Tuesday, November 27, 2012

Vibram Five FIngers SeeYa

We live in confusing times: One of the best known shops for running shoes in Madrid is named after a man who did not wear them (Bikila). The latest fad is for the oxymoronic "barefoot shoes". You can find qualified medical doctors who will tell you that you will injure yourself running with minimalist shoes and yet you can find qualified medical doctors who will tell you that you will injure yourself running with cushioned shoes. We now have five fingers on our feet. (My youngest son still says that he has hurt his "little finger" when he really means his little toe.)

In the end I see it as a investment / return choice. Some people like jogging and others like running. Some people run to lose weight faster and others lose weight to run faster. I have friends who have gone down the minimalist shoes path but it is not something that I recommend to everyone. It takes a significant amount of investment to change your running gait and the return you get on that investment depends very much on why you run in the first place. A good reason to try minimalism is if you find you are getting injured in spite of running in cushioned shoes with stability control that were supposedly designed to prevent this. On the other hand, if you are prone to injury, then you are more likely to fall into the trap I fell into by adopting minimalist shoes too quickly and without allowing time for your body to adapt to the changes.

Since I got a stress fracture in my foot just over three years ago in New York, I have since avoided wearing my Vibram Five Finger KSOs (Keep Stuff Out). Neither my wife nor my boss would have been very impressed if I had literally stepped on the same stone twice. Since then I have made a fairly natural transition to very minimalist shoes as each time I have come to replace my current pair, they have seemed to me to be bulky and clumsy until finally settling on my Soft Star Run Amocs which have been a staple part of my running training for over a year, and my super-light Vivobarefoot Ultras which I have been my racing shoes over the same period. Actually, the real reason for not donning my KSOs is that they are slightly too small for me (size 45).

I have been waiting for Vibram to bring out a model which competes on weight with my Ultras as, lately, they have been bringing out models which are less and less minimalist. Personally, I find the huge array of models of Vibram Five Fingers to be baffling: it was much easier when there was basically just the Sprint and the KSO to choose between. The other issue is that size is extremely important when buying a pair of Vibrams as they have to fit snuggly but not too snuggly. My local Vibram retailer - Pies Libres in Pozuelo - has recently got some models in the biggest sizes in stock (for my benefit, it would seem) so I was able to check the fit (47 as it turns out) this time, rather than risking it again by buying over the internet. As far as the model goes, the brightly coloured SeeYas being the flimsiest and lightest Five Fingers to date called out to me from the crowd.
I've done a couple of runs in them (one easy, one tempo run at 16 kph and some 200m strides at 19 kph) and they feel fast. They are slightly heavier than my Ultras as you can see below but they have a harder sole which feels as though it returns more of the energy: it may just be a psychological thing but psychology is important. My complaint about the Utras has always been regarding its slightly soft sole (which also makes it less hard wearing). I couldn't see how this could be made harder without a trade off in weight but the Vibram  Five Fingers are able to minimalize this penalty by cutting away a large part of the sole that doesn't really make contact with the ground. (You might think that they could save some extra by getting rid of the heel as well but I believe that even midfoot runners should have their heel "kiss" the ground). Other reviews I have seen say that they are a very specific model - one reviewer likened them to a triathlon bike which is only really good at one thing: triathlons - but, after my experience with other (truly) minimalist shoes, they seem fairly sturdy with good grip and reasonable protection against treading on small stones. Having said that, my plan is to use them for all my tempo and speed work on treadmills and pavements and to stick to my Run Amocs for trail running. What I haven't yet figured out is whether they will overtake my Ultras as being my racing shoe.

There is one drawback, however, and that is that they give me blisters on the tops of my toes and the side of my feet where the strap pulls across. Actually, they are not really blisters but more like small open wounds as this happens so rapidly during a run that there is not really a chance to go through the blister-callous-hard skin cycle but instead the wound-scab-wound cycle. I've spent a fortune on Compeed plasters already. To be fair, if I were to run in my Utras with no socks, the same thing would happen but I really think that I should be able to run in my Vibrams without socks (apart from it being annoying to have to always find a pair of socks with toes).

When I have got some more miles (kilometres) under my belt with the Vibram Seeyas (not to mention my recently acquired Run Amocs with leather sole) I'll write up how I've been getting on with them.

Vibram Five Fingers SeeYa size 47
Vivobarefoot Ultras size 48
Soft Star Run Amoc Original Lite with leather sole size 13A
Soft Star Run Amoc Original Lite size 13A (old pair)
Decathlon New Feel size 48
For reference: the Mizunos I ran my first Marathon in

Thursday, November 22, 2012

San Silvestre Vallecana 2012

It's very strange but there are still no signs of life in Nikeland on the subject of the annual 10K race held in the centre of Madrid on New Year's Eve, attended by over 30,000 runners...

This year I have gone to the trouble of getting a qualifying time (sub 38 minutes for 10K) in one of the very very few races that they actually recognize so that I may take part in the "International Edition" which sets off a couple of hours earlier and provides the ideal conditions for obtaining a Personal Best (fast runners, wide streets, slightly downhill most of the way). I feel that my 10K time has got a little out of sync with my Half Marathon PB (in which I passed the 10K mark only 5 seconds after my best time in a standalone 10K race).

Anyway, it's all very fishy. Normally the inscriptions are open by now (last year they were opened on the 8th of November, the year before on the 9th and the year before that on the 11th, etc.). In fact, they usually send an email to those who participated the year before a week earlier, giving them a chance to get ahead of the crowds. Maybe there are some negotiations of some sort going on...

Whatever the case, I'll be starting my training plan next week. That gives me 5 weeks to put in a bit of speed. My idea is to follow the tail end of a plan in Jack Daniel's Running Formula book. More on this soon.

UPDATE: Apparently the inscriptions will open on the 3rd of December this year...

Valencia Marathon 2012 Post Mortem

I've done a quick comparison of the Valencia Marathon 2011 versus the Valencia Marathon 2012 using the excellent (Mac only software) Rubitrack.

If you look closely at the graphs, the first bar corresponds to 2011 while the second one corresponds to 2012. I was struck by how remarkably similar the two performances were except for a few points:
- I started off faster this year but my heart rate was slightly lower (I completed half the Marathon in 1:27:30 in 2012 versus 1:30 in 2011). I think that I am in better running shape than I was last year. Perhaps I did run the first few kilometres too fast.
- I "blew up" in almost exactly the same spot both years and in almost exactly the same way except that, this year, I didn't get a second wind. (I re-read my post mortem from last year and one of the points I made was that I found that I could push myself through the wall without the onset of cramps; this year it wasn't so.)
- In both cases, the blow up looks like it takes place just as we were coming out of the tunnel, although the pace had already started to drop by then
- Last year I figured I must have been incubating a virus as my eldest son had a temperature the day of the Marathon and I was ill the next day myself. This year it was much more humid (90%). After looking at the graphs above, I wonder whether either of these facts had any bearing on the result and whether there is some altogether more fundamental reason.

I also compared the data with the Marathon I ran in Seville in 2:54. The earliest differences are evident after the halfway mark when my heart rate in Valencia was noticeably higher but the pace was lower (averaged from 20 to 30 kilometres). For some reason, I was struggling to maintain the same pace. It's clear that however I would have run the race, I wouldn't have beaten my time in Seville, but I'm left with the doubt that, had I eased up a little bit when I first started to struggle at the halfway point, would I have paid less of a penalty later and perhaps been more motivated by a (potentially possible) sub 3 hour finish time to push through at the end?

So what have I learnt from this Marathon? What will I try to do differently in the next one?
- Always respect the Marathon but never fear it. Just when you think you have got it licked it can come back and bite you.
- Run the first few kilometres a little more slowly than the target pace - it will only add a few seconds to the overall time and may save many minutes by getting the body into the right running and metabolic rhythm.
- Try not to worry too much about heart race or pace in the first half but concentrate on good rhythm and form. This is a waste of mental effort which detracts from the concentration that will be needed to maintain pace in the second half.
- Consider easing up a little between 20 and 30 kilometres if my heart rate starts to creep up. Better to have a differential between first and second halves in the order of 5 minutes than 15.
- Be prepared to fight. Have several target times and reasons to hit them - not just one - so that if I find myself off pace I still have a reason to keep pushing. More than anything, this will help me feel satisfied with my performance which is the most important objective.
- Try incorporating acceleration long runs into my training schedule, so that they feel more like the last kilometres of a Marathon and less like the first. I've bought the Hansons Marathon Method book which appears to be creating waves by, amongst other things, replacing the 35 km long run with a 25 km acceleration run. (More on that when I have read it.)
- Consider starting the specific training earlier - even though I have a pretty good base level of fitness most of the year round, perhaps 9-11 weeks is not long enough to cover all the aspects: strength, endurance and speed.

When I think of the top Marathon runners, I am amazed not only by how fast they run but also by how consistent they are (for the most part). It's true that they are running a different kind of race than the rest of us (near 2 hours at close to anaerobic threshold versus near 3 hours at close to aerobic threshold) but, even for the elite runners, the Marathon is not a distance to be taken lightly. One thing is for sure, I may be inconsistent in my Marathon times but at least I am consistently inconsistent!

Wednesday, November 21, 2012

Kickstarter: Altum Dress Shoe

I like to support things that seem like a good idea to me, especially in these times of "crisis" when there is a deficit of entrepreneurialism and an excess of navel-gazing. America excels in picking itself up by its bootstraps and it seems to me that this is due to the idea of "The American Dream" which is so deeply embedded in their culture as well as a lack of red tape when it comes to setting up a new company and ways to limit your personal risk if things end up going belly up. Perhaps this is why Kickstarter has yet to come to Europe.

Admittedly, a lot of projects on Kickstarter add as much value as farts in the wind - "please give me money so I can travel the world and make a documentary about it that will be really successful" - but there are also some very serious projects. In fact, I find it striking that every so often established businesses use it as a way to raise capital and gauge public demand for a new product.

I've also been searching for a pair of "barefoot dress shoes" that I could wear with a suit but without the heel counter, the restrictive toe box and the rigid sole that I hate so much about my work shoes. I've always hated wearing shoes but I've also always hated having to wear a tie: it's just one of those things. It has only been as a side effect of running with so-called barefoot shoes that I have come to realize that some shoes are actually comfortable and can be useful. The nearest I have got to date to something I can wear (and have worn) in the office - although, admittedly, only on casual Fridays - are the Run Amoc Dash shoes. The problem they have is that the leather is so soft and flexible that my toes leave visible indentations in the uppers, making them look like a pair of ballerinas plimsolls and the "go faster" stripe on the back makes them look less than formal.

While browsing around on the internet last night, I came across this Kickstarter project which was getting some serious plugging from the popular Birthday Shoes Blog: the Altum's Barefoot Dress Shoe.

I'm excited to have kickstarted my first ever project! (My wife said that I should go for the black ones because the brown ones would attract too much attention to what are already slightly weird shoes.) Since my dog ate my last pair of normal work shoes I have been wearing my MBT "weeble" shoes which are great but they are very bulky and today they were partly to blame for me spilling my smoothy all over my suit...

Tuesday, November 20, 2012

Monday, November 19, 2012

Maratón de Valencia 2012

The long and the short of it is that the Marathon didn't really go as planned. If you want the gory details, then read on...

When my wife left in the morning she wished me luck but instead I managed to slip over while getting out of the shower and landed flat on my back. I suppose you could say I was lucky in that I didn't hurt myself but I would say that my "lucky days" tend to be those during which I manage to keep upright.

Like last year, I decided to go to Valencia on the AVE train - just over an hour and a half from Madrid - only this time I went without my family. The weather looked as though it was going to be really grim but, in the end, it turned out just perfect (well, almost perfect as you will see). I had two lunch menus of pasta at the train station in Madrid (for some reason it was cheaper to order two puddings, one of which I didn't want) and another helping of pasta for dinner with my Serbian friend (and faithful reader of this blog) Nebojsa in Valencia.

In the meantime, I had to go and pick up my race number at the Marathon Expo. Even though the hotel was really near the start, the Parque de Ciencias y Artes where the Expo is held is so large and confusing that it is difficult to avoid walking more than one would like to the day before a Marathon. Still, it was a lovely day (in spite of the forecast rain) and I had the chance to buy some interesting stuff in the Expo. I bought some more Wright socks, which I have found to be very good in blister prevention as they are made of two separate layers of material, as well as some amazing lubricant in a disturbingly phallic dispenser, especially formulated to eliminate chaffing in Ultramarathons and Triathlons.

Be prepared to have some explaining to do in customs
The dispenser contains a powdery substance which, when rubbed together, becomes a liquid which coats your skin with a rubbery sheen. I found it so convincing that I bought it on the spot. Whether it actually works or not, remains to be seen. It was the first time I had seen this product which apparently is made in Germany by one of the sponsors of the Maraton des Sables - the crazy self-sufficient Ultramarathon run through the desert in Morocco over 6 days and 243 kilometres.

As I was queuing up to get my race number, an official photographer of sorts asked if he could take a photo of me holding it up so I gladly obliged. Let me know if you see the photo anywhere!

After walking too much around the Expo I went back to the hotel and slowly lowered myself into the hottest bath that I could reasonably tolerate and tried (unsuccessfully) to watch an episode of Mad Men on Netflix via VPN and the sluggish hotel's free WiFi. I slept extremely well that night and woke up (a little reluctantly) at 6 am on the Sunday and went down for breakfast where, as you can imagine, it was difficult to find a table that was unoccupied by skinny people wearing shorts and vests. I had a dilemma as to whether to wear sunglasses for the race or not, given that it was still expected to rain during the Marathon. The skies looked as though they had got all the rain out of their system in the heavy storm during the night but I decided against wearing them in the end; as it turned out, it would have been the right decision to take them. A couple of hours later and I was warming up near the start with Nebojsa, who was a bit nervous before running what was to be his very first Marathon. Finally, we parted company as I went to the first "cajón" (corral) behind the elite runners and he went to one further back.

Every March in Valencia the "Fallas" are celebrated with exuberant fireworks displays. Unfortunately the African runners at the front of the 15,000 deep human mass were unaware of this cultural peculiarity and so mistook the "bang" of a few errant fireworks as that of the official starter's gun. Before they had advanced even 20 metres they realized their mistake, but not before the other 14,995 runners behind had all moved up. It took about fifteen minutes and a lot of gesticulating and squashing before we were all once again behind the starting line. I was so jammed up against the hairy back of the guy in front that my watch lost sight of the GPS satellites. At last, the gun went off for real this time and, in spite of the crush, I was able to get into my rhythm in less than a minute.

As usual, my plan was to run the first half at a pulse rate of 163 bpm. The first few kilometres - at least according to my GPS watch which was probably still slightly disorientated - I ran a little too fast but soon settled into a comfortable rhythm of around 4:05 per kilometre. In retrospect I think I spent too much mental energy looking at my pulse rate and calculating my split times when I should probably have just relaxed a bit more and concentrated on a comfortable rhythm and good form. After 6 kilometres Jaime came up beside me and we exchanged a few words before he crept by - that was the last time I saw him.

Once the crowd of runners had started to thin out a bit, I noticed that there was a blue line painted on the floor which presumably was the optimal line to take. Partly because I wanted to run the shortest distance possible but also partly because I liked the idea that I was literally tracing the footsteps of those incredible Africans running a number of minutes ahead, I decided to follow it although I found that with the recent rainfall, it was a bit slick so I kept slightly to one side of it. Another little innovation I noticed along the course (bear in mind that running does get a little boring after a while so anything can catch your attention) was that the organizers had taped large boards to the back of the bins where we threw the used water bottles, like the back board of a basketball hoop.

The first half was pretty uneventful and I arrived at the halfway mark with 1:27:30 on the clock, only a few seconds slower than in Seville back in February. Just at this moment, Santi passed me saying that "We will probably meet again in the 35th kilometre" as he was already starting to feel the effects. I told him that it was unlikely more out of politeness than anything else as I was feeling pretty good up to that point but almost immediately I started to notice that it was feeling like harder and harder work just to keep the same spring in my step. In the end, I was right: I didn't see him again, either.

I particularly remember one guy who passed me earlier on. I remember him because he was wearing the same t-shirt as last year, with the encouraging words "ALL SHALL FALL" on his back. I thought that this was quite an amusing thing to put on your back and spent probably more time thinking about it than I should have. I tried to turn it into a psychological advantage by imagining that it would only effect people in front of me as he too soon disappeared off into the distance. (It's just possible that I am being paranoid and there are a number of people who are both fans of the black metal band "Immortal" and of running Marathons.)

Apart from the botched start this year, the Valencia Marathon is impeccably organized. The roads are so wide that at no point do you feel inhibited. The 10K that runs in parallel is confined to its own side of the street and, before you know it, they've already run their course leaving you in complete peace. There were bands every couple of kilometres or so it seemed and along one particular stretch just after the half Marathon marker they played Chariots of Fire just as they had done last year - cheesey, I know, but effective. At one point the course ducks under a couple of bridges and this time they had hooked up a powerful sound system which blasted some rave tune I can't remember the name of through the echoing tunnel, causing us to whistle and shout. It couldn't have been at a better moment but it wasn't enough to stave off my particular fight with fate. "El hombre del mazo" was waiting for me as I came out of that tunnel. Nebojsa told me later that the "man with the hammer" exists in German as well and that a well known book on running recommends that you have a good answer ready for when you meet him. I think the problem was that I didn't really know what to say to him this time. I'd prepared for a different race and a different pace so, when he appeared, I was all too ready to offer him up some of my minutes. If I could just run the next 10 kilometres at my everyday training pace of 4:30 per kilometre, I would still make it to the finish line before that crowd of people running along with the 3 hour pace setter. Just then I was overtaken by a man pushing his toddler along in a pushchair...

Three kilometres at 4:30 pace later the hammer man came back and asked for more. Again, I perhaps too readily traded some more minutes just so that he would go away: I reasoned that I should at least be able to run under 3:10 which is, after all, the qualifying time for the London Marathon that I would like to ruin in 2014. But then I remembered that I already had a qualifying time for that Marathon so this too became an idea too feeble to hold on to. A loudspeaker cheerfully announced that "it was only a little further, you can win!". I basically didn't care what my time was by this point, I just wanted to get to the finish. I stopped under the hose of a fire truck to freshen up (someone took a pretty cool photo of me here - again, I would love to see it). I really had to grit my teeth just to keep going - occasionally I would try to pick up the pace a little but my calves would put me back in my place by starting to quiver and tighten in the first throes of cramps. For some reason, my bloody shoulder - the one whose ligaments I tore a few years ago - really hurt a lot - it never usually gives me problems, least of all while running. I even ran some stretches with my eyes closed (someone shouted for me to open my eyes, something I took as a reminder to face up to my fate rather than because I was about to crash into them).

The support from the crowd along the whole course was excellent but it was especially good along that final chute. I crossed the line just a few seconds over 3 hours and 11 minutes. It doesn't seem like a big deal: 2 hours 54 or 3 hours 11 minutes, but those 17 minutes contain a significant proportion of the melodrama that I have had in my life. Perhaps that is a shameful thing to admit - that some of us are so lucky that we have to pay money to suffer and "feel alive" but I do think that that is part of the reason we run. Regarding luck, I've often thought that luck is only temporary and that it is possible to go from being one of the luckiest people on the planet to one of the unluckiest in a single instant. I prefer to think that I run Marathons because of the feeling of privilege I have of being able to run at those kind of speeds almost effortlessly (for most of the way at least). I have learned from my now 6 Marathons run that what is more important to me than the time is to have felt in control. I got my ass kicked by the Marathon again this time but this is what for me and for many people makes it so fascinating. I shall certainly respect it more next time around.

The only frustrating thing has been not to really know why I faded so much in the second half. Was it lack of motivation? Was it because I had actually peaked two weeks earlier? Was it because I trained myself this time and didn't do any lactate or VO2 Max tests previously? Was it because of the 90% humidity? Was it because I had become overconfident after feeling like I had dominated the Marathon at last in Seville? The humidity was even cited as a reason why the elite runners didn't run so fast this year but my experience in Amsterdam in my first ever Marathon four years ago told me that my heart rate would have been correspondingly higher for a given pace: in other words, my strategy to run at a prescribed heart rate should have somehow taken that into account.

I hobbled back to the hotel and flopped onto the bed where I lay with my legs contracting and twitching all of their own accord. I managed to get my kit off but I couldn't face taking a shower because of the hot knives that I knew would stab those raw areas around the groin and underarms (perhaps I should have tried that new product I bought after all). The brand new pair of Wrightsocks I had bought the day before had worn through both layers but, amazingly, my foot was completely unblemished (apart from the trademark rubbing I get on top of my little toe from the Vivobarefoot Ultras).

Wright or Wrong socks?
After a well earned siesta I set off to meet Nebojsa and his wife for lunch - he'd managed to meet his goal of breaking four hours in a very consistent and controlled manner that would have made me extremely happy had I managed to have achieved that in my first Marathon (I did almost exactly the same time in Amsterdam but my second half was about 40 minutes slower than my first half!). On the way I stopped off to watch some of the people who were still running the last few kilometres. I sincerely think that these people are the real heroes of the Marathon. If I knew that I would have to be pounding the pavement for over 5 hours I wouldn't dream of going through with it.

I think my idea of running a Marathon in a new city (or at least one in which I had not previously run a Marathon) in a reasonable but not optimum time was a good one. Without my realizing, this objective stealthily converted itself into running a Marathon in a city I had already run in with the only interesting goal being to run it in the best time I could under the circumstances. My wife said that perhaps I should stick to Half Marathons but the fact is that I do enjoy the hulabaloo of a Marathon and I also like having the focus and discipline that training for one requires. I'd like to be able to find that sweet spot in between feeling like I am "slacking off" and being masochistic. I'd like to get to know how to be able to consistently run an even paced Marathon at a pace that still feels like a challenge. I can only get there by running more Marathons...

Friday, November 16, 2012

Thursday, November 15, 2012

Valencia Marathon Week 11/11

Week 10. Objective ECOs 200, actual ECOs 172

I think I managed to make a more or less credible final little push in my training, in spite of the unforeseen 5 week taper. I did very little training this week, the only session worth mentioning being a classic pre-Marathon set of two 10 minute runs at Marathon pace followed by two series of a kilometre at 17.5 kph.

In spite of Wednesday being a general strike in Madrid, I went to work and I did my training for the day. My wife had insisted on not using any electricity in the house as a gesture of solidarity to those who were respecting the strike so, when I got home, I found the kids eating dinner by candlelight. It didn't stop me from doing my run on the (electrically powered) treadmill but I did find it a little bit disconcerting running in the dark.

So, as they say in Spanish, "la suerte está echada" - in other words the die is cast. Alea iacta est. This reminds me of a fantastic book I read once called The Dice Man, which I have decided to re-read. The protagonist in the book is supposedly the author, Luke Rhinehart - a bored psychopathic psychiatrist on the border of depression - although this is actually a pen-name for the real author, George Cockcroft who acted out some of the parts of the book in real life. In order to escape from the chains of responsibility and the humdrum of everyday life, he realizes that he can delegate all decisions to the role of a die and yet have full control over the six possibilities that it can deliver up. In this way, he can do extremely irresponsible things without having to accept the culpability ("The die made me do it."). A Marathon is arguably a more responsible activity than some of the things that Dr Rhinehart gets up to in his book but I've done everything I can to ensure a favourable set of positive outcomes on Sunday, so now it is for the die to decide. This is my favourite part of Marathon "training": putting my feet up and eating lots of pasta.

Although there is no point in worrying between now and lining up for the start, I will make sure I set aside a quiet time - probably on the train to Valencia - in which I can visualize the race. It's important to go through all the scenarios that the die might throw up and have a response for each of them. For example, what if:
- My heart rate is too high for the given pace
- I get a twinge in a muscle or even a cramp
- I realize that I am going more slowly than I hoped or expected
- I get to the halfway mark much faster than I expected
- I start to slow down dramatically
- I feel like stopping
- It is very windy or it is raining
- It is very humid (hot or cold)
- Someone pisses me off
- I find myself running at the head of the race (only joking)

By the way, the Valencia Marathon has over 15,000 participants if you include the 6,000 that are running the 10K portion in parallel. In terms of foreign entries, this represents an increase of 150% which is surely due in no small part to the cancellation of the New York Marathon. The article on the Marathon website is worth reading even if it is just for the amusing translation into English: "Divina Pastora Valencia Marathon sprayed their own records".

Wednesday, November 14, 2012

Soft Star Run Amocs with leather sole

I've now been running in Run Amocs (Original Lite) for over a year now but obviously not in the same pair. In fact, I have just taken delivery of my 5th pair. The inevitable downside of minimalist shoes is that they last a fairly minimal length of time even with a Vibram sole. This is how they end up after about 1,000 kilometres and, for some bizarre reason (that has nothing to do with the shoes and everything to do with me), it is always the left shoe that wears out first. The sole wears down to very thin and the leather upper starts to rub against the ground and eventually tears as you can see in the photo below:

In fact, if it weren't for the tear in the upper, they would probably last me a good deal longer. I believe that as you get older you become more and more "asymmetrical" as you collect little injuries here and there that cause subtle changes to the kinetic chain that are not the same on both sides. In fact, we are born slightly asymmetrical to begin with (and no, I wasn't thinking about that). Perhaps if I improved my running technique I wouldn't wear out the shoes in this way but I think I have gone far enough down that road and, if my body has decided that my left foot should land in that particular way, I'm sure it has a good reason for doing so.

I thought I would try something different. Soft Star have started to offer a version of their shoes (moccasins really) with a "tough leather sole". They make it very clear with several disclaimers that the leather soles have much less traction than the rubber Vibram soles and so should be worn with caution, but this is something that doesn't tend to worry me unless I am running in mud or in hectic places like Vietnam, or indeed in mud in Vietnam. The sole is about the same thickness as the Vibram sole (5mm) and has a veiny patina which I guess will make them slightly less slippy than a new pair of dress shoes.

The leather sole is both softer and much more flexible than its Vibram counterpart. This is both a good and a bad thing as it's not really possible to have one without the other. Flexibility is good but the worry I have is how much it will hurt if I land on a stone while I am running. I did some unscientific tests at home involving wearing a Vibram sole on my right foot and a leather sole on my left foot and jumping onto stones and couldn't discern a difference between the two. It's kind of annoying when you land on a stone but it's not really all that painful. The other question is how much more durable (if at all) the tough leather sole will be... These two doubts will be answered over the next few months as I put them through their paces.

Droopy shoes

Tuesday, November 13, 2012

You shall have a medal...

Photo and medal courtesy of Elizabeth Maiuolo - thanks!!
I was fooling around on Facebook just before going to bed last night when I noticed that a friend had posted a picture of the missing medal of the New York Marathon that never was. When I asked her if it was still possible to get one, she replied that I had 5 minutes to post a picture of my race number - she was in the New York Road Runners headquarters at that precise moment and I believe that today is the last day for being able to pick up your medal. I rushed off a photo using Photo Booth on my mac - which turned out to be in reverse, I was in such a hurry:

I had to wait until I got up this morning to see that she had managed to collect my New York Marathon 2012 "Finishers" Medal! I'll have to wait until I go for the Marathon next year in order to pick it up, of course, but I'll get two medals for the price of one... Who knows? Maybe it will be worth zillions of credits in the future.

We're all still waiting to see what "carefully thought out plan" the race organizers come up with to compensate those of us who paid our $350 dollars and were left high and dry (albeit with a t-shirt and a medal to commemorate it). I've heard that some French runners are suing the City of New York for the money they have "lost" in flights and accommodation, as well as the Marathon entry fee but this seems futile in the land of litigation. If you flew in to see a concert that was cancelled would you hold the city responsible? Although it is true that in this case, the Mayor of NYC, Bloomberg, first said "yes, it would go ahead" and then "no, it wouldn't" but they were careful to give as a reason for cancellation the controversy surrounding the decision to go ahead, that could put the runners and the prestige of the event in danger. What is clever about this is that the decision was based on new information (the controversy) and not the already known facts about the impact of the storm. In any case, judging by the person who called us "selfish" for being a small group of people running up 1st Avenue, who knows what kind of disruptions would have presented themselves had the Marathon gone ahead, so I think they made the right call (in the end).

As to what the deal for next year will be, I think that the best thing to do is to give everybody who was due to run this year a guaranteed entry for next year at a significantly reduced price of $100, say. "Why not give free guaranteed entry if everybody has already paid the full entry fee?" I hear you ask. The problem is that if there is no fee whatsoever, 47,000 people will say that they are definitely running the Marathon in 2013 - they have nothing to lose by doing so - and yet it's likely that only a fraction of those people will actually turn up, causing the event to lose a lot of the momentum it has gathered over the last 40 years, as well as denying those who would otherwise have applied in 2013 for a place. On the other hand, it would be "unseemly" for the organizers  to take any money from us to cover their expenses when we have had to forfeit ours. The solution is simple: the $100 should go to help rebuild the houses and lives that were destroyed by the storm. That way, everybody wins.

Monday, November 12, 2012

Valencia Marathon Week 10/11

Week 10. Objective ECOs 600, actual ECOs 644

Back home...
The last minute cancelling of the New York Marathon put a bit of a spanner in the works of my carefully constructed training plan. Had they cancelled it earlier, I would still have gone to New York - who wouldn't?!  - but I would have stopped my taper sooner. Other than running the Marathon, I would have done about 200 ECOs, so the running I did over the weekend instead took me to about 400 ECOs, leaving me with the dilemma of whether to keep the intensity at the same level for the third week in a row, or to squeeze in a mini peak. I felt pretty rested in spite of all the travelling and associated jet lag, so I decided to do a final little push with a focus on speed and running at Marathon pace over volume.

I have never had to pay to go to a gym in New York. For some reason, they seem to be quite happy to give out week long guest passes to friends of mine who are members, knowing full well that there is no chance that I will be joining as I live in Madrid. I still get emails from Equinox from the last time I went there 3 years ago. So, again, thanks to a friend, I was able to do my series (interval) training in the Equinox gym in Upper West Side. Although it is pretty difficult to stand out in a city where "anything goes", I did attract some unwanted attention with my huffing and puffing on the treadmill. There was a sticker on the wall saying "I CAN HEAR YOU!" which I thought might be a reference to heavy breathers but instead turned out to be asking people not to use their mobile phones while exercising.

The rest of the day I spent riding around on a borrowed road bike. The traffic was much easier than usual as many of the cars were otherwise employed queuing up for "gas" in endless lines that reminded me of the time I went to Romania in the 90s. New York turned out to be a fantastic city to explore by bike, with bike lanes all round the perimeter of Manhattan as well as up and down the length of the peripheral avenues and over most of the bridges. I even felt safe bombing down 5th Avenue in the company of the iconic yellow taxis and I soon discovered that jumping red lights, going the wrong way down a one way street and riding on the pavement were all behaviours that seemed to be expected of an urban cyclist. (As my Mum reads this blog, I should point out that I didn't necessarily do any of these things myself.) I went up to East Harlem and found an authentic looking Mexican restaurant near 110th street and Lexington. The best Mexican food I have had in New York has always been in the most unlikely looking places. Then I went over the Greensboro Bridge to Queens and the Pulaski Bridge from there to Brooklyn, following the Marathon route backwards to see a friend who lives in Greenpoint. Finally I went home via the Williamsburg Bridge, Downtown Manhattan and Central Park. The following day I went to see another friend who lives in Dumbo (Down Under the Manhattan Bridge Overpass), also in Brooklyn, and went over the Manhattan and Brooklyn Bridges so I ended up going over almost all of the (cyclable) bridges connecting the island of Manhattan to the surrounding islands. I even had time to pop into the office in 53rd Street on the way back. In all my travels I have to say I saw no lingering evidence of there having been a storm (not counting the skate being off the menu in a restaurant we went to) but I didn't go to the worst affected areas like Staten Island or New Jersey. I also didn't see any evidence of BikeSnob who is undisputedly the most famous two-wheeled resident of Brooklyn although he did post this the same day that I cycled along parts of the very same route.

I had to fly back on Tuesday night and, just as the important news of the Marathon cancellation broke while we were in mid-flight, the first thing I heard on arrival as people's cellphones (mobile phones) beeped back to life was the result of the Presidential elections. It was tough having to go straight back to work (after a quick shower) and I had to have a half hour power nap in the car at lunchtime because I literally could not keep my eyes open. With all the faffing about on the plane (is this lunch, breakfast or dinner?), I only got about four hours of fairly uncomfortable sleep: I much prefer flying in the opposite direction where the trick is to stay awake most of the time watching movies.

The rest of the week's training consisted of running mostly at Marathon pace. I had the nice surprise of discovering that Friday was actually a bank holiday only the day before. I finished off the week with a 90 minute run, the second half of which I ran at Marathon pace (that is to say, at 163 bpm). I have to say, the run was slightly disappointing as I started off at around 15 kph, just as I had done in the Half Marathon I did only two weeks ago, but found the pace unsustainable (at that heart rate) on the way back. I suppose that it was a combination of accumulated tiredness and a bit of a headwind but it wasn't quite the "high" I'd started the week of the New York Marathon with. Still, there's no reason to believe that my fitness has somehow deteriorated in the last couple of weeks and, even though the Half Marathon I ran at Marathon pace was spectacular, I was aware at the time that it was unlikely that I would be able to run the full Marathon at that pace and that heart rate. So anything is still possible for Valencia Marathon this Sunday...

Sunday, November 4, 2012

Not the New York Marathon

The social networks have all been abuzz with various proposals of alternative New York Marathons and there have even been articles in the press. Some people tried to follow the actual course as closely as possible while others were more practical and were content to run in circles around Central Park. I was in at least two minds as to what to do so I decided to do a bit of everything. I'd planned to meet some friends at 11am (the clocks went back for the second time for me this week) to run the last 10 miles of the course, give or take the incursion into the Bronx, and I thought I would make a long run of it by starting off in Central Park and running to the meeting point under the bridge at 59th and 1st.

It was a beautiful day and would have been the perfect weather for the Marathon had the weather itself not caused the Marathon to be cancelled in the first place. I thought I would wear my race number so that it would at least have some meaning when I looked at it in the future (yes, I admit that I do do this sometimes and I rather liked an idea I saw in the Expo of turning old race numbers into coasters). While I was queuing up for my coffee, as often happens in New York, several people came up to me to ask me where I was from and if I was "bummed" about not being able to run the Marathon. I said that there were worse things that could happen. If truth be told, a part of me is glad - you run a Marathon for the experience and not running a Marathon in New York is an experience in itself and an altogether rarer one.

Central Park was rammed with people either running or supporting and there was a great atmosphere. It was so nice just to see people running purely for running's sake and not particularly to prove anything either to themselves or to others. I found myself running alongside a fairly speedy guy (2:40 Marathoner) from Mexico who I chatted to for a while before breaking off and heading towards the finish lines. As you can probably imagine, there were hundreds of people queuing up to have their photo taken at the finish: it had to be done.

Then I headed off to 1st Avenue and ran a few more kilometres up and down to make up the distance to about 17km, impressing myself by arriving exactly at 11am at the agreed meeting point. My group of friends was formed by Elaine, who I met in the Berlin Marathon and who is a curious mix of a 5K runner and an Ultramarathoner, and her friends who were from so many different countries we could have been an envoy from the United Nations. Elaine's boyfriend Tom got us all to sing our national anthems which I pathetically chickened out of because I can't remember even the first line of the British National Anthem (nor the Spanish one, for that matter) and then we set off. There were much fewer people running along our route than I had expected but what with the traffic lights, the cars and the odd righteous cyclist, it wasn't such an easy course to navigate. Still, there were huddles of supporters who even handed us cups of water as we ran past while others told us we were doing a "good job". It wasn't all smiles and positivity though: one passerby qualified us as "selfish", presumably for not volunteering in the post-hurricane clean-up effort while another told us that "Bloomberg has said that you can't run". I really don't understand why it is any more selfish to be running along than it is to be walking your dog, for example. Haven't we already made some sacrifice? Some cars also beeped at us if we caused them any slight delay but, considering that under normal circumstances they wouldn't have even been able to drive down that road today, I thought that they could have given us a little bit of leeway. On the other hand, when us bus driver beeped at us, it was in the form of encouragement.

Just as we were about to turn into Central Park for the final few miles, a man who was getting into his car said "hello" to one of the runners in our group. She informed me that he was none other than the Chairman of the NYRR (New York Road Runners - organizers of the Marathon), George Hirsch. Just as well that he was not widely recognizable as I imagine that some of the 47,000 runners might not have had such a charitable attitude towards him. Although I expect he enjoyed watching everybody taking part in the spontaneous "Not the New York Marathon". Even the cops were helping hand out water to the runners who were by now coming to the end of their run, some of whom were completing the full Marathon distance.

At last we arrived at the finish and took some group photos. Some guys had even gone to the trouble of making themselves their own medals.

Elaine's trademark is to jump for photos in any race she takes part in - even the ultra distance ones - so we couldn't call it a day until we had completed this tradition.

Everybody JUMP!

It wasn't quite the New York Marathon but the experience has been a very good one and I ended up doing a long run of over 32 km, half of it at a fairly brisk pace and the other half at a nice, relaxed pace, not a bad training session for Valencia in two weeks time.

Saturday, November 3, 2012

The New York Marathon has been cancelled!

They say a Marathon is mostly mental but in this case I think it is fair to say that it is 100% in my imagination because, this year, as everyone knows by now, the 2012 New York Marathon has been cancelled. To be honest, after talking to people here, it seems inconceivable that it could have gone ahead, given that some people have been killed by the storm, others have lost their houses and, well, some people still don't have internet or hot water. What is hard to understand, however, is how Michael Bloomberg can go from a resolute "Yay" to a resounding "Nay" in the space of a day.

I got on the plane thinking that things would probably not turn out to be a simple black or white but rather a shade of grey: that neither my flight nor the Marathon would be cancelled, but there would be extra hurdles to overcome. I decided that I would take all these logistical challenges in my stride and treat them as part of the test, rather than wasting precious mental energy on worrying whether the missed hours of sleep or extra miles walked would detract from my finishing time. As it turned out, the flight went very smoothly, landing slightly ahead of time, and just as we were taxi-ing to the terminal, my neighbour (who wasn't running but knew that I was) started fiddling around with his iPhone. It was at this moment that he told me the news. Almost half the plane was occupied by other Marathon runners and many of them were part of a large group travelling with the 42195.es agency. I couldn't see any ripples of disbelief passing through the plane so I thought it must have been a joke. Of course, it turned out not to be.

For the rest, the journey went very well, all things considered. I always find it amazing how the people who are in charge of the queues in the immigration hall in a country that is so ordered as the US go about it as if it were their first day on the job. Every time that I have come to NY and it has happened that several international flights have arrived at the same time, chaos has ensued. This time I was able to use the chaos to my advantage and get through the lines in record time. Then there was an impressive queue for prepaid taxis, which didn't seem to be moving at all, so I went with some cabbie who was offering a ride into town for $60 provided we found someone else prepared to share the cab and pay the same. Everybody wins.

So, what then of the Marathon? Well, I'll go shortly to the Expo and pick up my "I didn't run the 2012 NY Marathon" t-shirt which may someday be worth a fortune on Ebay (yeah, right). I guess they'll tell me what the refund policy is if there is one. I expect that I'll get guaranteed entry into next year's Marathon but it will be interesting to see how much of my $350 I get back, or whether next year's entry fee is waived. Anything is possible.

As far as what to do with all the training I have in my legs, I signed up last night for the Valencia Marathon in just over two weeks time. I ran this last year and found it to be a superbly run event and good value at only 70 euros for a last minute entry (the inscriptions close tomorrow). The good news is that a friend of mine is flying in from Serbia to run his first Marathon there, so it will be nice to accompany him, as well as a couple of other friends who ran the Seville Marathon with me back in February.

In a rather spectacular fuck up earlier this week, the NYRR organization posted this rather inappropriate message on their Facebook wall, just as people were battening down the hatches and assessing the damage from the storm:

Er, durr, Central Park is, you know, like closed?

It was one of those automatic posts that they had forgotten to or indeed been unable to cancel but I managed to take a screen shot of it before it disappeared. As usual with these kind of emotive subjects, there were a lot of very polarized views ranging from people saying that we didn't understand New Yorkers and that they would rise up just as they had done in the face of terrorism and the Marathon would go ahead; others were saying that it would be a disgrace to divert important resources in a time of need to something so frivolous as a foot race. I posted the following and immediately got more "likes" than any post I have ever written on Facebook (more than the 3 which are shown below, I might add!)

Unfortunately, Staten island is still a complete mess by all accounts
Much as it seems like a nice idea, the reality is that even if it were not for the storm, it would not be possible to cross some of the bridges on foot. In Spain I could probably get away with running along the hard shoulder but I'd probably get arrested or shot if I tried that here. And if I am not going to be able to run exactly the course, it doesn't really seem worth the hassle it would involve. Nevertheless, tomorrow I have arranged to meet up with some friends to run the last 10 miles of the Marathon. I will probably run this there and back so that will be a nice 32 km long run.

The challenge, though, is how to convert this premature taper into a final preparation for Valencia. First of all, I don't want to waste too much of the time I have in New York training, although I do love running in this city. It will be easy to train too hard and arrive on tired legs to Valencia. On the other hand, I can't extend the taper for another two weeks without negative consequences... Hmmm, this is just the sort of time when it would have been useful to have an experienced trainer around. I suppose I'll have to make something up.