Sunday, 6 November 2011

I'm still breathing...

Yep, I know, AWOL again.

That's not usually a good sign with me - it usually means I'm not doing much in the way of exercise and am eating my way through a Thorntons warehouse.  Not this time though: it's actually all going okay.

By way of an update:

  • I've lost 17lb since the late summer weight peak
  • I started running - very carefuly - 3 weeks ago
  • Longest run is only up to 7.5 miles and this week was the highest at 22
  • Exercising consistently 6 days from 7
  • Have recorded food intake every single day since the end of September
  • Achilles is holding up okay - no pain uless I squeeze it
  • I've entered Paris marathon again!
Plan from here is to carry on with the weight loss until Christmas then knock a bit more off after Christmas (along with any festive gain).  That should take me 9lb lower than I was when I ran Paris this year.  I'm already lighter than I was this time 12 months ago.

Training wise its a gradual increase to 30 miles a week by early December, and a long run of about 11.5 miles.  No speedwork, no hills.  Then I'll have a crack at following the Pfitzinger & Douglas 18 week 'up to 55 miles a week' plan.

Right now I'm cautiously optimistic of making it to the start line in April.  If I do I'll stand a good chance of a PB.  If I don't make it then so be it.  At least I'll have carefully given myself a chance.


Thursday, 22 September 2011

And here we are

Having posted precisely sod all for the last month or so this might be the first of several in the next few days.  Typical me: all or nothing.

I haven't really had a huge amount to blog about.  No great initiatives, no big leaps forward but no disasters either.  Equally I've had problems accessing some other blogs that I've found today, can be solved by using Safari rather than Explorer.

For what its worth, by way of an update, here's what's happened on my main blogging themes:

No big changes.  I still get a bit of stiffness each morning, achilles still feels 'odd' at times and the back of my right heel can still get quite tender.  I've been using the podiatrist supplied insoles for 'x' weeks now but there doesn't seem to be any great change.  Mind you, I've not been doing the prescribed exercises for the last 10 days and a little sporadically prior to that so therein may lie the problem.

As the injury hasn't settled down there's been precious little of this.  

I was hoping the insoles would work their magic and decided to more or less write off running for a number of weeks to allow them the time to do so.  After very little running since the middle of May I've become resigned to it (and I will be blogging about this soon) so another few weeks didn't seem much of a hardship.   

All I've been doing is the Couch to 5k programme with the eldest daughter.  This time last year, aged 11, she could (reluctantly) cover 5 miles of trails but she stopped running and this was a way I hoped to get her back into it and provide an accomplishment she could feel proud of.  She's enjoying it and doing really well, and my achilles seems to tolerate tiny bits of jogging.

Marathon Plans
Having cancelled my participation at Chester all my hopes were pinned on Paris next April.  Registration opened last week but a few weeks ago I decided I wouldn't be running.  Due to the date next year the family wouldn't have been able to go and a trip on my own would mean it would have to be a serious PB attempt or I wouldn't bother (as the total cost for registration, gels, accommodation, flights, food while there would have easily been £400), and this wasn't going to be a serious attempt.  

To have had a decent crack at it I'd have needed to start training at 55 miles a week in early December and ramp up quickly from do that I'd have needed to be doing 45 miles a week pain free from mid October...and to get from zero miles and discomfort to 45 miles with none in 6 weeks was just never going to happen.

Bit of a bugger that.

So, my surrogate running is gym based, which works.  Sort of.

A few weeks ago I came up with a plan.  I like plans, maybe I like them a little too much, as the truth is I'm better at planning than doing; so I opted not to herald it to the blogging fraternity. 

However, the idea was to replicate the time and type of exercise that might be used in a middle of the road marathon plan.  In other words train 6 times a week, with some easy days, a couple of days with weights and cardio intervals and a long session on Sundays.

Rationale was that if I had something with a bit of intensity and structure I'd stick to it more,  feel a sense of accomplishment, find weight control/reduction easier and find transitioning to running easier when the achilles settled down.

As I said that sort of works.  For the first 10 days or so I stuck to the plan relentlessly but since then my adherence has been more sporadic.  I think there are three challenges:

  1. If I work away the plan has to give way - the gym can't go with me in the same way a Garmin and trainers could.
  2. There's no end objective so less incentive to stick to the plan.
  3. If I felt lethargic or under the weather running from home and seeing 'how it goes' was almost always the approach but its harder to get the kit, towel, change of clothes, drink etc ready and drive to the gym on that basis.
Beyond that though its worked OK in that I enjoy my time there.  Its not outdoors, its not as social and it doesn't feel as hardcore but I still enjoy it.  Likelihood is that I'll tweak the plan for the next 4 weeks and get going consistently again.

Diet & Weight
Unsurprisingly its chequered news on the diet/eating front too.  Some days I eat extremely well, others I don't.  As per the exercise, with no firm objective in sight its difficult to stick consistently to any sort of 'diet' so I've hardly tried.  Whilst that still leaves me a long way above the sort of weight I'm happy at the good news is that my weight has stayed level for a couple of months now.  At least its stopped going up.

Overall, I've ostensibly become accepting of my current lot and I'm really not sure if that's a good thing or not.  On the one hand I no longer beat myself up for being unable to run or for having some ice cream but on the other not being able to wear quite a few items of clothing and feeling I don't look/feel at my best constantly niggles away at me in the background.

Time will tell I guess?

Tuesday, 23 August 2011

Brief update (nothing to do with pants)

The last week has gone pretty well.

It took me until Thursday to truly get back into the swing of things. For the first few days the intentions were good and I managed 3 trips to the gym but I tended to lapse with food either because I was out with work or because I'd eaten too little during the day.

Since Thursday I've been spot on and have also been slowly upping the cardio element at the gym. I'm now starting off with 35 minutes on the Concept2 then do 35 - 40 on the cross trainer. Its not running but I'm hoping its enough to maintain stamina.

On the running front advice was to drop the running for ten days and temporarily wear heel lifts to allow the tendon to heal more easily. It also means I've had to drop the habit of wearing flip flops or being bare feet a good deal of the time. The lifts and ban on being barefoot lasts for 4 weeks.

This advice came from a podiatrist I went to see. His view was that the switch in shoes was too sudden and almost certainly was the cause of the problems. He couldn't see any issues with regards to range of motion, leg length discrepancy or similar and said that I would be a natural mid-foot striker with a fairly rigid foot (sometimes incorrectly described as a supinator) and that I should always avoid any sort of support shoe. Ironic that in years gone by 'specialist' running shops have advised me to go for support and even motion control shoes.

So, fairly happy but there's a challenge the next few days in that I'm staying away tonight (therefore evening meal in the restaurant and cooked breakfast to contend with) and then Sue and the kids are away for two nights following that. I'm also hardly at home between now and Thursday evening and have an awful lot of work to fit in between. Today's train journey may afford some time to work out some strategies to meet those challenges.

Sometimes I cope really well with the temptations of being away but other times I fail spectacularly. What do others do?

Monday, 15 August 2011

2 weeks in Barbados?

Sorry, I haven't been around for a few weeks.

Initially this was because everything was going along swimmingly. After the 1 mile run I did as the physio had advised and did runs on alternate days of 2, 3, 4, 5 and then 6 miles. All without any noticeable increase in stiffness/pain in the achilles. Sure, the runs felt shockingly hard - I described the 5 mile run as feeling more like a 20 mile run by the end - but the fitness was returning as I could see my heart rate dropping with each run despite the increases in distance. In addition I was eating very well, seeing (unreported but notable) changes in weight, resting heart rate and body composition and was at the gym probably 5 days out of 6.

Then, on the 29th I finished work to begin 2 weeks off.

We can't afford to go anywhere again this year so I knew it would be 2 weeks at home but I had a loose idea of how I expected it to be: sunny with days spent by the outdoor pool at the gym, nice walks in the dales, the odd meal out, maybe day trips to York or the east coast, lots of exercise, some nice little runs. It would still be relaxing, rejuvenating and healthy.

It started well. Over the first weekend I went to the gym twice and did an hour on the cross trainer with each visit as well as doing another 6 mile run on the Sunday and some weights. Two days earlier the physio had 'discharged' me on the basis the achilles was steadily improving. Weather wise there were a few brief sunny interludes amongst the light greyness.

On the Monday I did a shorter gym session then had a rest day on the Tuesday. I went to the library and got 4 new books (yes - a trip to the library really was a highlight of my 'holiday'). Also on Tuesday I had an hour or so sat in the intermittent hazy sunshine by the pool before the rain started.

I ran again on Wednesday first thing though I cut it back to 5 miles as I seemed to have a hint more soreness on Monday and Tuesday. The weather that day was dull, gloomy and grey and my mood followed its lead. I spent most of the day lying on the bed reading.

Thursday wasn't much better in weather, mood or activity and this wasn't helped by by achilles feeling sore once again - which worried me and pulled my mood down further.

On Friday I got up and decided to cut the run to 4 miles as a gesture to the previous day's pain but as soon as I set off everything ached and my achilles had me hobbling. I stopped after about 20 metres; went home and went back to bed.

I felt really depressed and whilst Sue and the girls spent the day by the pool (with the sun making a brief appearance in the afternoon) I wallowed in my pit thinking about injury, weight (my diet absolutely fell apart as soon as the weather/mood changed) and the fact that I was half way through the annual 'big' 'holiday' and the weather had been poor, we'd been nowhere, I hadn't been more than 3 miles from home and the resumption of running had been snatched away. I felt like the previous week had been a waste of holiday and a waste of time.

Although the weather remained overcast and dull I picked up a little by the Saturday afternoon, chiefly because we'd collected a dog that we are looking after for 2 weeks. I took him for a couple of walks and that helped lift my mood. I confess I was quite excited as I'd never walked a dog before! I always wanted a dog as a kid but my parents wouldn't let me have anything other than a budgie! Sue always had cats.

Unfortunately the lift was short lived and the next 5 days saw wet, windy, dark days that mirrored my mood. My abstention from the gym continued, as did my comfort eating of all things sweet, sugary and fatty. Gradually my legs/achilles felt better but I didn't try to run and still spent most of the days lazing around reading. Aside from trips to the supermarket I didn't leave the house. I didn't feel at all rested or de-stressed from work and the feeling that this was a complete waste of my 'holiday' pervaded - the fact that the weather had been the worst of an already disappointing summer and that this would prevent trips out somehow felt preordained.

For some reason things changed on Friday. I think I just felt that whilst the fortnight had largely been a waste I at least wanted to end on a high of some sort. It was still grey and it was still intermittently wet but we made a packed lunch and all headed off about 20 minutes north to do a short walk through/around some forest.

For the rest of the family it wasn't a success. Sue doesn't like walking through forests at the best of times and after all the rain it was incredibly muddy which had Sue and Bethan moaning most of the way around. This probably wasn't helped by the absence of signs in the forest and there being far more trails than those marked on the map (but we only got lost once and briefly at that) and Bethan having lots of pain from wearing boots that were too small.

For me though it was good. I do like forests, especially densely packed ones. There's something about them appeals to my psyche - they're dark but there's still a soft light, they're still, completely quiet, peaceful, dry. In them I feel hidden and safe. How about that for a window onto my state of mind? I also like mud and as we walked I thought how nice it would be to run there.

When we got home I quickly showered and zipped over to Bradford to get a new ( and far larger) pair of trail shorts, then we all went out for a huge Indian meal which everyone really enjoyed.

On Saturday morning I proposed to the family that if we walked on both days at the weekend we could go out for a similar meal on Sunday (so my fortnight ended on a high). Unfortunately Bethan raised objections but a trip to Go Outdoors to get her some new boots (her feet have suddenly grown a size and a half unbeknown to us) did the trick and we went out to Nidderdale for a pleasant 6 miles. Even the sun put in an appearance mid-way round leaving me with a burned head!

Yesterday probably got better still. I was up just after seven AM and went back to the scene of Friday's walk - this time with my new shorts and trail shoes! It was only 4 muddy miles and I did get lost several times on dark forest trails but after the first half mile the achilles felt fine. When I got in I changed and went to the gym for the first time in nearly 10 days. After that we did another 6 mile walk, this time near Grassington, before another excellent meal.

Today the achilles feels OK. Nothing too bad. I seem to have put on 8.8 pounds in 16 days (all that I'd lost in the preceding 2 weeks) but I hope a little of that is just water/food from last night's meal out. The return to work and routine will hopefully allow me to get back to the pre-holiday health routine.

Wednesday, 20 July 2011

I'm a Runner (again)

I hope I'm not being like David Cameron's father should have been (premature) but I think I'm putting yesterday's mile down as a success.

It was only a nine minute mile jog along a straight stretch of canal towpath but it felt fine during the run. Mind you, jogging for even a mile felt shockingly difficult after so many weeks off.

Maybe more importantly than how it felt during the run, it felt no worse than normal after and the same can be said for this morning too - a little stiff, marginally sore but nothing that isn't there every morning. As I also did 80 minutes on a cross trainer and my additional achilles strengthening exercises yesterday its particularly pleasing.

So, rest day today (if a 6 hour drive and 2 hour meeting can be seen as rest) and only a swim in the evening. Tomorrow or Friday I'll push the boat out and go for 2 miles!

Tuesday, 19 July 2011

Physio's view on progress

Thanks for yesterday's comments. It seems you could work out the physio's advice before I got it - especially Jess's comment on the tendon being painful to squeeze for a long time after being able to run.

To cut a long story short she feels its 'making progress' but that it will be slow, so I need to keep reminding myself of what it was like 4/6 weeks previously. The exercises will continue for another 10 weeks minimum. I am to carry on with the current exercises but add in 2 different types of jumps from a step and carefully try gentle static hopping as long as it doesn't cause a notable increase in pain. The pinch test isn't deemed an important one as she warned that it might be that it will remain sore to the touch permanently.

In terms of running I can start...

...with one mile of straight line jogging (!), and if that feels okay during, after and the next day I can carefully progress; then go back again a week on Friday.

With the achilles taped up with garish blue and pink tape, I shall head out for my jog later on today.

Monday, 18 July 2011

A very pleasing week

One week down and sixteen to go.

After months of being able to do well for 2 days then blow it all (and then some) for the next 5/6, this last week has been surprisingly easy.

I've kept to within 100 kcals of target (either side) each day from Monday to Saturday, then yesterday we went for a family meal out and thanks to exercise and slight moderation during the meal I suspect I stayed within 200 of maintaining - though the nature of what I ate made it impossible to accurately capture.

I can't say that I have found it particularly challenging thus far either. Long may that continue.

On the exercise front its a similar story.

I went to the gym each day, doing a workout on 6/7 and just doing some gentle swimming on the other day. I've very much enjoyed what I've been doing and can see and feel the benefits very clearly already.

Achilles wise its not so clear cut.

On the plus side I've (mainly) been doing the concentric as well as eccentric strengthening, which puts me ahead on the achilles exercise front; and there's been no major aggravation from using the cross trainer. On the minus side it still feels a bit stiff and occasionally a little painful and is certainly still very sore if pinched even slightly.

One sobering moment was when I'd been doing some lunge walks on the running track. At the gym there is a small but useful indoor running track that I'd earmarked as perfect for running drills and plyometrics, so, flushed with endorphins I decided to try hopping along it on my uninjured side and then stupidly did the same on the left. Sore during and instantly very sore afterwards.

I think there's still some way to go.

Off to the physio this morning and it may well be that she'll tell me I'm OK to run. Part of me hopes she does but part of me is frightened that if she does I'll struggle and make the injury worse. Its not often I feel frightened to try something but this time its certainly there.

Tuesday, 12 July 2011

Explanation & gym programme

Its a two parter today - I'll give a bit of feedback on my (always appreciated) comments from the last blog entry, then I'll give a little account of the programme I was given (or at least my thoughts on it).

I've just had a quick look up of yesterday's comments so hopefully I won't miss any out!

Overall there is method (or methods) in my daily measurement madness.

I'm monitoring RHR daily, partly to establish the current level but then to watch for any hint of over training and alongside the RHR I get the blood pressure measurement so may as well record that.

I've tracked daily weight changes before and I'm very relaxed about how the numbers change: that there's never a uniform loss, and for me I'll often get several days staying the same or rising before a sudden large drop. Knowing that variance exists puts me off weekly weighing as the isolated figure is dubious without the context of the days that preceded it but also I can find that a weekly weight check can lead to my feeling tempted to switch off for a couple of days and try to play catch up before the date.

More importantly though, whilst the statto nerd in me wants a comprehensive body of data to analyse after the next 16 weeks I'm not setting myself any weight/measurements/RHR targets. Sure, I know the sort of level I'd like to get the weight to but I deliberately haven't worked out when I might expect to get there. My only commitment/target is to log my food intake and to exercise 6 times a week - I'm comfortable that if I concentrate on the process rather than the results all will work just fine. If I log food 90% of the time and exercise on 5.5 days a week then that's a success. That's how I'm defining it.

Regarding measurements though - spot on. My instinct is to measure monthly, but I do want to measure after one week solely because I suspect my belly will shrink through lower food volume and I'm curious to see if I'm right. Measuring after a week but then monthly disturbs the symmetry of the plan so I suspect I then went for weekly to maintain it (what would I psychologist make of that?). However, I'll tear myself away from weekly but reserve the right to use more colours in the plan to hide it!!

I definitely like the cross trainer. I could happily spend an hour or more on one whereas I cant do anything other than short intervals on a treadmill, and even that under duress. As for the exercise bike, I find that about as pleasant as repeatedly stabbing myself with a fork or watching a few minutes of Top Gear.

Anyway, yesterday I got my first programme from the gym.

Beforehand I was rather naively expecting to get something like 3 separate programmes based on 6 days training a week, a decent emphasis on cv work to supplement the shortfall in running, a very running specific set of weights and core exercises and a good running specific flexibility programme.

Hindsight tells me that was an unrealistic expectation from a gym instructor and that to get that I'd probably have to get something from a Personal Trainer or even a running coach.

Instead, what I got was what I suspect is a fairly generic programme: some upper body exercises on a Kinesis machine, body weight squats and lunges, 3 abdominal exercises, very basic stretches and a whole 10 minutes HIIT on the cross trainer.

I was disappointed.

However, I've done the programme twice and with some adaptations it actually works well enough for now. I've added on some extra core work, added more CV work in addition to 10 minutes HIIT, added more stretches. If I can start introducing some running in addition, having the odd swim (there's a heated outdoor pool as well as an indoor one) and continuing to add to the CV element to supplement running then it'll all work well enough.

Further down the line (as the achilles heals/strengthens more - and I feel it already has started) I can use the indoor running track for some drills to strengthen and injury proof my legs and there's a running club/group that run on Wednesday evenings.

Everything looks rosy. :-)

Monday, 11 July 2011

Like Verbal Kint: I'm the man with the plan

Well, part of a plan anyway.

Actually, its not so much a plan as an objective.

In fact, not so much an objective as some objectives, plural.

But I can measure progress. To some extent.

With me so far?

No, me neither.

Let me start again, as vague though this all seems I do feel quite enthused.

Last week's news from the physio wasn't too bad and whilst doing the exercises since has made the achilles periodically sore, I'm managing that okay with ice. I do think its already getting stronger and I'm very hopeful that a week from now I'll be given a cautious green light to return to running. Beyond that, though, I don't know how quickly mileage will build or even if I'll avoid any relapse. Its all a bit unknown.

Without running I've struggled. I've struggled to maintain much in the way of fitness. I've eaten very poorly and gained a lot of weight. I'm sure my mental well being has taken a knock too. Its not been easy.

Obviously a return to running will help all that but as the speed and certainty of return are a bit vague I decided I needed something more. As a result I joined a very swanky new gym on Saturday, initially on a 16 week membership, and got very excited at being able to use that 16 weeks to make a really concerted effort at achieving something.

So, I thought a little of what I could do and began to imagine what 16 weeks hence could look and feel like.

My initial thoughts were very much running focussed. By that time I will have needed to make a decision on whether a spring marathon is achievable, and realistically that means I'll need to be running 40-45 miles a week, pain free, and be including some form of speed training by the end of October.

That seemed a pretty decent, realistic, tangible objective, as even if I started at 12 miles a week a 10% increase weekly would still take me over 45 miles by the final week. I soon expanded this idea to wanting to be as injury proof as possible and very much ready for the ramp up in mileage marathon training would entail.

That all started leading me towards a gym based programme geared up to support the running based objective. I hope that will be fine but on the basis that I don't really know how quickly I'll be able to increase mileage (the physio could very easily suggest 3 x 2 miles a week for 2 weeks before increasing to 3 miles etc) it might not be achievable, so I decided I needed to widen or supplement the objectives.

Building on the theme of getting injury proof I then came up with a seemingly vague idea that I wanted to be as 'fit' as I was at the beginning of April. Naturally, even at 45 miles a week I wouldn't have the same endurance as I did in April but maybe I could still be as fit by being 'differently fit', in other words stronger or more flexible, as well as getting my weight down to a similar level. It might also mean that my methods and objectives need to be flexible in line with rate of progression and injury rehabilitation.

On that basis, and starting from today, I'm recording changes daily in:
  • Weight
  • BMI
  • Body composition
  • Resting heart rate
  • Blood pressure
Then weekly I'll be taking body measurements, and Sue has taken some Usual Suspects style pictures of me which we'll re-do monthly.

There's little more that I can measure, and whilst I recognise that figures will go up and down I'd hope that over the 16 weeks they will all have moved very clearly in the right direction. Its wooly perhaps, but I think its as precise as I can be in the circumstances.

In terms of process I'm committing to exercise 6 days a week wherever feasible (i.e. unless I'm ill or incapacitated!). With luck the running element will slowly increase but until then I'm looking to do a fair bit of work on the x-trainers* (3 different types at the gym) as well as core stability, flexibility and strengthening work. The what and when should be decided this week as I have an appointment with an instructor this evening where I'm hoping she'll have a few suggestions so we can develop something together for the next 4 weeks (then review and agree a new plan at the end of that time).

How does that sound?

* I've done 40 minutes on the cross trainer on each of the last 2 days and it doesn't seem to have aggravated the achilles.

Thursday, 7 July 2011

Physio verdict:

I had my physio appointment on Monday.

She confirmed that I have an achilles tendonopathy on the left side but there didn't seem to be any partial tear. On examination I was surprised at just how painful it was when pinched though!

Underlying problem is something that comes on with age but that isn't necessarily the main or only cause. It wasn't a result of disparities in muscle length, calf tightness or restricted ankle mobility as they were all tested. It wasn't due to over pronation as she checked me out on a treadmill. It could be the change in shoes (so she advised me to ditch them just in case) but I'd been running in flat Innov8s for much of the winter with no problems so she was by no means certain that they played any part. Beyond that there was nothing obvious. On the downside I'd hoped for something concrete so that I could eliminate it but on the upside it didn't seem to bother the physio unduly.

Eccentric strengthening exercises, 2x20 morning and night for the next 2 weeks, with icing following, then go back again. If that's gone ok then she'll add in some more exercises and will allow a very slow, gradual and cautious return to running. The exercises will need to continue "not for days or weeks but for months".

Fair. She's hopeful that whilst fully repairing and strengthening the tendon will take months that during this time at least I'll be able to do some sort of running. Moreover she thinks this approach should make it manageable if not completely cured. However, as she can't see an obvious cause its still possible that there is some minor breakdown in my gait that has become inherent and can't be controlled in which case I'd need to go down the podiatrist route. Fingers crossed I don't.

Monday, 4 July 2011

I can make you run faster...


Lose weight, run intervals, run hills, do tempo runs, do higher mileage. They are probably the five most common pieces of advice on how to speed up your running. They all work too, either because they gradually get you physically and physiologically 'acclimatised' to faster running so you can maintain a faster pace on race day; make it easier for your body to propel you (in the same way that you could throw a cricket ball further than a shot put) or gradually improve your running form so you become more efficient.

Good though they are they are not what I'm advocating today though.

I'm going to suggest something that is mentioned in almost all running coaching books but that rarely gets more than a few sentences: stride rate, or how many steps you take each minute.

Put simply the speed we run at is a product of stride length and stride rate. Logically, if you increase either of these you run faster.

Maria has recently had some success using Audiofuel downloads. From what I can see they contain music that has set beats per minute in different intervals and that these beats drive differing stride rates, and that the faster stride rates equate to faster intervals.

There are a range of different plans that can be bought from Audiofuel and they look to have cleverly created a market niche for an aural training tool. I am certain that following their plans will deliver some improvement but only from the gradual physiological and psychological benefits that could be gained from any interval training or even doing the odd fartlek session.

Bob Glover, Danny Dreyer, Jack Daniels and Matt Fitzgerald, for example, will all tell you your stride rate should be as close to 180 strides per minute as possible. Audiofuel too, utilise that number but in a very different way.

The coaches tell us its the magic number for everyone, elite or not. Some people will run slightly faster (probably because they are shorter) and some a few less (if taller) but all will be as close as possible to this number irrespective of how fast they are running.

If you watch a race on TV the elite runners will all run at more or less the same stride rate of 180 per minute BUT they'll run at that rate regardless of whether they're running faster (e.g. 5k) or slower (e.g. a marathon), and they'll maintain the rate irrespective of whether they're doing a slower middle lap or a fast last lap.

So, coaches advocate (and elites demonstrate) that speed is increased by stride rate remaining constant while stride length varies. Audiofuel ostensibly encourages the opposite: that stride length stays constant while stride rate varies. I say ostensibly just because I suspect that in traditional intervals style the Audiofuel intervals will have an extremely gradual effect of speeding up base stride rate.

When an elite, or just an efficient runner, lengthens their strides they do it not by trying to reach further with their leading leg but by hitting the ground harder, getting more rebound energy, and floating in mid air for further between foot strikes. That's very different to many of us, who are encouraged by our footwear to run in a different way, but I'll come back to that later.

So far all I've done is ramble on about stride rate and elites, whilst raising a couple of doubts over what has become a popular product, when the title promised rather more.

So, here's what I propose, and like me its very simple:

  1. Order yourself a small plastic clip on metronome. They are about 3cm square, designed for clipping to music stands and can be set to beep at various rates. They cost less than £10 and can be bought from Amazon.
  2. Get your stopwatch and set it to bleep after counting down for one minute. Run this minute in the middle of a run and at your normal pace. As you do so count how many strides you take.
  3. Now you know your current stride rate and you know that you should be running at 180 so you need to close the gap.
  4. Set your metronome to a few bpm higher than your current rate and for the next week run to that rate. If you came in at 160 you might set it to 165 etc.
  5. The week after increase it again and keep doing this until you get to 180.
Don't try and run any faster though - you need to keep this up for the whole run and not just a short interval. To do that you need to shorten your stride not maintain its length. That's the key difference to Audiofuel.

This will result in your running at the same pace as normal but with a faster stride rate and it should mean you actually feel its far, far easier and not harder to run at that stride rate. It should feel like you're shuffling along. You won't be but it will feel like that at first. That's a good sign. If it feels tiring then you are trying to run faster and maintaining your old stride length - you must shorten it.

The reason it should feel easier is that many of us overstride - we use a bounding stride and reach forwards with the leading leg with the heel striking first, in front of the body. This has two big problems. Firstly there is a lot of wasted energy propelling us upwards rather than forwards, and secondly (as any GCSE Physics student would tell you) Newton's third law comes into play so that as the foot impacts with the ground in front of us there is an equal force pushing us backwards. So, each step has a braking effect - rather like trying to drive the car while repeatedly just touching the brake it'll limit your speed, limit your economy and 'components' might wear out more quickly.

A shorter stride, by contrast, encourages a footstrike beneath the body. This reduces wasted upwards motion and eliminates the braking effect. With a shorter stride achieving the optimum stride rate is pretty easy and it will leave you a faster, more efficient runner for what will certainly feel like less effort.

Not sold yet? Still think 180 sounds like it'll be too hard?

Let me give you a real world example: a (then) 40 year old who had been running for about 3 years; who couldn't run more than 20 miles/ 3 times a week without lower leg injuries, who had a (flat course and cool weather) 10k PB of 53:01. Me.

I was filmed by a coach and when she replayed the video she showed my slow, bounding, heel first gait and said this was the only thing holding me back. From memory I was running at somewhere in the upper 150s for stride rate. She advised the approach I've given above.

I did so and started to increase my stride rate. The very first time I did this I ran 10 miles and found had it been a race I'd have broken my 10 mile PB and afterwards didn't feel in any way out of breath and the next day felt none of the usual soreness or fatigue.

A few weeks later I had got up to 180 stride rate and ran a 10k on a humid day on a far from flat course that finished with a last mile that went relentlessly up hill. I ran 46:03.

That's seven minutes off the PB and all done quickly through shortening my stride and through doing so increasing my stride rate.

Give it a go!

Friday, 1 July 2011

Blackpool, dieting and my achillies heel

Into day 5 and all so far so good - despite the lack of exercise.

My stomach has shrunk dramatically (principally because it's containing a lower volume of food!), my face looks thiner (though that could be because I haven't shaved since Tuesday), and the scales say I'm 6.2lb lighter. Most importantly though, on 3 of the first 4 days I stuck very closely to my allowance and on the other - when faced with the unforeseen challenge of Sue returning from a school trip to Blackpool with an, ostensibly Irn Bru flavoured, stick of rock for me - I didn't let it lead to giving up for the day and stayed 550 under maintenance level.

The food types have been far better too with huge salads for each of the last 3 days. Its more difficult during the day as I have to limit myself to a very light breakfast and incredibly light dinner in order to leave myself the scope for a decent tea and some calories left over for a light snack in the evening. Even light running would make a big difference there.

Achillies still feels sore to the touch and occasionally a little sore/stiff during the day but nothing more. Unfortunately, getting a physio appointment has seemed about as easy as getting a plumber (a difficult task I faced last week). I emailed on Monday evening asking for a call back to make an appointment and expected a call Tuesday morning as its not like they will be inundated with requests each day. When no call came I tried calling them but in rang through to answer machine. So I tried again on Wednesday and once more yesterday, with the same result again. I'll try again today, but as I was working from home all week I'd been hopeful of getting an appointment this week. Never mind.

Tuesday, 28 June 2011

First tentative steps

More Ronnie Corbett than Paul Bunyan, but on the back of yesterday's advice (on and off line) I took the first steps to getting back on track yesterday:

  1. I weighed myself (13st 7.4lb as opposed to 11st 9lb at the start of April)
  2. I entered all my food/drink onto WLR
  3. I maintained the appropriate deficit
  4. I didn't eat any crap
  5. Sue got me some new shorts (thirty frickin' four waist and thirty frickin' two quid)
  6. I made sure I had lots to drink through the day
  7. I sent an email to the physio asking for an appointment
On the last point I'm 99% certain of what I have, what the treatment is and what the possible prognosis is but I want some advice on the when and what to do running wise. For example, based on the severity I think I have/had Noakes says achillies tendonosis needs an initial 3 weeks rest but I've had 2 weeks and in the last week there's been little improvement so do I still run at 3 weeks? If so how far? In what conditions should I bail out? Am I really rating the severity accurately? I suppose I'm after a framework for the what and when of treatment and hopefully recovery.

Saturday, 18 June 2011

Not so much wallowing as drowning

Thanks for all the responses to my last post - really appreciated the thought behind them and flattered that my ramblings were of interest.

I haven't posted since, partly as I've been really busy and partly because I've had little to post about. I've also hardly commented on other people's blogs since either - apologies for that too.

I did start a post entitled 'Injuries Don't Negotiate' but it didn't get past draft stage and I've cannibalised it for this entry, which is part update and part (hopefully) cathartic heart pouring.

I got Tim Noakes's excellent book 'Lore of Running' a couple of years ago. Its a mighty tome of close to 1000 pages and can be pretty scientific and heavy going too but as a reference source to dip in and out of it really is excellent. I wish I'd referred to it a few weeks ago.

Based on Noakes's comprehensive guidance on achilles injury and the other research I have done on line I'm certain that I have a mild case of plantar fasciitis that resulted from sudden weight gain along with with achilles tendonisis on the left. The former has settled down almost completely (at least when not running) but the latter is a fairly big problem; with recuperation still very much a work in progress.

Taking Noakes's description on board it looks like the causes were:

  1. Age - Its a degenerative condition not uncommon in middle aged male runners. There's a cheery thought.
  2. Wearing stiff soled shoes with very low heels - My post marathon running was done almost exclusively in new Saucony minimalist shoes. The heel height is extremely low and there's not much flexibility in the soles. Might be coincidence but the injury came on after switching to these shoes. Might have been wise to have transitioned to them as the pre marathon running was done in far more built up Nike Lunar Eclipse and (for tempo and speed work) Newton Sir Isaacs.
  3. Sudden single long run - Noakes states this as a common trigger and I can only remember the pain being notable after the 16.5 mile run I did a few weeks ago. That run was notably longer than anything I'd done since Paris so, again, sems quite a coincidence if it wasn't the trigger.
In summary: looks like the underlying problem is age related degeneration (cue more cheery thoughts), with possible aggravation from switching too quickly to radically different footwear and an immediate trigger/breakdown point from suddenly trying to do a long hilly run off the back of very little training.

According to Noakes recovery is measured in months and years rather than weeks, though in most cases a good recovery can be made eventually.

In terms of treatment he advocated immediate complete rest (i.e. avoid standing and walking as well as running) for 1 - 3 weeks minimum at the first sign of symptoms. Oops. That's where the negotiating came in as I tried to cut back and run through discomfort and it didn't play ball. He also suggested regular icing, which I did belatedly do and found it surprisingly effective.

He classes all injuries through 4 levels of severity and for this injury I'd summarise his ideas as:

  1. Soreness each morning - complete rest for a week, change footwear, stretch calves.
  2. Discomfort during running but doesn't interfere with run - treatment as above but drop intensity and distances upon starting again.
  3. Pain during running that interferes with performance - 3 weeks complete rest, treatments as above, re-start with light jogging only until symptoms become Level 1.
  4. Pain prevents running - try approaches above and if no joy consult a surgeon.
I'd say I definitely got to Level 3. Arguably I got to 4 as on several attempts I had to abandon runs at the first stride but (I hope) that may have been a hint of caution on my part and I was actually only at L3.

In the last 3 weeks I've ran twice: 0.7 miles and 2 miles the week before last. Both were 'testers' pre-Noakes and both went OK but brought on some soreness afterwards. On Thursday I had to run about 150m as I was late picking Charlotte up and that also left some tenderness if the achillies was pinched in the next 24 hours.

It seems like everything got 80% better in the first week but since then the rate of improvement has slowed to a crawl. I'm a bit sore on a morning and during the day may feel occasional stiffness/creakiness in the achillies but generally feel its OK, but I'm not convinced its good for running (from Thursday's experience). I'm probably a bit scared of trying too. At the moment I'm thinking of leaving it another 6 days until next Saturday then trying again - back in the old trainers.

I did try going to the gym a couple of weeks ago but found that the cross trainer and rower both aggravated things immediately. I haven't been back since. I feel a bit ashamed to go due to my change in size and whilst the exercise bike is OK injury wise its still less than inspiring. Besides, as you'll see below' I haven't really had the time.

My weight and size remain unchanged at best and at worst a further couple of pounds on. I've managed a couple of days of good diet but that's about it. I haven't had a day off work in 3 weeks and my weekdays in the last 10 days have been 13-14 hours a day. I'm absolutely shattered and living off generally appalling convenience foods plus sweets/biscuits and chocolate.

Last year when I was at 11st 7lbs I got rid of all my bigger clothes. Now, at somewhere between 13st and 13st 7lb, I honestly have virtually nothing I can wear:

  • One pair previously baggy jeans are just about OK
  • One pair jogging pants with forgiving waist
  • 2 t-shirts that just about fit
  • One pair of hugely baggy gym shorts now just fit but my arse looks like the back end of a bus in them
  • One running/gym shirt still fits
  • One suit (just) fits though I had to buy 2 bigger shirts to wear with it
Sue and the kids have gone strawberry picking but I've stayed at home as the only clean clothes I have that fit are some jogging pants and an old stripey polo shirt. I don't want to wear that and leave the house - I look like a participant from the Jeremy Kyle show.

Sometimes I feel very pragmatic about things and accept that until my achillies is fixed there's little I can do. Other times I actually feel really down about it. Not so much wallowing in self pity as drowning in it.

The clothes thing falls into the latter despite my JK jibe, and even the fact of feeling down about that depresses me further - it doesn't seem a very manly thing to feel let alone admit too. On top of that there's an underlying fear that the injury just wont get better or will take many months before it becomes tolerable from a running perspective. Lastly there's the fact of the injury being largely down to age related degeneration. I can't begin to say how depressing a reality that is.

Happy days.

Friday, 17 June 2011

The Great WLR Debate

With little to report on the running front (but more on that later), I thought I better boost my tawdry post count for June by summing up my thoughts on a big debate that seems to be very prominent on the message boards.

I don't use the boards very much as they don't seem to offer anything very new and, if I'm quite honest, I don't think I have anything very new to offer the boards either. For as long as I can remember though there has been what Alistair Campbell might describe as 'rigourous debate' on the fundamental question of how to approach weight loss and weight management.

There seem to be two rival, and often outspoken, camps: those that advocate a very basic calorie counting approach (epitomised by WLR itself), and those that believe dramatic results can be achieved through adopting the latest trends in the field.

Proponents of traditional calorie counting say its very simple: as long as your 'calories out' figure exceeds your 'calories in' one then you lose weight. What these calories are made up of is neither here nor there, though a passing nod is sometimes given to the idea that the food intake should be 'balanced'.

They believe that anything beyond this is, at best, over complicating the issue and at worst is an attempt to prey on the gullible and desperate by suggesting false benefits, backed up only by pseudo-science, in order to make someone in America very rich. In other words unsustainable fad diets.

On the other hand there are plenty of people who feel that calorie counting misses the point: it over simplifies complex issues and is flawed in that it tries to accommodate the many failings of a modern western diet, a diet that we're not evolved to cope with.

Instead of calorie counting they believe we should concentrate more on the composition of our diet. Typically this involves limiting, or even excluding, simple carbohydrates and putting a far greater emphasis on protein. In doing so they are supported by research that shows that protein promotes satiety and, as it is more difficult for the body to process, promotes a greater calorific expenditure.

Sometimes I see the debate as conservatives versus radicals. Equally, I think the debate could be seen as between those that favour a macro management approach (concentrating on the big numbers) versus those prefer micro management (looking at the detailed composition of food intake).

The debate seems to extend, less passionately, to exercise. Traditionalists seem to favour cardiovascular exercise to burn more calories and directly effect the daily calories in vs calories out calculation; modernists favour muscle building from resistance training to slowly raise the metabolic rate. Again, I see this very much as macro management versus micro management.

Both groups claim that their way is proven and scientific, while the other route is unsustainable and here's where my own opinions start to emerge:

They're both right and they're both wrong!

The fiercest proponents of each camp are often living proof of their own beliefs: people who have lost a lot of weight through an approach. I suspect that their success leads to understandable frustration with those that countenance the existence of an alternative view, and this leads to the debate sometimes having a pretty intolerant, smug tone from the alpha (fe)males of the WLR message boards.

Leaving the tone aside, take two examples of success from the two camps. There's a chap (whose name escapes me) posted this week that he'd lost something like 7.5 stones by following a very basic calorie counting approach. Incredible result and bravo. Take a look at Jo's blog (linked to on the right) and you'll see she's had some incredible results through a mix of resistance training, intermittent fasting and a paleo diet.

What these two individuals show though, isn't so much that their approach does work more that it can work. I think there's an important distinction.

Building on the theme of using my two examples (and without asking either first!) I'd question the sustainability of both.

I very much doubt that Jo is going to be intermittently fasting and eating a paleo diet for the rest of her days. At some stage she'll want/need (for want of a better word) to 'normalise' her diet. That's a risky point. I just don't see a full on radical approach like this as being something truly sustainable 'for life' even if it may feel like it for a while.

Its not plain sailing for the calorie counter either, despite the claims that calorie counting benefits from not excluding any food. I'd hazard a guess that 99% of WLR members 'fail' in the sense that they wont reach the target they set by the expected date and the vast majority that join will never reach their goal. I'd also guess that even a great many of the site's success stories wont have stayed at their goal weight. Calorie counting is too rigid and doesn't make allowance for differences physiology and psychology. It isn't really sustainable either, not least because few of us would like to be spending £10 a month and 20 minutes a day in order to log our food intake until the day we die.

I suppose I see it that 'new diets' can offer an exciting opportunity to reinvigorate your approach to healthy eating and weight management, as well as the opportunity for dramatic short term results, but each will ultimately prove to be the next in a long line of approaches that come into, and then fade out of, fashion. Calorie counting, on the other hand, will always be there and its long standing reputation for no nonsense success allows companies like WLR and Weight Watchers to come into being, but its the reality of its widespread failure that allows them to make a profit.

We're all very different. Our bodies are different, our lifestyles are different, our relationships with food are different, our psychologies are different. That means that different approaches have more appeal (and will work better) for different people. More than that we change and what we find easy to follow and successful today may not work for us tomorrow.

To claim there's a one size fits all approach is ill informed and, in the context of a weight loss message board, distinctly unhelpful.

I feel there are definite merits to both approaches, and in my view the ideal would be to work to the loose framework of calorie counting whilst accommodating gradual changes to dietary composition that will make the results more meaningful and lasting, but thats a deliberately broad statement.

The precise diet any of us follow should be what works best for us, not for anyone else, and not because it makes a few bob for someone else either, but above all it should be flexible, designed with the long term in mind and allows for the evolution of habits.

Sunday, 5 June 2011


Having decided to take it easy on all fronts (well, diet and running anyway), I seem to be in a better place mentally and more in control of eating.

Yesterday I was happily active, got lots done and whilst my diet included the rare treat of a Chinese takeaway, two of the overhyped Oreo biscuits and two pain au chocolat, there was no binge and far more controlled choices.

Result eh?

Interestingly though, my achillies still felt sore from just walking and carrying yesterday and both heels felt sore. In the past a physio had said I had a touch of plantar fasciitis (which I'll shorten to PF from now) but it didn't really cause a problem and faded away again, but I decided to look it up last night.

Digressing slightly, Googling that sort of thing isn't too reliable. A number of (generally American) websites purport to give information but are essentially barely disguised marketing tools for specific insoles and are a little misleading as a result. The information from universities (also generally US) seems far more even handed and gives a different 'weighting' to both causes and treatment.

Not sure if the achillies is related but I suspect it might well be.

You see, I've been trying to work out what might have triggered the injury. Its chronic rather than acute and there was no 'incident' to set things off but neither was there a sudden increase in training mileage; sudden change in terrain, sudden increase in length of runs, or change of footwear. There were none of the triggers that explain a chronic injury's onset.

Or so I thought.

I'd recognised that the recent hefty weight gain would make runs feel harder and that it could make a small contribution to tiredness and knotting of muscles but last night's research suggests rather more than that.

It seems weight is a major factor for PF. This is particularly true for the obese (which I'm obviously not) but several sites list a common cause as 'sudden weight gain'. The fascia operates to raise the arch with every step and is loaded each time with a pressure of double our body weight, so a sudden gain of 20lb means every step adds an extra 40lb of pressure on the fascia - effectively a sudden ramping up of training workload.

Bingo! There's the trigger.

I still don't know if the achillies is linked or not - not directly as its not a PF symptom - but I now suspect the trigger is the same. Its not the weight I'm at, its the speed at which I got here.

Bad news is that it can last for months or even years. Good news is that losing weight and appropriate stretching, allied with NSAIDs, ice and rest in the early stages can help speed things up.

Good news, is that when I think back to last year there were two times when I had heel and/or achillies pain and both matched to periods of weight gain. Whilst neither seemed as prolonged or painful as this, they both were brought back under control.

I won't even try to run until at least next weekend, and as and when I do it will be a very short very slow run. In the meantime I'm popping the drugs and doing the stretches. At the gym may stick to the bike in order to keep weight off my feet.

What I'm not doing is hurtling straight into a knee jerk, super fast weight loss regime. For today at least I'm happy just to feel control. In the coming days I'll go with trying for some form of defecit as this is evidently a big part of the cure but it wont be pressured or dramatic.

Thursday, 2 June 2011

All bets are off

Next week Chester marathon training (was due to) start. That required me to run 54 miles in the first week.

I haven't ran 54 miles over the last 5 weeks.

At the moment I'm not able to run much more than 6 miles and I can't do hills or speedwork as to do so would cause my achillies injury to flare up again. Similarly I can only manage these short slow runs with a good 4 days rest between. Anything more than this and I'm limited to hobbling round the house. In the last 10 days I've aborted three runs where I felt just about ok but the moment I took the first running step I had to stop.

Not sure what I have done to it - though achillies tendinitis is common in middle aged men according to net research. A fact which cheered me up no end. Presumably my prostate will be next to go?

Realistically there is not the slightest chance I could get up to the required mileage next week. If the achillies healed quickly I might just manage to take 2-3 weeks to ramp up to a lower mileage training plan but that would be pretty unlikely to succeed as tendons are so slow to heal. I'd be odds on to make the injury worse. Besides which that wouldn't be the training (or therefore race) that I planned.

Add to that my weight. I'd need to be dieting carefully at the same time as marathon training. That's the equivalent of Hitler fighting the war on two fronts: sure I'd defeat France and send the British running back across the channel but on the other side there would be an inevitable Stalingrad. You can't successfully do both. Plus that would put me in the guise of Hitler and I don't like that.

So, I've accepted now that Chester isn't happening, and now I'm giving myself another week away from running at least. I'm not going to try and diet during this time either.

Hopefully in a week, or however long it takes I can begin to slowly reduce weight while slowly increasing running; do some runs simply for fun and maybe by the autumn be in a position to run some really good shorter races.

If I do that there's no pressure to chase impossible weight targets and no need to push my running too hard. In both cases there's then less to get stressed about.

For this course of action do I deserve a medal or are you sending me a white feather?

Friday, 27 May 2011

Ice, Ice, Baby

First of all I'd like to apologise for the title. It does run the risk of making people think of Vanilla Ice or worse Jedward. In fact, worse still it could prompt people to think of the X-Factor more generally: Cowell, Cole and the X-Factor's educationally sub-normal viewers. I wouldn't wish that on my worst enemy.

I digress. The title actually refers to my new best friend: the ice pack.

After Wednesday's run my Achilles felt sore again but by yesterday morning it was far worse and I was hobbling quite noticeably. So, I limped my way to Boots and got a re-usable ice pack (that needed freezing first) and an instant ice pack. When I used the latter for 20 minutes it was fantastic - instant pain relief - and when I walked there was no pain and virtually no limp (what there was probably being a result of my still holding the foot stiff). I carried on icing every 2 hours and it's felt fine. Woke this morning and it feels good as gold.

However, I get the feeling that running today may not be wise so I'll try a 20 minute walk and if that is ok I'll try the gym later on. If they're both ok I'll try a short run tomorrow and take it from there. Fingers crossed and keep up with the healing vibes Jess.

Diet was fine yesterday. No exercise made it tough but I stayed 900 under maintenance so pleased with that, particularly as that included room for a small treat - a refrigerated Curly Wurly with a cup of coffee while watching the Diamond League athletics last night. 115kcals and it'll last a good 10 minutes.

One last thought. I've decided to opt for weekly weigh ins. In the past I've had success with daily weigh ins as well as no weigh ins but each method also had its challenges. Next weigh in is Wednesday.

What do others do? Weekly, daily, hourly, not at all?

Thursday, 26 May 2011

"That's a really fast runner!"

I wasn't sure what to title this post as. Initially it was going to be 'Good News & Bad News' but I decided that was missing the point. More on that later. More on the eventual title later too.

I think I've been living in denial for a few weeks. I could tell by reflection and the feel of clothes that I'd put on weight, and knew from my last weigh in a few weeks ago that I was close to a stone heavier than I was in the week before the Paris marathon, but I hadn't faced the scales since.

Generally this was more a case of not thinking to weigh first thing than consciously avoiding it but there was also a feeling that knowing my weight would impact my morale and prevent me from doing something about it.

Noble sentiment but flawed in one small way.

It was bollocks.

I wasn't weighing but nor was I doing anything about it. My food intake was certainly better from Friday of last week but I was still going through chocolate and biscuits at an alarming rate.

Yesterday I confronted the scales and it wasn't pretty.

  • I weighed 13st 0.4lbs (compared with 11st 9.6 pre Paris and 11st 12.6 in late April).
  • My bodyfat had gone up to 20% (from 15.4% pre Paris)
  • The visceral fat had gone to 9lbs (from 6lbs pre Paris)

When I got off the scales I was quite shocked. The amount and rate of gain were frightening and the visceral fat alarming. Equally, it was sad to think that little over a month ago I was looking at being 11st by early June.

However, there was also a sense of relief at knowing where I am and I immediately recognised that this would form the end of a chapter; that it would establish both a limit and a start point.

I suppose that looking at the numbers on the scales was rather like giving fear a name. In fact, having just typed that I think that is exactly what it was: it quantified and named the fear and reduced it to a manageable problem.

For the first time in around 8 weeks I logged my entire food intake yesterday, and stayed within my limits. In itself that was good, but what was even better was that to accomplish that I had to make rational choices over quantity and type of foods and feel comfortable with them i.e. it's the process rather than the result that pleases me most.

On a similar theme I was pleased to get out and run yesterday. My Achilles was still a little sore and I did toy with the idea of having another rest day but got changed and headed out of the door. Within a few yards I was limping and again the idea of canceling the run crossed my mind but I chose to carry on and as with most tendon injuries the pain eased off (only to come back since).

The run though, felt tough. I ran only 5 miles and was barely under 9 minute mile pace with even that only being accomplished thanks to three short stops.

At around halfway I was feeling quite sorry for myself - tired and lamenting that just a few weeks ago running twice the distance at a minute a mile faster would still only feel like a warm up - as I passed a lady and her daughter of about three years.

As I passed them I heard the little girl say "That's a really fast runner" to her mam. Actually, she may not have said 'really' but that's how I'm remembering it. I'd love to say everything felt easy after that but it didn't. However, her comment certainly made it easier to accept the situation. Bless her.

Wednesday, 25 May 2011

Doing nothing

Sometimes doing nothing is the best thing. Hopefully, yesterday was one of those occasions.

After Sunday's run I had some soreness (by Monday) at the top end of my left Achilles. I assume this is because my calves were tight from doing approximately bugger all in terms of both running and stretching for 3 weeks prior to running over 16 miles.

Hindsight says easing back in with 10 miles may have been a wiser course of action but what's done is done. Its not a major injury: there's no inflammation or redness but it still felt a little painful when walking yesterday.

I suspect it would have eased off while running but that might have prolonged the symptoms so no run for me yesterday and today's run will just be an easy paced 6 miles or so to play doubly safe, then tomorrow I may haul my bloated carcass to the gym.

Monday, 23 May 2011

Does the mirror ever lie?


However, that isn't to say that what we believe we see in the mirror is always an accurate reflection.

For the past couple of weeks I've been very conscious of my reflection and when I changed to go for a run yesterday I noted that my 3/4 length running tights (I refuse to recognise that I could own and wear anything called 'capri pants') no longer appeared flattering, that there was a clear overhang above the waist and that overall I looked 'stocky'. I was less than impressed.

The previous Sunday I'd changed into similar clothing but added a water bottle belt. I could still do it up at its normal length but it seemed to split my stomach into prominent overhang and 'underhang', and if I loosened it to the point where this stopped the belt was too loose to run with. That grey mood contributed to a lack of enthusiasm for the run, which, coupled with strong winds and a sudden downpour, meant I parked up at the start of the route, opened the door to get out and immediately closed it again and drove home.

Likewise, I haven't been to the gym in 3 weeks as I felt that I'd look notably flabby to anyone there.

Essentially I felt ashamed of how I looked and thought others would notice it too.

Given time to think on yesterday's run it occurred to me that the reverse is true.

Had I started a stone heavier than now and had lost that weight I'd be looking in the mirror and thinking how svelte I looked, eager to don my exercise attire and get out there. The reflected image would be exactly the same but my perception of it, very different.

In the future I'll continue to enjoy the reward of feeling I look good, but if I have any gains I'm going to try and remind myself to see the glass as half full. Maybe in that way a one day blip wont become a 3 week rut.

Sunday, 22 May 2011

To misquote Mark Twain...

...rumours of my death have been greatly exaggerated.

I know, I know, ten days blog free (in writing as well as reading) but to cut a long story short there's been little to blog about either in running or nutrition, and when that happens I have a tendency to hide myself away. If I'm trying hard but finding it tough I think I wear my heart on my sleeve in blogging terms but if I'm finding it tough because I'm not trying then I'd rather disappear into anonymity than 'fess up.

Let just say I got stuck in a rut where little/no running through injury/DOMS/work lead to a terrible diet, which in turn knocked confidence and desire to run when I was able to, which led to avoiding running, which led to even worse diet...

You know how it goes.

Still, by Friday I'd mentally turned a new leaf and whilst my food intake still wasn't perfect by a long shot I spent 8 hours cooking healthier food yesterday* and today I went for a run. I feel like I'm on the way back.

So, here's today's run, but rather than inflict the usual melodramatic homespun psychobabble, aside from the intro, I'm opting to give a flavour through two of my secret pleasures: thnumbers and lists.

The route went along the Aire valley from Kirkstall abbey (where they televised Frankenstein’s Wedding from recently) in Leeds, to the edge of Shipley then back again by a similar route; following a mix of road, towpath, riverside path, fields and woodland.

The weather was generally sunny, with occasional light rain and an extremely strong blustery wind.

The Run in Numbers

6 - The number of weeks since Paris.

15 - The guesstimated weight gain in pounds since Paris.

2 - The number of runs I've completed in the last 3 weeks.

16.24 - The number of miles ran today.

438.3 - The metres of climb the Garmin claims I completed.

9.08 - My average speed (ouch).

160 - My average heart rate (ouch again).

43 - The number of stiles/gates/fences I had to navigate (which will have slowed the pace wouldn't they?)

18 - The number of bridges I went over.

13 - The number of bridges I ran under.

2 - The number of times I absent mindedly went the wrong way while trying to distract myself by keeping count of all this stuff.

4 - The number of solitary magpies I saluted while running.

3 - The number of stops.

6 - The number of squares of Clif Shot Bloks I consumed across these stops.

500 - The millilitres of water I drank to accompany these.

12.52 - The mileage at the final stop and the point from where my hip flexors really began to tighten and complain.

99 - What I treated myself to when I got back to the car park - thank you Mister Whippy!

The last few miles felt really hard and by the end I felt really wiped out, underlining how much fitness I've lost, but through sheer bloody mindedness I got it done, and for that I'm pleased.

* A fantastic vegetable korma; a cold Indian aubergine dish; chana dall; spinach & paneer; Indian carrots, peas & potato; Gujerati green beans and okra with onions. All taken or adapted from a couple of Madhur Jafferey books. The korma (unlike anything from a restaurant), carrots/peas/potato and the aubergine are absolutely outstanding dishes and I'd strongly recommend them. If you've never used mustard oil then the C/P/P one in particular is really worth giving a go.

Tuesday, 10 May 2011

Near Death Experience

I confess immediately that I'm greatly hamming it up with the post title, but it felt a bit that way at the time.

What I'm actually covering is the race I did on Sunday: the Calderdale Way Relay. Doubtless I shall adopt the melodramatic style I reserve for such reports. You have been warned.

The CWR is a team relay event that does a circuit of the Calderdale Way. It's split into 6 legs which are run by pairs of runners and is run under Fell Running Association rules. It's normally held in early December but last year's was postponed so we were really running the 2010 event. FRA rules mean various items such as hat, waterproof coat, waterproof trousers, gloves, map and compass must be carried - even on a sunny May afternoon. Nearly 90 teams entered, principally from pennine clubs who have a strong fell running heritage. The route isn't marked and you're expected to recce the route beforehand so you'll know your way.

I ran leg 6, the final leg of 10.3 miles.

These events are difficult to organise, not only for the organisers but also for the team captains as there are invariably drop outs for injury/illness in the days and weeks before and this year, with the revised date, there was a clash with other events, not least the Leeds Half Marathon. As a result, it wasn't until Saturday evening that I knew who I'd be running with.

Tim, my partner, is a little faster than me but we have our own relative strengths and weaknesses. He ran Brighton the same day I did Paris and I finished 6 minutes faster as he too struggled with the heat but his good weather PB would be nearly 20 minutes faster than I ran last month. Over shorter distances he'd have the edge and his fell running over the winter meant he was far better equipped for uphills than I was but I was able to switch off on the downhills a bit more than he was.

There had been some heavy rain overnight and the morning was muggy and threatened more but by the afternoon and our 2pm start, the temperature was touching 20c and sunny.

My Race
The first three miles of the route undulate up and down but the main theme is definitely downhill. That meant that despite there being a number of delays for clambering over lots of stiles (sometimes waiting for other runners first)and some difficult footing, we kept to a pretty brisk pace and a glance at my Garmin told me the heart rate was already well up. At this stage we seemed very well matched as a pair and were steadily passing other runners (as well as being passed by a few I suppose).

Mile 4 is largely uphill and includes two quite long and certainly steep climbs. Again, we seemed well matched here and once more were passing others on the climb but I think it was at this point I started to feel the effort. I got up the climbs OK but felt shattered at the top and didn't feel a huge amount of recovery on any following downhills.

Mile 5 included another steep climb, that was steep enough near the top that everyone had to walk it, but was mainly downhill into the town of Brighouse, before a flat mile 6 along the canal. Here we got into a good rhythm and seemed to pass several more pairs of runners.

Then we hit the point I dreaded.

The next two and a bit miles took us from the lowest point of the route to the highest via two rough trails through woods. The distance is almost relentlessly uphill, the only exception being a demoralising 50m descent that offers little respite and feels like it takes away a good chunk of the elevation gain you've just made.

I'd ran this section three times before and invariably struggled with it. The first climb is shorter at little over half a mile but is very steep. We ran the first part of this but I soon had to concede to walking. A glance at the Garmin told me my average heart rate was 170bpm, only 8 below my nominal maximum - and remember this was the average, and I felt a tingly pins and needles type sensation in my hands and arms. This scared me and I slowed to the walk. If I hadn't had the Garmin data I might have pushed harder/longer but it added a note of caution.

This meant that Tim finished the first hill ahead of me and probably got 30s rest while waiting. That created a bit of a vicious circle for the next hill as he was better recovered before starting it. It also meant about 3 pairs of runners that we had previously passed on the canal were able to go past us (or me).

The second hill certainly isn't as steep but it does feel endless. At first we ran close and passed another two pairs of runners but before long I was feeling wiped out again. I tried to keep going by just concentrating on counting steps for a while but another look at the Garmin showed an increase in the average to 171 and that played on my mind meaning I began to walk as Tim slowly jogged further ahead.

Eventually, after being passed, I managed to get back to a shuffling jog for a while but might have been able to get going earlier. Up to this point I could see several pairs of runners ahead that I felt we'd have the basic speed to catch and pass in the last mile and that was my plan at this point.

At the top of the woods we rejoined road for about 1/4 mile more climbing and this felt marginally easier but I still felt absolutely shot through. However, I also knew (or at least thought I did) that that was the end of the uphills and hoped that a good downhill would see us gain ground on those in front, maybe pass some, and leave us feeling fresher in order to use our flat speed as we had previously on the canal: to pass others in the last mile.

As soon as we hit the flat I accelerated and soon caught Tim as the long steep descent into Halifax kicked in. Here, I'd been banking on my ability to run faster down hills than others would allow themselves to would give an advantage but we seemed to make no real impression on those in front. Some were only 20m or so ahead but the gap just didn't close. My guess is that either we were now running with a better class of experienced fell runners who could match the downhill speed or my legs were fatigued enough that they wouldn't let me switch off and fly as much as normal.

As we reached the bottom we rejoined the canal and from here I remembered the route as flat. I suspect that by this stage I was sufficiently exhausted, and the distance to other pairs was (in)visibly great enough that I accepted that there was little chance of catching many if any other runners. I'd certainly taken a first look over the shoulder to check that we had some breathing space ahead of the next pair so maybe that indicated the change in mindset.

I also recognised that my legs were now a limiting factor in terms of other ambitions. I knew my calves were pretty much gone (from the uphills) and that their weakness was affecting my gait, and therefore speed, on the flat but the final long downhill had got my itb and quads screaming at me too.

I'd been running alongside Tim from the start of the descent but when faced with a virtual u-turn in the path I walked around it and when we came to a right angle turn up 6/8 steps I walked again and he pulled a few metres ahead once more. From here on I again felt like the weak link but kept breaking down the distance remaining into minutes remaining to make the effort feel more sustainable and I think we were both running pretty much at the limit then and maintained the distance between us to the finish.

In the final half a mile we left the canal and were close behind a pair of ladies from a local fell club. We managed to go past them quite soon and I felt that would break them but as we headed towards the finish there was quite a bit of support from their club and I guessed that was lifting them, feeling they weren't far behind at all by the delay between our passing a point and the noise of their passing the same one.

The final 120m or so were up another steep track and it was a real effort to push hard up there. My guess is that the ladies behind eventually broke, possibly when faced with the prospect of catching us on the hill, and finished 15s behind us.

At the finish I dropped my hands to knees with a few seconds feeling of nausea but other than that felt OK.

I've had a few varied thoughts since.

Overall, I was just happy to finish in one piece but when I checked the results I was pleased to see we were (relatively) the second most successful of our six pairs, but irked to note that if we had been just 12 seconds faster we'd have moved up two places, and a minute faster would have had us move 2-3 places further still.

That left me wondering if there were any points where I might have been able to push just a little longer or harder and also lamenting my relative slowness on the long steep climbs as I felt Tim maybe could have got home quicker. Then again, it might be that without the little breaks Tim had when waiting for me he may have been weaker later on. Ifs and buts.

What it did underline though was that my post Paris weight gain certainly will have costs us 2 places and probably more as hauling an extra 10lb up hills is bound to take its toll. Also, it ably demonstrated the point I noted last week about the specificity of marathon training. In other words, that many months of LSRs and tempo runs along a flat canal don't prepare the body for a medium length but very hilly race.

However, there's nothing I could do about either of those factors on the day and any sense of self recrimination was soon put into perspective from the heart rate stats.

My nominal maximum heart rate is 178 bpm, yet by the end I had peaked at 191 bpm and averaged 173bpm. Whilst that tells me my maximum is higher than might normally be expected it also demonstrates that I worked damn hard. Even using 191 as a new maximum that meant I averaged over 90%, pretty much at the peak of lactate threshold pace. On the day, I couldn't have done much if any more.

On that basis, its pat on the back time and I have the knowledge that I'll benefit from the workout both physically and, even more, mentally.

Calves and itb are still sore today but I'll manage a recovery jog tonight and bizarrely, after a week of rest during which there was only slight improvement, the groin/hip flexor pain has all but gone after the run.


Friday, 6 May 2011

Narcissus, corsets and the New Deal

Greek mythology, Victorian ladies' undergarments and FDR's social and economic reforms?

No. Perhaps in keeping with the Narcissitic spirit that the title suggests its actually all about me, as with another day without running I've been pondering those hoary old chestnuts of weight loss and body image. As a result I have a seedy confession to make.

For most of the past year my weight has gently drifted between 11.5 stones and 12.5 stones and I confess that when my weight gets below 12st I begin to get fascinated with my own reflection. I know, I know. It seems at best rather sad and at worst rather disturbing for a 41 year old man to do this let alone admit his dirty secret to the world, but there it is.

My personal favourite is when I change into a fitted running top and 3/4 length running tights (they probably have a 'proper' name but its those ones that finish just below the knee). There's few men that could carry them off but I think I can. Another year or two or a couple of pounds would doubtless change that but at the moment, and if below 12st, I like what I see: I look slim, no hint of a belly or of love handles, thin enough to look like a distance runner but still looking powerful enough to have strong sprint finish. (Bear in mind this is my slightly fantastical self image when losing weight - not necessarily reality or what others may see).

The other element I really enjoy in my self and others is the 'corset' created around the middle when the muscles are reasonably good and there's little body fat or roundness of the belly. I don't mean a six pack but the appearance of a slim but 'meaningful' midriff. Again, below 12st I see that in myself.

Conversely, when I'm ahead of 12st (ish) I see a fatter face, a touch of love handles, a rounder belly and so on and I really don't like what I see. In the pictures on this blog I was, as I am now, 5/6lb over 12st and I feel I look 'big'. It may well be that I exaggerate to myself the effects of any change in weight, up or down, but for the most part I believe the changes I see are real and that I'm at a weight where a small change either way is noticeable.

Needless to say that when I see a less athletic or slim me its mildly depressing and contributes to the cycle of bingeing on the sweet stuff, which I mentioned this week and got some absolutely excellent feedback on. (Thanks).

It was after I got dressed this morning (and found the suit trousers and shirt felt a little tighter and I'd moved a notch on the belt) that I gave some more thought as to what I could do get my food intake back on an even keel, and consequently feel the reward of hours of lycra clad self love (not a euphemism) in front of a full length mirror.

When training regularly and with 'maintenance' calories I know that I have no problems. Its when training is disrupted or where I'm trying to lose weight quickly that I struggle. Unfortunately I often set weight loss targets that require me to lose quickly and that's a far tougher task; particularly at times like these when I haven't run for a few days.

I've tried a number of new approaches in the past and keen readers might recall tales of clean eating, small regular meals, not weighing and so on. Most of these have had some short term success but none have proved to be the complete solution.

As you may be able to tell from my tone, I'm feeling fairly calm and philosophical about the whole thing. That's good in itself but its a result of the new approach I'm going to try.

I know I won't get anywhere near my target of hitting 11st by early June now, the realisation of which was in itself a trigger for more bingeing, so I'm going to ditch the timescales part of the target. What's more I'm also going to ditch the mechanic for trying to hit the target as quickly as possible: the daily 1000 kcals deficit. So, I still want to hit 11st but I'm not going to beat myself up over the timescales. Instant pressure release.

That said, I'm going to continue to calorie count, but I've set my allowance to a maintenance one. My aim though, will be to finish anywhere between 1000 kcals under and maintenance each day. This is the New Deal.

Rationale behind this is that on non training days (or hungry days) its really tough to stay at 1000 under and once I've failed to do that (and feel like a failure) the temptation is really strong to think 'fuck it' and have a blow out. I'll now have another 1000 to play with which should give lots of room for manoeuvre on such days and success and failure will no longer be one calorie apart. It will also give me more freedom to eat a little more/less as I feel.

If this works according to plan the rate of loss wont be as quick as a rigid 1000 deficit a day would achieve but it should be a steady sustainable loss.

How does that sound?

Also, anyone else a delusional narcissist? Love a body part? Or love and loathe their reflection as their body changes?

Or is it just me...

Thursday, 5 May 2011

Recurrence of groin injury...

...but hopefully not too badly and not from running but from, I think, sleeping.

Last year, when we camped in Scotland, I ran the Castle Douglas 5 mile road race and after a couple of months of no pain at all from my groin/lower abdomen I suddenly started getting discomfort through the day. I assumed it was to do with the race, took a week off and was advised by the physio it was probably because I had cut back on core exercises. The pain soon went and I've not really had any trouble since.

I started getting twinges again on Saturday but as that was after no long runs and a week largely of easy paced running it seemed less likely to be running related, but camping seemed to be a common factor.

When I slept in the tent I tended to sleep in a narrow 'mummy' sleeping bag on top of a narrow and thin Thermarest sleeping mat. I'm fairly sure that either the hard surface or the restricted movement of my legs cause some problem for my hip flexors.

The soreness was less on Sunday after I made a point of trying to sleep in a more normal position and we bought a thick blow up mattress to help further.

Trouble is that there has been slight soreness since. I'm not unduly concerned at this stage but after Monday's rest day I took the decision to cancel Tuesday evening's run and then yesterday's too.

Unfortunately though, I've responded to this injury lay-off more like Jess than Alison! Injury causes worry and add that to some work and money related stress and I was already a powder keg for potential bingeing. Layer on top of that a lack of running and finally an attempt to restrict diet in response and the results were inevitable (for me).

At the weekend I over ate but that was mindful in the sense that it was allowed because we were away. On Monday evening, feeling worried about injury and low at the end of a nice break I headed to the shop and got lots of chocolate and sweets passing this off as a collective final family treat.

On Tuesday, knowing I'd eaten badly for a few days, I had a half baked plan to fast for the day as a bit of a redress but by early evening as I was making Charlotte's tea I took the decision to cancel the later run and eat instead. After my tea it was another sweetie shop visit.

Yesterday, I'd seemingly learned from that in that I made myself eat breakfast but then got caught up in stuff, decided to cancel the run again and didn't eat my dinner until 2.30 by which time I mindlessly ate whatever came to hand: bread, crisps, crackers, cheese. Later, after tea, I once more went to the shop and got chocolate doughnuts! By this stage Sue was commenting (again) that there's obviously some chemical imbalance in my brain that causes me to do this, and even Bethan was complaining that I needed to stop buying us all sweets.

Not good eh?