Loch Ness Marathon – Part 1

Sometime in the autumn of 2014 while out drinking with friends someone, probably me, suggested that we all pledge to sign up to the Loch Ness Marathon in September 2015. Four idiots put their hands together ‘Musketeer style’ promising to sign up and two of them actually did register.

With the BMF training three days a week I didn’t feel that I needed to panic too early in the training front. In fact I didn’t think about it at all until June 2015.

The Goal
I ran my last marathon (in 2009) in 4:12:40, a time I was both happy with and yet disappointed by. I had done what I felt was the minimum training and I was sure that I had a sub 4 hour marathon in me. So, I’m going to run this marathon in under 4 hours or else.

The Training Plan
In 2009 I used the loose idea of two short 5km runs and one long run a week. The long run obviously getting longer. Even on my longest run I never did more than 18 miles (28km) in one go. In retrospect it feels that with a bit more training the time should go down.

One advantage that I enjoy this time is the base fitness that I get from my BMF. Three of these sessions a week have given me some extra speed and a good core. They tend to have 4-5km of running in them too so not too much slacking on the stamina front either.

The plan (at this point) is to continue with two BMF sessions a week but replace one with a long run, probably at the weekend. It would be nice to throw in the odd swim or cycle for a bit of variety if I can manage it. I have followed this pattern (minus the swimming/cycling) over the last month but worryingly I’ve not been able to move beyond 15km in one go.

There is nothing to panic about things yet but I need to start moving beyond this from now on.

Here goes.

Loch Ness Marathon – Part 1

Mariposa Grove and The Mist Trail, Yosemite NP

(Does the title of this blog sounds like a teen detective novel?)

For a bit of context, I’m not a big fan of woods (or forests) on the basis that after the first 10 mins the views remain the same and you can’t see very far. I like seeing far. Usually the prospect of a woodland walk will get me very underwhelmed and possibly even grumpy.

Yosemite

This wood, however, is a bit different, special even. It is Mariposa Grove, part of Yosemite National Park and it contains some very special trees. There are a variety of sizeable fir trees but the talking point are the giant redwoods. The ‘giant’ bit is no hyperbole either, these things are monsters and the biggest are titans!

Mariposa Grove

I think I walked all of the available trails up to Wawona Point, passing many magnificent trees, many of which have names such as ‘Grizzly’, ‘Clothes peg’, ‘the bachelor and three sisters’ and ‘California’. The whole place s quite magical and the views from the point are well worth the hike up. If we could have a few more forests like this I think I could turn into a fan!

Yosemite

The Mist Trail

Following my nice morning jaunt around Mariposa Grove i dove the incredibly winding road to Yosemite Valley. After getting some advice from the Ranger and getting a few supplies, I had a few hours to get a quick hike in. As I’m staying in Curry Village the Vernal and Nevada Falls looked close and doable in this time frame.

Yosemite

The trail up to the falls is pretty steep but for quite a way is actually tarmac’d after which it is packed earth and finally granite steps. The path is mostly overlooked by trees which means that views are rare for much of the hike. When they do emerge though, they are spectacular and the river, at this time of year at least, is excitingly fast and frothy.

Yosemite

The Vernal Falls is what this is all for though and when it finally comes into view, it doesn’t disappoint. A raging torrent of frightening force, it definitely gives ‘the power of nature’ to the viewer. Even better, you can ascend to the very top of the falls and watch as it goes over the edge.


Well worth it despite the heavy crowds. If i’d had more time I’d have tried to do Nevada Falls too, maybe next time?

Mariposa Grove and The Mist Trail, Yosemite NP

The Major Series – 2015

Over the winter i’ve been enjoying taking part in a number of trail runs, the Wildman and the Iceman. As fun and muddy as these are it is time to take it up a couple of notches and tackle ‘The Major’.

The Major 2015
Yes, I am carrying a log, what of it?

Billed as an obstacle race, I think of it myself as more of an extreme 10km trail run. There are a few man-made obstacles but mostly the challenge is to be immersed in cold rivers and mud for extensive periods. There is still plenty of running and a number of stiff little hills to help the leg muscles burn.

A tad muddy
A tad muddy

When I did this race in March 2013, not long after I started doing BMF I did it in 1:54:00. This time I managed1:12:59 and a much more impressive position of 55th out of 1545 finishers. Obviously I am considerably fitter than last time but my position was helped a lot of setting off in the first wave where, at most, I may have had 100 people in front of me. This is important as there are quite a few bottlenecks on the course where you literally have to queue.

Despite having over 40 of my BMF Hyde Park buddies also running the race I found myself running and finishing on my own. Still kind of wish I had someone to high five at the end.

All told though it was fantastic fun and I’m really chuffed with my time and placing. I look forward to tackling this again next year. Or maybe I should do ‘Tough Guy’ instead?

The Major Series – 2015

The 5D is dead, long live the RX1r

I love my Canon 5D (mark 1). It is rugged, weather resistant(ish) and the full frame censor delivers superb results. Alongside a few trusty high quality lenses I have been a very happy man and have not really looked for a new camera body or system. Until recently that is.

Whilst I’ve been (and still am) happy with the quality of the pictures I’m taking with the full SLR system, I’ve been increasingly reluctant to want to haul it around. There is no getting away from the fact that it is pretty bulky and no lightweight. This was no biggie in the days when I only had myself to look after but these days I frequently have to accomodate the ‘stuff’ associated with one or two children that are in tow.

This has resulted in either grumbling about the inconvenience or leaving the camera behid altogether and relying on my iPhone for ‘snaps’ neither of which has been an ideal prospect. What I need is something small but without compromising any image quality, a requirement that seemed an impossible dream outside of owning a Leica, and who has the money for that?

RX1R
Over the years i’ve been keenly looking at a whole host of small agile looking cameras like the Olympus Pen or the Fuji x100 but whilst they ticked the box of ‘size’ I knew they would be less good than a full frame/L lens combo.

And then came along the Sony RX1 (or RX1R) – full frame, amazing lens and only a little bigger than a compact. It sounds amazing but there is no such thing as a free lunch and it has a few downsides to swallow. It seems the 35mm lens, though amazing,  is fixed and I have to ask if I can live with one lens forever? I also have to ask if I can accomodate the seemingly eye-watering cost of £2500.

Well, I’ve been using (and loving) a 35mm on the big beast and If I only had one focal length, this would be it. As for the cost, it would require that instead of new, I could get it a lot cheaper by buying second hand and to afford even that i’d have to sell ALL of my current glass. This is quite a wrench as these lenses have been with me a long time and we’ve taken great pictures together. Having said that, I can either have a lot of ace kit sitting around not being used or a new thing out all the time?

Taking the plunge
Lenses have been sold and new (second hand with minor scratches) camera has been purchased from the e of bay. I’ve only had it a few days but the RX1R is (nearly) everything that I could hope for:

  • Small – the body is like a compact, made a bit bigger by the protruding lens.
  • Superb image quality – Easily as good as my old set-up

Do I have any grumbles? Well it would be even better if the camera had some weather sealing and i may have to get used to the fact that there is no viewfinder. It feels like a compact but takes pictures an SLR would be proud of. So far, I’m very happy.

Here is a nice test picture of some mud for you!

Mud!

The 5D is dead, long live the RX1r

Wildman 2014 – 15km trail run

I did the 10km Wildman, run by ‘Human Race’, last year so I had a vague idea of the first two thirds of the course with the final 5km set to be a bit of a mystery.

I was also starting with my friend Matt R, who I knew to be pretty quick. Having said that, I’ve been training hard recently and for once wasn’t really fearing the numerous climbs that I knew we would have. Still, my money at the start was on matt.

wildman-before

With all the recent rain the course was muddy but not exeptionally so and most really glutinous bits could be avoided. In addition to this I was wearing my trail running shoes and I felt it made a big difference to my speed, especially on the downhills where I could go fast in safety.

It is good to note that the ‘million’ squats and sprints that I do in my normal training pay off when assaulting the numerous stiff climbs. I wanted to start steady and then maybe ‘go for it’ later on, but I found that even my regular pace meant that I started to get ahead of Matt after the first few kilometres. I didn’t read much into this at the time, knowing that he too was saving energy for the end and he could well catch me up..

The end of the 10km brings you back to the start point and at this stage I was feeling pretty good. It turned out to be extrememly wise to keep something in the tank for the last 5km as suddenly the climbs became extremely steep and the paths a lot less defined. It also included a fine water feature to plunge through for dramatic effect!

jason webber
Fun in puddles

I really felt that Matt was likely to charge past me at any point which in turn really helped me keep my pace up right to the end. It was with great relief that the finish line finally came and in what now seems a pretty good time of 1:22:36. The winner only managed 1:04, which seems almost close!

Matt came in 6 mins later but it looks like we are still friends! A fun race, hopefully something that will be in my annual calendar.

wildman-after

 

Wildman 2014 – 15km trail run

Green, Red and Blue – a mega-day of fitness

I know where I got the vague idea for this, it was a year or so ago when I heard that someone had done back to back green bib BMF sessions. Two hours of incrediblely tough high intensity training. At the time, although it sounded impossible, I said to myself ‘one day, that’ll be me’.

So as I’ve recently mentioned, I’ve been coming up for my two year anniversary of joining BMF and wanted to do something a little crazy. I’ve been feeling pretty fit recently but it has been a very long while since I’ve done an activity where I thought there was a possibility of not finishing. So how about three BMF sessions in a day?

To make it stretching but doable I’d do the sessions in descending difficulty: green bib (scarily tough), red bib (my usual level) and blue (easy/beginner).

I felt unusually nervous at my first session at 7am. It was the day of reckoning. This wasn’t helped when I told the BMF park manager what I was planning and he said ‘oh, I wouldn’t recommend that’. As a royal marine I was hoping he’d be a bit more enthusiastic! It also now seemed a bit foolhardy to do a green glass for the first time ever. What had I let myself in for? Well unsurprisingly (duh?) I was pretty ‘smashed’ after the class. I hadn’t managed to keep up on the runs with the ‘real’ greens but i did do all of the extra reps that were called for. Normally this class would be more than enough! At least I had most of the day to recover.

IMG_1325
jason webber – green bib

Walking up to Hyde Park for the 1800 class, I was still feeling a bit jelly legged and very worried that I wouldn’t manage it. The red bib class was as tough as usual but for once I was happy to hang at the back and take it as easy as I felt I could get away with. About three quarters of the way through I knew I’d be fine. Exhausted, wobbly legged, but fine. Blimey, I was actually going to do this. Between classes I piled on the warm gear and had a snickers and a pint of milk to keep my strength up.

jason webber - red bib
jason webber – red bib

Ok, only a blue-bib class to go which in the end turned out to seem actually quite easy. I was generally at the front on the runs but this only caused the others to hate me when the instructor said ‘why is this guy beating you, it is his third class today!’. I certainly must have come across as a bit of a nutter? My main enemy turned out to be cramp and my calves in particular were really pinging, but with the odd little stretch I got through it.

jason webber - blue bib
jason webber – blue bib

So I did in fact complete this really quite mad enterprise of three BMF sessions in a day. It feels like quite an accomplishment, in part because I think there was a real chance I might not do it. I did (and still have) actual difficulty explaining why I wanted to do it and even to BMF regulars there was quite a bit of bewilderment. The truth is that I wanted to really test myself and this seemed to have the right balance of challenge.

The question now is: What crazy thing can I do next year?

Green, Red and Blue – a mega-day of fitness

Two years of mud and press ups

In a months time I will have been going to British Military Fitness for two years. I have just read my ‘one year‘ blog where I seemed fairly pleased with my progress. Well, not only have I continued going, with only smallish breaks when on holiday but I can now report that I now go three times a week (since April) and that i’m feeling fitter than ever.

There is no denying that going up to three sessions a week was very tough at first, but it has been exactly what I needed to move my fitness onto the next level. It has been as much about a change of attitude as anything else. I try to be very focused not to ‘break the chain’, even to the point of exercising even if I’m feeling tired or achey.

JW-mins-excercise-per-week

The upshot of all this is that there hasn’t been a single week of 2014 that I haven’t done some kind of exercise and at least once I have done four proper sessions. In addition to this i’m feeling so good that I’m burning to do some ‘crazy’ events such as tough trail runs or even non-running things such as kayaking or climbing.

The great thing about the good level of all over fitness that I now have is that I can just go and do a bit of hill walking, climbing etc. without feeling the need to ‘train’.

First bit of ‘Crazy’
To celebrate two years of BMF I wanted to do something a bit above the norm. I have sometimes joked with my fellow participants about how crazy it would be to do a ‘double’ of back to back BMF sessions. That would have been crazy enough but it doesn’t seem that memorable and lacks balance.

I’m therefore proposing to do three sessions in a single day: 7am Green, 6pm Red and 7.30pm Blue. This way I get to do all the bib colours in descending order from toughest to easiest. I’m hoping to do this on 5 Nov 2014 so we shall see if I manage it and have the energy to blog about it?

Future races?
I’ve thought that I should be planning races ahead a lot more. Partly because they often need to be booked well ahead but mainly so that I can just get things in the diary early. Here are some possibilities that come to mind although a few are clashing. Iceman or winter run? Mudman or Major?

  • 5 Nov 2014 – BMF triple session
  • 22 Nov 2014 – Wildman 10k or 15k – £28
  • 1 Feb 2015 – Winter run 10k – £39
  • 7 Feb 2015 – Iceman 10k or 15k – £28
  • 7 Mar 2015 – Mudman 10k or 15k – £28
  • 28 Mar 2015 – The Major South – 10k – £40
  • Jun – half marathon – somewhere
  • 11-12 July 2015 – London to Brighton Night Ride
  • Aug 2015 – half marathon – somewhere
  • 27 Sep 2015 – Loch Ness marathon 42k – £45

The one that I feel strongest about is the marathon which I feel more than ever that I want to give another go to. I did try the ballot for the London Marathon but sadly didn’t get in. Loch Ness would be an extraordinary setting to do another one. It keeps nagging at me that I can do under four hours.

Also hoping I can be a bit better at the blogging…

Two years of mud and press ups