by my beautiful wife and step daughter at the finish line, was the perfect icing on the cake, making it a day that I will never forget. My Run Keeper app tells me I have just burned 2,000 calories, which I think gives me a license to eat whatever the hell I like for the rest of the day.

All in all, I ticked a half marathon off my bucket list, but I loved the whole experience and would highly recommend it to anyone. I can now be seen walking like John Wayne with sore nipples but before anybody else says it, there is nothing new there.


Couch Potato Running Birmingham Half Marathon Tomorrow

The story so far…

Let’s get something straight here, I am no athlete by any stretch of the imagination, but just a guy who suddenly found himself overweight and unfit after years of good times and contentment caught up with me. With the big 40 on the horizon and after hearing many a tale about the risks of entering “heart Attack alley” I figured maybe I should do something about it.

Back in March I downloaded the Get Running (Couch to 5K) App on my phone which promised to take me from being a couch potato to running for 5k in 9 weeks which was just the nice steady approach that I was looking for.

Gym memberships or direct debits as I prefer to call them are not my thing, so I armed myself with the following.

  • Old pair of trainers
  • Get Running C25K App
  • Run Keeper App (to map where I am and save stats etc to view on website later)
  • Spotify App with a running Playlist

The first week was really tough and was shocked that even running for 1 minute was bloody hard work but it just reinforced my opinion that I was doing the right thing. Each week I was presented with a longer run and began with me thinking “how the hell am I going to do this?” but although they were tough goals they were equally realistic and achievable.

In 9 weeks I went from being unable to run across the road without getting out of breath to running for 30 minutes without stopping.

Beauty is in the eye of the beholder…

Once I had completed the program, I needed something to aim for before I got bored and drifted back into old habits, so decided to enter the Birmingham half marathon because it was in October and will give me something to aim for.

After working away from home for much of the summer at the London 2012 Olympic and Paralympic games, suddenly I found myself in September and a need to increase mileage sooner rather than later.

Although, I have left it a little late, I have been able to get six 8-10 mile runs under my belt and I have seen a few nice sights along the way so hoping this will be enough to get me across the finish line tomorrow morning.

Don’t worry, I’m not turning into a fitness bore, to be honest all this pointless willy waving of bragging rights about being faster than anyone else is just one big ‘who can piss higher than the other’ and something which is quite uninteresting to me. You just got to run your own race for your own reasons and to hell with everything else.

On the eve of my big run, a quick browse through some running magazines tells me to eat almonds, pasta, bananas, oatmeal porridge, rice, fish, fruit, vegetables and fish but I am not foolish enough to class myself as an athlete so decided to treat myself a JD and coke with some fajitas.

For me this whole running thing is not about competing with everyone else but about getting out in the great outdoors listening to great tunes and taking your surroundings so more than happy to stop my run and take a few impromptu photos to record the moment.

A recent 8am run from Croyde Bay to Baggy Point and back again.

This is what makes running interesting to me, but I think the secret to making this work, is to find what interests and motivates you as an individual. This is why so many diet and keep fit plans fail because we are all individuals and unique, so a one size fits all solution simply does not exist.

Sorry I went a little deep there, but you know what I’m trying to say so I guess it’s time to ease of the Jack Daniels and coke and get some rest ready for the big race tomorrow. I won’t get the best time, but I am determined to enjoy every second and will be sure to take a few photos along the way.

I will be running for the Help the Heroes charity and feel free to drop by the sponsorship page.

Couch Potato Enters the Birmingham Half Marathon

In the week, I have been able to get through two 8 mile runs, so figure it was time to throw caution to the wind and enter myself into the Birmingham Half Marathon in October. It will be just what I need to keep me motivated. Although I have gone from being unable to run for a minute without stopping to 8 miles in 5 months, you can rest assured that I have not turned into some crazed self obsessed health freak.

For many people joining a gym involves setting up a direct debit and then seldom leaving the house to use the service they are paying for, so my membership consists of Spotify Premium and a pair of running shoes. Although this would not be for everyone, I love the simplicity of going for a run listening to music that I love and it actually feels really good.

We are all different, so my only advice to anyone reading this would be to find what you love and use it to your advantage. I still pretty much eat and drink what I want, but I have a simple philosophy of eat less and move more and although a massive multi billion diet industry will try to convince you that there is some other secret formula I’m afraid that’s about the size of it.

A Change In Routine

Since returning from our fantastic honeymoon in Italy, things have been a little crazy over the last month.  After only a few days of being back at my desk in Birmingham, I set my e-mail out of office to “I am out of the office until September 17th” and put my lunch in a tea towel (carrying it on a little stick like Dick Whittington) and set off to the big smoke A.K.A. London town where I will be spending most of the summer providing IT Support for the RHS Hampton Court Flower Show and the 2012 Olympic Games.

12 hour days at the RHS show combined with being away from home meant that I could only squeeze one 3 mile run a week into my busy schedule, which was a little frustrating but on a positive note my leg now feels perfectly fine.

When visiting family in Derby, I decided to run from the train station to their house which worked out quite well as it was exactly 3 miles. Whilst running, I was thinking about missing our annual pilgrimage to the Glastonbury Festival and as if by magic a signpost for “Glastonbury Road” appeared.

A reminder of how much I miss Glastonbury this year during my last run.

I had to document the moment by taking a quick photo and chuckled to myself before arriving back at my parents house looking like an out of breath sweaty mess and hit their shower when I walked through the door like I did 20 years ago.

As soon as the RHS Flower Show had finished, it was time to head straight to the Olympic Park which means with travel, I am out for 15 hours a day meaning my running regime has been put on hold but I am still managing at least one run a week which is fine but I have one eye on the Birmingham half marathon in October and if I really want to think about entering then I need to think about increasing my mileage.

Hopefully being surrounded by sport this summer will be enough to keep me inspired but even if that doesn’t do the trick, maybe this picture on the Olympic park will be enough to keep me running.

Maybe this is a sign...

Maybe this is a sign…

However the positive aspect of being away from my 9-5 desk job for the whole summer means that I have been walking 8-10 miles a day, so although the running as taken a backseat at least the miles are still being covered.

Being away from my usual routine until September will make this quite difficult but I’m not giving up just yet and can be quite stubborn sometimes so watch this space.

The Running Man – The Next Chapter

Another wet week here in the UK, which wasn’t made any easier by my legs aching like hell. When I first started my new running regime, I was running about two and a half miles 5 times a week (Mon-Fri) but as I am now running for longer distances, I have learned my lesson the hard way that I need to think about running for only 3 days a week and make sure my body gets time to recover.

Although notching up over 20 miles this week, my legs have been feeling the strain, this made a few of the runs very hard and sluggish, which required me to dig deep to finish. There was also an incident that had me enjoying a lunch which involved enough spaghetti and meatballs to slow down an elephant which is probably explains my slowest ever run.

I developed a nasty pain between my calf and ankle that left me walking like John Wayne, so I persuaded Kerry to bring out the healing Mr. Miyagi hands one more time and although I squealed like a Ned Beatty in Deliverance, to my amazement it made a massive difference so think I might have to marry that girl.

To avoid getting bored, I often just pick a direction and start running and on two occasions this week I got lost again, but its all part of the adventure and appeal of running. The first incident involved a 5 mile run along the canal only for it two fork off into two separate directions,  I took a punt and panicked after about 20 minutes when I found myself in the middle of nowhere, but luckily a quick look on Google maps informed me that I was heading in the right way after all.

On Friday, I was heading down my usual route and saw a gap in a fence so decided to explore but I ended up on a dual carriageway, luckily curiosity didn’t kill the cat on this occasion but drivers must have thought who is this nutter running through the pouring rain in a t-shirt trying to cross a very busy road.

On a brighter note, maybe all this madness is worthwhile because for the first time in five years, I am saying goodbye to a 36 inch waist and a welcome return to my old friend the 34 inch waist which may have something to do with me running down the mysterious Slim Avenue every night. All this makes my aching legs worth while, but there is still much work to do to remove this beer belly, before I can join the hipsters in skinny jeans and no socks.

Wolverhampton is this way…

Another lesson learned this week was the power of music and especially the fact that tunes you would never usually listen to given the choice, will suddenly inspire you to keep running for one more song. This can especially be said of songs by people such as Pitbull and FloRida which would never normally frequent my play list but suddenly make me want to run a little faster.

However nothing beats the power of a movie montage and there was a moment when I was going to stop and walk for a minute when Rocky Balboa said “But it ain’t about how hard ya hit. It’s about how hard you can get it and keep moving forward. How much you can take and keep moving forward. That’s how winning is done!” followed by Gonna Fly Now and for a brief moment I had my own montage. The funny thing is later on my play list, “You’re The Best” from the Karate Kid made an appearance too which made me feel invincible. Unfortunately though, “Montage” from the Team America soundtrack failed to appear.

Throw a little Bombay Bicycle Club, Black Keys, Maccabees and Arcade Fire and my mind is tricked into thinking I could run forever. The fact my body shuts down and I can be seen walking like an 80 year old man a few hours later though is another story.

Good tunes, a little urban exploration whilst taking some photos along the way is ensuring that this running malarkey is actually really enjoyable.

Couch Potato to 5K – What Happens Next?

As my time with the Couch Potato to 5k “Get Running” app has now come to an end, I found myself at a bit of a loss as to how I can build up to my next goal of running for 10k.  Do I need another app? Should I look for a guide on the internet were the first thoughts to cross my mind but I got a gentle nudge in the right direction from fate, which made me realise sometimes you really don’t need a guide.

On the Bank Holiday Monday, I went out for a run on a different route and ended up getting a little lost. Suddenly I found myself in an industrial estate with nothing but a dual-carriageway for company but rather than panic, it was time to put into action, lessons learned by Bear Grylls and Andy McNab by looking for the canal and then followed it home, in what turned out to be an adventure rather than a run.

When I finally made it home my Run Keeper app, told me I had actually run for 6.2 miles or should I say 10K! No guides, no tips, I simply ended up running 10k by accident and it was much easier than I expected in a respectable 1 hour 6 minutes. Dare I say it actually felt pretty good too, especially considering 10 weeks ago running for a minute had me panting like an over excited dog so maybe I can call myself a runner now after all.

My small victory was short lived because when I awoke on Tuesday there was a sharp pain between my ankle and calf on my left leg when I walked, which left me thinking maybe I had overdone things and ended up pulling something. The pain continued for the rest of the week and with a combination of wet weather, working late, wedding plans, a trip to the pub along with many other excuses that my body was happy to accept and use as a reason to grab a few days rest.

So after Mondays 10K run, I now found myself doing nothing for the next four days and although a rest was needed, I was beating myself up over not doing enough but Saturday morning it was time to “pay it back” so off I went on a gentle run and promised myself that I would take it easy.

After a 4 day rest, I found that everything felt so much easier and even the twinge in my left leg went away allowing me to thoroughly enjoy the run with some good tunes and a top up of Vitamin D, thanks to the return of the sunshine. In fact, I enjoyed myself so much that I ended up running another 10k in 1 hour and 2 minutes making me very happy.

Since my first run on March 12th, I have now notched up 108 miles in total distance whilst burning 17,309 calories along the way which proves that replacing a few bad habits with some good ones, makes anything possible.

Just like in Mork & Mindy, what lessons have I learned this week?

There have been a few occasions where I have been desperate to stop and a have a slow walk for a quick rest during a run, but if I see someone walking towards me, I make sure that I run past and don’t stop until they are in the distance. Your mind is the most powerful weapon of all, and if you convince yourself you can so something, you really will carry it through and accomplish what you aim for, no matter how tired you are.

My final lesson is to always listen to your body, if it is telling you to have a few rest days, then make sure you listen because a lengthy injury could stop you running for weeks or even months. With a little patience you will be back on the road in no time and you will feel fitter, faster, stronger and smarter.


Get Running: Couch to 5K – Week 9

By day I work in a busy IT team at the NEC, which basically means I am deskbound  for at least 8 hours a day and by night I help run a gaming website called This is my Joystick which involves either sat in front of a laptop or in my throne with an Xbox controller in my hands. All of this is great for this self confessed geek but add a lethal combination of alcohol and a love of chocolate and it is no surprise that I found myself weighing 15.5 stone and feeling breathless when climbing stairs or running for my train home.

I also hate the whole gym culture and the many self obsessed characters with heavy hints of narcissism that frequent them, but maybe most of that is in my over-active imagination. Whichever way you look at it, I was out of shape, overweight and heading into the infamous heart attack alley which is never a good thing. However, I found salvation in the Get Running App (couch potato to 5k in 9 weeks) which enabled me to combine my love of technology, photography and music whilst also making me get a little fitter, with the added bonus of also losing a little weight in the process in a cunning move that was very similar to a Jedi mind trick.

I started out 9 weeks ago weighing 15 Stone 5lb struggling to run for sessions that consisted of one minute runs and I’m quite proud to say that as I leave the couch potato to 5k in 9 weeks program, I’m now 14 stone 7lbs and I have finally reached my first target of running 5k in just under 30 minutes.

Slow and steady wins the race...

Slow and steady wins the race…

As my first goal has now been reached, it also time to say goodbye to the Get Running app that made it all possible. I will definitely miss the words of encouragement from Claire telling me to keep going because there are only 30 seconds left but I guess this is the time where I leave the camp and go on a walkabout to fend for myself on a voyage of self discovery or should I say aim for my goal of entering a 10k run.

Before I do though, I thought I would have a little fun with my running and find myself very tempted by the Zombie Running App where you are told to tie your shoes, put on your headphones, and take your first steps outside. You’ve barely covered 100 yards when you hear them. They must be close. You can hear every guttural breath, every rattling groan – they’re everywhere. Zombies. There’s only one thing you can do: Run! It sounds like the perfect antidote to this apocalyptic weather that we are having here in the UK.

The running in the rain novelty is wearing off a little now, and this weeks runs were quite tough which is not made any easier by me carrying a coat along with my work clothes in my rucksack but still managed around 12 miles this week.

With a Bank Holiday weekend upon us, I will try and get out without the handicap of my bag and get some miles under my belt armed only with my trusty Runkeeper app and Spotify running playlist as I begin heading for my next goal of running in a 10k race. Only when this milestone is reached will I refer to myself as a runner, so until then a massive thank you to everyone who made the Get Running App and a fond farewell to the encouraging voice of Claire as I head out for another run.

Get Running: Couch to 5K – Week 8

Daily Mail readers might be fooled into thinking that England is going through a terrible drought at the moment where arid landscapes are common place but don’t go looking for the tumbleweed just yet because this week I have seen nothing but rain whilst on my travels.

As I consider myself an old school male, I would never let a little rain stop me from running or in fact anything at all. I must confess to getting frustrated with people who moan and complain about the weather and say things like “You can’t do anything in this weather”. You can do anything you want and as a man much wiser than me once said “There’s no such thing as bad weather, only unsuitable clothing”.

Despite the weather, I have managed to notch up a respectable 15 miles running this week, in fact the only negative aspect to report is that I only have one week left of the Get Running App that has proved that you really can go from being a couch potato to 5K if you want to.

I am somewhat surprised but pleased to announce that I am now managing a 5k run in around 31 minutes, so although it’s not under thirty minutes which is my ideal target, it is still a hell of a lot better than the guy that struggled to run for a couple of minutes a few weeks ago.

As for running in the rain, am I on my own in thinking that it actually feels pretty good?

Follow the light at the end of the tunnel...

Follow the light at the end of the tunnel...

I ended up on an unintentional adventure on Wednesday which consisted of a very wet and muddy 5 mile run along a canal path in the rain but the highlight was running through Coseley tunnel which is 329 metres long and the only light is what you can see at each end of the tunnel making it quite atmospheric

Now for the historical bit of my story, the approaches to the tunnel were cut by 1829 and the underground construction carried out during 1835. In 1837 the 360 yards long (329 metres) tunnel, with a tow-path each side, opened. Now both the north portal, in Ivyhouse Lane, and the south portal, in School Street, are Grade ll listed and industrial traffic has given way to leisure transport on the Birmingham Canal Wolverhampton Level.

Once inside its much darker than this photo suggests.

Like at the end of any Mork and Mindy episode, I have learned a few lessons this week, such as don’t let bad weather stop you from doing anything that you want to do and always head for the light at the end of a tunnel. However the most important lesson is to forget about times and distances and enjoy your surroundings because its the overall experience that makes you feel alive.

Once I finally achieve 5k in under 30 minutes and enter a 10k run then maybe, just maybe I will call myself a runner but until then, I will keep hitting the streets and earn my stripes on the treadmill of life.

Get Running: Couch to 5K – Week 7

My motivation for running is being able to get out in the great outdoors after being cooped up in an office with no windows all day and do it all on my way home from work without it eating into my personal time. Life is too short to finish your day by setting out to the gym and finally getting home at 8pm for a few hours before going to bed and doing it all again. For me that would be like being caught in a hamster wheel, so I have replaced a 25 minute tram ride with a 25 minute run home and so far its doing me the world of good.

On March 12th I started out with the Get Running Mobile Application and their Couch Potato to 5K running plan. The plan started with me struggling to complete eight 1 minute runs due a life of self confessed slacking that left me with the lung capacity of a mouse and the belly of a whale. However after only 7 weeks I am now running for 30 minutes at a time proving just how well this plan works but also how quickly your body can adapt, no matter how out of shape you are.

This has been a week of distractions, after going for a run on both Monday and Tuesday, suddenly I found myself working from 2pm on Wednesday until 6am on Thursday morning after a software move took a little longer than expected. This wiped out two days running, but I still have Friday right?

My good friend was celebrating his birthday and brought in a Smörgåsbord of cakes and treats into work. One month ago I would have demolished this fine selection but suddenly I equate cakes to having to run 30 minutes just to burn the calories off, so I just sneaked a few flapjacks due to their slow releasing energy qualities of course and realised the former couch potato is now talking like a big girl.

This was not the biggest temptation of the day though, everyone finished work to share a beer with the birthday boy and I found myself saying out loud “but I need to go for a run”. What the hell has happened to me? Anyway despite fierce peer pressure I made my excuses and left the pub on a Friday night with no beer!

After a 2 day rest, I was raring to go and felt inclined to “Payback” what I had missed and ended up going for a longer run, in fact I actually ran for 6k which is actually the first time that I have broke the 5k mark, which makes me living proof that you really can go from couch potato to 5k with some good old fashioned dogged determination.

The House of Birds on the Black Country Route.

Whilst running along the Black Country Route, I thought I would stop and take a photo of the House of Birds by Jamie McCullough which is a 12 metre high sculpture designed to celebrate the birds that once nested in the area. I think its important to enjoy your surroundings whilst out and about rather than concentrating on times and personal bests etc besides it gives me a chance to rest my ageing bones and get my breath back.

It will be quite sad to say goodbye to the app and lose the encouragement from the mysterious Claire in my ears but will I be forever grateful for how it has given this fatboy a kick up the arse in the right direction. The main lessons I have learned are that you simply need to eat less and move more whilst replacing a few bad habits with good ones.

Just when you might think that I am getting a little preachy, rest assured that I am writing this on my third double Jack Daniels and Coke (zero hehe) on a Friday night, after all some bad habits are worth keeping around, otherwise you could end up being quite a dull character and although I love a good run, I also like a cheeky JD and a late night session on my Xbox.

Get Running: Couch to 5K – Week 6

This has been a tough week, which involved having a nice 5 days off work, so my normal regime of running home has been interrupted leaving me to gather some motivation. Throw in a sprinkle of crappy wet  British weather and the added temptation of many chocolate Easter Eggs at my disposal and you have the perfect recipe for a disaster.

However, Kerry has decided she wants to start the app during our bank holiday break after feeling both excited and eager to get cracking, which was just the kick up the backside that I needed. After 25 minutes with Kerry doing week 2 though, I was left wanting a little more so ended up doing my Week 6 run immediatley afterwards, meaning I have been notching up 4.5 miles a day.

I think this has actually done me some good in building stamina because today I completed Week 6 and Run 3 of the app which consists of a 25 minute run with no breaks, which is a massive achievement for me considering I am a self confessed couch potato who could not run for 1 minute without stopping for a breather just over a month ago. I guess this is where the app says “no more mr nice guy”  because every run from now on has no breaks, and will consist of 25, 28 and 30 minute runs.

All this is quite strange for me because this is everything that I have always been against, but it was more than amusing to see the hilarious Charlie Brooker go through a very similar experience after being bitten by the Get Running App and how he has now become a runner. You can read the article here.

One of my biggest weaknesses is warming up and down correctly, I feel quite self concious about stretching in public so although I always warm up with a 5 minute walk and warm down with a 5 minute walk, I think its time for me to take the art of stretching a little more seriously. Although these are quite easy to get online, quite a few people reccomend the iPhone app Stretch Guru: Run, so I might give this a run out (see what I did there).

The main reason for my sudden attention on stretching is because I picked up an annoying and frustrating strain/injury in the most unlikely of places. My legs are feeling great and I pace myself, so gasping for breath is not a problem. Just when I think all bases are covered and I have everything sussed, I am struck down with troublesome upper back pain just below my right shoulder blade.

Kerry offered her healing hands and just like Mr Miyagi she found straight away that my backs was full of knots. A few quick excercises on the area and my back was sounding like a bowl of Rice Krispies. So as I begin to take stretching more seriously to avoid rolling around the floor on a few tennis balls in the future. Luckily Kerry ‘Miyagi’ has been able to sort out the knots but I consider this a very valuable lesson learned.

My main calling points at the moment to get me through each day and keep me running are:

There are no more easy rests between runs now, as the next few weeks consist of longer runs with no breaks, so things will start to get interesting as my time with the C25K app reaches its final stages. I will refrain from calling myself a runner until I have mastered 5k in under 30 minutes without stopping and entered a 10k race, so this acidental athelete still has lots of work to do.