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?

Wednesday, 4 May 2011

The need for clarity

When I wrote the resumé of Advanced Marathoning yesterday evening I had been about to go to sleep. For that reason I may well have missed bits out in terms of explaining my take on the training rationale.

Due to that and the excellent questions/observations from Jess and Alison, I'll add a little extra bit here. If there are any more thoughts I'll try to do the same.

What are strides?
Strides are short structured bursts of speed. For example you might be doing a 10 mile run and after 8 miles you start doing your strides by accelerating to 800m/mile pace over 70m and then holding the pace and form for another 30m, then jogging for 200m to recover before starting the next stride. Doing that for such short intervals won't carry much risk of injury but will help with running form as faster running promotes an efficient form. Key focus isn't speed per se but on gaining fluid, efficient, economical form.

What are drills?
Again, these are an activity concerned with promoting an efficient running form. Instead of running though, the drills are a series of dynamic exercises each designed to focus on an aspect of good running form (stride length, cadence etc). Repeating these drills should teach your body to learn how to adopt them when running and also helps promote flexibility. If you watch sprinters warming up before a race you get a bit of an idea of the sort of thing.

Do they assume you'll naturally get faster over time?
Yes, but only to a point. Theory is that the more you run the more your body learns to be efficient, and an efficient runner probably has greater speed as well as endurance. Hence, the high mileage should have a bi-product of some speed gain but probably only for longer distance runs - there might be little payback in a 5k for example.

Do they assume you already have the pace and just need to be able to maintain it for longer?
Yes, pretty much. I suppose most people that have a target time in mind can already run a half maarthon or further at the target pace - they don't need any more base speed but they do need speed endurance to be able to hold that speed for longer.

Why no speedwork?
I was particularly unclear on this point. There is speedwork but its focus is speed endurance and form rather than on pure speed. What that boils down to is there are no 400m/half mile/mile repeats as their aim is promoting speed primarily through changes to VO2 max. I look at it in terms of a cost benefit analysis. The benefit of such training is improvement primarily at shorter race distances with lesser benefit for the marathon. The cost of that limited benefit would be another hard session a week and corresponding increase in injury risk as well as an opportunity cost of having to drop another more mrathon specific endurance session. Hence the intervals run are at 5k pace and no faster and primary focus is on endurance, marathon pace and lactate threshold runs.

Tuesday, 3 May 2011

A book with tunnel vision

Ahead of Paris I followed Brain Training by Matt Fitzgerald but had bought a copy of Advanced Marathoning by Pfitzinger & Douglas for future reference. As soon as I got back from Paris I read the P&D book and have been loosely following the recovery schedule from there. In a few weeks time I'll be using it for my Chester training.

On that basis and because there's marathon runners and future marathon runners who are kind enough to read my confused meanderings I thought it worthwhile giving a bit of a resumé contents.

I think this entry's title a fair description of the book and is the major differentiator between this and any other running book I've read.

Whereas Brain Training is concerned with endurance running per se (and correspondingly covers specific training for 5k through to marathon) this book is solely focused on 26.2 miles. To expand on that a little further, Brain Training started with a theory and a resulting approach to training and the latter was then tweaked for different distances. Advanced Marathoning starts with a distance and is single minded in the analysis of training wholly specific to that distance even if that is to the detriment of other running or exercise goals.

That may sound a bit hardcore and maybe it is - its aimed at marathon runners who want to achieve time goals and are prepared/able to focus on that alone. I certainly don't think its a first time marathoners book and the training schedules reflect that, with even the 'entry level' plan reaching 55 miles a week.

However, the style is easy to follow with a logical layout and enough science to leave the reader feeling informed rather than overwhelmed.

Essentially the book divides into two parts which I think of as theory and practice.

The first part explains the rationale behind different training types from long runs, to lactate threshold runs to VO2 max training etc, and then identifies which of these are the key elements specifically for the marathon. It then goes on to discuss nutrition & hydration, training & recovery, supplementary training, taper and race strategy; again, all focused ruthlessly on the marathon alone.

Take supplementary training as an example. Here, there is discussion of flexibility, cross training, running drills and core stability training as well as weight training exercises for upper and lower body. Not that revolutionary in itself but the explanation of why (for example) the triceps need to be worked on is marathon specific - maintaining relaxed arm action when fatigued in the last few miles.

More than that though, there's explicit instruction on elements such as avoiding any muscle gain from weight training as its muscular endurance not muscle size that is the exclusive objective. Again, the rationale is given as to why activities should be carried out (in this case increases in muscle size reduce the capillary and mitochondrial density of the muscle reducing its effectiveness for endurance activities). In other words it doesn't just advise on what should be done but how it should be done solely for marathon success.

Part Two features the training programmes. There's a general introductory section then each plan, based on peak mileage, is listed day by day for 18 weeks. The mileage levels are high and even in a mid mileage plan there are expectancies of weeks where there will be 3 midweek runs of over half marathon distance as well as a genuinely long run at the weekend and one or two medium length recovery runs.

Within the training plans the training types that are missing are apparent. There is very little speed work in terms of VO2 max intervals beyond a weekly session incorporating some strides and a total of 4 longish intervals runs in the peak phase. That's another big difference with Brain Training and another example of where speed for shorter distances is largely sacrificed in the single minded pursuit of marathon success.

Interspersed within the text are a number of pen portraits of famous marathoners such as Haille, Paula, Deana Castor and Ryan Hall. They don't add a huge amount in terms of knowledge but help keep the tone light and readable.

Overall I'd thoroughly recommend the book to anyone looking to fulfil their potential at this distance.

Running in the Yorkshire Dales

That was a very pleasant three nights camping in the dales, despite a touch of sun burn, a very strong and cold wind and a ripped tent. I'll blog a little more on the trip itself later today/this week but it was a relaxing time.

Having come back feeling the size of an elephant (having had cooked breakfasts, hefty meals, ice creams and enormous puddings each day) I think I can safely say that camping is not a natural bedfellow for weight loss and that I have no chance of hitting my early June target now. However, I'm fairly relaxed about that. Firstly as its one of those times that you need to switch off, secondly that maybe I'm mentally not yet ready for sustained control and discipline after the marathon.

Running wise I did a fraction under 40 miles last week, which is pretty good for the 3rd week post marathon.

On Friday I did 7 miles along the canal and in the last couple of miles did 8 sets of strides: 100m at 1 mile pace followed by 200m jogging, then the next 100m and so on. It was good to run a little quicker after all the recovery miles and doing the strides was a reasonable little speed session but one that didn't leave me sore or tired, plus it broke up the monotony of a run very, very well. Enjoyed it.

On Saturday I was up and out at 6am despite it feeling extremely cold in the tent. I had planned to run from there but the coldness of the wind and the need for a flattish route meant I took the car down to the valley bottom and went from there. A nice recovery pace 5 miles followed. Still pretty hilly but not too bad.

For Sunday I'd picked out a route on an OS map that I hoped would be reasonably flat as it followed the river Swale. The plan was to run from Grinton along a mixture of single track road and bridleways to Crackpot, which I thought was about 5/5.5 miles up the valley. From there I'd cross the Swale to Gunnerside and head back along the road to Reeth and Grinton. I opted to take a belt with a 500ml bottle of water but didn't have room for the OS map. That meant I had to memorise where I needed to leave road/track on the outward leg but also meant I had nothing to refer to if I missed a turn or wanted to try a different route.

As it was a run a little out of the ordinary I'm going to blog it in a little more detail.

It still felt cold and there was a northerly wind on Sunday morning so after parking at Grinton I sat in the car feeling cold and tired for a few minutes trying to delay my departure, until eventually I summoned up the courage to get out.

The route wasn't that complex. Along a single track road until I pass the first road bridge then take a track that branches right just after. Follow that until it joins some road again a mile or two on, then after a few minutes take another track to the right and follow that and trail to crackpot, then just follow the road.

From Grinton the road climbed steadily and steeply so that instead of being fairly close to the Swale I was some 80m (in elevation) above it within the first half mile. That hadn't been part of the plan, and had my heart rate up good and early, and one of the two t-shirts I was wearing off and stowed in the belt when I reached the top.

The road then undulated in the sunshine for a good mile before a steady descent to the first bridge junction. Whilst that stretch had been tough to begin with, I'd kept the pace down and enjoyed the sunshine an views. Needless to say, no traffic passed me on the road on the outward stretch.

After that first junction I looked out for a footpath sign but didn't see one. As I entered a small hamlet I passed a cottage and saw a track heading right. It was in the right place and headed off at the right angle but no signage. At this point a dog came running out barking at me and his owner chased after. I could only see him from the waist up so asked him if this the track to Gunnerside. He was a tourist and hadn't a clue and seemed keen to get inside. At this point I noted that he below the t-shirt was only the briefest pair of scarlet pants and realised why he was looking to get away!

I carried on along the hill to see if there was another track in the next 50m. Had I had the map with me it would have been obvious: it marked the buildings, I'd have seen there was no prior track and I'd have noted it was a permissive track and hence no signage. Instead I reached another farm at the top and there, there was a 'footpath' sign but no track.

There are two types of farmer in the dales. Those that add their own signs on the property to help walkers/runners through - splodges of paint on posts, arrows on walls, rough and ready signs - then there are those that make life as difficult as possible - blocking stiles, having no signage, locking gates etc. Unfortunately this farm fell into the latter category and once throught the gate there was no indication at all of which way to go. I could see the track down a steep slope though and was convinced that was where I needed to be so just headed straight down the hill and over a locked gate. When I looked at the map later I found the footpath went at a right angle to the route I'd taken.

The bridleway track was a really nice stretch. Undulating just gently, not too far from the river, relatively stable underfoot, enclosed by walls but also trees and bushes amking it feel secluded and peaceful.

At the end of the track it joined the (dead) end of a single track road in a farmyard and a little beyond there were a series of potentially dramatic yet dry waterfalls and becks plus some extremely nice looking cottages and gardens. After the last of these there was a junction to the right that quickly petered out into a gravel track that followed the river side closely all the way along to Crackpot.

At this point I checked the Garmin and found halfway was 6.75 miles. Further than I'd expected but I thought that the road route back might be a fraction shorter.

Frome here I crossed the Swale, ran along the road through Gunnerside and along the continually unulating route. Not far out of Gunnerside I saw a footpath on the right but chose to ignore it as I didn't know quite where it went (though logically it was hemmed in by road and river so couldn't do much wrong).

Further along I saw another footpath sign to Isles Bridge and knew that one was fine, and took it. It was a pleasant route generally along grassy path alongside the Swale before reaching a gap stile at the bridge a mile or so on.

When I passed through the stile I saw another sign indicating 'Reeth 3 1/2'. This one proved to be another where a map might have helped. Initially the path took me along the top of a wall for about 200m: a 2.5m tall wall that was about .75m wide and topped with uneven slabs. To the right of the wall were reocks and river and to the left just rocks. The wind was buffeting strongly there and running along it took a little more concentration than might normally be afforded.

After that were a series of stiles along a grassy riverside path before heading into some woodland alongside the river. Here it got confusing again. There was a sign that seemed to be pointing left and a path headed that way but it was doubling back. Ahead was another path, unsigned. I tried the narrow track through nettles and wild garlic that doubled back but realised it was heading both in the wriong direction and towards the road. It had to be the other path so I headed back down and along that.

Mistake. This path was a sheep only route that clambered over/through fallen trees and crossed a dry beck before snaking up to the road.

The initial sign had said Reeth so I'd expected the path to follow the river to there, but checking the map later I saw that it did indeed double back to the road and got nowhere near Reeth.

From here I stuck with the road, climbing steadily then descending just as quickly into Reeth, then flat along the road to Grinton. Two or three cars did pass along here and in Grinton I saw my first runner. Earlier on I'd seen my first walker, possibly a 'coast to coast' walker, who, walking in the sunshine, had turned toward me, grinned and opened his arms wide just saying 'eh?' in a gesture designed to draw attention to/share just how lovely that part of the world looked in the spring sunshine that morning.

The Garmin clocked 14 miles just before I reached the car, but I daresay the terrain and profile made it feel 2-3 miles further. Enjoyed it.

Yesterday was a rest day, and today will have an easy 5 miles.