Not running the London Marathon, yet…

As I mentioned in a previous blog post, I was due to run the London Marathon at the end of the month (April 2020). Due to the COVID19 Pandemic, all major sporting events have been cancelled in the UK and around the world. This blog was going to give you an update on my progress with a view to my race in just under four weeks time, however it’s more an update on what my plans are now.

I started the training process by selecting the Asics 3hr, 16-week program and kicked off the day after my 39th birthday. I was in fairly good shape after some tough races over the holiday period and the first 6 weeks went really well including a new personal best at the Headcorn Half Marathon in Kent. It took place in the worst conditions I’ve ever experienced. It was raining sideways at the start and the course was flooded in places. My wife, Emily, won the women’s race in a new course record as we crossed the line together looking like a pair of drown rats. The prize for setting a new women’s course record was a free breakfast which she kindly donated to me. Nothing says ‘I love you’ like a bacon, egg and sausage sandwich!

Being a former athlete, I like to have structure in my life. I still keep a training diary and have the training plan pined above my desk at work. I overwrite in red the sessions as a general record and a tool to keep motivated. After all, no athlete likes a blank page in their training dairy. My 12 day trip to Poreč, Croatia, to be part of the DT at the European Cadet and Junior Fencing Championships didn’t cause any disruption to the program as feared. As I’ve written about in another blog, the DT team were all very accommodating and we had a rota so I was able to carry on and complete long runs along the picturesque Croatian coastline.

In summary, everything was going very well into month 3. There were rumours with the escalating virus issues and major events had started to be postponed or cancelled but, as athletes all over the world have to do, until the official line came, you carry on as normal. I completed a 20 mile race in week 9 and then a slightly easier week 10 saw it end with another Half Marathon race. The London Marathon was officially postponed on Friday 13th March and the Hampton Court Palace Half Marathon likely to be the last race taking place for a while. I decided to run this one out with a full effort and see where I was at fitness wise. I lined up at the start with 2,886 other hardy soles and set off at 9am on the dot.

I completed the course is another personal best of 1:20:25 finishing 15th overall. This was very pleasing as it was well inside my target of 82 minutes and the time is well under what a sub 3 hr marathon runner should expect.

I was a little unsure what to do with my training now. I needn’t have worried, 4 days letter I was out on what should have been a 9 mile progress run when I felt my hamstring tighten up 3 miles in. I jogged slowly home and took a few days off. With no marathon to train for and increasingly tightening controls on being able to leave the house I was upset at this set back but saved from the worry and hassle of having to train through an injury in an attempt to keep my mileage up.

A graph produced from my Garmin running app shows the increase in volume from just over 100 miles per month to well over 200 miles per month, that mixed with the half marathon done at 6:09 minute mile pace was probably too much for my old legs! Have noted this for next time.

As a side note, how did runners ever train without Garmin watches, the Strava app and iPods? I love to listen to a podcast or audiobook on a long run, it’s like my little treat when I’m not running with a group. If you want to connect with me via Strava, please feel free to add me, I’m the Jon Willis in London with a photo of me as a fencer. I tend to be a little mean with my kudos but if I give you some it’s because I think you really deserve it.

As I nurse my hamstring back to health, I’ve dropped the mileage and intensity of the running and discovered the world of virtual cycling on a program called ‘Zwift’. I’ve hooked my bike up to a turbo and in turn to my computer. I can now ride in a very realistic virtual world with my friends and complete strangers alike! It’s obviously not as good as the real thing but it’s infinitely better than sitting on an exercise bike in the gym. So far I’ve ridden around London, New York and the made up world of Watopia on virtual group rides with members of my running club. It’s a great way to exercise from home and the ideal way to keep fit in the current climate.

Finally, back to the subject of this blog. I won’t be running the London Marathon this year. In all likely hood I’ll be busy during October when hopefully the fencing world has return to normal. I will therefore defer my entry to April 2021 and keep my fundraising page open for another year.

With all things being well and with another year of running under my belt I’m going to change my target time. For this year I had a target of sub 3:15, I’m going to change that and go for a target of sub 3hrs in 2021. The directors of Leon Paul want me to run the marathon in full fencing kit… I’m not to sure about that one personally but if anyone wants to make a ridiculously large donation to my sponsorship page I could be persuaded…

Leon Paul are generously donating a Three Weapon Wireless set and a £100 Leon Paul Voucher as prizes for a draw to help raise money. Anyone who sponsors me via my ‘gofundme’ page and types the word FENCING! in the comment after donating will be entered into the draw which will be done on Wednesday 28th April 2021. You get 1 ticket for every multiple of £5 donated, so if you sponsor me £20 that’s 4 tickets! Anyone who has already sponsored me, thank you very much and don’t worry, your entries will be carried forward to the draw next year.


Finding the Fashion in Fencing

Fencing and fashion have often gone together in the past, for instance, just a few years ago Dior made a whole collection based on fencing kit. So, when one of our own James Honeybone was asked not only to walk in London Fashion Week but also to supply fencing kit for the sustainable brand VIN + OMI, we knew that this was different than the rest. VIN + OMI don’t just make clothes, they create fashion made from anything recycled in order to show the world that we don’t have to create unnecessary waste. In the past they have made clothes from old paint tubes to nettles from HRH Prince Charles estate, and here at Leon Paul we are always looking for new ways we can be more sustainable and environmentally friendly.

James being a fencer and Olympian himself, he already had a lot of old fencing kit lying around that was just gathering dust, and so adding that to some kit here at Leon Paul that was unable to be sold (factory seconds or incorrectly named) the designers got to work creating their masterpiece. A month of hard work from the team at VIN + OMI and it was time for the show, and we finally got to see what had become of our kit.

As you can see the fencing kit has been completely transformed into something new and incredibly striking, proving that old can become new once again. As for what has been done with the old fencing kit, just to give some examples:

  • Broken blades have been heated with blowtorches, then contorted to arc around the shoulders whilst being attached to a metal plate on the back of a Foil lame
  • The Foil lame became an inner waistcoat to a Sabre lame, which was then pierced through the back and shoulders by the broken blades
  • Epee guards were modified and then attached down the front of the Sabre lame to be a shocking centrepiece
  • Two masks had their bibs, inner padding and fittings removed and were then carefully tailored and fixed to the Sabre lame to become fitted shoulder pads
  • Multiple pairs of breeches and jackets were tailored, dyed and customised using many different methods
  • Two chest plates have been combined with frilled bits of lame material to create a shoulder pad and side panel incorporated to a plastron

We love how the clothing turned out, it’s a truly unique and new way of looking at fencing kit, and a great way of promoting sustainability within fashion. 

Thank you to James who donated his fencing kit and Team GB clothes, and a huge thank you to VIN + OMI, we are so proud to have been able to collaborate with such an influential brand.

If you would like to see more of VIN + OMI’s work then you can find it here:

Belt and Road Chang’an International Fencing Master Competition

When I was first invited to the Belt and Road Master event, I had no idea what to expect. There wasn’t a lot of information other than that it was going to be held in Xi’an (formerly known as Chang’an) and that it was going to be held sometime after the World Championships. Even on my flight over to Xi’an, I was a bit unsure of how to competition was going to be run and what exactly we were supposed to do. Turns out my worries would be unfounded as the event not only exceeded my expectations, but was a true spectacle through and through.

Xi’an is a very important city in Chinese history for not only was the beginning of the Silk Road (an ancient trading route that brought Chinese influences to Middle Eastern and Western countries and vice versa), it was also the ancient Chinese capital and burial place of the first Emperor of China, Qin Shi Huang. When I first told my mom that I was invited to compete in a competition in Xi’an, she was ecstatic because this was an opportunity for me to see the Terracotta Warriors. The Terracotta Warriors are not only world famous, but are extremely culturally significant to the Chinese people because they were built to protect the first Chinese Emperor in the afterlife. Qin Shi Huang was the first person to fully unify China as a country and though he did fight war after war to unify China, he is also credited with standardizing everything in China. Before Qin Shi Huang, each province had their own dialect, their own measuring system, and their own currency. Qin Shi Huang was able to standardize everything so that it would be the same in all of China, including a written language which made communication much easier amongst all of the provinces. His influence can still be seen today because even though all the different provinces in China still have their own provincial dialects, the written language is still the same. Growing up with a Chinese mother and attending a Chinese bilingual school for 11 years, I was really excited to see the city that I had only previously studied or heard stories of.

The competition in Xi’an featured four men’s foilists and women’s saberists from the world and four each from China. In the men’s foil competition I was joined by Peter Joppich, Erwann LePechoux, and Alessio Foconi whereas the women’s saberists were Mariel Zagunis, Olga Kharlan, Irene Vecchi, and Manon Brunet. Though I was familiar with all these fencers, this was an opportunity to get to bond and get to know everyone a little more.

The first night we arrived to Xi’an, after dinner, I decided to go explore the city a bit with some of the other fencers. Erwann had mentioned a night market that was within walking distance from the hotel, so we decided to go there. Though I am familiar with Chinese night

markets, the night market in Xi’an was different than any I had gone to before. You could tell right away the influence the Silk Road had on the city of Xi’an because the second you walked into the night market you could smell a plethora of different middle eastern spices. Not only that, the night market is located around an old mosque that was built for the first Muslim settlers in Xi’an so you can see Islamic architecture and writing on the buildings and walls surrounding the night market. Erwann, Manon, and Olga were fascinated by some of the exotic foods that were being sold at the various stands. There were deep fried crabs on a stick, pigs feet (these were sold by non-Islamic stands) on a stick, grilled squid on a stick, and much much more. We went through the night just soaking it all in and regretting that we had eaten so much food at dinner but even though we were full, we decided we had to try something. It being a staple at almost every night market across China, I bought some candied strawberries and candied shan-zha (a Chinese fruit, almost like a mini apple) for the group to share.

The next day was the competition. The format for the competition was direct elimination from a table of eight with each “world team” fencer matched against a Chinese national team fencer. My first match was against Wu Bin, the current anchor for the Chinese team. Though I have fenced him before and had success, I knew I had to be focused because I hadn’t trained too much yet after World Championships and also the Chinese fencers would have the benefit of the hometown crowd. The preliminary bouts all took place in a mall across from the main gates of the old city of Xi’an. Although it was just the prelims, there was quite a decent crowd spectating the matches so I knew I needed to fence hard. Starting off the bout, I could tell that my opponent was ready and motivated to fence. It was a back and forth affair, trading touches throughout the bout, but I was able to secure my spot in the semi finals, 15-13. My next match was against another Chinese fencer who had beaten Le Pechoux the bout before. Huang Meng Kai is a strong fencer and I’ve actually known him since my last junior world championships. Again, right from the beginning of the match, he was motivated and fencing hard. With the crowd cheering for him, the last Chinese fencer standing, he was able to take me down 15-14 to face Foconi in the finals. Though I lost the bout, I was really honored to partake in the individual event and have so many fans show up to watch the competition. I even won over some new fans when the organizer (knowing I speak Mandarin) asked me to say a few words to the crowd. Even though I had such a good experience during the prelims, nothing would prepare me for what I was going to experience in the finals.

Before the finals began we were taken to the front gates of the old city of Xi’an. These city walls were originally built in the 14th century to protect the old city and the end of the Silk Road. Though we had seen the city walls during the daytime, seeing them lit up during sunset and the night time was quite spectacular. The opening ceremonies began with a presentation and

performance of some old Chinese folk songs, all while we were busy signing autographs for the many children in the audience. Though we thought that had the opening ceremonies concluded right there it would’ve already been a great opening ceremonies, we were all blown out of the water with what came next. Once the singing finished and the sun began to set, we began to hear music blaring from the speakers all around the front of the city gates and a light show began right in front of us. The opening ceremony involved over a hundred performers dressed in traditional Chinese garb, not only putting on a performance, but leading us into through the old city walls and to the finals arena. They even brought the drawbridge down for us to ceremonially walk across and into the old city of Xi’an. All the fencers already were in awe of the opening ceremony, but when we came to the finals arena, everyone’s jaws dropped.

The finals were held outdoors, in between two palaces, with a massive jumbotron behind the fencing strip. Even with the wealth of experience shared between Joppich, Le Pechoux, Foconi, and myself, all of us agreed that we had never fenced in a venue like this ever before. Just knowing you are going to fence in a venue like this makes you want to perform as well as possible, no matter the circumstances. Although I didn’t have a chance to finish my individual

competition in the finals venue, we had the friendly “China vs. the World” team event to come. Unlike the normal team event that involves three fencers fencing the other three fencers on the opposing team to a total score of 45, because this was just a friendly match, each fencer was only to fence one bout against a single fencer on the opposing team. As members of the “World Team” we drew straws to determine the order in which we would fence. The final order, from first to last was: Joppich, Foconi, me, Le Pechoux. Getting on the strip in such a grand fencing venue was truly surreal, but luckily my team gave me a bit of a lead going into my bout. It was really an honor to fence in such a spectacular venue, and I tried to savor the brief moment I was on stage competing up there. I was able to win my bout against Chen Hai Wei and Le Pechoux closed out his bout to bring home the victory for the World Team.

The next day was organized for just sightseeing and relaxation. We started our morning by touring one of the local elementary schools in Xi’an. We were all greeted extremely warmly and it was a good opportunity for us to interact directly with the students and fencers who were

watching the competition the day before. Not only did we get to watch some fencing between the athletes of the school, we were able to spend our time signing autographs and speaking directly with the kids. Being able to interact with the kids on a personal level, and not just taking photos and signing autographs, is what is truly rewarding to me because I want to be able to inspire the next generation and be a role model for the athletes that come after me. Being able to do it in China, where the kids are less exposed to international fencers, is also particularly rewarding because you can tell how excited the kids are to meet, not only me, but all of the athletes who were there.

After we left the school, we finally were headed to where I was most excited to see this trip: the Terracotta Warriors. As I mentioned before, the Terracotta Warriors are extremely culturally significant to the Chinese people and even my mom has always wanted to go see them herself. When she heard I was invited to compete in a competition in Xi’an she told me I had to

do it, if only to see the Terracotta Warriors. They did not disappoint. The sheer number of warriors was already an amazing sight but, if you look closely, you can notice that the details on each of the several thousands of warriors are completely unique. Whether it be the facial hair carved on the head, the weapons they were carrying, or the colors that they were painted, no two soldiers are the same. Unfortunately the color has faded from most of the soldiers that are open to the public, but there are photos from when the excavation first started that shows how differently each warrior was painted. Not only that, but each warrior carries a different rank based on their height, hairstyle, and uniform. Whether they were a soldier, archer, general, crossbowman, or cavalryman, you can identify their rank or position just by looking at them. All of us were truly blown away by the craftsmanship demonstrated in these ancient warriors, especially because without this trip, many of us would have never seen the Terracotta Warriors in person. Seeing such an integral part of China’s history was absolutely amazing and it was an experience I will never forget.

Once we finished our tour of the Terracotta Warriors, our last dinner was to be held at the Xi’an Fencing and Golf Club where some of the fencing official would help host a traditional Chinese dinner. Exhausted from such an exciting day (and trip), it was the perfect way to spend the last night of the trip. These are some of the moments that I will always look back fondly on once I retire from fencing. Outside of the athletic world, how often do people have an opportunity to sit down with friends and competitors from all over the world, just to share a meal and some laughs? A big part of fencing is just enjoying the process. Make new friends from all different places and backgrounds, experience what the world has to offer, be adventurous and do things you have never done before. As we finished that last dinner and thought about heading home, we all agreed on one thing: we were enjoying the process.

“Epee fencing” by Steve Paul – a review from fencers for fencers

“Fencing and books – two of my favourite things together in one picture”. The comments to our Instagram celebration of world book day back in April suggest that we’re not the only ones to enjoy a good read from time to time. All the better, if it’s fencing-themed. So what could we do better than to share our finds and have the books available on our website reviewed by fencers, from international top athletes to fencers more like you and me? We start with a review by our Instagram girl and epee fencer Johanna (who definitely belongs into the latter category 😉 ) .

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The development of fencing kit

Fencing may well be a sport with a relatively strict dress code nowadays (although we’re at Leon Paul always trying to bring colours back in the game), but in the past, fencing fashion has (almost) seen it all: open-toed sandals and heeled shoes for the gentlemen, skirts and corsets belts for the ladies… read on to discover the convoluted story of fencing kit, brought to you by our expert in fencing history Malcolm Fare (who has also published the history of epee, foil and sabre fencing here on this blog).

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Running the Great Wall Marathon in fencing kit: the race

Here it is, fencers: after the background story about how the whole project was born and the training update a few weeks ago, it is now time for the tell-all about Max Titmuss’s experience of running the Great Wall Marathon in our Apex fencing uniform. A path littered with some unexpected organisational obstacles… and a happy ending to his charity project.


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Hairdos for fencing. The best styles for under the mask.

It’s a problem every fencer with long hair (and in fencing this means everything that is not a pixie…) knows: what in heaven’s name are you supposed to do with your mop under a fencing mask? This is way more than a questions of good or bad looks, since at some competitions the wrong hairdo might even put you at risk of a yellow card! We’ve teamed up with our Instagram girl Johanna, who has first-hand experience of the issue, to give you a round-up of the rules and the best strategies to tame your hair. 

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Running the Great Wall Marathon in fencing kit: the training

Fencer, you remember Max Titmuss and his charity run in a fencing uniform to raise money for Ataxia UK? And not just any run, but the Great Wall Marathon in China? With just one month to go, it’s time for an update…


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The travelling fencer problems. 10 Do’s and Dont’s when you’re on the road as a fencer

You might have heard about the so-called travelling salesman problem, which is one of the most studied conundrums amongst computer scientists, but here at Leon Paul we believe there is another problem out there that merits at least the same level attention, and that’s the problems you face when you’re on the go with your fencing kit. (If you’ve ever gotten into a fight before your actual fencing class with an opponent named “revolving doors”, you know what we’re talking about). So, based on the experience of our Instagram girl Johanna, we’ve collected 10 Do’s and Dont’s for the travelling fencer. Warning – they might need to be taken with a pinch of salt 😉



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New year resolutions: the battle is on. Thoughts of a fencer

It’s that time of year again. January. The moment to set out goals for the 365 days ahead… and as every year, fail miserably? For our start into 2019 we’ve decided to look at the popular sport of making new year resolutions (and almost immediately breaking them) from a fencer’s point of view. We won’t convert this into a self-help blog (promise!), but here are some thoughts about good intentions (and how they may or may not pave the way to hell).  

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