Christmas Gift Ideas For Runners

Running

Escape from Santa Alcatraz

Yes it’s that time of year again – the time where everyone asks everyone else what they want for Christmas. It seems the standard thing to do, rather than, you know, actually put any real thought into what somebody might actually like or find useful.

I’ve been there. Socks I tend to say, mostly because good running socks are pretty expensive, but opening four or five pairs on the big day is a little bit shit. Add in a multipack of Chomp bars and maybe they can pull it back some, but it’s still not exactly exciting.

So here’s an idea – you know a runner right? Doesn’t matter what level they’re at, they could be just thinking about it or they could be veterans, the principle is the same. You want to buy them something that they’re going to enjoy this Christmas but you don’t want to spend hundreds of pounds. Well, how about this for an idea.

Step back and see where they are on their running journey, then think about what might go through the mind a runner this time of year (other than what to tell people they want for Christmas). It’s similar questions for most runners: What am I going to do next year? Where am I going to run? How far? Who with? Why?

Who Are You?

It could be starting running, training more, or racing harder. Starting the year running however means running through the winter. To do that you need focus, motivation, and people to run with. Where better to do that than at a parkrun event? They’re regular, free, timed and everywhere. Little bundles of 5K magic every week.

The thing is parkrun is already free so you might think that’s not much of a gift, but how about accompanying somebody along to one if they won’t want to go by themselves? Help get somebody out of the front door every Saturday whatever the weather. Sometimes the best gifts cost nothing. Your time is one.

Once you’ve got them running at parkrun there really isn’t much you actually need to do other than turn up and run. The one thing you do need is your barcode. Sure you can print one out, but this is winter, how long is that going to last in the rain? Inkjet? Don’t make me laugh.

parkrun Barcode

How about getting a pack of barcode cards? You can get either credit card sized cards or even keyring sized barcodes.

The cards are authorised by parkrun and professionally printed on PVC. You can even add an ICE number to them too.

How much does such plastic fantastic cost? A pack of three keyring sized cards will set you back just £4.26. A real bargain and sure to last the winter.

What if they don’t want to carry a card at all with them? Easy, you can also now get parkrun wristbands with barcodes and ICE information too.

All these great parkrun products are produced and supplied by ERS and can be purchased directly from their site. Website: http://www.parkrun-barcode.org.uk/

But parkrun of course is only on a Saturday, what about ICE details when you’re out running the rest of the time? Luckily there are a raft of companies offering ID bands/tags/bracelets for a small fee. One such company is Tagnix, who can also provide custom engraving with club logos and the like.

Something like a simple single engraved dog tag with a silencer and chain will only set you back around £10. A small price to pay for peace of mind. Website: http://tagnix.co.uk/

Another approach is something like the Cram Alert wristband. Steve Cram’s brother, Kevin, died whilst out running in 2002. He had no form of ID on him and it took 48 hours to identify him.

A Cram Alert band has a unique ID number on it together with a freephone number. If you do have an accident whilst out running, then whoever finds you has a point of contact that will immediately identify you. The service is available 24-hours a day 365 days of the year and manned by the Cram-Alert Emergency Response Team.

A Cram Alert wristband costs just £10, which includes the first year’s subscription to the service. Website: http://www.cramalert.co.uk/

Inspire, Motivate, Move

So once your runner is running and clocking up some miles what about the days when they don’t feel like it? The cold, the wet, the tired days. That’s when a touch of inspiration and motivation could work some magic.

Many people have their reasons for wanting to run, some for fitness others for weight loss, some just for the challenge, but whatever the purpose everyone needs a kick and a slap every now and then to tell them they can do it and that they’re not being stupid. We all need a bit of encouragement and reassurance sometimes.

How about buying an inspirational quote or message cut out of vinyl to apply to a wall, or even mirror?

Think about quotes that inspire them, people they like, or the challenges they are taking on, then find a quote that suits.

There are plenty of signmakers around who can cut you a custom message in self-adhesive vinyl. Here’s one, Icon Wall Stickers, who have a great stock set as well as a custom service. Website: http://www.iconwallstickers.co.uk/

What about books? Everyone likes a good rousing story to make them feel like they can do it, that they aren’t crazy for taking on seemingly impossible challenges.

There are literally hundreds of great books out there with inspiring content and stories that can move you. A quick search around Amazon or your local Waterstones (other running bookstores are available) will bring up a bundle.

For me (like many others) Dean Karnazes‘ first book Ultramarathon Man opened my eyes to the world of ultrarunning. It showed me that such things were even possible. It took a while, but that book made a big difference to me and to my running.

It’s not a new book, and you don’t even have to be interested in ultramarathon running to read it, it’s just a great tale. Entertaining and eye-opening.

Running and StuffMore recently, British ultrarunner James Adams published his own book of ultramarathon tales, Running And Stuff. As with Karnazes’ book this is a true story of what is possible when you put your mind to it. If James’ running history doesn’t get you off the sofa then I don’t know what will.

A few months ago I wrote a list of Summer Reading For Runners. These books are all my choices for great reads and would all make a nice inexpensive gift (especially my own award-winning book, Fat Man To Green Man – hint hint, wink wink, buy it).

What about if the person you’re buying for is a techno nerd and prefers ebooks as opposed to good old paper? Well for some reason, although Amazon in the US allow for the gifting of ebooks, in the UK they don’t. But fear not there is an easy way around that.

Firstly don’t just think that you can only read Kindle books (other formats are available) on a Kindle device. You can get a free Kindle application for pretty much any device, allowing you to buy Kindle books from Amazon and read them anywhere, on a phone, tablet, or computer.

So how can you gift and ebook? Simple, just buy a personalised voucher with a custom message, an image of the book cover on it and even the URL of the book in the voucher body. All they need to do is click on the link and then enter the voucher code. Simple. Website: Amazon Voucher Site

Get Racing

Now they’re running the local parkrun with their barcode, they are being inspired by the many great books you’ve bought them and the awesome message in the mirror every morning, but what is the goal? What target do they have? How about entering them for a race?

It could be anything from the local Rotary Club 10K to an ultramarathon on the other side of the world. Running is a great way to see the world, why not plan a trip around a race?

Where do you find out about these races though? You could sit in front of a computer and scour the depths of the internet, or you could use one of the popular sites chocked full of race listing and information.

For local races in and around the UK, check out the Run Britain website, it’s full of great races from a charity 5K to big city half an full marathons. Website: http://www.runbritain.com/races/

How about further afield? Fancy running around a classical European city, or the jungle of Malaysia? Then have a look at the unlikely sounding Ahotu. Website: http://marathons.ahotu.com/

Race entered, can you do anything else to help them get through it? Obviously you can train with them, get them through the tough miles and help support them when they need it, but what about on race day? If there is any skill in running at all it’s learning how to pace yourself and sticking to that pace.

Any runner who’s ever raced will tell you that standing on the start line you know how fast you plan to run and what pace that will be, but once that horn goes and the pack moves away at a rapid pace your brain turns to mush and you lose the ability to calculate your splits. You’re running, breathing and trying to add up seconds as you go. By the time you work it out the next mile marker is often long gone.

How can you fix that? Well learning to run steady is one way, but the other would be to work out your splits in advance and have them to hand. How about with a tattoo? No, not a permanent one, but a temporary one.

There are a few companies who create these, the one in the picture above is PaceTat. They offer a range of finishing times in tattoo form ready to apply on race day. They’re durable, cheap and much better than a scrappy paper band around your wrist. Website: http://www.pacetat.com/

Fancy creating a custom band, with your own custom pace or distance? Have a look at TazRunning who have a simple online tool to create your own. Website: http://www.tazrunning.com

Don’t want a tattoo? How about a custom made pace wristband? Website: http://www.pacebands.com

Cherish The Bling

Training done, inspired and motivated, race complete. Time to sit back and relish the achievement. But what an achievement, you don’t want them to forget about it. Make sure they remember it by helping them cherish their bling.

Why not stick their glory in a frame? There are plenty of framers around who will mount medals, photos and race numbers. What a great way to always be reminded of what they did, and by hanging it in the hallway everyone else will see it too.

This Ironman example was put together by Merica Framing in Bromsgrove. I’ve not used them myself, but they look like they do a grand job. Check them out, or look around your local area. Website: http://www.merciaframing.co.uk/

What happens if they already have a range of medals though? What do you do if they have planned more than one adventure? How about something to cater for more medals, like a medal hanger?

If they’re anything like me they will just throw all their race bling in a shoebox and forget about it. I am starting to warm to the idea of putting it all on display though. Maybe a hanger is my answer?

Runners Wall provide a wide range of laser-cut stainless steel hangers with a choice of messages or logos on the top, perfect for somebody with more medals than they know what to do with.

If they have already got a serious amount of medals then you can even get double height hangers. No Excuses. Website: http://runnerswall.co.uk/

Chill Out

Phew! Still with me? Good. I think that gives us a pretty good journey through the year of a runner  and some different ideas for gifts for the runner you know.

Just one final idea though and that’s one to both help them with their training and to relax afterwards. That is of course beer.

It’s both a reward and a fuel. Carb load away guys, and what better way to do it with than this glass made just for that very purpose.

You can get this little beauty, along with a wide range of others from the site Gone For A Run, who also have all manner of bits and pieces for runners. Website: http://www.goneforarun.com/

Hopefully this post will have prompted you with some different ideas for gifts this Christmas other than just socks.

Let me know if you have any other great gift ideas for runners. If you’re buying me a gift, stick with the beer.

Green Man Talk At Moti Bristol

Moti Logo

On Friday 7th November I will be hosting an evening at Moti Bristol, where I will talk about Fat Man To Green Man, the story behind it and the people in it.

I will then answer any questions people might have about the book, ultrarunning in general or even The Green Man Ultra specifically.

With next year’s event looking busier than ever I’m sure there are plenty of people looking for the lowdown on Bristol’s very own ultramarathon challenge.

There will be books for sale from the shop, which I would be more than happy sign if anybody would like. The talk is free to attend and does not need to be booked in advance.

Moti is situated on Whiteladies Road, in Clifton. They have two floors of the very best specialist running shoes, fitness & triathlon brands. One hour, free of charge parking and bike racks can be found right outside.

If you are around the Bristol area then I hope that you will be able to come along for the evening have a bit of a chat about running and The Green Man. The event will start at 19:00.

Moti Bristol
49 Whiteladies Road
Clifton
Bristol
BS8 2LS

Web: http://www.mymoti.com/

Tel: 0117 9737000

Not Running Out Of Words

TypingThere seem to be an increasing amount of people who want to write about their running, whether that is a blog about their training, reviewing events they’ve been at or even conveying their wider running tale in a book. This could in part be due to the ease of publishing your thoughts online, or even the rise and rise of self publishing, both as ebooks and traditional paperbacks. It could of course be self-fueling in that the more people read other runners’ accounts the more they feel the desire to pen their own.

Obviously this is a journey I have been down myself writing both this blog and Fat Man to Green Man. Personally I’ve always enjoyed writing, whether it’s articles for newsletters, magazine features, blogs, stand-up comedy or stage shows, I’ve had a dabble at all of it. I’ve always liked the sense of creating something and expressing myself in words. It’s very liberating.

This hasn’t always been the case though. I failed my English exams at school (I in fact failed pretty much all my exams) and I didn’t even really read until I was in my twenties. In the end I went back to night school, about twenty years ago, and studied English again, which sparked my interest in writing. Everyone has their own motivation.

Not Confident?

So is writing something you want to try your hand at, but aren’t confident about starting, don’t know what to write, or maybe how to structure it? After a few people asked me for some tips, I thought I’d jot down some of my ideas on how I go about it and what I think. You may well disagree with the following, but that of course is the beauty of any creative process, it’s your own perspective.

The first thing to realise is that nothing is wrong, other of course than spelling and grammar. There are plenty of great resources online you can use for these if you’re not sure. Grammar Monster is one such site to take a look at. When I say nothing is wrong, I mean that your writing should reflect your thinking and feelings. That’s what makes it interesting – it’s somebody else’s view of the world.

Be true to yourself when you write something, Use language that you would use, be honest with your thoughts and try to just let the words flow out. You can always edit later. I tend to just sit down and type out the first things that come into my head, almost like on autopilot then go back and tidy up after. Getting the ideas out in the most important thing.

Bumbling Crap

Whether your writing is liked by others or if they just think it’s a pile of bumbling crap is of course a very subjective thing. We are all individuals and what one person loves another could detest. That’s fine. Everyone is welcome to their opinion and you have to accept that not everybody is going to agree with you. Accept it and take constructive criticism on board.

If you have an idea for something to write about then start by jotting down some key points about it, things that caught your attention and you thought were interesting, you can then work those into your writing. Personally I think the small detail is what makes things worth reading. You will notice things or perceive things other people won’t and that’s interesting.

Make notes as you go along. Anything and everything. Don’t think that you’ll just remember it because you won’t. Write it down. Use scraps of paper, fag packets, or your phone (I use Evernote for this) and take photos too. Lots of photos. Pictures really add both to the writing and your memory of an event. If you use Dropbox on your phone it can auto upload the photos to your account so they are on your computer when you’re ready to write.

It’s Not Wrong

When you’re writing about an event, go back to your story. Why were you running this particular race? What happened to get you there? What were your expectations? Who were you there with? Then move on to what happened. Was it as you expected? How did you feel? What’s next for you? Remember, you’re telling your tale. It’s not wrong. Just remember to keep it interesting for your readers, give them a reason to care and keep reading.

Think, if everyone wrote a purely factual account of an event, then they would all be the same. What readers are interested in is what you thought of it – your perspective. It’s your story, however daft or serious that is. An example of this could be my review of the Hoka Highland Fling. You can tell from this article that I don’t take things too seriously and the tone of writing is geared towards that.

The next thing to think about is the structure of your piece. Think about stories in general, all stories have a beginning, a middle and an end. The beginning sets up the tale, the middle conveys the action and the bulk of the story while the ending wraps things up and sometimes draws a conclusion. If you’re writing a review of an event for example, then that’s always a good structure to bear in mind. Building a story up to a crescendo will hold the readers’ interest.

If you’re writing something longer like a book then I find it useful to write myself a plan. Firstly, what is the overall story, what is the intended tone of the writing, and how is the story going to flow? Think about themes for the book, what do you want the reader to come away with or feel at the end? Ensure that you are consistent in your message and it sticks to the general theme.

When drawing up a plan I generally write a short description of each chapter, what it’s supposed to say and where it fits in the overall story. That way you can step back and have a high-level view of the story and how it flows.

Does each chapter deliver on its intended purpose? Does it contain something that would be better placed elsewhere, or even not in there at all? Does each chapter move the story along sufficiently? Does the chapter drift off into unrelated waffle?

Leave It Out

One of the important things to realise is that not everything you write has to end up in the finished piece. Sometimes the quality of the work can be judged by the quality of what you have left out. You don’t have to use every idea or joke you have thought of. Sometimes less is more. Learn to edit your writing without getting overly precious about it. Editing is just as an important part of the process as writing it in the first place.

Whilst it may seem appealing to write flowing descriptive paragraphs about how the wind rustled through the autumnal leaves spread across the floor of the forest as you ran amongst the withered roots, unless you talk like that then don’t. You’re not being true to yourself. Write things as you see them and leave all the wordy stuff out. Read aloud it should sound like you (even if only in your head).

Sometimes the words just won’t come out as you want them to, but when that happens just try to keep writing. Keep churning ideas out until what you wanted to say appears on the page, then go back and be brutal with the rest. Ask yourself, would you be interested or happy reading this written by somebody else? If you think it’s dull then bin it.

Anyone can write a factual account of something. What people are interested in reading is your account, your thinking, your perspective. It can still have facts in it, or it might not. That’s up to you to decide. Just remember, keep it true to yourself, keep it interesting for the reader and don’t over think or over complicate it. It’s just you talking – only written down.

So, start writing and post links to your blog or additional tips in the comment section below. Thanks to Write This Run and Andy Holgate for some additional thoughts and ideas.

 

Surviving A ‘No’ From London

Marathon NewsYou watched the race on the BBC, you marvelled at the pace of the elite runners and then you dashed through the entry form once the nice London people opened entries for the ballot before it sold out.

You’re in right? Wrong. This is just where the waiting begins. It’s only April, when do you find out? October. You’ll have no nails left by July.

Your life goes on hold for five months until you learn if you will need to put your body through marathon hell.

“Are you running London next year?” people will ask you. “Hopefully” you answer. But the reality is 125,000 people apply for the race, your chances of getting a place are something around one in seven, given that out of the final 37,000 (or so) runners will also include elite runners; good for age places; charity bond places; and club allocated spots.

Then around the start of October the rumours start. They take the money first from those who have a place; they send the no letters out before the yes letters; people will get a place only if they have an R in their name; Elvis’ brain forms the heart of a humanoid computer that selects places based upon how much their name resembles a sandwich. Conspiracy theories run wild.

The reality is the whole process is random. Some people get in year after year and other fail time and again. I personally have got in twice in the past, so I must be super lucky somehow. They state every year how much the process is random, and it truly does seem to be. Does that make it fair? Well, that’s another argument altogether.

Despite the entry system being digital, and Elvis’ head being powered by an Ever Ready 9v battery, you don’t get to find out if you have a spot until your postman drops a magazine through your door. If your postie is as good as mine then you may never even see it, but my Latvian neighbour will somehow have a place.

You get home from work, you look at the mat, and there it is. Marathon Loser Magazine. You failed in your attempt to get a place. You will once again be designated to watching the spectacle from the sofa in your reject fleece. Or will you?

Even in a first world kind of way it may seem like the end of everything, but you do have options. Firstly the rejection magazine itself isn’t really a magazine at all, but an advertising rag full of charity places for you to take up. You can still run the race they promise you, so long as you raise money for them.

Great you think, I can still get a place. However when you look at the bond for most of the larger charities they are asking you to raise around £2000. That’s a lot of money.

London 2006Now don’t get me wrong, I’m all for raising money for charity, and I have done so myself a number of times in a whole range of races, including London.

But I’ve generally been lucky enough to have my own places for the events and not been bound by a large commitment.

The thing is, if you run at all then the chances are you’ve already asked family, friends and work colleagues for sponsorship at some point in your running career. Trying to get more from them just because you need a second shot at getting a London number can be tough.

If I’m being cynical (which I am) then you could say that what you are actually doing is getting your family and friends to pay for you to run the London Marathon. If you were dedicated to the charitable cause then you likely have taken a charity place over and above entering the ballot in the first place.

It could be argued that the charities (who buy the places from the race) overcharge for the places they have, but most charities fill all their spots no trouble so you could argue it is merely a case of market demand. Even the smaller charities who struggle to fill their spots simply ask for less of a commitment and then attract runners keen for a place.

So, you don’t have a place, you don’t want to commit to raising thousands of pounds and you don’t want to be disingenuous and try to raise money for a charity you don’t really believe in. What can you do? How about forget London and run another race instead.

Guess what, there are hundreds of marathons all over the world every week. If you don’t get a place in London then widen your scope and take a place in another race instead.

I think running the London Marathon is something that all runners should get a chance of doing if they want to and it is a great event and fantastic atmosphere, but it is not the only race in the world.

Where can you find a good list of races? Start by looking at this great website: http://marathons.ahotu.com/