Monday, February 24, 2014

ABN Amro CPC Loop Den Haag Half Marathon Week 7 / 9

Monday: 40' @ 4:00
Tuesday: 6 x (2' @ 3:10, 2' @ 6:00) + 3 x (1' @ 3:10, 1' @ 6:00)
Wednesday: -
Thursday: 2 x (400-800-2,000 @ 3:30-3:35-3:45) w/ 5' jog in between sets (lunch) + 40' @ 4:00 (evening)
Friday: 6K @ 4:37, 10K @ 3:45, 2K @ 4:37
Saturday: 30' + 10' @ 4:00
Sunday: 6 x (5' @ 3:30, 1' jog) (morning) + 40' @ 4:00 (evening)

I know this isn't a tech blog but I feel I have to tell everyone about this. Very very occasionally you buy something and it turns out to be way better than you expected: this was the case for me when I finally plumped for the Kindle Fire HD. I'd had my eye on the iPad for years, of course, but its so damn expensive and all I really wanted was something I could prop up against the treadmill to watch films on that I wouldn't mind too much getting covered in sweat. I was getting worried about lugging my laptop around everywhere, apart from the fact that everyone else can see quite clearly what I am watching, so the occasional appearance of a breast - say - in Game of Thrones could be a little embarrassing at work.

Talking of sweating, the guys in the gym have got it down to pat: not one second after I hopped off the treadmill had passed before I heard an announcement over the annoy - "Calling cleaning services...".

If I am not pissing other gym users off by dripping everywhere, I am having to bother them while they are working out. I arrived a little late to do my vVO2Max session on Tuesday, due to a meeting that overran, and I found that the only free treadmill was not fast enough for my purposes. There are only 4 treadmills that go over 18 kph and so I tapped a guy on the shoulder (he had headphones on) and asked him ever so nicely if he wouldn't mind swapping with me. At which point somebody got on the treadmill that I was going to trade with him and so I had to explain the whole sorry story to him as well. In the end I managed to get it done without any further hitches.

On Wednesday I went to see the osteopath again (or "hostiapata" as I like to call him in Spanish - from "dar hostias" and "psicópata"...). My back was much better since the previous visit and I had been doing the exercises he prescribed me religiously. He did say "You're not thinking of training today after this, are you?" which, of course, I was doing but, at his recommendation, I binned that session. So much for being the supposed "peak week" of training. I don't know whether its a placebo effect but I have felt able to take on much more intense training since he worked his magic and, unlike previous weeks, the fatigue in my back doesn't creep up on me during the week. In fact, Thursday felt too easy and I wondered if I should have done three sets instead of just two - maybe el hostiapata has unlocked some hidden speed by freeing up my spinal column.

That evening, too make up for the ease of the lunchtime workout, I snuck in a 40 minute run at my Marathon Pace of 4 minutes per kilometer (I nearly wrote "per mile" - it has a certain ring to it). As an experiment, I wore a heart rate monitor, something that I rarely do in training these days. I was curious to see whether my heart rate would correspond to the aerobic zone (150-155 bpm) I used to do all of my "easy" runs in. It turned out that it did - although it crept up as I got hot so that, after 30 minutes it was above 155 but, on average over the whole run, it was only 148. However you look at it, I think that my aerobic speed has improved tremendously over the last few years - my aerobic pace was around 12 kph for a long time then, more recently, around 13.5 kph and now, I think it is closer to 15 kph.

I was pleased to be able to do my Half Marathon simulator run without too much ado on Friday evening - not usually the kind of thing you feel like doing after a hard week at work. On Saturday I did another easy run while the kids were swimming. (By the way, I realized that the plyometric box that I had seen there a few months ago was much smaller than the one I ended up building!) By Sunday I was ready for a 4th quality session - I decided to bring it forward from the following week as (a) we would be in Asturias for the tail end of it and (b) my idea is to start to taper about 10 days before the race on the 9th of March. So, after my little hiccough with my back troubles not to mention training for the wrong distance, I feel like I am back on my game!

Monday, February 17, 2014

Er, ABN Amro CPC Loop Den Haag Half Marathon Week 6 / 9

Monday: 3 x (2' @ 3:00, 2' @ 6:00) + 1x (90" @ 3:00, 2' @ 6:00) + 6 x (1' @ 3:00, 1' @ 6:00) + 1 x (2' @ 3:00, 2' @ 6:00)
Tuesday: 60' @ 4:00
Wednesday: core + 4K @ 4:27, 2K @ 3:45
Thursday: 3 x (800-1,000) @ 3:35-3:45, w/ 3' rest between sets
Friday: 20' @ 4:00
Saturday: -
Sunday: 4K @ 4:27, 10K @ 3:45, 2K @ 4:27

It's been a bit of a mixed bag this week. As I posted already, I realized as I was about to book the flights that I had been training for the wrong distance. But more than that, the real issue has been that my back said "no more" and forced me to cut short my training on Wednesday and Friday. By Friday it was really bad. To put this in context, I would say that the level of discomfort is a "2" out of ten but it is just enough to make running intolerable, even when it is supposed to be "easy" - and the pain just doesn't go away whatever position I am in. In spite of this, I just managed to do all the quality sessions, which is the main thing. A good question is why my back wasn't more of a problem building up to the New York Marathon: I think that the culprit are the vVo2Max sessions that I have been running at 20 kph. The biomechanics for running at this speed are quite different from other speeds and require a lot of explosiveness and hip extension. I think that my legs can take the strain but that my upper body gets left behind, putting strain on my lower back. Given that I spend most of the time that I am not running, sitting at a desk with an undoubtedly bad posture, it's not surprising that something had to give.

In one of those nice coincidences, I rang up Slings - where I was due to pick up a new pair of Vibram SeeYas that they had ordered for me only a couple of days before - and it not only turned out that Friday was one of only two days that the physiotherapist worked there but there had also been a last minute cancellation which I snapped up right away. (I noticed that they also sold those foam rollers I had been looking for all over town and had ended up buying from the internet.) The previous Friday I had a massage that relieved muscle tension but it didn't get to the route cause - at least, the problem came back gradually during the week as I worked my way through my training plan. This time I was seen by an osteopath who managed to get clicks out of joints that had seemed unclickable and left my spine feeling a lot looser (as well as probably adding half a centimeter to my height). It takes a lot of trust to let somebody hold your head in their hands and manipulate it abruptly and violently. Of course, my muscles were still sore but I took the next day off training and, thankfully, I was able to run again by Sunday. I consciously tried to run with my pelvis tilted so that my spine was more of an "S" shape - I'm convinced that Sam Mussabini tells Harold Abrahams in Chariots of Fire to engage his hips as if he were making love to a woman but I've never managed to find that quote (and I have tried) so it may be that I imagined it.
Sunday's session was a sort of Half Marathon simulator - 4K easy running followed by half a Half Marathon at Half Marathon pace and 2K of easy warm down. It was very important psychologically to complete this workout after the abortive attempt on Wednesday, so I got out the big motivational guns and watched a good old (new) horror film (Inisidious 2) on the projector screen. It was a bit disconcerting that, every so often, the subdued soundtrack would be pierced by some grating noise that almost made me jump off the belt, but it certainly helped me concentrate on the film and not on my suffering.

Monday, February 10, 2014

Change of plans...

It looks like I spotted my mistake (of training for the wrong distance) just in time as this is the week when I would have started to "sharpen" up the pace a little; instead, I should include some slightly longer runs. As Owen Andersen says in his "Running Science" book, the Half Marathon is only a third of the way between a 10K and a full Marathon, so 10K style training is more apt than Marathon style training for this distance. Here is my new tweaked training plan, with the changes (both in execution thus far and in what's to come) highlighted in italics:

I've also come to accept that my vVO2Max speed probably isn't 20 kph (3:00 per kilometre) in spite of the VO2Max test results from last year. The fact of the matter is, the protocol involved increasing the belt speed by one whole kph every minute so, if my true VO2Max were actually 19.25 kph, say, it might well have been recorded as 20 kph. If I go by the yardstick that Veronique Billat - the french sports scientist that came up with this vVO2Max trainging protocol in first place - it should correspond to my flat out race pace over 6 minutes; extrapolating from my race times, this would be around 19-19.25 kph, corresponding to a 5 minute mile. Put another way, if I were able to run 5 sets of 1 kilometre in 3 minutes, it would make a bit of a mockery of my other training paces. So I have decided to stop struggling to build up futher at this pace and to knock the pace down a bit instead. If Billat is right, then this will be more effective. Hopefully I'll also avoid that horrible feeling that I am drowning at the end of the longer sets: it has been getting to the point that it almost felt worse to stop than to keep going, because I just couldn't suck in air fast enough.


So, I decided to do two "A" races this year: a 10K in London and a Half Marathon in the Hague. I wrote a training plan for the 10K which I have been following fot the last 5 weeks. Here's the rub: just as I was about to buy the plane tickets to London, I realized that I got the dates muddled up (I tend to confuse things that start with the same letter)!! That is to say, I have been training for over a month for the wrong race!!! Just as well that I realized with (just) enough time to put in a few longer runs. Inverse periodization is one thing, but this is taking it too far!

And nobody reading this blog spotted the mistake... :-)

Saturday, February 8, 2014

Bupa London 10,000 Week 5 / 9

Monday: 2 x (2' @ 3:00, 2' @ 6:00) + 7 x (1' @ 3:00, 1' @ 6:00) + 1 x (2' @ 3:00, 2' @ 6:00)
Tuesday: 45' @ 3:54
Wednesday: -
Thursday: 1K-3K-2K-3K-1K @ 3:30 w/ 1', 3', 2', 3' jog
Friday: 20' @ 4:00
Saturday: 5K race (Torrejón de Ardoz)
Sunday: plyometrics + core

I spent most of this week in London so my training (and diet) were a bit disrupted (especially by the Tube strike - more on that later). I attempted my vVo2Max workout on Monday in the Hotel gym, without a rest day the day before. It was very hot and stuffy as usual, and the ceiling was so low that I was concerned I might knock myself out if I bounced up and down too vigorously on the treadmill. Unfortunately, I didn't manage to knock myself out, so there was nothing for it but to get on with the workout. If the 7 sets of 2 minutes at 20 kph I'd set myself a month ago was clearly too much, I at least wanted to improve on last weeks tally of 3. However, I only managed two of these, followed by 7 sets of one minute before having the guts to do the 3rd set of 2 minutes at the end. It may be an excuse, but you can hardly push yourself so hard that you feel like shouting out or risk vomiting in a public gym!

I got up early the next morning for a brisk run around Regent's Park. Normally when I want to run a set time, I run half of that time out and half of it back - this time I managed somehow to run loops around the park and still time it perfectly so I was back at the hotel after the allotted 45 minutes. There were as usual a number of other runners but many more cyclists - some of whom were cycling in a huge pack, zooming round the outer circle.

I set my alarm for the same time on Wednesday but I couldn't face getting out of bed. To be honest, my back has been giving me troubles all week - I think due to a combination of over exertion on Monday and an unfamilar bed. My back seems to always end up being the weak link - I need to look into ways to strengthen it. I did try to squeeze in a run before heading off the the airport but the Tube strike was in full flow and it was nigh on impossible to get a taxi. In fact, I jogged most of the way to Paddington with my suitcase in tow before I finally succeeded in hailing one. Not one to give up easily, I asked a somewhat astonished attendant at the airport whether there was a gym anywhere on the premises but, no, there wasn't and it was the first time they had ever been asked that question.

I did Thursday's workout on the treadmill back in Madrid while watching the video I shot on Sunday of my 15K run around London:

It might seem a bit weird to simulate running outside on the treadmill (although its true that it was raining at the time) but what would be really great, would be to be able to run outside and watch a film or an episode of a TV series at the same time... People say to me "don't you get bored of running on the treadmill?" and, the fact is, I get more bored by running outside - after a while you run out of different routes. What keeps me interested while running around a bustling city like London is people watching but, where I live, there are more people in cars than on the street.

I had a massage for my back before doing a short 20 minute run, as I usually do the day before a race. Monica, the physiotherapist at the work gym, showed me the benefits of using a Pilates foam roller to give myself a self-massage. Another thing to buy and leave around the house.

Am I really that much taller than everyone around me or have they caught me mid bounce?
Apparently, the latest wheeze in the athletics world is to breathe in a 50-50 mixture of oxygen and xenon before a race. Who the hell had the idea of using xenon? I thought it was an inert gas. Perhaps I could try breaking some lightbulbs and inhaling sharply. Had I done so, I might have done a better time for my 5K race on Saturday morning in Torrejón de Ardoz, some 40 kilometres from my house. The navigator dropped me off about 4 kilometres away from where the race was starting from so it took a bit of ingenuity on my part to find it. The conditions weren't exactly ideal - it was raining and windy and the course wound through a park, through puddles, stony paths and with a couple of inclines - I probably should have worn my trail shoes, the Vibram Spyridons instead of the Seeyas. After a bit of confusion at the start as to whether the gun had gone off or not, we went off at a good pace, reaching the first kilometre in 3:15, a bit faster than I would be able to maintain. The first lap of 2.5 km I completed in 8:30 but I paid a bit of a price for it, as my final time was around 17:38 (although the race clock said 17:30, presumably because we jumped the gun slightly). Either way it was a personal best for me - for which I should be happy - but, considering I ran 5K only a few seconds slower the week before without any competition, I would have liked to have come home with a faster time. Next time I will try not to go off so fast - even in a provincial race like this one, there are always a number of Speedy Gonzales who finish between 15 and 17 minutes.

Sunday, February 2, 2014

Bupa London 10,000 Week 4 / 9

Monday: aerobic test (7 km in 24:49, 169 bpm average heart rate) + core
Tuesday: 50' @ 4:00 + plyo
Wednesday: 3 x (2' @ 3:00, 2' @ 6:00) + 9 x (1' @ 3:00, 1' @ 6:00)
Thursday: 50' @ 4:00
Friday: 4 x (800-400-200-1,000) with 800 @ 3:40 and 2' jog, 400 @ 3:25 and 1' jog, 200 @ 3:10 and 30" jog and 1,000 @ 3:45 and 4' jog
Saturday: 20' @ 4:00
Sunday: 60' @ 4:00 (London)

I'm very happy with how my training has been going this week. The reason for this is that I did my usual "aerobic test" which I use as a benchmark to see how I am doing and I did my best time by quite a margin. One of the difficult things about training for a competition is that you are tired most of the time and, as a result, not able to perform optimally; when you finally "taper" down so that you are fresh on the day, last minute nerves make you worry that your fitness is going to pot. Tune up races are a great way of checking your progress but require a "mini-taper" all of there own, as well as time to recover afterwards so, all in all, you lose the best part of a week in measuring yourself when you could have been continuing to improve. It is a bit like Heisenberg's Uncertainty Principle: the act of measuring affects the measurement itself. The test, as you will know if you read this blog regularly, consists of running 7 kilometres while keeping my heart rate as close to but not above 172 bpm which, in theory and often in practice, corresponds to my Half Marathon pace. My heart rate takes some time to get to that level so a bit of informed guesswork is required but if the pace is well selected, I hit 172 bpm around half-way and I don't find myself having to slow down to avoid exceeding this limit.

It was such a windy day (33 kph winds) that I thought it would invalidate the result but at least it was a cool 11 degrees C. Normally I do this test in my full race garb - compression socks and nose clip included - but this time I forgot: perhaps they are just placebos anyway. I did run to the same drum 'n' bass mix I usually run this test to as the beats are in perfect time with my footsteps and I like to think it makes the tests more comparable. You can certainly tell that the football season has started up again. Now, I don't mind people playing football inside my athletic track (haha) but when someone runs out right in front of me to get the ball I can't help wondering how much they would aprpeciate me running through the middle of their game... Anyway, I completed the 20 laps of the 350m rectangular running track in 24:49 which was 40 seconds faster than my best time, which I got on the way to the New York City Marathon last year! This equates to 16.9 kph (3:33 min/km). Even if doesn't realistically extrapolate to a Half Marathon time of 1:14:48, had I carried on at this pace for just 3 more kilometres (which I can honestly say would not have been a great struggle), I would have beat best 10K time with 35:27 and without the adrenaline or pre-race taper that goes with a real competition. The point is that it looks like my focus on training for 10K, with the 3 quality sesssions per week and the "recovery" runs at a spritely pace of 4 minutes per kilometre is paying off. Only a few weeks ago I was having doubts as to whether the plan was working.

As far as my efforts to build up to being able to run 5 sets of 1 kilometre at 20 kph (i.e, in 3 minutes) go, I managed at least to complete the workout I had set myself last week: 3 lots of 2 minutes followed by 9 lots of 1 minute. I decided to wear my heart rate monitoir out of curiosity: my heart rate never got a chance to go any higher than 172 bpm by the way...

Finally, on Friday I had my last quality workout of the week - basically a repetition of the same workout I did last Friday only, this time, it felt noticeably easier. So much so, in fact, that I was able to do 30% more - 4 sets instead of the planned 3. This workout is perfect from a psychological point of view: each segment seems easier than the last, either because it is much shorter, or because it is much slower. The variations really help pass the time: in the end the whole workout lasted over an hour which, especially on the treadmill at work, would have been difficult to get through (without a very good film / episode to watch!). It really has been a good week this week, let's see if it continues this way.

Having said that, I was left feeling a bit too tired to run on Saturday, so I cut short my workout and postponed it until the next day, which turned out to be a great idea as I was able to do it outside and in London: I designed a great route and the weather was wonderful. The route took me past Battersea Power station, through Battersea park, past the Science Museum, along the Serpentine, Buckingham Palace (just as the guard was changing) and, at the precise moment I was running alongside Big Ben, it chimed 9 am. I videoed the whole thing with my GoPro camera attached to my head. Not the most exciting video but one, nevertheless, that I will use to pass the time on the treadmill one day.

In other news, now that I finally have my very own plyometric box (see last week) it is a lot easier to squeeze in some plyometric jumping sessions. I have even found a place for the box to live indoors:

Can you spot where the box is hidden?