Running from Shadows

My Marathon des Sables . . . and beyond

Kicked up the backside by Rory Coleman

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Me: “I really need a kick up the backside.”

Rory Coleman: “I’ll gladly give you a kick up the backside. See you Tuesday next week at 11.”

So 5 weeks ago I found myself ambling down to Cardiff via a beautiful drive through the Brecon Beacons for a kick up the backside by Rory.

I knew what this would mean as I’ve been there before: an hour or so of exercises I haven’t done in a long, long time interspersed with some tough talk. It would hurt. I would feel sick. But I knew the ultimate outputs would be worth it: I just needed to press my “Reset” button. If you didn’t know already Rory is a veteran of 12 Marathon des Sables who’s finished over 900 marathons in about 20 years and has 9 Guinness World Records to his name, hence the experience to do a fine job as a performance coach in his spare time.

But first of all I popped to see Martin and Sue at their new shop Likeys in Brecon, the emporium of all useful stuff for ultras, desert and jungle races (and mountaineering kit, if that’s your poison).

I think the Likeys story is awesome: Martin and Sue decided many years ago to progress their passion for ultras and extreme races to an online retail business of all the stuff you could ever need to run across the Sahara, or the Amazon, or the Arctic Circle. Because they’ve both had the experience of completing these races their wisdom on kit choices is second-to-none, and they will tell you if you really don’t need a particular piece of new kit if you already have something that will do the same job.

With the online business having progressed so strongly over the years it now includes a High Street presence in Brecon. As I was in Wales anyway this was a great opportunity to check out their new project and for some kit-buying (one can never have enough kit). I was a kid in a sweetshop, dreamily admiring the acres of stuff along the walls and floor, but Martin did a good job of restraining my desire for lots of new kit to what I actually needed and I came away with some items to test for what will be a very hot and humid Ancient Khmer Path in Cambodia later this year. And Likeys now stock my book, Running from Shadows: cheers Martin!


The following morning at 11 and after a quick catch-up chat Rory got me straight on to the treadmill for a test. After 15 minutes or so I came away with the news my future treadmill sessions would be run at a faster pace than I had been used to because, clearly, I was capable of doing much more. Damn: the joys of harder PowerHours to look forward to!

Then on to 15 burpees . . . I can’t remember the last time I tried these . . . then onto a series of machine weights in very quick succession (no rest in Rory-world).

Me: “I feel sick.”

Rory: “Right, straight onto another set of 15 burpees!”

Which took a bit longer to complete than the first, as did the second set of quick succession machine weights. My legs turned gradually to jelly as the form of my burpees deteriorated to become a blur of flailing arms and legs and sweat flying around the gym. And I could barely do a machine shoulder press with the weight having been ratcheted up and then swiftly back down again.

Me: “I feel sick and dizzy.” And I was absolutely sweating buckets. No-one else in the gym was. Rory likes to ensure his charge is sweating more than anyone else in the gym at that moment (proving the point that most people in a gym simply don’t work hard enough).

Rory: “OK, sit down.”

And the assessment? As it has been before, really, I just haven’t fully drilled it into my subconscious as yet (this takes time): a big, powerful engine sits below a few too many layers of fat because of an addiction to sugar; a mind that doesn’t like to give in, which would prefer to see the body collapse in a heap rather than give in to the negative connotations of “No can do!” Improve the engine and strip the fat and . . . who knows?!

After a shower it was back to Rory’s house to sit around The Kitchen Table of Truth. The physically hard part over, this table is where the mentally hard part starts: why do you want to do this? what’s stopping you? what are the blocks?

Some interesting questions and some interesting answers to cogitate. I’m still on that post-Marathon des Sables journey of transformation: changing mind-sets, changing dietary habits. A lifetime of acting and eating in one way can take years of reversal to change. I’m way ahead of where I once was but there are still jigsaw pieces to snap into place.

Then onto a new 12 week plan, slotting in certain races, fast runs, slow runs, gym schedules. No days off. We now have a hard target to work towards: a lifetime goal of sub-80 kilos in weight, or 12 stone 8 pounds in old money, because it’s far easier to skip across deserts carrying that!

Blimey, I thought, I can’t have been that weight since at least my teens . . . I have previously worked out my “ideal” weight for frame size etc. as being 13 stone or 82.5kg, so a lifetime goal of between 80 and 83 sounds about right.

My weight at the start of the plan when I met Rory 5 weeks ago?

15 stone, 2 pounds (96.1kg). So we’re looking at around a 16 kilo weight loss.

Rory took this picture to show what 16kgs looks like, and it feels as heavy as it looks:


Back to the training plan: it took the third attempt to be able to complete the PowerHour (an hour of hellish and very sweaty intervals, basically). The first attempt was doomed after 35 minutes: it was the Famous Heatwave Wednesday in the UK when outside the temperature was 35C, and not much cooler in the gym.

On the second attempt I broke 24 minutes for a 5K race, a new personal best for the course.

My marathon at the end of week 3, the off-road “From Here to There and Back” event (highly recommended, though a tad shy of a 28-miler rather than a marathon) was almost comfortable. My legs felt fine throughout and I was still running strongly at the end. A slow time, granted, but the purpose at the moment is to keep my heart rate right down (low 130 beats per minute) on my long runs.

Just 5 days off in 5 weeks (oops!).

My weight now?

14 stone, 5 pounds (91.1kg), a loss of 11 pounds or 5 kilos in 5 weeks.

The trick? Belief, and slashing the calories from sugar, plus lots of exercise.

Can I get to 13 stone (82.5 kilos) in the next 4 months or so for the Cambodia race?

And then can I keep it off?

Stay tuned!

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