Tuesday, December 31, 2013

Happy New Year!

I've been on holiday in Asturias where we spent Christmas. It was so windy that there was a cyclone warning with gusts of up to 150 kph predicted: in the end, it wasn't so extreme and the weather was actually especially nice for Asturias in winter. Santa Claus (a.k.a. my wife) very kindly gave me a GoPro Hero3 (Silver Edition) camera. My idea is to use it to record some of the runs and cycle rides I do so that I can play them back when I am running on the treadmill or riding on the turbo trainer. Here is an excerpt form my first recording, done without any special support for the camera (i.e., handheld).

It will be a welcome edition now that I am running out of TV series to watch while training. I associate each major race I have trained for with a particular series: for example, Seville 2012 was watching The Wire, New York 2013 was Game of Thrones and, more recently, Aranjuez was Homeland.

I've enjoyed a real break both from work, from training and from watching what I eat (and drink). Although I have been out running a few times, it has only been if I have felt like it and it hasn't interfered with the family's plans. Also I went very much off the beaten track and found some trails I had never run before (although they became so fraught with brambles and mud that I could only go so far).

Tonight is not only New Year's Eve but it is also the occasion of the San Silvestre Vallecana 10K race that runs through the streets of Madrid. It may not have the glamour of the New York City Marathon but it isn't too far behind: 40,000 runners (versus 50,000 in New York) and a great party atmosphere. It is also a point to point course with the difference being that the finish (as opposed to the start) is out of town. I'll be running with my wife (she is already making excuses not to run) dressed as.... well, you'll have to tune in tomorrow to see what my costume is this year. It's worth it, I promise!

This is also a time for reflection and, as this is ostensibly a blog about endurance racing and training, I'll limit my musings to that sphere. For 2013 I continued as a "self-trained athlete" applying ideas from my previous coach, from books I'd read and from personal experience. And, to be honest, apart from a disappointing Half Ironman in which the dreaded cramps came back from their grave to haunt me, I am very pleased with my progress. I shaved more than 30 seconds off my Half Marathon time, almost a minute off my 10K time and 8 minutes(!) off my Marathon time. My training went pretty much exactly to plan with no injuries (touch wood!) and no illness (although, as luck would have it, I got my first cold the whole year in the last few days of the year). Even in "failure" (the Half Ironman in Lisbon) I was pleased with the way I was able to take it in my stride and see it as an experience from which I could learn. I don't see myself doing any triathlons in 2014 but I would like to get back on the bike in the summer and perhaps I can find a way to do a Time Trial even if it means taking my bike to the UK (as there are no TT races that I know of in Spain for amateurs). Instead, my goals for 2014 will be to break 1:19 in the Half Marathon (I just need to find three seconds) and to get a best time for 10K in London (a flat course at sea level in hopefully cool conditions).

So, until 2014, I wish you all a very HAPPY NEW YEAR!!!

Sunday, December 22, 2013

Aranjuez 10K Race Report

Considering that this was the 30th edition of the race, there could at least have been toilet paper available in the toilets but at least I came prepared. I hadn't come to Aranjuez to appreciate the historic significance of the town or indeed its beauty: my aim was to run 10K in under 36 minutes.

The start was also a bit of a cock-up - we were given the "go" before being called back again. In the process my shoe came off my heel and I was worried we'd be set off again and I'd have to opt out of the race to sort myself out. In the end, after some shuffling about, we were given another count down from 10 seconds and we were off...

After running Marathons, 10K races seem horribly hectic to me. I wanted to stop after a kilometre, one which was quite fraught and yet there seemed to be an unfeasibly large number of people ahead of me. In spite of that, I reached the first kilometre balloon in 3:23, more than 10 seconds ahead of my planned pace. The next few kilometres were right on the money, so those 10 seconds stayed in the bank. I remember hoping I'd trip over a stone or that my shoes would fall to pieces or something - any external "fuerza mayor" excuse to stop this suffering. But, at the same time, I was conscious that it was a level of discomfort I knew I could withstand until the finish line and I also knew that there was no way I was going to pull out and tell my kids (who had come to watch me run) as well as my work colleagues (who were also running) that I couldn't be bothered to make it until the finish line.

I got halfway in a Personal Best time of 17:43 for 5K, which boded well for a sub-36 finish. Still, I knew that it'd be tight. I saw my family waiting for me and heard my eldest shout "not far now!". Thank goodness for the slight downhill (not counting a small "repecho") in the last few kilometres - the sums were still working out in my favour. With one kilometre to go, I calculated that I had little margin and that I'd have to pull out all the stops if I wanted to be able to say I could run 10K in 35-something. I could see the clock marching on relentlessly and realised I couldn't afford to let up: a last minute sprint for the line and my prize of 35:48. It was hard but not so hard that with a bit of extra motivation I won't be able to break it again. I didn't know it at the time, because I was so focussed on getting to the line on time, but my wife told me later that my eldest was very excited to see his dad only just achieving his goal.

A perfect end to a very satisfying year of running results and a challenging but not too daunting gauntlet for next year. My friend Manolo (who picked up my race number for me - thanks!) broke 40 minutes for the first time - so he was very happy - and my other friend Dani, with whom we enjoyed a fantastic lunch afterwards, also got a best time albeit a slightly frustrating 42:01 (as is any time that is just over a minute mark).

Now all that is left is San Silvestre which I can now happily run with my wife, with no pressure for my work is done here.

Friday, December 20, 2013

Aranjuez 10K Week 6 / 6

Monday: -
Tuesday: 1K, jog 1', 3K, jog 2', 2K, jog 1', 3K, jog 2', 1K @ 3:30
Wednesday: -
Thursday: 10K (5', 5', 5', 4', 3', 3', 2' @ 3:35 interspersed with 1', 1', 1', 2', 3', 3', 2' @ easy)
Friday: 45' @ 4:00
Saturday: 20' @ 4:00
Sunday: Aranjuez 10K!
Total kilometres: 46

This week has been a bit of a mini taper, with two days off(!) and only two days of quality. I never usually "carboload" for any race less than a Half Marathon - and then, it's just a case of a good lunch the day before - but I haven't been able to resist the excuse to gorge myself on chocolate bars and spaghetti. My thinking is that the extra weight (due to water retention accompanying the stored sugar) is less of an issue in a 10K and I believe that well stocked glycogen stores help convince the brain to give an all out effort. Having said that, I'll lay off a little on Saturday as I don't want to feel bloated on the day.

I have been doing a lot more quality workouts at the work gym than usual, mainly because my home treadmill doesn't go fast enough, but I still notice a big difference between the two. On paper, the workout on Tuesday should have been harder than the one on Thursday: the quality sections were run 5 seconds per kilometre faster and there were less breaks. But, apart from the possibility that the work treadmill runs faster (even with the 0.5 kph I always add to the speed on my home treadmill to compensate), the heat of the work gym I never tire of complaining about. I finished the workout at lunchtime on Thursday totally drenched. It wasn't as stressful as the workouts I did last week but that was because I allowed myself to shorten the work periods and lengthen the rest periods (still within in the range I had set myself of 2'-5' work versus 1'-3' rest). I figured that pushing myself hard now would not yield any fitness gains by this Sunday and would only serve to make my more fatigued.

Aranjuez 10K is a popular race in the calendar because it is a flat course, a nice place to go with the family and it is a better chance to finish the year with a PB than in the crowded and hilly San Silvestre race on New Year's Eve in Madrid. What is a bit of a pain in the butt is that you can't pick up the race number and chip on the day - considering that Aranjuez is about 60 kilometres from my house, it is clear that the idea is that you spend the weekend there. Either that, or you arrange for your race number to be picked up by one of the local restaurants provided, of course, that you have a reservation there. I'd be quite happy with that arrangement if it wasn't for the fact that those restaurants were all fully booked by the time the email explaining this option had been sent out, presumably by the guys who had the experience of running it last year. In the end a friend is goint o pick up my race number for me (and spend the weekend in Aranjuez....). My idea is to try to break 36 minutes - which means running 3:35 per kilometre - something that I think is quite feasible but just requires everything to go to plan on the day. My workout on Thursday served to remind me that this is going to hurt.

Monday, December 16, 2013

Aranjuez 10K Week 5 / 6

My 500th post!! Hopefully this will take my hit counter up to 100,000!

Monday: 10K @ 3:38 w/ 3% incline
Tuesday: 45' @ 4:00
Wednesday: 3 x (200-600-1,000) @ < 3:00, 3:10-3:25, 3:40-3:30, w/ 3-4' rest between sets
Thursday: 45' @ 4:00
Friday: 3' @ 3:00, 2' @ 3:00 + 10 x (1' @ 3:00, 1' @ 6:00) + 40' @ 4:00 (evening)
Saturday: 40' @ 4:00 (morning) + 40' @ 4:00 (afternoon)
Sunday: 40' @ 4:00 (morning) + 40' @ 4:00 (afternoon)
Total kilometres: 95

I can remember not all that long ago trying to run 10K at my then race pace of 40 minutes in training on the treadmill and finding it impossible; now, of course, I am running 10 and more at that pace as a "recovery run". However, the plan for Monday was to run 10K at my now current race pace of 3:38 per kilometre - which equates to my PB of 36:35 - with an incline of 3% on the treadmill. As my treadmill runs a little slow, I set the speed to 17 kph which meant that I did cheat ever so slightly, as I completed the 10K a minute faster than was "really" the case. Still, I was very happy with my effort and it has served its purpose to convince me both consciously and - hopefully - subconsciously that I can beat this time come next Sunday. I did notice my calf muscles a little sorer than usual, possibly from the continuous running up hill (even if it was only a slight incline), so I put my Compex electrostimulator to work on them and was fine by the next day.

The series on Wednesday were much harder than I expected. What a difference a rest makes! I think there is also a psychological effect of going from faster to slower, that the easing up of the pace provides less relief than you expect as you are still recovering from the faster pace. I did the first one at the upper end of the range (200 @ 20 kph, 600 @ 19-18 kph, 1,000 @ 17 kph) but stopped 300m into the second one and did the third one at the lower end of the range - also with a brief pause - (200 @ 20 kph, 600 @ 17.5 kph, 1,000 @ 16.5 kph). I had based the target paces on my current pace for "stand alone" intervals of 200, 600 and 1,000m, banking on the fact that I would be able to manage having only to do 3 of them but the first one took a lot out of me. Next time I will be a little less ambitious and hope to do all 3 at the same speeds.

This week I am chomping my way through Homeland Season 2. Having said that, the vVO2Max session on Friday was too intense to be able to watch anything on the telly (computer). In my quest to build up to the 5 x 3' @ 3:00 (20 kph) I managed to do one of these, followed by another of 2' and the rest of intervals of 1 minute on / 1 minute off, up to a total of 15 minutes. If I keep improving at this rate, perhaps I can gradually extend the time I run at (nearly) World Record Marathon pace a minute at a time until I get to just over two hours... This is something that has fascinated me for some time about distance running. While it may seem to me impressive but not unbelievable that the winners of a race are completing the same distance as me in about 25% less time, to think that I could probably run about 2 kilometres to exhaustion at the same pace that they are able to run a further 40 kilometres!That is to say, not 25% further but 2100% further!! It reminds me of the 10K race I ran last year which started at the same time as the Madrid Marathon - I started in the very front line and found myself running "with the Africans" for the first 700 metres or so, before they dumped me. What an exhilarating experience that was, as well as humbling.

In summary, the training plan for this week was a little too ambitious or, put another way, I did not allow enough weeks of build up to get to the level I was aiming for. The idea was to try out this plan before adopting in a little more seriously for the 10K in London and Half Marathon in the Hague I plan to run next year. The good thing is that I have learned something this time around. I don't think there is any reason to doubt that I can shave off some time from my PB next week if all goes well, although whether that will be enough to dip under 36 minutes remains to be seen - I will certainly be aiming for that!

I took the kids swimming on Saturday morning and did a 10K run on the treadmill in the meantime. Since the last time I was at that gym, I've been trying to find somewhere that sold a "plyometric box" like the one I found there but, as I hadn't noted down the make of the box, I was unable to find one available in Spain. I did find some very detailed instructions on how to make one but I am not sure my DIY skills are up to the job. This time I took a photo of the box and I'm waiting to hear back from Tecnogym to see how much they charge...

In total I ran 50 km over the weekend, if you include Friday evening as part of the total. Saturday morning was a little tough as I felt like I was sweating alcohol from the departmental Christmas dinner the night before. I got to bed by about 3 am, only to be wide awake by 8. It's at times like this that I am so glad for the invention of the siesta...

We also picked up our t-shirts and chips for the San Silvestre 10K race on New Year's Eve in Madrid but it looks like we won't be here to run it: instead we may well run the (shorter) San Silvestre in Gijón.

Thursday, December 5, 2013

Aranjuez 10K Week 4 / 6

(Oops, must have hit "publish" while this was still a draft!)

Monday: 1 x (2' @ 3:00, 2' @ 6:00) + 12 x (1' @ 3:00, 2' @ 6:00) (lunchtime) + 40' @ 4:00 (evening)
Tuesday: 45' @ 4:00
Wednesday: 1K, jog 1', 3K, jog 3', 2K, jog 2', 3K, jog 3', 1K @ 3:30
Thursday: 3 x (800-400-200-1,000) @ 3:40, jog 2', 3:25, jog 1', 3:10, jog 30", 3:40, jog 4'
Friday: 45' easy with hills (Asturias)
Saturday: - (ill)
Sunday: 45' easy with hills (Asturias)
Total kilometres: 69

Looking forward in my training plan, I realized that I would soon be attempting to run 5 lots of 3' (1,000m) at 20 kph so I thought I would see what it was like to at least run 2 minutes at that pace. I definitely did not feel ready to step up from the 1 minute on / 1 minute off to 2 minutes on / 2 minutes off, let alone 3 minutes on / 3 minutes off. The good thing about this workout is that more time is spent at VO2Max (i.e., with your muscles demanding the maximum O2 your cardiovascular system can deliver) than is actually spend running hard. As this training plan is a bit of an experiment before a "B" race (Aranjuez 10K) I'm going to stick at 1 minute on / 1 minute off for a few more weeks - perhaps upping the number of intervals - to see if I start to respond to the training. Then I'll know what is a more realistic goal for my training before the "A" races I have next year. I also expermimented with taking Sodium Bicarbonate before this hard workout. I realized that last time I miscalculated and took about 6 times too much! If I didn't get stomach cramps or any of the other purported side effects that time, then I'd say I am pretty much immune to them.

Another experiment has been to start taking creatine again. I can't say I have ever noticed any benefit but I have certainly noticed a difference: I tend to put on weight, whether this is "lean muscle" as the label on the tin promises, water retention or good ol' fat, I'm not sure, but I was getting bored of my starved marathoner look. In any case, it's a good moment to bulk up a little - hopefully that promised extra strength will help my interval training be that much more effective; I can always slim down again in time for the next important race. And, let's face it, December is not the best month in which to be "fighting the fat".

This week I reduced the rest times between the fragments of the 10K at goal race pace and it still felt relatively comfortable. I did, however, have to squash my training up to make space for a bank holiday weekend in Asturias: this meant that I ended up doing two "quality" days in a row. In spite of the 1K intervals being run 10 seconds slower than the 3K intervals the night before, the innocent looking 200m "sprints" at 3:10 (19 kph) with only 30 seconds to recover immediately before made them feel very difficult. In fact, the intensity was so finely judged that I very nearly completed the whole set without incident, if it were not for having got completely out of breath (literally) with 400m to go. I stopped, caught my breath and finished the workout.

Running in Asturias is a bit of a double edged sword. The scenery is spectacular - and even the weather was perfect this time - but, being on holiday with the family I'd rather lie in, spend time with them, eat and drink heartily and then sleep the siesta than be out running up and down hills. On Saturday I felt ill all day and certainly not up to running. These days I don't seem to get "properly ill" (which is a good thing) but rather to feel listless, without appetite and a bit down in the dumps. My theory is that I am fighting something off which is presumably much worse. As that "something" doesn't get a chance to present itself, it's a little difficult to know what the cause is. Whatever the case, I was back to normal the next day and hardly skipping a beat in my training plan.

Tuesday, December 3, 2013

Unsung heroes: Yuki Kawauchi

It is ironic that, not so long ago, being an amateur was a pre-requisite to compete at a high level in athletics (see my review of "The Ghost Runner") and yet today, being a "citizen runner" as Yuki Kawauchi is fondly referred to, very much sets him apart from other elite runners. As far as I am aware, there are no other marathon runners with a current PB of 2:08 who have not already been snapped up by a shoe company or a professional team. To put this into context, in spite of the organizers of the Egyptian Marathon paying his travel expenses, when he missed his flight due to problems with his passport, he paid for a new ticket himself at a cost of $9,000 - or about a quarter of his yearly salary (he did go on to win, however). On the other hand, in the New York City Marathon he was given the red carpet treatment, where he finished in 11th place with a respectable 2:12:29.

Some articles refer to him as "the Japanese underdog" but I think of him as anything but an underdog; an "overdog", perhaps, yes. Other people with his level of commitment and talent are usually forced to either dedicate their lives to the pursuit of excellence or slip away into oblivion and yet Yuki seems to manage to run for fun ("After 21 Marathon runs, I can now say with confidence how fun Marathon running can be."). One can't help wondering how much he could shave off his time if he were able to focus more single-mindedly on his Marathon running with the financial support of a sponsor and the advice of a professional coach. But perhaps this is the very paradox - it is just possible that he runs such great times precisely because he doesn't have the same pressure that comes with the package and is still able to enjoy running at a high level. I've just finished reading Sage Canaday's account of "Running for the Hansons" and, while interesting, much fun it does not seem.

Another thing I love about this guy is that he is constantly challenging the status quo by doing presumably unwise things like competing at the highest level in Marathons (i.e. sub 2:11) separated by only a couple of weeks (apparently he wanted "to find out whether the common sense of the running world is really any kind of sense at all"). It is only by the actions of brave individuals like this that our understanding of the world is completely transformed and a new paradigm is established. In 2012, he ran 10 Marathons or Ultramarathons (winning 5 of them). On the other hand, his frequent racing schedule most likely scuppered his chances of making the Olympic team in 2012 and, so disgusted was he with his pedestrian time of 2:12, that he shaved his head in penance.

Lastly, there is ultimately something very satisfying in knowing you have given your all or, by proxy, watching someone laying everything on the line to win. I think the photo says it all:

In one 50K Ultra he participated in, he was wining right up until 600m(!) before the line, where he collapsed due to heat stroke. Unfortunately he is no stranger to the medical tent, having been attended to on no fewer than 7 occasions after finishing a race (or not quite finishing, as the case may be).

All this is even more surprising when you consider that he is only 26 years old. We have a lot to look forward to from this young man, I'm sure.

Sunday, December 1, 2013

Aranjuez 10K Week 3 / 6

Monday: 1K, jog 2', 3K, jog 5', 2K, jog 4', 3K, jog 5', 1K @ 3:30
Tuesday: 40' @ 4:00
Wednesday: 12 x (60" @ 3:00 m:s / km, 60" @ 6:00)
Thursday: 40' @ 4:00
Friday: 3 x (800-400-200-1,000) @ 3:40, jog 2', 3:25, jog 1', 3:10, jog 30", 3:40, jog 4'
Saturday: 40' @ 4:00
Sunday: plyometrics
Total kilometres: 56

This is my favourite kind of training: sharp and to the point (and all on the treadmill). Most of it I can do at home which makes it especially time effective, only the intervals with sections faster than 3:25 mean I have to use the more professional treadmills at work. One of the treadmills you can program the whole session and so it is just a question of making sure you don't get ejected off the end of the belt. I'm not sure whether I have adapted better to the heat of running indoors (due to lack of wind) or whether it is just that, in winter, the temperatures maintained in the gym at work are more favourable but I no longer find it a struggle to get to the end of the hard workouts.

My Vibram Five Fingers seem to be attracting more attention than is usual lately: on Sunday last week, at a birthday party of a friend of my kids, I got talking to another parent as a result (and by coincidence it turned out we were already connected on Facebook!). This week was no exception. At the gym a new personal trainer got talking to me about them and, in the course of the conversation, I discovered that his PB in 800m is 1:49 (only 8 seconds behind the World Record!) and the 5th best time in the country (Spain). A perfect opportunity to improve my speed for next year, as I drop back down to the shorter distances. I felt a bit embarrassed to be so tired from having run 12 lots of 1 minute at 20 kph (he found it curious that I said "20 kph" instead of "3:00 pace", showing my preference of treadmills over track). The first few felt very easy but then, bit by bit, the one minute jogs were not quite long enough to recover from the previous effort. According to Véronique Billat, I should be able to build up to doing 5 lots of 1 kilometre (3 minutes) at this pace (vVO2Max) but the fastest I have run 5 lots of 1 kilometre to date is 18 kph (although it is true that I have also run 4 lots of 2 kilometres at 18 kph without too much difficulty).

Another effect of increasing the intensity is that running at "Marathon Pace" (4:00 = 15 kph) feels like a recovery run in the sense that I actually feel less tired afterwards than before. So far, the training feels just right - that "sweet spot" in between overtraining and the stresses not being sufficient to solicit an adaptation - the interesting thing for me will be to see whether the improvements in training speed translate into improved times in races.