How running and a vegan diet changed my life

My vegan transformation
Sometimes in life you find yourself being a passenger. The easy thing to do is to heed to the advice of Hunter S Thompson and simply; “sit back and enjoy the ride”. It is safe to say we’re all guilty of doing this at times. In this hectic world we exist in it’s easy to let malaise set in and let go of our dreams, career aspirations, relationships and our health. The last one ‘our health’, that was the one for me. I consider myself someone who lives in the present, who is ambitious, finds the courage to speak my mind and stand up for others. I didn’t believe I was a passenger but in that one area ‘my health’, I was cruising in the wrong direction.

Then about a year ago one Sunday the sun was shining and I had recently been discussing wanting to go running again. It had been 6 months since I managed any kind of run and over 2 years since I had managed more than 10 miles in a week. Somehow I made it out the door and set out for a run around a part of Victoria Park, it was a beautiful day I enjoyed that part of the run. I didn’t enjoy the constant stopping, the blisters forming on my feet and the slow speed I was running at. I think I ran about 3.8 miles in somewhere around 39 minutes, before walking the last half a mile home. Not my finest moment, but I had done the hardest thing, I got out there and tried.

“So I did what I do normally do, I made a plan. I am a big fan of plans”.

My plan was that I would run 2/3 times a week and build up to the point where I could run 5k without needing to stop. This took me about 4 weeks and was helped massively by my friend Lauren Garland who came running with me as she prepared for a marathon. I still remember some of those runs around Hackney Downs for the awful wind and rain but Lauren coming round to my flat and getting me out helped me loads, I think I will be forever grateful to you for that Lauren if you are reading this.

“Little things… Little things count”.

I then joined GoodGym and started running more regularly on my own. After a few months a injury struck not surprisingly considering  the extended vacation of over 2 years I had given my body with the exception of casual bike commuting. This led to a spell on the sidelines, I had physio, I read books (Born To Run, Eat and Run, Running with the Kenyans) and I thought about how the previous 3 months had made me feel. And the answer was it had made me feel alive, it made me start to have little dreams. Not the kind of dream where I fantasise about finding an affordable house in Hackney but the kind of dream where I push my body, my mind and my heart to achieve something memorable to me.

“Create memorable experiences, they are worth a thousand material things”.

So what happened next? I slowly recovered from my Achilles injury, I built myself up again, running exclusively 5k’s for my first month back. Just hit that 10 mile base was my mantra.

Last weekend I had came down with 24 hour fever which left me feeling pretty drained it was the first illness of any type I had endured since May 2013. I somehow managed a 3 mile run which was incredibly hard and it meant that I only recorded 11.8 miles last week. I was devastated that after the storming previous week I had fallen some 10 miles short of my Edinburgh Marathon training plan.

Then I realised that is how far I have come in the space of just over a year. I have transformed myself physically and mentally, I feel more ambitious to do good things than ever, I am far more positive person than I was a year ago, I am looking to the future not glancing at the past.

I lost about 7kg, dropping from around 77kg to 70kg today. I eat more than ever, I eat when I want, I never restrict my calories. Honestly a low-fat vegan diet has done wonders for my physical and mental wellbeing. I was a vegetarian before but when I went vegan I realised how much more efficient my body was running on plants, grains and fruits. It was a real revelation. Whatever your diet, I encourage you to eat more plants and lots more fruit, I believe going is a key reason I have improved quickly as a runner.

So yeah, running rocks! Fruit rules and so do you if you made it this far.

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Long miles with a great friend

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Running with friends is the best! Ok, not quite as good as the post run carb fest I usually embark on but it comes in a mighty close second place.

This Saturday marathon training got real for Damien. I had to run for 1:20 hour and I was dreading it. I had asked my amazing friend Joe Phillips to come along with me and although he plays football goes to the gym and has ran some impressive half marathons in the past; he hadn’t ran over 10k in nearly 18 months. So to be honest I wasn’t sure he would make it. But on Saturday morning the sun was shining and Joe messaged me to say he was coming for the run.

We ran to Walthamstow Marsh, along the lea valley river, Hackney Marsh, onto Regents Canal, through Victoria Park, dragged ourselves through London Fields where all our discussions turned to what we were going to eat when we got in and finally made it back to mine with 10 miles in the bag in 1:28.15

Joe was a total hero and a true friend to not moan about my 8 minute over calculation but hey, what is a mile between friends?

Afterwards we embarked on eating some delicious organic bananas before heading to the Vegan cafe the Black Cat to thoroughly carb up and enjoy ourselves.

I am lucky to have a few lovely friends who run with me and hopefully this will be the first of many amazing runs with Joe.

Love Run 10k + marathon training update

Damien Clarkson after the Love Run 10k  (picture by Ivo Gormley)

Damien Clarkson after the Love Run 10k (picture by Ivo Gormley)

Whisper it quietly but I think the pissing wind that has plagued runners for months might have disappeared. Bring on the Spring! Or at the very least some cold and dry weather.

In just 13 weeks and 2 days I will have completed my first marathon. Currently I feel the Edinburgh marathon is looming above my head like a giant zeppelin about to drop a bombardment of ruined feet, shattered hamstrings and chaffed legs.

You would think that following a 16 week plan would leave me brimming with confidence. But boy would you be wrong. I have realised marathon training is hardcore, the sheer amount of miles, the tight muscles, the lack of sleep and destruction of your social life. These are all key elements of marathon training. And I have just taken a work contract at Government Digital Services. And although this is a superbly flexible forward thinking workplace, I am going to be spending more of my time tied to a desk not able to just drop my work and go running when the mood takes me. Scary!

So you would be right in thinking that I am struggling to hit my target miles at the moment. Last week I completed just 16 miles but this did include recording a new PB in the Finsbury Park Love Run 10k. Powered by a 8 banana smoothie, I kept my record of recording a PB in every race since I started writing this blog back in September. I recorded a chip time of 46:13 coming in 53rd out of 293 runners.

Damien Clarkson running the Love Run 10k  (picture by Ivo Gormley)

If you went out running last Saturday you will know how crazy the wind was. Everyone who took part in that race last Saturday or just went for a run anywhere deserves huge credit. It was literally insane, so much so that I got blown to a literal stop running for the finish line.

I was running with team GoodGym last Saturday. Everyone of us put in a wholehearted performance and super speedy Shaun Dixon won the race at a canter. GoodGym Founder, Ivo Gormley took some wonderful pictures I have shamefully borrowed for the site (thanks Ivo) and in other exciting news GoodGym is now an affiliated UK athletics running club. As if you needed another reason to come along and take a look if you live in London. I am already dreaming of the wicking t-shirt I am going to be able to buy with my cumulative £2 pound race entry savings.

I also made a video of the race below. Please give it a watch and perhaps give it a like and subscribe.


What else happened in the last 2 weeks. Well my Garmin 210 decided to stop working, meaning I lost 3 very average miles on Strava. Luckily I was able to exchange it for a new watch today, hopefully this Garmin lasts more than 4 months.

I am also just about the enter the Hackney Half Marathon at the end of June. I am so excited about running the streets of the area I have lived in for the past 4 years. I would love it if you came and ran this race with me.

Screenshot 2014-02-21 19.20.25

If you are training for a marathon how is it going? How do you squeeze the miles in? Also does anyone have an April half marathon they would recommend?

Tomorrow I will be running for 1:20 hr taking my weekly mileage up to around 18 miles. 13 weeks to go, I am nervous but still just about optimistic.

Damien

The road to Edinburgh begins

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I can’t move my legs, can’t feel my feet and I just want to eat. All things going to plan in 15 weeks I will be most likely repeating words to this effect as I will have ran the Edinburgh marathon aged 29 and 9 months.

Week 1 of my training has seen me manage to run 21.20 miles with relative ease. Making new Spotify playlists has definitely helped make the runs go by quickly. I am trying to focus on the strong winds here in the UK as a good thing. How has everyone else found training in these conditions?

So what did my training look like this week?

Marathon training (week 1 of 16)

  • Monday: Spinning class with Kate at London Fields Fitness.
  • Tuesday: 5.1 miles with GoodGym he helped the amazing Hackney Pirates build their ship of adventures
  • Wednesday: 5.0 miles intervals
  • Thursday: Rest
  • Friday: Personal Training with Ade followed by 3 miles running
  • Saturday: Rest
  • Sunday: 8.2 miles the weeks long run.
  • Total: 21.20 miles

On Saturday I am running a 10k race in Finsbury Park; the race is raising money for Action Duchenne.

Duchenne Muscular Dystrophy is a terrible genetic muscle wasting disease with no cure which affects primarily young men. Reading about this race I felt I really had to enter as my Dad died from another muscle wasting disease called Motor Neurone Disease. As I run around Finsbury Park next Saturday my thoughts will turn to him and all the other runners who have lost loved ones to cruel diseases.

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Dad and me in Greece July 2010, he sadly passed away just 8 months later.

Beautiful Hackney running

Another week where I achieved my Jantastic run target.

Another week where I achieved my Jantastic run target.

Consistency matters! I am generally ok at getting my weekly mileage in but this week boy did I not want to run. Most of my runs this week came after hours of sitting around in my running gear, only the embarrassment of having to change out of it got me out the door.

Luckily being my own boss means I can pick when I run, which generally is when the weather is at its mildest and driest. And as always I was rewarded with stunning scenery. East London was recently described in a survey of Londoners as ‘grimy’ but the East London I see has everything you could want. Culture, marsh land, huge parks, independent shops, canals, great places to socialise. I also think it is pretty darn good for running; a couple of extra hills wouldn’t go amiss but when you get treated to views like this when you’re running you can’t complain.

Clissold Park on Monday afternoon as the sun was coming down.

Clissold Park on Monday afternoon as the sun was coming down.

Leyton Marsh taken on my Saturday 7 miler.

Leyton Marsh taken on my Saturday 7 miler.

Like pretty much every week, I did my Monday run, this week a 4 and half miler to Clissold Park. I then ended up not  running again until Friday when I ran to and from my personal training session with Ade. This week we again focused on core work and running posture and form. I was back on the treadmill again and things are lining up quite nicely with my running. She has given me more exercises to work on improving my core strength and posture.

Saturday saw me embark on another epic episode of procrastination before heading off on a lovely run to Hackney Marsh, it was 7 miles my longest since my injury and simply beautiful weather and thoroughly enjoyable.

My Saturday run

My Saturday run

My mind is starting to turn to marathon training which I start on the first Monday in February. I am feeling nervous but excited, so if you’re in London and training for a marathon and want a running partner please give me a shout.

Thanks for being amazing and reading my blog. Your comments and support always inspires me.

Damien xx

January when champions are made

After the 1 mile time trial

We’re now approaching the end of January. The Christmas present trainers are muddy and the new year resolution runners lacking in commitment have disappeared from our streets. January is the when champions are made. Ok, well Spring marathon runners at the very least.

This week has seen me continue on my comeback from injury clocking up a happy 12.7 miles running. I highly recommend kicking off the week with a Monday run, I know this isn’t exactly a ground shattering revelation but I honestly believe running early in the week is the key to ticking off your mileage target.

Embracing the unpredictable weather is in my mind also key to happy January running. I like to think of huge puddles as a fun obstacle and focus on the fact that in freezing cold weather you burn fat quicker; equalling me becoming a lighter faster runner on race day.

On Tuesday I ran with GoodGym Hackney, we were working with the brilliant charity Streetbank delivering flyers in the areas their members live. I had heard about Streetbank before and it was great to find out more about the work they do getting neighbours to help each other out by lending each other useful items or skill swapping. The run was incredibly enjoyable and again we had a huge turnout (I think the biggest Hackney GoodGym run). It is always great to meet other runners in my local area and because of the nature of GoodGym e.g. doing good in the local community the people who come along are always incredibly interesting.

Ade the GoodGym trainer also set us a purely running challenge to run a 1 mile circuit of London Fields. I was annoyingly busting to wee but I thought I would give it a decent go, after a few laps it was clear if I wanted to be the first to finish I would need to run faster than my body was physically up to. A 35 mile cycle on the Sunday and 4 runs in 5 days had taken its toll. Despite that I still was one of the first runners to finish recording a 6:28 mile. We will be running this lap again in 8 weeks, I will be in marathon training then and it would be great to bring that time down and go below the 6:12 mile I ran back in October.

On Friday morning I went running with my friend Clare and her dog Watson. Clare is a great running partner and I always enjoy our chats and Watson is just great fun in his never ending search for the biggest possible stick he can carry. I proceeded to go straight from my 4 and half mile run to my first personal training session with Ade (mentioned earlier).

On the way to the personal training, I smashed a PB on a 400 metre dash in London Fields, I love this Strava challenge it is on my way home and always motivates me to have a dash beating my PB. I was so delighted to get an 8th place on the all time challenge leader board jumping two places recording a 1.25 on the dash. I would urge everyone to get on Strava, it is great way to add a little excitement to even runs when you don’t feel at your best.

London Fields 400 metre dash

8th place on the all time leaderboard

8th place on the all time leaderboard

With hindsight running before a personal training session wasn’t my wisest decision. As well as leading the Hackney GoodGym group, Ade runs a personal training business called Fit City with a special focus on exploring the urban architecture of London through running. However this Friday we were in London Fields Fitness studios and Ade was putting me through my paces with a core and cardio workout. And boy did she make me sweat, Ade is tough but very fair and a real pleasure to train with. We did lots of different core exercises, lunges, boxing and some running, I enjoyed the session immensely.

The good news from the session is that my core isn’t too bad however there is room for improvement and I will be working with Ade in the coming weeks to strengthen this area up before starting my Edinburgh Marathon training at the start of February.

Ade also filmed my running and there has been massive improvements in my form, the arms are swinging better and feet are very close to striking straight underneath me. I will be working with Ade in the coming weeks to improve this. Any tips on running form are much appreciated, please comment below I honestly appreciate any help.

Next week I promise to do a blog on nutrition as a vegan, I have found that since switching from a vegetarian to a vegan diet last June my running and overall health as come on leaps and bounds. 

And remember we are half way through the Winter, keep finding pleasures in Winter running and before you know it Spring will be in the air along with those race PB’S. 

Thanks for popping by as always.

Damien x

Jantastic me!

Fruit haul

Hello! anyone there? Sorry for the silence the past week or so. I have been full of good new year intentions but clearly blogging lots hasn’t been one of them. Work has been slightly busier, I have also been making sure I see lots of friends but importantly I am back up and running pain free. Edinburgh is in my sights.

Running wise I am hoping the calf problem which ruined my December running behind me. To stay fit I have incorporated a much more rigorous stretching regime both pre and post run. I have also purchased a road bike and went spinning at London Fields Fitness again on Monday.  2014 is going to be the year when fitness and friends come together and I spent more time exploring beautiful places with friends outdoors and less time doing unhealthy things . This Sunday I am going out for a early morning 30 mile bike ride with my friend Luke and a bunch of his friends, I am pretty nervous about keeping up but I am sure it will be fun.

My running has been steady if unspectacular, the weather here in the UK has been insane. I have to admit I have generally been picking my times to run based on the weather predictions. Although I did go running at 6:46 in the morning the other week, this was unusual for me. I have to admit I really enjoyed the quietness of the run and it gave me a great chance at recording a good time on the London Fields 400 metre dash on Strava. I have been really enjoying Strava of late, it is great to see what other runners are doing in your local area. I decided to have a dash at running the stretch fast, I managed to just squeeze into the top 10 on the Strava leader board. I love knowing where challenges are on my routes and having a dash and running them fast.

London Fields 400 metre dash

Get on Strava it is free and a great way to add a bit of extra fun into your runs. 

I have also been on the hunt for great fruit as per usual, I am keeping up my consumption of around 70 bananas a week. My girlfriend and I have resorted to buying whole boxes of bananas from our local market. Although I am not sure how many more times I can carry 19 kg for bananas over a mile.

In this video check out how Kasia and I got on hunting for new fruit.

I also went to GoodGym this week, if you haven’t heard of GoodGym it is a great way to run and help make your community a better place. It is now in 4 locations in London and is growing all the time. This week we had 25 runners at Hackney GoodGym who helped clear a pathway at an allotment. On the way up I ran at the back (we make sure no one runs alone) and on the way back I led us home running leading us back at spritely pace. I love running back from GoodGym there is always a little bit of fun competition for those of us near the front.

I have signed up to the Marathon Talk’s Jantastic.me challenge with a few other GoodGym members, I love being part of a little running community of do-gooders, it is a really special thing. I only have set myself a modest Jantastic target of 3 runs a week for the next couple of weeks until I start my marathon training plan.

I am 19 weeks away and I am thinking about following either 18 or 16 week marathon plan. If you have any plan recommendations please put them in the comments below.

As always thanks for reading and keeping running, we were born to do this.

Damien x