Wednesday, January 30, 2013

The only animal to trip over the same stone twice...

I went for a nice easy run with a new work colleague today, to show him how lucky we are to have so many good routes nearby. Just as we were setting out I told him about tripping over a paving stone in London an how my foot was still a bit inflamed but that I wasn't planning to see a doctor about it because I knew that they would probably just tell me to rest it. Well, only a few minutes into the run I tripped over a (different) stone stubbing the big toe of the same foot... Half way through the run I had to stop at a fountain and immerse my foot in cold water for a few minutes. After him warning me he wouldn't be able to run too fast, in the end I was the one holding him back! Now I am waiting in the hospital to see how serious it is. It is very inflamed and very sensitive to touch... Just when I was going so well! Oh we'll, fingers crossed.

UPDATE: Nothing broken. What I have is a a bursitis (an inflamed bursa - the thingy that helps tendons slide smoothly over bone). The different bursae have specific names for the associated inflammation like Infrapatellar bursitis - otherwise known as Clergyman's knee - or Ischial bursitis - otherwise known as Weaver's bottom. Perhaps what I have is known more commonly as Dickhead's foot. The doctor said the usual: rest, ice and anti-inflammatories. Actually he said "relative rest" - relative to what? Relative to the training regime of a world class Marathoner? I did say to him "Please don't take this the wrong way but, if I were to ignore everything you said except the part about ice and pills, would I end up doing myself permanent damage?". He said that I would only end up slowing down the recovery process. So that's sorted then, I'll just keep an eye on it and make sure it doesn't get worse (as well as being extra blood careful not to trip over again!!). It is noticeably better today so I will see whether the 40 minute run at Marathon pace that I had planned is tolerable.

Tuesday, January 29, 2013

Running pace table

The number of times I have either knocked up a quick spreadsheet or searched on the web to convert pace into kilometres per hour or vice versa, or to work out the pace I need to run at for a particular time in a race!  More for my own convenience (but hopefully for yours too, unless you are still stuck with those artefacts of the British Empire - miles), I have made a simple conversion table below:

pace kph 10k time HM time M  time
3:00 20.0 30:00 1:03:18 2:06:17
3:05 19.5 30:50 1:05:03 2:09:48
3:10 18.9 31:40 1:06:49 2:13:18
3:15 18.5 32:30 1:08:34 2:16:49
3:20 18.0 33:20 1:10:20 2:20:19
3:25 17.6 34:10 1:12:05 2:23:49
3:30 17.1 35:00 1:13:50 2:27:20
3:35 16.7 35:50 1:15:36 2:30:50
3:40 16.4 36:40 1:17:21 2:34:21
3:45 16.0 37:30 1:19:07 2:37:51
3:50 15.7 38:20 1:20:52 2:41:22
3:55 15.3 39:10 1:22:38 2:44:52
4:00 15.0 40:00 1:24:23 2:48:23
4:05 14.7 40:50 1:26:09 2:51:53
4:10 14.4 41:40 1:27:54 2:55:24
4:15 14.1 42:30 1:29:40 2:58:54
4:20 13.8 43:20 1:31:25 3:02:25
4:25 13.6 44:10 1:33:11 3:05:55
4:30 13.3 45:00 1:34:56 3:09:26
4:35 13.1 45:50 1:36:42 3:12:56
4:40 12.9 46:40 1:38:27 3:16:27
4:45 12.6 47:30 1:40:13 3:19:57
4:50 12.4 48:20 1:41:58 3:23:28
4:55 12.2 49:10 1:43:44 3:26:58
5:00 12.0 50:00 1:45:29 3:30:29

Monday, January 28, 2013

Media Maratón de Getafe 2013 / Getafe Half Marathon 2013

Even though I would say that the Half Marathon is probably my favourite distance, I get more and more nervous before a race as time goes on. This is partly because I have beaten my best time in every Half Marathon I have run (apart from ones run at Marathon pace) - at some point there has to be a disappointment in store - but also because the suffering is becoming more and more like that of a 10K race.

Paco kindly offered to pick me up on the way from his house down to Getafe - that, and the civilised 10:30 am start, meant that I could have a nice quiet breakfast at home while I waited for him to arrive. I had my usual toast and olive oil with a sprinkle of salt but I also scoffed down a slightly less healthy Mars Bar and grabbed a Red Bull for later. This year we were able to find a very good parking place quite near the start and we had plenty of time to go through the usual routine of getting the race number, pinning it on, leaving stuff at the cloakroom and finally, warming up. In spite of being a cold (8 degrees Centigrade) and grey day, I opted for sunglasses to give my eyes a rest from the glare and I wore one of those Buff things to avoid getting a headache from the chill (I took it off about 5 kilometres into the race). I also decided to run with a Fuel Belt and one little bottle full of High5 Isogels, just as I did last year. It's probably overkill but even if it helps psychologically it's probably worth more than its weight in speed. Lastly, I ran in my Vibram Seeyas which I am currently convinced are my best shoes, at least for running sub 4:00 per kilometre pace on tarmac.

That's me in the middle with an orange vest and sunglasses
Thanks to Josue Bretones Miguelez for these
After having started too far back last year, I was a bit more bullish and I stood around the 3:30 pace mark, even though I knew I would be running at more like 3:45 per kilometre. It turned out that I should probably have stood much further forward because the start was really fraught. Looking at the results from after the race, I can see that there were plenty of people who subsequently ran 1:30, 1:45, etc., who stood right at the very front (and who were not in an advanced age group for which those times would have been competitive). I have to say I find it very annoying that people do this. It doesn't do anyone any favours, even those who try to take advantage of it: two people tripped and fell in the middle of the melée and could have been quite seriously hurt (luckily they seemed to be OK). Having said this, I now find myself falling in the trap of doing the same thing (although I think that the organiser's overestimated the number of people who were going to be running a sub 3:30 pace and left far too big a corral for them).

Anyway, with my usual rant over, back to the race itself. A friend asked me what my goal in the race was and I realised that I hadn't really thought too hard about it. I said that I'd like to break 1 hour 20 as I did last year and ideally be able to improve my time, even if only by a few seconds. On the other hand, after the aerobic test I did a few weeks ago, I knew that I would set off at a pace of 3:45 per kilometre (16 kph) and see where my heart rate ended up. I decided to ignore my GPS and just make sure that the number of seconds on the clock were at least 15 less at each kilometre marker. Even so, it was impossible to ignore the symphony of beeping Garmin watches and, for once, they were not too far off the mark (the final distance according to my watch was 21.18, only 80 metres more, easily accounted for by not taking the optimal line).

After only a few kilometres I saw someone wearing the "All in your mind" t-shirt from my old club (and what I wore myself last year). It turned out to be Alejandro Gómez who I last saw (the back of) in the San Silvestre International race on New Year's Eve. This time I edged past him after a brief chat and wondered whether he'd catch me up again. The course is pretty flat and consists of two loops run mostly on roads, although there is a section that passes through the old village centre in which you have to run on cobble stones which are only slightly irritating in minimalist shoes. I remember one stretch which was slightly slippery, as if we were running on a film of ice (which wouldn't have been impossible) but I think was actually a fine layer of gravel. I could hear other runner's shoes scraping and slipping and I tried consciously not to waste energy by pushing off too hard. It was, however, quite a windy day and even with 3,600 other runners there were still times when I was completely unprotected from the onslaught.

I felt completely in control during the whole race but I did think of stopping several times. I suppose these thoughts come to you either when you are suffering too much (which wasn't the case) or when you lose concentration. I clearly remember thinking how nice it would be to stop and catch my breath after only 5 kilometres and then I realized what a stupid idea that was and that I couldn't afford to think of the relief of stopping so soon into the race. The desire to stop was stronger, of course, in the final quarter but it was also easier to convince myself to keep going. What I find striking now is that I don't remember feeling either sure that I would beat my best time or particularly excited about doing so; I just wanted the time to go by.

Thanks to Los atrapasueños for this one
I thought about my "limiters" - whether it was my lungs or my legs that were holding me back and, to be honest, I didn't feel that either of them were. Every so often I thought my legs were getting tired and so I sipped some of my gels. I made sure that I had finished the bottle by the time I passed the 15 kilometre mark as little good would they do me after this point. I think it must have been largely due to the cold weather that my heart rate didn't not climb towards the end - you can see from the graph below the difference between this year and last. On the other hand, according to eltiempo, the temperature last year was about the same, the main difference being that you could actually see the sun. My breathing did become more laboured so I was definitely running much closer to my limits than the heart rate graph would have you believe - I felt myself starting to wheeze and have to suck in my breath in the last couple of kilometres - but I do think that I left some gas in the tank.

Getafe 2013 vs Getafe 2012
As I came into the final straight, I saw that I was definitely going to beat my best time of 1:19:37 but it didn't look as though it would be possible to break 1 hour and 19 minutes so I ran hard but not like a kamikaze and someone even overtook me in the last 100m. Had I known that my net time (taking into account the time it took me to cross the start line once the gun had gone off) would be 1 hour 19 minutes and 3 seconds(!) I would probably have pulled out all the stops. There is something to be said for not trying to beat your personal best by all that you can in one go. I see it a bit like the way that Usain Bolt is financially incentivised to save a little something for his next record breaking attempt. Now I have a nice goal for next year: break 1 hour 19 in the Half Marathon. If last year I ran the second half 17 seconds slower than the first half, this year the split was 48 seconds. Message to future self: if I am in the same shape next year as I am in now, then I should aim to knock 30 seconds off my time.

I am very pleased with my time because, if last year felt like a fluke, this result confirms that I am that fast, if not faster. I am especially pleased because I have been training on my own without a coach for about 9 months now and I am still able to get good results. I think I can be quietly confident about Seville. I just hope that the qualifying time for New York this year (if this race does indeed fall in the window of dates for qualification) is not sub 1:19 for the 40+ age group - that will be quite frustrating to say the least. (By the way, the aerobic test I did the other day predicted a time of 1:19:07 - only 4 seconds off my actual time!! Must be a coincidence.)

I got my second best 10K time of 37:05 on route, only 20 seconds off my PB
As I left the finish line area I picked up my runner's goody bag without realizing that this year the t-shirts were not all one size. I ended up with a small size which I decided to give to my wife. I've got more than enough red t-shirts as it is.

By chance, the guy with his arms in the air is trained by Jonathan

Friday, January 25, 2013

Seville Marathon Week 4/8

It had been so long since I last commuted to work on my bike that I made a wrong turn and ended up having to go the whole way to work by road (as opposed to cross country). Still, I'd forgotten how much I enjoyed it, even though it was dark when I went and dark when I went home. People ask me how I manage to see where I am going on those trails in the dark but my amazingly powerful lights actually help me see the dips in the terrain more clearly by night than by day.

Tuesday was farlek on the treadmill at home while watching a fairly mediocre cross between the Bourne Identity and 24 - called XIII. The idea was to alternate between 3 minutes at 13.5 kph and 2 minutes at 16 kph for a total of 70 minutes. What I liked about the workout was that running at 13.5 kph felt like jogging after running at 16 kph and 2 minutes wasn't long enough for it to feel difficult to run at 16 kph - I suppose that is exactly the point of fartlek. Something strange happened after running for about 25 minutes which was that I became extremely hungry in spite of having eaten dinner shortly before. I stopped and scoffed a few chocolates and made myself a toast which I ate with shaking hands, as if I'd just "bonked" on the bike. I can only guess that I have been skimping a bit too much on the carbohydrates. Lately I have virtually become a vegetarian (or at least, the sort that eats fish). It's certainly not for religious or for "humane" reasons (after all fish have feelings too...). It's just what I feel like eating and, I have to say, I feel less bloated and somehow cleaner and more healthy afterwards. I've also been trying to cut down on carbs as I have come to believe that they are the root of all evil (as well as the reason I don't look as fit as Jackie Chan) but I do make an exception for my breakfast of toast with olive oil and salt (which is an improvement on the pain au chocolat I used to have) and I have found it is impossible not to eat the bread that they give you in a restaurant while you are waiting for your food to arrive...

Normally I try to avoid doing two quality workouts back to back - unless we count the long run as a quality workout (as it should be), in which case I sometimes try to simulate the last kilometres of a Marathon by running on tired legs. As a result of the heart tests I did back in September, I had to do some more tests including a exertion test(?) (I only know the name in Spanish - prueba de esfuerzo) on Thursday. This meant that I had to do my threshold run of two lots of 20 minutes at 16 kph on Wednesday evening. It wasn't particularly stressful which makes me wonder whether I should up the speed a little bit in the future. At this rate I'm going to have to swap my treadmill for a new one as I am getting close to its limit!

On Thursday - apart from an hour run on such a windy day that I got a headache on the way back - the "prueba de esfuerzo" was quite light. As usual, they assumed my maximum heart rate would be that given by the Haskell formula (which, according to Wikipedia has neither a scientific nor empirical foundation and that the very same Professor Haskell finds "laughable" that it has been taken so seriously) of 220-age. By this measure, the 165 bpm we reached in the test was already 92% of my maximum but was still less than the heart rate I run a Marathon at. Also, rather than achieving this by just cranking up the speed, the incline went up to about 20% - just as well, really, because the wires were so short connecting my to the electrocardiogram that I would have had trouble running so close to the edge of the machine. No-one said anything but I can't imagine anyone else has done that test in that hospital in a pair of Vibram Five Fingers... All seemed to go well and the next day I had to wear a Holter (named after Norman Holter who invented this device which is like a portable electrocardiogram) for a full 24 hours. The sexy plastic fish net tank top I have to wear over the top of the device and the electrodes was really quite itchy and annoying. There is a company in Madrid called Nuubo that produces a much more modern and comfortable looking alternative - hopefully it will catch on because I expect I will have to repeat this test every 6 months or so. The way I see it is that it is probably advantageous to have something very slightly "wrong" with you that requires regular check-ups: that way they'll catch anything that could develop in the meantime. In that sense I count myself very lucky to have private health care through my company and an excellent health service.

Other than that, there's not much more to say about the training this week as on Sunday I have the Getafe Half Marathon which I am hoping I can use to qualify for New York (although it seems unlikely and I have even heard some rumours that, this year, the window for qualifying times will be until the 1st of January, not the 31st of January as in previous years...). Check back here on Sunday for the results...

Thursday, January 24, 2013

Half Challenge Barcelona 2013

Change of plans...

I'd started to think about the Half Ironman in Lisbon for which I have already paid the entry fee (of €100 as I did it so far in advance) and just the thought of driving 6 hours on my own, racing nearly 5 hours on my own and driving back 6 hours on my own makes me feel quite tired, just thinking of it. I did in fact do exactly this a few years ago but my level of obsession (and therefore drive) was much higher then. In total I've done Lisbon twice before and it is very well organized, a very fast course (if not a bit ugly and smelly) but it isn't really something that I can get excited about.

On the other hand, the Half Challenge in Barcelona this year is also the ETU Half Distance European Championship with the participation of Chris McCormack.

Not only that, but a number of colleague from work are going which will make it more enjoyable and hopefully reduce the stress and inconvenience of the logistical aspects of triathlon which I have come to dread. It will have been almost exactly two years since I last did a triathlon and, in spite of subsequently buying a triathlon specific bike that yet has to be put through its paces, I have enjoyed the relative ease of running Marathons both from a training and a logistical point of view. Another advantage is that I get an extra two weeks to train for it. Also I may be able to convince my family to come with me...

I feel like a weight has been lifted from my mind and now I am actually looking forward to getting back into triathlon!

Monday, January 21, 2013

Le Tour de Cambridge 2014

Just when I thought that the Tour de Farce couldn't get any less interesting after Lance Armstrong's crocodile tears on the Oprah Winfrey show last week, I heard that the 2014 edition of Le Tour will pass through my natal town of Cambridge (England).

When I was 10 years old my father suggested we went to London - something that we did every now and again but was always a treat. Having a bit of a spontaneous streak, instead of cycling to the station and taking our bikes on the train, he suggested we cycled all the way to London. The route we took was very similar to the one that the Tour will follow, except we went along the A10 (which was originally a Roman road). Of course we took a lot longer than these guys will take to get to London (6 hours with a break for lunch if memory serves) but it went down in the annals of the Smith family as a true adventure (we went back home on the train). I can only guess that this will be a time trial stage because it is very flat and not very long, so a peloton would cover it in next to no time.

Looks like I will have a reason to go back to Cambridge next year - after all it has been years since I last went back.

While I am on the subject, I can't help but chip in my own two eurocents worth of opinion about the whole Lance Dopestrong scandal. Let's get the first and most obvious thing out of the way which I think everyone can agree on: he cheated and therefore has been stripped of all his ill-gotten gains. As far as I am concerned, though, I see things this way:

1) The fall of an American Hero. From all that I have heard and read about Lance, he must have more testosterone than blood in his veins and will stop at nothing to win. While I find the whole "gentlemanly etiquette" side of the Tour to be a complete contradiction (especially to its brutal roots) I also think that competitiveness should be limited to the competition itself. One thing is the kind of jockeying that former Ironman World Champion Chris McCormack would engage in, in the style of boxers about to go into the ring, but I think that you should always respect your opponent. If we put the doping to one side, I would not say that Lance has ever set a very good example of being a sporting hero - he's more interested in winning whatever the cost. I don't really think that his fall from grace has actually been from very high up as he never had much grace to begin with. I would go so far as to say that his ability to convince, dupe and manipulate everyone around him is the sign of a sociopath or even a psychopath (not all psychopaths cut people up into small pieces...). I can't help likening him to Bernie Madoff or Nick Leeson - someone who got in too deep with a lie but lacked the empathy (or shit-giving) that normal people have to get out of it before it snowballed.

2) It's not all about the bike (or the performance enhancing drugs). Just as we have to have our "heroes" we also have to have our champions - the best at whatever they do. At these levels, the differences between athletes are absolutely tiny and road cycling is a notoriously random event in which everything can hang on the outcome of a scramble for the line in the last few seconds (anyone remember who won the road race in the Olympics last year?). All of these guys are absolutely amazing, complete outliers and a reminder to us all what the human body is capable of. The importance of having a winner is to provide that stimulus (not to mention prize money and sponsorship deals) to push the limits further and further. And let's not forget that Lance did beat cancer (albeit also with the help of drugs) so, however you look at it, he's a pretty incredible guy - just not someone you would trust to manage your investments.

3) What about the cover-up? Lance must have had enablers to be able to carry on as he did for so long. The obvious place to point the finger is at the UCI (Union Cycliste International) who undoubtedly had an interest in maintaining the integrity of the race as well as any backhanders that may have gone on. I hope that an exhaustive investigation is carried out because, quite frankly, I can't see road racing ever getting its credibility back as a sport unless some heads start to seriously roll.

Having said all that, I still find myself wanting to know whether he could win the Ironman World Championships (as a clean athlete) because I am just interested in pushing the limits and seeing how far we can go. I think Lance has closed that door by whining that the other dopers only got six month bans. If you are going to be the best at something, you can't expect to be treated the same way as everyone else. In this case he was the best at deceiving the whole world so I can't see him ever returning to competition (except, perhaps, as a body builder or a WWF wrestler where a blind eye is turned to drug use).

Sunday, January 20, 2013

Seville Marathon Week 3/8

After my fight with a loose paving stone last Sunday, the bunion on my right foot swelled up and it hurt to bend my big toe, to the point that I was limping. The test was whether an easy run on Tuesday would make it worse or better and, although it was a little painful at times, it was no worse afterwards and slightly less swollen the next day. One thing is running at a steady speed of around 12-13 kilometres per hour when, if you have legs as long as mine, you hardly need to bend your toes - another thing is running at 16-19 kph...

So I wasn't sure how my "fartlek" would go on Wednesday and it was certainly more "fart" (Swedish for speed) than "lek" (Swedish for play or fun). The idea was to do two "ladders" of 6 minutes, 5, 4, 3, 2, 1 at speeds of 16.5 kph (3:40 per km) to 19 kph (3:10 per km) with an active recovery of 1 minute jogging in-between. As I prefer to do these kind of workouts on a treadmill and my treadmill at home doesn't go above 17.5 kph, I decided to do the workout at the work gym. Bad idea. For the first time I actually remembered to take a digital thermometer with me - I'd always been curious to know how much hotter it really was. The temperature started at 23.5 degrees (Celsius) and rose to 24.5 degrees after about 20 minutes. Imagine running on a hot sunny day with a tailwind the same speed at which you are running, so that you are enveloped by the stifling air. It's quite a difference running in my basement which is at least 5 to 8 degrees cooler. I did half the workout and most of the really fast bits before leaving the rest to finish at home. I've decided that next time I'll do the workout at home and resort to a steeper incline when the motor comes up short in terms of speed - after all, now that I am training for a Marathon the key isn't so much pure speed but resistance.

On Saturday I did a reasonably tough workout of three sets of 15 minutes at 16 kph (3:45 pace). The idea was to tire out my legs for the long run the next day. In my plan I was down to run 30 kms "easy" as a depletion run but my friends were doing a different kind of long run and, in the end, the prospect of running in good company was too much to resist. We ran a total of 26 kilometres but with some interesting changes of rhythm: 5 km at 12 kph (5:00 pace), 10 km at 13.5 kph (4:30 pace), 8 km at 15 kph (4:00 pace) and 3 km at 12 kph (5:00 pace).

The fast section was quite tough but we actually ran it a little faster than necessary. In the end it was a good workout that left me feeling nicely tired - definitely a good blueprint for future long runs.

Wednesday, January 16, 2013

The New York Marathon saga...

The window for choosing between a refund of the $350 entry fee or a (non-complimentary) guaranteed slot for 2013 has opened and I must make my choice before the 25th of January or, by default, I will forfeit both options. There is some more information on the official web site which in a way which seems to be quite unique to the NYRRs manages to be both precise and ambiguous at the same time:

At this time, we are reserving the right to revise the options for guaranteed entry eligibility for the 2013 Marathon, or to offer alternative options, for the following runners:
    • Applicants who would have qualified for the 2013 Marathon entry by being denied entry three consecutive times
    • Applicants who would have qualified for the 2013 Marathon by meeting our time qualifying standards. Therefore, 2012 entrants who believe they will meet those standards, and wish to run in 2013, should consider selecting the option of guaranteed entry into the 2013 Marathon.
I actually fall into both those groups as (a) I entered the lottery 3 times and was denied each time and (b) I have a qualifying time for 2012 and believe that I will meet the qualifying time this year (which, unless it is revised, is the same for me as it was last year because the standards have tightened at the same time that I have gone from being a thirty-something to a forty-something).

What I find utterly confusing is the last paragraph. Why is it ambiguous? Because, in the context of the decision I have to take regarding the resolution of the 2012 Marathon, the "option of guaranteed entry" is the one in which I have to pay the entry fee a second time and I get entry irrespective of any qualifying time I might have. In the wider context of applying for entry to the 2013 Marathon, the guaranteed option entry is the one you choose once you have a qualifying time so it is not a question of "believing that you will meet the time". So neither interpretation makes much sense to me and if I just ignore the "therefore" and make my own logical choice I am still left with the fact that they may decide to make the entry standards arbitrarily tougher depending on what all the other 2012 entrants decide to do. After my last experience of trying to get the NYRR to clear up a confusion and receiving an even more confusing reply, I don't really trust that whatever they tell me will actually correspond to reality.

Taking a deep breath, I realize that I don't have to run the New York Marathon this year, even though I would like to. I can always run it next year. I have to accept that even if I run a qualifying time of sub 1 hour 23 in the Getafe Half Marathon on the 27th of January, I will still be running the risk that the time is not good enough. A shame really, because I had thought that beating 1:23 would be equivalent to winning a prize of $350 for doing so.

Here goes, I'm going to make my choice and leave the rest to chance...

UPDATE: As part of the process of asking for my money back, you have to read (or pretend to have read) a long piece of legalese which actually makes the ambiguity I mentioned above slightly less ambiguous. It says:

2) TIME QUALIFIERS − NYRR reserves the right to limit the number of guaranteed entries granted to runners meeting our time qualifying standards for the 2013 Marathon. Therefore, 2012 entrants who believe they will meet those standards, and wish to run in 2013, should consider selecting the option of guaranteed entry into the 2013 Marathon.

As this is in the context of actually making the choice of resolution for the 2012 Marathon and the "therefore" follows a sentence which explicitly says that the places open to runners who have qualifying times will be limited, it is clear that it is encouraging you to choose the other door (non-complimentary guaranteed entry). It stands to reason that they would prefer you not to ask for you money back and try to put the frighteners on you. OK, here goes for real this time.

UPDATE (2): OK, it's done now, I am now "not in". I'm not one to quibble but it wouldn't have hurt for the website to have said beforehand that (a) I won't get the money for 4-6 weeks and (b) I will be charged 1 euro in the meantime just to check that my credit card is still working (or perhaps it is a "processing fee"). Conclusion: the guys at NYRR could do with a little bit of help on how to manage people's expectations, especially when you are talking about a potential angry mob of 40,000 people. I realize that there are a lot of volunteers working there that earn diddly squat but we are, after all, talking about millions of dollars and not all of it goes into Michael Bloomberg's pocket.

Sunday, January 13, 2013

Seville Marathon Week 2/8

Back at work on Tuesday and all I could think about was going out of the door for a run at lunchtime, in spire of the grey Londonesque weather. Shoes - check (my new wider Soft Star RunAmocs had arrived in the post). Quick dry base layer - check. Windproof jacket - check. Shorts - bollocks!! Luckily there is a shop at the work gym for just this kind of emergency; unluckily it is the most poorly stocked and most expensive sports shop in town. Just as I was about to exchange 20 euros for a pair of tracksuit bottoms I would probably only wear just this once (the only "shorts" they had looked like the bottom half of a Victorian era bathing suit) Pablo and Eduardo turned up and I was able to borrow a pair of swimming trunks to run in. You can imagine the picture I painted: black leather moccasins, fluorescent yellow jacket and bright orange shorts. Pablo and Eduardo were gallant enough to hide their embarrassment to be seen with me (actually, Eduardo only set a slightly better example).

After an easy run I did a couple of sprints up the hill on the way back to the gym: this is what Brad Hudson prescribes instead of weight training. This is a new experiment for me.

The idea of getting wider soles for my RunAmocs was to try to stave off the wear and tear that the leather uppers suffer, always only on my left foot due to some inherent asymmetry in my running biomechanics. I think it was definitely the right decision to go for the wider model but it doesn't look as though it will completely solve the problem. The very helpful people (the Elves) at Soft Star have offered to analyse an old worn out pair in order to come up with a tailor made solution. It's pretty incredible that you can still find this kind of service in this day and age...

As well as following my training plan for the Seville Marathon, I'm also starting to get ready for training for the Lisbon Half Ironman in May, given that I will only have 10 weeks or so to convert myself from marathoner to triathlete (and I haven't even been in a swimming pool since August last year and that was only splashing about with the kids on holiday). My idea is to complement my training with easy "technical" sessions in the swimming pool and time on the tri bike (turbo trainer) in the aero position. I was pleasantly surprised by being able to spend 30 minutes in the aero position right off the bat without any problem.

The first day of quality training was on Wednesday: 4 x 2,000m @ 16.5 kph + 1,000m @ 17.5 kph + 4 x 200m @ 19 kph. It was hot in the gym as it was fuller than usual - between New Year's Eve and Valentine's day is the peak season. I turned up in my Vibram SeeYas and was surprised to see for the first time another colleague sporting a pair of Vibram Five Fingers: he was very sensibly transitioning gradually into running in them. The only reason that I have been doing my series (interval) training in the gym at work is because my treadmill at home doesn't go fast enough for the 200m "sprints" (well, they are sprints for me) - otherwise I would far prefer to do them in the comfort of my cold, dark cellar, with a good slasher flick to take my mind of things. By the third 2K set, I was starting to overheat and I knew that, while I could probably struggle on a little, it would be too taxing to complete the whole workout at the speed I had set myself. There was a time when I would have got very angry with myself and felt down about it all afternoon, before going back to punish myself some more: now I try to keep my eyes on the prize, which is to encourage my body to make the necessary adaptations to run further and faster (in other words: the training effect). I at least did the 200m  sprints and finished off the rest of the workout at home.

On Friday I decided to do a test that will be my benchmark to see how my training is progressing: run 20 laps around the 350m running track at work keeping my pulse rate at 172 bpm which corresponds to my Half Marathon pace. The idea was also to see what kind of shape I am in for the Getafe Half Marathon so I can take a decision on whether to ask for my money back and re-qualify for the New York Marathon this year. I did a short warm up of 3 laps around the track and then completed the 20 laps in 26:15 (exactly 3:45 pace) - this would extrapolate to a Half Marathon time of 1:19:07. Of course, that is not to say that it's in the bag, it it is in line with my PB of 1:19:37 from last year, so it's not crazy. The point is that I should be able to break 1:23:00  the New York Marathon qualifying time for the over 40's. It will also be interesting to see how this time changes over the year - it has the advantage of not being too taxing a test and is probably very bit as useful as any lactate / VO2 Max test.

That just left the long run which I did on Sunday in London. Last week was a "depletion" run so this week the idea was to include a section at a more lively pace. The plan was to run 3 km at "easy" pace (4:40-5:00) followed by 22 km at about 4:20 and finally 3 km at easy pace. I designed a course beforehand that passed through practically every Common in South London - Wandsworth, Clapham, Wimbledon, Barnes, Battersea and Richmond (strictly speaking Battersea and Richmond are Parks not Commons). I ran the whole way listening to this mix by Goldie (twice) which was the perfect tempo to keep pace with my footsteps.

I have to say, apart from a section through Richmond park that was so muddy that I had to run in a Gangnam style, I found the run very easy and the average pace for the entire run ended up being less than 4:20! The 22 km section I ran at an average pace of 4:13 (14.2 kph).

The only problem was that during the 28th kilometre, I tripped on one of South London's unlimited supply of uneven paving stones and went flying. If you see a bright fluorescent yellow stripe on a paving stone in Clapham, you'll know it was from the top I was wearing which now has a gaping hole in the elbow. As I write this I have a bag of cold peas on top of my foot because the tendon whose job it is to lift up my big toe is looking pretty swollen.

UPDATE: For some reason, this post has been visited much more often than my other training posts. If you are one of those people who might know why that is, leave a comment - I'm curious! Thanks

Sunday, January 6, 2013

Seville Marathon Week 1/8

Ideally this would have been a week off training but the Seville Marathon is only just around the corner…

The first obstacle to overcome was to recover from the 10K race I did on Monday evening. For some reason I had more DOMS (Delayed Onset Muscle Soreness) than I am used to in such a short race – perhaps the Half Marathon is the easiest distance to recover from because you neither go at full belt nor do you end up completely exhausting your muscle fibers.

The second “obstacle” was that I had agreed to go skiing in San Isidro for most of the week between New Year’s Eve and Reyes (Epiphany). My experience with skiing ranges all the way from absolutely hating it to finding the enjoyment of it slightly outweighed by the inconvenience, discomfort and cost of it all. This time was no exception: the first day was such awful weather that it was impossible to see where I was going and, more importantly, to be able to judge the steepness and direction of the slope – not ideal conditions for someone who has managed to avoid skiing for over 10 years. My aching legs did not help skiing let alone having to hobble about with bent knees in ski boots. By the afternoon I had decided that I would never ski again. One aspect of my character is that, no sooner do I feel like giving up than a resolve not to let something get the better of me kicks in. Luckily the next day was beautiful and I at least managed to finish on a good note.

Between the race, the long car journey and the snow, I didn’t run for 3 days straight which is probably the longest I have gone without running consecutively for years. I suppose the skiing counts as some sort of exercise, not that it matters much. I decided to do my three days of quality training on Friday, Saturday and Sunday – a slightly risky decision given that my muscles were still tender from the race and, presumably, the skiing.

On Friday I did two threshold runs of 15 minutes – as it was impossible to find a long flat course, the first 15 minutes were at a pace of 3:32 but the second (up hill) was much slower, at 4:17. On Saturday, now in Asturias, I went down to the gym in Villaviciosa to do 8 lots of 1,000m at 16.5 kph followed by 4 lots of 200m at 19 kph. I got there so early that the gym hadn’t yet opened and I was the first through the door which meant that I had to figure out how to turn on the machines. The workout was much easier than it should have been (my pulse only got as high as 168 bpm during the 1,000m sets and bear in mind that lately I have been doing 1km intervals at 17.5 kph) but I decided not to push my luck too much – it was still a good workout and I had a longish run planned for the next day. On the Sunday I ran 25km starting from up in the mountains around Villaviciosa which meant that I had to run the last 3 km or so up quite a steep gradient. I consciously ran at what felt like a very easy pace as this was supposed to be a “depletion run”, designed to improve my fat burning capabilities. I did the run on an empty stomach so you can understand why I was dreaming about turrón over those last few kilometers. I think the relatively intense three days served their objective of thoroughly tiring me out without injuring myself – in fact my legs are less achey now as I write this on Sunday evening than they were before the run. Now I feel all set to start another cycle of training for the Seville Marathon (not forgetting the Getafe Half Marathon in which I will have to get a good time if I want to qualify again for New York this year).

Tuesday, January 1, 2013

San Silvestre Internacional 2012 Race Report

Thanks to
The guys working for the Metro couldn't have chosen a better time (or worse time, depending on your political stance) to have gone on strike: New Year's Eve with an additional 40,000 people running a race which ends 10km from the start point. Just as well that we realised, otherwise we probably wouldn't have made it back in time to eat the traditional grapes (one per strike for the 12 strikes of the clock). So, this year, we decided to drive...

I dropped my wife down by the start - she was running the popular edition which started at various times from 5:30 up to 6:15, depending on your qualifying time (if any). This year there was a special corral just for women. The other slightly less welcome innovation was that there was no cloakroom at the start - you had to have already left your warm clothes at least the day before, so that they would transport them to the finish. This meant that any clothes you took to the start, you either ran with them or you left them there. Luckily for me, the international edition still had a cloakroom service.

After leaving my wife, I drove down to the finish line in Vallecas and tried to park the car. I say tried not because I tried and failed but because it was a very trying experience. Cars were parked everywhere imaginable and there were lots of people waiting double-parked for a space to become available. I ended up having to park about one and a half kilometres away from the finish line. It is at times like this that I give thanks to Steve Jobs for the iPhone - I don't know how I would have ever found the car again myself otherwise, let alone explain to my wife where to find it after the race.

Then I took the Metro back to the start line. There was a great atmosphere on the Metro in spite of the fact that most of the people on it were running the popular edition and were surely going to arrive late. I did see one guy who was running the international edition - he was standing on the platform in a pair of shorts and vest, obviously unaware that there would be a cloakroom; everyone else was sensibly dressed for the 5 degree temperatures outside, in spite of the lack of one in their case. Eighteen stops and a 12 minute wait for a connecting train later, I arrived at around 6:30 at the Santiago Bernabeu stadium with the cheering crowds that were still in time to join on to the end of the runners funnelling through the start line. Now the question was, what to do for an hour and a half and, more importantly, where to find a toilet.

Here is where the Corte Inglés came in handy. The Corte Inglés is undoubtedly the best known and most upmarket chain store in Spain. At least I was wearing a pair of track suit bottoms and a fleece (that I had picked up in Decathlon for a total of about 10 euros with the idea of jettisoning them at the start of the New York Marathon) on top of my skin suit. But I couldn't help being reminded of the first time I ever went to that particular Corte Inglés, or any Corte Inglés for that matter, some 13 years ago. I had arrived in Madrid the evening before with my now wife and we had been out literally all night clubbing so, by the time we went shopping after breakfast, I was starting to feel quite tired already. I decided to lie down on the floor in the middle of the department store and have a little siesta. A security guard came up to me, of course, and started to say something to me but, at that point, I knew nothing more than the few words of Spanish (agua, , no) I had picked up from Sesame Street, so I mimed that I was sorry but I had been feeling very tired and started to get up. He waved to say that it was fine, I could go back to sleep there if I wanted. Little does he know but that simple act of generosity has been the reason why I have spent untold amounts of money in that store ever since.

Anyway, back to the race report. I found that the Gourmet food section was a good place to lose a little bit of weight before the race after which I spent a bit of time browsing through the book section to pass the rest of the time. I heard some other similarly dressed guys (sans skin suit) say that they were going to make their way up to the start so I joined them.

The start of the international edition is quite different form the popular one: it feels a little bit like arriving at a party at the stage when there are only empty cans and full ashtrays and a few random people left hungover in the corner. On the other hand, it was really easy to meet up with other people I knew who were also running and I finally got the chance to meet Javi Triatleti who is a regular follower of this blog. Amongst others I also bumped into Alejandro Gómez who has by some fate of coincidence run in all the same races as me for the last couple of years (probably because he runs those and some others too). Most of the other runners were far too focussed on their own pre-race preparations to pay much heed to my "just flayed" look but I did attract some attention from the official photographers and the few curious members of the public hanging around at the start.

I haven't felt so intimidated by the other compact, hungry looking athletes since I ran the Amsterdam Marathon (my first) four years ago. In fact, I have never started so far back in a race (I was in the very last row). Bearing in mind that all the male athletes had to have qualified in a time of less than 38 minutes (and the female athletes were serious) - only 25 seconds slower than my best ever 10K time - this wasn't such a bad idea. Nevertheless, it is perhaps surprising the number of people who run the international edition in over 38 minutes...

The gun went off and I soon lost sight of Alejandro with his distinctive orange hat but I ran more or less with Javi - him overtaking me on the uphill stretches and me overtaking him back on the downhill ones. It was quite different running with such a relatively high level of other runners - there was very little jostling and most people ran with a compact stride which made it easier to squeeze past. As I had been suffering from this DAMN cold for the last 3 weeks, I really didn't know what to expect. I decided to run to my pulse rate trusting that it would reign me in if I was not in a condition to perform at my best.

It felt really good running in the Vibram SeeYas - I'm convinced at least psychologically that they have some kind of advantage at higher speeds over my Vivobarefoot Ultras in spite of weighing 40 grammes more per shoe. Perhaps it is their harder sole or their springy flexibility that returns ever so slightly more energy or allows me to run more naturally. To make my outfit as authentic as possible I had rather unwisely decided not to wear any socks based on the fact that I had been able to run in them for 40 minutes sockless (much more slowly) a couple of days before. I had also taken the preemptive measure of putting some plasters over the parts on the top of my feet that I knew were susceptible to rubbing. I felt the plasters come off and the skin start to sting after about 5 kilometres. Needless to say, they were raw by the end and the side of my left shoe was no longer fluorescent yellow but dark red. There's nothing that any amount of hard skin or vaseline can do against that kind of onslaught so never again will I try to go sockless in these shoes. By the way, my costume was perfect for running in - not too hot and not too cold and no rubbing either.

The first few kilometres of the race were predominantly downhill and I knew that it was important to get seconds in the bank. I'm quite good at running downhill thanks to my weight and my running technique, so I made up a lot of ground although I did notice my calf muscles starting to complain. I went through the halfway mark in just under 18 minutes which would have been a personal best 5K time if it were not for the difference in altitude.

I was very focussed on my running but I was aware of people in the crowd laughing as they realised that I was not in fact running naked and I heard comments like "Esos músculos!", "Se te ve el culo!" and "Vamos cuerpazo!" which - even though I didn't show it - helped spur me on. As usual, the crowds were fantastic, even though it was quite a miserable cold, dark and wet evening. I believe that this is partly because the race finishes in an otherwise forgotten about barrio of Madrid. Over the last few kilometres the crowds line both sides of the street and the course becomes narrower and narrower as a result. I actually found myself ever so slightly held back at this point by not being able to ease past some of the runners in front of me. Even so, we were going at a good pace and soon the killer hills were to come.

The international edition is run over a slightly different course to the popular edition. In particular, we turned right just after the start of that absolute bastard of a hill at the 8th kilometre. Having said that, we still had to climb the same number of metres over the same distance only that the doses were meted out slightly differently. Either it was due to this or to the fact that I was well prepared, but I felt very strong and able to keep pace with the other runners who weighed 25-30 kilos less than me.

The other difference is that the international edition has a stadium finish. I remember the first 10K race I did: I gave my all just to arrive in the stadium only to discover that there was still a lap around the track to go. Now I relish that lap, especially if there is a crowd supporting. They had laid down some kind of material over the track, presumably to stop us from slipping in the wet conditions, but it was narrow in parts and difficult to overtake anybody - not that I was in much of a position to do any overtaking. I think that I could have pushed it just a tiny bit extra to save - what, 5 seconds, and at the cost of ruining my New Year's Eve dinner? - but I knew that I was going to cross the line safely under 37 minutes which had been my goal (before I got this head cold). Alejandro finished about 15 seconds in front of me which was a good result for me and Javi just 10 seconds or so behind. My final time of 36:44 meant that the hills had only cost me a positive split of a second half 45 seconds slower than the first half, compared to the average split difference of 1:25 for runners of my ability from previous years. I was very pleased with my result, a perfect way to round off the year.

My coach Jonathan set himself a goal at the end of what were probably his best years of competitive running, to get a personal best in 10K, the Half Marathon and the Marathon all in the same season - this he called "la triple corona" or triple crown. Well, I got my triple crown just 3 and a half hours before the end of the year (actually, strictly speaking, I already had it in the bag but only by five seconds in the 10K). New personal best times from 2012:

10K - 36:44 (VDOT 57)
Half Marathon - 1:19:37 (VDOT 58)
Marathon: 2:54:44 (VDOT 55)

I've noticed that a great majority of my personal best times have been around X:XX:45 which tells me something. I think it shows that I usually have a goal of breaking X:XX+1 minutes and that I manage to do it with 15 seconds or so to spare and I think that it means that I could probably eek out a few extra seconds if I believed in myself and my abilities more. Even now I look at my personal best times above and they don't seem like they belong to me. It is too recent in my memory the awe I felt when I asked someone else their best time for a distance and they replied with a similar time. (I'm not trying to say that I am awesome, by the way, just that we don't realise how much we hold ourselves back.)

So, on that positive note, here's to 2013!! Races on the horizon:

27th January - Getafe Half Marathon
24th February - Seville Marathon
4th May - Lisbon Half Ironman
November - New York Marathon
31st December - San Silvestre Internacional

Hope to see some of you there! Until then, happy holidays...