Saturday, December 31, 2011

Happy New Year!

This morning I ran my first of two San Silvestre 10k races in Las Rozas de Madrid. I was convinced it was going to be absolute chaos with 800 runners doubling back on narrow paths through the woods but there didn't seem to be any problems, in spite of the trail being quite steep and technical in parts. Considering I haven't really trained for the distance and it's been exactly a year since the last time I ran a 10k race, I was quite happy with my time of 37:54, especially as the course was really cross country. I finished in 21st place out of 800 which isn't bad. Nobody overtook me during the whole race with the exception of someone who pipped me on the line with an awesome sprint that I couldn't match. I still prefer the Half Marathon distance which isn't so stressful. I do feel as though I have earned my celebration tonight, though. As a friend said after completing the race this morning, we have to pull ourselves back down by eating and drinking otherwise we'd become too competitive and have to make a living from athletics...

This afternoon I have the second San Silvestre "race" - the Vallecana - with about 38,000 other runners including my wife. I'll be getting dressed up for the event so check back here tomorrow for the photos! In the meantime, happy new year to all of you!

Sunday, December 25, 2011

Week 2 / 10 (and Happy Christmas!)

I'm in London this week, celebrating Christmas with my family. I'm sure to come back with a bit of excess baggage the way things are going. After being teetotal for 3 months prior to the Valencia Marathon and still not hitting my target, I might as well allow myself a few lapses.

I find that I run noticeably faster in London. Maybe it's the relative altitude, the fact that road running is faster than trail running or simply that I find a change of surroundings stimulating. For logistic reasons my hard training sessions ended up getting bunched up. I ran 14.3 km in an hour at a tad over aerobic pace on Thursday, 3 sets of progressively harder runs from 15 kph to 17 kph on Friday and 8 sets of 4 minutes at 17 kph with a 4 kg backpack on Saturday. Today just before a massive Christmas lunch I ran 2 hours at comfortably aerobic pace (148 beats per minute) and manages to cover just under 27 km running from South London to North London and back again. My legs are now aching for the first time since I can remember (from training). The 2 hour run was supposed to be a 2 hour cycle ride but I don't have access to a decent bike (other than a Boris bike).

Tomorrow is definitely going to be a day off to give my body time to adapt to the stresses of the last few days. The series I had scheduled for tomorrow will have to wait until Tuesday and, in any case, the gym where I plan to do them is closed tomorrow.

Hope you have all had a good Christmas!

Monday, December 19, 2011

Week 1 / 10

Here we go again... The first week of specific training for the Seville Marathon on the 19th of February is under my belt. I say "specific training" but I've been doing a fair bit of swimming and cycling too, in preparation for the Half Ironman in Marbella. Even though it is "just" a half, I'm finding the extra hours of training to be a bit of a problem already. To give you some idea, the second swim session since the Ironman was over 2,000 meters!

On the running front, I'm quite happy with my speed. I did a 40 minute session at CCM (medium intensity) on the treadmill at a speed of 15km/h (that's to say a 40 minute 10k on the treadmill - not bad). Thanks to my fans (of the ventilatory kind) I was able to complete the session without too much problems, although the temperature rose by a couple of degrees in the time I was running. I did another fast treadmill workout on Sunday: 3 lots of 15 minutes progressing from CCM to UAN (anaerobic threshold) which I did as 5 minutes at 15km/h, 5 at 16km/h and 5 at 17km/h. The good thing about it was that it made running at 15km/h seem like a doddle. I've definitely noticed an improvement here. I'm not sure whether it is due to my fitness, the temperature or my mental toughness.

I also took out my trusty road bike for a spin on Saturday although it turned out to be a very windy day. Nearly got pushed off the road by a car invading the bus lane I was riding in (without looking or signalling of course). I've also been trying to pedal at least half an hour a day on the triathlon bike on the indoor turbo trainer to get used to the position. I ended up having to buy a new turbo trainer because the old one got stuck in the highest resistance for which a triathlon bike is not at all appropriate. Instead I'll take the old turbo trainer to Asturias for use with my Mountain bike on rainy days (of which there are many).

Thursday, December 15, 2011

Soft Star RunAmoc update

After my original review, I thought I would post an update on how my RunAmocs were holding up to the punishment:

Interestingly asymmetric wear patterns...

As you can see, the upper has torn slightly - it was probably the result of stepping too close to a sharp rock - but it has been like that for over a month now and doesn't seem to be getting much worse. I'm just glad that it was the upper that ripped and not my foot! On the other hand, after what I estimate to be about 850 kilometers, the soles are starting to wear quite thin. I reckon they've got another few hundred kilometers in them before they wear completely through, so I've already placed my order for my second pair that should hopefully arrive this side of Christmas. The "elves" seem a lot more busy this time of year, though. Last time there was only a lead time of 4 days between placing the order and the shoes being handmade and shipped. This time I haven't yet received the email saying they have been shipped. Maybe my review has turned so many people on to them that they can't cope with the demand! It's a shame that the soles aren't a little more durable - at this rate I'll be getting through a pair every couple of months in Marathon season. In this regard, I think that the Vivobarefoot soles are more hard wearing but, in that case the uppers are the weak point. In any case, I can't imagine training in any other "shoe" than the RunAmocs now.

I've also ordered another model, the RunAmoc "Dash", with a different upper and a thinner "road" sole. I plan to use these for casual wear but I thought I could also try out these options for running at the same time.

Wednesday, December 14, 2011

Nada he nadado

I went swimming for the first time since I clambered out of the sea in Florianópolis, after the 3.8km swim of the Ironman I did back in May. Unsurprisingly, my swimming hasn't magically got any better since then but, equally, it doesn't seem to have got much worse, either. And it is still just a boring as it ever was.

Monday, December 12, 2011

Time Trialing

To be honest, for me Triathlon is all about the bike. The only reason I got into it in the first place is because I am a bit big framed to be a fast runner and I have disproportionately strong legs (compared to the rest of my body) so I figured I could be handy on a bike. I can still remember a couple of years ago, when I bought my first bike since the road accident I had ten year's before, asking if for a Mountain Bike that was also good for Triathlon. They didn't take advantage of my obvious naïvité and sold me a decent Mountain Bike, patiently explaining that I needed a road bike - or what I used to call a "racer" - to ride in Triathlons. (Of course, there are such things as off road Triathlons but that's another story).

When I was buying the road bike I discovered that there were two kinds of Triathlon: those that permitted drafting and those that didn't and that, potentially, you needed a different bike for each although you could make do with one. But I wasn't interested in swimming or seeing how fast I could run off a bike, for that matter; what I was really looking for was a Time Trial in Spain. I imagined there must be loads of them up and down the country, just as there are in the UK - bike races where you are not allowed to draft off anyone in front of you and it is just you against the clock. For some reason there don't appear to be any such competitions in Spain for non-professionals.

I recently asked a friend who organizes Triathlons whether he fancied organizing a Time Trial in Spain, which surelly should be at least three times easier and cheaper. He said that that the Federación Ciclista expressly disallowed Time Trials run for profit. I wonder if you could get around this absurd restriction by obliging all competitors to run 100m to mount their bikes and calling it a Duathlon. Or perhaps one could be organized for charity? It seems a shame to me and perhaps goes some way to explaining why Spain dominates in Road Racing but not in Time Trialing or Pursuit. It's also probably due to the fact that road racers are generally smaller and lighter than time trialers as the main resistance they have to overcome is not that of the air but that of gravity.

I've sent an email to the Federación Ciclista Madrileña asking whether there are any Time Trials open to amateur "age groupers" like myself, and what the entry requirements would be. Still, I miss the grass roots amateur racing that exists in the world of running. I've also been trying to find out whether there is a velodrome reasonably near me and so far, all I have found out is that the only one in Madrid is in a state of disrepair. What Spain needs is a Cristóbal Hoy...

Friday, December 9, 2011

'ello 'ello 'ello, what's goin' on 'ere then?

I finally got around to commuting in to wok on the bike yesterday, now that the new rules for going around the campus are in place. I did it more out of a sense of obligation for having campaigned for bikes to be allowed on campus and to show my gratitude, than for the sheer pleasure of it (we are in December for goodness sake and it is freezing cold). Still, it was enjoyable and I even managed to go for a run at lunchtime as well.

Just as I was walking to my bike, dressed up to the nines in winter cycling gear, a security guard approached me and asked me the dreaded question "Is that your bike?". I thought, "Here we go"... Oddly enough he asked me if I understood Spanish before I even uttered a word: in the dark and under all my cycling garb I doubt he could have discerned my nationality and we "foreigners" are in the very minority at work. I can only guess that he made a subconscious connection between people mad enough to commute to work on a bicycle in December and "people from the North". In the end he said, "I'm having this problem with my bike: the chain keeps jumping from one cog to another... Can you recommend what I should do to fix it?"...

Thursday, December 8, 2011

What a beauty...

A prize for working out what is wrong with this picture...
I've finally got all the bits and bobs for the bike - the last (or should say latest?) addition was the funky 4 spoke front wheel. Just the Darth Vader tie fighter whoosh whoosh sound of the back wheel combined with the helicopter chop chop chop of the front wheel makes you feel as though you are going faster, even if you are not.

I went for my first decent length ride this morning. The idea is to use the road bike with the "normal" wheels for training on the roads and to keep this one mainly on the turbo trainer to get used to the aero position (and for competitions, of course!). I had a few teething problems like the screw of the gear lever working itself loose and getting stuck in a high gear as a consequence. This was easy to fix but when the seat post nut came undone I didn't have the requisite tool to tighten it up again. I had to ride about 15 kilometers without sitting down - it felt like I was in a spinning class - before I found a gas station where I was able to fix it at least temporarily. But hiccoughs aside, it was great fun zooming along and it was nice to go back over the routes that I frequented when I was training for the Ironman (I was surprised to see that a whole bunch of new houses have popped up since then along the way). The Adamo seat is fantastic! Really comfortable - what a difference it makes being able to fully sit on the seat.

I did find it quite tiring on the arms being in the aero position. I think the position is good but it is very low down for this early in the season: normally you start higher up and work your way down. Also my pulse rate was on the high side the whole time but, for now, I don't care. Once I start training seriously for the Half Ironman in April, I'll have to hold back a little and be patient while the speed gradually comes back.

Wednesday, December 7, 2011

Race calendar 2012

I decided that I couldn't end the year without a full-on 10k race as is customary on San Silvestre (New Year's Eve). As I'll be running the San Silvestre Vallecana (the big one organized by Nike with 30,000 runners) with my wife at a modest pace and probably dressed as one of the guys from Abba, I thought I would sign up for another 10k race in the morning that I will race at full speed.

31st December 2011
San Silvestre Las Rozas 10k (fast)
San Silvestre Vallecana 10k (slow)

22th January 2012
Getafe Half Marathon

19th February 2012
Seville Marathon*

15th April 2012
Marbella Half Ironman* (ICAN Marbella)

16th/23rd September 2012 (approx)
Valladolid Half Marathon

4th November 2012New York Marathon

* "A" races - the important ones for which the other races are just preparation or "fun"

Monday, December 5, 2011

The dreaded cramps

The number of times I have seen an letter in a running magazine from someone who has suffered from muscle cramps in a race, being told that they should make sure they take in enough water and electrolytes and that eating bananas is a good idea. The truth seems to be an uncomfortable one: we get cramps when we try to perform at a level above that for which we are adequately trained. It is much easier to say that you would have got such and such a time had you not been smitten with a case of the cramps than to admit that possibly you went off too quickly or that you haven't been training long enough at those distances.

In my first Marathon I ran the first half in about 1:38 and the second half in about 2:22. I hit the wall big time and suffered terrible cramps for 15 kilometers, having to stop and stretch every 100 meters or so. I was joined by another runner who was suffering from a similar fate (although he did eventually get a second wind and went on to finish ahead of me). He told me that this happened to him every year, which disheartened me and put me off the idea of running Marathons altogether. I thought, "What's the point? I'd be better off running a three-legged race or an egg-and-spoon race".

I looked into the subject a lot and discovered that there was no scientific evidence to back up the electrolyte imbalance idea. Instead, the best theory that is currently being touted is that they caused by a faulty reflex control of the motor nerve as a result of fatigue. Here I use the word "theory" in the following sense:
1. a coherent group of tested general propositions, commonly regarded as correct, that can be used as principles of explanation and prediction for a class of phenomena: Einstein's theory of relativity. principle, law, doctrine.
rather than:
2. a proposed explanation whose status is still conjectural and subject to experimentation, in contrast to well-established propositions that are regarded as reporting matters of actual fact. idea, notion hypothesis, postulate. practice, verification, corroboration, substantiation.

Too often we hear the word "theory" and scoff, "Ah, so it's only the Theory of Evolution - it doesn't mean it's actually true." As a Mathematician, I am an admirer of the scientific method. A good theory is one that fits all available data and a really good theory is one that is able to (correctly) predict something you didn't know before. It is not necessary to like a theory for it to be a good one. And we don't like to be told that we set our sights too high or we didn't train enough.

In my experience, there are various forms of Grim Reaper that come for me when I have spent more than I have in my current account; muscle cramps are just one of these. The fact is that, over several years of consistent training for the distances at which I like to compete, I have been able to keep them more or less at bay. That doesn't mean to say I don't have my superstitious equivalents of a clove of garlic or a wooden stake to ward them off. I always take specially formulated salt tablets (SaltStick) in races longer than an hour and a half and I always compete with thigh and calf compression. I feel that these things help when, again, there is no scientific evidence to say so. On the other hand, there is no way I am going to risk it when there are few things more frustrating that can happen to you in a race.

Maratón de Sevilla 2012 (Seville Marathon)

If you remember, I have been wondering how to achieve two potentially conflicting goals next year: run New York Marathon and break the 3 hour barrier in the Marathon. Conflicting, because New York Marathon is a fairly tough one and would probably add something like 3-6 minutes to my time, making it that much harder to break three hours. Also, I want to enjoy the New York Marathon - you know, actually look around and enjoy having the road to myself (and 39,999 other people).

My trainer has given his blessing to the idea of squeezing in a Marathon in February, in spite of having the Half Ironman in Marbella (ICAN) in April. This also means that I'm not going to get much of a respite from structured training. A friend asked me the other day if I didn't feel like I needed a break, at least mentally. The fact that I was taken aback by his question makes me think that I don't need much of a break. In fact, given my condition last week (from chaffing), I told him I was actually missing being able to go for a run. I actually like running which is just as well as preparing for another Marathon means more long runs and series.

I've mentioned before the tendency I have noticed to lose respect for a difficult goal during the preparation. In order to be able to attack the goal (e.g., complete an Ironman or break 3 hours in the Marathon) you have to train, obviously, and as you become fitter you gain confidence in achieving that goal. Here comes the rub: if you are really well prepared then there is a point at which you feel so sure that you will achieve that goal that it almost doesn't seem like a BIG DEAL anymore. You start to feel as though you have already achieved it. Of course you have to expect to achieve it to have a real chance of achieving it but not to the point that you don't reap the rewards of actually achieving it. In other words, you should not fear your goal but you must respect it. One of the good things about my "failure" to achieve my goal of 3 hours in the Marathon last week is that it has made me respect it. Oh yes, I think this time, if I do actually manage to break it - which I think I deserve to do and I think I am definitely capable of doing - the victory will be so much sweeter!

Seville Marathon is on the 19th February which gives me just over two months to prepare for it. I expect I'll have to do some swimming and biking in parallel so that I don't arrive at the start line in Marbella having forgotten everything I know about Triathlon. The course is nice and flat and the temperature should be similar to that in Valencia. The advantage that I will have is that Seville is where I got married just over ten years ago. We chose the place simply because it is a very special place and not because we have any connection there. The course looks nice and is very unusual in that there are no loops or repeated sections.

Now I just need to discuss my goals with my wife. I've found that things are much smoother if they are agreed in advance: after all, these commitments have an impact on the whole family, not just on me.

Saturday, December 3, 2011

Estoy como una cabra (Bike Fitting part II)

I went back to Ciclos Delicias on Saturday to have my new seat, pedals and Rotor crankset (this time with the correct rings: 53 and 39 teeth respectively). The first nice surprise was that Rafa had managed to get me the top of the range Look Carbon Blade pedals for the same price as the ones I had ordered: instead of having a little spring, they shave off a few extra grammes by using a lamina of carbon. I'm not sure whether the "TT" (Time Trial) cranks really have any noticeable aerodynamic benefit but they sure look sexy.

As the Spanish say, "What a cucumber"
While I was waiting for all the new bits and pieces to be fitted, I got chatting to a guy who came into the shop with a Ceepo Triathlon bike. He turned out to be Fran Vacas, the current holder of the 1,000km (!) road record, which he managed to complete in just over a minute over 31 hours in May this year. We talked about Ironman at which point he showed me a pretty cool tattoo which he has on his calf. It struck me that, for someone with a couple of World Records, he should only have a tattoo commemorating the Ironman. He told me that he did it a year after the event, so there is still a chance I might do one...

A friend of mine, John Warnock, who I used to row with back in the late 80s has since turned to cycling and, like Fran, competes in ultradistance. He has won the UK National 24 hour Time Trial and has also recorded the second furthest distance travelled in the UK in 24 hours. Perhaps I can try to hook him up with Fran. John recommended me the Adamo saddle and I figured that if someone knows about saddles, it has to be him (although it is true that every "bum" is different). Come to think of it, John was also the person who put me on to the Pose Method for running in the first place.

Let it all hang out...
As you can see, the Adamo saddle has a radically different design. As I find myself always sitting on the very end of my saddle, I thought it might be more comfortable to sit on the very end of two points of the Adamo saddle. More on this later...

Next I did a bike fitting - if you read it at the time, you'll remember that I wasn't terribly satisfied with the whole procedure. This time it was much better (it wasn't the same guy - in fact he is no longer working with the company). We spent a lot of time fiddling about moving the seat backwards and forwards and angling it up and down before we had to take the inevitable step of cutting the seat post. The design is such that the seat post has to rest on top of a stop inside the frame. You are provided with several different sized spacers that you can combine to be able to move the seat up and down by up to almost 3 cm, in increments of a quarter of a centimeter. We estimated that the seat needed to be lowered by one centimeter so we decided to cut 2 cm and add a 1 cm spacer. It was time to call in the "Bulgarian Butcher"...

This was harder for me to watch than the film "Saw"
A good tip is to keep the little piece that has been cut off because this serves as a spacer itself and, in the event of selling the bike to a taller person, it might be necessary. Once we had made all the adjustments, the end result was that the saddle was set quite far forward right over the bottom bracket, not quite at the maximum but too far forward to be compliant with the UCI rules! We also moved the armrests and the extensions back so it was absolutely clear to me that I got the right sized frame (an "M" as opposed to the much longer "L"). The main criticism of the Giant Trinity Advanced SL is that it is not very adjustable in the horizontal plane; in the vertical plane you can move the handle bars up and down by 12 cm using the different nose cones (which I don't yet have). For the time being, I'm keeping the handle bars where they are (because I don't have any choice) - this gives me quite an aggressive (i.e., aerodynamic) position but the question is whether I will be able to keep the position without getting too tired in a Triathlon, bearing in mind that you have to run after the bike. The second nice surprise of the day was that Rafa said that the bike fitting was free!

Camel toe

I promised I would say something about the Adamo saddle. In spite of the fact that I was still quite sore from the Marathon, I immediately took to the Adamo. My habit from having to perch on the previous seat (in order to avoid pressure on the perineal zone) meant that I tended to sit too far forward on the Adamo. To my surprise, once encouraged to sit further back,  I found that it was actually much more comfortable than I expected. We angled the seat in such a way that I wouldn't keep sliding forwards. So now, not only am I supported by two points rather than one, but I am much more supported than previously. It will take some time to get completely used to - in particular I have to overcome my habit of sitting to one side of the seat - but the initial indications are very good.

So far so good. Before even seeing any results in speed, the new bike, the seat and the bike fit have met my expectations in terms of being able to ride in a good aerodynamic position and in reasonable comfort. Now I have to put in the kilometers and get used to the position and we'll see how much better things are then. If needed, I can always raise the handlebars up slightly if I find that I still get unduly tired from being in the aero position.