Oliver Daniel
London landmarks half marathon

London Landmarks Half Marathon race review

The London Landmarks Half Marathon was a new race in 2018, organised by the children’s charity Tommy’s. For me, this run marked my 6th Half Marathon race, but there’s always something special about central London runs. I did the Hampton Court Half in February which I loved and the Big Half earlier this month (which didn’t go quite so well). But the runs through the city of London and along the Embankment always have an incredible atmosphere.

Despite being a new event, the run was heavily advertised beforehand (especially on facebook), so much so that the website crashed when entries opened, and subsequently sold out within 2 minutes. On race day, 10,000+ runners set off according to start waves, however an extremely narrow starting route (one half of Pall Mall) meant that my starting pace was a good 30 seconds slower than expected. I was hoping to go under 1.30 again, but the narrow road meant that my first mile barely fell under 7 minutes.

After a while, the route widened, and the rest of the route was fantastic (and for the most part, completely flat). The entertainment put on by the organisers and the excitement of running past central London’s landmarks meant that it was a fantastic run. Combined with really nice weather (sunny but not hot – ideal running conditions)this helped me to make up some of the pace lost initially. Also, despite living in London and regularly navigating much of the route, London looks so different without any cars and traffic – and you can’t help but jump at the chance to join in that atmosphere.

In the end I finished up just over 1.30, slightly disappointing but still an absolutely fantastic run! The overall organisation of the event, especially for an inaugural event was fantastic – everything from the support to entertainment to podiums and installations at the finishing area for pictures (despite there being no real race village). Also the medal was by far the best of any race I’ve done – it even opens up which was cool!

There were things that could be improved including the baggage drop, start to the route and a crazily inaccurate ‘automated photography’ system that aimed to automatically capture and tag runners (every picture I was ‘tagged’ in was not actually of me). Race packs were also sent out in advance containing shirts. Whilst I loved the design, I would have preferred to receive the shirt after the race. There’s something quite nice about picking up your race pack and shirt at the finish. Having said that, it was great seeing the sea of yellow running jerseys during the race!

Summary of the run

The good:

  • Lovely route & flat.
  • Great shirt & medal
  • Great atmosphere
  • Entertainment on course & podium for pictures.

The not so good:

  • Starting corrals – far too narrow.
  • Technical issues with website when registering initially, due to number of people accessing.
  • Automated photos very inaccurate.
  • Bag drop poorly organised and very slow.
  • A few sharp turns and u-turns on the course which slightly decreased PB potential.
  • Would have been nicer to have received a race pack and t-shirt after the race.

Overall the London Landmarks run was a fantastic run. I much preferred it over the Big Half earlier this month. I’d consider it almost on a par with the Royal Parks Half!

Hampton Court Half Marathon (2018) review

This is my review of the Hampton Court Half Marathon in 2018 – aka the road to sub 1.30. A lot of the races I enter are large mass participation events with 10,000+ runners minimum. These races are unrivalled for their atmosphere, the level of support and general entertainment. However, they have their drawbacks as well – often even starting in the first wave you find yourself stuck at the back of a bottleneck, unable to get past slower runners in front or get up to speed. This forms a nice segway into one of my goals for 2018. In the three half marathons I’d done before I have been yet to break 1.30. In fact I haven’t broken 1.35! Given that, it might have been a bit ambitious to set a goal of sub 1.30 this year, however I felt fitter than I had been in the past and like to set challenging targets to aim for.  Emboldened by this, I swiftly signed up for 3 races between February and the end of March, with the aim of hitting my goal in one, or more of these.

The Hampton Court Half Marathon was the first of these, in early February. Unlike the races described earlier – this race is a much smaller affair – probably no more than 4000 runners. Taking place in February there was also the potential for an extremely cold run, and starting early in the morning – 8.30 is far earlier than I’d ever normally run (the majority of my runs are in the evening, and most races I’ve done haven’t started earlier than 9am). As such, I was somewhat apprehensive about this one. Getting up early in the morning to make the 45min journey to Thames Ditton didn’t assuage these fears, and combined with a long queue for the toilet at the race village meant I almost missed the race start as well! Running pretty much straight from the toilets across the start line I assumed this was going to be a slower run, just to gauge my fitness level and hopefully break 1.30 in one of the next two races.

However the start was fantastic as it happened. Whereas most races I end up unable to overtake and being forced to slow down initially, here the smaller field and start wave specifically for sub 1.30 runners  meant that I could get up to speed straight away. I decided to start just behind the 1.30 pacer, some 30 seconds behind when I crossed the start line and then catch up with them. I overtook and knew that I had a 30 second cushion if I could just not let them past.

The route itself was great – pancake flat, and whilst quite narrow in places (especially as roads were not closed), the smaller number of runners and well planned starting waves meant that there were never any frustrating moments stuck behind runners. Additionally, running besides the river through Kingston and past Hampton Court were fantastic moments.

As I passed Hampton Court, I sprinted past Henry VIII and his wives walking towards me. This was the first race I’d done with a running watch, and as I glanced down at my Garmin I realised simultaneously that not only had the pacer not passed me, but I was well under 1.30 pace, with only 4 miles to go. At this point I got the dreaded side-stitch. I slowed, but held on for the next mile and with 3 left, managed to pull the speed back up, saving just enough energy for a final sprint across the line in the last few hundred meters. I glanced up at the clock as I crossed the finish line. 1.27.57. Not only had I broken 1.30, I’d gone 2 minutes faster, and a massive 7 minutes faster than my Half Marathon the year before!!

As a summary of the race – I loved it. It had a very different feel to the big races, but the route was fantastic and support and atmosphere great nonetheless. The shirt and medal were great and this is a race that is definitely PB potential. Additionally, this is the first event that has had a specific sub 1.30 wave and as such been able to solve the issues of many big races start zones.

Hampton court half marathon

Race summary

The good

  • Fantastic course with great PB potential.
  • 1.30 start wave & pacers
  • T-shirt, medal & general organisation
  • Henry VIII was cool…
  • Smaller field meant that narrow roads didn’t matter quite so much.

The not so good

  • Not closed roads.
  • Start is in Thames Ditton which is more difficult to get to.
  • Atmosphere can’t compare to bigger races, but then is a different style.

Conclusion:

Next year – the road to sub 1. 25??? Who knows!!

 

London 2 Cambridge Challenge

Three weeks ago I attempted the London 2 Cambridge 100km ultra challenge. Having injured my knee around 50k, I ended up walking / hobbling most of the second half to finish in a rather slow 18 hours (think I’m going to stick to shorter distances in the future and plan my training better!) Somehow seemed to top the small number of age 18-23 participants though. Also, in the process of attaching my bib to my rucksack 2 minutes before the start managed to puncture my water supply which made things even more interesting!! As painful as it was, it is absolutely nothing compared to the struggle that many people currently suffering from mental health issues face every single day so I’m delighted to have helped raise money for Mind.

The experience itself was fantastic. Despite being painful it was actually enjoyable – and attempting a challenge like this is something that really fills you with an enormous sense of accomplishment. The sense of camaraderie amongst participants was really palpable and the event itself was fantastically well organised – with free energy bars, snacks, cakes, massages and pretty much everything else you could imagine at the rest points. The route was posted for the most part very well – although wandered off track once or twice but never more than a couple of minutes, and glowsticks illuminated the signs when darkness fell. In terms of the Ultra Challenge organisation it is hard to fault them.

Web Summit 2015: A volunteer’s experience

‘I had a week of uni during 2015, yet it was an easy decision to make the journey to Dublin to attend Web Summit in November. In five or ten years time, I’m going to remember a decision which potentially changed my life, not the lectures I missed.

So why did I think this experience was potentially life changing? It changed the way I think, resulted in a googler referring my cv and made my mind up on what I want to do in the future. I felt at home, surrounded by 40,000 likeminded people.

READ ABOUT MY WEB SUMMIT EXPERIENCE BELOW…

I ended my working day early with PolicyBristol to travel to the airport and catch a flight to Dublin. Arriving at the airport with no idea what I was doing, I quickly googled the RDS on my phone and caught a bus to collect my Web Summit t-shirt at 9pm, just an hour an hour before the Volunteers’ hub closed. I didn’t check in to my hostel (hey, I’m a student) till 10 and after a quick pint (of lager, still haven’t been converted to Guinness), caught an early night.

Painfully early the next morning I got up and found my way to the bus stop to head back to the RDS. I had no idea at all what I was doing – I arrived at my shift slightly earlier than other volunteers, and no team leader had arrived. After fifteen minutes of wandering, other volunteers started arriving (not kidding, look at my view from the stage). None of us knew quite what we were meant to be doing however. When attendees began filing in to the main arena and still no team leader was present, we just started doing what we thought would be helpful! This brings me onto the only real negative experience as a Web Summit volunteer – organisation (at least of our team) was non-existent.

I was delighted to be an usher on the centre stage, which seemed to me to be the absolute best role. Although we didn’t have access to the speakers’ lounge or backstage, being on the centre stage we were able to help out attendees and delegates whilst also hearing some of the most exciting and cutting edge talks of the entire conference, and viewing the best fucking stage I’ve ever seen. Indeed at quieter times we were able to rotate and sit right in front of the stage.

The real experience of Web Summit however began once my shift ended. As volunteers we were then free to explore the entire conference on our own. I discovered some exciting startups, experienced Google cardboard and Oculus Rift for the first time (there was a virtual reality ministry of sound experience!). I also chatted to Google employees and made friends with other volunteers, meeting and networking with some fucking incredible people doing amazing things.

The Facebook showcase was the only disappointment. Whilst they were showcasing the most cutting edge and exciting work with Oculus, the long queues, some rude staff and the discovery that none of the staff were in fact Facebook employees, and were instead from a promotional agency hired by Facebook, tainted the experience.

Each day I heard some incredible talks from speakers including Ed Catmull (Pixar), Michael Dell, the CTO of Facebook, and even sporting superstars. Some of the highlights included the Internet Privacy discussion (click here for a rant about Theresa May), Palmer Lucky’s (Oculus CEO) talk and a neuroscientist’s work in redefining the human ‘umwelt.

The experience was ridiculously good. The best thing about WebSummit was undoubtedly just being surrounded by 40,000 likeminded friendly people, all in love with technology. I had fascinating discussions about each other’s work, politics and of course technology with people I had met 30 seconds ago. I felt at home in this environment. Plus, (although it wasn’t particularly subtle) I even got a quick picture with Steve Angello!

Night Summit was a fairly surreal experience. Travelling to one of Ireland’s more bizarre clubs, we walked in to find many Tech giants, dancing to Shakira. Apparently the CEO of Tinder, Sean Rad, was even in the club!

This just sums up the entire experience of WebSummit for me – just absolutely incredible. It felt like I had no clue at all what I was doing half the time, but at the same time I felt at home. I met some incredible people, made back my flight costs in free t-shirts, and most importantly it changed the way I think. Web Summit has just convinced me that the technology industry is what I want to pursue in the future. My LinkedIn connections have certainly increased, and following Web Summit I was headhunted on LinkedIn for the first time.

An Orwellian violation of privacy is still not the answer to safeguarding the country in the face of extremism

The tragic news from Paris shook the world, and has led to an urgent reconsideration of how we can safeguard our citizens’ security. Less than two weeks after the announcement of Theresa May’s Investigatory Powers Bill, the horrific events of Paris still cannot be used as a means to justify it.

“Computers are central to our everyday lives. Big data is reshaping the way we live and work. The internet has brought us tremendous opportunities to prosper and interact with others. But a digital society also presents us with challenges. The same benefits enjoyed by us all are being exploited by serious and organised criminals, online fraudsters, and terrorists. The threat is clear. In the past 12 months alone, six significant terrorist plots have been disrupted here in the UK, as well as a number of further plots overseas. The frequency and cost of cyber-attacks is increasing, with 90% of large organisations suffering an information security breach last year.” Theresa May

The Bill was justified by the Rt Hon Theresa May MP as necessary to ensure that “law enforcement and the security and intelligence agencies have the powers they need to keep us safe”. But does this Bill really succeed in keeping us safe, and if so, at what cost?

Here are the key points that the bill lays out:

  • web and phone companies to store records of websites visited by every citizen for 12 months.
  • makes explicit in law for the first time security services’ powers for the bulk collection of large volumes of personal communications data.
  • security services and police to be legally able to hack into and bug computers and phones, with new legal obligation on companies to assist.
  • Internet and phone companies to be required to maintain “permanent capabilities” to intercept and collect the personal data passing over their networks.

This does not simply give the intelligence agencies the power to monitor their citizens, but can also be used to justify the criminalisation of services such as Whatsapp and Snapchat, and to justify companies being forced to hand over all data to the intelligence agencies. But is this really an issue?

Does it matter? The argument being, if we have nothing to hide, we have nothing to fear.

However as Heather Brooke of The Guardian argued, “This snooper’s charter makes George Orwell look lacking in vision.” The bill is a fundamental attack on our rights. We do not have to justify our rights, including that of privacy. Indeed, contrary to our judicial system, essentially we are no longer innocent until proven guilty, we are now all treated as suspects, guilty until proven otherwise, within the “ultimate panopticon”.

Moreover this article would aver that the impacts of ubiquitous surveillance are far further reaching. Apple’s Tim Cook, concerned about the resultant loss of trust in businesses, declared that the company “believe very strongly in end-to-end encryption and no back doors … [and] don’t think people want [Apple] to read their messages. We don’t feel we have the right to read their emails.”  As well as damaging the relationship between firms and society, surveillance promotes distrust between the public and the state, while breeding conformity to social norms, and forcing us to ‘self-govern’.

This can be directly damaging to society, causing innovation to falter as people become less willing to take risks. Moreover surveillance impairs mental health and performance, leading to heightened levels of stress, fatigue and anxiety, and removing anonymity and confidentiality in the online world.

Besides the expense of running mass surveillance programs, the fact that these programs can so easily be abused, and the unquantifiable costs of destroying trust in various tech businesses (especially from foreign users and customers), the bill is fundamentally flawed. The meretricious expansion of the law to give greater powers to monitoring our internet data is misguided. Through services such as Virtual Proxy Networks (VPNs) or Tor, any individual can bypass the law, by masking their connection to the Internet Service Provider (ISP). Indeed through such services we as citizens may take back our right to privacy. Pushing more and more traffic to the ‘Dark Web’, will only make it harder to identify those who are using these services in nefarious ways.

In a statement from Downing Street, the Prime Minister expressed solidarity with France and warned that “however much we prepare, we in the UK face the same threat”. Despite extra security, the possibility of an attack remains highly likely. Consequently the answer is not to treat everyone as suspects, but to continue functioning as normal.

By proposing this bill the intelligence community is in fact weakening our national security by installing backdoors that malicious users can and will find and exploit. The more we subject innocent people to eavesdropping on the Internet and other communications technologies, the less secure we are from eavesdropping by others. Our choice isn’t between a digital world where GCHQ can or can’t eavesdrop, but between a digital world that is vulnerable to all attackers, and one that is (more) secure for its users.

Surveillance advocates would posit that their goal is security. Yet the “solution” offered by this Bill hasn’t made us any more secure… it has made us less secure.

No doubt in a world of unprecedented data and information online, and in the wake of recent events, we must reconsider how we consider our national security. However this Bill has been created without truly understanding technology or the internet. It does no more than legitimise mass surveillance. In the words of Snowden, “It is the most intrusive and least accountable surveillance regime in the West.”

The Conservative government is seeking to enforce these new measures, whilst simultaneously looking to reduce the scope of the Freedom of Information Act. Unfortunately the act as it is already doesn’t cover individual MPs. Thus data transparency will only be one-way. Privacy remains reserved for the very people who are obliged to be accountable to the public. But now that Snowden’s claims have now been publicly verified, simply through being aware that we’re being monitored, we can start to resist, and take back our privacy.