Monday, July 22, 2013

London calling

After a day off on Monday I managed to extend my intervals to a mile each at 17.5 kph (I'm trying to get into the mentality of runing a 26.2 mile Marathon in New York, rather than a 42.2 kilometer one...). This time I planned ahead and brought a spare pair of shoes for when the first pair became all sweaty and slippery. Unfortunately, I killed another treadmill in the process - this time one of the ones in the gym at work - which resolutely refused to continue, forcing me to move to another one. By the last set of the 6 intervals, I found I had to knock a smidgeon off the pace because I was beginning to gasp for air after only 500 meters or so. While I think I could have finished the workout at the designated pace, I'm not sure how much additional beneift it would have given me and it would have felt like a competition level effort. After all, when I had a coach, he never had me train at maximal effort, only at above my anaerobic threshold.

I was in London on Wednesday and England was enjoying a bit of a heatwave. Since moving to Madrid, I've become very conscious of just how humid it is in London. Also, for logistic reasons (like being dressed in a suit and having my suitcase with me), I decided to get a day pass for a gym near my London office. The good thing was that the machines were exactly the same ones we have in the work gym in Madrid but the bad news was that it was even hotter in this gym than I am used to. I was also a little bit stiff from my interval session the day before so I only ran for 30 minutes at my "Marathon pace" of 4:00/km (15 kph) before running the remaining 10 minutes at an easier pace which would hopefully help me recover for the next day.

The new console for my "deadmill" arrived on Thursday so I was excited to get back to training in my basement. It was a little bit fiddly to change but I did it with no problem other than the machine wouldn't turn on at all. After a few calls to the very helpful service department (as well as a bit of cussing and swearing, if I am honest) I realized that there had to be a simple solution. In effect, there was: the switch was in the "on" position (I'm not that stupid) but it just needed pressing in a bit more. In fact, this seems to be the cause of the machine reseting itself mid-run every now and again. A judiciously placed blob of Blutack has done the trick.

The rest of the week I rather boringly repeated the same workout as many times as I could. It is not the most efficient way to train but my objective at the moment is to get as used to Marathon pace runing as possible while doing relatively short and relatively intense workouts. Hopefully mentally as well as biomechanically, running at 15 kph is becoming a bit of a doddle.

Monday: -
Tuesday: 6 x 1,600 m @ 3:25/km (last one at 3:30/km)
Wednesday: 30' @ 4:00 + 10' @ 4:30 (London)
Thursday: 40' @ 4:00
Friday: 40' @ 4:00
Saturday: 40' @ 4:00 (morning), 20' @ 4:00 (afternoon)
Sunday: 40' @ 4:00 (morning), 40' @ 4:00 (afternoon)

Monday, July 15, 2013


The week didn't get off to a great start as I had a bit of a dodgy tummy on Monday. It can't have been too bad, though, because by the time it was time to do my run, I'd forgotten all about it and took the rather unwise decision to start immediately after eating dinner. One of the many advantages of having a treadmill at home is that you can fart away to your heart's content; this, however, was not the right moment for it. After 20 minutes, all the jumbling around of my food in my stomach was too much for me and I ran (literally) to the toilet. I didn't feel up to carrying on afterwards so I left it at that.

I was fine the next day - it was probably just the hot weather rather than a virus or anything I had eaten. As we were planning to go and see "Despicable Me 2", I did my 40 minute run at 15 kph at work, followed by hill sprints (up to 3 this time) and plyometrics (240 contacts).

I managed to get my intervals up to 8 lots of 5 minutes at 17.5 kph, which is the top speed of my home treadmill (or, at least, it was - see below). I got so sweaty that I had to change my shoes at one point - the slight extra effort required when I lose traction on the belt was just too much. As I've said many a time, I sweat a lot. So much, in fact, that most of the little buttons on my treadmill no longer work. Almost all the "shortcut" buttons that allow you to start the belt up directly at a particular speed, for example, no longer work. On Thursday evening, I set everything up for my run and found that now the little "arrow" buttons to increase or decrease speed had also stopped working. This means that my treadmill can now only go at 4 kph or not at all. It was a fairly good excuse for cancelling my run (it was still too hot outside). There is a silver lining to every cloud, I thought, and went to the shop to see how much a new, faster and hopefully more robust treadmill would cost. A slightly faster one would cost twice as much and a more robust one, like the ones you find in gyms, would cost around €6,000!!!

Instead, I did the responsible thing and rang up the manufacturers of my treadmill (a Proform 780 ZLT), who were extremely helpful. For a very reasonable (I thought) €160 they are sending me a brand new console which I should receive next week. If this one lasts another 3 years then I expect that something else will give out first (and then I can justify buying a faster treadmill!). Even so, I think I will try to find some way to sweatproof it a little better.

This weekend it was the turn of my parents to get a visit down in Benalmádena on the Costa del Sol. In hindsight I would have been better off running in the relative cool of the evenings but instead hauled myself up in the mornings in a half-hearted effort to beat the sun out of bed. On Saturday morning I ran down to the beach, cooled off by lying fully clothed in the sea for a while and then started the hard climb back to my parent's house up in the village. I much prefer to run up and then down rather than down and then up so the next day I went for a "run" in the mountains.

One of the more "friendly" bits
The paths were very rocky and the stones weren't all that stable so running was not an option for most of the way. To be honest, being so steep it was a very different exercise to the one I was accustomed to. I found that my calf muscles started to burn in spite of them being well trained from running on the balls of my feet. I realized that it was a very different use of my muscles from the elastic demands put on them by road running. I enjoyed the climb with its rewarding views and I liked to think that these paths were well known by my Dad who has hiked them many a time.

Going down was in some ways much easier (less tiring) but in other ways much more difficult (more technical). I slipped a number of times but never losing my balance entirely. The Vibram Spyridons held up admirably and my feet didn't feel any worse for all the rock bashing they had endured. Still, this was just a baby hill (375 metres climb in 2 kilometres) - I can't imagine how people complete these ultra trail runs... I suppose everything you can train for.

Monday: 20' @ 4:00 (toilet break!)
Tuesday: 40' @ 4:00, hill sprints, plyometrics
Wednesday: 8 x 5' @ 3:25
Thursday: (treadmill -> deadmill)
Friday: 40' @ 4:00, hill sprints, plyometrics
Saturday: (Benalmádena) 60' @ 4:36 (not including dip in the sea) w/ 250 metres ascent
Sunday: (Benalmádena) 60' hiking / running along rocky mountain path w/ 375 metres ascent in 2 km

Tuesday, July 9, 2013

In a village of La Mancha...

This weekend we were in Don Quioxote territory with a wine tasting in a bodega in Tomelloso - the birth place of my wife - and a weekend with the suegros who live in Ciudad Real ("Royal City"). To avoid the searing heat, I dragged myself out of bed on the Sunday and went for an hour run, at around 4:05 per kilometer. This is part of my current plan to train fairly little but always at speeds at around or above my Marathon pace. This time last year I was cycling and even swimming more as an alternative to running in the scorching sun.

I only did one day of interval training but I managed to extend it from 8 lots of 1 km at 17.5 kph to 8 lots of 4 minutes at the same speed (which works out to be about 15% extra). Other than several 10K runs in 40 minutes on the treadmill, I did a reasonably demanding spinning class with "El depilatorrrr" as I call him, as well as some plyometrics and hill runs. The steep hill sprints are a favourite of Brad Hudson, whose book I read towards the end of last year and which formed the backbone of my training plan for Seville Marathon. He never has his athletes pump iron but instead sends them out to sprint up 6-8% gradient hills in bursts of 8 seconds. As he recommended, I started off by only doing two of these; next week I'll move up to three and so on.

Plyometrics are another thing I want to incorporate into my training plan for New York Marathon once it gets in full swing. I have become convinced that a large part of my recent improvements in running are due to strong, elastic tendons in my lower legs and feet. Plyometrics have been shown to strengthen the tendons as well as to increase their stiffness and this, coupled with the knowledge that this stiffness appears to be a differentiating factor of elite Kenyan runners over their white counterparts, means that there is every reason that the could help me improve my speed and endurance. Even though it may seem trivial to simply hop up and down, it is important to warm up properly beforehand because it is quite easy to get injured if you are not careful. It is also important to execute them properly, springing back as reactively as possible, otherwise the required training effect will not be obtained. The best article I have found so far on the subject can be read here.

On Wednesday evening I set out to do another one of those 40 minute 10K runs on the treadmill but felt dizzy and lightheaded after about 25 minutes. It was strange: my legs didn't feel tired and I was breathing as I would normally on any aerobic run. It is true, however, that I often get funny signs in my eyes in the first 10 minutes or so of running. I put it down to running in the dark while watching a film on the projector - perhaps the LEDs from the running machine burn into the peripheral areas of my retina, although it does also sometimes happen when I run outside. Another more probable explanation is that I should warm up before launching into my run, even if I am considering it to be an aerobic ("easy") run. I shouldn't kid myself: I checked Jack Daniel's training tables and a 4:00 per kilometer easy run is something a 2:20 Marathoner would do (obviously, this would be part of a much higher volume plan). Anyway, it felt as though I had "bonked" after just 25 minutes of running!! I frantically stuffed any cereal bars I could find in the cupboard into my gob, including some I remember being given free at the end of the San Silvestre race back in December. I managed to finish the remaining 15 minutes without any problem but it served as a warning to me that some carbohydrates are necessary if I am going to insist on moderate intensity training.

Monday: -
Tuesday: 8 x 4' @ 3:25
Wedndesday: 25' + 15' @ 4:00
Thursday: spining
Friday: hill sprints, plyometrics
Saturday: 40' @ 4:00
Sunday: 60' @ 4:05 (outside)

Tuesday, July 2, 2013

Summer training

Although training in the heat has its advantages (the only one I can think of being that you get better at training in the heat), as my next objective is New York City Marathon in November, it makes more sense for me not to suffer too much just yet. So I have been avoiding training outside for the most part, as well as avoiding training in the gym at lunchtime which becomes equally unbearable due to the heat generated by all those other people seeking refuge from outside temperatures.

As a result I've been training every evening after work on my home treadmill with a large fan on full blast, which is also an opportunity for me to work my way through a TV series like the one I am currently watching: NY-LON. It is difficult, however, to do workouts much longer than 45 minutes partly due to boredom and partly because the belt becomes slippery with all the sweat. Again, I don't know whether the treadmill is getting slower with its old age, or whether I am getting faster in my old age but the fact is that I am able to run comfortably at what is my Marathon Pace of 15 kph (=15.5 on my treadmill last time I measured it). I could callibrate the treadmill again but I almost don't want to know as it doesn't really make any difference other than a psychological one. I've been doing almost all my workouts at 15 kph or faster this last week:

Monday: 40' @ 13.5 kph on work treadmill
Tuesday: 8 x 1 km @ 17.5 kph (=18 kph, 1%) on home treadmill
Wednesday: 40' @ 15 kph (=15.5 kph, 1%)
Thursday: 15' @ 15 kph, 15' @ 16 kph, 10' @ 16.5 kph
Friday: 40' @ 15 kph
Saturday: a couple of short runs of about 20' with the family on their bikes
Sunday: 40' @ 15 kph in the morning, 40' @ 15 kph in the evening

Training is always a tradeoff between speed, endurance, strength and technique. What I have been doing is clearly not focussed on strength or endurance but I think it will help maintain my speed and improve my technique. Almost independently of your ability and physiology, running at different speeds have quite different mechanics. The basic technique is the same - sure - but factors like the "springiness" of the Achilles tendons, the extension of the hips and the swing of the arms seem only to come into play at speeds of 14 kph and higher. Since I aspire to running Marathons at this speed or faster, it makes sense to me that I should be training these aspects specifically; anything less is a pure recovery run. As I start to build the volume back up, these "recovery runs" will be more important but I also hope to be able to maintain my Marathon Pace comfortably for even longer (ideally implying that my real Marathon Pace was in fact faster). This way of thinking is in line with the post I recently wrote on the idea of "inverse periodization".

Whatever the case, I am enjoying the training I am doing because it is both time efficient and quite satisfying. I just have to be extra vigilant in case I injure myself. My left Achilles is slightly sore if I pinch it hard but (TOUCH WOOD) I think it is safe for the time being.