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1/28/2023

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Tunnel Ultra: The mind-bending 200-mile ultra-marathon in the dark

How do you like to spend your weekend off?

Do you put your feet up in front of the TV? Maybe shopping is your way to unwind? Perhaps you're a bit more adventurous and enjoy a stroll in the countryside?

That doesn't quite cut it for some people, who choose to run a 200-mile ultra-marathon in a disused railway tunnel instead.

The Tunnel Ultra is a race like no other. It's easy to find longer events. Some even involve repeating the same loop for days on end. But nowhere else can you take part in a race so twisted that you spend more than two days in darkness doing a one-mile shuttle run 200 times, or so punishing that one runner went temporarily blind - then thanked the race organiser for the privilege.

No outside support is permitted, headphones are banned and runners are not allowed to run side by side. Oh, and there is a strict time limit of 55 hours.

The Tunnel website describes it as "a mind-bending test of extreme endurance and sensory deprivation". It is more health warning than marketing slogan.

"I could be sat on the sofa watching Strictly with the wife and kids. Or do I want to be in a dripping tunnel, tired and miserable, knowing I've got work on Monday?" Guy Bettinson, a 45-year-old programme manager from Cumbria who won the Tunnel in 2020, wonders out loud. "I'd rather waste my weekend putting myself through misery."

"It's so pointless. You're not getting from A to B, which makes it such a massive mental challenge," says Andy Persson, another finisher that year. "If you can push your mind further than you think is possible, it's quite empowering."

Christian Mauduit, a French software engineer who won the 2021 edition, says: "I'm chasing that internal adventure - that meeting with myself. It's like a little kid - they want to see how close they can come to the fire. I'm still that little kid."

Bettinson describes every ultra-marathon start line as a "mid-life crisis anonymous meeting". "We've all got issues," he says. "It's clearly some kind of therapy."

The race takes place in Combe Down Tunnel, a mile south of Bath city centre, and starts at 4pm on a Friday in March. No more than 40 runners make it that far, partly because of a strict - and deliberately opaque - qualification process and largely because the tunnel is not big enough to accommodate many more. "Even the start line is weird," says Mauduit. "You have to stand one behind another in a queue."

Combe Down was restored as a cycle path in 2013 after 47 years under weeds. It is the UK's longest foot tunnel - and the obvious setting for an ultra-marathon if your name is Mark Cockbain.

"I like things that have got an X-factor," says Cockbain, a prolific former ultra-runner who set up the Tunnel in 2019 to add to his brilliant yet brutal portfolio of events as a race organiser. "As soon as I got permission to use the tunnel, it was a no-brainer."

The race is low key in the extreme. A fold-up table outside one end of the tunnel serves as race HQ. There is no shelter or rest area to speak of unless runners have the foresight to bring a camping chair. They must all share a portable toilet which, by the end of the weekend, would not look out of place at a music festival. Refreshments are limited to water and tea, while the most luxurious snacks are Pot Noodles. If you're lucky, they might not be out of date.

"I cut back on delicacies," says Cockbain in the matter-of-fact style for which he has become famous in the ultra-running community. "You can get through any of these races with a bit of water and food. I wanted to make it all about the running."

For Mike Raffan, a 43-year-old IT manager from Aberdeen who finished second in 2021, that's part of the appeal. "It's nice that there isn't any nonsense," he says. "The Tunnel is pure, unadulterated running. You run from one end to the other in a straight line, turn around a traffic cone, come back again, and just keep going. That's it." Persson agrees. "There's no fanfare. If you're looking to be pampered, you've come to the wrong place."

All of which adds up to a notoriously low finish rate. Of the 31 runners who started the inaugural Tunnel, only two completed it, and 13 in total in the three years it has been in existence.

"I don't want there to be no finishers," says Cockbain. "But I do want them to go through hell to get there."

So how exactly do you survive a race that is deliberately designed to break you physically, mentally and emotionally?

In one sense, it is simple. "The only things you have to think about are moving, eating, drinking, sleeping and going to the toilet. That's the limit of your universe," says Max Newton, a fundraising manager from Sheffield who was among the seven finishers in 2020. "All that jazz in real life is nonsense."

"One tactic for me is 100% commitment," says Raffan. Those words carry added weight from someone who ran 182 miles in 42 hours around his back garden three months after open-heart surgery in 2020. During another Cockbain race he continued running in conditions so bleak that his eyeball froze. "I never thought about not finishing the Tunnel. Before the race I told them, 'Do not let me stop unless there's a medical reason for it'."

Mauduit's approach is similar. "I'm asking myself all the complex questions - 'Why am I doing this? Should I go there?' - before the race, in training. During the race I just finish the lap - there's no question."

"You have to be all in. If doubt creeps in, you're gone," says Cockbain. A 50-year-old electronics engineer by trade, he completed 199 marathons and 106 ultras - including some of the toughest in the world, notably five Spartathlons, three Badwaters, a double Badwater and a 300-mile race in the Arctic - before knee problems forced him to stop running in 2011. "I could sit in a corner and hit my head with a spoon for three days if that's what I decided to do."

Bettinson admits the "possibility of failure was a big thing" when he stood on the start line, yet he went on to finish in a scarcely believable 43 hours nine minutes. It remains a Tunnel record by more than six hours and is "up there with some of the all-time greatest ultra achievements", according to Cockbain, not a man given to hyperbole.

Repeatedly running along the same stretch of tarmac throws up a mental challenge rarely found in races of any distance, let alone 200 miles (the total distance is actually 208 because the tunnel is slightly longer than a mile).

"The difficult thing with doing 100 laps is there are 100 chances to stop," says 49-year-old Newton, who also ran a 300-mile lapped ultra last summer. Even if runners quit mid-lap, they must make their way back to the start line. Mauduit agrees that the turnaround point at race HQ is often the most difficult. "Once you're on the course it's easy - everyone can do two miles," he says.

"When you reach the start line again you're facing two choices. One is calling it a day. You will still suffer, your legs will hurt, the pain will follow you for hours, and you have to deal with the fact you gave up. Or you can beat your own personal record in the tunnel and write history. You only have to be motivated for five seconds - just enough time to pick your butt up and get into the tunnel. During the Tunnel I don't do 200 miles; I do two miles 100 times."

A positive mindset is universal - some would argue essential - among those who have completed the race.

"When it's really hurting and I'd rather be in bed, I say to myself, 'I love this tunnel and I can't believe I've got this opportunity'," says Persson, a 57-year-old counsellor from Bristol who once ran 900 miles from Land's End to John O'Groats in 17 days.

"You've got to embrace it - there's no point fighting it or being grumpy. You have to find the bits that make it good," says Newton. Alan Cormack, who finished second in the inaugural Tunnel, adds: "You don't have to worry about weather, mud, navigation. And you don't have to carry a pack."

With no scenery, music or conversation, surely it must be boring? "On these runs you're often very busy," says Mandy Foyster, who staggered over the finish line five minutes inside the time limit in 2021 to become the only female runner to have completed the race. "You don't have time to get bored - you're doing maths in your head and you're so focused on keeping going."

Persson says "my personality likes routine", while Mauduit positively loves it. He once ran 238 miles in 48 hours on a treadmill, but says his favourite events are six-day races. His record is 541 miles.

For Raffan, ultras are his meditation. "People ask what I think about when I'm running. Absolutely nothing. At the best points your mind is empty. When you're in that proper trance state you're not thinking about anything."

Running 200 lengths of the tunnel means running 200 times past a speaker built into the wall at the midway point that resembles a giant eyeball and pumps out classical music on loop all day and night. "There are these little submarine-style windows which glow different colours," says Newton. "It's like super stereo."

Cormack describes it as a screeching violin, which Bettinson claims "adds to the weirdness and psychological torture". Mauduit is more direct: "It drives you nuts."

More psychological torture comes in the form of darkness. There is only dim lighting in the tunnel - which is shared with cyclists and walkers during the day - and even these are switched off between 11pm and 5am.

"Not only are you in the darkness, but you are alone and you have no headphones. It's like a giant meeting with you and your feet," says 47-year-old Mauduit. "All human bodies are conditioned by daylight. In a standard race, when the sun rises you feel great. In the tunnel you have no reference - it's always night."

"It became a very big battle to stay awake," says Foyster, a seasoned ultra-distance athlete whose idea of celebrating her 50th birthday was to cycle between Ben Nevis, Scafell Pike and Snowdon and sleep on the summits of each. "When I got to the end of the tunnel I'd step out in the daylight and just stand there for 10-15 seconds."

Foyster put more thought than most into keeping the so-called sleep monsters at bay - "I had perfume to spray and a Vicks to stick up my nose - anything to stimulate your senses" - but her most valuable tool was a small spray bottle. "When I felt myself falling asleep I sprayed myself in the face with water. That was absolutely fantastic."

Some runners might grab a power nap outside the tunnel - and pray it doesn't rain. Others treat sleep as an inconvenience in a race with an already demanding time limit. A rare few don't even afford themselves the luxury of sitting down.

"If you stop you've got to start again. If you don't stop you don't have to start again. I just kept going," says Bettinson, whose 17 years in the Army have proven an excellent grounding for ultra-running. "I did end up lying down a couple of times, but you're in so much pain by the second night that you can't sleep anyway. And you're just wasting time by not moving."

Raffan pulled out of the 2019 Tunnel after 100 miles to join his wife and daughter at the zoo. It remains his only DNF from more than 50 ultras. When he returned in 2021 he deliberately did not bring a chair. "I ended up sitting on somebody else's, but that was good because whenever they needed it, it forced me to get out."

"I don't trust myself to set an alarm and wake up, so I didn't take the risk," says Mauduit. "The only time I stopped was at the refreshment table or to go to the bathroom."

If sleeping is optional in the Tunnel, hallucinations are all but guaranteed.

"I saw a family of abominable snowmen, a massive slug and I thought I was on the edge of a cliff," says Karl Baxter, who failed to finish the race in 2020 but conquered it with less than an hour to spare the following year.

"Orange blobby monsters kept floating at me out of the darkness," says Foyster, who blames her good friend Baxter for convincing her to sign up for the race. "I wasn't in a tunnel a lot of the time - I was running through Egyptian tombs or over a suspension bridge with deep ravines."

Mauduit recalls: "On the last day it got insanely bad. I was seeing stairs; I was walking on a glass floor. I couldn't escape from it. The hallucinations were an order of magnitude stronger than anything I've ever had before. It was mind-blowing."

Cockbain has seen it countless times. "It's just total carnage," he says. "People are losing their marbles. If they stop for a rest, they can't remember which way they're going."

The effects lasted beyond the race for Persson. "I saw ticker tape, carvings in the wall, and I was convinced there was a glass conservatory with flowers. My wife and daughter picked me up and I was still hallucinating by the time I got home. I've never had that level of it before - it was so extreme."

Training for the race varies wildly between competitors. Bettinson's longest run in the build-up to his victory was a mere 12 miles; Foyster "did a lot of fast walking"; Cormack, who was scared of the dark as a child, favoured night-time runs; and Baxter attempted to simulate the boredom with lengthy treadmill sessions or by running up and down a one-mile stretch of road. He managed 48 of them one day.

Eating and drinking strategies are equally individual, but, given that runners burn about 20,000 calories during the course of the race, hunger triumphs over health. Dentists and doctors, look away now.

Pizzas, chocolate, cake and flat cola fuelled Foyster for nigh on 55 hours. Baxter polished off tube after tube of salt and vinegar crisps, all eaten on the move to save time. Jam sandwiches, flapjacks and Pot Noodles - "they really hit the spot" - kept Newton going. Raffan tucked into supermarket meal deals and butteries - a "really dense, stodgy" Scottish pastry - but describes cold custard as his "secret weapon". Persson's menu of quiche, sausage rolls and overnight oats seems positively gourmet by comparison.

Bettinson is powered by a concoction of Lucozade, pineapple juice and beetroot juice. He also liquifies food and puts it in baby pouches "so it's easy to get down". Because it is impossible to replace the energy you are burning, his plan is "fuel early and then cling on".

As the saying goes, what goes in must come out, although most runners visibly wince when they remember a toilet situation that Newton laughingly describes as "a disgrace".

Bettinson says: "The first time I did the Tunnel it was a little chemical kiddy loo that you'd take camping. It was in a half-collapsed tent with a broken zip. Mark deliberately put it in a puddle, so you had to get your feet wet just to get inside it, and after the first 50 miles it was like a festival loo - you had to hover over the top."

Even if runners can cope with the boredom, darkness and sleep deprivation, pounding tarmac for longer than some weekend breaks last takes an immense physical toll.

"Of course your legs will hurt - you're running 200 miles. What did you think was going to happen?" says Mauduit, a man whose CV also features winning a Deca Ironman - a triathlon consisting of a 23-mile swim, 1,118-mile bike ride and a 262-mile run.

"Everything after 20 miles involves pain," says Bettinson, who admits that theory was tested when his hips were in "absolute agony" 100 miles in. "Anyone can get round it - you just have to want to."

Newton's approach veers towards the spiritual. "In a weird way, if you run through excruciating pain it doesn't hurt any more," he says, with the caveat that this approach doesn't always translate to his partner Anna. "She's worried I'm going to die. She has seen me in a bad state - sometimes it has been a bit messy."

Cockbain has this advice: "The feeling of wanting to give up doesn't last - if you put something in its place."

Runners know better than to expect sympathy from Cockbain, whose stable of events also includes an unsupported 300-mile run from Hull to the south coast as well as a race where pairs of runners in boiler suits are chained together and have 24 hours to cover as much ground as possible. You can sense the disappointment in his voice when he recalls how The Hill, which involved climbing up and down a hill in the Peak District 55 times - equating to 160 miles - in 48 hours had to be scrapped after the pub which doubled as the checkpoint closed down.

Perhaps Bettinson sums up Cockbain best: "Mark has a motivational speech at the start of his races: 'If you're going too slow, speed up.'"

Baxter, a 51-year-old from Norfolk who spent 12 years in the Army and now drives lorries for a living, turned an ankle during his second attempt at the Tunnel. "It came up like an egg. I sat down for 20 minutes and I was going to quit. Mark said, 'A twisted ankle never killed anyone' and told me to carry on. It taught me a lot. Once I got to 150 miles I knew I was going to finish."

Individual motivation comes in different forms, but a common thread among finishers is the time, energy and money they have invested in a race that often few people outside their close circle of family and friends know about. Nobody gets into ultra-running for the glory, least of all those taking part in Cockbain's events.

"My wife is handling all the family by herself, working and having no fun," says Mauduit, who rode his motorbike from Paris to take part in the Tunnel. "I'm having this five-day vacation so I should do something good with that."

Bettinson flips the question on its head. "My why for being there is I chose to be there. I've paid the money, I've done the training, I've turned up. Why on earth wouldn't I finish?"

Foyster, meanwhile, does it for the sheep. Having grown particularly fond of the animals during endurance adventures such as running the width of the UK or cycling the length of it, she now uses ultra-marathons to help raise funds for a sheep sanctuary in Lincolnshire.

"When I was struggling in the Tunnel, my friend sent me videos of the sheep. I'm thinking of them at the tough times," she says. "Some people ask me if I have a coach. I say my coach is a sheep called Bella."

Foyster, who works at an animal sanctuary near Norwich, has run the London Marathon dressed as a sheep and even had a fancy dress costume lined up for the Tunnel, but never got chance to wear it because she was in such bad shape later in the race. What was the outfit? "A sheep dressed up as Darth Vader."

The gruelling nature of Cockbain's races and the derisory finish rate creates a special sort of camaraderie among runners, evident from the dark humour on the start line to the support they offer each other as they push beyond their limits.

"Everyone feels like they're in it together. It doesn't feel competitive," says Newton. Cormack, who runs a cleaning company in Aberdeen, adds: "Nobody cares if you're first or you're 20th." Bettinson says: "Mark's events feel less like a race and more about the entrants against the event as a collective. You're only ever racing against yourself."

Foyster, 56, says she goes into any event with a "1,000% determination to finish it", but her unwavering drive in the Tunnel took her to a place she had never been before.

"After 100 miles my body started to break down," she recalls. "By 150 miles I had adopted my walk-shuffle approach, and in the last 10 miles I completely lost my mind. I kind of went over to the other side.

"At mile 192 I became completely disorientated and started going the wrong way. I thought I was wandering along a quiet country lane. I didn't know who I was or what I was or what I was doing."

In a rare moment of weakness/graciousness (delete depending on the coldness of your heart), Cockbain allowed Foyster's friend to accompany her as she staggered to beat the time limit. He even turned cheerleader on Foyster's final lap.

"At mile 198 my vision went," says Foyster. "I couldn't see anything. I crashed into the wall a few times. I had a broken tooth. I felt like I just needed to collapse on the floor. It was the first time that I'd felt worried about myself physically.

"Mark appeared behind us on a bicycle shouting 'you've got to go faster'. I was running blind - I was running into a white mist. I felt like I was sprinting flat out. I kept running until Karen the timing lady caught me in her arms." Foyster had finished in 54:55, not even time for another lap.

 

Because she was "in a complete and utter state", Foyster says she did not get to savour the finish line moment. "That's the only bit I regret."

She didn't miss much. "There are only a handful of people there. You get a bit of a clap, Mark shakes your hand and gives you your medal," says Persson. "It's not like you've got people patting you on the head," says 55-year-old Cormack, who then slept on the back seat of his car because he was too tired to put his tent up.

"Mark said a few words - I was so knackered I can't remember what - and I just picked my box up and went to the train station," says Bettinson. "It was a busy weekend and there were a lot of people ready for a day out. There was me, absolutely stinking, wheeling this box and eating bits of scabby old sandwich."

Foyster was so spent that she had to be carried to her hotel room. Baxter, who did some of the carrying, says: "That was just as hard as the last few miles."

"If you finish one of Mark's races you get respect from him. That means a lot," says Newton. Bettinson agrees. "Most of my medals I chuck in the bin. If it's one I'm bothered about I keep it in a drawer. I've kept the Tunnel one."

Cockbain's goal is simple: "All I want is that someone walks away remembering it for the rest of their life. Ultimately we're going to live and die. How are you going to fill up the middle of that? Achievements last forever."

"Races aren't pretty - that is real life," says Foyster. "The Tunnel is the hardest I've pushed myself. I've never needed help like that, so my overwhelming feeling was I was so grateful."

Mauduit, who describes the Tunnel as an "awesome race", adds: "I thank Mark for putting it together. I discovered something new. It was a blast. It all makes sense because it doesn't make sense. It's worth every penny."

Baxter remembers clearly his feelings in the week after the Tunnel. "I was buzzing. I felt on top of the world. I felt invincible." Newton recalls: "When I was telling people about the Tunnel I was talking with a smile on my face."

But what on earth is next for those who have completed one of the most challenging ultra-marathons invented?

Baxter tells a story typical of a certain breed of ultra-runners. "My girlfriend said, 'Is that it?' I said, 'No way. I want to go further.' Plus, no-one has done it twice." He may have company. "I'll be back one day," says Mauduit. "I'm thinking about it."

Cockbain recognises the signs from his own running days. "It's a drug. It's an addiction. It's a never-ending 'what's next?' You never get satisfied."

Even Bettinson, the record holder, says: "My holy grail is I want to finish an event where I know I've given absolutely everything - even if I don't finish. It could be one mile or it could be a thousand miles.

"I'm still chasing that unicorn."

(01/22/23) Views: 201
BBC
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2023 Doha Marathon by Ooredoo a huge success with record-breaking numbers

DOHA: Ooredoo – a longstanding supporter of major sports events in Qatar – has announced that the 13th edition of its annual marathon, this year renamed the Doha Marathon by Ooredoo, was a roaring success. 

The event was a complete sell-out, with 8,000 runners taking their places at the start line on the morning of Friday, January 20, 2023. Runners took part in a variety of distance categories, from the 1km kids’ run to the full marathon. 

Sheikh Ali Bin Jabor Al Thani, recently appointed CEO at Ooredoo Qatar, said: 

“Once again, we are delighted and proud to announce our annual marathon was a phenomenal success. As always, the event attracted some of the world’s top runners and was a complete sell-out, giving the opportunity for our local running enthusiasts to run alongside such sporting superstars. Thanks to the support of our partners and sponsors, we were able to ensure an incredible and upgraded experience for both runners and spectators alike, in line with Ooredoo’s commitment to promoting the importance of a healthy, active lifestyle as part of our corporate social responsibility strategy.”

A host of top international athletes took part, returning some incredible run times, with some athletes breaking their own personal records. 

Morocco’s Mohcin Outalha crossed the finish line first in the men’s marathon in a time of 2:06:49, with Kenyan Gevin Kerich taking second place with 2:06:52 on the clock. 

Kenyan Victor Kipchirchir and Ethiopian Adane Kebede finished in joint third place, registering a time of 2:06:54.

Ethiopian Meseret Belete took the top spot in the women’s marathon, clocking 2:20:45, with Desi Jisa Mokonin from Brunei finishing in second place with a time of 2:20:47. Kenyan Beatrice Cheptoo placed third with a time of 2:22:28.

In the open marathon category, the men’s race was won by Briton Michael Kallenberger with a time of 2:23:02, while the USA’s Abigail Cember took the top spot in the women’s race, clocking at 3:04:00. 

Qatari runners were once again able to enter the AlAdaam category this year. Abdulla Fahad Al Zarra won the men’s marathon with a time of 2:48:21, while Rabaah Al Musleh finished first in the women’s marathon with a time of 3:50:55. 

The men’s half marathon was won by Morocco’s Anouar El Ghouz in a time of 1:03:23, with Ukrainian Tetiana Pydoyna winning the women’s half marathon in 1:08:53. 

Mohammed Issa Al Fadalah, President of the Qatar Athletics Federation, said: 

“We extend our thanks to Ooredoo for once again hosting a phenomenal marathon that is consistently a highlight of Doha’s sporting calendar. Events such as these demonstrate Qatar’s suitability as the ideal venue for major sporting events, and this is only reinforced by the number of top international athletes who travel here to take part. We were delighted to see such an incredible turnout, and congratulate all runners on their sterling performances.” 

A total prize fund of QR1 million was on offer across all categories, with event sponsor Q-Auto also offering a Volkswagen T-Roc as a raffle prize to one lucky winner drawn from all those who finished their race in the 5km category and above. 

Sheikh Ali Bin Jabor Al Thani fired the starting gun for the Elite category and honored winners with their medals. Sabah Rabiah Al-Kuwari, Director PR at Ooredoo, joined QAF President Mohammed Issa Al Fadalah to present medals to winners in the other categories.

Spectators were able to enjoy the electric atmosphere from the many vantage points along the runner-friendly route, with the race village offering several food and beverage options and plenty of fun to be had by all. 

Platinum sponsors for the Doha Marathon by Ooredoo 2023 were confirmed as Qatar Tourism, Q-Auto and Holding Group, with Qatar Airways and Seashore as Gold sponsors. Silver Sponsors are Al Rayyan Water, Aspetar, QIC, and Qommunication. 

In line with Ooredoo’s commitment to supporting the community, all funds generated from registration fees for the 2023 Doha Marathon by Ooredoo will be donated to charitable organizations. 

(01/21/23) Views: 121
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Here’s why the rule of 10 will level-out your running consistency

Runners hear it all the time: consistency is key. The rule of 10 (committing to just 10 minutes) can be a perspective shift for those days when putting on your shoes and getting out the door seems like too much, and you’ll still build consistency.

We know that logging the simple workouts and easy runs day after day is what creates strong runners and initiates breakthroughs–but what about when the excuses are coming in fast and furious and you just aren’t feeling it?

10 minutes is an easy commitment (and I have an even smaller one)

Ultrarunner and writer Nicolas Triolo writes about the rule of 10 in trailrunnermag. “10 minutes is the time it takes for me to fold laundry. To take a powernap. To grind, brew, and enjoy a pourover,” he says. “To scroll Instagram and come out the other side wondering if I remembered to breathe. 10 minutes is a blip, a negligible unit, hardly anything at all.”

Guaranteed you’ve probably wasted ten minutes sitting on your couch, staring at your shoes and pondering the weather, your slightly tight calf and whether that taco salad you just ate was a good choice pre-run. I certainly have. I have an even smaller commitment I’ll make to myself–get my running clothes on. In the summer, that’s fairly simple, but in the winter it is a bit more effort–determining how many layers to wear, whether I need a headband or gloves, trail shoes or road.

10 minutes is an easy commitment (and I have an even smaller one)

Ultrarunner and writer Nicolas Triolo writes about the rule of 10 in trailrunnermag. “10 minutes is the time it takes for me to fold laundry. To take a powernap. To grind, brew, and enjoy a pourover,” he says. “To scroll Instagram and come out the other side wondering if I remembered to breathe. 10 minutes is a blip, a negligible unit, hardly anything at all.”

Guaranteed you’ve probably wasted ten minutes sitting on your couch, staring at your shoes and pondering the weather, your slightly tight calf and whether that taco salad you just ate was a good choice pre-run. I certainly have. I have an even smaller commitment I’ll make to myself–get my running clothes on. In the summer, that’s fairly simple, but in the winter it is a bit more effort–determining how many layers to wear, whether I need a headband or gloves, trail shoes or road.

If I get my stuff on and I still don’t want to run, fine–that means a rest day is in order. I sincerely cannot think of a time that actually occurred, though. Once the clothes are on, getting out the door seems much easier.  If you can’t commit to 10 minutes, just commit to running clothes.

Even if you stop after 10 minutes you’ll reap benefits

Renowned coaches David and Megan Roche have a phrase they share with athletes: “just give us 10 minutes.” If life throws a curveball at an athlete and they can’t manage to fit in their run, 10 minutes of movement still counts. It still builds consistency and creates physiological adaptations that pay off in the long term.

Roche explains that his running career began with 10-minute runs and he owes those short runs everything, as they initiated the adaptations that enabled him to continue to run longer, harder and faster.

The key to getting better is getting out there, 10 minutes at a time

“Consistent reinforcement is key, and even short runs do the trick. Add some intensity like hill strides, and running economy can go through the roof relatively quickly,” Roche says in trailrunnermag. 

Not only do runs as short as 10 minutes pay off, but they help you train your brain to continue your running routine. There should be many runs that you’re enthused to head out the door on, but lacking motivation on occasion is normal. The more you get out the door and log a run, even a short one, the easier it is to continue to do it. One foot in front of the other, 10 minutes at. time.

(01/23/23) Views: 111
Running Magazine
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Five things to master for your next race, shared by Olympian and coach Joanna Zeiger

Races are always tricky–it can be tempting to run hard, fly past aid stations and ignore the enjoyment of the process entirely in pursuit of a PB.

Mastering these five tenets of racing, shared by Olympian and coach Joanna Zeiger in her book The Champion Mindset: An Athlete’s Guide to Mental Toughness will help you sail smoothly through your next race. “If you learn these, you can eliminate at least some potential problems,” she says.

1.- What feels easy at the start feels hard at the end

Proper pacing is a skill and a worthy one to work on. No matter how easy and effortless those first few kilometers feel, the last few are going to feel harder. “Do not be deceived by the relative ease at the beginning,” says Zeiger.

What feels like jogging at the start of a longer race may take all your focus and strength to maintain near the end. Remind yourself of this pre-race, and keep it in mind as we move on to rule number two.

2.- Don’t go out too hard

That same feeling of ease at the beginning of a race “lures people into a false sense of what they can achieve,” Zeiger says. “Going out too hard is not necessarily a subjective measure–you cannot rely on how you feel, because you should feel good.”

Zeiger says she has never heard someone say that they wish they’d gone out harder in the first half. It can be helpful to set a pace or HR guideline for yourself or follow a pace bunny if you’re in a longer race.

3.- It’s hard to imagine things going wrong

Races often have beautiful beginnings. The weather is glorious (or at least decent), you feel fantastic and well-trained, and the enthusiasm of the group lifts your spirits. So many things out of your control can go wrong in the later stages though–unexpected GI distress, cramping, or a wild wind blows in.

Recognizing that this happens and maintaining a sense of humor about it while you troubleshoot, or, worst case scenario, drop out, is essential. Sometimes you are as prepared as you can possibly be and things still go awry.

4.- Nutrition matters

Race day nutrition is important. Even if you’re running a short race and don’t need to consume calories mid-run, your pre-race meal should be something you also eat on training days and are used to digesting.

If you’re in a longer race and do need to stop at aid stations, Zeiger says athletes should know beforehand what they are going to grab–water, a gel, Gatorade? Knowing in advance prevents any indecision and time-wasting when you arrive, and also helps you keep track of what you have consumed.

5.- Have fun

Zeiger says this is by far the most important tenet of racing. “Success in sport is difficult and requires time, patience, perseverance and [occasionally] heartache,” she explains. “Ultimately, there must be an element of enjoyment to make it all worth it.

When things line up right and you find yourself really enjoying a race, notice and be present in the moment. “Racing is a privilege and we are lucky to be able to do something that we enjoy so much.”

(01/24/23) Views: 104
Keeley Milne
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Six ips for running your best 5k

5k (or 3.11 miles) races are some of the most popular running events in the country. Every weekend parkruns are available in over 1,600 locations globally, and there are plenty of great 5k events up and down the country, which make an ideal starting point in your running journey. If you’re nervous about training for a 5k or you’re looking to run one in 20 minutes or less, then these tips and best-practices will give you the perfect platform for success.

1. WARM-UP & WARM-DOWN

Whether you’re a running beginner, or you’re pushing for a new PB, 5k runs pose a high injury risk due to people not respecting the distance or by pushing too hard. Before every run, you should do a gentle warm-up jog and then do some dynamic stretches, including lunges, heel-kicks, high knees, jumping jacks, and sideways skips. This will make sure that all the little muscles are ready for the challenge ahead.

Warming down is just as important, and easy to skip when you’re tired after a run. But stretching out your calves, hamstrings, and glutes properly after a 5k run will make a massive difference in preventing injuries, and will help in recovery so you can head out for another training run sooner. Alternatively, you could try out a quick and easy pre-run yoga or post-run yoga routine.

2. BUILD UP THE DISTANCE

Although you’re not training towards a marathon, it’s not necessary to run the full 5k on your first training run. The reason ‘Couch to 5k’ has been so successful recently is because it doesn’t demand too much too soon. If you are building fitness, a couple of shorter 1-2k runs will get your heart pumping and wake up your leg muscles. You can even alternate between running for 5 minutes and walking for 2 minutes, and then work towards a continuous 5k run. If you need a helping hand here, than you can download our free 6-week 5k training plan here, which will take you through your 5k training, step-by-step. There are a number of options within the plan from how to run 5k in 20 minutes or less to circuit pattern ideas and motivational quotes for race day.

3. TECHNIQUE

5k races tend to be high intensity runs, as opposed to long-distance events which require steady jogging. Rather than just pushing yourself flat out, though, there are some technique tweaks that can be made, which will help keep you springing forwards, improve posture, and prevent against injury: 

make sure to engage your core and keep your upper body straight

pump your arms

push your hips forward, and try to land your feet beneath your hips rather than too far ahead

visualize the road coming up to meet and support your feet rather than your feet hitting down into the road

4. INTERVAL TRAINING

Once you’ve built up the distance to the full 5k, and you’re confident with your technique, you can start improving your speed. Interval training is really useful for this, and it can often be a good idea to head to your local running track. Sessions might look like one of the following:

500m warm up; 3x400m sprints with 2 min rest in between; 1x800m push; 500m warm down. Total distance: 3,000m

400m warm up; 5x200m push alternating with 5x200m gentle jog; 400m warm down. Total distance: 2,800m

300m warm up; 1km race pace, 2km gentle pace, 1km race pace; 300m warm down. Total distance: 4,600m

These distances can change as you get fitter, and you might also choose to work according to time instead of distance. 

5. SUSTAINABLE PACE

It’s important that you know what your standard pace is. Settle into a good rhythm, where your heart-rate and breath are sustainable. It is unlikely that you’ll be able to push for the entire 5k, so you’ll need to pace your race. Don’t come speeding out of the blocks and waste all of your energy early on. Use your training to discover what a manageable pace is, and stay there for the first 3km or so of the race, and then push for the final 2km. Like all professional runners, you should aim to be running negative splits i.e. your final kilometers should be faster than your first couple. 

6. NUTRITION

An energy bar or banana 40 minutes or so before a race will give you time to digest and for the energy still to be there. You want to avoid anything too high in fibre close to the race, because this might give you stomach cramps. Work out what works for you well ahead of race day. It’s also important to stay hydrated with water or energy drinks before, during and after a race. You also want to focus on recovery: have something high in protein within 20 minutes of exercise to repair your muscles, and replenish your blood sugar with a treat. You’ve earned it.

(01/23/23) Views: 100
Aidan Thomson
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Allie Kieffer makes quick work for her 3M Half Marathon win, while Joseph Gray wins a close one

World-class runner Allie Kieffer keeps a low racing profile here in Austin, but when she does race, she wins.

A last-minute entry in this year's 3M Half Marathon, Kieffer took advantage of ideal running conditions Sunday morning — mid-40s and clear — to add another victory to her Austin racing résumé, while Joseph Gray, a World Mountain Running champion, topped the men’s field.

Even though Kieffer has a perfect record in Austin, Sunday's 3M win was somewhat of a redemption for her. Running in the highly competitive Barron Collier Companies Naples Half Marathon last week in Florida, she went off course, losing her lead and placing fourth.

“I took a wrong turn at the Naples Half, so I couldn’t cross the line first,” Kieffer said. “So today I was thinking, ‘I want to win.' I was feeling pretty competitive.

“I wasn’t intending to race today,” she added. “Initially I was just going to pace it with a friend, but I couldn’t find him at the start.”

Kieffer took off from the starting line on Stonelake Boulevard in North Austin at a brisk pace of 5 minutes, 52 seconds per mile, with Karen Bertasso-Hughes and Shannon Gaden about 50 yards back. Kieffer hit the 5-kilometer split in 18:14, with Bertasso-Hughes just nine seconds behind.

The 3M race is known for its “downhill to downtown” course, and Kieffer worked every downhill. By the 10K mark (36:31) on Great Northern Boulevard, she had a 23-second lead on Bertasso-Hughes.

“When I took the lead around 3 miles, I just didn’t look back,” Kieffer said.

She stepped on the gas after the 15K mark (9.3 miles) on Shoal Creek Boulevard, dropping the pace to 5:50 a mile, gaining more than a minute ahead of Bertasso-Hughes in the process. Kieffer crossed the finish line on San Jacinto Boulevard in 1:16:24, leaving Bertasso-Hughes and Gaden to battle for second. Gaden prevailed 1:17:00 to 1:17:49. Caroline Brooks came in fourth in 1:17:53, with Elizabeth Laseter rounding out the top five in 1:18:04.

“Allie was so far ahead that we were just racing for second place,” said Gaden, a newcomer to Austin by way of Denver. “I was able to catch her (Bertasso-Hughes) around 10 miles.”

“I’m really happy. … I felt surprisingly good. I needed to win this race,” said Kieffer, who plans to run the Ascension Seton Austin Half Marathon next month and is looking to run an Olympic Marathon Trials qualifying time next fall at the BMW Berlin Marathon.

The men’s race featured a stirring duel between Colorado Springs’ Gray and Austin’s Mitch Ammons, a 2024 Olympic Marathon Trials qualifier.

Gray, Ammons and University of Texas ace Kobe Yepez formed the lead pack in the early miles, passing through the 5K mark together in 15:17. But after that it was a two-man race as Gray and Ammons pulled away. Ammons took the lead at 10K, passing the mark in 30:33, just six seconds ahead of Gray. But by 15K (45:52) they were stride for stride, with 2019 3M champ Michael Morris moving into third place ahead of Yepez.

In a sprint to the finish line, Gray edged Ammons 1:04:23 to 1:04:27. Morris, the track and cross-country head coach at San Marcos High School, took third in 1:06:07, with Al Maeder fourth in 1:06:31 and Yepez fifth in 1:06:51.

“This was my first race of the year. Actually my first race in a while, so I wanted to be smart and run a progressive effort,” said Gray, a dominant figure in Colorado’s mountain running scene. “Mitch is a strong runner and made it an honest effort.”

Approximately 4,500 runners finished the race, the fifth in the Austin Distance Challenge. The sixth and final event is the Austin Marathon on Feb. 19.

“I found out two minutes before the race that there was a champion mountain runner entered, who’d gone 1:03 for the half-marathon," Ammons said. "We were yo-yoing back and forth the whole way. He’d pull ahead on the uphills, and I’d lead on the downhills. It was a lot of fun. My time was a personal best for me by more than a minute, and I wouldn’t have run this fast if it weren’t for Joe. He pushed me a lot. I really, really tried to catch him on the final straight. I gave it everything I had.”

(01/23/23) Views: 99
Brom Hoban
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Transgender athletes to be allowed to compete against women in new World Athletics rules

World Athletics is set to leave the door open for transgender athletes to compete against women at the highest level.

Sports chiefs have found themselves with a tough decision to make whether to allow male-born trans women to compete in female categories. Last year the Olympic Committee published statement which stated that 'fairness and scientific evidence' should be taken into account by international federations when devising eligibility criteria for trans athletes.

Triathlon became the first British sport to ban trans women from competing in female events instead changing the name of their men's category to 'open'. English Volleyball followed them while British Cycling banned a trans athlete competing at last year's National Omnium Championships and are completing a review of their policy.

World Athletics are yet to decide their stance in the trans athlete debate but Telegraph Sport reports that the governing body has begun a consultation with its member federations over a proposed rule change.

The change would see a tightening of regulations but fall short of banning trans women from competing in female events at the highest level.

The consultation sent to member federations says: “This preferred option would allow significant (although not full) reduction of anaerobic, aerobic performances and body composition changes, while still providing a path for eligibility of trans women and 46 XY DSD individuals to compete in the female category.”

The Telegraph states that the preferred option also includes a 'full harmonisation of its trans regulations' and those governing athletes with differences of sexual development (DSD), including Caster Semenya.

The “preferred option” would see a halving of the maximum permitted plasma testosterone for trans women from five nanomoles per litre to 2.5 nmol/L. There would also be a doubling of the period athletes must remain below that threshold before being allowed to compete from one to two years.

Athletes currently must remain below a 5nmol/L level for just six months to compete in track events from 400 metres to a mile.

It has been reported that the confidential consultation was sent to member federations amid 'strict secrecy' and presented to the governing body’s council at the end of November. A final decision will be made by the council in March.

(01/21/23) Views: 94
Benjamin Goddard
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B.A.A. announces pregnancy deferral accommodations for all B.A.A. events, including Boston Marathon

The Boston Athletic Association (B.A.A.) announced today accommodation enhancements pertaining to runners who are expecting or have recently welcomed a child into their families. Pregnancy and postpartum deferrals of entries will now be available for registered participants at all B.A.A. events, including the Boston Marathon (April), B.A.A. 5K (April), B.A.A. 10K (June), and B.A.A. Half Marathon (November).

“In listening to our participants and stakeholders, the desire from mothers and expecting mothers to participate in our races –particularly the Boston Marathon—while also focusing on building a family was clear,” said Jack Fleming, President and Chief Executive Officer of the B.A.A. “Women who are entered in a B.A.A. race and want to expand their family will be able to do just that without giving up a chance to participate at a future B.A.A. event.”

Any athlete who is a registered entrant in a B.A.A. event and is or becomes pregnant prior to race day and chooses not to participate due to such circumstances will be eligible to receive a deferred entry into one of the next two subsequent future races. The new pregnancy and postpartum deferment policy is effective immediately, and includes athletes who are entered in the Boston Marathon by way of qualifying time or invitational entry. 

Athletes seeking a pregnancy or postpartum deferral may submit a request in writing to registration@baa.org any time between receiving confirmation of acceptance into the event and up to 14 days before race day. Upon receipt of a pregnancy or postpartum deferment request, the B.A.A.’s Athlete Services team will be in contact with the athlete and will request confirmation of pregnancy from a physician, registered midwife, or other medical professional.

“We at the B.A.A. are always looking for ways to improve the participant experience starting at the point of registration, and have been collaborating to create this policy for many months,” said Susie Cleary, the B.A.A.’s Director of Athlete Services. “This new deferral accommodation has been implemented with the goal of supporting mother runners along their journey at all our events, from the 5K distance through the marathon.”

If an athlete becomes pregnant again during a pregnancy or postpartum deferral period, they may request a second consecutive pregnancy or postpartum deferral. This would permit the athlete to defer their race entry for a subsequent two-year period. The B.A.A. will allow up to two consecutive pregnancy deferral requests per athlete. Policy details will be posted on www.baa.org soon.

The pregnancy deferral opportunity is an accommodation in addition to the registration insurance currently offered to Boston Marathon participants, which covers refunds for a variety of situations, including pregnancy. All other rules and requirements for race entry after a pregnancy or postpartum deferral will apply, including payment for future registration entry fees.

In addition to deferrals, the B.A.A. will be enhancing accommodations for recent mothers on race weekend. For more than a decade, mothers have been provided the opportunity to utilize designated tents at the start and finish of the Boston Marathon for lactation pumping. In response to the overwhelming support of this program and the accompanying medical device transport program (where race officials transport devices such as breast pumps from the start to finish), the B.A.A. plans to share additional accommodations as race day approaches. The B.A.A. is currently consulting a group of mother runners to help facilitate best practices at our events. More information will be shared with participants over the coming months.

ABOUT THE BOSTON ATHLETIC ASSOCIATION (B.A.A.) 

Established in 1887, the Boston Athletic Association is a non-profit organization with a mission of promoting a healthy lifestyle through sports, especially running. The B.A.A. manages the Boston Marathon, and supports comprehensive charity, youth, and year-round programming. The Boston Marathon is part of the Abbott World Marathon Majors, along with international marathons in Tokyo, London, Berlin, Chicago, and New York City. Since 1986, the principal sponsor of the Boston Marathon has been John Hancock. The 127th Boston Marathon is scheduled to take place on Monday, April 17, 2023. For more information on the B.A.A., please visit www.baa.org.

(01/25/23) Views: 94
Boston Athletic Association
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Australian 800m Commonwealth medalist tests positive for EPO

On Friday morning, Athletics Australia announced the provisional suspension of middle-distance runner Peter Bol, who won the silver medal in the men’s 800m at the 2022 Commonwealth Games in Birmingham, U.K. 

Bol, who was fourth at the Tokyo Olympics in the men’s 800m, failed an out-of-competition urine test on Oct. 11. The 28-year-old tested positive for the banned drug erythropoietin, known as EPO.

In accordance with Athletics Australia’s anti-doping policy, Bol has been provisionally suspended, effective from Jan. 10.

Bol went on Twitter to plead his innocence, denying that he’s ever purchased or used synthetic EPO, and has requested Sport Integrity Australia and Athletics Australia to take a look at the B sample from the October test.

Under the Australian National Anti-Doping Policy, the suspended athlete is entitled to have their B Sample analyzed. The results from the B sample will be known in February.

“I am innocent and have not taken this substance as I am accused,” Bol said on Twitter.

If his B sample is positive, Bol could face a four-year ban from athletics.

EPO has been on the World Anti-Doping Prohibited List since the 1990s; it is used to improve endurance performance or to speed up recovery.

Bol emigrated to Australia from Sudan with his family when he was eight. He is currently the Oceanic record holder and the fastest Australian ever over 800m, with a personal best of 1:44:00. 

He currently trains in Melbourne with “Fast 8 Track Club” under middle-distance coach Justin Rinaldi. 

(01/20/23) Views: 90
Running Magazine
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Plant-based runners: speedy grab-and-go meal ideas

Interested in eating plant-based but struggling to find simple, quick meals that are full of nutrition while still easy on the budget? The authors of Plant-Based Sports Nutrition have some tips and tricks for you.

Both registered dietitians, authors Dr. Enette Larson-Meyer and Matt Ruscigno suggest planning in advance as key to maintaining high-performance plant-based nutrition. Reading labels is important–with the many new plant-based alternatives to meat and cheese, it can be tempting to purchase whatever looks appealing. Check iron, protein, fat and calcium content, and look for options that have the equivalent nutritional composition of the products they’re replacing.

Larson-Meyer and Ruscigno also suggest adding a salad to any meal, with fresh and dried fruit tossed in to add both a diverse array of nutrients (calcium, vitamin C, vitamin E, iron, zinc, etc.) as well as carbohydrates. Adding nuts, beans or cheese (provided you’re not strictly vegan) can boost healthy fat and protein, as well.

It can be challenging enough to squeeze in a run alongside all the other things you may do in a day. Eliminate some of the stress by trying some of these quick make-and-take breakfast and lunch options.

Grab-and-go breakfasts

Have some fresh or dried fruit in reusable containers on hand, and grab one of the following to make your morning ridiculously simple.

Homemade muffins made with grapeseed or canola oil and whole grains (try Shalane Flanagan’s recipe here)

Whole-grain toasted English muffin with low-trans-fat margarine or nut butter and jam

Dairy or soy yogurt, fruit and granola parfait (made the night before in a to-go container)

Breakfast cookies (make your favourite oatmeal cookies with half the sugar, orange juice as the liquid, and add dried fruit, nuts and ground flaxseed)

Quick portable lunches

Pack fresh fruit or veggies and/or whole-grain crackers or whole-wheat pretzels along with one of these easy-to-throw-together lunches and some healthy cookies.

Tomato, avocado, and sprouts on a whole-grain bagel

Black beans, lettuce, avocado and salsa in a spinach or whole-wheat roll-up

Black-eyed-peas spread (1 can beans, 1/2 cup parsley, 2 Tbsp olive oil, 2 Tbsp lemon juice, 1/2 tsp tarragon, garlic and pepper to taste) on flatbread or in a whole-wheat wrap

Dark leafy greens in a pita with chickpeas, kidney beans or white beans, and dressing of choice

Peanut butter, sliced banana, raisins and walnuts on whole-wheat bread

Red-pepper bean spread (1 cup white beans, 2 tsp finely chopped roasted sweet peppers, 1 tsp finely chopped scallions) on foccacia or flatbread

If you decide to maintain a plant-based diet for the long haul, keep your menu exciting by trying new foods and learning about nutrition. Once you nail the basics, planning nutritionally-balanced meals will become as much a part of your routine as training, and can be an enjoyable, easy part of your day.

(01/20/23) Views: 90
Keeley Milne
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